MOMENT, Benzoned, and Vaster Landscapes: Ratanakiri Poems is my new online publication. It includes three books of poems. Please email gregbem at gmail dot com if you have any recommendations, comments, edits, questions, etc.
You can also view this publication on Slideshare below (though resolution is not optimal and internal links do not work):
Further reading: Nine Nights in Cambodia
I don’t usually take pictures of the poor. I think the famous ones you see in magazines are enough as it is. Also, after you live in a place for long enough, you take for granted the more grotesque realities that surround you that you are not directly working with.
This is a picture of a worker, a garbage collector, taking a lunch hour rest near Koh Pich, otherwise known as Diamond Island, in Phnom Penh. This type of scene isn’t only related to the lowest-paid workers in the city. You often see tuk tuk drivers sleeping in their tuk tuks or on a hammock connected to the environment.
One thing I do think about a lot is the lack of park space in the city. I am used to go the parks in the USA where the public, poor and rich alike, go to enjoy themselves. Rittenhouse Square comes to mind, in Philly. Cal Anderson in Seattle too. I wish Phnom Penh had more parks, and maybe someday it will.
Our final day before the day-long trip back to Phnom Penh (which won’t be covered on this blog) saw us visiting the Kalai village roughly 1 hour outside of Banlung. It’s both (apparently) a commune and an indigenous group. We did not exactly learn much about the village as “tourism” is frequent but not formalized. Our guide, who we met milling rice before the trek, carried a machete and a bottle of tea the entire time, and occasionally pointed out objects of interest. The jungle, though not as awe-inspiring as my time in Malaysia, was still extremely enjoyable, and really hot (just wait until the last group photo, where you see my entire shirt soaked through). First, the obligatory cute animal picture from Tree Top:
Warning: this post is long. We hired the tuk tuk driver for the day and explored a lot of the area’s offerings. Ratanakiri is a strange place with many strange things, and a quiet tourist culture very similar to Battambang. Before any crazy adventure, however, we needed to check out breakfast.
If you want to visit a region that’s unlike anywhere else in Cambodia, visit Ratanakiri. I imagine it’s what most of Laos looks like, though I haven’t been and I don’t really know. In a way, it reminds me of a little bit of northern Thailand, but with the dust and dirt Cambodia’s known for. We chose Ratanakiri not only because it’s hilly and supposedly cold (which we confirmed) as it’s a higher elevation than the rest of the country, but also because it is home to most of the indigenous groups and ethnic minorities in the country, and it’s also one of the most vulnerable locations for deforestation and rubber plantations in the country.
Though I eventually will write about concessions and the ecological damage being committed to the country through land exploitation, I’m not going to do it here, in my vacation post! What I will describe is what happened regarding transportation. I finally got the chance to see “real Cambodian transit.” And that’s the “minibus.” You see them all the time, jam-packed with Cambodians, who are packed in, 25-30 per bus, with some on the roof or hanging onto the back, motos attached and all that too, but never would we have dreamed of actually being in these contemporary clown cars. Thing about Kratie is, not many people go though it, and thus transportation options are limited. For us, we learned the night before that we’d be packed into a minibus. We requested, politely, to have our own row because these things are notoriously over-packed, but we didn’t really get that. Here’s the minibus before we got in, probably 60% full:
Kratie (pronounced “kraw-ches” with a silent “s”) is a province and “town” in “Northeast Cambodia” (it’s lumped into tha region, though it’s more of a central eastern province. Check out the map of the country and see for yourself. Anyway, for my last “major trip” of my time in Cambodia, I decided it would be a good region to visit. Originally I wanted to check out four provinces in five days, and while probably technically possible, I’m glad I stuck with two: Kratie and then Ratanakiri (posts on the latter coming soon). I had five days off due to more national holidays (do they ever end?). I went with friends Pinkie, Yenda, Eric, and Stephanie. It was diverse but really awesome travel group. Everybody seemed to get along and we really enjoyed our time. Anyway! We took the early bus the first day and it took quite a while to arrive (around 6 hours). But we made it. Kratie is known for its freshwater dolphins, which is really the only reason we went there. There were distant temples and an animal conservation center, and a huge island apparently delightful to visit, but we simply didn’t have enough time to do these activities, since we had to leave bright and early the next day. We did enjoy our time in this sleepy, sleepy town though. Let’s start with a picture of a puppy in Phnom Penh on the way to the bus station:
I’m going to do some streamlining in this post and put all the Koh Rong pictures in one place. Usually I break up the galleries to be better managed, but in this day and age, it’s hard to tell if viewers prefer the batch or the bulk. As to this particular gallery, this past weekend I visited Koh Rong, an island off the coast of Cambodia, specifically off the coast of Sihanoukville, where I celebrated my friend Stephanie’s birthday with Stephanie, Andrea, Daen, and Emanuel.
Though I am still sunburned as I write this, and though I am missing the paradise that is island life, it’s safe to say the entire weekend was a joyful one. It wasn’t without its absurdities (like the very high number of puppy encounters we faced, and some of the sexpat and drunk and drug addict characters we stumbled across), and it was with its reminders that I will be gone from Cambodia very soon and will be missing an all new set of friends. First up, we have the girls: Daen, Stephanie, and Andrea (in the front).