Cambodia: Beauty of Angkor Wat

Reflections of Angkor

Angkor Wat is famous for a very good reason: it is stunning in its beauty as well as its mystery.  The largest religious temple (Hindu) ever built almost a millennium ago and hidden from all until just recently.  While photo opportunities lie everywhere, the ambiance of this vast piece of art is felt only by wandering through its amazing halls and structures.

Reflections of the Monks

While there is a peacefulness that surrounds the area, I cannot help but wonder about all the strife and tragedy that has occurred over the past thousand years…taking what was once a mecca of Khmer life and while never fully abandoned, fell silent as the forces of nature took over as regional politics and war ebbed and flowed.

Lilies of Angkor Wat -4

In the jungle north of Angkor is one of my favorite spots, the Preah Khan temple, and unlike Angkor Wat, it has remained in ruins as there has been very little (if any) restoration.  However, the lack of restoration actually creates more electricity for me.  The temple is full of sacred images of Khmer women protecting the temple with their auspicious presence and as I sat down with my lunch (the fried cakes shown a couple posts earlier), I contemplate how vivid life must have been almost 1,000 years ago.

Preah Khan Devata1

I admit to a certain naiveté, wishing that I could have been an explorer back in those days, understanding that it was a very hard life, for sure, but I imagine the unexpected delight that around every corner was possibly a new & vibrant culture to be experienced would have been worth the struggle.

My advice to any and all people can be best expressed by an article Jeff Goins wrote, I think it should be required reading for all:

Cambodia: Morning at Bayon…

The first morning light brings with it the promise of a new day, and with it new dreams.

Morning Light at Bayon -2

Morning can be difficult to claw yourself out of bed, especially pre-dawn.  However, once your up and feel the anticipation of the day and the peacefulness that surrounds, there is not a better feeling.  Bayon, outside of Phnom Penh was such an oasis.  In the pre-dawn darkness, alone among ancient ruins, ruins that at the time were some of the greatest in the world, it was a blissful feeling.

Bayon Entrance

Breaking Sun at Bayon -12

Starting each day with dreams and hopes of happiness allows us at the end of the day to  reflect on the beauty the morning brings to us.  Reflections in photography are a powerful way to express an emotion of that time when you released the shutter.  When what you felt can be reconciled with what you saw, and can then be shared with others.

Reflection of Bayon Raw B&W

Happiness in the most unlikely places…

Traveling to many countries we would consider 3rd world, I am buoyed by the spirit and love for life that I see from people who live day-by-day.  The people of Phnom Penh and Cambodia in general were some of the most optimistic and life-loving people I have ever met.  Morning Worker-2 My Lunch

Walking around town, I was amazed at the relative ease in communicating with the locals, even though I only spoke at the very basic level of Cambodian (1-month crash course prior to my trip), and they had very limited – if any – English skills.

After graduating in the USA, I found work managing a bicycle & ski shop which allowed me to pursue two great loves: cycling and working on bicycles (skiing was a 3rd hobby, but clearly took a back seat to cycling).  While walking the streets, I met two very energetic and busy guys who had a cycle repair shop on the streets and were very happy to try to explain their work/life/happiness in doing what they did in Phnom Penh.  Generally they agreed that: “We are lucky, and we get to travel back home to see our families every year…”

Moto Mechanic 3

Life is not so much a collection of material goods, but a collection of experiences from which you decide on your happiness.  Lao Zi, the author of the Dao de Jing, once wrote (Chapter 44):

  • 名与身孰亲?
  • 身与货孰多?
  • 得与亡孰病?


  • Your name or integrity, which is more dear?
  • Your health or money, which is worth more?
  • Your strife for gain or time with those you love, when facing death which is most important?

Fulfillment does not come from the admiration of other, but with admiration of yourself.  When you know when to stop & to love, the whole world belongs to you.

Look into your heart, and decide what is real and what is true.  Know when to stop, reassess what is right and then follow your spirit.

Phnom Penh-1

A Magical Cambodian Christmas…

Back in ’05, I was in a bit of a dilemma as I could not head back home for Christmas due to certain permanent resident issues (with the US government), so I was in need of a destination to spend the final two weeks of ’05.  Having just watched the Killing Fields and read a book about SE Asian history, Cambodia quickly came to mind and I booked the trip.

While my main itinerary included basic accommodations, I did make one tweak to my plan and arrange to stay at two historic, colonial hotels: the Raffles Le Royal in Phnom Penh and Grand Hotel D’Angkor in Siem Reap.  The history that filled these hotels is incredible: great adventurers, statesmen and royalty made these places their home.

The Le Royal in Phnom Penh triggered the most interest for me as it was the headquarters for foreign photojournalists during the Khmer Rouge reign from 1975-79.  In the movie the Killing Fields (highly recommended before any travel to Cambodia), several of the scenes were shot in the hotel.

Staying there was a very strange feeling, as it is truly living in the lap of luxury: nicest place I have ever, and probably will ever stay.  Yet the hotel also holds such a strong link to colonization and perhaps most important to Cambodians, the time of the Khmer Rouge rule where some of the worst atrocities of genocide and persecution have ever taken place.

Over the next few days, I will post some basic photos I took during this time, and how I walked away from Cambodia with an uplifted spirit.  The people of this country have persevered and live life with a passion and love that I have rarely seen.  Include this with a beautiful country full of mystery, historical building and ruins, and I will return.

The below photo is of the LeRoyal Hotel in Phnom Penh, and I did take as much joy as possible at this hotel.

FYI: while I did splurge and stay a night at each of these hotels, I would not recommend it unless you have the cash…quite expensive, and with all the beautiful sights to see I spent minimal time back at any hotel.  When I do a photography trek, I prefer to stay at very modest hotels – as long as they have electricity (to power my computer & recharge batteries) and a bed, I am happy as I generally only spend time at the hotel to sleep & recharge.  1 and 2-Star guesthouses are generally perfect for serving this purpose.  When traveling with friends or loved-ones, go to at least a 3-Star unless they too want to share the adventure 🙂


As We Begin our Journey of Yuan Fen – 缘分

The beginning of China Sojourns Photography (作客中国摄影) is a simple project that will consist of posting photos from China and around the world.  As I post these photos, I will also comment on the mood of the place and hopefully some useful photographic techniques as well.

While the focus is on photography, there will also be occasions when the mood strikes that philosophy via photography will be combined.  Often I believe that while writing & photography is generally a solitary pursuit, it is the inspiration of others that allows us to create: the sharing of ideas and learning.

As such, the theme for this site will be “us”.  Two souls dancing and learning as we move forward in life.

Us Dancing

The definition of “Us” in this blog can be explained by the Chinese word 缘分 (yuan-fen).  

There is no direct translation of 缘分 (yuan-fen) to English.  It is often link to Buddhism and karma and defined as ‘pre-ordained affinity/fate/destiny’, where destiny awaits your action when opportunities arise.  This means, that while it may be fate two people should meet, whether they stay together is up to yuan-fen and destiny.  Yuan (缘) brings two people together, and Fen (分) is the work necessary to fulfill this destiny.  When you choose to take or forego an opportunity, 缘分 (yuan-fen) has arrived and depending on your commitment, becomes a part of your life forever. 

It is in this blog that I hope to expand on the 缘分 (yuan-fen) between us, increasing our value and happiness.  

Through contemplation & through the lens of a camera are where many ideas of life are created.  The constant search to find a choice moment in time where an idea will transpire via words or a photo to bring inspiration is a daily goal.  I see inspiration every day in the people I know.  Ideas are what keeps us dancing.

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