My Top 50 Cambodia Photos From 2008 and 2010 – Why To Be Optimistic About This Country

Angkor Wat at sunrise, 2010.

Four years since I was last in Cambodia and six years on from my first visit, I thought it was time to compile my favourite photos from those two adventures. Cambodia gets under your skin. A country with so much tragedy, so much darkness and even today, so much corruption. But if ever there was a lesson in how good ultimately prevails over evil, even if it is two steps forward, one step back, sometimes multiple backward steps before progress again, Cambodia is it.

This small, battered nation is unquestionably better off today than most dared dream possible when the murderous reign of Pol Pot finally ended in 1979. This is said without disregarding the heartbreak of the continued sex trafficking, the endemic corruption and the very real poverty that is still widespread. It’s also not ignoring the negatives of some of the recent development, namely the destroying of Phnom Penh’s deeply charming Beoung Kak Lake – read more here about what happened.

So what gives cause for hope? The timeline for a start. It’s still only 35 years since a genocide killed anywhere from 1.7 million – 3 million Cambodians. And yet here is a country now firmly established on the South East Asian tourist trail with a developing middle class. The famous Angkor ruins are the jewel in the crown, but don’t ignore the excellent French colonial architecture of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, the magic of the abandoned Bokor hill station, the quiet allure of seaside towns like Kep and Kampot, the splendour of the remaining jungle and the magnetism of life by the Mekong River.

As for the people, it’s cliche to say “the people might be poor but they’re so happy!” So I won’t. Some of them are desperately sad. However, the life expectancy in Cambodia has risen from 35 in 1979 to 63 today. This may be low by international standards, but don’t let anybody tell you poverty-stricken countries are cursed forever and that international aid programs don’t work. That is a lie told by the ill-informed.

Cambodia is a country of striking beauty with a history both triumphant and tragic. Many of the people you meet are kind and humorous and for whatever reason, have superior English to their more economically advanced neighbours in Vietnam and Thailand. Here are my top 50 photos from 2008 and 2010 – I cannot wait to get back again.

A couple overcome by emotion at a Killing Fields memorial, Phnom Penh.

A family making rice paper, near Battambang.

One of my photogenic 2008 traveling companions, Saroj.

Ditto above, this time Louise.

What’s with South East Asian kids and peace signs in photos!

The Bayon ruins, near Siem Reap.

Kids playing games, Ta Prohm ruins, near Siem Reap.

One of my favourite places (not to mention pieces of architecture) in South East Asia, the classy Siem Reap Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC).

Angkor Wat at dawn.

Near Angkor Wat with a hot-air balloon in the background.

Angkor Wat as viewed from the above photo’s hot-air balloon.

In 2010 this road from Siem Reap to the Thai border was a smooth sealed highway, in 2008 this was not the case. It would’ve been a long, bumpy, muddy ride for the folks crammed together here. 

A rural scene near Siem Reap.
Even more remarkable for me than Angkor Wat, the ruins of Ta Prohm (2010 – as are the rest of the photos).

Sweatbands and temple climbing, near Siem Reap 2010.

A ruin I remembered photographed in a 1981 edition of National Geographic I still have.

I love the detail and colour.

My friend Eve in as good a place as any to contemplate.

Angkor Wat at sunrise, 2010.

Another early morning Angkor Wat snap.

Friends Eve and Michael exploring the Angkor temples.

If you’re lucky, the colours of an Angkor Wat sunrise.

My favourite Angkor Wat sunrise photo.

Another of Angkor Wat at sunrise.

A home in a floating village near Siem Reap, only weeks before the monsoon rains would’ve raised homes like this many metres higher.

My friend Eve, a school teacher, with children from the floating village. The village is as poor as any in Cambodia and is right on the doorstep of affluent Siem Reap.

A hideous juxtaposition to the previous photo – my Siem Reap hotel room, complete with a miniature version of an Angkor Temple and with water lillie ponds – The Elephant Terrace.

I can’t pretend I didn’t love this hotel.

The 2010 edition of my beloved Siem Reap Foreign Correspondents Club. My dream home.

Incredible tropical trees near Siem Reap’s FCC.

A floating restaurant on Phnom Penh’s now deceased Beoung Kak Lake. Click here to read more about the very sad removal of this once charming part of Cambodia’s capital.

A modern government building in the background, one of Phnom Penh’s coolest restaurant / bars in the foreground.
A shanty-village lining the river in Phnom Penh with upper-class homes under construction behind.
Phnom Penh’s version of the Foreign Correspondents Club – a must visit for anyone with an interest in media and war history.

Our favourite tuk-tuk driver, Derren Tikka. He’ll show you all the sites of Kampot and Kep at a very good price. He’ll even drop you home late at night free of charge so you’ll avoid stray dogs. Thanks Derren!

Eve relaxing while we sailed to an island off the coast of the beach town Sihanoukville.

Save an Interislander trip in 1993, the most seasick I’ve ever been.

Abandoned French holiday homes, Kep.

Looking vaguely silly doing a thumbs up, near Kampot.

The dark-horse of Cambodian landmarks, the one-time 6-star Bokor Palace – now a misty, abandoned ruin to make you feel like you’re diving the Titanic.

Bokor Hill Station exploring. 

The view from Bokor Palace out to Cambodia’s southern coast with jungle in between.

From the Bokor Palace to an abandoned church in the upper-left.

Eve and Michael at the Bokor Hill Station when the fog rolled in.

Our beautiful French traveling companion, Lucie, talking with an American journalist onboard a Kampot river cruise.

French colonial architecture, Kampot.

A floating guesthouse, Beoung Kak Lake, Phnom Penh.

The photo proudly hanging on the reception wall of Phnom Penh’s Fancy Guesthouse. I didn’t have the heart to tell the owner that even if “Eldon John” exists, his writing is nothing like Elton John’s. Quite why Elton John would’ve stayed at a small 2-star hotel in Phnom Penh remains unclear.

A street scene, Phnom Penh.

A tuk-tuk selfie with Lucie.

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