Island Life – Koh Rong, Cambodia

I left from Siem Reap on a night bus, a reclined sleeper. It was the most unique setup I’ve seen on a bus. The “beds” were not completely flat, but mostly reclined, and your feet fit under the torso of the person in front of you. Bunk bed style. It was pretty comfortable, but if I had been any taller than 5’10” I can imagine it would be much less so.


The bus arrived in Sihanoukville in the morning. Another westerner had made friends with a local that worked at a bar on Koh Rong, and he helped us get a tuk-tuk that took us to the touristy part of town. We could buy tickets for the boat in many of the shops there. The fast boat ran about 40 minutes and cost about $15, the slow boat takes 2 hours and costs $10, round trip. The choice was obvious, except the fast boat was sold out when I got around to trying to buy my ticket. Slow boat it was.

The passengers were picked up from one of the guest houses and dropped off at a random looking industrial building at the docks. Unsure of where we were supposed to go, we find a group of westerners and locals lounging around an area definitely not made for passengers. Looking around at the boats, it was pretty unclear which was the “slow boat” transport to the island. I kind of hoped it was the yellow junker. I got my wish.





Throughout my trip, I was trying to capture nice shots of my sweet Osprey Waypoint 80 that the company had sent me, but it was rare that I had the opportunity to set my bag down in a picturesque spot. I took this shot as proof of concept, and was waiting until we left the dock and possibly neared the island to take the money shot…then about 10 people sat on and all around my bag. Picture ruined.

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The boat was a little crowded, mixed with supplies for the island.







I spent 3 days on Koh Rong but didn’t take very many photos 2 of the 3 days. I was just enjoying the friends I was making and the atmosphere on the island. On the boat, I had met a couple from Belgium, and we kept running into each other on the island. We decided to take a hike across the island to Long Beach, a 7km long white sands beach. The trek over the “mountain” is pretty steep going up and down, and when we reached the beach there was military personnel everywhere on an industrial looking dock with construction all around. Not the pristine beach we were expecting.

We walked along the beach, and the further from the dock the nicer it became. At the end of the beach we could see a small village, we decided to try and reach that. On the way, we met a British guy swimming with three girls and we took a break with them. Joe, Pleun, Bridgette, and Katrin ended up tagging along with us. At the village, we could either take the boat back for $5, walk all the way back along the beach, which seemed to take forever, or attempt to walk across the middle of the island. I wanted to see more of the island, so I decided to take the path across the middle of the island, and Joe joined me. I’m glad he did, would have been a long, lonely walk through the completely unremarkable terrain. It was 2x as long as the way we’d come. And I was in flip flops – I never wear flip flops. In all we walked about 24 km, it was a bit more than I’d anticipated.



The only interesting thing on the entirety of the middle of the island.

The next couple of days I spent exploring the island, swimming, seeing the bioluminescent plankton, listening to some great music, dancing with the locals, and just spending time with a great group of friends. It’s amazing to me how you can meet random people from all over the world, spend a short, intense amount of time with them, and feel like you’ve known them forever. These short friendships feel so organic and natural, but also a bit bittersweet, since you never know if you’ll ever see them again. We had a girl from the Netherlands, two girls from Austria, two guys from Belgium, a guy from the UK, and myself – and we just clicked.

My last day on Koh Rong, we spend the day relaxing, reading,paddling in a kayak, and swimming, on a quiet beach a 30 minute or so hike from the main strip. It was the perfect relaxing end to the majority portion of my trip.


Pleun enjoying the magazine she carried with her for the entirety of her trip.


Bridgette and Katrin



Job getting cozy with the white sands





Flo from Belgium



Job from Belgium






The lovely Pleun (Ploon? Ploowen? Plown?) from the Netherlands


And the lovely Bridgette from Austria

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I got really into photographing the waves



Every time I’m around the ocean I want to find an interesting bit of coastline to photograph at night. I love those eerily smooth ocean nightscapes. I struggled to find anything to make an interesting photograph, and I tried for probably an hour to take a shot of rocks in the crashing waves. But with no moon, there wasn’t enough light to make an image. When I was returning to the village I found this salamander eating bugs on a lamppost. It made the wasted hour worthwhile.

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The light in the morning, when I was heading towards the slow boat, was pretty incredible, and I was finally inspired to shoot photos of the island.

A little about the island. When you arrive at the docks you’re overwhelmed by locals trying to get you to stay in their guesthouses. The beachfront is full of loud bars spilling Westerners out onto the sand in varying degrees of drunkenness. Many of the bars have guesthouses directly above them; I would not recommend staying in these. They’re incredibly dirty and loud, and even though they might have a good price, I’d recommend walking south along the beach to find some quieter places off of the main strip. I found a nice, quiet guesthouse with dorms and private rooms, only a 2-minute walk from the strip. I was the only guest in the dorms and effectively paid $4/night for a private room.

It was a good end to my trip, just enough beach time to relax and fulfill that need for a couple years. From here, I made my way to Phnom Penh, and then onto Hong Kong. Thing of note: None of the hotels in Phnom Penh accept credit cards. Because I was operating on very limited cash after having my wallet stolen, a friend was trying to pay for my hotel for me. She thought she had done so, and I argued with the clerk for a while telling him my room was paid for, yet he insisted I pay him cash. Finally, he called a supervisor who told me that none of the hotels have the ability to accept credit cards, so it was impossible that she had pre-paid for the room. I paid the exorbitant fee of $15 for the night. In the morning, I walked across the street to the airport and flew Air Asia to Hong Kong.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia – The Temples from Tomb Raider

I’m pretty sure I’d heard the name Angkor Wat before I went to Asia, but I don’t think I realized what it is.

I rarely pay to go in attractions when I travel; I generally would rather be where the tourists are not. But everyone that I met in Siem Reap encouraged me to pay the $20 to enter Angkor Wat, so I did. I rode a Giant hardtail mountain bike to the ticket office right at 5pm, when they sell tickets for the next day. There was a huge line and tour buses lining the parking lot. Once you bought your ticket you could rush the 4km from the ticket office to the Angkor Wat temple to catch sunset on the temple. There was a mass of humans here, trying their best to all take award winning photos with their smartphones. The sun had mostly gone down by the time I found a spot on the lake in front of the temple. I quickly took some quintessential tourist shots and moved on, making my way into the temple.


Pretty much as soon as I got in the temple, guards started ushering tourists back towards the road. The temple closes at sundown. I somehow slid past the guards and went to the backside of the temple grounds.

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I found a monk standing perfectly still on the far side of the temple. This was a long exposure, several seconds, and he doesn’t appear to move. I tried a second shot…


and apparently kicked my tripod. Happy little accidents.

The next morning I woke up before sunrise to peddle as fast as I could the 8 kms to the complex. I think it took me around 20-25 minutes of basically sprinting on the bike. I was psyched I paid the $1 extra for the Giant mountain bike instead of the city bikes. I was blazing past other tourists on bikes like they weren’t even moving.

I raced past the Angkor Wat complex, since I already had photos of it, in order to find something of interest before the sun came up. I think I found just what I was looking for.

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The temple had faces carved into so many of the surfaces

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I had successfully avoided the hoards of tourists, and basically had this temple to myself for the sunrise. I continued on, searching for whatever treasures I could find.
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After only a short time, I got bored looking at temples. I started seeking out humans to photograph. I stopped at many of the vendors and asked to take their pictures.

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One of my favorite photos from the trip.

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The trees in the complex were some of my favorite things.

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Finally, after a lot of searching, I found Ta Prohm, the temple used in Angelina Jolie’s “Tomb Raider”. It was one of the more interesting temples because of the interaction between nature and man-made. But sadly, I got there at the same time as the hoard of tourists, so I didn’t get too many good photos of it.

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Partway through I realized I was almost late getting back to my hostel to check out before they charged me for another day. I ran back to my bike and peddled as hard as I could. I didn’t realize how far I’d gone during the morning. I rode roughly 20 miles in total, a lot when you weren’t planning on riding much at all. I reached my hostel right at 1pm, the deadline. The ride had been pretty horrendous in the hot sun. I took a road back that wasn’t the most direct way, and there were zero trees for shade. I was psyched there was a pool.

I loved my time in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. I definitely recommend it as a destination. Next, I was seeking out some beach time.

Siem Reap, Cambodia


My time at Green Climber’s Home in Thakhek, Laos was great, but after nine days I was feeling pretty beat up and ready to move on. I knew I wanted to spend a couple days on an island and determined that Cambodia made the most sense on my trip trajectory.

I said my goodbyes to my new friends at GCH, and with a few other climbers, took a tuk tuk to the bus stop. I was going to Pakse with no plan other than to find transport to Siem Reap as soon as possible. When the bus arrived in Pakse I ended up meeting a couple from France that was also on the bus and we went in search of hostel together. The only thing availble we could find was single room with two beds, so I shared a room with this couple I just met. In the morning, I snuck out before they woke up to catch the early bus to the Cambodian border.

The Cambodian border….

Before the bus stops at the border, we pick up a man that gets on and says he will streamline the entry visa process for everyone, but there’s a catch. The entry visa is $40, but the man wants $50 from everyone. I already had my entry visa, so I just ignored him. Turns out the extra $10 was for bribes to the Laotian and Cambodian border guards. I went through on my own.

I passed my passport through the window to the Laotian guard, he looked up and asks for the $5. “I’m not paying you extra just because you’re doing your job.” He looked at me, frustrated, fliped open my passport and stamped something in it. He quickly handed me my passport back and yelled “next!”.

I followed the slow-moving, confused crowd across no-man’s-land to a medical tent we were directed to. They pointed a thermometer ‘gun’ at me, tell me to fill out a form, then ask for $1. I just stand up and leave. They’re supposedly checking for Ebola, but neither border requires the form, so therie’s no point to do this or pay for it.

100 yards from the Laotian border, I handed my passport to the Cambodian guard. He looked at my already purchased Entry Visa, peers up at me, and asks for $5. “I’ve already paid for my Entry Visa. I don’t owe you any more money.” He flips through my passport book and hands it back to me without stamping it. “You don’t have an exit stamp from Laos.” I don’t know what the Laotian guard had stamped, but he hadn’t actually shown that I was leaving the country.

I scurried back across no-man’s-land, worried that the bus would leave me. I might have made little bit of a ruckus as I returned to the Laotian border, demanding that they actually stamp my book. Finally, one of the guards reluctantly gave me the stamp I needed to “leave” the country. The Cambodian guard looked at me with equal disdain, but stamps my visa anyway and allows me to enter.

I guess I should be more careful with border guards, I’m entering their country, but I refuse to pay bribes.

After waiting around for hours at the border, we’re loaded onto a small micro-bus. I get set in the front passenger seat, and all our bags are loaded as a barricaded between me and the rest of the passengers. I effectively had a 6-hour private car ride to Siem Reap.

I took a dorm room bed at Garden Village Guesthouse, at the recommendation of the bus company. It was a good price, and it had a pool (highly recommended). I ended up meeting some great people here.

Siem Reap is a pretty nice town, with something for almost every type of traveler. The draw for travelers is definitely Angkor Wat, but I met several ex-pats just enjoying living there as well. Good cheap restaurants line the tightly winding streets that run into the river. Along the river, there are more expensive places. There’s a party scene, and quiet areas.

I couldn’t decide if I wanted to pay the $20 for a day pass into Angkor Wat. I typically don’t pay to go into things when I’m traveling cheap (and I was surviving off a fixed amount of cash that I had borrowed from Xavi), but some friends convinced me it was worth it. As I was considering what to do, I rented a bike and spent a day trying to connect with the locals, something I hadn’t really gotten to do on my trip so far. I do this by taking portraits of the people I meet.


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Ice delivery. Might be best to avoid ice in your water.

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There was a pretty girl selling fruit, but she wasn’t keen on having her photo taken.
So I shot her fruit.

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I’ve eaten a lot of fresh coconuts, but this was definitely one of the best I’ve ever had. The meat was so delicious!


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I sat and watched these kids for probably 20 minutes, jumping into the river with pure joy.

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I ended my exploration of Siem Reap at a large temple that was a bit past where most of the tourists go. It was quiet and offered me some shade from the blazing sun. I don’t often spend a lot of time in temples, but I enjoyed a lot of the quotes attributed to Buddha engraved on a lot of the statues.


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