Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

HDR Photography in Cambodia

So, I’ve finally processed a few of the High Dynamic Range photo sequences that I took on the RTW trip. Here are a few from Cambodia, which you can also see (in higher resolution) on my Flickr page.

This is probably my favorite of the final prints, taken from the third floor of the Angkor Spirit Palace hotel in Siem Reap where I was staying. The benefit of HDR is that you can see detail in both the bright and dark areas of the final “composite” picture.

Cambodia Sunset over Rice Paddies

Here’s an interesting shot of an approaching storm, which killed the sunset I was waiting for at this temple. Unfortunately the software I have isn’t good at aligning images, and has no manual feature. So they didn’t line up perfectly, something you can see in some of the edges where light meets dark (but only in the higher res versions on Flickr). Either way, the scene is great – everything from rain, to black clouds, to blue sky!

Angkor Storm - Badly Aligned

Finally I’ll close up with another photo from the rice paddies sunset over Siem Reap. There was actually someone burning brush over behind the trees, that’s why there’s an area with smoke rising.

Cambodia Sunset 2 over Rice Paddies

There will be a lot more HDR photos coming, as I go through the Camera RAW images that I took all throughout the RTW adventure. Stay tuned!

Posted 11 years, 10 months ago at 2:56 pm.

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Straw Hat Woman

I’ve been trying to get a photo of someone working the fields in a straw hat ever since arriving in Cambodia. Finally, on July 23rd as I rode to the airport in a tuk-tuk, I managed it – and even got another motorcycle-family in the foreground. Keep in mind it was cloudy, and I was moving at a good 40 km/h.

Straw Hat Woman working in the fields

I also spotted this youth in a field. The contrast of the dilapidated house in the background with his mp3 player and headphones is great, and the dog is the icing on the cake.

Cambodian MP3 youth avec chien

After arriving in KL, I checked out some local (mostly indoor) sights, because I’d left my suntan lotion in a luggage locker. Oh, plus it was about 35C with high humidity.

Here’s a cool sculpture representing space and time in front of the Malaysian space agency, their equivalent of NASA. A Malaysian has made it into space!

Space and Time!

The planetarium was also worth the visit. For 3 RM (about $1 USD) I saw an Omnimax-style movie about the space race that first took Russians into earth orbit, then Americans to the moon. There’s a neat museum attached, with an anti-gravity room. Apparently blue light and a sloping floor are the keys to negating gravitational forces. Grab a blue light and a sledgehammer and try it in your own home!

Kuala Lumpur's mosque-looking planetarium

Only a few days left in my round-the-world trip. I wouldn’t say I’m homesick. However, I am ready to sleep more than two or three nights in the same bed, without having to spend hours a week planning where I’m going next and how to get there. What’s the longest time you’ve traveled?

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 3:32 pm.


Floating Village

Tonle Sap is a unique lake. Its level rises and falls by several meters based on the season, and the lake’s area increases by 10x in the rainy season! I visited on July 22nd.

In the dry season, the lake drains into the Mekong river via a tributary. But in the rainy season, the level of the Mekong river rises enough that the tributary reverses flow, filling up the lake.

My guide, Saron, advised me NOT to give any handouts to the children begging near the lotus fields. If you do, it teaches them they can earn more by begging than by going to school, perpetuating the problem to future generations.

Do NOT give to, or buy from, the begging children

At the dock, we loaded onto one of many waiting tourist boats. These drivers earn $6-8 of the $15 fare you pay. Only 2 rides a day in high season; 2-3 a week right now. Note the steering wheel. It’s connected to the rear rudder assembly by two ropes.

Boat on Tonle Sap

You might think, “this is the definition of ghetto.” But this boat was actually in the top 10%; a lot of them looked far worse. It did drive pretty well, and the prop/rudder system keeps the propeller out of the mud.

Pretty sweet boat, by Cambodian standards

People living on the lake have floating houses, and there are multiple villages (for example, there are separate Cambodian and Vietnamese clusters). The villages move with the season, to stay relatively close to the shore without being beached. Some even have gardens…

Floating house - with garden!

Villagers raise and catch fish, and (sadly) farm crocodiles. I do not buy any crocodile products.

Crocodile farm - really pitiful looking crocs destined for handbags and barbecues

Here’s a fisherman casting his net in the canal:

Tonle Sap fisherman

Could you imagine living with your whole family in this much space? All your appliances are powered by batteries, charged intermittently by the one family with a generator.

Colorful house on Tonle Sap Lake

Some of these scenes of poverty are just heartbreaking. I’d suggest if you visit and want to help in some small way, take 10kg of rice (worth $5 USD) with you on your boat ride. Give it directly to one of these families. That guarantees no fake charity keeps some or all of your donation.

Cambodia is rife with poverty, but slowly improving since Khmer Rouge times

Just outside the port are some village areas on stilts, where the water should fill in during rainy season. This year the river’s flow is not properly reversing, most likely because of a dam China built. But everyone in ASEAN is scared to say that out loud; they don’t want to piss off China.

Houses on stilts in Cambodia

To end with something more positive, I went to the local market with Saron. He picked out a special kind of local herb that is commonly served with fried beef. It’s a favorite of locals, but is not served much in restaurants (and certainly not tourist restaurants). I’ve lost the name, but will post it here if/when I find out.

My hotel, Angkor Spirit Palace, prepared the dish for me using the greens I bought. Delicious! That nice blur is what you get when you’re up close with an f/2 prime lens.

Delicious Cambodian beef dish

I also bought 10kg of rice at the market, and donated it in person to some poor families living near my hotel. I encourage every visitor to Cambodia to at least make this small effort – it’s $5 for you (2 cocktails at a tourist bar), and equals a month of rice for them. Thanks again to Saron for another amazing and enlightening day!

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 3:05 pm.

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Cambodian Sunset

Finally, after a long stretch of nothing, I saw a good sunset in Asia! That’s apparently not so easy during the rainy season. This sunset is actually from yesterday, but I only took a couple photos today (July 21st), so I’ll combine ‘em.

Sunset over Siem Reap, Cambodia

Like I’ve said several times on this trip, I might post an HDR of this sunset eventually – rice paddies in the foreground. But I need to get some software (and get home to my more-powerful PC) first.

Siem Reap sunset

Today’s shot: a White Russian at The Banana Leaf bar & restaurant on Siem Reap’s Pub Street.

Banana Leaf - White Russian

I can’t agree with Tyler Durden’s theory of “single serving friends.” It’s cool to meet other international travelers from all over the world, even if it’s just for one evening of Khmer food and drinks. Cheers, LH… hope you enjoy the rest of your trip!

Mmm... Tequila Sunrise!

I highly recommend Khmer Kitchen, on the corner near Le Grand (which is across from one of the Viva – Mexican locations). My guide Saron’s suggestion of #15 and #42 on the menu was spot on. You can’t beat 42, the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything. And the dishes were cheap (for Pub Street) at just $3!

Tomorrow I’m off with Saron again, this time for a half-day trip to Tonle Sap lake, which changes level drastically during the rainy season. Stay tuned to learn more!

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 3:43 pm.

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Angkor Sunset Storm

Admission to Angkor Archaeological Park, to see Angkor Wat and the other temples, is simple: choose a one-day, three-day, or one-week ticket. The multi-day tickets are usable over a longer period (I think a week and a month, respectively).

One really nice thing that I prefer over Machu Picchu: with the one-day ticket, you can enter the park a day before your visit, after 5pm, to see the sunset. Sweet!

Unfortunately for me, the sunset on July 19th got rained out. But I did get to climb up to the “sunset temple” (I can’t remember the Khmer name, but every tuk-tuk knows it). Eventually I will post some HDR (High Dynamic Range) shots of the rain approaching across the low-lying forest. Here’s the temple itself:

Sunset viewing temple at Angkor park

The stairs are quite steep. Go slowly and don’t look down – yeah, that steep. The idea of these temples was to imitate mountains, because Cambodia doesn’t have any majestic peaks like the Himalayas. Gods would be persuaded to visit these simulated mountain peaks, and even the King had to climb hand-over-hand up the stairways, humble before the gods.

Without HDR, the best one can do to capture the majestic clouds is to silhouette the foreground. Fortunately, the temples of Angkor lend themselves perfectly to this strategy.

Silhouette at Angkor park

Yes, that baby thunderhead was an omen of things to come. I waited out a brief shower from the west after talking to a tour guide who said it didn’t look too bad. Ten minutes later I saw another wall of rain moving toward us from north. When the guide saw that, he said, “Oh. That direction it usually lasts longer. I have to talk to my tour group, maybe we go down now.”

I took my cue and headed home, beating the rush to the tuk-tuks by ten minutes. My hotel driver unfortunately didn’t have any roll-down sides for the tuk-tuk (which every other one had), so I got soaked anyway.

Just as an aside: compare the shot above with a similar one where the silhouette is centered.

Example of bad framing at Angkor park

Bo-ring! The more interesting framing of the first shot captures the sky and the silhouette much better. Using the “Rule of Thirds,” place your subject on imaginary lines dividing the frame into thirds (vertically and/or horizontally). This composition makes a much more aesthetic photo.

As for a Cambodian sunset: I did see one a couple days later. Coming up soon! What was your best sunset ever, or worst attempt at seeing one? Flickr links please! <grin>

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 3:17 pm.


Donate Rice In Person

Help spread the word! If you like the idea in this article, please send it to world-travelin’-friends, tweet or FB it, and mention it to your blog’s readers. The more people who hear, the more rice we can donate!

After the incredible poverty that I witnessed in places like Thailand and Cambodia, I tried to think of some simple way that I (and others) could donate to help these poor people.

Toddler by the side of the road in Cambodia

You should not give money to beggars in poor countries; this promotes begging instead of education and hard work. A good way to help would be to volunteer for several months in a small community. But let’s face it, most of us are not in a position (family, job, and mindset-wise) to do this.

There are charities where one can donate, and some of them are even reliable, using only a small portion of your donation to administrate their charity group. But don’t donate to any charities while you’re in that poor country, unless you do your homework – many are fake!

Do not support beggars - it promotes more begging!

My idea, which I came up with on the last day of my Cambodia trip, is simple.

Donate rice in person.

When visiting a poverty-stricken country: budget as much cash as you’d like, buy rice, and take it to some poor families. Keep in mind that $10 USD will buy 20kg (44 lbs) of good rice in Cambodia, and you can only transport so much at once. For one or two people in a tuk-tuk, 20kg is a good amount.

With the money saved on buying rice, the staple of life in Asia, the families you help will be able to buy their choice of nourishing foods (for example, milk) for their children. Or they can save up for physical improvements to their home, such as buying materials to patch a leaky roof during monsoon season.

If you can afford it, do small rice runs several times throughout your trip. $12, three times spread out over a week’s vacation, will be over 150 pounds of rice. Given to six families, that’s a real difference. Done by a hundred people, or a thousand people – you get the idea.


Logistics to donate rice in person:

I bought my rice at the Old Market in Siem Reap, scooped out into plastic bags and weighed on an ancient scale. Westernized stores might have higher prices = less bang for the buck, but you can check around.

If you find a nice tuk-tuk driver, just ask him to drive through a rural area on the way back to your hotel. Unless you really trust the guy, I wouldn’t necessarily ask him to find a poor family for you, because you might end up giving the rice to his family.

Just make your own decision as you drive through the countryside. The tinier the shack or tent, and the less-rainproof the roof, the more in need that family probably is.

Poor families on Tonle Sap Lake's floating village

I’d say the floating village on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia is a good place for this kind of donation. Regardless of where you donate, if you follow this very personal method, you can be sure that 100% of your donation goes directly to the bellies of a poor, rural family – no overhead, no skimming, and no fraud.

No one can use your “dollars for the orphans” to buy beer and smokes.

And best of all, you get to see a warm smile of surprise and gratitude, up close and personal. You’ve just turned one tough month out of a tough life into a month of plenty, for the cost of two or three cocktails in your hotel’s $3-happy-hour bar.

It’s one moment of your “low-cost-country” vacation that you’ll never forget.

Please try it out – DONATE RICE IN PERSON! And spread the word…


If you’ve made the effort and donated rice in person, please let me know by a comment or by email. I’ll make a list of names here for people who have donated, or “10 kg by anonymous” if you prefer.

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 7:26 am.


Downtown Siem Reap

On July 18th I flew from Singapore to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Priority #1: relaxing to recover from a rather travel-weary state. Siem Reap was just what the doctor ordered!

My hotel (Angkor Spirit Palace) is quite nice, for the $20/night I paid via hotels.com. There were a few blips in the description: I had to argue for the complimentary breakfast, my room lacks the promised safe, and (contrary to the description) there is no whale-watching onsite. Shocker!

For the afternoon I headed into town by the hotel’s complimentary tuk-tuk. Here’s what I found around the Old Market. Cellphones are everywhere in the world, even in the poorest of nations:

Mother and daughter with cell phone in Siem Reap

You’ve gotta love some of the restaurant names in Cambodia. The fine print: “Don’t serve dog,cat,rat,wrm. Died in, 1999.”

Siem Reap's "Dead Fish Tower"

I haven’t seen any 7-Eleven’s here in Cambodia. But they have the next best thing, the 6-Eleven! Note the blurry scooter with a whole family riding on it.

It's the infamous 6-Eleven!

Well, just wait a few seconds and another fully-loaded scooter will come by. Then I can get a better focus on what would break about eighteen laws in most Western countries.

How many people can you fit on one motorbike? The answer is five.

I’ll cap today with a shot demonstrating the short depth-of-field of the 35mm f/2 lens. Even on that first taco, only half the cilantro is in focus!

Viva Carne Asada Tacos!

I can recommend Viva as decent Mexican. Especially considering it’s about as far away from Mexico as you can get. More authentic than anything I’ve ever tried in Germany! Plus, you just can’t beat $0.50 USD draft Angkor beer. Which is the standard price all along Siem Reap’s “Pub Street.” So far, an awesome (and very relaxing) experience!

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 3:41 pm.

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