The Old Market of Siem Reap, Cambodia

Untitled from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

When I travel, I love to visit the marketplace in each area. It is here where I can see and taste all the delicacies and get to know and interact with the local people. The Old Market in Cambodia is definitely a feast for the senses and makes the “super” markets in Philadelphia seem so boring in comparison. It was a one stop shopping experience and gave new meaning to “fresh produce” (at least for me)! So after a trip to the temples of Angkor Wat, I highly recommend a visit to “The Old Market” and then walk right across to Pub Street with its meandering alleys to enjoy the many restaurants and bars which draw on all the available fresh ingredients to create their delicious meals. It makes for a truly memorable day!

Copyright 2011 Frances Schwabenland. Images may not be copied, printed or otherwise disseminated without express written permission of Frances Schwabenland.

South East Asia Foot Massage

If you visit South East Asia, one of the very common sites you will see (usually in heavily touristed areas…wonder why?) are very large aquariums filled with a type of toothless fish which are happy campters feeding on dead skin cells. For approximately $20. the garra rufa fish, native to Turkey, will provide a tickling sensation (I did say the fish were toothless, right?) and after about 15 minutes, a customer’s feet will be smoother and be revitalized. It also helps if afterward, a human therapist continues the exfoliation followed by moisturizing. This gives an entirely new meaning to the term, “Happy Feet” and it has come to several salons in the US!

Bayon Temple


The temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia each hold their own special powers and mystical pull. At the Bayon Temple, I wondered through a magical maze of towers exuding grandness with carvings dedicated to the bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara. Each one is approximately 6 feet in height. Avalokiteshvara is considered to be the lord of compassion, but it is believed that these smiling images are the portrait of Jayavarman VII, the king who envisioned and built this temple in the late 12th century. The towers are positioned in such a way that these magnificient sculptures are keeping watch in all directions because it was believed that Avalokiteshvara hears the needs of all the people. There are over 2,000 faces on 54 towers. I could not help but feel the serenity from their massive gaze, an energy radiating from stone. Margaret Runbeck said, “Happiness isn’t a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling.” At that moment, I was traveling in style!

Angkor Wat, Devata and Apsara

Yes, I will admit it – I have and use a vision board… a huge board with no white space left since it is entirely covered by the places around the world I hope to travel to. It is constantly inspiring and calling to me, “Wander in Wonder!” (I am going to start selling T-shirts with that slogan! Let me know if interested!) When I began this “VB”, Angkor Wat was my very first image. I was so taken by its ancient beauty, its dance with nature in a far off exotic land. Built in the early 12th century in the classical style of Khmer architecture by King Suryavarman II. It is considered to be the largest religious temple in the world. Angkor Wat has become the recognized symbol of Cambodia with a depiction on the country’s flag. I can remember very clearly the exact moment when we came around the bend and I saw it for the first time. It took my breath away… I was finally here! Words for these moments are so inadequate because it is truly a moment for the heart and not the mind.

I came to learn of a mystery that exists and presently has many learned men and women trying to unravel. As stated on Devata.org researchers are exploring the question: “Why do images of powerful and creative women dominate the largest religious monument on Earth and what did they mean to the Khmer rulers, priests and people?” Within the temple, there are 1,796 sculptures of women realistically rendered in stone. Some are dieties known as devatas and others are apsaras known as the sacred dancers to the gods. I was amazed by the preservation of these beautiful images over centuries and the unique differences in facial characteristics.

Even though many questions still remain regarding the extent of the feminine forces in the design and empowerment of the Khmer society, as Devata.org puts it: “Many women of Southeast Asia are still blessed with the feminine beauty, power and spiritual harmony that the ancient Khmers honored.” “We have only to look and continue trying to understand” and I might add, live out dreams!

Cambodian Ingenuity

The dictionary defines ingenuity as the quality of being cleaverly inventive and resourceful. This seemed the perfect description for these Cambodian men…one for rest, several for entrepreneurial purposes.

The tuk tuk is a motorcycle which pulls a two wheeled cart with sofa like seats, a take on the taxi. The back of the seat can then be used for advertisements. While visiting the temples, this inventive driver attached a hammock to the roof of his tuk tuk and in the man made shade, enjoyed a short nap while his tourists were wandering through the ancient structure. I just happened to photograph this other driver smiling at me beause he was hoping for a fare and thought it funny in light of the writing directly underneath. I wondered if he was even aware of what was there.

The last scene caused me to be in awe of the strength and perseverance it must take for these men to ride bicycles weighed down with the coconuts…each weighing approximately two pounds. In the 88 degree heat, they could ride for miles hoping to sell the coconuts to those hungry and thirsty. BTW the coconut water contains of course water, simple carbohydrates and potassium…a healthy Cambodian sports’drink.

Cambodia: Fresh Water Clams Are A Street Delicacy

I can remember it distinctly… it was one of those “pinch me now” moments beause I was feeling so incredibly fortunate and grateful that somehow the stars must all be in alignment! Everything came together perfectly and here I was driving in a tuk tuk on the streets of Cambodia with a great friend and photographer whose work I truly admire. Riding the waves of exhilaration and my addiction to travel, I wanted to take it all in and not miss anything. It was then that I saw a woman walking the streets pulling a large cart covered in what seemed like large nuts or fruit. Over the next few days, I saw these pushcarts at every turn. It seemed to be endemic to Cambodia, but I was never close enough to really find out what was spread all across the metal tops. Finally, while sitting outside at a restaurant, there was a woman right across the street who happily explained it all to me.
Clams, the size of a fingertip, sit out to bake under the heat of the sun. They are marinated in oil, salt, garlic and red spices. While I was standing there, three people came to make a purchase. The woman gathered them up into a tin can for the right measurement and then poured them into a small plastic bag. Having a sensitive stomach, I have to admit that I did not try one, but from what I saw, many were enjoying this street snack and I walked away learning something new.

Cambodia: Kompong Pluk

A cluster of three floating villages of stillted houses make up the community of Kompong Pluk. Approximately 3000 people are inhabitants of households of wood, tin and bamboo. Fishing, primarily shrimp harvesting, is the foundation of their economy. Kompong Pluk is located within the floodplain of the Tonle Sap Lake and at this time of year, the only access is provided by a chartered boat from Chong Khneas which leads to comparitively few visitors.
Once there, our boat pulled up right outside a Buddhist Temple. Monks are just the nicest people to spend time with! Here we were unannounced and they could not have been nicer in spending time with us. Laughing, sharing and photographing…my kind of afternoon! On that day, life was pulsating in a slow and easy rhythm.

Cambodian Kindness

In Cambodia,as in India, the greeting consists of hands folded at the heart followed by a bow. In that moment of meeting, an honoring is truly conveyed. One is not rushing a quick, “Hello”, while multi-tasking or meeting with a cell phone ringing. There is a true stilling, a focused presence to the importance of the moment…the moment of welcoming another.

While photographing, I was so touched by the people’s kindness to a total stranger. I was welcomed into the quiet of a meditative moment and asked if I would like to taste the prepared food. There was no hesitation at all in the people’s generosity. I just hope that I can take all that was given to me to heart and be truly present in those moments of meeting, to honor friend or stranger. “Awe coon” (thank you).

Cambodia: Moments of Transcendence

In Prayer

Cambodian Man in Prayer

Lighting incense, praying over candles, bowing one’s head, the ringing of a bell, folded hands or those raised to make the sign of the cross… all outward signs of devotion seen as one is crossing the threshold into a type of divine space and,”In the attitude of silence, the soul finds its path in a clearer light.” (Gandhi)

Buddhist Nun in Prayer

As I was photographing at a small outdoor temple, this Buddhist nun motioned to me. After our gracious bow to each other, I then learned about the practice of Sai Sin. She began to chant blessings, sprinkled me with water and tied a red string around my wrist and kissed it. Sai Sin is believed to ensure blessings and restore the natural order of things. The color is usually red or white and the recipient is encouraged not to remove this but rather let it fall off naturally.
I am still wearing it and that day, a red string became my outward sign of connection with something larger than myself…another’s heart.

The Future of Cambodia

Thanksgiving was spent exploring Cambodia with cameras in hand. Seven days later, I was back in the states having surgery on my shoulder. It refused to stay in its dedicated space…all planned but still a whirlwind of a week, a combination of highs and lows, amazing access to sites and then total immobility. Reflections on this dichotomy of experiences led me into my first post on Cambodia.

National Geographic described Cambodia as, “A society emerging from decades of war and genocide, and it has almost completed its painful search for stability and democracy.” It went on to state, “Although many Cambodians remain traumatized by the shadows from their individual and collective pasts, now is their chance to look to the future.” From my all too brief visit, I found the children to radiate a palpable hopefulness, a living, breathing exuberance to foster a new optimism for the future.

Laughter is the quickest way to bring people together…no language classes needed. In the first picture, I was with a group of photographers in a rural village. The sweetest little one came up to us wanting us to buy the bananas. I was so intent on photographing her, I never looked down to see all that a nearby water buffalo left behind on the ground. I ended up right in a huge mound. The next thing I knew, these two were laughing so hard. We immediately became friends!

While photographing at a Buddhist monastery,these young girls came right up. I couldn’t resist their wonderful smiles and peace signing. I stayed with them for a time while they were just enjoying each other and the day…for a brief moment, the fun connected us all.

Islam is a minority religion in Cambodia.There is only one mosque in Siem Reap, Neak Mah Mosque. We arrived before salat (prayer) to find a young boy and girl who took full advantage of the open space as they played without a care in the world. It was wonderful to catch them jumping over such colorful prayer rugs and hearing nothing but giggles and laughter…spirits in flight.

Finally, I just loved that unplanned moment of friendship between the two Buddhist monks and the young girl who immediately flashed a smile and peace sign! All of these are moments that bring healing to the deep wounds of the past, connect, renew, opening doors to a hopeful future. I was so enlivend by them all.

Cambodian Child

Cambodian Children

Cambodian Children

Cambodian School Children

Cambodian Children

Cambodian Children, Muslim Cambodian Children

Cambodian Buddhist Monks

Cambodian Child