The view from Bayon

The aim of art is to present not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance; for this, not the external manner and detail, constitutes true reality.


Standing on Bayon’s upper terrace I survey the magnificence of the surrounding Angkor Tom, literally “Great City”, who’s majestic temples appear to be falling to an invading forest. Over my left shoulder a 4 meter tall stone face’s gaze is turned to the east, so that each morning the serene smile is bathed by the sun.

More than a hundred feet above ground this remorseless invasion reminded me of a battle I have fought daily for more than a decade and half in which I am expected to beat the market averages with a budget that shrinks annually despite continued success.

I am being melodramatic. Several temples in the Siem Reap complex are classified as Unesco World Heritage Sites. This status ensures a retinue of engineers, geologists, consultants and machetes that work tirelessly to keep the complex in good shape despite the fact that construction started in 900AD! Here there are no shareholders scrutinising quarterly returns, only a deep commitment to maintaining mankind’s heritage.

But Cambodia offers far more to the traveller than well preserved architecture. Foodies, culture lovers, historians, archeologists, architects and adventurers will find plenty to satisfy every taste. At the risk of stating the obvious, a bit of research and a knowledgeable guide will help you get the most out of your trip, whatever your interests might be.

I was blessed with sunshine & humidity demanding two shirts-a-day, but still had to negotiate a steady stream of smartphone wielding humans to capture the raw material I needed.

Given these parameters a light meter and the willingness to use manual mode was a necessity, whilst a tripod was nice to have. Tripod in hand you can find your access limited by your level of fitness (there are a lot of stairs) and your guide’s willingness to negotiate on your behalf. Finally, bring a bucket of patience and a bottle of water.

Which explains why I was standing more than a hundred feet above the ground framing the horizon looking like a wannabe Spielberg.

Midday, is a great time to capture this scene as the high sun fills all but the most obtuse shadows whilst, importantly, keeping fellow tourists out of the frame as they retreat from the sweltering heat & humidity.

Early mornings are, of course, another great time to capture these glorious monuments. Not only is it much cooler and the light often fantastic, there are even fewer tourists about; mostly because they are nursing sore heads! Unfortunately the low cross-light cast by the early sun is ill-suited to the vistas that beckon from Bayon’s terraces.

Despite a full schedule of shooting and eating, I find solo travel allows plenty of time to reflect. In Siem Reap this happened mostly at night next to the pool or over a bowl of steaming food; usually with a cold beer in hand. Or, when I paused from arranging a composition in a 2×3 frame to drink in the beauty from Bayon’s upper terrace.

The accumulated force of these moments nudged the normal focus of my life when I understood two things. First, work did not define me and second, that my photography was evolving into a form of interpretive self-expression.

It was a long time before I fully understood what I had glimpsed on that perch in Cambodia. That is the curse of living a busy life.