Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat

We focus on the province of Prey Veng in all other sections. I refer to Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat at various times. Everyone who has visited our villages has flown into Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, the city of hotels for visiting Angkor Wat. There is even incredible poverty next to the five star hotels of Siem Reap and at least one of the links from this site covers Rotary projects in Siem Reap.

I’ll list some photos and notes within this section. It’s very important to know that prior to the 1970s and events immediately before and during The Khmer Rouge years , Phnom Penh was regarded in the same way as Bangkok, a fairly sophisticated, “Pearl of the orient”. The Khmer Rouge dragged Cambodia back possibly 100 years.. This is part of an article from a Californian newspaper on April 2011:-

Mercury News California 14.4.2011.

Cambodia isn’t usually associated with giddy, psychedelic pop music, but in the late 1960s, the Southeast Asian nation turned into a rock ‘n’ roll hothouse inflamed by the surf rock, soul and garage-band hits broadcast on U.S. Armed Forces Radio to American troops in neighboring Vietnam.

So, there we are in the late sixties…


Phnom Penh in 2011 has greatly improved since the utter empty devastation and social destruction of The Khmer Rouge four year reign of terror. Cambodia, economically is improving at 10% per year but there is absolute agreement that this covers a tiny minority of the urban population…yes there are lots of cranes building lots of big buildings but there are suggestions that not just the rural poor but also the urban poor are actually getting POORER. (80% of Cambodia lives in rural village situations). This is what parts of Phnom Penh are like right now:









There are many websites showing filth and squalor in Phnom Penh but the reality is that children here are trying to play the same way as anywhere else.










This is a series of photos I took of the rubbish dump village. The children live in it, wear and eat the contents and try to enjoy it.









Sisters at work in the toxic sludge.










Little sister climbs out of the toxic stream of sludge.










This is where they live.








Walking home.









Start of a new home.









First two friends at work.










Often we in the west may find it hard to understand happiness in all this; but their families love them and it’s a strong village atmosphere…..just so extremely vulnerable.

EDIT on November 30 2016

Within this website there are thousands of children from my 12 years of taking photographs. I know what most of them are doing and TODAY I learned from a very good friend in Phnom Penh that the dump itself is closed (I knew that) but that the girl above – the girl in the blue hat and the smile of smiles finally went to school and is STILL in School near the old dump site.

My guess is that she will be at least 17 years old now. Children who start school ‘late’ catch up in late teens and into their twenties if there is local encouragement and usually a charity to help. Today is a good day. John,



A woman from France a few years ago helped these Dump kids with a great little project.. It was the time of disposable cameras. She gave each kid a camera, taught them how to use it and then she made a calendar from their photos and gave their families the proceeds. This was great and there are now a number of city based charities in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in particular (as time goes by I’ll add links to their sites as quickly as I get them) which are there for the long haul which is the only way. If you check out the sustainability section of this site you’ll see I have grave doubts about short term projects; things are so bad for many families and children that a long term presence is needed.

If this was the urban poor enclaves of any western country we would know that this or that part of society has kinda been forgotten or slipped through the net. In Cambodia there is no net. There is no social welfare or national care system. The natural caring system of rural villages along with a very practical Buddhist system that Cambodia practices is at the moment as good as it gets…and on the whole a lot of international help is needed.










In Phnom Penh this is called a rimorque.. It’s a motor bike bus and can be packed with people.





Originally I didn’t come to Cambodia to help people; I came to see temples and in particular Angkor Wat. It was my exploring far away that caused me to find our villages. So I thank these photos for my introduction to this wonderful country. These were all taken in 2004 and I haven’t been back to Angkor since.

Important to bear in mind;

Don’t ever get the idea that we are trying to drag a simple native people kicking and screaming into our modern world. In 1974 Phnom Penh was as advanced as any south east Asian city. Cambodia has a very long history and culture.

In the year 1400 the population of London was approximately 50,000 (all estimates range from 40,000 to 60,000). In 1400 the population of the capital city of the Khmer Empire – Angkor Thom – was approximately 1,000,000. Angkor Thom was the city and the nearby monastery/temple (Wat) was and is Angkor Wat. Most of the 30 sq kilometers of nearby temple complexes are in various states of ruin but Angkor Wat was never ever abandoned so it’s all in good condition – the world’s biggest ever religious building.

There are many books and websites about the Angkor area and era. Very briefly – after numerous Thai invasions, Angkor Thom as a place to live and rule from was abandoned and a city was created at Phnom Penh. During one of those Thai invasions the entire court of dancers and singers was taken to Thailand and forms to this day the basis of Thai dancing. Incidentally after the Khmer Rouge and to this day, a whole new generation of Khmer people needed to be taught their cultural dances and songs by teachers who had mostly been killed. This is just one of the disastrous legacies of killing teachers of ALL things.

Here are some photos;








It’s a moment of goose-bumps to walk through a gateway that has concealed the view and suddenly be met by this view. Angkor Wat, the world’s biggest religious building. In 1400 it was the monastery/main temple of the city of Angkor Thom – at the time the population of Angkor Thom was twenty times greater than that of London.









This was me John in 2004. This is why I came to Cambodia. I had yet to explore and find our villages.










This at nearby Ta Promh. This is one of those photos that every traveler takes…you can’t not take it! I’ve got lots like this.












AngorWat itself was never abandoned so was never taken over by the jungle. A lot of clearing has been done at overgrown temple sites since the west stumbled on these wonders in the nineteenth century and some are in advanced ruin.

A decision was taken with Ta Prohm (the above two photos) to leave the trees.

It is regarded as a symbiotic relationship: the buildings and the trees now need each other; if one were to collapse so would the other. Of the many temples in The Angkor region, Ta Prohm is everyone’s favourite. I expect every traveller that’s ever been to Cambodia has a photo of themselves in this very spot.