48 year old Hachaouen rests on a hammock at Wat Ekonsai, in Siem Reap.
Hachaouen has been a monk for two years and travels to different pagoda’s (wats) to study the Buddhist teachings known as Dharmas. His face lights up as he talks of spending time at Angkor Wat, a sacred pilgrimage for many Cambodian Buddhists, despite originally being a Hindu temple.
Buddhism has existed in Cambodia at least since the 5th century and is practiced by 95% of the population. There are numerous Buddhist festivals throughout the year including Pchum Ben, when people visit pagodas and remember loved ones.
In Cambodia, almost every village has a Wat, the spiritual centre of the village where several monks reside. In Siem Reap, as with many towns, there are numerous Wats, all with their own character and beautifully decorated temples and statues. Wats are wonderful places to calmly spend some time, away from the hustle and bustle of the world outside, a sanctuary. These places are also places of study, of Buddhist teaching and all sorts of worldly subjects. You often find monks going from one wat to another for various classes.
While Cambodia has no welfare system and little state support for the poorest people, becoming a monk often provides an opportunity not only to learn the teachings of Buddhism but also a way to become educated. From my personal experiences of visiting wats all over the country, these spiritual sanctuaries not only provide a place for people to live and study but also a refuge.
This portrait was made with the kind support of Caspar Chater. To pledge a portrait, visit the support page.
Cambodia’s most celebrated modern architect, Vann Molyvann at his home in Phnom Penh.
Born in 1926, Molyvann was the leading figure behind the New Khmer Architecture movement of the 1950’s and 60’s, often referred to as the golden age of architecture in Cambodia. Some of his best known buildings include Independence Monument, the Olympic Stadium and Sports Complex, the Teacher Training College and the State Palace to name just a few. Celebrated for his innovative and unique designs, you can see his influence in many new buildings popping up around the country.
Molyvann relocated to Switzerland during the war years and returned to Cambodia in 1991, serving as President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Culture among other roles.
As Cambodia develops, and in particular, Phnom Penh, many of Molyvann’s iconic buildings have come under threat. In 2008, the National Theater and the Council of Ministers building were both destroyed. Even Molyvann’s own home in Phnom Penh (where I made this portrait in 2010), which is considered as a masterpiece and the spiritual home of New Khmer Architecture, has been turned into a design showroom, causing alarm in the architecture community when pictures surfaced on social media of the interior of the building gutted and full with rubble.
Molyvann, now 89 years old, lives in Siem Reap, having moved a few years ago from the capital.
For more information on Molyvanns buildings, visit the VannMolyvann Project, http://www.vannmolyvannproject.org/the-project/ who are working to preserve and document the legacy of his buildings.
An elderly lady and child at a community in Phnom Penh set for demolition due to land grabbers claiming their land, 2009.
Since this image was made, the land where dozens of families once lived has long since been destroyed and developed by property investors. As in so many instances around the world, the development of cities comes at a high price for the most vulnerable and poorest, forcing people to lose their land, homes and livelihoods.
On a personal note, the image also evokes thoughts about the different generations and the hope that the child will have a brighter future than of the lady who will have lived through Cambodia’s darkest of times.
Two men take a rest on the back of a truck at a market in Phnom Penh. At this busy local market on the outer edges of the capital, there is an entire block of streets devoted solely to the trade of bananas.
Samorn, 24, at his rented room on the outskirts of Phnom Penh which he shares with four others who also work at the nearby clothing factories.
A garment worker for four years, Samorn has dreams of becoming a tailor and owning his own business.
Channa & Tek
Married couple Channa and Tek share a happy moment before going off to work.
They rent a small room on the outskirts of Phnom Penh where Channa works at one of the many garment factories that produce clothing for high profile brands such as Nike, H&M, Primark and Walmart. Tek works as a TukTuk driver in the centre of town. Together they have a two year old son. Despite working long hours, they describe struggling to make ends meet.
25 year old Brak Sophanna at the Treak Community Centre in Siem Reap, where he spends his weekends teaching guitar to local children. Sophanna writes and performs his own Khmer songs on subjects close to his heart such as Khmer culture, hardship and love.
His musical idols are Preap Sovath and Sin Sisamuth, two of Cambodia’s most famous signers. Already having performed at concerts in Siem Reap, Sophanna hopes to play to even larger audiences in the future and through music, help young people stay on the right path.
Check out Sophanna’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/PhannaUseal-1729187560640529/ , and listen to his songs.