Friday, April 30, 2010

Cold Beer - $1.00

There we were, in the middle of Lake Tonle Sap in Cambodia, and we're being chased by another boat trying to sell us some cold drinks. The little kid simply used sign language as he held out a cold beer to entice us. You've got to admire the tenacity and perseverance of these people!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Two Pigs Heads

Shot this image of two pigs heads at the old market in Siem Reap, Cambodia where you can buy a huge range of fresh meat, vegetables, spices as well as many local handicrafts.

Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort

Here are some selected images of the Le Meridien Resort in Chiang Rai, Thailand where we stayed for 4 days. The resort, situated along the Mae Kok River, is moments from the town of Chiang Rai, the former capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom founded by King Meng Rai.
The resort features a blend of activities, including therapeutic treatments at the spa, refreshing swims in the pool, and hearty workouts in the gym. Outdoors, guests can embark on hill tribe visits, elephant trekking, and river tours.
The resort comprises 159 modern rooms and suites in five wings. Guest can revel in the expansive rooms, as the smallest measures 53 square metres. Views from the balconies overlook a private lake, lush lawns, and the Mae Kok River.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wild Red Ginger

This beautiful wild red ginger flower was spotted during a visit to the Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hilltribes of North Thailand

100 years ago or more, the Hilltribe peoples migrated south from China into what are now Burma, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. The six major tribes are the Karen (Kariang, Yang), the Hmong (Meo), the Yao (Mien), the Akha (Ekaw), the Lisu (Lisaw), and the Lahu (Mussur). The main profession of all these tribes is farming, and all of them tend to migrate whenever they feel that the soil at their present location is becoming depleted. Each tribe is very distinct, with its own culture, religion, language, art, and dress. 
On the outskirts of Chiang Rai the Government have set up a communal village area where a number of these hilltribes are allowed to stay for free. This gives them the advantage of access to the local services, such as schools and medical facilities, and also with visiting tourists the chance of additional income to supplement their simple agricultural life through the sale of their handicrafts.
With Thailand undergoing rapid modern development, it is difficult yet to say whether these tribes will continue in their traditional ways of life, or whether they will eventually be absorbed into the surrounding, and ever more encroaching, Thai society.

Akha (Ekaw) villages are distinguished by their carved wooden gates, presided over by guardian spirits. The Akha live in raised houses, within which one small room is set aside for paying respect to ancestors.
The focal point of community life is the open ground where the tribe celebrates its major festivals, especially that of the Giant Swing and where young men and women come to meet (under the watchful eye of the elders). This tribe is easily recognized by the black caps covered with silver coins, worn by the women.
Villages of these colourful people are to be found in the mountains of China, Laos Myanmar (Burma) and northern Thailand. There are approximately 20000 Akha living in Thailand’s northern provinces of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai at high altitudes. This tribe originate in Tibet. Every Akha village is distinguished by their carved wooden gates, presided over by guardian spirits. They live in raised houses on low stilts, with a large porch leading into a square living area with a stove at the back. The roof is steeply pitched. They live on marginal land and find it difficult to eke out a living through their slash and burn method of agriculture. In order to supplement their income, many Akha are now selling handicrafts, employing the traditional skills used in making their own clothing and cultural items. 
Akha women spin cotton into thread with a hand spindle, then weave it on a foot-treadle loom. The cloth is dyed with indigo, then sewed into clothing for the family. The women wear broad leggings, a short black skirt with a white beaded sporran, a loose fitting black jacket with heavily embroidered cuffs and lapels. The black caps are covered with silver coins. Akha men and women produce various decorative items of bamboo and seeds. The men make crossbows, musical instruments, a variety of baskets, and other items of wood, bamboo and rattan.
The Akha are deeply superstitious, their religion prescribing exactly how each action should be performed. This tribe is the poorest of the hill tribes, but well known for their extraordinary costumes and exotic appearance.

The Yao (Mien) prefer to live among low hills near dense forest. Their houses also sit on the ground, and feature a space designed for a cooking fire in the center of their main room, as well as a small shrine dedicated to their ancestors and to the guardian spirit they believe to inhabit each individual house.
Their language, long ago derived from Chinese, is written in Chinese Characters, and their paintings, mostly of religious subjects, reflect certain very ancient Chinese artistic styles, although the Yao paintings have a unique flavor of their own, and are coveted by many Western collectors. 
The Yao are the "businessmen" among the Hilltribes, and they also excel in the making of metal farm implements such as axes and plows. Because they've long had a written language --unlike several of the other tribes, who had no written version of their language prior to the coming into their midst of Christian missionaries -- they also know how to make high quality paper.
They are to be found in China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. In Thailand there are approximately 55000 Yao in widely scattered villages in the provinces of Phayao, Nan and Chiang Rai, and perhaps another 10000 or so refugees from Laos, living in refugee camps along the border.
The Yao originate in southern China, and are the only hill tribe to have a written language. Yao villages are mostly found on low hills, and their houses built usually of wooden planks on a dirt road. There is a guest platform of bamboo in the communal living area. Their economy for several generations has been based quite largely on the cultivation and marketing of opium, although opium addiction is relatively rare among them. With the present drive to stamp out the cultivation of the opium poppy in Thailand, the Yao find it necessary to seek other means of livelihood.
Yao women are noted for their magnificent cross-stitch embroidery, which richly decorates the clothing of every member of the family. The costume of the women is very distinctive, with a long black jacket with lapels of bright scarlet wool. Loose trousers in intricate designs are worn and a similarly embroidered black turban. Yao silversmiths produce lovely silver jewelry of high quality.
The Yao have a written religion based on medieval chinese taoism, although in recent years there have been many converts to christianity and buddhism. They are very peaceful and friendly, who pride themselves on cleanliness and honour and they are called the "businessmen" among the hilltribes.

Lahu people are to be found in the mountains of China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and northern Thailand. There are approximately 25000 Lahus now living in Thailand. There are four tribes within the Lahu: Black, Red, Yellow and She-Leh. Lahu villages are mostly at high altitude in the northern provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Sorn. They originated in south west China. Houses are built on high stilts with walls of bamboo or wooden planks, thatched with grass. A ladder leads to the open central living area, with a store room to one side and living quarters to the other. Their domestic animals like chicken, pigs and buffalos are kept in the basement corral. Their practice of slash and burn agriculture does not provide them with even the basic essentials of life, let alone the enrichment to be found in education for their children, adequate medical care, and the simple amenities of modern life.
Lahu women are skilled in weaving cloth, both on back-strap and foot-treadle looms, producing delicate patchwork trims, and unusual embroidery work. The Black Lahu women wear the most distinctive costumes within this tribe. They wear a black cloak with diagonal cream stripes. The top of the sleeve is decorated in bold colours of red and yellow. Red Lahu women wear black trousers with white edging and vivid sleeves of broad red and blue stripes. All the other Lahu tribes have supplemented their traditional costumes by sarong and Thai shirt. Men and women together make some of the finest baskets to be found anywhere in Thailand. Lahu men produce excellent crossbows, musical instruments, and other items made of wood, bamboo and rattan.
The Lahus are animist and believe in one spirit with overall control all the others. About 30% of the Lahus have been converted to christianity and have abandoned their way of life. The Lahu are independent people and love entertainment and the easy life. They are abviously pride themselves on their skills in hunting and trapping.

The Karen (Kariang, Yang) like to settle in foothills, and live in bamboo houses raised on stilts, beneath which live their domestic animals: pigs, chickens, and buffaloes. They, like all the tribes, are skilled farmers who practice crop rotation, and they also hunt for game, with spears and crossbows, and use tame elephants to help them clear land.
Karen women are skilled in sewing and dyeing, and dress in white blouse-sarong combinations with colorful patterns or beads for trim. They wear their long hair tied back in a bun and covered with white scarves.
The Karen are gentle, peaceful, and cooperative people, who, like all the Hilltribes, reserve their highest veneration for their ancestors and living elders.
The majority of the Karen people live in Burma, and yet they also form by far the largest of the major tribes of northern Thailand. There are as many as 280000 Karens living in Thailand. They can be found living both in the mountains and on the plains, most of them in the provinces of Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Sorn, Chiang Rai, but also in central Thailand. They live in bamboo houses raised on stilts, beneath which live their domestic animals, pigs, chickens and buffalos. The mountain-dwelling Karens practice swidden agriculture, and the plains-dwellers, for the most part, cultivate irrigated paddy fields.
Each of the many sections of this large ethnic group has its own style of dress. Unmarried girls wear loose white vee necked blouses. Married women wear blouses and skirts in bold colours, predominantly blue and red. Karen men produce musical instruments, animal bells, unique tobacco pipes and numerous other crafted items.
Karens are originally animist, but about 25% of Karens living in Thailand have been converted to christianity by western missionaries. The Karen people are very peaceful and cooperative, who like the other hilltribes, reserve their highest veneration for their ancestors and living elders.
The most famous subgroup of the Karen tribe are the long-neck Karen tribe or Padaung, known for the practice of the women wearing brass rings on their necks. The appearance of a long neck is a visual illusion. The weight of the rings pushes down the collar bone, as well as the upper ribs, to such an angle that the collar bone actually appears to be a part of the neck!
There are many different accounts of why the Padaung practice this bizzare custom. Their own mythology explains that it is done to prevent tigers from biting them! Others have reported that it is done to make the women unattractive so they are less likely to be captured by slave traders. The most common explanation, though, is the opposite of this - that an extra-long neck is considered a sign of great beauty and wealth and that it will attract a better husband. Adultery, though, is said to be punished by removal of the rings. In this case, since the neck muscles will have been severely weakened by years of not supporting the neck, a woman must spend the rest of her life lying down.

Wat Rong Khun - The White Temple

On the outskirts of Chiang Rai in north Thailand is an outstanding and unconventional buddhist and Hindu temple called Wat Rong Khun or the White Temple. The temple was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat and construction began in 1997. Wat Rong Khun is different from any other temple in Thailand, as its ubosot (consecrated assembly hall) is designed in white color with some use of white glass. The white color stands for Lord Buddha’s purity; the white glass stands for Lord Buddha’s wisdom that "shines brightly all over the Earth and the Universe." The bridge leading to the temple represents the crossing over from the cycle of rebirth to the Abode of Buddha. The small semicircle before the bridge stands for the human world. The big circle with fangs is the mouth of Rahu, meaning impurities in the mind, a representation of hell or suffering.

The Best Toilet in the World
On the left of the temple’s compound is a golden toilet which Chalermchai seems to also use to transfer some hidden message to visitors. It is as though he is saying, “I want this golden toilet to be a symbol of the human response to imagery.”  Perhaps the message is also that there is beauty in all things, which impresses people by its beauty rather than the fact that it is just a toilet.

Steve McCurry's "Afghan Girl" Spotted in Chiang Rai

They sometimes say that you know you are a success when your product is mimicked, copied or cloned but for the first time I saw this taken to a new level during a trip to Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand. As I wandered through the night market in Chiang Rai I couldn't help but notice an artist's work displayed on one of the roadside stalls with an all-too-familiar image. 
Steve McCurry's iconic image of Sharbat Gula, the "Afghan Girl", is world famous since it's first publication on the front cover of National Geographic Magazine in June 1985 (shown below for reference) and is the "most recognized photograph" in the history of the National Geographic Magazine. I am actually proud to say I have my own copy of this photograph purchased from the Steve McCurry Studio which is displayed in my photo studio.

Original Photograph ©Steve McCurry

The very next day during another outing to the upper stretches of the Kok River we had lunch in a simple riverside hut after an elephant trek and in this small, simple restaurant they were also selling local handicrafts and some paintings. Imagine my surprise when yet again Steve McCurry's "Afghan Girl" popped up .... this time in a rather more hideous form as you can see.

Sunset over the Kok River

This is the first of a series of images I captured during a recent 4 day trip to Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand. At this time of year it is stiflingly hot there with temperatures around 40 deg C. So at sunset it cools off a little and sitting at the outside bar by the banks of the Mae Kok River with a cooling drink certainly helps to refresh you after a hot day in the heat.
We were lucky enough to stay at the Meridien Hotel Resort which was well positioned on the river and provided a number of photo opportunities ..... more images from this trip will be posted in the coming days.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Food on Foot

This is the Vietnamese equivalent of "Meals on Wheels" .... I call it "Food on Foot"! You will see countless vendors moving around the streets of Ho Chi Minh carrying their goods to sell on the streets. These vendors will set up shop on a convenient street corner or roadside and get down to business. You can also see many of these people cooking and selling roadside food which provides a cheap and convenient way to have a quick lunch or snack.

Cool Cambodian Couple

I was in Siem reap during the water festival which was a great opportunity to people watch. The river bank was thronged with people watching the dragon boat races, enjoying the party atmosphere and sampling food from the many stalls set up shop on the riverside. This couple had sat down to rest on one of the few seats and looked very cool in their colourful outfits.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Punting on the River Avon

These are some of the historic buildings you can see on the River Avon, Christchurch, New Zealand as you enjoy a punt on one of the wonderful punts that you can hire. A punt is a flat bottomed boat that does not have a keel. The Avon runs right through the centre of Christchurch and eventually out to an estuary, which it shares with the Heathcote River. The Avon River was known by the Māori as Ōtākaro or Putare Kamutu. The Canterbury Association had planned to call it the Shakespere. The river was given its current name by John Deans in 1848 after the River Avon in Scotland.