SketchTravel in Cambodia
Water water everywhere
Imagine a river so big that it actually swells and flows backwards during the seasonal monsoon rains, creating the great inland sea known as Tonle Sap Lake. That is the Mekong River, composed of nine great tributaries - known locally as the Nine Dragon river delta.
This watercolor is of a little house surrounded on all sides by that powerful river. I lightly sketched this out in pencil, then added overall light background washes to give the page some color. Then I blocked in color overall, and finally added small details to trees and house until it felt finished. I am mainly a drawer. My watercolors often look awful and unfinished until I finally work them up with the last details. Even then they never look great. Only later once I put them aside for some time and then revisited them, do they seem passable.
First glimpse of Cambodia
After traveling from Saigon down through the Mekong Delta, I spent the night at the border town Chau Doc. As we got closer to the Cambodian border I was aware of the delta water encroaching closer and closer. Whole communities hugged the highway, built on stilts with flooded rice paddies as far as I could see. I hired a motorcycle driver to take me up to San Mountain Buddhist Temple and first glimpses of Cambodia in the distance. Back at the little hotel I arranged for a place on the morning fast boat that takes you to Phnom Penh, capital city of Cambodia. I also tried to engage an English couple there in the lobby in conversation. But they had their noses in their tour book and didn't feel like chatting. They were less than pleased at the weather, having been stranded there a couple days due to the rain.
Next day they were on the boat with me. This was a 4+ hour cruise in a long, narrow noisy wood boat. The first hour or so took us up a narrower part of the river, offering first row views of these river towns built out over the water. Saw mills, industry buildings, and clusters of haphazard houses were fantastic, but no time to sketch on the boat. Then the river opened up so wide you could only see strips of vegetation along the horizons, feeling like we were out to sea. After another attempt to chat with my traveler companions, we of course found we had everything in common. We compared sketchbooks and found we both had a son in architecture school. So it goes.
Getting sick in Phnom Penh
In Phnom Penh I had a short afternoon open before flying up to the town of Siem Reap on Tonle Sap Lake, so I did a tour of the Royal Palace and out to the Killing Fields museum. Talk about a sobering place. I didn't do any sketches. My driver warned me to keep my camera down and out of sight in the car, or risk losing it. Next morning I had breakfast at a Chinese restaurant in the little hotel, and got sick on my flight to Siem Reap. Fortunately I got better pretty quickly. From the plane, the green countryside seemed like green velvet sparkling with a million jewels - so many little lakes formed temporarily from the rains. Siem Reap borders Tonle Sap Lake and is the gateway to explore the fantastic ruins of Angkor. It's hard for me to believe a place like this even exists. The symmetry and detail of Angkor Wat are a tribute to the genius of past cultures. I attempted to do a couple drawings at Angkor, but in most cases I gave up because the structures are over-the-top complex, and the throngs of people are a huge challenge for sketching.
Those amazing stilt houses
From Siem Reap I took a day trip to Phnom Kulen in the Khmer mountains, where I visited a huge reclining Buddha on top of an enormous round rock. The stream there is the sacred source of water for Angkor. The bottom of the stream is carved with lingams, these big squares that are an abstract representation of Shiva, the Hindu deity. Along the way I stopped to sketch several country houses on stilts. Although not build on the water, the fields flood during the wet season. So they keep dry in these stilt houses as well as protect their rice. The fields were brilliant greens with pools of water from recent rains and clusters of palms here and there. Absolutely beautiful. I'm always drawn to these small local scenes for sketching material.