From refugee kid to Cirque du Soleil star

Battambang was a flourishing city before the horrific Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, dramatically jeopardized the lives of its inhabitants. Many of them ended up slaughtered in the killing fields or neighbouring killing caves for no reason, whilst others were luckier and made it to close-by Thailand. Most of them spent years in refugee camps under harsh conditions. Kids grew up traumatised with hardly any access to proper education. In 1986, Véronique Decrop, a French art teacher, volunteered at the Site Two Refugee Camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. She used drawings as a therapy to help traumatised children express themselves. That was the spark to what will become Phare Ponleu Selpak (Cambodian for the brightness of the arts), a non-profit organization improving the lives of Cambodians through arts and education, its highlight being one of the best circus schools in the world. Keep reading

Kick start Muay Thai

He comes back from his 40-minute run in 33 degrees Celcius. He is given a rope and starts rope skipping for a full 10 minutes in a row, focussed and with a straight face. The veins on his temples start showing and when he is done he gets rid of the jacket that must feel extremely suffocating. Pearls of sweat start dripping from his muscled body which he shyly reveals in the burning sun. Without hesitation he starts doing his push-ups. He is breathing heavily when he sits down to tightly wrap some cotton bandages between his fingers and around his hand. He knows the drill. He puts in his mouth guard, slips his hands into some gloves and enters the boxing ring where his trainer is awaiting him. He is ready to start the training from a former Muay Lao champion and also olympic boxing champion, Khampanath Kounlavong, in the backstreets of Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Keep reading

Traditional crafts of Cambodia (7/7): rice wine, Battambang

In this last article of our traditional crafts of Cambodia series, we will introduce you to the most favoured alcoholic drink in Asia: rice wine. As the name implies, the alcoholic beverage is made of Asia’s main cereal: rice.

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Traditional crafts of Cambodia (6/7): dried banana sheets, Battambang

In Battambang, another popular way for families to make a living is to produce the favoured local Cambodian snack: dried banana sheets. Keep reading

An off-track motorbiking adventure to Beng Mealea, Cambodia

I decide to stop my motorbike in front of the narrow improvised bridge. I feel relieved and worried at the same time. Relieved, as the previous river crossing did not offer the luxury of a bridge. I had to launch my semi-automatic 125 cc Honda Dream motorbike into the murky stream and use all of my skills to extract it from the water in which it was immerged wheel-deep. Worried, as this wooden bridge is no more than 50-centimetre wide, with no rails to prevent a potential fall into the water, and for good measure a missing plank in the centre leaving a gap just the right size to sink the front wheel in.

I am looking at my partner with envy as she has already crossed. When she turns her head, I capture her smile and instantly come up with a genius plan Keep reading

Photo of the day: Cambodia’s moving circus act

In this amazing shot, the contortionist has just fired her arrow with her feet while standing on her hands. It is about to pierce a balloon filled with paint that has been fixed to the artwork that has just been realised live on stage. The dripping paint symbolises the blood that was shed during the secret bombings of Cambodia by the US in the shadow of the Vietnam War. Keep reading

Traditional crafts of Cambodia (5/7): fish paste, Battambang

“Smell like the hell, eat like the heaven”, Mr. Ola tells us with a mesmerizing smile while explaining his mother’s signature recipe for the traditional prahok, a Cambodian fish paste dish. I uncomfortably move from one leg to the other trying to carefully listen to his story but holding my breath at the same time, avoiding the offending foul smell. We are about to discover how the unmissable and key ingredient for many Asian dishes is made on the fish paste market of Battambang, Cambodia. Keep reading

Traditional crafts of Cambodia (4/7): Rice paper, Battambang

Rice paper is used for making the famous and delicious spring rolls. Due to the high demand of these thin leafs of edible paper, most of its production takes place in factories. In Battambang, a few families still make a living by producing them by hand. Keep reading

Photo of the day: Scarlet dragonfly, Cambodia

Dragonflies are expert fliers, being able to hover like a colibri, go straight up and down, and change direction rapidly. With their eyes taking Keep reading

Traditional crafts of Cambodia (3/7): Rice noodles, Battambang

Rice noodles are a favourite in many Asian countries. A pho for breakfast or rice noodles as a base for lunch or dinner are common. To serve this high demand, most noodles are produced in factories. However, it is still possible to buy them fresh and hand-made. In Battambang, a few families living in the rice noodle district have been passing on this know-how for many generations.

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