The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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Anyone reading this blog will have discovered I am not a photographer! I don’t have a photographer’s “eye”, and I did not have a photographer’s camera. That I got any pictures of this trip at all amazes me still. Film for my Instamatic was not universally available, and when I could find it, was expensive. I rarely stayed long enough anywhere for processing, so I accumulated the exposed rolls and had them all developed when I got back to the US. As will be seen, there were some problems with this, and in some pictures humidity caused the emulsion to stick and caused strange blotches. To the extent I can fix any of this by computer, I will, but some of the poor shots are bound to appear.

National Geographic, June 2009

I took just one photo of Angkor Wat itself: one of the most photographed antiquities in the world, I wasn’t even going to try to capture it with my little point-and-shoot. There’s no way my feeble skills could do it any justice! There are many sources on the web, and I don’t know how many times it has turned up in the National Geographic, including the June 2009 issue.

The Moto appears in many shots: remember, I planned to write an article for a MC magazine when I got back, so I included it as often as I could. The article never materialized—until now, 40 years later.


I’m often asked how I found my way around without the benefit of GPS. By golly, there were maps! The one I used in Cambodia appears on the previous page. The highways and roads were numbered, and stone markers were plentiful. Signs were usually in both Cambodian and english! Later, when I got to Thailand, I found a map that had each town marked in Thai, with a transliteration into english below. Road-signs, however, were only in Thai. So, I picked out some feature of the Thai name—its extreme length, or some odd squiggly letter, any distinguishing feature—then simply “read” the signs by looking for that feature. It was really quite easy, and I never felt “lost” anywhere. I happen to have a fairly good sense of direction: it helped.


DIARY ENTRIES: Wednesday, 18 Sept. (continued): Angkor Wat—indeed all the monuments—is incredible!! Besides the feat of piling up all the stones artfully enough, the entire exterior & interior surfaces are decorated—every square inch. Though the pattern-work is repetitious, the effect—softened no doubt by time—is truly beautiful. I see now why Todd raved so about this area—and I have only begun to see it!!!

BACKSTORY: The town of Siem Reap is a few km from the temple complex, and the Hotel de la Paix was closer. A wide avenue, then lined with tall trees, led towards the park. The avenue ended at a crossing with the road around the moat which surrounds Angkor Wat itself. Approaching that intersection, I did not notice the Wat until I was at the junction: suddenly, there it was! Despite having seen my brother Todd’s pictures, and having seen many photos in the Geographic, I was totally unprepared for the size and scope of it. The road surrounding the moat is a number of miles in length.

The Only Picture I Took of Angkor Wat Itself

Thursday 19 Sept: Arose around 6:30, departed Hotel around 7:30 for Banteay Srey. A lovely, well-preserved temple & well worth the trip, even though the road is not as shown on the map. After leaving B. Srey, decided to keep on & see how far towards Beng Melea I could get—but the road got progressively worse &—lacking knobbies—I eventually had to capitulate. Explored a couple of side roads but lacking any useful map located nothing. Returned to civilization & went to Banteay Samre. Pulled OK through a stream well over the hubs! But got there (with a short walk). This is also an impressive temple worth seeing. Back to Hotel for lunch, then out to Preah Ko & Bakong—and also worth the effort. Lolei, very nearby, was not worth the trip and while I was there the afternoon rain hit—and eventually passed. Later took [road] #29 down to Phnom Krom. The temple isn’t worth the trip but the road up there is something else! Back to dine at Hotel, then out to Angkor Wat for classical dances—my only homage to the tourist circuit. Colorful and gracelful, but essentially meaningless because it is so studied & symbolic. Then back to the Hotel for rest. Tomorrow—Battambang.

Banteay Srey

Photos of Banteay Srey. Far enough off the beaten track in those days to be still beautifully preserved. What has happened to it in the 40 years since I hate to think.

The Track to Beng Melea. Beyond the Honda’s Capabilities!

The Road Down From Phnom Krom.

Sorry, it’s a lousy photo, but the bike IS in there!

Friday 20 Sept: Made Battambang about noon after leaving Siem Reap around 8. Weather excellent all the way. Road from Sisiphon to B.Bang not entirely paved, but not too slow-going. Met Thach Ny after a small lunch & we went to the modest home of his brother. Later, Ny, a little boy and I all three set out for Phnom Sampou. Before we got there we waited out a heavy storm, about 1½ hrs. Got into all sorts of trouble trying to get up the road, what with 3 people, mud, wetness, etc. Finally walked the last 1/2 way or so. Big cave with a sleeping Buddha at the top. Very pretty & green & wet. Rain began again as we descended, but had stopped by the time we got back to B.Bang. I later checked into the hotel, leaving Thack Ny with the understanding he was to meet me at the hotel next am at 7:30. Rain again, so I retired early, hence saw little of B.Bang: must go back again some day as it is a large place and nice.

BACKSTORY: But, Battambang much later was a K R stronghold, and the caves at Ph. Sampou now contain the remains of many who were killed. A portion of the hill is now being carved into a likeness of Buddha. The trip to B.Bang was mainly to reconnect with Thach, who had shown me much kindness and who shared himself with me often. How he got from P.Penh to B.Bang I do not know, and we met as planned, but he slept with his family, not with me! Oh, well, can’t win ‘em all!

Saturday, 21 Sept: Return to Siem Reap uneventful. Was unable to locate Banteay Chhmar. Will try to get info here on exact location (presumably near Sisiphon). Arrived around 1, & took the afternoon to do some maintenance on the bike. Took the glaze off the rear brakes—there is one wheel bearing in poor shape. The bike is a mess, but I may try one more off-the-beaten-track exercise tomorrow before cleaning it up. Changed oil—none too soon. Put in 40W this time.

Sunday, 22 Sept:Arose early. Had the Honda washed—a good job. Then proceeded to the park where I re-rode the main circuit, taking in the various monuments in greater depth than before. Ta Prohm is the best—pretty much left as it was found—very interesting how the jungle has over-grown it. The Banteay Kdei is fun too. Many monkeys were playing in the trees around it. A huge spider had dropped his web around the pathway—he was a colorful, though evil-looking beast. Observed army ants at work: fascinating!! Rain in the pm and mid-evening, maybe more later. May try to get to Chau Srey Vibol tomorrow—depends on weather, among other things.

Banteay Kdei. Note Hand of Bananas Strapped to the Bike.

Monday 23 Sept: Got a bit of a late start, went to Roluos & started off through the rice paddies for Chau Srei Vibol. Got about 4 km out & ran into water well over the hubs, so had to turn back. The cyclo boys say there is a new road in, but I can’t find it as it is not marked. Came back to Angkor and tried another road—it began better, but I came to a bridge that I’d have had to repair to get across, so I decided enough is definitely enough & turned back. Poked around in the Bayon later, & some back roads, then did a circuit of the West Bayon & eventually returned to Hotel to sit out the afternoon rain. Had a quiet evening of chats with some chaps, then off to bed.

Track to Chau Srei Vibol. The Puddle was formidable!

BACKSTORY: The track in the first picture is easily navigated on a motorbike. I actually traversed a puddle similar to the one shown in the second photo to reach this point. I decided this one was too deep, and who-knows-what was in the distance. The previous puddle I had managed to avoid by going around it. But, returning, I knew I could not climb the muddy bank I had come down, so I stopped to contemplate how I might get through the puddle itself. A little boy materialized and with no prompting waded into the water to show me how deep it was. So I revved up the engine, tickled the clutch and kept my feet down to stabilize and got through. (If water reaches the spark-plugs, it’s all over: if not, you get through.) I got through, and parked the bike to let it drain and to wring the water out of my pants. Just then a gent sitting on a high-wheeled cart pulled by a water-b came along and sloshed through the puddle I had just navigated. The look on his face, as clear as it could be, said, “What the f*** is this dude doing out here with a motorcycle? He needs a water-b!” He was right, and if I had had the time and sense, I might have hired him to take me to the temple. Another time, perhaps!

The Bayon: One of the Most Photographed of the Temples Besides Angkor Wat.

Tuesday 24 Sept: Up early, but with a slight head-ache for some obscure reason. Lolligagged over breakfast consequently, then went out to the park & poked around in Ta Keo, then Ta Prohm for a last look at my favorite temple. Rain commenced shortly after lunch, so I shopped in town a bit, tuned the Honda a bit, and otherwise killed the afternoon. Tomorrow—set out for Bangkok.

Looking Down from the Top of Bakong Temple.
Banteay Samre and Preah Ko
Entrance, Preah Khan Temple
The Demon Gate to Angkor Thom

REMINISCENCES: I was there in the off season: most of the time there was no one but me wandering around the temples. But there were people using them: it was not unusual to find punk-sticks smoldering here and there, and now and then I’d get a glimpse of a saffron robe. I was trapped in Ta Prom one afternoon when it rained a bit earlier than expected, and that was an experience I won’t forget! The monsoons drop huge quantities of rain, yet inside the temple, under the trees which over-grow it, no water ever hit me directly. Instead, it ran down all over everything! Small water-falls appeared out of nowhere. It was dark, dank, wet, and fascinating!

In the dry season the ficus trees shed huge amounts of pollen, so much that the temples appear yellow in photographs. In the wet season the temples are washed clean every day.

I left the cycle wherever and whenever to roam the temples. No one ever touched it, except a few times I returned to find it covered with card-board or something if it looked like rain.

In many temples I found small rooms with a lingam (google it) prominently displayed. Whatever, there’s no mistaking these phallic symbols. Just how they were used in the hey-day of the temples I’m not sure, but I did find one that had been anointed with sperm not long before I got there. I added some. I often found myself horny wandering around there: I’ve no idea why. I left some calling-cards.

Coming up: on to Thailand!  Stay with me…signature


Written by Bruce

December 14th, 2009 at 10:18 pm

Posted in Angkor,Cambodia

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