I love photography. It is fun, & challenging, and one of my favorite ways to express myself or share little bits of our life, especially since we have been on the road. When we decided to head to Angkor, one of my primary goals was to find a guide who shared my passion for photography, because I have discovered over the past 11 months that visiting a place as a tourist is very different than visiting one as a photographer. There have been quite a few occasions on our journey where visiting as a tourist has greatly destroyed my enjoyment of a place as a photographer. I didn’t want that for Angkor.
I was lucky enough to stumble across Kimleng Sang’s website during my search for photography guides. And I am so glad I did. Not only is he a talented photographer in his own right, but he shares my passion for photography and for Angkor. And you know my mantra about not writing off your dreams? Well, he is a perfect example of that as well.
Kimleng Sang is originally from Takeo province, a rural area outside Phnom Penh. He came to Siem Reap in 2001, as a driver for a company, and fell in love with the area and with Angkor. After a couple of years, he was able to save up enough money to purchase a tuk tuk. He began his journey as a tuk tuk driver and guide in Angkor, shuttling tourists around the area and learning as much as he could about the people and history of this place. He spent countless hours scouting the temples for the best places and built a reputation as a good guide to use if you were a professional photographer.
In 2005, a photographer from Canada, named David, hired Kimleng to guide him through Angkor. He saw something in Kimleng and taught him how to use his cameras. Then he handed one over for Kimleng take a few shots. David saw something in those photos, and in the passion Kimleng had, and gifted him with a point and shoot camera at the end of his visit. A small gesture, but one which Kimleng says, “changed my life and my future that day.” Kimleng started out “taking photos of just everything”. When David returned several months later, he taught Kimleng more about photography, about depth of field and exposure, about composition, and how to edit your photos. Kimleng fell in love with photography.
He spent years saving money to buy a better camera, a dSLR. Finally, after years of saving, and with a small loan from a friend, he was able to buy his very own dSLR. Over the years, David and many other photographers have supported his education and passion for taking photos.
Kimleng has spent years scouting the sites of Angkor, both with his clients and on his own, to find the best spots and the best times of day to be there. He is well known among photographers (both professional and amateur) for his knowledge of the area and where the good stuff is, from the right angles, to hidden gems, and just the right light. But, as we discovered, you don’t have to be a professional photographer to benefit.
Kimleng’s approach to the temples involves avoiding the crowds and allowing you to fully experience the area in a unique way, as an explorer rather than just a visitor. So many times we would come in the back way or over the side wall, or explore an area that nobody else was interested in, but that contained archaeological and photographic treasures. He will tell you that he is no expert in history, but his knowledge of the history of Angkor and the temples is vast, and we learned a huge amount from him. He has an amazing ability to connect with the locals and capture their spirit as he photographs them against the backdrop of Angkor. From playing with kids, to joking with monks, or kindly making a very shy woman smile and share a bit of her life, he has an innate sense for connecting with the people and places of this area. Just being there with him makes the experience so much richer and more beautiful. To tour Angkor is exhilarating. To explore it with Kimleng is inspiring.
Kimleng’s stories and his ability to connect with the local people made Angkor come to life for us. He serves as both ambassador and translator and really enjoys speaking with and photographing people. So many times he would strike up a conversation with someone local or point out something interesting about the local life. We came off a temple one morning to him waving us over to join him in the middle of a huge crowd of people and hundreds of monks. It was the final day of Khmer New Year and the locals were making offerings to these monks. We joined the crowd and were privileged to watch this ceremony, as person after person, old and young, lined up to pay tribute to these monks with offerings of money and food for the new year.
Instances like this happened all the time when we were with Kimleng. We met people and witnessed events and places that would never happen without someone like Kimleng. He even helped us arrange our very own blessings from a local monk, something that would have been difficult for us to do on our own. If we had a question about where to go or what to do in the area, Kimleng was always the first person we asked for advice.
Every morning, Kimleng would be outside our hotel at the agreed upon time, always early and waiting for us with his wonderful smile. His tuk tuk is incredibly comfortable and he drives it well and carefully (which can be a rarity in Siem Reap, as we learned from personal experience). We would often return to the tuk tuk, thirsty & dusty from exploring a temple. Kimleng always had a cold bottle of water and lovely chilled scented towel for us. I cannot tell you how wonderful that is in that moment. The rates he charges are fair, and actually a true bargain considering that you are getting driver, guide, and photographer all in one. His ability to put together the perfect custom itineraries made our visits into Angkor smooth and easy, taking advantage of the best light and weather while avoiding the huge tour bus crowds and hottest times of day.
Photography, like all art, is collaborative in nature. Kimleng definitely brought that to our experiences with him. As he guided us through Angkor, he was right there with us, taking his own photos right next to us, sharing tips on good angles, or showing us something we hadn’t seen before. He was eager to share his experience with us and to learn from ours as well, whether it was advice on things like exposure or composition, or just pointing out the best spot to stand.
We often shared photos or advice on settings. But, more often, we shared stories about our life and our personal experiences. Once, when Kyle’s final camera battery died, Kimleng even handed over his spare camera for Kyle to use. Not every guide will do something like that. We feel privileged to have explored Angkor with Kimleng. But, more importantly, we feel privileged to call him our friend.
Kimleng is not just passionate about Angkor and photography, but also about the people of Cambodia. He was often showing us or telling us about some of the worthwhile projects going on in Cambodia. He even volunteers his time once a week to teach local kids about photography through a local NGO (non-government entity). He is an amazing photographer and guide. But, more importantly, he is an incredible person.
Looking for the best guide in Angkor? Choose Kimleng. Not only will he help you realize your own Angkor dreams, but you will also support the dreams and good work of Kimleng.
You can contact Kimleng through his website: www.kimlengsang.com