What an exhausting year it’s been! I’m somewhat relieved it’s over. It was twelve months of travel highs and personal lows. But let’s focus on the 2015 highlights.
Wow. Professionally, 2015 was generally a fantastic and fruitful year for this writer-photographer couple, despite some personal challenges and the tragic events around the world, particularly in places to which we have a strong connection, such as Syria, Lebanon and Paris, which couldn’t help but get even the most optimistic person down.
Terence and I continued to create fine travel and food stories illustrated by his evocative images that we are proud of, for publications we like to work for (you can see some of those here). And when we found time we continued to research and develop projects that we’re passionate about, including two cookbooks and two websites. (More about those soon).
Our stories on food and travel appeared far and wide, from Delicious to DestinAsian, Fine Dining Lovers to Feast, before its demise. We also covered our home, Siem Reap, for everything from International Traveller to The Guardian, AFAR to CNN. For a few months I also contributed on a weekly basis to the Phnom Penh Post Weekend, before our travels took us away again.
We held our first successful culinary travel writing and photography tour in Cambodia in conjunction with Backyard Travel, with some lovely participants from opposite ends of the earth, including the food-obsessed Ahmed family of Frying Pan Adventures fame. We’re currently planning another tour, along with a writing and photography retreat, both in Cambodia, with new travel company partners. (We’ll announce those soon too.)
My trip planning services, crafting bespoke itineraries and specialised tours for travellers to Siem Reap, Cambodia and beyond, really gained momentum. It’s been an especially busy couple of months since high season started, helping people to experience the many sides of Siem Reap we know and love that not all visitors get to see.
Although I see my role as a curator of experiences rather than a guide (that should be left to Cambodians whenever possible), I do meet clients soon after they arrive and take them for a coffee or cocktail to introduce them to Siem Reap and discuss their stay, and some of those short meetings have gone on well into the night. It’s been a real delight spending time with interesting, well-travelled people from countries as diverse as India and Canada, Switzerland and Timor Leste, including bloggers like Victoria of Singapore Foodie and Alex of Alex in Wanderland. I feel privileged to have had the chance to show them my Siem Reap. (Read the testimonials to see why I’m so chuffed.)
Terence has been equally as busy. On top of shooting tens of thousands of beautiful images, from mouthwatering food photographs to soulful portraits that reveal the spirit and character of people, and working on our cookbooks, he has miraculously found time in our crazy schedules to redesign his photography portfolio site, design my new professional site (which incorporates my first travel blog), and design a gorgeous restaurant website (which I wrote and update).
We also undertook social media projects for everyone from TFE Hotels’ Adina Apartments, which we’ve long been big fans of, to Gold Coast Tourism, and you can expect to see those stories here very soon. I also consulted on social media to a number of clients in the tourism and hospitality industry, which I’ll continue to do in 2016, and will be hosting a series of media and social media workshops here soon.
Our time spent working on projects and writing and shooting images in Siem Reap was punctuated with the sort of travel we love to do: slow travel. Our travels took us everywhere from Vietnam to Thailand, Myanmar to Australia for publications as diverse as Conde Nast Traveller China and Australian Gourmet Traveller. Aside from Terence’s whirlwind two-week Vietnam photography assignment, our trips mostly lasted two months.
So, yes, we truly practiced what we preach in 2015. We travelled slow, local and experiential. We did as we said we would do and we travelled less often, we travelled deeper when we did, and we travelled even more leisurely than usual. We really focused on the things we’re passionate about, settling into apartments whenever we could, connecting with people as much as the places, and discovered those destinations through the food and culture, learning as much as we could along the way.
Travel highlights appeared to involve lots of temples and many trains, from the train from Yangon to Mandalay to Australia’s epic transcontinental routes, from exploring Bagan’s enchanting landscape to scrambling more of the lesser-visited temples closer to home in Siem Reap.
The image above is from one of our most memorable experiences: the Cape to Cape track in the Margaret River of Western Australia, which we did with Walk Into Luxury, a new travel company that punctuates guided and self-guided hikes along one of Australia’s most breathtakingly beautiful coastal tracks with culinary experiences and pampering in luxe retreats.
Food has increasingly become a big focus of our writing and photography over the years and no more so than in 2015 when we got to spend time in restaurant kitchens and on location, observing and shooting, and sometimes eating and drinking, with chefs we admire, from David Thompson and Rene Redzepi to Dan Hunter and Jess Barnes. We also spent time with home-cooks and cooking instructors, bakers and wine-makers, and fishermen and farmers, and we have lots more stories to come from those experiences.
As wonderful as all the work was, our professional life was not without its frustrations, from interminable blackouts here at home in Siem Reap (especially during the busiest and the hottest months of the year when infrastructure is strained) to excruciatingly slow internet, in Cambodia, Myanmar and even in Australia. I’m sure it often seems like a ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse to editors in their modern offices in cities in developed countries when we have to apologise for a missed deadline because the power was out, but they appear to finally understand when they visit these countries themselves.
Yet it’s the underdevelopment of Cambodia and Myanmar that make these places so appealing to us, as residents and travellers (if not travel professionals). I love that my street is a dirt road that sees the occasional flock of chickens pecking at our pile of garbage that’s not been collected for a week. I love that in ten minutes we can be in the countryside and villages and there are none of the massive advertising billboards that plague the rural areas of countries such as Thailand.
Technological issues aside, other frustrations included a travel business that we struggled to get off the ground, which we’ll continue to focus on this year, and the guidebook project from hell, which dragged on for many months, far longer than it should have, with inadequate compensation for the work we did.
And then there was that time we discovered our work plagiarised in a hastily put-together, yet bewilderingly ‘award-winning’, Cambodian cookbook. The copyright infringers, not surprisingly, were not writers, and while acknowledging their guilt refused to provide adequate compensation. That’s something I’ll be taking up again this year.
Personally, it was also a difficult year when it came to family, with worries over my mother’s health and my sister, who is going through some of the toughest battles of her life. Terence and I were also sick this year and when it hit us, it hit us hard. A horrible bug kept me bedridden and out of action for nearly three weeks. Terence was also ill, and let’s not talk about the crazy feral cat that attacked him.
Food, wine, new friendships, and family were at the forefront in 2015, right from the start. We saw in the year at our favourite Siem Reap cocktail bar Miss Wong with my cousin Julianne and her daughters, Emily and Sarah, which was a lovely way to kick off the new year. Sarah had been living in Siem Reap, and it was such a joy to have her around. It reminded me how much I had missed my family and friends.
It would turn out to be a good year of catching up with loved ones. When we bounced around Australia for eight weeks working on stories, we got to spend time with my sister Felicia and niece Abby, my mum, two of my oldest and dearest friends in the world, Lynley and Becky, and a handful of other friends, old and new. It was never long enough and on each occasion I wished we’d had more time (I’ve not yet achieved that life-work balance) but I certainly cherished the hours and days we did have.
We also had friends visit us in Siem Reap, including Lynley and her sister in law, Nicole; and more dear old friends, Sandrine and Warren, and their respective spouses, and old and new friends are visiting over coming days and weeks. It’s been a real pleasure having loved-ones here, being able to show them the Siem Reap we are smitten with, and see them leaving equally besotted with the place.
So if you’re a friend – or a stranger – contemplating a holiday, consider that an open invitation to head our way. We’d love to see you in Cambodia in 2016, whether you’re a mate coming to visit or you’re a traveller looking for tips, do get in touch.
We’ve got some exciting things in store for 2016 when it comes to travel, Grantourismo, and other projects, which we hope you’ll stick around for. We’ve learnt from our mistakes and the challenges of 2015 and we’re streamlining, re-focusing and attempting to restore balance in our lives, but more on all of that in another post. In the meantime, thanks for reading! We hope you’ll continue this neverending journey with us!
Happy New Year!
Lara & Terence XX