We left the Khmer temples of Prasat Phanom Rung and nearby Prasat Muang Tam that we’d woken at 4am to drive to, in order to capture them at their best at magic hour, and we began our drive back to Korat and on to another Khmer temple complex, Prasat Hin Phimai. But not before stopping to photograph some cows.
“Can we photograph your cows? Yes, you heard correct. Though I’m sure our driver Narawat thought he must have been mistaken when we spotted the handsome animals and asked him to turn the car around. I’m certain he was thinking we’d already had too much sun or not enough sleep. It happened to be both actually.
We’d only spent one morning with Narawat and when I’d brief him on our magazine assignment and the places we needed to go over the next few days, the kind of things we hoped to experience, and the stuff we wanted to photograph for our story, I hadn’t mentioned cows. Water buffalo, yes.
But they were fine-looking beasts. And the juxtaposition of the cowboy hat-wearing farmer and his herd fenced in a cattle pen in front of his ramshackle wooden home, all set amid a landscape of rice fields and Khmer temples, was a fascinating one. It was an opportunity not to be ignored.
After all, the focus of our road trip may have been ‘historical and cultural treasures of the Isaan’ – the brief from the editor of the magazine our story had been commissioned for – but we still needed to be on the lookout for other possibilities, for images and incidents that might inspire other stories, if not for now, for the future.
We pulled up beside the cattle pen and Narawat asked the cowboy in Thai if it was okay for Terence to photograph his cows. The cowboy’s forehead crinkled in the same bewildered way that Narawat’s had, and he grinned, bemused, and responded in Thai,”Sure, that’s okay”. So I guessed.
“These crazy foreigners photographing cows – cows!” the cowboy was clearly thinking. But while he didn’t seem to mind that Terence wanted to make a few pictures of his animals, the guy didn’t look in the mood to stand for a portrait. He seemed eager to get into his pick-up truck and get on with the chores he had to do that day. It was already getting too bright anyway, so I jotted down an idea for a story for a future trip.
I was pleased that we’d made the cowboy smile, that we’d helped to create an amusing anecdote that he could share with friends about a curious encounter he’d had with a couple of farang that morning. “They wanted to photograph my cows!” I could imagine him telling his friends, and they would all have a chuckle.
Mostly when we travel – when you travel – it’s all about our take on the curious things we experience in foreign places, our perspective on the unusual encounters we have. We share those moments we find funny and strange in stories and postcards, on Facebook and on Twitter, in emails we send home to family and friends, and on posts we write on our blogs.
It’s good to be reminded that we as travellers are often the weird ones in normal places, the people who act oddly in otherwise ordinary everyday settings, that we can be the object of fascination, curiosity, amusement, and travel tales too. I like that. How about you?