Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - MY PHNOM PENH: John Vink: Photojournalist



MY PHNOM PENH: John Vink: Photojournalist

Belgian photojournalist John Vink, a member at Magnum Photos for nearly two decades, recently moved back to Brussels after 16 years in Phnom Penh.
Belgian photojournalist John Vink, a member at Magnum Photos for nearly two decades, recently moved back to Brussels after 16 years in Phnom Penh.

MY PHNOM PENH: John Vink: Photojournalist

Belgian photojournalist John Vink, a member at Magnum Photos for nearly two decades, recently moved back to Brussels after 16 years in Phnom Penh. In a post on his departure on Magnum’s website, Vink wrote: “If Belgium gave me life, Cambodia made me understand it better because of its incredible generosity to this photographer.” This week, Vink told Post Weekend about the places in the capital that resonate for him.

Preah Ang Dornkeu Pagoda

Preah Ang Dornkeu Pagoda

A place I’ve regularly kept going back to over the past 16 years is the Preah Ang Dornkeu riverside pagoda on prayer days. It bundles a strong Cambodian experience into a small area: the trance-inducing music, the worshippers enjoying an intense but casual, almost relaxed, exercise of religion, the appalling poverty of the beggars and street children, the arrogance of the municipal guards who are vested with power by the sheer possession of a uniform, the smell of burning incense mixed with the aroma of rotting lotus flowers in the dustbin next to the pagoda, and the view over the Tonle Sap mingling with the Mekong, which would be soothing to the mind if if weren’t for the wart/hotel on the Chroy Changvar peninsula.

Street 19

Street 19

Street 19 – the stretch starting at the Fine Arts School all the way up to Street 108. It is narrow and always crowded. It is so narrow that it is easy to forget about the Phnom Penh building craze: the two-storey houses hide the construction sites of the condos popping up all over. That street looks like it hasn’t fundamentally changed for the last 50 years, except for a few convenience stores and the like. Given the traffic, it is a nice challenge to ride its length on the motorbike without ever having to set foot on the ground.

The Shop

The Shop

The Shop on Street 240. Ah, what would my mornings be without an espresso or a lychee-mint, the Cambodia Daily and the Phnom Penh Post fresh off the presses and a chat with a few other addicts to the place? The staff there are so thoughtful – I never have to ask for my small portion of palm sugar: it is always there, neatly placed next to the small cup. For sure that is one place I will miss.

Koh Pich and Veng Sreng Street

Koh Pich and Veng Sreng Street

The final two places are two extremes: Koh Pich and Veng Sreng Street, all the way to Chaom Chao. It is not that I like them as such. But they somehow epitomise a whole array of dreams people here seem to have. The megalomaniac grandeur of foreign and Khmer investors building 30- or 40-storey high condos on Koh Pich – about which everybody, except the investors, seems to wonder who will occupy all that space – responds to a dream of organised modernity for the growing number of Phnom Penh-ites who benefit from the developing economy.

Koh Pich and Veng Sreng Street

On the other extreme there is the incredible mess of the suburbs, an organic and seemingly anarchic iteration of a city in the making, with worker’s “condos” (eight metres square per room for two or three workers) conveniently built next to the factories that drain the energy of the young. This is the first step for so many youngsters into city life. It is a dream come true: escaping the countryside, escaping poverty.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year