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“So, what do you want for your birthday?” Mark innocently asked.
I grinned, and he immediately saw the glint in my eye.
A look of horror. “Not that! Please not that!” He whimpered. “Just go by yourself!”

But it was too late.

Khmer Portraits

The idea of getting Khmer portraits done at one of the hundreds of studios in Phnom Penh was planted in my mind months before by an article I read on Travel Fish. I desperately tweeted the author, asking where I could do the same (answer: Monivong Boulevard). I too wanted to join the masses of young Cambodians paying to be primped, painted, swaddled, posed, photographed, and photoshopped.

Khmer Portraits

Maybe it’s a girl thing. Maybe it’s a halloween-enthusiasts thing. But there was nothing I wanted more than to get dressed up like a Apsara dancing Khmer princess. For reasons I can’t fathom, this falls very firmly in the domestic, rather than international, tourist scene. It’s kind of the Khmer version of Wal-Mart children’s studio portraits, or yearbook photos. And who doesn’t want some adult versions of those?

Khmer Portraits

What’s up, backpackers? How could you not want this as your new Facebook profile picture? They even photoshopped me to make my skin silky smooth and my arms super skinny!

Khmer Portraits

Unfortunately they did the same to Mark, who wasn’t a big fan of his pasty and thin digital makeover. But hey, this series isn’t called Shit My Boyfriend Did Willingly. (For Part I of this series, see how I made my boyfriend pay a day’s wages to go into an ice bar in Thailand).

Khmer Portraits

I for one put my total trust in the photographer, because after all, he was wearing a Mcdonald’s uniform top. I didn’t put quite as much faith into the makeup artist, who seemed intent on coloring in my actual eyeball with eyeliner pencil and putting eyeshadow down the sides of my nose to make it appear thinner on camera.

The whole experience was a great cultural lesson in Why I Would Make a Horrible Apsara Princess, starting with holy crap that headdress is heavy, and ending with my lack of ability to bend my fingers and toes sufficiently backwards, leading the entire staff of the studio to roll with laughter.

I think we can all pretty much agree that these are the greatest souvenirs one could ever purchase, and perhaps even Christmas Card material.

Khmer Portraits

And with that, it was on to Vietnam. Because clearly, there was nothing left we could do in Cambodia that would top this.

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41 Comments...
  • Oh.My.God!!!!!!!! I love love love that you made him do this and that he did it for you…that’s true love! You look stunning in these, though to be honest I would never had known it was you with the brown hair, you look dramatically different! These are something you show your kids one day haha!!!

    • Alex
      December 26 2011

      I know! I almost wanted to keep my blonde hair for the photos but it was kind of difficult to communicate so I submitted to the wig. Fun to play a brunette for a few hours though!

  • Audrey
    December 26 2011

    Ahhhhhhh, that’s awesome! When else does one get to dress up like a princess, right? And that headdress looks spectacular! 😀

    • Alex
      December 26 2011

      The headdress was SO heavy. I would love to have one for dress up parties though!

  • Fidel @IHarTravel
    December 26 2011

    So can you buy those costumes because I think I know what I want to be for Halloween.
    Did you go to a buffet in Siem Reap and see the Aspara dancers?

    • Alex
      December 26 2011

      I don’t know if I would last with that headdress on all night for Halloween! and yes I did see the Apsara show at Temple Bar, and also went to a big fancy show called Smile of Angkor. Lots of Apsara time 🙂

  • Diane C
    December 26 2011

    This is fabulous–its your Christmas card and your wedding invitation and just a riot! Fabulous.

    • Alex
      December 26 2011

      Thanks Diane! I’m quite fond of it myself. I’ll have to file it away for the wedding invitation idea ha.

  • Dad
    December 26 2011

    I’ll have to speak to Mark

    • Alex
      December 26 2011

      About what? 🙂

  • Rachel
    December 26 2011

    Wow, I kind of want to do these…

    • Alex
      December 26 2011

      You totally should! Let’s start an Apsara photo revolution…

  • Jenna
    December 26 2011

    Holy heck, I want to do these SO BAD. Oh my goodness, amazing. I want to dress up like a princess and be photoshopped to an unrecognizable state. 🙂

    • Alex
      December 26 2011

      You can do it in Bangkok as well, but it’s super pricey. When my sister saw these photos she wanted some of our own so we looked in MBK mall but they wanted 3,500 baht (nearly $100!) even after bargaining. Maybe some internet searching would find a cheaper place 🙂 We paid $35, which we thought was a lot for Cambodia. Totally worth it though, clearly!

  • OrpingtonT
    December 27 2011

    Nice story and pics. Actually your boyfriend looks to me as though he is really enjoying it all.

    • Alex
      December 29 2011

      Ha. Yes, he could barely contain that big smile!

  • Laura Jahr
    December 27 2011

    Dear Alex, I love this post…so much fun. I thought Dave and I were the Peter Pan and Wendy of the modern world…but maybe we are not alone. LOL The only difference is that we are truly OLD so we fit the ” Never Grew Up ” pattern well. Keep having fun and seeing the world and posting your adventures..The world loves a good story. L

    • Alex
      December 29 2011

      Thanks Laura… we try to stay spontaneous! I’m sure if you and Dave were there you’d be right there with us!

  • Pippa Jackson
    January 2 2012

    Haha! Really love this one Hun! You look stunning and I can’t get over Mark in the orange pants! X

    • Alex
      January 2 2012

      Pippa! Glad to see you are reading 🙂 You’ll have to stay tuned for your Vietnam cameo! Hope all is well x

      • Pippa Jackson
        January 8 2012

        Haha yes most definitely! Looking forward to it! 🙂
        Hope you guys had a good new year! Give my love to KT! X

  • Dani | Globetrottergirls
    January 2 2012

    These photos are AWESOME!! Wonder if I can convince my lovely girlfriend to do a photo shoot like this when we get to Cambodia 😉

    • Alex
      January 2 2012

      I have a feeling she could be convinced 🙂 It’s a little pricey (around $35) but in my opinion, the greatest souvenir one could ask for!

  • Sarahsomewhere
    January 21 2012

    You look stunning!! I cant believe he let you put photos of him dressed like this on the interwebs! Best birthday present ever 🙂

    • Alex
      January 21 2012

      Well, lets just say it’s better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission! But yes, a very happy birthday 🙂

  • Ian [EagerExistence]
    February 6 2012

    Hahahahaha!
    Ian [EagerExistence] recently posted..Open Water Dive Course in Dahab

  • These are AMAZING! I know what I’m going to ask Chris for on my next birthday. So good. So so good.

    • Alex
      March 6 2012

      Ha, thanks Tawny! After meeting you and Chris and seeing your business cards, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble convincing Chris to dress up 🙂

  • shanzy
    August 13 2012

    hey cud u tell me what is the name of the place at mbk mall where i can get this done???

    • Alex
      August 13 2012

      Hi! These photos were actually taken in Cambodia… I did see a place in MBK but didn’t do it there because it was nearly $100USD. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name but ask at security or the help desk at MBK and I’m sure they can direct you.

  • shanzy
    August 14 2012

    Hi alex,
    thanks for the reply, do u know the name of the place in cambodia and where it is located? btw u look so pretty in these pics

    • Alex
      August 14 2012

      Thank you! I can’t remember the exact name of the place, but there are tons and tons along Monivong Boulevard. Good luck!

  • Our Dear Lady Expatriate
    September 2 2012

    Your photos are stunning and it’s cracking me up that I had the exact same idea for my birthday… as I think we both seem to see it, one has to pick something good for the one time of the year that one can get away with almost anything, and I think a costumed photoshoot is a good candidate! 🙂
    Our Dear Lady Expatriate recently posted..Loveliest Links

    • Alex
      September 2 2012

      Ha, thanks! I really can’t believe their retouching skills… I’d love to send all my photos over to them for a little skin brightening and arm thinning…

  • Meryl
    September 29 2012

    Dying with laughter here hahaha! But seriously though, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog entries, most especially the ones about Cambodia. Heading over there in mid-November and I cannot be more excited for the trip. 🙂

    • Alex
      September 29 2012

      Cambodia is one of my favorite places on Earth! Best of luck with your trip, I bet you it will be life changing!

  • Nicole Naomi
    February 24 2014

    lol…he doesn’t look really happy though!

  • Beth
    February 5 2015

    HAHA! I can’t believe it. This. is. awesome. Your poor boyfriend. You will never find a souvenir better than this.
    Beth recently posted..The Things You Own End Up Owning You

    • Alex
      February 6 2015

      He’s not my boyfriend anymore, but I swear that had nothing to do with this 😛

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