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Color Compositions from Thailand

I’ve been slowly switching back into color photography over the past few months. At first my photos looked garish and off. All of the colors haphazardly spread around the frame without any sense to them. I’m just starting to get a bit of an understanding of how the colors should be arranged, and as an exercise I’ve composed some two-by-two grids of basic color compositions. I’m a total amateur at this, and it’s really hard.

Here are two recent compilations of yellows and blues and reds and blues that I’ve found around Thailand over the last few weeks.

Bangkok's Chinatown in the Morning

Novice monks gathering alms. Chinatown, Bangkok. When I first arrived in Bangkok in 2013 it seemed so fascinating. I stepped out of the airplane and thought for a while about the insanity of people standing upside down on the other side of the planet. I had never been so far from home.

Things were odd at a micro and a macro levels: different looking food, buildings, and transit. A different language with an unusual alphabet. Monks walking everywhere in gorgeous orange robes.

Now after many visits to the city and a lot of time exploring or visiting I actually have some difficulty photographing Bangkok because it feels so normal. That’s a strange mental place. Compared to Cambodia, Bangkok feels a solid 50 years into the future. Cambodia has one big shopping mall. Bangkok has dozens. Cambodia has no metro. Bangkok has at least two, and perhaps four or five, depending on how you count. It feels like a major place.

Like Cambodia, Bangkok’s Chinatown is hectic with a lot of action in the streets. Also like Cambodia this seems to peak at night — when everything is a bit too chaotic for me — and the mornings, when the air is cool, people are moving slowly, and I can see the city beginning its day.

I find that things are more collective and beautiful in the morning than at night: praying at temples, monks gathering alms, women selling flowers, people unloading trucks or cooking or sweeping. It feels like a rebirth.

Here are just a few photos after many days taking pictures. On one particular morning more things came together than had before.

Woman selling flowers. Chinatown, Bangkok.

Workers. Chinatown, Bangkok.

Praying. Chinatown, Bangkok.

Praying. Chinatown, Bangkok.

Feet and yellow chairs. Chinatown, Bangkok.

Thailand by Rail

The six hour Bangkok to Aranyaprathet train, which takes you just up to the Cambodian border, is only 48 baht (about $1.40). I recommend it as an easy and affordable way to see the country. The train leaves every morning and afternoon from Bangkok and schedules are easy to find online. Once arriving in Aranyaprathet a tuktuk offered to help me find a hotel 100 baht (just under $3) and the hotel itself cost 350 bath (about $10). There will likely be less expensive rooms available, but I arrived late enough at night and was tired enough that the $10 was a decent price to rest and use solid wifi for a Skype meeting.

In the train station a few nights before departure.

Outside of the train. Nicely labelled with removable placards naming the route.

Departing Bangkok by train at one of several rail crossings.

The train is definitely local and for the first few hours passes through small sections of Bangkok carrying local commuters.

And shortly after leaving the city you’re greeted with green fields and cattle for hundreds of miles.

Inside of padded seat cabin (left), inside of non-padded seat cabin (right).

Tuktuk from the train station to a guest house in Thailand. I spent the night after arriving late at night instead of pushing on to Siem Reap (another 3-4 hours)

Crossing the border from Thailand to Cambodia by foot.

The crowded tourist ghetto of Siem Reap at night.

Morning in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Driving through the dust clouds outside Phnom Penh.

Onward from Aranyaprathet into Cambodia and then to a major city like Siem Reap takes many hours. In the past two days I’ve spent six hours on a train, about 30 minutes in a tuktuk, two hours waiting in a bus station, and three hours on a bus. Tomorrow again is another six hour bus ride onward to Phnom Penh.

As with driving across the United States it doesn’t make much economic sense but does make the size of the planet more tangible.

What to see in Bangkok

Bangkok is one of my favorite cities in Asia. It’s is full of great street food, has amazing and cheap public transportation, beautiful temples, world class shopping malls, and incredible markets selling more than just tourist trinkets.

To get it out of the way early: Bangkok has a bad reputation, but there’s a lot more to Bangkok than its sex industry. As with any major city in Asia many of the cheap hotels, bars, and brothels end up clustering together close to each other. That means that if you stay somewhere cheap in Bangkok you’ll almost certainly see prostitutes in the street.

Walk a few blocks away though and it all disappears. It’s just there for the tourists. A few blocks away and you’re left with city of stark contrasts. The entire second floor of Bangkok’s Siam Paragon mall is full of Louis Vuitton, Coach, Hermes, Prada and other luxury brands. The fourth floor sells Lamborginis. But walk a mile away toward [Sukhumvit]() and you can find a small market setup alongside the railroad tracks.

I don’t think that Bangkok is strong enough to anchor an entire trip to Southeast Asia. So why would you go to Bangkok? Because to reach most places in Asia it’s often cheaper to fly from Europe or the United States into Bangkok’s main airport (BKK) and then take a budget flight out of the other airport (DMK) than it would be to fly directly. So book a flight in, rest in the big city for a day, and then head onwards to a quieter destination. If you’re coming to Thailand you’ll probably want to head north to the temples in Chiang Mai or south to islands and beaches.

Getting Around

Riding in a tuktuk in Bangkok, Thailand.

As far as I can tell most of the tuktuks in Bangkok are used by tourists, not locals. It’s an excellent and interesting way to see the city but be prepared to pay more than you need to and bring small bills — they often conveniently can’t make change. If you’re going to be in Asia for a while save the tuktuk riding for smaller cities where there is less traffic and you will be a bit safer.

Taxis in Bangkok are reasonable, just walk a block or two away from a hotel and flag one down in the street. Ask for them to use the meter. They know what the word “meter” means. If they agree to use the meter I generally tip nicely. If they don’t agree to use the meter I wait for another taxi.

A cheaper option that also puts you close to locals is public transit. Bangkok’s Sky Train is fast, air conditioned, and at most maybe $3 for a ride across the city. Like most of Asia, Bangkok puts major US city public transit infrastructure to shame.

A air conditioned train into the city from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) is about 90 baht ($3) and takes maybe 40 minutes. If I have to get to Don Muang Airport (DMK) I normally take a taxi, ask them not to take the highway, and pay about $10. In general the cheaper short haul flights go through DMK and the cheaper long haul flights through BKK.

Street Food

In Bangkok there are two excellent budget options for food. The first is obviously street food, and you’re not going to have a hard time finding it. On any major street someone will selling barbecue meats, fruit, or rice dishes. If you walk down a side street, and you don’t have to go too far, you’ll often find whole restaurants on the street with menus and plastic tables.

A single entrée can be about 30 baht ($1) but it often costs me two or three times as much for a filling dinner and a water.

I try to be careful with street food hygiene but I’m not too pedantic about it. For about $4 you can get some Azithromycin at any of the local pharmacies (look for green signs). It’s also worth bookmarking ToiletFinder and packing some toilet paper.

If you ever need to use the bathroom in Bangkok check out Terminal 21 shopping mall. Each floor is decorated like a different international city and they have Japanese Toto toilets with heated seats.

Street food in the Silom area of Bangkok.

Street food in Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Street food near Kaoh San Road, Bangkok.

Markets

Animals for sale at Bangkok Chatuchak market.

The Bangkok Chatuchak market is a fascinating place to any kind of craft you imagine. My favorite was a $10,000 Elephant made of driftwood. My favorite sight was the exotic animals, but they really don’t like you taking pictures of them. I saw an owl for $30, a koi fish for over $1,000, and other strange animals I didn’t even know people kept in captivity (lemurs, monkeys, and flying squirrels). Obviously I don’t recommend that you buy any of these animals, but they are fascinating to see.

Bangkok has many lesser markets on the sides of the streets. Mostly these are selling clothes, sandals, knives, sex toys, and counterfeit electronics. I stay away unless I need gifts or a cheap power adapter.

The touts at these markets are famous for pushing Viagra. Dealing with touts can get annoying, and to keep myself from getting frustrated I like to have different responses teasing about whatever they’re offering. For Viagra I prefer to smile and ask “Why would I need that?” Taxis are famous for asking “Where are you going?”. If you just ask them the same question, at the same time, it blows their minds. I would really caution against using Viagra you find in the streets.

Street side market shot from above. Bangkok, Thailand.

Malls

Often when I get to Bangkok I’ve just spent a few weeks in a less developed city in Cambodia or Vietnam. In this case I like to go to the big shopping malls called Central World and Siam Paragon to eat and enjoy air conditioning.

Siam Paragon Mall in Bangkok is as luxurious as it gets.

On the top floor of Central World you can find excellent restaurants offering Japanese Ramen for about $5 per bowl. There’s an amazing aquarium in the basement for about $30 that lets you walk through a tunnel under swimming sharks and sting rays. If the rest of your trip to Thailand involves scuba diving you can easily miss it, but it’s the most impressive aquarium I’ve seen other than Boston, Massachusetts and Monterey, California.

For buying any electronics, bags, or clothes you will save a lot of money going to the MBK mall instead. It’s a bit hard to navigate but the prices are low and they sell western goods (I bought a Think Tank camera bag there once).

Central World Mall in Bangkok.

Temples

If you want to see temples in Bangkok I’d go to Rattanakosin to see Wat Pho and the reclining Buddha. He’s 140 feet long.

Wat Pho and the reclining Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand.

End

I hope some of this article convinced you to give Bangkok a shot on your next trip. This blog now has comments. If you have any questions ask them below and I can answer them or add them to the article later.

Camera note: The square format photos in this article were shot with a Mamiya 6 on Fuji Provia 100F slide film. The 35mm photos were shot on a Leica M9.

Thailand Medium Format

In late November 2013 I traveled alone to Thailand. It was the first time I’d been out of the country by myself in years. On that last trip, to Hungary in 2006, I didn’t even bring a camera because I didn’t want it to interfere with my traveling.

This time I brought a Mamiya 6 medium format rangefinder with a 75mm lens (50mm equivalent on 35mm). The camera was made in 1989, and imported by me from Japan. It was my first time using a rangefinder and my first time shooting a vacation on film (Fuji Provia 100F). I’m in love with the colors, and with the super high resolution scans I got of these images (22 megapixels, 13-18 megabytes each).

I also love how deliberate film and slow makes my photography. On a roll of 120 medium format film you only get 12 exposures and you better make them count.

Here are some of the pictures and links to the incredible full resolution scans from North Coast Photographic Services. A few of shots were also taken on my Canon S100 and are marked below.

Bangkok

Wat Pho. Just the very tops of the buildings due to a fairly long lens.

The reclining Buddha. He’s about 100 feet long and covered in gold. Really an amazing sight and it looks phenomenal on slide film.

The feet of the reclining Buddha. Inlaid with incredibly detailed mother of pearl. This is a shot of about 1 square meter of his feet – which were at least 50 square meters in total.

Another shot of Wat Pho. Getting colors like this with no filter and no editing is amazing.

There were hundreds of smaller gold covered Buddhas as well. Each of them is very slightly different from the others.

Palace guard.

Riding in a Tuk Tuk.

Traffic outside my hotel.

Ao Nang

Storm coming in over the Andaman sea. I think the clouds in these shots are phenomenal and show off some of the capabilities of film.

The Thais appear to adore their king. He is everywhere and on every denomination of currency. Supposedly they get upset if you step on bills because you are stepping on the king (I never tried). (Canon S100)

Rainy day in Ao Nang. The leftovers of a typhoon. It rained all night and was very loud even in my windowless room at the guest house.

Motorbike culture (Canon S100).

Scuba Diving at Koh Phi Phi

I really love the look of the long tail boats and took a while shooting them. Since I spent so much time in boats on this trip I didn’t have much else to take pictures of.

Looking out the back of the boat at night (Canon S100).

Scuba Diving at the Similan Islands

My roommate Andi. He’s been on over 450 dives and 500 skydives. He works for an airline and packs light.

Divemaster Kwan (left) and one of the boat crew (right). Kwan has been on over 6,000 dives.

Looking out at the Simlian Islands one morning before a dive.

#Similan Islands

We stopped at the Similan Islands and took a boat ashore.

Bringing divers coming in on a line.

Morning in the Andaman Sea.