The trick is to wait until there are no tourists in the shot right?
It has certainly been my motto over the last 6 months of this blog. Frankly, they’re just not a pretty sight. They don’t represent the culture of Thailand and they usually dress funny!
Some tourists represent their stereotype so blatantly. I suppose we’ve all been there. I remember my first journey into SE Asia; Dreadlocked hair, braided bracelet, sleeveless t-shirt. A wide eyed face coupled with a defiant look of ‘I’m very well travelled you know’.
I feel an odd stigma to being a tourist. When walking with my camera I’m often asked if I want a tuk-tuk ride or a massage, I quickly reply in Thai (with the limited vocabulary I have!) to ensure they realise I am NOT A TOURIST!! Then there are those times when I’ve been visiting a well trodden tourist site and suddenly surrounded by a bus load of tourists I cringe at the idea that I may be mistaken for one of their pack. Ridiculous concerns; as even separated from the group, and having lived here for 9 months I am still a tourist to all of the locals I meet. With my Nikon camera, My khaki shorts, a sweaty t-shirt and a backpack with water bottle in the side web.
But to be fair, the tourist has been a part of the Bangkok ‘culture’ for years! You couldn’t say they are part of tradition, but as soon as the first colonials arrived they started buying, bargaining and behaving badly and their presence has influenced the way Thai people do business, advertise and educate themselves to this day.
On June 1, 2013, Time magazine reported that Bangkok was identified as the most visited city in the world by the 2013 Global Destination Cities Index. (excerpt from wikipedia). So I guess it would be wrong for me to document my time in this city without including a few photos of the people who make up nearly 7% of the GDP.
Please let me know if you spot yourself in this lot – All photography taken with the utmost respect!
I’m no conflict journalist. Well, not in this conflict anyway. The opportunity for sensational photography is certainly tempting, but for some reason I just haven’t been compelled to go out and get amongst it.
Today it was unavoidable… 150,000 people marched through the streets of Bangkok on their way to Government House. Only 150 metres from my house was a line of peaceful protesters stretching as far as I could see in either direction.
Someone theorised that todays march was a world record for volume of people in peaceful protest. I wonder though what will happen tonight when the smiling people go home. When the sun goes down and the angry people remain.
I was in Phuket over the weekend. I stayed on the quiet side. The East. I took a trip into Old Phuket Town early one morning to get some bakery breakfast. It was early by local standards and most of the stores were all closed. There were a few people making their way to work in cars and on motorbikes, but for the most part the old town was only just beginning to be roused by the morning sun.
I prefer this part of Phuket. I’m not a fan of the way tourism has completely blurred the traditional culture and beauty of the west coast beaches. In the Old Town you still feel like you are in Thailand as opposed to Bali, Portugal or some other over-exploited tourist location around the world.
I went on a trip to Cambodia recently to help document a charitable education development project. What I saw and the story behind the journey is absolutely incredible and I will share it in this blog later this year.
In the mean time I’m posting a few of the candid shots captured outside of the project work.
Cambodia is only 1 hour from Bangkok, but it is different in so many ways. The way of life is similar due to the agricultural society, but the simplicity seems accentuated in Cambodia. Regulation and systems appear less structured than Thailand (in everyday life on the streets).
Most of all, the people have a different aura about them. Thailand has never been invaded in all of history, whereas Cambodia has experienced rule by Thailand, Vietnam, even the French and the Portuguese. More recently the people suffered the terrible oppression and tyranny under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
When I was in my 20′s, I had romantic ideas about Chiang Mai. They were fostered in stories from travellers, and embellished through fantasies cultivated out of B grade movies about the golden triangle!
Twenty years on, riding a bamboo raft down a muddy river, trekking across jungle suspension bridges and drinking coffee and whiskey made by villagers… my fantasies were given some foundation.
The ideas I had back then have now been shaped into a view that reflects a more realistic picture of this beautiful region.
I’m sure Thailand has changed a lot in 20 years, but not so much that it is a completely different experience to that of travellers back then. I think that the way I travel now probably influences my view as much as the developing country around me. I look at twenty-something backpackers arriving in the country and I cant help thinking that their thoughts & experiences will not be too dissimilar to my own from 20 years ago. Even if I can now see that there are changes.
When it come to travel, the motto is: It doesn’t matter when you go, just go.
School children or grandmothers, labourers or corporate woman; there is no stereotype for those who come to pay respect at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok. Some offer a short prayer across pressed palms, others include incense, candles or blessed water. A few set free caged birds, or give prayer while surrounded by traditional Thai dancers.
Whatever method chosen to pass respect to Phra Phrom (the Hindu creation god Brahma), each visitor has their own motives and whispers; which you see hidden in their eyes as they step up to the golden shrine.
As always, Bangkok manages to mix old-world and new, to create a fascinating environment of organised chaos. Today I experienced it at the Main railway station which is known to locals and tourists as Hua Lomphong. Officially, and to those living outside the capital it is Krungthep (Bangkok) Railway station.
I was expecting the building to be my main focus of photography, but it was the people, railcars and smaller details that took my attention.
This guy was shy when I first walked past and he hid inside the carriage, when I came back he found his camera mojo and stayed still while I snapped this.
For some reason the name ‘wet market’ conjured up grim thoughts of raw meat. It must have been the connotation to mafia movies ‘wet work’ providing this uneasy expectation.
It was only when doing a bit of pre-visit research I discovered it is actually named for the huge volume of water used to wash down every day.
However; my expectations were not far off. There was a lot of raw meat. A lot.
Hanging on hooks, piled on chopping boards, heaped in bins, bagged, and stacked, ready for the eager crowd of cooks and kitchen-hands to haggle over price and quality.
This is not a market for the squeamish. Live chickens in cages, wearily observe their plucked relatives while they wait their turn. Bare chested, tattooed men slice chunks of flesh and fat from unidentifiable carcasses. Water pools on the ground in every hollow to beckon slippery fish who leap from their impending doom to have one final attempt at freedom in the shallow puddles.
The vibrant, fresh fruit and vegetables provide colours and shapes to rest your senses… a blessed relief from the sensorial onslaught taking place in your nose.
…and as with all exciting facades there is an equally entertaining backstage; the theatre of Klong Toey hosts a vibrant community of merchants, operating like a family, sleeping smiling and slaughtering; all in a days work.
Of all of the themes I have worked on this one really does deserve a few more than just 7 shots. The selection below wont win any prizes for quality captures, but they continue the story in a worthy way and I’m happy to include them from the cutting room floor…
Today was a crazy photography day, and the first time in the history of my blog, that I just made up a theme on the fly.
The theme for this week was supposed to be glass and I was walking around postulating about how glass is difficult to shoot. I mean if I was just shooting glass itself, there wouldn’t be much to my photos! So I started trying to capture the things behind the glass. Change the focal range, apply a little filter to remove reflections, tweak the ISO…. and the pics still looked pretty rubbish! I got some nice building shots, but thought they really should be in an ‘architecture’ theme. I looked for anything made of glass lying around… all plastic.
By Five o’clock I was starting to think it was going to be pretty hard to pick seven glass shots to feature!
Then in true Bangkok fashion, something odd happened. At about ten past five the vibe on the street completely changed. Some people were going home, others getting ready for their night. People everywhere, colours, traffic chaos. I discarded my glass theme and enjoyed the moment.
So with total poetic licence, this week I will share the shift of vibe with you.
One hour flight out of Bangkok, fifteen minutes cab ride, and ten minutes on a long tail boat; and you are at Railay Beach Krabi.
One of many examples where paradise struggles to maintain beauty under an onslaught of tourism which has lasted decades. It has all of the elements required to rank as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but it is tired now. The traffic of humanity weighs heavily on its shores and there is no sign of easing.
Thailand established a Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in 2002, but it appears that any actions to improve the issues here are not being focused at ground level. There is no evidence of a local effort to control waste, set standards for construction, police the use of plastics and recyclable materials, or work to reverse the existing problems.
Dont get me wrong, this place is still a phenomenal destination and I have just spent a blissful week in a beachfront house swimming in the sea and playing in the sand with my family. It is a long way from forsaken! But the tropical veneer is becoming translucent and through the haze you see plastic in the surf, refuse in the tide line, and a constant flow of tourists who come for paradise and leave a little of themselves behind.
If you want to get there, there is only one way. By Boat.