Thailand: A Quick Photography Guide

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Is there more to photograph in Thailand than buttery bucolic beaches? Absolutely. After spending two weeks on a roaming photo tour of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and the Similan Islands, I’m convinced that The Land of Smiles has plenty more to offer than postcard images of tropical islands. Here’s a short photo guide to one of Southeast Asia’s most enigmatic countries.

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Thailand’s famed Phang Nga Bay, home of James Bond Island, from The Man with the Golden Gun.

Above Bangkok: Cityscape Photography

Bangkok’s beat swings like a pendulum from a tropical Kyogo groove to a frenetic Skrillex drop. There’s no better place to feel it than from one of the many rooftop bars or skyscrapers. It’s no Dubai, but there are still enough dynamic bits to entertain any rooftopping cityscaper.

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Getting my photographer’s high in BKK. Photo by Julien Grondin.

While I was there, I got to meet up with my friend and French photographer Julien ‘Beboy’ Grondin. He’s lived in Bangkok for a few years now and knows every urban birds eye view worth recording.

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“Veins of Bangkok” by Julien Grondin – view from the Baiyoke Tower. Check out his article The Beauty of Bangkok from Above for more.

One of the easiest places to take cityscape photographs from above in Bangkok is from the Baiyoke Tower Observatory. You’ll have to shoot through glass though.

Photo Tip – Shooting Through Glass: Wrap your lens with a dark cloth or get a lens skirt to block out reflections.  Another piece of camera gear worth considering is a suction mount. Also, shoot at a low aperture like f/4 or lower and use manual focus.

A second rooftopping option is Cloud 47 Rooftop Bar, but the rules for photographers at 47 are strict. Bangkok is full of rooftop bars so don’t limit your search to these two spots.

iPhone Street Photography in Bangkok

The streets of Bangkok are full of contrasts and stories. I stayed in the area right around the Saphan Taksin BTS station and never really left the neighborhood.

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One of my favorite things to do when I travel, wander the streets with my iPhone.

I walked up Charoen Krung Rd towards Robinson Department Store, then down one of the many side streets and alleys. There was plenty of street photography action to drain my iPhone 7 battery before you can say Sawasdee. 

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A second generation Thai-Indian shop owner and his father (above photo) who started it.

For more BKK street photography, check out The Real Bangkok by Simon Slater.

Food Photography in Chiang Mai

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Mango sticky rice. If I had to eat one dish every day for the rest of my life, this would be it.

One place I’ve always wanted to visit is Chiang Mai in the north. From digital nomads to backpackers to Asian tourists, it’s Thailands city of the moment. It even made The New York Times 52 Places to go in 2017 list.

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Chiang Mai’s Wat Chedi Luang was built in the 14th century. The top part of it collapsed after an earthquake in 1545.

Restaurants, markets, and cafes are as ubiquitous as temple-strolling monks. I usually avoid touristy places where the menu is in 5 languages. In Chiang Mai though, you can eat almost anywhere like a boss for cheap: Thai curries, spring rolls, Pad Thai, Tom Yam Kung, Khao Soi, Sai Oua grilled herb sausage, a calorie-busting list that seemingly never ends.

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Taking a cooking class at A Lot of Thai was one of the best things I did in Chiang Mai.

At one restaurant I overheard a couple saying how their days had become nothing more than traveling from meal to meal, a gluttonous culinary tour of sorts. Yes, I thought, that is Chiang Mai.

Similan Islands Underwater Photography

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The Similan Islands in the Andaman Sea, just off the coast of Thailand, are part of the Mu Ko Similan national park established in 1982. Photo by Rich Carey.

During my Thai tour, I also went on a 5-day liveaboard dive cruise with Similan Diving Safaris. We stopped at the Similan Islands, Surin Islands, and Jacques Cousteau’s Richelieu Rock. Apart from running an excellent tour, S.D.S. also has a resident photographer, Rich Carey, on board to document the journey.

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Before my trip I thought a GoPro would be enough to take decent photos. After seeing Rich’s double strobe setup, I’m convinced that in the case of underwater photography, gear absolutely matters.

I don’t have an underwater camera or housing so I didn’t take any photos. I appreciated meeting a pro underwater photographer like Rich and learning what I could from him. In fact, he even offers private underwater photography lessons.

Something For Everyone

Whether you enjoy cityscape, landscape, street, food, or underwater photography, there’s a solid chance you’ll leave Thailand with some beautiful images and a full belly. And if not, well, there’s always a white strip of sand, sea, and sun calling you.

Come on, they sell mango sticky rice at the airport gates! What more reason do you need to go?
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Author: Pete DeMarco

Pete DeMarco is an award-winning travel photographer. His passion for helping people transform their photography shows through in the expert advice he shares. His work has been featured in National Geographic Traveler, CNN, and as a staff writer for Digital Photography School.

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