Bangkok is a wonderfully colourful place, so why not try some black and white film, head out to a market or two – or a temple and see what clicks.
Markets are incredible places in Thailand – hot, sticky, crowded, aromatic (in so many ways) and no-one seems to object to a photo being taken. These were taken around the Chinatown food market areas and the ridiculously big Chatuchak Market in the north of the city using the trusty Olympus OM20 and a roll of Ilford FP4.
On all my visits to South East Asia I encounter groups of students who are looking for a tourist to practise an interview in English with. The first time it happened I, of course (and without any justification) thought ‘is this a scam?’ And of course it isn’t. All the times it has happened, I’ve talked to bright, enthusiastic students about Ireland and visiting Thailand while at all times trying to curb my natural Norn Iron accent tendencies. Studying English as a foreign language is one thing, trying to understand Belfast is another.
There’s a lot of expensive daytrip options around Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle. We decided to do the cheap option of a day in Tachileik, across the border in Myanmar.
Many travel sites have stated this is quite a difficult trip to do independently – we found it the easiest thing to do. By bus, songthaew and on foot.
There is a regular bus from Chiang Rai station to the Mae Sai border town for about 40 Baht. Then there’s a songthaew – regular service for 50 each Baht from the bus station into the town centre and the border crossing.
Once in the town centre – you walk. Through the Thai exit and into the Myanmar immigration area.
There’s naturally no photography in the border control buildings. Which was a pity as on the Mynamar side the immigration officer was a pleasant chap who had the Backstreet Boys playing on a CD. He asked if we were here for a day’s shopping (yes), took the passports, gave us the visa (for Tachleik only) and a receipt to get the passports back.
And then we were in Myanmar. The crossing took about 10-15 minutes. There is a multitude of guys offering tours, guiding, hawking all sorts of services on the walk to the main centre from the border but there was no hassle.
First stop of course, was coffee and wifi.
Then it was off to the market for food, football shirts and photos
Elsewhere in Tachileik life goes on apart from all the day tourists from Thailand.
As the afternoon got late, it started to rain – heavily so we headed back to the border, picked up the passports and spent a bit of time in Mae Sai before getting the Chiang Rai bus.
If you’re in Chiang Rai, the daytrip to Tachileik is an easy thing to do without a tour. The border crossing was quick and easy, it was $10 for the visa and the little taste of Mynamar adds something different to the holiday. It’s a bit quieter and more reserved than in Thailand, the markets are great fun and everyone we met were friendly with no-one objecting to photography. I did buy a lot of stuff which may have helped.
Despite a general lack of any useful knowledge of or insights about Buddhism, visiting a temple is for me a great opportunity for some photography, a bit of peace and quiet and an experience of something extremely different from the normal day-to-day life in Belfast.
Wat Phra Kaew in Chiang Rai is a great example of a temple complex that is extremely welcoming to tourists yet doesn’t seem to get many tourists. Chiang Rai’s Blue Temple and the White Temple in particular are tourist hotspots but Wat Phra Kaew has lots to walk around, places to sit, have bit of meditation if that’s your thing and great to spend a few hours with the camera and not be rushed.
Those who were there for devotional reasons were ok with photos being taken – but it’s best to be discrete about it
The original Green Buddah is now in the Grand Palace, Bangkok but originated here. It has a replacement now.
In the temple grounds there are a variety of drums and bells. Some you can’t play, others you can have a go.
And there is the usual, delighful literal translation to English. I did.
Wat Phra Kaew is about a 7 minute songthaew ride from the centre of you can walk in about 25 minutes.
Everywhere in Thailand has a night bazar, a night market of some description or a big weekend market. In Chiang Rai they take it a bit further. A large thoroughfare is closed off for the market, there is an multitude of stalls to buy just about anything, a selection of food to end the most austere of diets – and a large square for line dancing. Thai line dancing. There seemed to groups – organised hardcore dance classes in uniform, with clear lead dancers, as well as less formal social groups and the occasional Irish tourist.
The main attraction for me other than the food is the dancing and music. The dancing goes on for hours, a live band – sort of Thai Schlager – do the music and the dancing is continuous – til late.
This lot were a delight to watch and most agreeable for a photo.
As was Busker of the Night. Playing the cute card along with the music
And of course – evidence of the photographer getting in the swing..
I generally prefer black and white – it removes a feeling of clutter, great for showing contrast in a scene and it has that delightful separation from reality. Occasionally, though, you encounter a scene that demands to be shot in colour. In Chiang Rai there is Wat Rong Suea Ten – or The Blue Temple. On a sunny day, there is nothing quite so blue as The Blue Temple.
As you can see, its predominant characteristic is its undoubted blueness.
And once you get inside, there’s still blue. And some white. And people to add a bit of colour enhancement.
As always when visiting temples, not all of us are Irish tourists runing around with cameras. Some are there for more spiritual reasons.
Wat Rong Suea Ten is about 3.5km from the centre of Chiang Rai (the Bus station) and there are a variety of busses, taxis and songthaews. We walked in the heat. A lot of surrounding cafes were closed late afternoon and early evening (it closed at 6pm) but the light is so much better.
All shot on the Canon 6D and an old film era EOS lens 28-90 kit zoom.
I don’t know if it’s a good idea or not to start going over travel photos from the previous year or two in the middle of a lockdown but I’m more determined to get back to Asia in summer 2021 as the planned 2020 trip to China may have been overtaken by events….
So Thailand. My favourite place in Thailand is probably Chiang Rai. It’s smaller and a bit more relaxed than Chiang Mai, has a few extraordinary temples – maybe not for the purist, but certainly ones for the tourist with a camera, a delightful premier league football ground and the most entertaining and exotic Saturday night market.
Here’s a few random shots for a intial feel of Chiang Rai.
You’ll find no shortage of cafes and restaurants in Chiang Rai. A particular mention to this one – the Bhucheedeun coffee shop ร้านกาแฟภูชี้เดือน, a few minutes walk from Wat Phra Kaew. We called on a Monday – it seemed to be open only for take-out but they let us stay for super iced coffees and they popped out to another cafe to bing us cake. You don’t get that in High Street Costa..
Actually the SP500, a budget Spotmatic from the early 1970’s whose shutter speed only went as fast as 1/500th. But actually it did 1/1000th but it wasn’t shown on the dial – you just move it round.
I got this for a tenner on the eBay with a Tessar 50mm/2.8 lens, all working except for the meter. So Sunny 16 for using what is an aesthetically pleasing, delightful to handle and well build classic.
The SP500 is a no-frills M42 SLR but it’s useful to compare with the Eastern European counterparts. The Pentax looks and feels smoother and lighter, it handles really well and there’s no recoil from the shutter like the Praktica MTL3.
One of the factors contributing to it’s overall sleekness is the absence of a hotshoe, but there’s sockets for normal flash sync (X, 1/60th) and FP (focal plane) for higher speed fill in flash, not that I’ll be using this much with flash.
On top there’s the basics including the unmarked 1/1000th shutter speed setting. I’m sure Pentax had a good reason for that… Shutter release (threaded for a cable) and a pointless film identifier ring around the rewind crank finishes off the lo-fi feature list of the SP500.
Using it though, with Sunny 16, is a delight. It’s got a bright viewfinder (complete with non-functioning exposure needle), Olympus-OM-levels of ergonomic niceness and is a suitably admirable film camera for the inevitable Instagram post. I took it on a photowalk with a roll of expired Kentmere 100 which was developed in Ilford ID11.
The SP500 – a basic budget M42 Pentax – has no unique selling point other than it’s a delight to handle, looks great and you can pick them up for a song on the eBay. It’s a sleeker alternative to the DDR and Soviet M42 SLR’s and there’s a ton of lenses out there.