Without an H

Photography from south-east Asia by Jon Sanwell

Posts from the ‘thailand’ category

Border hopping

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For several hundred miles, the Mekong river acts as the border between Laos and Thailand. For most of this part of my Mekong trip, I stayed on the Lao side of the border, but for a few days at the end of June I crossed over to Thailand, partly to get a new Lao visa, and partly just to see the other side of the river.  Although there is a ferry service connecting the two sides, this now seems to be reserved for Lao and Thai nationals only. Everyone else has to travel by road, across one of the impressive new Friendship Bridges spanning the river.  From Tha Khaek in southern Laos, I took the bus (along with a boisterous extended Vietnamese family) to Nakhon Phanom in Thailand, where I stayed for a few days before travelling downriver to Mukdahan for a night, from where I crossed back into Laos via a different bridge, travelling on to Savannakhet.  I’ve written before about how countries along the Mekong gradually merge into one another in border regions, and these riverside towns were another example of that,  although the Thai side was noticeably busier and more prosperous.  These pictures were all taken in Tha Khaek, Nakhon Phanom and Mukdahan.

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Related posts:

Mekong views

130524-277-editedJinghong, Yunnan province, China

Looking through the pictures I’ve posted from my Mekong trip, I noticed something missing: there are hardly any pictures of the river itself.  There are a few reasons for this, I think.  I naturally incline towards pictures of people – they’re the pictures that I’m best at, and that I most enjoy taking, but I do sometimes feel the need to broaden my repertoire a little.  I don’t have many regrets about this trip, but one of the few I do have is not getting more good landscape and river shots.  I remember being on a long bus journey in Laos, between Savannakhet and Pakse, speeding past rice paddies in the rain.  As the rain stopped and the late afternoon sun emerged, the fields were lit up in the most beautiful, soft, warm light.  You’ll have to take my word for it, because I didn’t get a picture.  As I said, I was on a bus at the time, and that bus wasn’t stopping for anyone.  I spent a few days in Pakse after that bus journey, but never saw that beautiful light again, so that rice paddy image only exists in my memory.  This is just one example of a great picture that I didn’t take, along with the countless early morning street scenes that I was too lazy to get up in time for.   So I’m a little disappointed with the landscape pictures that I actually did take – they’re just not as good as the ones in my head, or perhaps it’s just that they don’t grab me as immediately as my best people shots.   Whatever the reason, I neglected to post many Mekong landscapes (riverscapes?) while I was travelling, so I’ve collected a few together to post now.  These pictures were all taken between May and August this year.

130611-005-editedPak Beng, Laos

130613-089-editedLuang Prabang, Laos

130615-078-editedLuang Prabang, Laos

130619-045-editedFerry across the Mekong (1), Luang Prabang, Laos

130627-086-editedView of Laos at dusk from Nakhon Phanom, Thailand

130718-371-editedStorm clouds gathering, Kratie, Cambodia

130807-255-editedChau Doc, Mekong delta, Vietnam

130821-056-editedVinh Long, Mekong delta, Vietnam

130821-062-editedVinh Long, Mekong delta, Vietnam

130821-173-editedFerry across the Mekong (2), Vinh Long, Mekong delta, Vietnam

Temple

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I nearly missed this temple altogether.  I was wandering the streets of Nakhon Phanom in northern Thailand with no clear plan in mind, with one eye on the threatening clouds overhead and half a mind to stop walking and take shelter somewhere with a cold beer.  Instead, I walked on for another block, and came across Wat Srithep.  An hour or so later, I left with some of my favourite pictures from this trip so far.  130628-153-edited 130628-171-edited 130628-186-edited 130628-192-edited 130628-216-edited 130628-088-edited

I was only in Thailand for three days. After leaving Vientiane, I continued south, spending an uneventful couple of days in Tha Khaek (that rain again), before crossing the Mekong into Thailand and the border town of Nakhon Phanom. My Lao visa was about to expire, and although I could have had it extended without leaving the country, it seemed like a good opportunity to see the other side of the river for a couple of days.  I’m now back in Laos, in Savannakhet, which is lovely, and this blog, which has been lagging behind my movements for weeks, is now almost up-to-date.

A few more from Bangkok

Back in October last year, I spent ten days in Bangkok, a trip that reignited my enthusiasm for photography.  Thanks to the nice people at WordPress, my Bangkok: ten days, one lens post was featured on Freshly Pressed over the Christmas holiday, and I was overwhelmed by the response.  A big thank you to everyone who commented on or liked the post, and a warm welcome to everyone who has started following the blog.  It means a lot to me to know that there are people out there who like my pictures, and I hope that you’ll enjoy my posts from Vietnam too.

The response to the Bangkok post prompted me to look again at my pictures from that trip.  Here’s a selection of shots that didn’t make it last time, not because I don’t like them, but because I don’t think that anyone wants to look at more than about twelve or fifteen pictures at a time (I assume, probably unfairly, that everyone else’s attention span is as short as mine).  As before, these are all uncropped shots, taken with a 50mm lens.

I love taking pictures in markets, big or small, indoors or out.

The rush hour in Bangkok seems to last all day.  A taxi ride is safer, cooler and more fragrant, but there’s something childishly thrilling about travelling by tuk-tuk.

Buddhas aren’t only found in the wats…

… although they are found there too.

They call him Amulet Man.

Fertility amulets are available in all shapes and sizes.

This monk was sitting in the back of a small truck, sprinkling water on passers by.  He was accompanied in the truck by a life size gold statue of himself.

Bangkok’s wats are crammed full of buildings and statues, not to mention people.  Rather than taking in the whole scene, I tried to focus on some of the details.

Bangkok: ten days, one lens

A few days in Bangkok on the way back to Vietnam from the UK.  My idea was that this would be a kind of interlude, a blank space of time between saying my goodbyes at home and getting my life together in Saigon, with none of the emotional wrench of the former or the practical stresses of the latter.  An opportunity to chill out for a short time; not that Bangkok is the most relaxing place in the world, but it provided the chance to escape life’s obligations for a while.

Also, and just as importantly, it was a chance to reacquaint myself with my camera.  Ten months in the UK was a fairly fallow period for me photographically.  I’ve got some nice pictures of friends and family to show for my time there, my niece and nephew especially, but I never felt the same urge to get out and about and make pictures that I feel when I’m away from home.  They say that the best photographers can find good pictures in anything anywhere, and that’s probably true; but the rest of us need a little help, a little inspiration, and I wasn’t finding that inspiration in Tunbridge Wells, or even in London.  Although I wasn’t taking many pictures back at home, I was reading a lot about photography, from Scott Kelby’s super practical – if slightly irritating – Lightroom manual to a scholarly tome on composition by Michael Freeman (both of which found their way into my 20kg luggage allowance, at the expense of frivolities such as underwear and toiletries).  I also spent a lot of time reappraising my old pictures, trying to be brutally honest with myself about which ones worked and which didn’t, reworking some old favourites, trying to make them as good as they could be.  The results can be seen on my homepage; you be the judge, I can’t look at them any more.

So I felt ready to take on Bangkok, photographically.  I set myself a challenge.  For the ten days I was there, I would shoot only using my 50mm lens, with no cropping later, and only in black and white.  Why 50mm?  I like the simplicity of it; what you see with the naked eye is broadly what you get through the viewfinder.  I wanted to force myself to think about composition, rather than just relying on my zoom.  And for such a simple lens, it’s incredibly versatile, suitable for portraits, street scenes, details, abstracts, almost anything.  Why black and white?  I wanted to avoid the cliches and concentrate on textures, contrast, and light and shade.  I also had an idea about photographing statues, potentially a very boring subject for a photograph, as if they were people, using a shallow depth of field and focusing on the eyes.

Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted that the picture above is in colour.  What can I say?  There was just too much colour to ignore.  The gold of temples, the orange of monks’ robes, the pink red yellow green of taxis.  I abandoned the black and white thing after a couple of days, although there are a number of monochrome images that I’m very pleased with.  I stuck with the 50mm rule though, which was no hardship.

I love taking portrait pictures, and I like the way 50mm lets you include plenty of background, giving context while keeping a human subject.

As well as the city’s people, I also wanted to capture details…

… movement…

… street scenes…

… and some more people.

There were many things I wanted to do while in Bangkok: buy t-shirts, nap after lunch, eat as much Thai curry as my body could handle, while away afternoons reading in cafes, wander the streets with no clear destination in mind, and get more of a feel for the city than I’d managed on my two brief previous visits, five years and ten years ago.  I did all of this, I had my little oasis of calm, Bangkok-style, and I took a lot of pictures, some of which I’m happy with.  I won’t leave it another five years before my next visit.