In 2013, we set foot in Asia for the first time, in Thailand precisely. After this trip, I wrote this post and published it on my own blog, Hobography. In this post, I describe the difficulties we faced in our attempt to tame the city. Since then we went back to Bangkok, more experienced, and it was a blast!
Bangkok was the starting point of our trip across Northern Thailand. We were told to expect very hot weather. Some people even told us it was unbearable. So when we got off the plane, I was surprised to find a perfectly enjoyable weather. As soon as we got our backpacks we headed to the city center.
The shuttle leaves the underground, it’s 10 am. Fog is still high and makes the landscapes stunning, nearly mystical. For some reason that I still don’t get, I didn’t take a single photograph of it… Anyways, here’s a nice and smooth start for our first time in Asia.
Arrived at the station, the doors open. Here it is. The shock we were told about. 40°C in the shadow, 65% of air humidity, it’s kinda like entering a swimming pool. At this moment, I realized the airport and the shuttle were both air conditioned. Heat, humidity and 12h of flight: Welcome to Bangkok at the end of March! 😀
To the beat of Bangkok
With more than 15 million people and 7 million vehicles, Bangkok is a anthill far from the small district of Thonburi of its beginning. Everything goes fast. Too fast sometimes. Add to this the tiredness, you make small mistakes. Mistakes like taking a cab without negotiating the rate nor checking if the meter is working. Or like deciding to walk 15 minutes by 40°C to spare 50 bhats (€1,10). All documented and prepared you can be, you still step in another world with nothing to compare to Europe. And that’s why it’s so important to get into the local rhythm.
Speaking of “local”. Thai people haven’t used the name Bangkok for at least 2 centuries except when speaking with foreigners. The true name of the city is Krung Thep, or actually… “Krung Thep mahanakhon amon rattanakosin mahintara ayuthaya mahadilok phop noppharat ratchathani burirom udomratchaniwet mahasathan amon piman awatan sathit sakkathattiya witsanukam prast” which means “City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Visvakarman at Indra‘s behest”. Luckily enough, Thai people are kind and keep using the name Bangkok with foreigners.
Contrasts of a megacity
I stayed in Bangkok for only two days so within that short amount of time I could only see the obvious. Of course, you get the same contrasts, the same gaps between the rich and the poor, in every megacity. Bangkok is no exception.
If you want action, Bangkok’s streets are where you want to be. But it’s important to be there at the right time. If you don’t have any specific purpose, don’t spend your time in the streets during the early afternoon (at least not during Summer). Locals take their nap. Everything slows down, except for the cabs and the tuk-tuks. Heat, noise and pollution due to the traffic are a bad mix. Do as the locals, rest. Take a nap. This way, you’ll be up and fresh for the evening, when everything is going on.
There are good restaurants in Bangkok. At least that’s what we were told. But seriously… why would you want to shut yourself inside a restaurant when you are in one of the most renowned places in the world for its street food? (except for the air conditioning system)
Klongs are channels crossing Bangkok. At their side, people have built houses (some on stilts) and live their lives in a very different way than people in the city center (imho). When they need to get to some place, they do it by boat. Same goes for the mail. You can also find snack boats!
For our last day in Bangkok (and in Thailand), Frédérique found a tour of the klongs, guided by Julien, a French expat.
During the tour, Julien told us stories from people of the klongs and their culture. We crossed this lady who was selling fried sweet potatoes, fried bananas, and more :).
For the record, I was lucky enough to sit on the very front of the boat. Photography wise, it was awesome. Until we crossed this motor boat at full speed, and the huge wave that I took right in the face… flooding my D50! I instantly turned it off, removed the batteries and pulled myself together. People sitting behind me were horrified for my gear and provided me with tissues. And 10 minutes after, I was back shooting!
On the other side, busy as I was taking photographs, I forgot to dry my legs. Well done, 1 hour under the burning sun of Bangkok with wet legs… It took 5 days before my legs stopped hurting. So kids… beware!
Let’s talk about photography
It took me some time before deciding to write my first article about Thailand. Mainly because of my photographs. Even if it’s not THAT bad, I made mistakes and bad calls. For instance, shooting JPG instead of RAW. Keeping ISO 1600 all the time, I don’t even remember why! I’m so angry at myself. The good side of this is that I learned my lesson.
I chose to travel light. So I took my D50 with a 18-105VR, a ol’ nifty fifty (50mm f/1.8) and a 55-200mm (I borrowed from my mum). 4 batteries, 8 SD cards (D50 takes max. 2GB :/), filters. I decided not to take any laptop or hard drive with me, thinking I would have enough with my cards and I would be uploading my files from Internet cafes. I was so naive. You find Internet cafes at every corner but the connection speed is so slow that it was taking my 2 hours to upload 1GB. Note that Google Drive was a bit faster than Dropbox but it was still desperately long. And my last bad call (and maybe the worst): no tripod. No need to say more, right?
Today would be different. Of course I changed my camera, but with my 6D I would keep the same focal range: 16-35mm, 50mm f/1.4 and 70-200mm. Still 4 batteries which is enough,
2 or 3 lots of SD cards (8GB or 16GB) and my filters. I would take a netbook or at least an external hard drive. And above all, I would pack a light and versatile tripod. And finally, I’ll shoot RAW and keep my ISO as low as I can.
I’ll be back!
Bangkok is a city that marks you. Even if I went into a wall in the way I approached Bangkok, I keep good memories. I only saw it as a stopover and I’m sure it would have been a lot different if we gave it more time (and went there on a different time of the year). Anyways, this isn’t over. Next time, I’ll be ready!
More about Thailand
Check out our other articles about this wonderful destination:
- One dish Fred really likes to eat in Thailand is the green papaya salad or Som Tam. Don’t be mistaken, it’s not a dessert.
- A great activity to try if you go to Chiang Mai: a cooking class. The best way to learn about Thai food!
- Thailand is also a place where you can challenge your tastebuds with unusual experiences like tasting the durian fruit or trying to eat insects.