*My time in Bangkok came before the recent passing of Thailand’s long beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The nation is now observing a 30-day period of mourning and I’d like to wish the people the best while dealing with their great loss.
In-between leaving Vietnam on my way to some work in Russia, I decided to stop in Bangkok, Thailand. I’d been before years ago, but only as a short stop before visiting the beaches for vacation. So it was my first time really exploring the city for some photography. Bangkok is one of the more well-known cities in Asia and if you’ve seen much of the quality street photography coming out lately, Thailand has been producing much of it. While I couldn’t find much street photography info online for Bangkok, outside of the main tourist section, I luckily had some help from some of these local photographers in the street photography community here.
Bangkok is known for the Grand Palace and temples, amazing cuisine and street food, wild nightlife and backpacker streets, and a mix of grit, lights and big city life in Thailand. Much of this is easily found around certain areas, but navigating around Bangkok looking for street photography spots can be exhausting if you don’t know where to go.
So here are my first impressions of Bangkok, from my personal Street Photographer perspective…
7 First Impressions of Bangkok, Thailand
(From a Street Photography Perspective)
1. Home of many great street photographers
Bangkok has become a hotbed of top talent in the street photography genre. Thailand in general is full of street photographers, but Bangkok, being the largest city, attracts a number that rivals many of the most famous cities in the genre. You have locals like Tavepong Pratoomwong, Rammy Narula, and Akkara Naktamna, but you also have expats like Maciej Dakowicz and Larry Hallegua. These are just a few names of many, as there are collectives full of street photographers in Thailand.
Thanks to Rammy Narula, who I interviewed for the blog, I was invited to guest speak and present for the Street Photo Thailand Workshop and was able to meet many other photographers. While street photography is very popular in Thailand, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to shoot here, as many of them explained to me. But thanks to all their hard work and talent, it does provide plenty of great photos to inspire you before visiting. So, below is a small collection of links to Street Photographers in Bangkok for you all to look through and find inspiration from.
Bangkok photographers: Tavepong Pratoomwong, Rammy Narula, Akkara Naktamna, Maciej Dakowicz, Larry Hallegua, Jad Jadsada, Setsiri Silapasuwanchai, Nakarin Teerapenun, Hearhun Hun Shiun, Artyt Lerdrakmongkol, Issaret Chalermsopone, Jaturapat Pattanacheewin, Jatuporn Sutthisawat, Paisarn Sawangsri, Sakulchai Sikitikul
2. People don’t like the sunlight
Bangkok isn’t as chaotic and full of life on the streets as much as many large asian cities. While traffic packs the streets, many of the people prefer to stay inside and out of the sun. So many of the sidewalks can be left empty. Even if they’re outside, locals here are good at finding ways to stay walking in the shade. It’s one of the reasons that many parts of the city are void of any life or activity. You have to find the spots of activity and stay exploring around there.
3. Spread out with plenty of empty streets in-between. Get a map.
One of the more frustrating parts of exploring Bangkok on foot with your camera is how much of it is completely empty. You can walk kilometers between spots without seeing any activity outside. It can make for a lot of wasted time if you don’t plan out your day or know where you’re going. It’s a place you’ll want to use a map.
Fortunately, Bangkok is lucky to be home to Nancy Chandler’s famous maps. She’s lived in Thailand for decades and has put together a line of extremely popular and uniquely designed maps you can find at shops all over the city. They’re artistically pleasing to go through, but the best part is how much info on markets and interesting spots there are included in the maps. They also came highly recommended to me by local photographer Rammy Narula, who to my knowledge doesn’t receive a dime from her sales (Neither do I). :)
4. Land of Smiles
Thailand has been nicknamed “The Land of Smiles” and this rings true when out with your camera too. A smile is the normal reaction to everything in Thailand, including photos. So for street photography, it’s easy and friendly to photograph in most areas. Most of Asia is friendly towards street photography so it goes along with the norm, but it’s still worth noting if you’re visiting Bangkok.
5. Take the boat taxis & Check out the train station
While Bangkok does have a metro, it doesn’t yet take to you to many of the spots you’ll want to go. Since Bangkok can feel spread out, without much activity in between, using the boat taxis can be a nice way to get around, at least some of the time. This is especially true around the Grand Palace and Khaosan Road areas, where no nearby metro stops are located. The boat taxis give you a different view of the city and a relaxing way to get around. You can also check out the some of the city west of the river, where it’s more local and much less touristy.
Hua Lamphong is Bangkok’s main train terminal. The Italian neo-renaissance half-dome design is appealing, with an interesting layout inside too. Mix this with all the activity that goes on here, it provides a great place for street photography. Local street photographer Rammy Narula even did a photo book, Platform 10, on one of its platform. The sun can shine through certain areas, providing some great light. And the colorful trains provide interest themselves. I’d recommend spending a good amount of time inside this station, seeing what you can capture.
6. Take a short trip to Pattaya for a crazy scene
On more local street photographer advice, I took a weekend trip to Pattaya for a change of scene. And a change of scene it definitely was. Pattaya is an experience to say the least. It’s not for everybody, but for street photographers, it provides plenty of characters and interest.
Pattaya is basically one big Red Light district by the beach. It’s a full on city and Bangkok’s closest beach, but most of the city is centered around wild nightlife and the sex industry. A variety of tourists, though, young and old, pack the town. You also have plenty of foreigners that decided Pattaya would make a good place to retire. And then of course you have scantily clad women all over the city enticing you to come to their massage parlor, bar or anywhere else you’d like.
The variety of characters and the unique atmosphere does make for one of the more interesting scenes I’ve experienced if you’re into edgy street photography. It provides plenty of other attractions for tourists too, from restaurants to shopping, so it feels much safer than your normal red light district. It’s a photography experience worth the two hour trip.
7. Lots of exploring, research and talking to local photographers
This was my toughest city for street photography yet, even though I had more local help than usual. I had to work extra hard to make sure I could create a solid guide for it. Fortunately, that extra effort paid off as I ended up finding more spots than my first impression expected. For such a popular city, there’s not much info on good places to shoot, outside of the famous tourist area around the palace. And Bangkok is not really made for trying to walk and explore on your own to find spots, either.
Once you’re able to find the spots, then you can take transportation straight there and spend time photographing the area. For street photography in Bangkok, it’s a good idea to research and plan beforehand.
A Hot Challenge
Bangkok was a challenge, but I enjoyed my time there and met plenty of talented street photographers. It’s a city that can take time and local experience to learn for street photography. It felt easier, the more I knew where to go and give my time. With all the amazing beaches, nature, great food and things to do, Thailand is one of my favorite spots for a vacation, so I’ll definitely be back. And now after all the research and foot work, I’ll be well prepared to fit in some more street photography.
If any of you have been to Bangkok before, tell me about your experience and impressions of the city and country in the comments below! And stay tuned for more on Bangkok, including some of the best Street Photography shots I captured while there.
(from a street photographer’s perspective)