Thailand For Photographers


Thailand has a lot to offer photographers from tropical scenery to monasteries in the mountains.  It’s thousands of years of history are revealed through temples, palaces and spectacular ‘ruins’. Thai and Chinese cultures, minority hill tribes and Muslim fishermen can all be found here.  The people are friendly and willing to be photographed too so it’s a good place for people and cultural photography.  The tourist infrastructure is well developed and western comforts are more readily available than in other Southeastern Asia countries so it’s a good starting point if you are interested in this part of the world.  So what are the highlights of Thailand for photographers?


1. Bangkok


Let’s start with the capital.  You will probably arrive in Bangkok so take a few days to capture the famous sites here.  The Royal Palace, Wat Po, Wat Suthat and Wat Arun are, in my opinion, the best ‘tourist sites’ for photographers.  If you only have a day or two in Bangkok, start there.  But there is so much more to see in this city of 8 million people.  So, if you have more time, take a long tail boat through the canals, visit the flower market and wander through the streets of Chinatown.  The streets can be crowded and the air may not be the cleanest but the photography is great and you can always retreat to your western style hotel when the culture shock is too much to handle.


2. Near Bangkok


When you have had enough of the big city you can visit the countryside and smaller towns outside of Bangkok.  A one-hour drive will take you to several floating markets that operate in the early morning hours when the light is best.  I prefer the smaller markets because they are not swamped with tourists.  While at the market, take a canoe ride through the palm plantations to photograph the collection of palm oil and the making of palm sugar.  You can also visit the Maeklong Railway Market, a fresh market set up on the railroad tracks in Samut Songkram.  The vendors have to move every time a train goes by and then they move back to the tracks.  If you want to see the countryside, take the train back to Bangkok.


3. Ayutthaya


Ayutthaya is home to one of the older capitals of Siam and is full of archeological sites to photograph.  It is about an hour and a half away from Bangkok and worth an overnight stay. Wat Chaiwatthanaram, just out of town, is a great sunset photo location and you won’t get these photos if you take a day tour from Bangkok.  This is also where the famous Buddha head in a tree is found and where many of the ancient temples are still in use today.  So people will be in your photographs.  You just need to wait for the right opportunity.  They offer elephant rides here too which creates a different perspective to consider.


4. Chiang Mai


When you get tired of the heat in the Bangkok area you can head for the hills where the temperature is usually much cooler.  Chiang Mai is the main city in this region and there are many sites to see in and around the city.  Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and Wat Sri Suphan are two of the best temples for photographers.  This is the craft center of Thailand too so there are lots of craftsmen, especially wood carvers, to photograph.  If you want to see how they make ‘antique’ looking statues just ask.  The joke here is ‘They have been making antiques for centuries’.  Chiang Mai is also one of the best places to photograph the Yi Peng and Loi Krathong festivals in the fall too.


5. Near Chiang Mai


Chiang Mai is a much smaller city than Bangkok and the countryside is a short drive away.  Here you will find an endless expanse of rice paddies and the opportunity to photograph workers in the fields.  There is also an Orchid and Butterfly Farm near Chiang Mai that makes jewelry from both.  It’s an interesting process to watch and photograph.


6. Hill Tribes in the Golden Triangle


There are many different ethnic minorities that live in the hills north and west of Chiang Mai.  They include Akha, Lahu, Karen, Hmong, Mien and Lisu and each have their own language and culture.  You can visit their villages and photograph the people in their daily activities. The different tribes are spread out over a large area so if you are interested in photographing them, you will need to spend several days.  If you want a unique experience, try a homestay and spend the night with a local family.  Be on the lookout for weddings and festivals.  Everyone dresses in their traditional best clothing for these special events and you would be an honored guest, welcome to take all the photos you want.


7. Beaches and Islands


When many people think of Thailand, they think of the tropical beaches that are advertised so much.  Places like Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Samui and Ko Lanta offer wonderful beaches, great underwater photography and some unique photo ops that you won’t find anywhere else.  This is where you can photograph the fishing boats and fishermen during a beautiful sunrise or sunset.   You can capture that classical beach scene with coconut palms leaning out over the water.   Or take a boat yourself and visit places like Anthong National Marine Park where you can snorkel, kayak and walk to photograph the landscapes and wildlife of dozens of small islands from high and low vantage points.


Thailand offers a mix of old and new, mountains and beaches, ancient sites and unique cultures.  A visit to this country can be a wonderful experience for photographers if you know where to look.  Come and see it for yourself.


May your travel and your photography both be rewarding!


    Roger Nelson