Bangkok is also known as “City of Angels” and I really loved it. Now, if you are the kind of person that hates heat and humidity, this place will make you feel closer to hell than to paradise.
I was here just a couple of days. On my way to my tour in North Vietnam and Bhutan, Bangkok was the connecting point for the back and forth between those destinations. It was my first time in Thailand, and despite the short stay I wanted to explore and photograph. Not much was allowed by the tight schedule, and I also lusted to experience some real Thai life outside the big city, so I spent the second day checking out markets away from the town.
Bangkok is a town of contrasts – that was my first impression. After registering in the hotel I headed to the Chao Phraya River and jumped into a river bus. The Chao Phraya is a major transportation artery that runs across the city, and the easiest way to get to some of the landmarks. I opted for the local river bus, but there are also tourist buses and colorful long-tail water taxis. The public motorboat was packed with locals; I managed to accommodate myself close to one of the window openings in the main deck. From there I glanced the contradictions – the city’s multifaceted soul, mega shopping centers and luxury buildings colliding with traditional houses and gold-spired Buddhist temples. New construction of more malls and new buildings is taking place all around the Chao Phraya, and modernity and progress seems to be taking over, but there will never be a short supply of traditional whereabouts.
After the short ride I set off to explore one of the most magnificent temples in Bangkok, Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn. Located on the west bank of the river, the temple is accessed by crossing the Chao Phraya by ferry. The ancient Buddhist structure is one the best known Thailand landmarks, and it’s easy to realize why as soon as you enter. Demons and monkeys, colorfully decorated by pieces of encrusted Chinese porcelain, support the main prang. The carvings and ornaments of the tower-like spire are a piece of art itself and it’s also described as a pagoda. Beyond that, also in the grounds, the Ordination Hall, a spectacular structure as well, has a centerpiece of the image of a golden Buddha. I stayed photographing the different parts of the temple for a quite a while, and I had a blast.
There was a hit and a miss the following day. I left Bangkok early at dawn with the expectation of seeing more of the Thai life and traditions. I was hoping to check out and photograph local markets.
I was excited and really wanted to see the Damnoen Saduak floating market. The idea was to get there early in the morning in order to see some local activity. I hired a motorboat to navigate the canals for two hours. There was almost no local activity; everything was closed and the only merchants around were just waiting for the herd of visitors to arrive. Sadly, this is a touristy spot now, and I ended up disappointed.
A totally different experience was the Maeklong Railway Market. Visiting here made my day. It is hard to describe, but you can imagine an area full of vendors, stalls, hawkers, you name it, all around and on the tracks of the railway. The stalls on the side of the railway are literally one foot apart from the tracks; poled tent awnings are covering the tracks and locals wander under them buying anything you can imagine. There’s a unique variety of smells and colors, with fruits and veggies, frogs, dry or fresh fish, eels, meats, and clothing and food stands. Then, in a second split, here comes the train. It is amazing to see the hawkers pulling down the tents until they are perpendicular to the tracks, just inches apart from the wagon; the goods are moved in and some are left on the ground with enough room for the convoy to pass by. I witnessed this twice and I was amazed to see everybody rushing, like in very well organized chaos. The train comes really close and I needed to push myself away from the track at the last second to avoid being hit. A minute later it’s business as usual; the tents are repositioned and everything goes back to normal. It’s eye-popping and as authentic as it can be. I truly enjoyed shooting here.
I also had some fun time taking photos of Bangkok at night, from two different locations. The first one was the Wat Arun temple from across the river. The other one is a cityscape with the river as main protagonist. This last one was made from the comfort of my hotel; knowing that I wanted to make a photo like this, prior to my trip, I researched the location and specially booked myself a room with a river view.
That’s all for now. As always, feel free to comment and ask any photo-related questions.
For print and license information, just click the images. If you are interested in travel photography, consider joining me on the upcoming photo trip to Iceland; check it out here.