Thailand’s capital and the most-visited city in the world is a glittering spectacle. Explore the modern, downtown area, but also venture to its ancient Old City, the heart of Bangkok, where you can photograph the impressive Royal Palace and the beautiful temple: Wat Pho. Visiting at dusk or dawn yields especially dreamy results.
For sweeping shots of the city, climb the infamously unfinished, abandoned Sathorn Unique Tower. Fascinated by transportation? Take to the streets and photograph the thick Bangkok traffic — try long exposure shots to catch the movement and colors of the motorbikes. Or step back in time at the Hua Lamphong Train Station, a colorful (still-functioning) monument to train transportation.
Seeking green in Bangkok? Head to Lumpini Park and photograph the duck boats, colorful pavilions, and the enormous monitor lizards who call the park home.
SUKHOTHAI HISTORICAL PARK
Sukhothai was Thailand’s original capital city in the 13th century. Its pleasantness extends even to its name: translated as “dawn of happiness.” Visit the Sukhothai Historical Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) for archeological treasures. The park is meticulously maintained and never flooded with tourists. The temples are in excellent condition and feature brick stupas (temple domes), impressively carved Buddhas, and elephant motifs.
Utilize a wide angle lense to capture the scope of the historical park, then get up close to photograph the details and carvings. The temples of Sukhothai look most beautiful when the sun rises or sets — and if you close your aperture down, you may even be able to get a sun flare to appear in your photo.
Known in Thai as Wat Rong Khun, the city of Chiang Rai’s White Temple is unlike any other in the country. At first glance, the temple looks traditional — and strikingly clean due to its pristine white walls. Upon second glance, visitors will find the symbolism decidedly unorthodox.
Designed, built, and opened in 1997 by Chalermchai Kositpipat, the iconography is a mix of classic Thai and modern symbolism. Hundreds of hands reach from the floor of the temple, representing hell, while half-human/half-bird creatures (called Kinnaree, from Buddhist lore) guard the temple itself. Photograph the temple from afar, then get up close to capture its otherworldly details.
Most visitors to Thailand think of its pristine beaches, but the country also features lush, thick jungles. Wildlife photographers should head to central Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park, home to countless birds, invertebrates, and plenty of mammals, including gibbons. The luckiest of visitors may even see wild elephants. Bring a lens with zoom capabilities or a telephoto so you can photograph wildlife without getting too close.
Head to the Mae Wang region, just west of Chiang Mai, for rolling green hills and the highest peak in Thailand (Doi Inthanon), where you’ll also be able to photograph two colorful stupas (temple peaks). Then make your way south to Khao Sok National Park, an expanse of virgin forest in southern Thailand that may have more natural diversity than the Amazon Rainforest! There, you might just encounter Asian elephants, tigers, deer, bear, wild boar, gibbons, and other creatures.
Known for its pristine blue waters, limestone cliffs, mangrove forests, and slow pace, Krabi is a paradise for photographers. Visit Railay beach to get shots of the impressive limestone cliffs that jut right out of the sea. Photograph the traditional longtail boats festooned with flags and fabric along the water’s edge. Climb the 1,237 steps up to Wat Tham Sua (a temple located in a cave), and be rewarded with stunning views of the Andaman Sea and its many islands. Visit the Phi Phi Islands to photograph the stunning environs and its friendly monkey residents — just don’t get too close, they like to grab all kinds of technology! Visit the Khao Khanab Nam Mountains for a hike into the lush jungles of the region, and to see a fantastic view of Krabi’s green expanses.
PHU CHI FA
Pack a sweatshirt and plan your trip to Thailand’s northernmost tip. Phu Chi Fa overlooks Laos, and its towering cliffs pierce the clouds. Visitors armed with cameras can make the steep trek to the region’s highest peak before dawn and watch as the sun rises over the valley of clouds below.
Be sure to bring a wide angle lens, as you’ll want to document the massive scale of the scene before you. Climb down to a lower peak to capture the silhouettes of the cliffs and the scale of the people standing on top. Make your aperture smaller to capture the rising sun in a star shape. And be ready to turn your camera to the clouds as they change colors because of the rising sun.
In Thailand, markets are a hotspot of activity — shoppers are always picking up meat, fresh produce, and other food items. The markets are also a favorite for photographers..
Head to the Floating Markets in Bangkok for a unique experience: most of the wares are sold on boats. Photograph from above to capture the patterns of boats and colorful goods against the water — but be sure to use a fast shutter speed to capture a sharp image despite all of the movement. Partake in a shopping excursion and shoot the market up close, though you should always ask before photographing the vendors themselves!
In Chiang Mai, Warorot Market is the oldest in the city, and is a great opportunity to photograph the colorful produce offerings, bouquets of fresh cut flowers, local crafts and textiles, and even fine gold jewelry.
KHAO LUANG CAVE
Head to province called Phetchaburi in central Thailand in search of the Khao Luang Cave. It’s worth the trip: the cave features relics to Buddha, a large reclining Buddha statue, and an alter. Upon entering, you’ll be struck by an element you probably didn’t expect in a cave: light. The cave’s ceiling features a gaping opening, which allows beams of light to stream into the space, illuminating it. Photograph the beams from different distances, and adjust your aperture smaller to capture the geometric lines of light.
Last spring, when Bangkok’s police stated that street food was banned, panic ensued. As predicted, the enforcement of this rule was short-lived and the street food business is still going strong. In fact, most cities in Thailand feature delicious street food displays that are appealing to the eye as well. The colorful carts, unique presentations, and dizzying cooking techniques are fun to photograph.
Head to Chiang Mai’s South Gate for a nightly food market display, or to Victory Monument, Yaowarat, or Ratchawat Market in Bangkok. Keep your eye out for Thai desserts, which are known for being colorful and are especially fun to photograph.
Thailand’s major cities are known to light up after dark, providing an opportunity for some colorful night shots. Head to Chiang Mai’s night bazaar or to a Muay Thai boxing match. Experiment with long exposure shots to capture the bustle as people shop after dark or the mesmerizing movements of the boxers.
In Bangkok, tourists and locals party into the night, which means the city is alight into the wee hours. Be sure to capture the eye-catching neon signage in the Nana District or in the capital’s Chinatown. For a panoramic view of glittering Bangkok, head to the Banyan Tree, where you can unwind with a drink and a spectacular view.
Header image by Vincent Carabeo.