Though Erik Conover has lived in New York for the past couple of years, he is rarely at home. He travels frequently, experiencing foreign cultures and creating video content for partners, as well as his own YouTube channel. When tasked with traveling to Thailand to capture the water festival of Songkran — Thailand’s New Year — he had no idea what to expect.
Was this your first visit to Thailand?
Yes, it was. I’ve always wanted to visit, but I finally got the opportunity to go because the tourism board invited me to film a drone campaign for Songkran. I got permission to fly these drones over all the temples and events.
It was unreal. It’s one thing to see it from the ground, but to see the scope of it is something else entirely. I didn’t realize how big Bangkok is, and I think, especially growing up in North America, it’s tough to realize how big the world is outside of North America.
What were your first impressions of Thailand?
It’s very hot. It was the hottest month of the year — April. Other than that, I immediately noticed how friendly the people are. I got off the plane, and people were smiling and so kind.
I went for a run and got lost, so I went up to someone who barely spoke English, but they were so happy and helpful. First impressions are huge, and it was the kindness of the people and of that person that really stuck out.
Were the festivities of Songkran tempered because of the King’s passing?
Since it was my first time there, I didn’t have anything to compare it to, but our guide said that it was actually a bit on the low-key side. The king passed away in October, and this was in late spring, so that’s a good amount of time. But the guide mentioned that people were still mourning his loss.
It was touching that they were still so sad for the king and that they felt so much love for someone that most had never even met. Every single person had nothing but amazing things to say and held him in such high regard. In terms of the celebration, I thought that there were a lot of people out there, but apparently there are usually a lot more.
Which was better — the celebrations in Bangkok or Chiang Mai?
I wouldn’t say that one was better or one was worse — they were both so different and unique. Chiang Mai had more of that small-town vibe and was very friendly: I got in the back of a pick-up truck with our guide and two other guys I was on the trip with, and we just drove around with some water guns and a bucket of water, dumping it on people. It was super high-energy, but also intimate.
Bangkok was a whole other beast. We went to this popular street that everyone goes to, and it got shut down. Everyone had this crazy water gun fight and it was packed to the point where you couldn’t even walk down the street. It was more of a party atmosphere and had more of a younger crowd. Personally, I’d prefer Chiang Mai just because it felt more like where I grew up.
Did you find that shooting with your camera was difficult?
It was okay because I had my GoPro and a covered cell phone, but as the day went on and as the sun started to set, people would throw cold water at us.
In the middle of the day that felt amazing because it was so hot, but at the end of the day, it started to get pretty cold. In the evening, we were trying to shield ourselves with umbrellas to stop people from pouring ice cold water on us.
Do you have a favorite moment of the trip?
Besides the food? I loved being in Chiang Mai and going around in the pick-up truck, because I feel like that’s the best way to see a city. It’s like biking — you feel like you’re seeing the sights, you’re interacting with the people, and you’re in the celebration rather than on the sidelines watching it.
In Bangkok, it felt like I was more watching it than participating in it, and so I really liked the inclusiveness of Chiang Mai. I think that’s important in travel — really getting into the culture and actually experiencing something with the people. It’s much more meaningful.
What does travel means to you? Has that definition evolved over time?
For me, travel is the ultimate way to gain experiences and perspectives other than the ones I have. It’s very easy to have a certain mindset because of where you grew up, but through travel, you can find perspectives and ways of thinking you would never come in contact with otherwise. Now, especially with the internet, it’s easier than ever to travel and connect with people on a level that was not even possible five years ago. Travel is all about gaining experience, and that ultimately leads to living a fuller life.
Travel also shows you that there are things in life that are the same no matter who you are, where you’re from, or what language you speak. Like a smile — you’re always going to get a smile.