04 Jun 2007 One Day in Bangkok – Dec 2006 (Podcast 89)
In Dec 2006, I visited India, which I discussed in Episodes 66 to 68. On my way back, as I couldn’t get a flight on to Tokyo I ended up with a day to kill in Bangkok, and so I decided to apply for a visa, and left the airport to explore the city for a while. If you listened to episodes 66 to 68 you’ll possibly remember that I had gotten almost no sleep on the night before I visited the Taj Mahal, and that night, I flew from Delhi to Thailand, which only takes around 4 or 5 hours, so needless to say, I hadn’t had a whole lot of sleep again. It had all followed a very heavy business week, so to be honest I was very tempted to just throw in the towel, and just hang around the airport for the day. I was flying business class, so being able to use the business lounges as well, this was a very comfortable option. However, I am a strong believer in the philosophy that I would rather go ahead and do things, and regret doing them, than living with the regret of not doing them, and what might have been. Anyway, I mentioned in episode 68 that I would probably talk about this day at some point, and as I finally got around to sorting through the shots from that day, I figured now is probably a good time to talk about that part of the journey.
Once I got through the immigration process, I decided that the easiest way for me to see some sight of Bangkok in one day was to hire a guide. I approached a counter in the lobby of the airport, and asked if they have a simple tour of the sights. At this point, it was before 8AM, and the flight on to Tokyo didn’t leave until after 10PM, so I literally had a full day if I could stay awake. With that in mind I negotiated for a full day, with a guide called Nancy. Now, the strange thing here is that as the guide explained to me about how a driver would take me across town and hook me up with another driver and Nancy, he kept calling Nancy a “him”. I asked why, and the guy at the tour guides desk just laughed and said that Nancy was a “lady boy”. I recalled that I’d seen a Japanese comedy show with a guy called Okamura, who went to Thailand doing adventurous stuff like trying to catch a huge fish etc. And most of the time he was there, he was accompanied by three, what they called, “lady boys”. These are I believe basically cross-dressing guys, and the ones on this show were really bubbly and funny, and although I was a little apprehensive, I figured it might be fun, so I went along with it.
After about 30 minutes driving across town, we pulled into a hotel, and a new driver and a tiny little lady came walking out and introduced themselves to us. This little lady called herself Nancy, and I realised that this was the lady-boy. I’m not going to get hung up on this, because I’ve never been one for discriminating against people for any part of their appearance, race or actions, but basically apart from noticing a prominent Adam’s apple jumping up and down a few times during the day, I could not tell that this guide was a guy. For all intent and purposes this was a young woman, so I decided to just put the rest to the back of my mind.
Having really no understanding of Thailand or Bangkok at all, I basically asked to be taken to some famous or notable temples. I remember when I first got to Japan, and still now in Japan to some extent, temples and shrines seem to be a good place to start in a new area, especially in Asia, to get a feel for the culture of the place.
We travelled around a few places for the first few hours, including Wat Poh, with the huge reclining Buddha, and I got some decent shots, but on looking back through them over the weekend, none of this first batch really struck a chord to the point that I wanted to upload them to my Web site and share them with you today. After the first few temples, we decided to go for a boat ride before getting something for lunch. After shaking off the pushy hat salesmen at the pier, I boarded a long narrow boat, and spent around 90 minutes shooting from the vessel while moving up and down what I think is the Chao Phraya River and the smaller rivers that flow into it.
The first shot from this part of the day is image number 1455, in which we can see the nicely labelled Thonburi Locomotive Water Tower. Apart from the Thai characters, this is not a particularly typical Thailand shot, but having tried this in black and white, converting it in Lightroom, I quite liked the look I got. I pushed a few of the sliders, especially the blue one, to the point where it introduced a lot of grain in the sky. This did not affect the water tower at all though, so it remains quite crisp in contrast with the sky. The tree and building in the foreground I think help to ground the shot, with another building in the back to the right of the frame helping to keep the bottom balanced. Shot with my trusty 70-200mm f2.8 lens, the technical things I was paying attention to were keeping a high enough shutter speed to freeze the scene as I was shooting from an often speeding boat. I had raised the ISO to 200 to get a shutter speed of 1/800th of a second at f5.6. Although I shot this at just 98mm, I actually had the 1.4x extender attached, so I was zoomed out as far as possible for this combination. I needed the extra zoom of the extender for some shots, and found myself pretty much leaving it on for large parts of the boat ride. Partly because of the time necessary to change and also because there was spray from the water and I wanted to keep the risk of that getting in my camera or on the back element of my lens to a minimum. Of course, the other thing to note when shooting from a boat that is rocking, it is sometimes difficult to get a nice straight shot. I actually had to rotate this very slightly to get it straight, but apart from that there’s no cropping to get this composition.
After spending some time on the main river, we headed down a smaller river flowing into it. This gave more opportunity to shoot some of the real culture of Bangkok, including some of the people that paddle up and down the river selling groceries to people that live along it. Unfortunately, the sun was almost directly above at the time and as all of these people were wearing hats, they had quite harsh shadows cast across their faces, really making the shots uninteresting, so again, I didn’t bother to upload them. One shot that benefitted from the bright midday sun, was image number 1456. Here we can see someone’s brightly coloured washing hanging drying on a clothesline outside one of the many houses that line the river. I’ve actually cropped this slightly, removing some of the roof and right hand side of the building, which was a little cluttered. I’ve left enough of the house to enable us to see what it is, without showing too much, and allowing us to focus on the brightly coloured washing and its reflection in the water. I was still using the 70-200 with the 1.4x extender, so I could have cropped closer in camera, but this decision was really made in hind-sight, on looking at the image over the weekend. Of course it’s always best to get things right in camera, especially when pixels are at stake, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way, and I think I’d rather crop, as I’ve mentioned before in this Podcast, to make an effective image, than keep the unwanted area just for the sake of it. Again at ISO 200, this was shot at f8 for 1/500th of a second.
After the boat ride, we went to lunch at a restaurant at the side of the river, and enjoyed some nice seafood with a kind of soup and some rice, and a bottle of coke, if I remember correctly. Then, a little refreshed, but still pretty beaten up from lack of enough sleep for too many nights, we headed to Wat Benchamabophit, another temple. We actually spend quite a lot of time in a carpeted room with a beautiful golden Buddha statue, just sitting and reflecting, and occasionally getting up and taking some shots in the room. I shot the Buddha a few times, and then got shot number 1457, in which we can see the stained-glass window to the right of the Buddha. There was actually some furniture or something directly opposite the window, so I’m not looking at it straight on, but I quite like the way the dark interior wall in the room as been rendered totally black, surrounding the brightly coloured window. Shot again at ISO 200 for 1/125th or a second at f5.6. I’d now removed the 1.4x extender by the way. There’s nothing really difficult about a shot like this, but I thought I’d include it and mention that when shooting stained glass windows like this on a bright sunny day, remember that the exposure is going to be much more than a normal shot of the interior of a room, obviously because you’re shooting pretty much out of the window, although you’re focusing on it. Also, if the window was much smaller than this, and you had a lot of the interior wall in the frame too, if you leave exposure to the camera’s meter, you’ll almost certainly blow out all the details in the window itself, so it’s best to get control of the exposure by either going manual or using exposure compensation and checking your histogram if you’re using digital will help to get things right. If you check the EXIF data along with this image in my online gallery at martinbaileyphotography.com, you’ll see that I was using aperture priority mode, and exposure compensating to the tone of plus one stop for this particular shot.
Having shot the window, I went back and sat down on the nice comfortable carpet in front of the Buddha that we can see in image number 1458. This I find is a particularly beautiful gold statue, and I love the blue backlit background that the guardians of this statue have put in place. The lights hitting the wall almost make a halo for the statue, which I’m sure is the desired effect, but it really helps to make the image come to life in my opinion. As I’m back in the room and away from the window now, I was shooting at ISO 200 at f5.6 still, but with a shutter speed of just 1/6th of a second now. Pretty slow but I was helped by the image stabilization of the lens, and also resting my elbows on my knees as a sat cross-legged in front of the statue. I was still in aperture priority mode and compensating by minus two thirds of a stop now, to keep the exposure a little dimmer than what the camera wanted, to make sure it reflected the actually conditions of being indoors in somewhat subdued light. Again, I did just a little rotation on this shot, as it wasn’t quite straight. To do this, I used the ruler tool in the Develop module in Lightroom. I used the tool to basically draw a line through the center of the Buddha’s nose and up the center of that decorative halo above his head, and then when you let go, Lightroom will rotate the image to make that a true vertical.
In the grounds of the Wat Benchamabophit there is a collection of literally hundreds of Buddha statues that apparently have been “rescued” quote/unquote, from around Thailand. As I wandered through a door and was confronted by the scene we can see in image number 1459, I realised I was going to shoot my favourite image from the trip. Of course, I didn’t know if anything else was coming up, but I could tell that this was going to be special to me. Shot at 1/100th of a second with the aperture wide open at f2.8, with ISO 200, I captured this scene exactly how I wanted it. The light was beautiful and soft, and to keep it that way, I actually reduced the exposure with exposure compensation by one and one third of a stop. I wanted those dark bronze colours to stay dark, and the shadow area at the back of the corridor would have also fooled my camera to try to brighten things up, and that would have totally ruined the mood of this image. Note that this image was captured just five minutes after the last one of the golden Buddha, so I was mentally quite relaxed, after just sitting looking at and shooting the first Buddha for a while, and probably very ready to just be open to this scene, which may, or may not, have helped me. I purposefully placed the statue in focus towards the bottom of the frame, as its gaze was definitely heading downwards in a kind of contemplative stare, that I really wanted to emphasise by allowing the line of sight to run out of the shot along the bottom edge or the bottom right corner. I’m not sure if this is how you’ll perceive it, but this was my intension.
From shortly after this though, I was really starting to flag, so I was not all that happy when the guide started doing the same thing that the guide in Agra, where the Taj Mahal had done the previous day. She… he started to take me to jewellery shops. I didn’t ask to go, and I didn’t intend to buy anything, but out of politeness I had a look around the first one, made my exit, and refused to be taken to another. Nancy asked if I wanted to buy some souvenirs which I was more open to than jewellery, so I decided to take a look. I bought a nice carved wooden elephant, which now takes pride and place in front of my TV at home, and that was it. We then got back in the car and it was around now that I started to feel a little off. Nancy asked if I wanted to visit the zoo or some other places. At this point, I really just thought the fatigue of the last few days was setting in, and sapping me of my remaining energy, so I decided to call it a day, and head for the airport. Having said that I was just getting tired, Nancy offered to take me for a massage, but however open minded I might be, I decided that was not such a good idea also, and so off to the airport I went.
It was around 4PM when I got there and by now, I was starting to feel well and truly poorly. I checked in, and made my way to a business lounge and sat and had a glass of juice and a bite to eat, but this too backfired on me. An hour or so later, I was shouting down the big telephone in the toilet. Thinking that maybe I’d now be OK, I plucked up the strength to go and get a shower, as I’d not had one since leaving the hotel in Agra, India, the previous morning. I was thinking too that this might have been at the root of my feeling groggy too, so there was an additional incentive to get cleaned up. After the shower, I felt a little better for just a short while, and then I was throwing up again. This confirmed the fact that I’d probably eaten something that didn’t agree with me.
There are two possibilities here. The first is the lunch. I’d only eaten one meal in Thailand, and it was that lunch by the river. I kept bringing back the taste of the coriander, which I’m really not all that keen on anyway, so I think this might have been it. The other possibility is that I got a face full of river water while feeding some catfish at a temple we visited while on the boat. Some of the water had gotten in my mouth, so I can’t rule this out as a possibility. Either way, I was well and truly sick now. I staggered onto the plane just after 10PM or 11PM, and asked for just a few glasses of water. I needed to keep myself from dehydrating, but apart from that, I couldn’t stomach any food. I was in for yet another night sleeping on the plane, and refused all food that came my way, including breakfast the following morning. When I got back to Tokyo, I’d stopped throwing up, but I was really quite a wreck by now and just couldn’t wait to get home.
After I got back, I copied all my photos to my PC and then just crashed for about 12 hours solid. Fortunately, apart from feeling a little bit off for the next few days, I seemed to be fine, so I didn’t go to the doctors or anything. Maybe I should have, but I really think it was just a mild food poisoning. Apart from that though, I’d really enjoyed seeing a bit of Bangkok. I’ve always wanted to visit Thailand, and now I have. To be honest, I’m no longer sure that I want to go back, at least not with the priority I used to have. I love the sound of the Thai language, and as a country with an amazing culture, it had been on my list of top five places I want to visit for some time, but now I’d say it’s fallen off, for now at least
So, thanks for listening today. Remember too that the Low Perspective Assignment is still in progress. You have just under one week now, until the end of June 10th, 2007, to get your submissions in. The assignment gallery at mbpgalleries.com is now looking pretty good, with some great shots already, but if you have your entry ready, or are still shooting, please do try to get it uploaded by the end of the week. On Monday the 11th, I’ll be turning on the voting system, and you’ll be able to vote for your favourite for a further two weeks until the end of Sunday, June the 24th. The prize for the winner is an original print of the photo of your choice on the paper and size of your choice from my main web site at martinbaileyphotography.com. Also remember that the votes will accumulated for a new yearly grand prize that will be awarded in the middle of 2008. Going back to the members’ gallery by the way; note that although we use this for the assignment uploads and voting, this is also a very active members’ gallery, where many listeners are uploading shots daily and comparing notes and critiques. If you are interested in taking part, please do drop by mbpgalleries.com and take a look. There’s a very high standard of photography being discussed daily by some incredibly talented photographer’s and also from very ambitious beginners, who are learning a lot from the experience. If you decide to sign-up, please do use the same username and email address that you use for the main MBP web site, to make it easier for me to link them at some point.
And with that, I just want to say once again, thanks for listening, and have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye-bye.
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Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.