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Author Topic: Chiang Mai, Thailand  (Read 4150 times)

Mike Raub

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Chiang Mai, Thailand
« on: July 06, 2010, 06:09:41 PM »

I'm going to visit Chiang Mai, Thailand in September, probably bringing a 5DII, 16-35, 24-105 and 70-200 F4. I've done some web reseach and bought the Lonely Planet guidebook for Thailand and it looks like the many temples in and around the city will be good areas for interesting travel photography. However, I'd appreciate any suggestions from those who have been there (or live there) on any places good for photography but perhaps overlooked by guidebooks and web sites aimed at general tourists.

I'll probably take at least one tour into the hill country, though it looks like many of the villiages visited on these tours are mainly set up for tourists and are not where the native people live and work.

Any suggestions much appreciated.

MIKE RAUB
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gvaughn

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« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2010, 07:08:04 PM »

I visited Chiang Mai (and Bangkok) in March and thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

There are Buddhist temples everywhere, and they are indeed great photo subjects. Wat Chedi Luang is a large complex that I would class as a Don't Miss. Wat Fon Soi and Wat Bupparam are also very good photo sites.

I went to one of the villages of hill tribes, Baan Tong Luang, that encourages visitors, and like many others I have mixed feelings about these places. Yes, it is touristy, and one of my fellow travelers likened it to shooting animals in the zoo, but most of the people selling their wares and demonstrating traditional crafts seem quite willing to pose for photos. The people at Baan Tong Luang do actually live in that village, and for many of them the tourism industry provides a livelihood.

The marketplaces are wonderful places for photography. Pratu Chiang Mai morning market is particularly good with a mix of street vendors and a large indoor market.

There are a number of places to see and/or ride elephants. I visited three in the Chiang Mai area and by far and away the best experience is Patara Elephant Farm and their "Elephant Owner for a Day" program. You will get to ride an elephant, but you also spend time actually caring for these magnificent beasts. Patara uses the funds generated from their tourism business to provide rehabilitation for sick, injured or unwanted elephants, and they are embarking on a captive breeding program to return elephants to their former wild habitat in northern Thailand. Highly recommended. www.pataraelephantfarm.com

Some photos from my trip to Chiang Mai: http://gregvaughn.photoshelter.com/gallery...K297EcBGP2c/0/1


« Last Edit: July 08, 2010, 07:08:52 PM by gvaughn »
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Steve Weldon

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« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2010, 02:04:44 PM »

Quote from: Mike Raub
I'm going to visit Chiang Mai, Thailand in September, probably bringing a 5DII, 16-35, 24-105 and 70-200 F4. I've done some web reseach and bought the Lonely Planet guidebook for Thailand and it looks like the many temples in and around the city will be good areas for interesting travel photography. However, I'd appreciate any suggestions from those who have been there (or live there) on any places good for photography but perhaps overlooked by guidebooks and web sites aimed at general tourists.

I'll probably take at least one tour into the hill country, though it looks like many of the villiages visited on these tours are mainly set up for tourists and are not where the native people live and work.

Any suggestions much appreciated.

MIKE RAUB
Great equipment choices imo.

You might want to add a fast prime for inside the temples or darker places.  I find the inexpensive Sigma 20mm F1.8 is always in my bag (I've lived in Thailand for the last 11 years take away a few in the middle)..

The Lonely planet.. get the PDF version and don't carry around that heavy thing..

I agree the market places are great places.. the night flower market for one.

Temples are boring boring boring save for The Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya (not near Chiang Mai) and Wat Rung Khun (in Chiang Rai kinda sorta near Chiang Mai).   In fact, Wat Rung Khun is very difficult to photograph properly in September (glaring white skies and really harsh sun at the tail end of monsoon season)  It's a very different temple and well worth the bus ride to get there.. but it's difficult.. white on white on white on glaring weather.  You can take a look at this gallery for some really poorly done shots.. need to visit the place again..

To me.. there are far more interesting photo ops in the Chiang Rai area, it's cheaper to stay and eat there, and the rural countryside can be spectacular.  Some less poorly done shots are here.   Then there is the Wat Pai Yaih which isn't as boring as most (99% of Thai temples look the same.. kinda dirty and unkempt, after the first one you've seen them all) temples (we call them wats) because there's a big giant buddha inside and with interesting light photographs well.. and it's where they hid the emerald buddha inside a big cement covered sculpture and it became lost for a few hundred years until lightning revealed it.

I'm the rude bugger who made the comment about photographing the natives like zoo animals.. poorly said I suppose.. only meant that we should endeavor to not photograph people simply because they look different and think that's enough.  We need to show them in the course of living their lives.. create more meaningful compositions than just head shots of strange looking folk..

I'm also very much against anything exploiting elephants.  This is a complex subject and I swear I'm not a PETA member or even a flaming liberal.. I'm a die hard conservative.. but some things have just gone too far and these elephants.. even the places that claim to be saving them and treating them well.. I've been involved in some investigative pieces (as well as soon being the lead photographer on a major research grant sponsored by a major university full of elephant professors (really)) and all animals over here are severely exploited.. elephants with their usual gentle nature being the worst treated.  With that said most mahouts truly love their beasts as they do family.. but are forced to exploit and overwork them just to be able to afford to feed them.  Work there all you want, wash them, learn about them.. but I won't be riding them.

The entire area is rich in photographic opportunities.. no need to go look for any.  Rent a car/drive combo (actually cheaper than renting a car and driving yourself) and head out in the Chiang Rai countryside for some of the most fantastic landscapes you'll ever see..

But be warned.. September is not a great month for photography.  The weather is harsh and the skies difficult to say the least.  Two months later from mid-November through the beginning of February is the absolute best time to enjoy and photograph Thailand.  Currently the monsoon rains and resulting thunderstorms make for interesting shooting.. but its more time consuming..

About these villages where the tourists help their livelihood.. most are owned by businessmen and the people themselves receive next to nothing.. I don't encourage these either.  Same way the local mafia controls the disabled beggars.. it's a third world country.. nearly everything isn't as you'd expect.. almost everyone is exploited.

Sorry to sound so negative.. please don't think that's all there is.. The Kantoke theater is well worth an evening.. not expensive either.  Most hotels can arrange your tickets and take you there.  Use the search engine to find more pieces on both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai..

Have a great trip!
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ltphoto

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« Reply #3 on: July 09, 2010, 05:30:24 PM »

I will second the recommendation for Chiang Rai, if you can make it up there. In any case, avoid the organized tours on the buses. In Chiang Rai we would just go out of our hotel in the morning and hire someone right on the street, sometimes with a destination in mind and sometimes just go where they recommended. Not everyone is comfortable with this approach, but it was a great experience for us. We had a much more personal experience than any of the tourist groups could ever hope for.

Enjoy your trip there in any case. We found the Thai people to be the friendliest people you could ever imagine. We have been in Northern Thailand (with brief forays into Myanmar) three times now, and it has always been a fantastic experience.
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Mike Raub

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« Reply #4 on: July 11, 2010, 11:52:12 PM »

Thanks for the helpful replies.

Greg, I really liked your photos; they are basically the kind of thing I aim for (but often miss). I'll think I'll pass on the jungle tour involving the rope bridge and other elevated activities, despite the promise of a "happy ending." I have the Canon 50mm 1.8, but will check out the Sigma 20mm 1.8 since the 50 really isn't wide enough for cramped interior spaces.

Steve, I realize September isn't the ideal month for photography in Northern Thailand, but it is the only remaining month this year when I could clear up any substantial free time. I used the car/driver arrangement when I was in Ubud, Bali last year and it was much better than the bus tours which always want to be headed home just when the light is getting interesting. Do you know of any drivers in CM that specialize in driving photographers? I'd be willing to pay a premium to have the benefit of a driver with some general photographic interest.

My few times on the back of a horse have convinced me that motorized vehicles are my best source of transportation. I'd guess the existing elephants are probably too domesticated to release back in the wild (if there remains a habitat in Thailand that could support them). At the least, you'd hope for an end to the breeding of animals that can't be properly cared for.

Thanks again for the comments.

MIKE RAUB
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Steve Weldon

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« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2010, 02:20:08 AM »

Quote from: Mike Raub
Steve, I realize September isn't the ideal month for photography in Northern Thailand, but it is the only remaining month this year when I could clear up any substantial free time. I used the car/driver arrangement when I was in Ubud, Bali last year and it was much better than the bus tours which always want to be headed home just when the light is getting interesting. Do you know of any drivers in CM that specialize in driving photographers? I'd be willing to pay a premium to have the benefit of a driver with some general photographic interest.

My few times on the back of a horse have convinced me that motorized vehicles are my best source of transportation. I'd guess the existing elephants are probably too domesticated to release back in the wild (if there remains a habitat in Thailand that could support them). At the least, you'd hope for an end to the breeding of animals that can't be properly cared for.

Thanks again for the comments.

MIKE RAUB
Any hotel will have a list of drivers.. and all will claim to have anything you request.. like photographic experience.  They won't.  You can also make a deal with a taxi driver if you don't mind the lower class of car.  And keep in mind, there aren't that many taxi's or even tuk-tuk's in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai like there are in Bangkok.  Each city will have it's only type of personal transportation for hire from antique tuk-tuks to pony drawn carriages to small trailers towed by motorsai's..  Your hotel won't bargain, but they usually do quality control on their hires.  Everyone else expects to bargain.

Don't forgot Wat Doi Suthep (really the name of the mountain but there is a famous wat on the top) and the opportunities for hill tribe visits along the same route.. every tourist trap you may want is along that route..

Elephants have no issues being released back into the wild.. it's just there's no "wild" left.. they eat a lot and most usable space is used for farming.  There are a lot of laws.. and a lot of corruption as people are allowed to break the laws.  The only sure way to discourage their exploitation is to not be part of it.   The mahout families love their animals, but they also see them as very valuable and as a means of income.  

Enjoy your time there..
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luong

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« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2010, 10:34:55 PM »

When I was in Chiang Mail, I rented a motorcycle to explore the surrounding hills, in particular Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which is superb. Although I had barely used one before, I found it easy to ride.
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Steve Weldon

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« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2010, 03:13:15 AM »

Quote from: luong
When I was in Chiang Mail, I rented a motorcycle to explore the surrounding hills, in particular Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which is superb. Although I had barely used one before, I found it easy to ride.
They are of course easy to ride.. they're also extremely dangerous in a country where motorbikes command absolutely no respect from the drivers, there's no trauma centers should something go wrong, adequate helmets aren't provided (Snell or even DOT approved), and without a hospital card they take the hospital will ship you off untreated to a government ran hospital.. not a desirable place for treatment

I would discourage the use of rental motorsai's under any condition.  Having lived here for years and talking to the guys at the embassies, reading the papers, etc.. they ship more foreigners home in boxes from motorsai accidents than everything else combined.

The Thai's are gentle polite people.. until behind the wheel of a car.. then they turn downright nasty.. I rode bikes in Korea, Japan, the PI, and even India (not to mention the states and being a MSF instructor).. and I won't ride here.. no way..
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spidermike

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« Reply #8 on: July 26, 2010, 01:11:05 PM »

I agree that the temples can be variable in interest but in the early morning the monks go out to collect alms (donations) from the locals, and in the more rural areas they will go round the markets colleting from the stallholders. Some of my favourite photos of Myanmar (just over the border) are of a procession of monks ranging from late teens to 5 or 6 years old lined up in size order carrying their bowls. And if you don't get pictures of the monks there is always the market itself - sometimes if you get there after 10, you have missed the best part.
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