Robin in Bangkok, part I

I planned on visiting Bangkok some time at the end of last year, but with the South Africa trip in December, I decided to make Bangkok item #1 on my agenda for 2019. This was my first ever visit to Bangkok and was fully intended to be a personal holiday, but somehow turned into partial work when Olympus Thailand invited me to conduct a street photography talk. With half a day blocked for the talk and me visiting the usual tourist traps and temples of Bangkok, I was left with little time for street photography. I did manage two full morning sessions of shutter therapy around the Bangkok Hua Lamphong Railway station and surrounding areas leading to Chinatown, and I shall be sharing my images here.

Being new to Bangkok, the biggest challenge was unfamiliarity. Not knowing where to go or what to look for is counter-productive in street shooting. I did contact some friends who gave me useful pointers on more auspicious routes in Bangkok for street photography. Unfortunately, the weather in Bangkok was unfavorably cloudy on both mornings, but I did not let it dampen my spirits as I set out to explore the city. It was a joy discovering a new culture and interesting local practices, such as the couple holding dressed up and made up dolls in the opening image. There are always opportunities and unique scenes that beg to be photographed.

All images in this article were shot with the Olympus PEN E-PL9 and M.Zuiko lenses 25mm F1.8, 45mm F1.8 and 7-14mm F2.8 PRO. I decided to use the E-PL9 (on loan from Olympus Malaysia) for the smaller size and lighter weight as I anticipated lots of walking in Bangkok.

My first location was around and inside the Hua Lamphong Railway Station. On my very first day there, I took a train out of the city to Ayutthaya. As I was boarding the train, I saw light breaking through gaps in the roof structure, casting a beautiful golden glow onto anything it touched. There were also pockets of light shining onto the smokey station platforms and I knew I had to return the following day to capture the incredibly beautiful light, the people and the general activity of the station! Unfortunately, fate was not too kind to me and I did not get the same clear, sunny sky – keeping me from realising the possibilities I had seen on the first day. Not giving up, I continued to shoot for a while and decided to move on to the surrounding streets.

The next location was Chinatown, which was perhaps too close in resemblance to streets in Malaysia. I knew I would not enjoy shooting something so similar to my home ground, so I decided to venture further and deeper. Getting off the main streets and buildings, I stumbled upon this hidden morning market that was full of charm and character. There were many vendors selling all sorts of products and services, from fresh seafood and vegetables to a laundry shop next door. It was an assault on the senses, particularly my smell, like I have not experienced before. The back streets are all interconnected and after going through a few intersections I completely lost any sense of direction. Thank goodness for Google Maps!

Bangkok locals were warm and friendly. I had no issues shooting portraits of strangers and did not get refused at all. Every one seemed to be very curious about what I was doing. That also allowed me to interact with them, showing them the images I had shot and strike up a short conversation. Now here is a strange thing which I did not expect, I was told several times that I look like a Thai local instead of Chinese. Some of them were surprised when I could not speak Thai and found out that I was not one of them. I guess my physical appearance resembling the locals was a boon as I could blend in better and had less issues shooting on the street.

Another observation worth noting is the popularity of cameras in Bangkok. I was surprised to see that many locals actively use cameras to shoot, instead of resorting to the convenience of smartphones. At various locations of interest, there are many photographers shooting away happily with their cameras. It was such an amazing sight to behold. How I wish I can say the same about Malaysian popular attractions. There was only one incident where a foreign tourist asked me to take a picture with their smartphone. In all other encounters (no less than half a dozen) I was shooting with their cameras instead. It is no surprise that the imaging products business in Thailand is so huge, and at the same time, the photography culture there is more mature and at an advanced level in comparison to Malaysia.

I really did wish I had allocated more time for street shooting. Or perhaps I should have extended my stay a few days longer. I also spent a full day doing what all the other ordinary people do, exploring temples and various other tourist traps. I shall be sharing my images from those tourist attractions in Part 2. I also know that the streets come to life much later in the day (or night rather). There were a few other highly recommended spots for street photography which I did not had the chance to explore yet. Perhaps next time…

To be continued in Part 2…

The Olympus PEN E-PL9 is available from B&H

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Images and content copyright Robin Wong 2019 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. This is a nice collection of photos. I really like the shots from the train station and the lady praying framed in the doorway.

  2. I like the way you capture the aesthetics of the cities and places you visit. How much of street photography and travel or documentary photography do you feel you have in your work? For the interest and respect you show for the people I think travel/documentary is significant!

  3. Thank you Robin for showing this naturally lively Bangkok.

  4. Very impressive work, Robin. I am a fan of your usual photos but I was really impressed to see that the quality and styling was unchanged despite being in a different country. It speaks not only to your photographic skills, but to your people skills, and probably to your warmth as a person. I wish I could see you in action, because I think the way you meet and interact with strangers must be really special.

    I was thinking as well, I follow a few travel photographers but it’s almost always landscapes. You might be the first street photographer I’ve seen who has done a travel series like this. I hope you’re planning to visit other countries to do something similar; I think that would make for a very interesting photo series, and possibly a really neat book.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks for the kind words, David. I did make a conscious effort to not just shoot ordinary tourist kind of images, and dedicate several hours just to do some street shooting with no other distractions. Even so, I did not come home with that many images. Quality over quantity I guess. I also wish to visit more countries soon!

  5. The second image is very interesting (the man with the bag)

  6. Surely you had to ask: what’s the story of the couple with the dolls?

    • Robin Wong says:

      I did. They believe that the dolls are alive. So they treated them so, bringing them out and doing things together.

  7. Kevin Sutton says:

    Hi Robin, What lenses did you use? The one 6th from last of the gentleman in the sunhat has beautiful bokeh! Cheers Kevin

  8. its very clean and developed country, I like very much, I have 3 times there.

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