Happy New Year 2019!

Just a quick post to kick off the year and say a massive thank you to all the support I have received from followers of this website, I really do appreciate it. Alas, due to a massive workload at the current time (and also because this is not currently a commercial website and is not my full time job) I will be putting the monthly blog on pause for a while. I originally only intended to build this site as a single, one-stop place to put all my folio and projects and that was fairly straightforward to achieve. As a completely unintended side effect of that, I ended up writing a few blog posts here and there about shooting in Bangkok and Thailand and these seemed to be very well received all over the web and I got a huge amount of input and requests from people all over the place wanting me to do some more. I was only too happy to oblige and I still think that it’s hopefully not to arrogant to say that my original ‘Photographer’s Guide to Bangkok, Thailand’ (click the banner at the top of the page) is still probably the most informative and useful attempt at such a work anywhere on the web.

Following on from that over the last couple of years, I have really enjoyed providing the detailed ‘Places to shoot in Bangkok’ guides to add to that. If you haven’t read the full guide and then all of these successive chapters on this blog then please do go back and catch up. If you are planning to shoot here there is a lot of local knowledge and info to be found within.

The geeking out over the mainly analogue gear used was another interesting sideline that just happened to come about as a result of all this and seems to be something that many of you also have enjoyed, at least the sheer number of emails received from you all specifically pertaining to this would certainly seem to suggest that much. Glad to see I’m not alone. In fact, from the Thai side of things at least, there just happened to be a really big boost to all things film photography really kicking off into full swing during the last few years that I have been doing this and this was nice to see.

Therefore to sum up, this whole thing ended up being something of a surprise and an enjoyable focus (pun not necessarily intended) for my own photography in recent years. It’s has been nice to help share some knowledge and help others along the way and I suspect that I will return here to the blog to continue with this endeavour in the future. It’s not goodbye forever, just au revoir for the time being, and certainly for at least 2019 as I simply have too many commitments and not enough time to do everything at present. Keep shooting film and please do get in touch at the address at the bottom of the page anytime…I’m always here and always happy to help. Thank you all so much.



Places to Shoot in Bangkok Part 10: Hit the Parks! (Lumphini)

Ok, so here is a post this month that I have been meaning to get done for ages due to lots of questions from readers about the greener side of Bangkok. So, this one is all about Bangkok’s rare green oasis spots, the antidote to anybody feeling overdosed on the asphalt jungle.


There are several large and very well known parks within the Bangkok city limits, there are also some larger ones that are very famous and treasured by Bangkokians but which are slightly out of the city (the beautiful Phuttamonton park at Salaya being a good example) but for the purposes of this month’s entry I will keep it simple and give some advice regarding the easiest ones to get to by BTS skytrain so that people here on holiday reading this can have an easy time of it too.


The best known are probably the Railway Park AKA ‘Suan Rotfai’, Queen Sirikit Park which borders onto the railway park and Suan Lumphini. The BTS stations for these would be ‘Chatuchak’ for the first two and either ‘Ratchadamri’ or ‘Sala Daeng’ for the latter. I think that the Railway Park might be one of my all time faves but today I will look at Lumphini Park in detail. To be fair though, some of the tips and advice below is applicable to the others.


Lumphini is quite large for a piece of land located in such a downtown part of Bangkok but it’s not overly huge. I’d guess around 150 acres or so. There is a regular flow of joggers and cyclists orbiting around it in daylight and the total track distance is about 2.5 kilometres per loop, if that helps give you some idea. It’s nice to not go when it’s too hot in the early afternoon but there is a lot of shaded tree cover in places to help with that a little. The best times for photographers to visit there are very early morning and just before sunset OR any time during a consistently cloudy and overcast grey day ...although hopefully not actually as it is raining. Unlike the other parks in Bangkok, the joggers and cyclists generally (but not always) seem to orbit the same way and follow the rules. Be aware of the yellow lined track if you are standing with your eye buried into your camera as you could inadvertently turn around into a cyclist going at a rate of knots! Also be advised that some very healthy, large examples of Thailand’s famous water monitor lizards live and thrive in the waters all over this park and although sometimes you won’t see a single one, other times you might see several and quite close to you as well. It’s nice to be prepared with this information as if you are not expecting to see such a beast and then happen to stumble on one unexpectedly, it can be quite the shock (they are the size of an alligator or even longer in some cases and just as ugly and fierce looking). They generally won’t harass humans but give them their space!


This park has more than its fair share of expats as well as locals due to such a location being really hard to find in downtown Bangkok. It’s prized by a lot of hardcore fitness types as well as leisurely strollers. Very early morning visits can lead to you discovering huge groups of elderly Thai Chinese people doing Tai Chi with great synchronicity and people making religious offerings at little shrines and spots around the park.


There is a very low tech but incredibly cheap outdoor weightlifting and bodybuilding place or two hidden around the park that you’ll no doubt stumble over. It’s like something out of a prison yard but has been going for decades and decades (it has moved spot a few times though as I recall). Lots of guys doing dips and chin ups and the like. There is a nice lake in the middle and lots of connected waterways with pedal boats for hire, attracting tourists and locals having fun, making for good people shots.  Refreshments are sold around the outside of the park with some good street food and drinks near some of the main entrances in and out.


Some safety tips and local knowledge that you won’t easily find in all the usual trite guide books:

Although it’s good to come very early for the morning golden hour, be advised that during the night it is not a safe place and full of mentally disturbed people, homeless tramps, drunks and hardcore drug addict types. Be warned that some of them will still be hanging around and maybe only just coming down (or even still high) so don’t be walking around there THAT early. The official opening time is around 4:30am till about 9pm but wait until the sun is up or you might find yourself in the middle of a Michael Jackson video from the 80’s. There are also lots of sex workers in the park at night, often the kinds that can’t or won’t work in the ‘usual’ places for them in Thailand and often for dubious reasons. Don’t get robbed for your camera or wallet.


Another top local tip that catches a lot of people out: If you wanna picnic with your partner under a tree and read a book whilst making some shots and enjoying the day, great. BUT if you are a man alone in Lumphini park on a picnic blanket under a tree in the shade reading a book (especially on a weekend or holiday) then this is locally the equivalent of putting up a huge neon sign that reads “I am looking for a casual sexual hookup with another male’ and you will very likely be approached by people who might misunderstand your intentions. It’s ‘the spot’ apparently and if that is what you want of course, then hey...that’s also cool but I just thought that as one of my readers, you ought to know as I have never seen this written in a guidebook anywhere yet locals and especially long term expats often are aware of it..


Lumphini Park, or often just ‘Suan Lum’ as it’s known to the locals, has been a public park in Bangkok since just after the first world war so we are talking about getting on for nearly a hundred years. The whole of the city has been built around it in the area and so it’s a nice juxtaposition of proper, long standing tropical park and huge metropolis all around. It’s named after a loose transliteration of the reputed birthplace of Buddha himself (although that wasn’t in Thailand of course). There are outdoor music concerts in the cooler months of the year, some of them are quite large and well executed affairs with full orchestras and the like, jazz concerts being another common one.


It’s a great Bangkok park for people watching and photos, enjoy it. This post was a change from the old 6 x 6 Rolleiflex work that has been dominating the blog for the past year and was actually all shot on 35mm Tri X with a Leica M2, a goggled Summaron 35mm and 50mm Summicron (rigid) lenses.


Some Updates and a Happy New Year for 2018!

So first up, it seems that for the second time in the past few months, an otherwise highly credible website has been ridiculous enough to actually allow me to ramble away about cameras on their pages. I have even been allowed to include Bangkok film shots of my own on there too!


To be more specific, the incredibly busy and hard-working man behind the amazing website 35mmc.com, is none other than Mr. Hamish Gill and it is this very same madman that has permitted fully fledged Chromacoma Leica M2 fanboy waffle to occur there this month, as seen here:

Chroma at 35mmc

I'm very grateful for the opportunity, thanks Hamish and 35mmc!

In the meantime I simply would like to wish all the people who come to this website a very Happy New Year 2018 and also to say thanks for your support.

As with the post I made around this same time last year, regular followers of this site might (hopefully) be pleased to learn that I am again promising myself to keep it updated throughout 2018 with very specific new guides, photos and detailed information about shooting in Bangkok which will be applicable to both film and digital shooters.

So, please do keep coming back here from time to time as I really appreciate it. I also don't think that I've ever said this before but PLEASE do share this site around on social media if you would like to help me out. This is something I do for fun outside of my very busy schedule in life and it takes a lot of time and effort, I don't make anything from it. Help spread the word about where to come for advice when planning to shoot in Bangkok!

If you'd like to get in touch for any reason, feel free to drop me a line at: 


Thanks again, here's to another great year.


Places to Shoot in Bangkok Part 5: Chinatown

Back with another hot off the press chapter of the guide this month, and also by popular request from more than a few readers, it’s time for the full Chromacoma guide to shooting in and around Chinatown, Bangkok.

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Before we even get into it, let’s address the (perhaps not so) obvious…

If you want to shoot pictures of Thai-Chinese or Sino-Thai people or life in action, you can do it pretty much anywhere in Thailand. The percentage of Thais with some Chinese blood in the family tree is absolutely massive, and probably a majority of the population of Bangkok can lay claim to this. Chinatown is simply a close knit epicenter of such people all living in a very tight area who have probably had their roots there the longest. It’s the real heart of the Thai-Chinese community and offers a really nice and visibly different little flavor to the Bangkok mix. It’s a good spot to try and catch some very ‘National-Geographic’ –esque sort of shots, if you know what I mean. Cliches here are also rife for the same reasons. On a recent shoot there, I even took a photo of part of a tuk-tuk (and a monk), usually these motifs are off-limits to me (as a resident here) as otherwise trite stereotypes but to be fair… it’s all justified by the plot somewhat down in Chinatown and you just get swept up in the flow of it all sometimes.

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Indeed, I thought it might be good to go into some detail although this one is definitely a bit trickier than usual this month as it covers a pretty large geographic area and is that much harder to pin down to a simple ‘right vs wrong’ way kind of approach. As if such a thing really exists anyway. This is just a recommendation and some tips as always.

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With that statement firmly in mind however, I would still like to introduce you to ONE way of doing Chinatown that I think should prove photographically rich in terms of opportunities.  This is an approach that I have used myself several times and I think it might be a nice way for somebody not familiar with Bangkok (or perhaps just even the area) to try as a photographic adventure.

To start with, I’m going to ‘flip the script’ (or whatever the cool kids say these days) and start at the back, from the river  end with a loop and few suggestions before taking you back that way. Yes, that means starting your little Chinatown photographic sortie from the river boat (regular readers will probably already be aware that I like being on boats on the Chao Praya river). You will need to get to pier number 5 (N5) AKA Ratchawong pier. This is north of Saphan Thaksin (where the BTS skytrain meets at the river boat terminal there) by a few stops and south of Wat Arun by a similar distance. The orange flag express boat stops there (but only if there is somebody waiting at the pier or you make it clear that you are heading to the back of the boat to disembark there before it gets close!) as does the tourist ‘hop on-hop off’ boat.

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Although it is something that I am somewhat loathe to include within these chapters, I feel it is particularly hard to cover this without the inclusion of an actual map so here it is. Allow me to explain it and read these words carefully before you look at the map in detail. The arrow markers I have laid out are MERELY A SUGGESTED OUTER BOUNDARY route that I highly recommend you to follow. However the key idea here is that you should randomly pick and choose to cut through as many alleys, back ways and side streets that link through to this main outer perimeter walking route outlined below as possible. If you just follow the arrows, everything will be fine but the real joy of discovering Chinatown is all the little hidden cut throughs and what they have in store for you. It would be a shame to miss them.

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This might seem like an odd way of doing things, for example somebody might well wonder why I haven’t got an arrow going straight down Yaowarat Road, as the main artery of Chinatown. The route I have actually allows for you to shoot looking down it but a lot of it looks the same and once you have walked down the first hundred metres, the next few hundred don’t look much different. However, the side streets and alleys that hook up and link this main road to the outer route I show on the map are all really varied and eclectic with lots of stuff to see that is well worth exploring just ever so slightly off the more obvious main routes. That’s kind of the point. To highlight the kind of technique I mean. I have given a little example early on in my map here to start you off. Once you disembark at the pier, follow the people the obvious way out to the first street you emerge out into. There will probably be a few Bangkok buses strangely parked up there on the left and a tuk-tuk or two on the right.

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If you walk up that road just a little way to the first left turn and walk down that way….you’ll find tiny little alleys off to the left with real Chinatown slices of life lying in wait for you. Some of the entrances look so small and dark that you would be forgiven for thinking that you are not allowed to enter them but you’ll see the odd person popping in and out of them here and there and it soon becomes clear that you can explore further.

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Some of them are even functioning as street restaurants, out of the sun and heat. The people will certainly not be expecting to see you but as a foreigner with a camera in hand obviously wandering around ‘semi-lost’ taking photos, they’ll ignore you soon enough and if you just smile…you’ll be fine.  Just behave respectfully as always. Then follow the arrows back down to the main road where you started, take the first left back up Ratchawong road and you’re all set. This is the kind of zig-zagging that I am talking about. I am merely giving you a basic map route to try and keep heading along otherwise you could just zig-zag yourself into nothingness or get stuck, miss the main sights and sounds etc. You get the idea.

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Carry on like this in such a fashion, follow the general arrows and make little detours off to the left and right following your senses. Feel free to ‘cut through’ and miss out a section if you wish, but just at least stick to the general  arrows and direction all the way around. It’s great fun and the ‘deeper’ you go, the less tourists you’ll see.

Film shooters are gonna be needing some flexible ISO’s as the bright/dark contrasts can be a challenge for any camera or photographer. It goes from barely being able to clearly see inside an alleyway to Ultra Sunny f22 in a heartbeat and often within the same frame. ISO 400 at minimum would be best, only go higher if it’s a murky monsoon season kind of day. Normal lenses work fine but a bit wider isn’t a bad idea with so many people and places dying to be squeezed into frames everywhere you turn.

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You’ll no doubt see that it’s basically a loop that will eventually circle back around to the same pier (N5) and then you can decide which way to hop back on the boat from there. The reason that I am suggesting this is that most tourists will be starting at the other end of the Yaowarat road and probably being accompanied by a tuk-tuk ‘guide’ (cough). I saw a lot of these the last time I did this loop. You can always tell as the 7/11’s down that way have more foreigners in, often overly laden with backpacks and briefly enjoying the free air con whilst buying fluids. The ‘guides’ are often hanging around waiting for them outside. I think you’ll do better photographically to be a little further away from that, at least until you are nearing the end of your expedition.

If you’re a market sort of person, be advised that there are some great markets inside this loop, including Sampheng (day and night versions) but be very careful of your belongings and bags/wallets if you are gonna be deeply absorbed in taking shots in such places. Good people watching and photo opportunities there though for sure.

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That is about it. It is certainly not the only way to ‘do Chinatown’, photographically speaking, but it’s definitely not a bad way to start. There will always be too much here to shoot it all, life moves fast in this part of town so try and catch what tiny, but hopefully beautiful, little moments of it you can.


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Places to Shoot in Bangkok Part 4: Hua Lamphong

Chromacoma checking in again for November. After last month’s much more contemporary art venue, I am bringing it back to a neo-classical favourite photographic location in Bangkok this month: Hua Lamphong Train Station.

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The correct name is actually ‘The Railway Station of Bangkok’ or ‘Sathani Rotfai Krung Thep’ (you can’t Romanize Thai so no complaints about how I have chosen to spell it please, there almost is no right or wrong way within reason). This might be technically correct but in decades in Thailand, I’ve never heard a single soul actually refer to it in such a manner. In real world use, Thais and even farangs with bad accents all know it by its colloquial moniker of ‘Hua Lamphong’. If you are actually heading there or departing on a train, you’ll see it on railway authority train maps as simply ‘Krungthep’  (station) which is the abbreviated Thai word for Bangkok. The full name for Bangkok in Thai is literally a paragraph or two long!

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It’s actually a pretty cool place to go and have a look at. Be warned though, this is the number one main railway terminal for the whole country. At peak times, it is RAMMED and this doesn’t just mean Thais but also foreigners looking to go off on another chapter in their Thai adventure. With this in mind, beware of scammers; do not talk to Thais who suddenly, randomly approach you speaking English, watch your belongings at all times, ignore all the Tuk-Tuk drivers and general ‘hangaround’ guys etc. The usual common sense sort of stuff that I have already covered in this guide before so I’ll not repeat myself too much here.

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The building itself is now over a hundred years old, and that is pretty old for a building in Bangkok that is still standing and in regular daily use by the public. A little known fact is perhaps that is was actually designed by a reputable Italian. That’s right, it’s an Italian design (not many Thais are always aware of that when it comes up in conversation) and in something of a renaissance style at that, simply beautiful and not what you might perhaps expect in this part of the world. Well worth checking out, both from within and the exterior.

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One thing I like about this locale is that the platforms and train lines are pretty much at ground level (without some huge 'forbidden' step down onto the track level) and as long as you are careful not to displease the station guards and their whistles, basically you can walk right up and touch the trains and all over the tracks as much as you like in such a way that just wouldn’t be allowed (deemed unsafe?) in many Western countries. Indeed, when people disembark from some of the main platforms, they just spill out and onto the tracks and are just swarming in and around the trains and over the lines, sleepers and gravel in a pretty freestyle manner.

The classic sort of Hua Lamphong shots are often concerned with the interior roof, light shining down sort of style. This has always been a staple. It does seem however though that in recent times, some sort of blocking the light from the top inside has occurred. I think it is a new installation of blinds or something similar, seems a different look than in years gone by. This makes it not quite as easy as it used to be to stumble on the brilliant interior light spilling all over the platforms, trains and passengers  that it has often been famous for, but still quite nice to shoot. Film shooters would do well here in the day with about ISO400 film in my experience (and preference I suppose).

Lens options here really aren’t too limited, low down wide angle is definitely something that could be very effective but on this day I just had a standard lens on a medium format film Rolleiflex (equivalent to a ‘normal’ 50mm on a full frame digital or 35mm film camera, albeit with more headroom) and didn’t really feel that I needed or wanted for anything more.  Good fun can be had playing with perspective and the interplay between the tiny people and the huge locomotives. Lots of long vanishing point lines and strongly backlit subjects can present themselves when you are at the main hall end of the platforms looking out.

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It’s easy to get there, any taxi driver in the city knows it (if they don’t, exit the vehicle IMMEDIATELY !) In more modern times, it has also been connected to the underground railway network in Bangkok and so you can catch that from literally anywhere in the city and simply depart at the MRT station that connects directly, which is also called ‘Hua Lamphong’. Simple as thatreally. It’s also in the more westerly side of Bangkok and is situated  fairly close to where the really Chinese part of the city begins (and indeed Chinatown itself) so you could also get a lot of bang for your photographic buck if you fancy some exercise and a wander off with your camera from this point.

In the station, there are lots and lots of platforms (around 14 if I recall correctly) and I am sure that there must be between 100-150 trains in and out of here every single day. The number of passengers is insane as Thais really know how to pack a train out, especially in the lower class carriages from upcountry. So, as well as the building and scenery, the human element is also more than well catered for.

Go and check it out with your camera and have fun, I did. Here are a few more medium format shots of Hua Lamphong taken very recently.


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Places to Shoot in Bangkok Part 3: 'Chang Chui'

Chromacoma checking in for October with another ‘places to shoot’ entry for the guide. I shall also be using this as an excuse to post a few scans of recent, medium format film work (Rolleiflex) shots taken at this location.


 In prioritizing what places to mention in the guide, most of the first mental selections I make are typically always old favourites, sometimes very old buildings and the like. It occurred to me last week that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the inclusion of new places also and so that is why this month’s entry is ‘Chang Chui’. You can’t Romanize Thai into English so any attempt is always subjective, that said some words are easier to try with it than others and this one isn’t too bad. But what does it mean? Basically it means a ‘messy artist or craftsman’. Kind of like one who just throws stuff together willy-nilly.

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Based upon that working definition, one might say that the naming of this place was, in fact, spot on. It is a very carefully thrown together venue but has the look and feel of something that was cobbled together on a wing (whim?) and a prayer without any careful planning. Nothing could actually be farther from the truth however as this project was the brainchild of none other thanKhun Somchai Songwattana, the owner and businessman behind the fashion brand and retail outlet ‘Fly Now’ (very famous and chic in this country). He is something of a fashion mogul in Thailand and this is a place he personally came up with as a hangout for artistic types in Bangkok. He is also very well known for being a thoroughly generous and kind man with good heart to match his good vision.

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Having only just opened this year (2017), the whole place is carefully designed to look like it came together through casual happenstance but is actually a beautifully executed presentation with a very consistent artistic theme throughout. So what is it? Well, it’s a large plot of land on the very most-Westerly side of Bangkok, but still within city limits. It was originally purchased with a view to housing an HQ for Khun Somchai’s brand but the design guru later changed his mind, instead looking to create an artistic venue and meeting place that comprises of shops, cinema, crafts, good dining and drink, music and cool people. To that end, it certainly seems to succeed.

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Subtle hints of the ‘Fly Now’ brand tie-ins are evident everywhere around the grounds of this attraction, especially in the kinds of clothes and fashion accessories on sale.  One or two such cues are anything but subtle however, such as the HUGE decommissioned commercial jet plane in its bare aluminium skin standing on its proper landing gear around which there is a bar, forming a central motif to the whole place.   There’s also a similarly ‘past its former glory’ level helicopter artistically placed to catch your eye amongst a whole slew of old radial aircraft engines, now serving roles of form rather than function.

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The heat being the problem that it always is in Bangkok means that this venue doesn’t typically open until about 4pm on through to 11pm (ish) and so was always intended to be a cooler, late afternoon through sunset and on till dark kind of affair. Another big help is the larger mist spraying cooling fans everywhere, although photographers would do well to be prepared to cover up their gear when walking through some of these misty spray zones.

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It is quiet on the earlier weekdays (currently closed on Mondays I think) but also cheaper. That means that it’s 20 baht per head as opposed to the usual 40 baht on Fridays and through the weekend peak times. If you want to see and take photos of lots of hip looking young people, the weekend is definitely your best bet. At these times there are often live artists painting and bands performing, trip hop and ambient music being pumped around the place etc. It’s generally quite pleasant. The quieter days like a Tuesday or Wednesday are great for getting nice clear shots of the place itself though, with less people in the way. I would base my day to visit therefore around what I was really looking to shoot.

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All in all, it’s a pretty cool place and there’s more than enough there to justify going there more than once, especially for photographic purposes. If you are already in the city, most taxi drivers will have heard of it by now, if not just ask for ‘Pinklao’ and then get local directions when you are in that area. It’s on the main Sirinthorn Road that you have to take west from the city to get to the main Southern bus terminal so it’s not going off the beaten path at all. If you are central or Eastern Bangkok, you could even just save hassles and ride the BTS sky train all the way out to the Bang Wa terminal at Ratchapreuk and then get a taxi going that way from there, they will likely know it.

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For more specific detail, here is the website and map info link:


Even more photos below, enjoy!



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Places to Shoot in Bangkok: Part 2 Wat Arun

Greetings to all Chromacoma brethren,

As hard as it is to believe, we now found ourselves in September.  The year is truly whizzing by and I am reminded once again that life moves pretty fast (at least that what Ferris Bueller always told me when I was a younger).  So, I have sat down today in earnest to add another chapter in the guide with specifics about a photogenic Bangkok spot that might take your fancy.

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‘Wat Arun’ loosely translates to mean ‘temple dawn’ and so is often paraphrased into more elaborate and grandiose English translations along such lines as ‘Temple of The Morning Dawn’ etc.

I find that the longer you live here, the more tiresome and trite these standard tourist translations become but whatever floats your boat.

Speaking of boats, one suspects that on a photographic jaunt to shoot Wat Arun, you might well be needing one so let’s get down to the nitty gritty. This temple is actually on the opposite side of the river to where more than 90% of tourists to Bangkok are likely to be. This isn’t entirely a bad thing however as it gives you the opportunity to shoot it from afar with the Chao Phraya river in the foreground, as is the case for most shots of this place that you’ll find anywhere on the net.

To be specific, Wat Arun is over on the Nonthaburi (west side) of the river Chao Praya, and right up against the river. It is in what locals would probably refer to as ‘Bangkok Noi’ and can be accessed from the ‘Arun Amarin’ road there. Any taxi (even a bad one) will eventually pretty much have to take you to that road eventually to get there. However, land access to the temple is not your best bet, photographically speaking. I would recommend that you shoot it from the river side. In doing this, I would then go further and suggest that you choose one of the following: from the opposite side of the river with a long or wide lens (depending on your desired result but longer glass and tripod might work out okay here) or from a boat on the way past.

 In the case of the latter, you can either charter a private boat (difficult not to get fleeced when trying to find a private long tail boat hire charter in Bangkok city limits at touristy spots, at least you could also double up though and get the guy to take you out for a few hours along small waterways all around West Bangkok for maximum Nat-Geographic shot potential!) or simply plan to be on public access boats on the river and shoot as you go past. To be perfectly clear,  the standard express boats all actually stop direct at Wat Arun also but you get a good shooting opportunity of it just as you arrive ordepart on the boat and it depends on chance as to who or what is in your way. The shot at the top of this post was taken just as the boat was leaving on its way northbound to the next stop. You would need to be on the left (should be portside right?) of the boat coming up from Saphan Taksin BTS station (Sathorn) public pier and on the right (starboard it is then) if you were coming down from the North, basically anywhere much north of Khao San road or Thewet area.

 As a general rule of thumb, the easiest tourist option is to take the BTS to Saphan Taksin and then follow the signs down the very short walk to get on at the Sathorn pier heading north. Any orange flag boat going north for a few baht per head will get you going to (and/or past) Wat Arun and it will appear about 25 minutes into the journey (left/port) depending on the time of day, so you have plenty of time to hustle yourself into a spare ‘window’ seat on that side of the boat (there actually are no windows so it’s great for shooting. It’s almost directly opposite the famous ‘Wat Pho’ at around about pier 8. If it’s raining hard all bets are off as they will lower clear plastic sheeting over the open sides of the boat making photography a no-go anyway. This can get you in some really nice spots to shoot it as you go by. You could also get the larger (often double-decker) tourist boat that leaves from there and get the same result, there are likely to be more people with cameras looking to get good spots to shoot from on those boats however.

So back to the opposite river bank options then:  Close to (and around)  the Tha Tien pier is the area facing Wat Arun on the Bangkok side of the river. Here there is a plethora of small bars and cafes/restaurants that pay a premium to run their businesses here for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the beautiful adjacent view of one of Thailand’s most beautiful temples. Many people are simply happy to just shoot from here. If you do choose this option then you might want to be aware of the thing that other people never seem to point out on the net, the sun will behind the temple as you look at it from this (Bangkok) side of the river. Likewise, the sun rises over the city in the morning, not from behind the temple. This information is not always clearly pointed out on touristy guides as it’s perhaps not as relevant to them as it would be for those specifically heading there with a view to taking pictures!

If you would prefer to get up close and personal with the temple itself, that is quite understandable. You can get the direct ferry over the river from pier 8 for just a few baht, quite literally (I think it’s less than five baht each per person, each way). For tourists, and depending on a number of very Thai variables, you will probably have to pay around 100 baht to be allowed into the grounds themselves. Be advised that you will not be allowed in if you are showing too much flesh and so covering up shoulders and legs is a must. No shorts or vests etc will be allowed in and this applies to men and women equally. If you really struggle, there are often places renting out simple items of clothing to cover you up a little more but it’s best to simply dress appropriately from the outset. Also, please bear in mind that it is a significant location for Thai Buddhists and has the status of a fully-fledged holy place for them so you should always behave respectfully at all times when at the temple, and also in the beautiful garden grounds there.  It is often quoted that the opening times are from 8:30 am to 5:30pm but in practice I have often found that it actually stays open until 6pm.  It’s more of a walk around the outside looking in kind of temple rather than a go inside for a peek kind of place. Not a problem for photographers of course.

If you are going in this close, I would suggest adjusting your equipment accordingly and certainly be equipped with something quite wide in the lens department. Although the temple looks only medium sized from afar, it is certainly a large subject once you are over that side of the river and in its midst.

The temple itself is actually quite different in terms of both design and colours when compared to other Thai temples. It is from the 18th century and is quite an exception to the ‘seen one Thai temple and you’ve seen them all’ rule and I highly recommend it if you’ve never been before. It’s beautiful early in the morning (given the name, not really hard to guess why) but it also looks pretty darned amazing at night as it is well illuminated. In the monsoon season, if the afternoon rains have subsided before sunset, then the colours of the night sky on the run up to sunset can be a truly stunning and ethereal palette for your temple shot background. Long exposure gifts aplenty for the patient. Basically, go early or go late as the harsh overhead Thai sun of midday doesn’t always make for great photos, and the heat outside will test you…unless it’s an overcast day of course. For the morning shooters, you will also get the benefit of it being quieter, the crowds can really swell later on during the high season, consider yourself duly warned.

All in all, with a little bit of planning and a modicum of luck, you should do very well at Wat Arun.


Places to Shoot in Bangkok Part 1: Baiyoke Schmaiyoke

I thought it might be good to go into some detail of specific shooting locations in and around Bangkok, starting here with August’s entry to the blog.  Just in case it causes confusion for any regular readers, these will be posted here as separate monthly blog entries AND also added to the bottom of the seemingly ever popular ‘Ultimate Guide’ (click the tab header at the top of this page).

I thought that a good way to start this little series might be by addressing the elephant in the room, the Baiyoke Tower. It’s actually the Baiyoke Tower II as the original is a slightly smaller building nearby but for all intents and purposes, when you say ‘Baiyoke Tower’ or ‘Duk Baiyok’(in appalling phonetically spelled out English/Thai), people in Bangkok think of this:

It was up until very recently, clearly the tallest building in Bangkok, and by quite some margin. It still towers way above all of the other buildings anywhere in the immediate area. It was also for a long time the holder of one of those Guinness Book of World Records titles, but only on a sort of technicality. It was sort of true to say that it used to be the world’s tallest hotel but this statement needs a disclaimer; the tallest hotel building that is only 100% a dedicated hotel. There are certainly always hotel rooms around the world located within other, taller buildings but these buildings may not be dedicated hotels in their own right. On those grounds, the Baiyoke II was able to hold this claim to fame for quite a while. In fact, if you believe the blurb on site, it apparently still holds the records but this is patently false. There are now several dedicated 100% hotel buildings that are taller and newer in the Middle-East but of course this would be a huge hit to the selling point of the Baiyoke tower.  Even now you will see the old (now false) claims emblazoned all over the place when you visit, not unsurprisingly nobody seems in any great rush to update the posters and ‘fess up to the truth that they are currently hovering around 7th place at best!

The Baiyoke Tower is accessed via Pratunam, a generally busy (and sometimes a tad shady) market area mostly famous for wholesale cheap clothing including all the usual knock-off suspects. It’s not directly on the skytrain but any motorcycle, tuk-tuk or taxi driver will take you straight there in a flash. You’ll see lots of central Asians and Africans milling around the area as well as all kinds of Thais looking to sell you visits to erotic massage parlours and illegal drugs.

The main reason I am starting this series with mention of this place is actually because it is potentially something of an anti-climax from a photographic point of view and I have had so many people writing in to ask me about it that I decided to just do a post about it for general future reference instead.

I first shot from there back in the mid 90’s with a cheap (but very faithful) old entry level Nikon film SLR, a tripod that would snap if you sneezed anywhere near it and a budget Tamron zoom lens (I know my blog has more than its fair share of elitist and expensive camera kit snobbery but in the past I have also spent many a year using cheaper, humble kit quite happily!). The conclusions that I drew way back then are still basically my view of this location now, it’s nice to go once (and there are some chances to strike gold) but for shooting it’s not always that great. Here’s why:

Firstly, at the very top, it’s too far above the horizon line of the city for the nice shots that you imagined you might get. It’s not impossible, there’s some nice stuff out there on the net that you can find from people, but it’s not nearly as good as you think it’s gonna be. Secondly, the open viewing platform at the very top has a lot of wire fencing in the way obscuring a lot of your view. This is made worse by the fact that this deck is also basically quite a crude metal platform which rotates you around as you stand still (sometimes this breaks down, depends on the day). The rotation is certainly not that finely engineered, not at all smooth and this is a real pain when you consider that you might well need to be using a tripod on top of it. There will also be lots of people up there moving around that you will have to work around in terms of framing your shots and if it’s really busy this can be a nightmare. Added to this bundle of photographic ‘no-go’ joy is the fact that the winds at such an altitude are also really liable to be strong and mess up camera stability. As if that wasn’t enough, you really need an unusually clear Bangkok weather day for it to work at all, and that isn’t always guaranteed, not to mention the bright smog pollution effect sometimes  raining on your parade. One thing that can work up there (if you have all your ducks in a row) is if you can get a camera locked pointing down at a nice angle and then then shoot off a long series of frames for digital editing into a 180 (or even full 360) panorama with some kind of stitching tool. I have done this myself with reasonable success a long time ago. Long exposure, blur effects and other high altitude arty shots are also a possibility.

Okay, so is there anything else we can salvage from this train wreck?  Any other possibilities?

Well, maybe. Before you ascend to the outside, uppermost rotating platform, you will have had to climb up a couple of sets of stairs from the highest of the indoor observation floors.  This allows you all the Bangkok vista that you could ever wish for but from a solid, fixed footing with no problems of wind, weather or movement.  However, as with everything else in life there is a trade-off: It comes in the form of the very thick safety glass windows that you will see the world through up there. There are possibilities to shoot through the glass without too much of a glare debacle but it’s not always easy to do if you want decent image IQ. Sure, there will be masses of people quite happy with how these shots look on their smartphones up there but for dedicated photographers looking for high quality images, this just won’t be good enough. There are coin operated telescopes all around up here at the best spots so anybody using one of those nearby in light-coloured clothing will probably end up reflected into your shot. You might do well with some kind of lens hood that you can actually press up to the window, literally touching it on the glass as you set a camera up for a shot on a tripod and countdown the shutter using a timer-enhanced, minimal movement exposure.

Other options might be to come to the Baiyoke Tower (on the indoor floors again maybe?) before sunset and shoot from there without all the horrible direct overhead light, it’s much more likely to offer some beautiful shots (IF you get the weather right, some of the best sunsets can be towards the end of the year as the rains give way to the cooler season with ethereal colours abound). This can be a real ‘two for one’ kind of deal as if you don’t get lucky with the second half of the photographic golden hour as the sun goes down, you are then in for a treat with what is perhaps the only side of the Baiyoke Tower experience that I think is actually worth going there for as a photographer….NIGHT EXPOSURES!

Looking down at a smorgasbord of Bangkok lights and cityscape with all its traffic at night is actually pretty awesome by anybody’s standards. This is a time when you can get some real joy. There is still the problem of (night) reflections from the glass there though but by using a hood and tripod and shooting when there is nobody near you, a patient shooter can get some really good results. In the digital age, when everybody and his dog can shoot long exposures and simply chimp off a screen to see if they like what they got or not (not hating, but it’s a lot easier nowadays!), there are a lot more people up there shooting than there used to be. Back in the film days, long night time exposures required at least a modicum of decent photographic technique and knowledge combined with a bit of maths and some luck. There hardly used to be anybody up there at night with a camera. After a lot of searching I found this very modest effort of mine that I shot with the aforementioned (very) low budget Nikon film SLR and cheapo zoom and tripod 22 years ago. I don’t seem to have the original negs anymore so this already mediocre shot is not helped in its presentation here on this site by beinga scan of the actual printed photograph (circa mid 90’s). Although it's not anything to be that proud of, it was hard to earn and a lesser seen kind of shot back in its day! It gives you an idea and at least shows that people have been doing this for a while. Would still be fun to get up there at night nowadays with a film camera and some high ISO film to see what could be done, I'm sure.

Of course, as with everything else in the perpetual building site that is modern Bangkok, even this part of the city has now changed beyond recognition, this is actually looking down onto the old ‘World Trade Centre’ (now known as ‘Central World’).

I don’t know the exact costs off hand nowadays to go up the Baiyoke Tower as the price might vary from year to year and various seasons. It’s not too much, a few hundred baht at the most. There’s also a large buffet restaurant up there close to the top but although it was once a reasonably okay affair, I ate there again two or three years ago and it had definitely slipped down from ‘quite passable’ to ‘blatantly sub-par’ even by Bangkok two/ three star standards (oooh what a snob).

You generally need to take two lifts, the first one will get you up to a large and very noisy reception kind of floor where you then have to decide if you want to pay 'the full monty' to go up to the upper floors or not and the tickets are issued there. You are then fed into a line that leads to the other lifts that go up about another eighty floors or so. It’s quite the fast run up and you can sometimes even feel your ears pop as you go. For cheapskates, be aware that at certain times of the day (very late afternoon to be more specific), one really can get some very solid cityscape sunset opportunities just from the lower reception floor alone as it is already quite high up and has some huge windows and vistas on offer. That’s assuming you can get any peace or quiet from the tourist groups, in fact whilst I am on that subject…

Please be warned that, as with lots of touristy spots in Bangkok in recent years, this place has the tendency to be overrun by busloads of mainland Chinese tourists who might have a different idea about how to behave in public than a Westerner might. The tour leader (often a Chinese speaking Thai but sometimes a Chinese national working illegally as foreigners are prohibited from tour guide work in Thailand) will often simply either not be willing, ready or able to reign them in either and it can be quitea shock. Lots of shouting very loudly just for the purposes of a ‘normal’ conversation, pushing, shoving (even some spitting on the floor indoors when I last went) and general lack of respect for basic decorum in a public place can really put a downer on things. I wish I could put a more positive spin on that but it is difficult, I am trying not to judge but that was honestly my impression of the situation, maybe it's better at other times and I just got unlucky.... sorry if anybody disagrees or is offended.

The whole feel of the Baiyoke Tower is as with much of the Bangkok constructions of that era (80’s and very early 90’s), it’s generally a bit of a run down, old ‘former glory’ vibe that looks like they might have to close it soon, but yet it still somehow keeps crawling along year after year just fine. I know about the theory of too big to fail but what about too tall to fail? To be fair, I’ve never actually stayed in it as a hotel. I doubt it would be that impressive though.

So...I'm sorry if the first installment of places to shoot reads more like a place to not shoot (I really must split my infinitives more often, to hell with grammatical convention) but it’s just somewhere that I thought really warranted dealing with before I look elsewhere. Consider this case closed.


I'm Lucky to Have This...

One of my most prized photographic possessions is (in an unusual departure from the often vintage material objects spread out on the Chromcoma nightstand) a brand new photographic book which I only recently obtained. It’s not a super rare book, its price is not dirt cheap but neither is it prohibitively expensive. Its pages contain photos that can often be found for free with a quick internet image search and yet to me, it’s a really, truly precious item.

In the world of true black and white photography masters, we might struggle to name a single all-time greatest. The ‘best of’ shortlist debate here could go on ad infinitum but in an attempt to cut to the chase might I humbly suggest a brief caveat of separating would be candidates into two simple, distinct and unarguable categories:  Those still breathing and those that have left us to wash, dev and fix their frames of silver halide amidst the big darkroom in the sky. Assuming one can accept those terms, I would like to only discuss my pick for the former category in today’s post. For me, without question, the best black and white master photographer alive today simply has to be none other than the great Sebastiao Salgado.

I have had the chance to check out the work of many truly legendary photographers, I wouldn’t say my experiences are encompassing all of the true living greats but of those I admire the most, I have been lucky enough to attend their exhibitions and see first-hand what such work looks like up close and personal.

About three years ago, I had a trip to London and one of my absolute non-negotiable to do items was a visit to The Photographers Gallery in the West End to see Salgado’s breathtaking ‘Other Americas’. It was quite a life-changing experience to witness such work in the flesh.  I have never seen any other such work which had quite that effect on me, one that remains until this day. When I think of the artist’s great body of work, I tend to think of this late seventies and early eighties film stuff before anything else. I still sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t have raided the piggyback to have tried to scrape together enough to have bought one of the cheaper (a relative term in this case) original prints on sale there that summer (started at around 4,500 British Pounds as I recall!).

I suspect other fans might disagree with me, perhaps they might think of his equally impressive later projects such as ‘Workers’ or ‘Migrations’ but for me it has always been about his Central and Southern American subject matter that came first. I see it as his magnum opus in many respects.

Yet the book I have here in my possession is actually nothing to do with any of the above, it is in fact an area of his work that I had looked at the least. I feel that I may have been more than annoying enough with the dangling participles now so let’s spell it out. The book in question is the project ‘Genesis’ and is the culmination of Sebastiao’s blood, sweat and tears throughout the noughties. The work is primarily concerned with nature, animals and indigenous people.  Its geographic range is huge, featuring places quite literally all over the earth. As I am not a huge fan of animal photography and natural themes in general, it was never that high on my list of wants. That all changed a while back… I would even go as far as to say that outside of Ansel Adams, you haven’t seen what black and white photography of nature looks like until you’ve seen this. A bold statement, I know.

During Mr. Salgado’s recent trip and exhibition here in Bangkok, Thailand, I was truly honoured to be given a gift from the artist to me. A lovely black fabric bag containing a glorious mint copy of ‘Genesis’ which he was good enough to personally sign and dedicate with a message to me.  I am still pinching myself every time I look at this work and think of it coming to me from my own favourite black and white photographer. It honestly gives me goose bumps. Such a kind and generous act from him towards me, a complete stranger, shows his personal self to be just as classy as his lens work.

I shall not attempt to review the book or its images here, a million words could never do it justice. Suffice to say that this is now one of my most prized photography related possessions and I shall both enjoy and treasure it dearly for the rest of my life.

Muito obrigado Sebastiao!


Everyday Carry?

EDC camera? Take it with you everywhere you go, every single day or just for when you feel like shooting?

In the depths of the web in recent years, the term ‘EDC’ has triggered schemata and imagery of emergency mini lock knives, bracelets made of parachutist ‘survival’ cord and bottle openers that can smash car windows and cut their way through seatbelts in an accident. If I may be so bold as to steer the connotations away from that kind of ‘Everyday Carry’ and direct the term towards more photographic pursuits, I should like to pose this simple question:

Should you carry your camera with you, ready to shoot, everywhere you go OR is a camera something that you should only take with you specifically when you want to shoot it, when you feel that it is a good time to do so?

Although I always had a certain kind of jealousy towards the people who had the self-discipline to force themselves into the burden of never leaving home without their camera, I must confess to never being quite bothered by it enough to actually change my ways.

Towards the end of last year, I resolved to do something about this, purely as an experiment. I forced myself to never leave my abode without my camera. At the time, it happened to be a Leica M2 but it doesn’t really matter which camera it is, the best one is the one you have with you right? I had to adjust to checking the camera was on my mental checklist upon walking out the door…keys? Check… Phone? Check…Old film camera with a roll of 400 film in it ready to go? Check!

In the case of an old manual camera with no meter and manual focus lenses, this meant that just taking the thing with me was only the start. I also had to get into the habit of having the lens pre-set to a manual zone focus length that I had memorized off by heart and quickly adjust the exposure every time I changed my environment for any period of time.

When I jumped into the car on a bright Bangkok day, I had to have the right exposure set and rely on film’s great exposure latitude to make up for any errors that I might have made. When I went into a building such as a mall with indoor lighting, I would twiddle the dials here and there one more time, safe in the knowledge that if anything happened in front of me unexpectedly, I would be ready to catch it on film forever. It was a faff, but I got used to it quite quickly.

The payoff that I was looking for was catching more shots, more often and getting more photographic bang for my buck from the great equipment that I already owned. It’s good to have a nice working condition camera that you love, but one that already has a few scratches here and there to relieve you of the worry of having to be too precious with the bloody thing, more tool than jewel.

I must admit, although it sometimes seemed like a huge pain in the ass, and although I often got some quizzical looks and random questions from people as to why I had a camera in my hand ready to go like a journalist even when sitting down for my lunch, it did yield some great moments on film. Gone were those ‘If I had my camera with me, that might be a good shot’ kind of moments and I was also surprised just how often those moments happened…almost daily in fact.

I learned that there is definitely some potential to forward one’s photography by being ‘that guy’ who carries a fully loaded and pre-set up camera with you everywhere you go.  The shot here of a random old London bus driving along a Bangkok back street was grabbed by myself from the back seat of a Motorbike going the other way and I only got to record this image by having the right camera set up correctly in my hand ready to go as soon as I saw it drive towards me. I love the bizarre and eclectic feel of the image and would never ordinarily have got it any other way. It’s not as though you see that in the Big Mango every day.

The lady pulling the funny face looking out of the bus window at the world was a strange moment. I had seen her and didn’t fancy my chances of getting the shot in time before she moved but the camera was right there on my front passenger seat, I was sat at the traffic lights on red. As it transpired,  I even managed to get my driver’s side window down, mentally double check everything about the exposure setting and look I wanted from the shot and still capture her just as she was in the moment(completely oblivious to me sitting so close up to her in an adjacent vehicle).  Time froze just enough  for me in a way that is so rare when doing candid public photography of others.

I think I am going to try and continue this practice for the rest of the year.

So, are you an EDC kind of photographer or is lugging your rig everywhere 24/7 just too much of a pain for you to deal with? And also I suppose, are you fine with that?