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.

CCP

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