Greetings from an ever hotter and more humid Bangkok today, Chromacoma checking in. This month it's firmly back to the guide in earnest with a nice little recount of a recent trip. Here I am aiming to show that just because a location in Bangkok is on the tourist 'hitlist', it doesn't automatically have to mean that it's on the photographic sh*#list.
'The Golden Mount', located inside the borders of the Wat Saket temple, as it is sometimes more formally known, turns out to be a pretty good little drop by spot for some interesting vistas and angles and is an easily overlooked option by many I feel. To add to the naming complexities, some locals don't know it by its formal name any more than random foreigners do so the Thai colloquial tag of choice is also a direct Thai version for golden mountain or 'ภูเขาทอง' / 'Phu Khao Torng'. You simply cannot Romanize Thai so any spelling and pronunciation in English is both subjective and always 'wrong' per se. Spell it how it makes sense to you if you can't read the Thai version, just don't be amazed if Thais don't understand you.
It rises above an otherwise completely flat part of the city as it was artificially constructed way back in the late nineteenth century and this offers commanding and interesting views that you can't easily get anywhere else in the area. There is a climb up to the top which many guide books over estimate as steep and gnarly with hundreds of steps. Truth is that the climb is pretty easy and the steps are only tiny little half steps anyway so really it's not too bad at all and any normal human should be able to ascend it without too much difficulty, even the unfit only need take a quick break holding on to a hand rail here and there on the way up. It's open from 9am to 5pm most of the time and there is none of the offensive dual tier pricing shenanigans going on with a simple and fair 20 baht entrance fee for all, tickets are available right there at the base of the steps in a clearly marked office. If you get there earlier in the morning, it will be less hot and there will be less tourists to get in your frames. Of course, this presupposes that you don't want any tourists in your shots and that might not be such a good foregone conclusion as some good people watching, happenstance laden photographic opportunities might also present themselves in a street style. Depends really I suppose on whether you want to be shooting the structure and the buildings side of things or whether they are simply to be the backdrop for your little sortie.
Be warned though, it's really, really bright and not covered much from the sun (apart from the first part of the climb which is overgrown with overhead greenery). With the temple being painted almost entirely in reflective, metallic gold (and also silver on the stairs and lower walls!) paint, it is seriously bright and blinding so choose your ISO and/or film stock very wisely. On the day I went to shoot these shots it felt like it must have measured EV+ six trillion. For this shoot I used a Rolleiflex 3.5f (Zeiss planar) and this is one of the later ones with the six element lens if I recall correctly. Full and judicious use of a yellow filter and factory hood certainly helped matters but I did make some cheeky and very deliberate forays into shooting directly with the sun in the frame, I was nervous developing the film back at my home but was quite pleased with how they came out in the end. I was very happy with the Rolleiflex (nearly always am) for this shoot as when you think of the 75-80mm lens range on medium format, the common statement is always one of of how that is simply 'equal to a 50mm normal lens on a 35mm camera' and whilst this maybe true in terms of width, I feel it's easy to overlook that the 6x6 format also gives you the same on the vertical axis as well. What does that mean for shoots like this? Well, whilst it might be tricky to fit in everything on the horizontal, you get way more headroom than on a rectangular shaped 35mm full frame or film rig and this lets you squeeze in a hell of a lot more of 'something up top' than you might think, in my case here... old Thai structures and backdrops plus the people hanging around them. Otherwise (and depending on your format, kit and budget constraints) given a wide choice of fixed primes or zooms, I would opt for a normal and something really wide, lots of people have had good results here with ultrawides too.
When you get to the very top, there's another few internal and very small staircases you can climb to get even higher and so be sure not to burn through your film too quickly (digital shooters no doubt laughing as they read this). It's a religious place so I would recommend longer clothes, no shorts or vests etc, be good to protect yourself from the sun anyway. Strangely for a temple though, there is actually a sign for the topmost temple room which tells you NOT to take off your shoes, that's something you won't easily find in Thailand. Some asking around up there about this with the locals revealed that shoe theft from local kids and hangarounds can apparently be an issue so beware before leaving any nice shoes behind lest you have to get a tuk-tuk to the nearest shoe store on the way back down! It's also very close to, and serves as a good jumping off point for, other shooting places such as Chinatown, Democracy Monument, Khao San and even a fairly close dash to the Grand Palace itself. Of these, Democracy Monument is probably the best choice of large, solid landmark to use as a reference point to get there. You can see it here below on the map also:
Go and check it out, enjoy!