11 Things to remember
if you are joining us on a photography holiday in Thailand
Having never been to Thailand and ending up here for a first time on a photography expedition trip, I found myself feeling rather light-headed and overwhelmed stepping out of the plane at Chiang Mai Airport. Nearly midnight at the time, the waves of heat that welcomed us were nothing like the rainy English weather. The tiny Thai driver that was expecting us quickly threw our bags at the back of his car where we climbed and nestled in too, and we were suddenly speeding through the streets of the town and out of it, towards the most amazing place I’ve ever seen, the elephant sanctuary Chai Lai Orchid.
I couldn’t exactly imagine what kind of reaction one could possibly have when seeing an elephant for a first time. Would it be smaller than I have imagined? Would it be scarier? Would I scream, or gasp, or would I just acknowledge its existence with a poker face?
Well in reality, I laughed. I just laughed, and pointed at it, and laughed even more. It was the only thing I could make myself do, words failing and all, since it just felt so surreal and yet so fantastic.
Several days in, and there I was, getting used to the heat, to the elephants, to the people, the smell, the language. Used to in a good way; I didn’t want to leave. It just made NO SENSE why I would actually be needing to leave. What could be more alluring than this?
But having to leave regardless of my heart’s wild calling, instead I sat down one day and wrote a list of things to remember the next I come here, and to make sure I tell photographers when joining us on the trip, in order to ensure they received the ultimate experience.
- Thailand’s average temperatures are HOT; prepare for an every day experience of over 30-35 degrees.
The sun rises early and starts baking the ground and everything alive out there. Even if you are an early bird and happy to shoot at 7am, you must absolutely bring water with you, and a hat too. Direct sunlight of such intensity for prolonged periods of time can get you light-headed quickly, and cause a sunstroke. Most importantly, think about your model. They will push themselves for you to try and please you but you are responsible for them not ending up fainting on the Thai streets! Just make sure you take regular breaks, drink plenty of fluids and don’t expect that you will be able to carry on with a full day shoot.
- Camera lenses get foggy.
There is definitely going to be air conditioning in your hotel room, and it is certainly something you’d be leaving on throughout the night; alternatively, you won’t be getting any sleep. I am one of those believers of the air conditioning being bad for your health, and I’ve switched it off during my first night in Thailand. I got up a couple of hours later and through the streaks of sweat coming down my face I’ve managed to eventually find my way to the remote control. That said, the lenses of you camera will cool off and that’s great, up until the following morning when you run out of the hotel’s front door full with excitement and determination and as soon as you point your camera at the object, you see a big blur of framed nothing. The camera lenses get hit suddenly by a great temperature change, and they take time to adjust to it. Instead, just put them out on the balcony in the morning before you’ve started your morning routine and had breakfast; they will be ready to use after 30-45 minutes.
- There are “mice” in Thailand.
They run around the streets and hide mostly near bins and canals. In fact they’re bigger than little mice and a bit more ratty looking. They’re not going to attack you, of course, but be mindful of them as they are not the most clean animals on Earth and are definitely caring enough diseases for you to want to avoid them. You won’t be seeing them around places with less or none street food trading and food waste. Again, think of your model and don’t tell her to walk inside a dodgy looking swamp or something of the sorts.
Note: We have seen none in Chai Lai Orchid, but lots in Chiang Mai, usually more active in the evenings.
They can be vile those bloodsuckers! Certainly make sure you get yourself sprayed with mosquito repellent, and that you ensure your model has done the same. You will regret forgetting to do so if you are out in the forests, and even in the city you can get a good amount of sting marks if you go unprepared.
- Elephants must be respected and approached with care.
I know why you’re thinking of going to Thailand, and you can’t tell me it’s the weather, it’s the culture, it’s the people. You’re going to see the elephants! You want to see them and to touch them, and to take a picture of them to show to the rest of the world who has not seen them and touched them and taken a picture of them yet. And that is absolutely fine. And you will. However, it is very important to follow the rules when dealing with elephants. You will soon come to realise how calm and gloriously unbothered by humans they are but never forget that they can kill you with a single drop of their foot. Elephants are looked after and controlled by mahoots; the latter are people trained to work with the big animals, in order to ensure both yours and their safety. Always check with a mahoot before approaching an elephant. Also, never jump at them from behind or emerge from their side and start hugging them or tapping them. That can scare them and you are likely going to get a reaction from them that will put you both in danger. Play by the rules though and you’ll have the experience of a lifetime.
- Don’t drink alcohol on the streets or put selfies of yourself with an alcoholic beverage on any social media platforms.
This is probably one that everyone is aware of by now, but basically there is a rule in Thailand forbidding alcohol consumption from being advertised, and it restricts sales of alcohol in bars and restaurants between 2pm-5pm. (You can still obtain drinks in the supermarkets, I mean, that’s how JD survived this expedition.) If you so much as put a selfie with your first Thai beer after a long exhausting day in the sun, you might find yourself paying a fine or being prosecuted for breaking the law.
- Toilet use.
This is one that I found out about on day 5. Luckily, by then I haven’t managed to cause sewerage blockage, but it must have been thanks to John’s persistent constipation. So instead of toilet paper, you are provided with a small water hose that you clean yourself well with, and then use a towel to dry yourself off with. Nothing, not even toilet paper, must be thrown in the toilet, as the sewers in Thailand are very weak and you will soon end up having to call plumbers.
You might not be able to read Thai, and you definitely don’t have to. But prepare to be hearing quite often people saying ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’ in Thai, as local people are, one, very polite, and two, not very English-speaking. Of course, there are hotel staff members and restaurant staff who know a little or slightly more English to get by with foreigners, however don’t expect that you will encounter many to discuss the weather with, for example. Learn to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’ though, as it feels rather embarrassing to be nodding at the shy Thai waitress as she’s hunching politely, holding her hands in a praying position (gesture of respect in Thailand) and repeating ‘Carp coon caa’ (Thank you).
- Shooting nudes outside isn’t lawfully forbidden, however it is considered disrespectful.
If local people notice you shooting nudes outdoors, they may well take offence and are likely to complain. That is not to stop you from attempting to take some of the most breath-taking images in your life; but to ensure your and your model’s safety, choose your locations wisely. If you are travelling in a group or with a partner, you can position them strategically so that they can warn you when you would need to take cover. Don’t shoot near temples and ensure that you are not on a sacred ground as these could result in prison sentence. If you are being caught taking nudes, I’d suggest apologising and scattering off until the intruders have gone. Just keep in mind to be quick, careful and considerate.
- How you pack your luggage and what you put in it! Be very mindful.
What we encountered to be the most irritating part of this trip was the fact that we were slowly finding out how many things were missing from John’s bag. It was obvious from the beginning that his luggage had been opened, but it was only later we found how much damage was actually being done. On top of a lithium battery missing, there was no sign of the battery for the GoPro camera, the hard drive bought specifically for this trip, several t-shirts and other smaller bits. My bag was not touched, and I reckon it has been the security lock that has prevented them from going through my things. I sincerely advise you to buy a new suitcase, and make sure it is locked and secured to minimize the risks of anything going missing. Additionally, the most valuable things you have, keep them in your handbag. Check your bag carefully once you’ve landed and if you notice anything missing, contact the airline personnel right there and then. Believe me, getting hold of them on the phone or in any other means of contact is simply impossible.
PS: Pack some stomachache pills too. Food is… different. Amazing but different.
- Coffee shops… Getting coffee in the morning… Thai coffee…
Ok, I am not a coffee addict, or at least I consider myself able to live through a day without one. However, a cup of a good, sexy mocha with frothy milk and a strong smell of caffeine just makes my perception of my existence better. John enjoys a strong cuppa too, and therefore we both find it really important to pin down places that would provide us with it. In Thailand, early morning coffee shops are rarity. In fact, we found none at 6-7am, and maybe it was just our luck, but we crossed a great distance to search for one. We ended up getting a coffee around 9am, it wasn’t strong and required a refill, which came much sweeter than the first. A good advice, if you don’t like sugar and/ or milk in your coffee, make sure you clarify that. Thais tend to improvise: they’re not tied down to the system!
I hope I’ve given you an idea of what to expect when you join us in Thailand in February. In reality whatever you expect, it will be better. This amazing country will over deliver in every single way it can. See you in Chiang Mai.