Part 2 of the first trip of the year! (part 1 here)
I finally got to visit Thailand after talking about it for about a year and in the same trip as Bali no less. Spoilers, I liked Thailand way more than Bali and should of just spent the whole trip there.
Day one of the trip, I probably wouldn’t spend more than a day or two here. It’s a dirty city and also a super crowded tourist trap (IG vs reality). There are things to see and stuff to do but nothing as cool as the rest of Thailand has to offer. If you want to get your party on, eat good food, visit some temples, aka touristy things then it’s not bad. It’s worth mentioning that it’s extremely hot, humid and polluted to the point that the city is always hazy. So if you have asthma, breathing problems, etc, this might not be the place for you. Two of the people I traveled with got sick just from being there.
What To See:
- Wat Arun Ratchawararam
- Soi Cowboy (party district)
- Taling Chan Floating Market
- Ratchada Rot Fai Night Market
- Baiyoke Tower II
- Above Eleven
- Grand Palace
- Reclining Buddha
If you go a little further outside of Bangkok there’s more stuff to see as well.
My flight got in at 1:30am and my next flight was leaving the next day so I didn’t get around to seeing much because I was dead. Much like Bali you should get to the popular spots and temples (like the Grand Palace) as soon as they open because I’ve never seen a spot as busy as that before. It was so busy it discouraged me from going and seeing more because how crowded everywhere was. It was also 300 million degrees and humid outside, it was also the cooler time of year.
In most temples throughout Thailand you have to cover up your legs. So if you’re not wearing pants expect to be buying some at the temple and to be safe wear a T-shirt because they might not let you in with exposed shoulders and such. Again, it was 300 million degrees outside so I felt like I had just gone swimming after I put those pants on over my shorts.
It’s worth mentioning to be aware of pick pocketers in the city, on boats, etc. Never let your guard down!
This was the best part of Thailand all the way. The weather is better, there’s elephant sanctuaries, more nature, just better than Bangkok in every way. If you’re coming to Thailand definitely spend most of your time here. Right next to Chiang Mai I didn’t get to see was Chiang Rai and Sukhothai, both of which I’ve been told is really awesome and not super touristy.
What To See:
- Doi Inthanon
- Elephant Sanctuary
- Long Neck Karen Tribe
- Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
- Wachirathan Waterfall
- Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail
- Ang Ka Nature Trail
Do your research before you go, I’m pretty sure there’s more spots to see out there.
I only had 2 full days to see things in Chiang Mai and things are pretty spread out so I saw as much as I could with the little time I had (I didn’t plan this trip). From my experience, Chiang Mai was the least touristy out of every part of Thailand I visited. There was still people there but like 60% less than everywhere else.
If you stay in Chiang Mai you should do yourself a favor and stay at Casa Malee. Legit up there with one of the best places/hosts I’ve ever stayed with in all my travels. On top of that, she made breakfast and dinner which was the best food I had in Thailand.
I also have to say, the level and attention to detail in all the temples and palaces is absolutely insane. Every single inch of detail is just mind blowing.
I have mixed feelings about Phuket. If you just go to Phuket to visit Phuket it’s a semi waste of time, but if you’re visiting the islands like Phi Phi and Krabi, etc, then it’s worth it. Again, like Bangkok it’s a tourist trap, the beaches are nice but extremely crowded, along with every other thing to do in Phuket. Literally just tourists and basic white girls on motorbikes everywhere. It’s also not the cleanest place ever, it’s like an Asian Tijuana.
GO TO THE ISLANDS! Phi Phi, Krabi, James Bond, Raya Island, Koh Phi Phi. The list goes on, but I would only spend a day in Phuket to check out the Big Buddha on the mountain, some beaches and to relax I guess. Unlike my experience in Chiang Mai this place was just too crowded and touristy for myself, personally.
I would probably just skip Phuket and stay in a hotel right on the islands. Get your vacation and shooting done all in one.
Due to the increased tourism, scams are lurking around every corner. Being aware of it is the first step in combating it. There’s about a million YouTube videos and TripAdvisor threads about it so it’s worth reading up on before going. If I had to give advice I’d say pre-book drivers and only book places/things before the trip and don’t give strangers your attention.
Most importantly don’t rent motorbikes, jet-ski’s, etc, don’t leave your passport with anyone in exchange for rentals, just don’t do anything that feels sketchy. A lot of times they’ll rent things knowing parts will break or parts that are held together with gum or floss and you end up paying for it. Just don’t risk it, if anything feels super sketch contact the tourism police there.
Drones are pretty much ok to use everywhere except in the national parks and most temples. They’re apparently not ok to use at a lot of the islands in the south because they’re “national parks”. If you see drone shots on IG of those places it’s technically illegal (unless they got permission). If you’re planning to fly your drone there don’t get a tour to take you, but get a local to take you on a long boat and you’ll definitely get your drone in the sky. It’s illegal, but you’ll get the shot. I think the fine was about 1000 Baht or around 30 USD. Kind of worth it in my opinion. You can also try to get permission before your trip too.
If you’re used to “American” style Thai food just pretend that doesn’t exist, aka spicy food. Nobody besides our amazing host in Chiang Mai would make the food spicy. Aside from me being salty about that, the food was really good! Just avoid drinking tap water and sketchy street food and everything will probably taste amazing. All the fruit in Thailand was A+++, so fresh, so amazing, nothing else is like it.
Animal Exploitation For Tourism
Well this isn’t a topic I ever thought I’d have to write about, but it’s an important one.
I really only saw it in Phuket but if you go, expect to see it. There’s elephants in captivity camps for people to ride on, sea eagles chained up for tourists to take photos with, the list goes on. Don’t contribute to it and don’t be shocked when you see it. I tried to sneak a few photos of it but the “owners” tried to straight up charge me 100 Baht for taking photos of their captive animals. Like not happening bro. See the photos below so you know who to tell off if you visit Phuket.
Adding on to my previous section, the elephant sanctuary was the best part of the trip 100%, it’s worth going to Thailand just for this.
ONLY see the elephants in a sanctuary, don’t ride them or expect to see them do circus tricks. Most elephants in sanctuaries are either rescued from the circus, the wild or captivity camps. When you book a day with them you contribute to their food, well being, etc. Thailand is so populated elephants can’t survive in the wild and they don’t have the means to get proper nutrition on their own so they need the sanctuaries to survive.
The sanctuary tour I did was super cool. We got to feed them, give them a mud bath and clean them in the river. So much fun, highly recommend!
Most of the elephants you see in captivity camps are really old, the spots on their skin indicate that. In captivity their beaten and abused to wear a seat to carry tourists and do circus tricks to impress them. It’s not natural for any animal to do such things.
Elephants are sacred in Thai culture, so why is this happening? Well, riding elephants is a major tourist attraction and it brings people to Thailand to spend money, so it’s a double edge sword. If people couldn’t come to Thailand to get their “Instagram shot” that might persuade them from visiting all together, so in the end it’s a money/tourism.
Who Is Thailand For?
Pretty similar to my Bali post, if you’re a landscape photographer just go to the islands and Chiang Mai. Otherwise if you want a cheap vacation or to get your party on / relax then this isn’t a bad place to scope out.
From my understanding the Royal Thai Family is the government there. If you bad talk them or do anything stupid involving Buddha statues or the family don’t expect to good thing’s to come of it.
Baht is the official currency in Thailand. Like most places, credit cards are usually accepted but expect to use cash 50% of the time. It’s slightly more expensive of a trip than Bali but overall it’s super cheap, especially when converted from USD or Euros.
Why I Probably Won’t be Coming Back
I had high hopes for Thailand but there’s reasons why I most likely won’t be returning (unless its for a job):
- Overcrowding because of tourism: To put it in perspective, Thailand was on a Paris or Italy in summer level of crowded. Not enjoyable, Bangkok and Phuket is trashed, just not a great experience. I also don’t want to contribute to the overcrowding situation.
- Animal abuse/exploitation for tourists: It sucks to write this but that’s the reality of SE Asia. The worst part is tourists not knowing it’s abusive and contributing to it.
- No spicy food, instant deal breaker.
- It’s just not a place for my style of photography aside from the islands in the South. I guess I don’t really see myself going back for just a drone shot of Phi Phi Island.
Maybe I didn’t plan the trip right or maybe I missed something to get the full Thai experience. It just didn’t have that “wow” factor on me. If you’ve always dreamed of going to Thailand then you should go! Don’t let my Bangkok/Phuket experience persuade you. Just be aware of everything involved before going.
If you have any questions or comments leave one below. Thanks for reading!
Photos from this post are available to print here.
- Sony A7RIII
- Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM
- Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM
- DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone
- MindShift Gear BackLight 26L Backpack
- Formatt Hitech 100mm Filter Holder
- Formatt Hitech 3 Stop ND Filter
- Formatt Hitech 6 Stop ND Filter
- Formatt Hitech 10 Stop ND Filter
- Formatt Hitech 105mm Polarizer Filter
- Induro GTT204M2 Travel Tripod
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