Very few westerners understand what it is like to be poor. Governments in the west provide safety nets and while there are poor living on the streets, poverty in places like Southeast Asia is different. In place like Phnom Penh, Cambodia, people are routinely thrown off their land to make way for a block of apartments they will never be able to afford to live in. Once displaced they become a family living on the edge on what little if any handouts supplied by non governmentals orginizations. As the festive season nears perhaps we all should think more about our fellow man and less about “selfies”.
Something about a Thai man plugged into a guitar wearing a Santa hat that just makes me stop every time. This image is one of my all time favorites I shot while racing to of all things a political demonstration in Bangkok. I plan to go looking for this again tonight near Khao San road, what are the odds that ten years later he is still there.
Huai Rong waterfall is about one hours drive from my home in northern Thailand. I pass the turn off on a regular basis on my way to Nan, Thailand where every 90 days I am required to report to immigration authorities. On a recent trip I decided to stop. It is the dry season so waterfalls this time of the year are going to look less spectular than during the months of June, July and August when it rains almost everyday. The lack of water however gave me the opportunity to explore the channel cut through the rocks and to photograph some of the smaller falls. I now carry a tripod, or gorilla pod, along with me and begin my exposures at asa 100 with a 10 stop down neutral density filter. I start somwhere around 4 seconds at f 22.
Water flows through the rocks at Huai Rong waterfall near Phrae, Thailand.
Water streams through the rocks into a pool at Huai Rong waterfall in Phrae, Thailand.
Water pours over leaves and rocks into a small pool at Huai Rong waterfall near Phrae, Thailand.
On a trip today to the jungle so the kids could play in a moutain stream I spotted this along the way. Thailand has loads of insects, ants, and other bugs galore but this one really caught my attention. Seems it is a Golden Orb Web Spider. According tohttp://www.naturia.per.sg it is not the largest spider in Thailand, but makes the largest and strongest web. It gets its name from the golden colour of its silk. The web can run from the top of a tree 6m high and up to 2m wide. Unlike other spider webs, the Golden Orb Web Spider’s web is not dismantled often and can last several years. Designed to catch large flying insects, the web is slightly angled. It is not a perfect wheel and is usually off-centre. To make its web, the spider releases a thin thread into the wind. When it catches on something, the spider walks along it trailing a stronger non-sticky thread. It repeats the process in the centre of the line to form a strong Y-frame. Around this, it spins the rest of the web out of sticky capture silk.
The silk is so strong that it can trap small birds, which the spider doesn’t eat. These trapped creatures often destroy the web by thrashing around. To avoid such damage, the spider often leaves a line of insect husks on its web or builds smaller barrier webs around the main web. Despite the call to “Kill It” I instead chose to “Photograph It” and “Share It”.
Thailand Spider spins a web near my home in Phrae, Thailand.
Cambodia is a Brutal Land. Since early in the 1960’s there has been almost constant war or civil war. I first arrived in March of 1997 on a two week trip that began in Siem Reap and ended in Phnom Penh. There were few tourist, not much food or much of anything else. What Cambodia had in 1997 was problems and still does today. But the people and their faces and especially their spirit captured my heart. Smiles were genuine and they were eager to reach out. Under the muderous rule of Pol Pot, Nuon Chea and others the Cambodian people suffered a staggering 1.7 million deaths from 1975 to 1979. Most of them were just worked to death, or died from disease and starvation. Often I have listened to accounts from men younger than me on how they watched mothers and fathers , brothers and sisters die at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. A recent account came to me during one of the current geneocide trials being held in Phnom Penh. “We were young and poor, our families were gone yet someone a group of us, all friends today, survived. We just had each other. There was nothing left of Cambodia, other than gridning poverty and we ate plenty of that”.
Today the average age of most Cambodians is 21. High School students are taught little about the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot is grandpa or grandma’s boogeyman. I am nearing the completion of a collection of black & white photographs from Cambodia that I have taken since 1997. Many still haunt me today. Many also make me smile each time I view them. The book will be out soon on “Blurb”.
Wat Phra That Doi Sutep Temple sits high atop a mountain overlooking the ancient Thai city of Chiang Mai. Most local Thais in Chiang Mai just call it Doe Sutep. For many Buddhist it is a sacred temple and remains popular as well with foreign visitors. Wat Phra That Doi Sutep Temple was founded back in the 1300. It’s a 15 kilometer ride from Chiang Mai in one of the many red pickup truck taxis that will cost you about 200 baht ($7) to reach the drop off area. The road that leads up the mountain to Wat Phra That Doi Sutep Temple is seven winding kilometers and was constructed back in the 30’s. Overlooking Chiang Mai from 3,500 feet is an impressive site but one you won’t see on misty days. Once you arrive, if you feel up to it, 306 steps to the top await you though I would recommend you pay 50 baht ($2) and ride the tram. When you get to the temple area take off and store your shoes. Everyone goes barefoot here. Like many religious sites in Thailand, it is a mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism. The golden shrines are impressive. What i found impressive though were the shrines and everywhere you look there is plenty to shoot both in stills and video. The Buddhist monks who bless the faithful in rooms filled with statues of Buddha are easy to work with if you want a special moment. One thing I would point out to foreigners, this is just like a western church back home in that people come to Wat Pra That Doi Sutep to pray. There are no rides for children, I would recommend you leave anyone less than 16 years old with a sitter back at the hotel. Wear shorts, its going to be hot, especially after that 306 step climb. As someone who has photographed here recently I recommend just a few lenses and perhaps a tripod. Take some time to look at it all and then start to shoot. Amazing images for sure for the travel photographer.
Thai Buddhist monk Luang Pho Malai, 91 years old, rests at his Buddhist monk quarters at Wat Chang. For the past 30 years Luang Pho Malai has made his daily round to attend to the faithful in a small wooden boat to collect their offerings and dispense blessings. While many of Bangkok’s major canals were filled in and paved over during the building boom of the 1980’s klong Thavi Watthana still serves the needs of an impoverished community.
Buddhist Monk goes boating for Buddha
Buddhist monk Luang Pho Malai goes “Boating for Buddha” everyday as he attend to the spiritual needs of the faithful in a small river canal community on the outskirts of Bangkok. As with almost everyday some faithful have gathered near Talin Chang floating market on the outskirts of Bangkok to offer food and make merit.
Dishes of freshly cooked stir-fried basil pork, (Gaprao Moo Kai Daao) and deep fried fish, (Pad Pla Keun Chai),along with mounds of steaming rice are passed on to Malai and placed into yellow metal tins. Nearby the sudden roar of a passing diesel passenger train crossing a canal bridge drowns out the traditional blessing that he has begun chanting. No one looks up as the familiar clickety-clack of steel wheels on iron rails fades. In a final familiar gesture the faithful offer respect before going on their way.
This ritual of making merit is woven tightly into the fabric of the culture as Thailand is predominately a Buddhist nation. Luang Pho Malai has been “boating for Buddha” for more than 30 years. Draped in the traditional orange robes of a Buddhist monk his presence in this poor slum neighborhood is not out of place. On this morning like many others the dawn brings out the Buddhist monks to gather food from the community, the only source of sustenance they will have.
What makes this scene different is Luang Pho Malai is 91 years old and while most monks make their rounds on bare feet this elder monk paddles his way to the faithful in a small wooden hand made boat and has been doing so for the past 30 years.
The streets in places like Sitwee are filled with locals, all doing their jobs, plenty of bicycle taxis. A quick look of the area says, few cars, little modernization and only one internet cafe that is open but no customers. When you make eye contact and you smile, almost always the smile comes back. I realize there is no need to worry for them, though many are shy. Smiles says many things to a street photographer, for me they mean there is less chance I am about to be beaten and robbed, though in 17 years of working in Southeast Asia I can’t rmember the last time I felt threatned. The world now is going backwards though. When I first arrived in Thailand in 1997 travel photography seemed wide open. Travel was easy and cheap, plenty of stories to be photographed. Now it seems less that way, the world it seems has no budget for travel photography, I hear that often, and people seem less interested in just “what is” over the horizon. I continue to travel though lately my lust for far off places seems less. It all has to do with slowing down. My choice for a new camera system was based more on this. I have switched from heavy DSLR cameras to a mirror less system. No more running and gunning, my only competition is myself. I like that, alot. A few facts about Sitwee if you decide to go. There are few hotels, Non Governmental Orginizations workers usually fill the best local places. If you use Agoda.com, a hotle booking website, you might be able to book in Sitwee, but you probably won’t be able to cancel and get your money back. Flying in from Yangon is a little difficult. Thought there are plenty of local airlines going to Sitwee, you won’t be able to book online. You will have to get your ticket in Yangon.
A bicycle tricycle drivers smailes as he waits for customers in Sitwee, Myamanr.