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Thailand: Lopburi Temple Monkeys

I don’t like Macaques. But i admit they can make good photographic subjects.

I arrived in Lopburi on the train from Bangkok last night. Travelling 3rd class, the journey cost just THB28. What a relief to roll into a quiet town to spend a day or two. Lopburi is famous for it’s temples, and the monkeys that terrorise the town live there.  I booked into Noom’s Guesthouse because it was cheap and close to the train station. It turned out that everyone else had booked into Noom’s, because the Lonely Planet recommends it. I was pretty tired and grumpy when i arrived so i treated myself to a couple of whiskies before sending myself to bed.

Up early, i took the short walk to Phra Prang Sam Yot (or, Monkey Temple). Knowing full well that macaques are thieving bastards, I left everything in the hotel room except my camera. I was shocked to see how many of them there are. The temple was not open yet (it opens at 9:00 am) but the watchman told me there were around 500 monkeys living there. They were causing a fair amount of chaos with the passing traffic, so i decided to go back to the guesthouse to grab my little video camera to record some of it.

It turns out these macaques are not as bad as others i have encountered. You still have to watch yourself and your possessions, and recommend not to get complacent. The watchman also told me to watch out for their bites. In the name of photography, I got amongst them and managed to get some footage and some good snaps. I’ll upload some video later, but for now here are the pics. The first image gives a good idea on how many there are – check out how many are hanging out on the temple steps.

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Thailand: Last day in Bangkok (Chinatown)

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My last day in Bangkok and I was ready to hit the road. Five nights is at least one night too many in the capital, and I wanted to put some space between me and the the chaos. Before leaving I had to pick up my passport and visa from the Myanmar embassy no earlier than 3:30 pm. I took a few shots in the morning and then returned to the River Side Guesthouse to write a blog post or two. Sitting with a coffee in the rooftop restaurant, I bumped into Troy, an Aussie from the east coast. We decided to go out for a final stroll around Chinatown and a grab bite to eat. A nice way to fill up the day.

Wat Traimit, home of the Golden Buddha.

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Another tuk tuk shot that i am not totally happy with, but at least i got a ‘thumbs up’ 🙂

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Chinatown in the early morning, before the traffic gets chaotic.

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I’m not travelling with a tripod so I take these motion shots handheld, sometimes leaning a lampost to steady the camera.

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Later in the day i took a walk and swapped to my 85 mm lens. I spotted this lady sitting among the hats she was selling. Difficult to get a shot without someone walking between us, but i just about managed it.

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Love the ability of the 85 mm to separate subject from background. There is no lens like it.

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Another opportunity to put the 85 mm to use.

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Walking back to the guesthouse to collect my bag i walked through the mechanic’s area again and couldn’t resist a few shots.

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After picking up my passport and visa from the Myanmar embassy I said goodbye to Chinatown and made my way to Hua Lamphong train station. As the train pulled out of Bangkok I took a couple of shots out for the window, and smiled as the distance between Bangkok and I steadily grew.

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Goodbye Bangkok… i’ll always love you, and always love to leave you! Next stop, Lopburi….

Thailand: The River View Guesthouse, Chinatown

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This photograph should possibly have been taken an hour earlier, when there was just the slightest touch of light remaining from the sun sinking behind the skyline. Never mind, can’t win them all!

You can’t really escape the pollution in Bangkok. At night only the brightest stars can be seen through the smog, the opposite from my hometown where the air is so clean the entire Milky Way can be dazzling on a moonless night. Looking out from the rooftop restaurant of the River View Guesthouse it feels a touch cooler and more relaxed. The humidity is less overwhelming, and you can chat with other tourists and watch the river traffic.

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I really recommend the River View Guesthouse. There are a variety of rooms available, from dormitories to rooms with private bathroom and television. Of course, i took the cheapest option 🙂

Why do i recommend the River View Guesthouse? Well, it’s certainly not for the service or the food. The reception staff are particularly grumpy, and it can take an eternity to get a waiter’s attention in the restaurant. It’s not for the rooms either, which are nothing special although they are clean and towels are provided. No, I recommend the River View Guesthouse because the roof-top restaurant provides a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the streets below. I will definitely return. Next time, however, i will bribe one of the staff to let me into the restaurant area early to watch and photograph the sunrise. Assuming there is a sunrise throughout all that pollution that is….

Thailand: Chinatown Cats

I love taking photographs of cats. Sometimes people show interest in what i’m doing, normally laughing, which can make things fun. But whether there are locals around or not, i still like taking photos of cats 🙂

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Thailand: Chinatown, Bangkok

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Chinatown has got so much life and character. The area used to supply motor vehicle parts to Malaysia. Although that trade no longer occurs, local demand keeps many small businesses in action. There are plenty of temples to look at, as well as great street food. I took a few photos (below) and decided I would move here for my final night in Bangkok.

These riverside homes looked full of character, although i suspect that floor might not be quite level.

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Piles of parts are found throughout the mechanic’s section of Chinatown.

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This monk gave me a cheery smile as he saw me with my camera. His robe, a vibrant orange, shows as black with the Lightroom settings i use.

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I’m always drawn to taking photos of stray dogs and cats. So much character comes through, and you don’t have to ask permission. Sadly, some are in a bad way.

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More mechanical part stockpiles.

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Most people seem to be fine with having their photo taken. Some enthusiastically welcome it, whereas others just give a nod to indicate they are fine. Only one person refused, although very politely.

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Small food stall businesses are everywhere. I love the street food in Bangkok. I haven’t actually eaten anything else but street food so far.

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Old vehicles appear to be part of the buildings, I presume they are gradually cannibalized for parts as time goes by.

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Mechanics at work, shy to have their photo taken but not refusing.

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I love the feel of these mechanic shops.This guy was busy cutting steel.

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Another characteristic old car rotting away.

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This guy was rolling a cigarette and was fine for me to take a photo. He was pretty keen to have a conversation with me, but sadly my Thai is as bad as his English, and therefore smiles were all we could manage.

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I liked how this kid was leaning out of the window and into the light.

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A scene from one of the many temples around the Chinatown area.

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This elderly monk was giving me the biggest toothless smile as i walked past. I gave a ‘wei’ to show respect before taking his photo. He seemed pretty happy about the whole thing.

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I’m not sure where temple this is, but there was an dead monk in the glass case. I’ll have to find out who he is and how long he’s been in there for. You could see all the veins on his legs, which was a bit weird.

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One of these days i am going to get a tuk tuk photograph i am happy with. The problem is that the driver is always in shadow. Perhaps i’ll try a little fill-flash soon.

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As i looked through today’s images i discovered i had photographed a lot of cats. Perhaps they deserve their own page…. please see next post…

Thailand: Bangkok Sukhumvit Road

My first day in Bangkok had been filled with a few chores – visiting the Myanmar embassy (see previous post), and buying a few things for my travels. MBK Plaza is always my first stop for shopping in Bangkok, as it provides plenty of cheap clothes and electronics, and great food. I also bought a local sim card and a power bank for my smartphone, and had the cracked screen replaced. Haggling hard for the phone screen made a really good price.

I decided to explore Sukumvit, an area of Bangkok I haven’t spent much time in on previous visits. The Skytrain (BTS) follows Sukhumvit Road which provides easy access and high vantage points to take photos. Sukhumvit Road and its various sois are lively with traffic, food stalls, and a mixture of tourists and locals. I stopped at one street corner where a Buddha effigy was attracting a lot of attention. Many people were giving offerings, praying, or taking photos. As I walked Sukhumvit looking for more photo opportunities, I noticed how many people give a small prayer or ‘wei’ to the shrines scattered throughout Bangkok.

Nana Plaza, one of Bangkok’s famous “entertainment areas” is also situated in Sukhumvit and I walked Soi 4 to have look around. Even though it was daytime, the pubs were packed. With the exception of a rather cool Volkswagen Combi-van bar, I didn’t take any photos for fear of being challenged by one (or more) of the many people who surely would prefer not to be recorded on camera. A couple of discarded whisky boxes nearby hinted at the level of partying that occurs around Nana.

As with many major cities, a certain amount of poverty exists in Bangkok, and beggars and homeless people survive among the hustle and bustle. I tend not to agree with taking photographs of people who are interesting only because of their disadvantaged situation. However, as has happened on previous occasions, I took the shot. I don’t think I’m even going to try to explain why.

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As with my visit to Jakarta a couple of years back, I decided I would process all photos into black and white with blue filter in Adobe Lightroom, and make no other adjustments other than a crop if required. The main reason for this is to get photographs that work well together, and also to spend less time on the computer. It’s a bit tough when you take a photo that really lends itself well to colour, but that was the way I decided to work. I used my 24 – 70 mm zoom as it offered wider angles than my 50 mm and 85 mm primes, which I thought may work better with the street scenes I’d be capturing.

Getting a Myanmar Tourist Visa from the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok

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If you are planning to do an overland border crossing from Thailand to Myanmar (Burma) you will need to get a visa in advance. Visa on arrival may be available in the future, but not at time of writing. Getting a 28 day tourist visa for Myanmar from the Embassy of the Union of Myanmar in Bangkok is really easy. Here are a few tips to help you get one quickly.

Getting to the Myanmar Embassy

The Embassy of the Union of Myanmar is located at 132 Sathon Nua Road, in the Bang Rak district.  You can go by taxi, but it is cheaper to use the skytrain, getting off at the Surasak BTS station. You need to exit from the north-east exit of the station (exit 3), and walk east on Sathon Nua – just follow the skytrain track back around 300 m.  Keep looking left, as the entrance to the embassy is on Pan Road (Thanon Pan). Click here to see the map.

It’s easy to find, but i used my smartphone GPS  with google maps just to make sure i was heading in the right direction. How easy it is to navigate Bangkok these days 🙂

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What time to get there and what to bring

The embassy opens at 9 am to 12 pm for visa applications. However, if you want to get in and out as fast as possible i recommend this:

  • Arrive at the embassy at 8 am
  • Ask in the room the left of the embassy for a visa form (free), or get one from the photocopy services outside or up the street (small charge)
  • See one of the many people offering photocopies and photographs to get your passport copied and obtain 2 photographs. I recommend the little shop around 50 m up Pan Road, on the right. They have everything you need and you can sit down and fill out the form. They will also glue your photo and check the form to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. Prices are reasonable.
  • Alternatively, arrive at 8:30 am and bring a completed form, passport, photocopy of the main page of your passport, and two passport photographs.
  • You’ll also need to bring some money to pay the fee, see below.

I have heard of people arriving at 10 am and there being no queue outside. However, I didn’t want to risk waiting too long to be seen inside, so i turned up early. I’d be interested to hear from people who have tuned up later in the morning to hear if you had to wait long to get to the counter.

Tips on filling out the form

  • Glue one photo to the top left of the form, and paperclip the other one to the top right of the form (the little shop did this for me)
  • The form asks you to provide an address in Myanmar. It is acceptable to write “holiday in Myanmar” if you don’t know where you are staying
  • You will need to give your occupation. If you are a journalist, they may want to know why you are going to Myanmar so consider if this really is your occupation.
  • You will need to state your religion. If you are an atheist, or a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, you may get a raised eyebrow. I wrote “Christian” just to make the process nice and smooth, even though i don’t believe in fairy-tales.

By 8:30 am there will already be a small queue. Join the end and wait for the doors to open!

What to do inside

As you walk inside they will give you a ticket to assign your place in the queue. You then sit and wait for your turn. I was issued ticket T0003, which meant i was third in line for a tourist visa. At 9 am – or shortly afterwards – the counters will open and they will start calling out ticket numbers. They process the visa applications quickly, so if you have joined the queue early you shouldn’t have long until it is your turn. I waited around 15 minutes only.

Hand in your form, passport, passport photocopy, and photographs. You will then be asked to pay the fee:

  • One day processing (same day pickup): THB 1440
  • Two day processing (next working day pickup): THB 1350
  • Three working day processing: THB 800

If you are worried about being in Bangkok without carrying your passport, obviously get the quickest processing time. As a foreigner, you are meant to carry your passport in Thailand at all times. You may also need your passport for things like renting motorbikes or checking into new accommodation. I went for the cheapest (three working day) option.

Put the receipt they give you in a safe place 🙂

When to collect your passport and visa

The collection times are between 3:30pm and 4:30pm. I turned up at 3:00pm and the waiting room was almost full. There is no ticket issued this time and queuing was a bit chaotic. Take a note of the counter number to collect your visa from – see the top right corner of your yellow recepit (below). Try to get near the front before the counter opens as there is a bit of a rush. The visas are issued fairly rapidly, and within 1 hour of arrival i had my passport back in my pocket. When i left the queue was out of the door. I would recommend to turn up before 3pm, or after 3:30pm.

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The visa is issued for 28 days of single-entry travel, valid for 3 months.

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So easy….

Please let me know in a comment if anything has changed or you have something to add.

Australia: Birds n Frogs

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A couple of shots from the garden. A Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus) that is a seasonal visitor, and a small Motorbike Frog (Litoria moorei) hanging out in a vegetable bed.

These were from a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 that was over a year out of date. It’s possible the colours have shifted slightly as a result.

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It’s worth having a listen to the Motorbike Frog’s call if you’ve not heard it before: http://museum.wa.gov.au/explore/frogwatch/frogs/motorbike-frog

Australia: Various shots from the Garden

A few shots from the garden here in Denmark, Western Australia, including of the Sacred Kingfisher that visits each year. Oh, and one of a Sooty Oystercatcher from the foreshore.

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