...a small cycle ride through Southern Thailand
26.01.2013 - 10.02.2013 35 °C
Typing into Google “map of Bangkok to Phuket” brought back a somewhat flippant repsonse from the well known search engine: 825km in 10 hours and 21 minutes! Really? Actually it was more like 600k, and 10 days but then again it’s only me who’s quibbling.
Cycling from Bangkok to Phuket, was rather an indulgent afterthought on my list of 2013 travel destinations. But a long-ish spell of horrible cold wet and snowy weather in the North of England, combined with one bug after another, convinced me to book some time with the sunshine, and what is rapidly becoming, my Painted Roads extended family. Arriving in Bangkok on the 27 January, to be greeted warmly by friends and a cold bottle of Singha I could scarcely believe it. Three weeks previously it wasn’t even a figment of my imagination.
Having been in Thailand only 12 months ago, this promised to be what I would actually call a ‘holiday’ , something with an emphasis on the R&R rather than my usual adventurous line up of ‘epics’. Having said that, I was admittedly most excited about what I generally refer to as “the bits in between”.
The Thailand most tourists are familiar with probably looks something like this...
...and while we did indulge ourselves at the end of the tour, I was more keen on discovering what I would find on the way there, behind the scenes, as it were.
It would also probably be an underestimate to say I was quite excited to take my new OMD-EM5 for a proper road test, complete with two new lenses – the Olympus 17mm f1.8 and 45mm f1.8. Having been cooped up at home by the properly dreich blizzard, sleet and drizzle for the better part three weeks, with only one dog photo to show for my efforts, I couldn’t make it to the Airport check-in fast enough. In Thailand those without OMD’s were a borderline minority group, as both our tour leader David, and JP both had their’s with them. This inevitably lead to a number of very satisfying ‘total geek-out’ sessions, washed down with a Singha or two. Naturally.
Thailand is noticeably the most developed nation in South East Asia, so the opportunities for street photography of the style I’ve been used to in Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal and India were less obvious. But interesting landscapes, sunrises and sunsets were fortunately plentiful, despite some initial weather challenges.
I have one abiding memory from the trip, of getting caught in a thunderstorm (possibly power shower?), with two hours of cycling left to do on our first day. After avoiding making a decision for about 20 minutes, we eventually departed from our huddle in a nearby shelter to hammer through the pelting rain. I wore no more than shorts and a t-shirt, having abandoned the idea that waterproofs could keep out such a sustained attack. But instead found something very liberating about cycling into the storm, no hands, soaked to the skin, and yet warm enough to confidently invite as much rain as the heavens could possibly throw at me. I did so with a large smile on my face - there was certainly not a hope in hell of achieving this in the UK with out initiating the onset of hypothermia, which just served to remind me I was on holiday. In Thailand! As a fitting end to the afternoon therefore, I thought it best to jump fully clothed straight into the surf at Ban Krut, much to the amusement of the locals (#mad Englishwoman). Well why on earth not?
The following dawn, I was suitably rewarded for my efforts. The photography gods were smiling and the sun had got its hat on.
I must confess, after initially reviewing my photographs on the back of the camera, (admitedly in the blazing sunshine) I wasn’t overwhelmed by my efforts. But now, having gone through all of the files, I have been struck by just how many photographs actually turned out better than I had thought. Some even make quite striking images once “developed”, though they look dull in RAW format. This is the first time I have really photographed entirely in RAW, and I can say unequivocally that I will not be returning to JPEGs in-camera. I’ve also been utterly astonished at the quality of the 45mm Olympus lens. Images from this amazing construction seem to have a luminous quality that I can’t really put into words.. .other than to say that it takes me back to photos taken by my Dad with his old Leica. The 17mm seems to have done the job for now, but I don’t yet feel I’ve given it enough of a test, or sufficiently mastered the controls of the OMD to understand whether I’ve seen the best it can do. All I can say, is “it’s not the 45”, which goes some way to explain why it hasn’t spent sufficient time yet on the frontend of the OMD.
Our cycling route took us from Prachuap Khiri Khan on the East Coast (Gulf of Thailand) down to Pak Nam Tako (just beyond Chumphon). From here we then began to turn inland towards our destination on the West Coast: Ao Luek and Koh Yao Noi in the Malacca Strait. This took us through fishing villages, past wind-swept surfing beaches, through coconut groves, along Highway 4 – the main arterial route North-South through Thailand, and finally through beautiful Karst Limestone scenery to the Ratchaprapha Dam, Ao Luek and the picture perfect East Coast.
A short long-tail boat trip delivered us to the quiet island of Koh Yao Noi, perfectly set up for the chillout backpacking crowd. By the time we reached the island, we were ready to fit right in. Hammock. Check. Singha. Check. Sunset. Check. Bob Marley on speed dial...hmmm. Ok so we swapped the reggae for Blondie, but everything else was definitely in order. We were almost in a fit state to cope with Phuket, and the perks of being a tourist!
I would like to extend a huge thank you to David for lending me various bits and pieces of lenses filters and tripods, for photographic inspriation, and to both him and his team, Ar and Gor for such a fabulous trip. (Again).