The first time you hit Bangkok, you get inundated with the ordered chaos of the city. The cluster of never-ending overhead wires, traffic jams, lights, the heat, and traffic jams. It might be intimidating to take it all in on your first trip. But you want to cover the city in as little time as possible. And you’re bent on taking many, many shots of this lively, colourful metropolis to share with people back home. Here’s a quick, informal guide to shooting Bangkok that ensures you see the best the city has to offer, with some opportunities to explore outside of the tourist areas and make your own experience unique. And remember, stay hydrated.
1. Wake up before dawn and catch street vendors setting up for the breakfast crowd. If you can, head to the magnificent Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, and get a shot from across the Chao Phraya River.
2. As the city wakes up and people get ready to go to work, hungry patrons will start lining up at street food stalls. For me, this is the only way to eat in Thailand. The longer the line, the better. Make friends with some locals by asking for suggestions on what to eat. Impress the vendors by ordering either in Thai or in wild gestures! There are lots of opportunities here to connect with people and appreciate where you are, and this will ultimately lead to inspired, spontaneous photos.
3. By mid-morning, you’ve fuelled up and are ready for a day of exploring. Make your way to a market to get some shots of the local produce and crafts. Khlong Toei is a great one, and definitely go to Chatuchak if it’s a weekend. Eventually you’ll find yourself on an overpass, snapping away at the snarled traffic below.
4. Mid-morning is also a good time to visit the Grand Palace before it gets really hot and crowded. The palace area boasts magnificent temples and opulent buildings built with different styles of architecture, and you’ll spend quite some time composing some great shots there.
5. Noontime in Thailand is not a great time to be out and about taking pictures. Luckily, Bangkok has some of the biggest and coolest malls in the world. Central World is a great one. On your way, make sure to capture the lunchtime crowd on the streets. Pick up some kai yang, som tam, and some sticky rice for your midday meal. Don’t even think about eating at the mall! Delicious food, but let’s face it, you came to Thailand for the street food. You can also visit one of Bangkok’s many museums, like the Toy Museum in Bangkapi for your inner 7-year-old.
6. After lunch, stroll to a nearby park while taking in the essence of the city. Get lost and explore narrow alleyways, unique urban features, and people going about their daily activities.
7. At about 3 PM, the weather starts to cool down a bit. A bit. Get in some more shots of the traffic and commuters as people start making their way home. Add in some building and architectural shots, too. There’s a church not far from Phloen Chit Station that uses traditional Lanna-style architecture, so it looks more like a Buddhist temple than it does a Catholic church.
8. Golden Hour is without a doubt the best time to capture Bangkok. At around 4:30, start making your way to busy areas with lots of foot traffic. Street food stalls, BTS/MRT stations, and malls are sure bets. Catch locals heading home, grabbing a meal, or getting ready for the night. Another option is to take a boat up the Chao Phraya River to your next destination. Rest your feet and enjoy the sunset as you snake through the most important river in Bangkok.
9. Head to a sky bar just before dusk for some breathtaking skyline shots. The drinks may be pricier than your average bar in Thailand, but the views are quite incredible. My favourite sky bars are Octave on the Marriott, with a view of Sukhumvit, and 360 at the Hilton Millennium, overlooking the Chao Phraya. The sun sets fast at around 6:30, so getting there before that time gives you great photos of the city from above during Golden Hour, and not too long after that you can make the same shot at nighttime when the building lights are on.
10. When nighttime hits, Bangkok comes alive. They say New York never sleeps. Bangkok doesn’t even know the meaning of the word “sleep” (it’s actually “หลับ”). For dinner, happily give in to the smells of meats on a stick being grilled right in front of you. Spend the rest of the evening capturing the energy of Khao San Road, the live music of Soi 11, or the night market vendors of Silom.
11. Go back to your hotel, check your belongings, take a long shower, backup your photos, and get a good night’s rest. Enjoy the rest of your time in Thailand!