Stretching from the sunny beaches of the Andaman Coast to the rugged mountains that many consider the foothills of the Himalayas, Thailand is home to over 40,000 vibrant Buddhist temples. Daily life takes place on the streets, making the cities pulse with life far more than anywhere else in the world.
In the south of Thailand, there are tropical forests teeming with exotic flora and fauna. The north is inhabited by indigenous mountain ethnic groups that have lived in isolation for centuries and are only now opening up to the world. When you get tired of exploring the local landscape, you can sit down at the nearest restaurant and sample the renowned Thai cuisine.
Thailand may seem like an overly touristy destination where you’ll be elbow-to-elbow with dozens of other photographers. However, this impression comes from the fact that guidebooks only cover the same touristy places. When we consider how vast Thailand is, what are some places we can visit that are off the beaten path?
My biggest piece of advice: Don’t visit only the popular tourist destinations in Thailand.
There are countless palaces, mountains, and coasts to explore throughout Thailand. So why stick to just the most famous ones? Why not venture a mile or two from the popular temple to the temple where only locals go?
Once you’re in the mountains or on the coast, it gets a bit trickier. You’ll have to walk a few more kilometers. Private transportation is ideal—a car or motorcycle for the brave, a scooter or bike for the more cautious. Let’s look at some of the well-known and lesser-known places that intrigued me in Thailand.
1. Streets of Bangkok
Most of you will start your journey in the capital. Bangkok is one of the liveliest and most colorful cities in Asia. The central part of the city retains its old charm. From bustling street markets and colorful shops to richly decorated temples, Bangkok offers endless photographic opportunities.
Modern Bangkok is a completely different world. You’ll find interesting neighborhoods for the middle class with modern architecture, skyscrapers, and luxury restaurants. It’s worth experiencing both.
2. Sunny Southern Coast
From Bangkok, you can head in two directions. To the south, you’ll find beaches, rainforests, and plenty of interesting limestone cliffs emerging straight from the turquoise sea. There are also rivers with mangrove forests and magical limestone caves with religious decorations.
In the south, you’ll also encounter many exotic animals. Besides snakes and spiders, monkeys are particularly abundant in temples. Think twice before you pull out your camera. Thai macaques can be quite bold, and cameras are favorite targets for theft.
3. Ancient Cities of the Central Plains
The central plains are the historical heart of Thailand where there are several ancient cities. The area witnessed the rise and fall of various Thai kingdoms, leaving behind a rich cultural heritage reflected in temples, historical sites, and traditional architecture.
Just over an hour by train from Bangkok lies the significant Ayutthaya Empire. Thais get their historical identity from the Ayutthaya period. Only temples in various stages of decay remain from the entire empire, which now stands in the middle of a bustling city.
If you really like Buddhist temples and want to witness them without crowds, head to Sukhothai. Rent a bike and spend at least two days exploring central and remote archaeological sites. Sukhothai is significantly more remote and the temples are scattered throughout the area. You’ll often have them to yourself.
For most tourists, these ancient cities are a day trip. However, if you want to take fascinating photos, spend more time at these places. You can fully appreciate their true beauty at sunrise and sunset.
4. Ethnic Mountain Groups of the North
In the mountainous regions of northern Thailand (as well as Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, and China), there are a large number of unique ethnic minorities. They have their languages, culture, traditions, and beliefs, often characterized by colorful costumes and crafts. Thai mountain tribes face many problems, such as isolation, which results in poor access to education and healthcare. They also face the challenge of preserving their traditional way of life in the face of modernization.
You can reach the home of these mountain tribes primarily through tour packages offered by travel agencies in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. Always do thorough research on the internet and read reviews beforehand. Ideally, look for an agency that specializes in ethno-tourism. The reviews should reflect that.
Ethnic minorities are great subjects for photography. Their colorful costumes, village life, and interesting facial features make them excellent subjects for photography. However, be considerate with your camera and always ask for consent.
An article about Thailand would not be complete without the symbol of Thailand, the elephant. Indian elephants live in Thailand and meeting them can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Again, it’s worth doing your research and choosing a reservation where elephants are treated ethically.
Seek out elephant sanctuaries where activities don’t include elephant rides. Elephants should be able to move freely in nature. Enjoy watching them, feeding them, or other minor interactions. Elephants are amazing animals, and meeting them brings many unpredictable situations, so always have your camera ready.
The best time to visit Thailand is generally between November and the end of March. If you want to enrich your photography collection with an album of colorful pictures full of the joy of life, don’t hesitate to make the trip. Besides Thailand, I am also a photographer and tour guide for many other countries. Feel free to contact me via email or here in the comments with any questions.