Camera Club Special – Let’s Play ICM in a Cave!

Post dedicated to all our friends at Worthing Camera Club.

The limestone caves near Phetchaburi are lit up with coloured tubes. Beside the cave temples, there’s plenty of interesting drippy rock formations. But how to make a picture of them?

Needs to be a bit more alive, perhaps…

Ok, but only ok. And quite tedious, in a cave, without a tripod or flash gun. Hey, unlike an English cave, tripods aren’t banned ūüôā But I haven’t got one. My camera’s tiny detachable flash is, err, detached. And anyway no help, far too weedy,¬†boringly white, and boringly stuck on top of the camera. So thank you Olympus for making a tiny lens that’s f1.8, that saved those photos. But I still had to get Clare to stand still for way longer than is normal. And can only shoot from an ideally placed stalagmite. And they’re not terribly exciting.

Which got me to remembering some¬†of Worthing Camera Club’s winter lectures a few years back. Intentional Camera Movement is a respectable (ish) discipline that isn’t only “I forgot¬†to bring my tripod¬†to the bluebell wood”. So here are my Thai rocks:

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PS: Most of those are colours as shot. A few are rather mucked about with in Lightroom.

Thanks for looking!

 

Thailand – Choices, Choices

Having gone from snow to snow across Europe to the Stans and flown into India, missing the frozen Himalayas, where we cycled for three months in idyllic Indian ‘winter’ weather we’re now back to sizzling temperatures, on our way down south to the equator.
We need to be on the road early; by nine o’clock it’s starting to feel pretty hot and the early cooling, apparent wind is replaced by a healthy head wind as the day progresses. Heat and hills conspire to limit our mileage. Regular drink stops replace the litres dripped along the way until we cower in the shade as temperatures reach the fierce forties. ¬†All reducing our progress.
We’ve had to make some choices, keeping to a more direct route rather than the meandering around we did in India, and our backtracking in Myanmar. From Tak, when we were finally through the border mountain range, it was our first real decision time – where to go in Thailand? We knew our exit point would be Thailand’s southern extremity, at the¬†Malaysian border, but how to get there, what to see?
Searching the electronic Lonely Planet guide throws up ‘must see’ places but it seemed that culture was in the northern half of Thailand while¬†numerous National Parks were down south. And, beaches, beaches and more beaches, many offering world class dive sites spanned the length of the east coast while the west coast boasts the best island nature reserves … and yet more beaches.
Directly south led to Kanchanaburi, of ‘Bridge over the river Kwai’ fame whereas slightly further east and then south was the route to the Ayuthaya, the once capital city of Siam and now a vast UNESCO listed temple complex.
We selected the infamous WW2 site knowing we would catch up on temples in Phetchaburi. Whilst the ‘Bridge over the river Khai’ is a fictional representation made for the big screen it did raise awareness of the plight of many prisoners of war during the making of ¬†what is frequently known as Death Railway. Dipping into the history here revealed some horrific tales of abuse, deprivation, torture; a total neglect of any human rights resulting in thousands of deaths in Japan’s pursuit of a land route through from Thailand to Burma. But also, reading about it, and then deeper,¬†leads one into much more understanding of this region’s history than one gets from a traditional “British Empire” historical view. European powers did substantially invade Indo-China¬†– colonies aren’t usually voluntary – so it’s far from a simple narrative of “natives” and “masters” against Imperial¬†Japan. Much of¬†the European expansion was¬†within living memory in 1943.¬†In much of Asia, substantial portions of the colonised saw the Japanese as Asian liberators, an impression the Japanese naturally were keen to propagandise. However, although over 12,000 Allied PoWs were driven to death on the railway, an estimated nearly¬†10 times that number of Asian impressed labourers also died on it, in even harsher conditions. There are no cemeteries for them.
Bangkok had to be done but cycling in major cities is time consuming as there are endless traffic lights, traffic jams and roundabouts and it’s scary with the high density of traffic all impatient to make it to their destination. It wasn’t en-route anyway, so we abandoned our bikes in Kanchanburi in favour of a bus to make the journey in air conditioned luxury.
Bangkok is on several levels. There are sky trains, sky walks and sky motorways criss-crossing the centre of the city. Many sky scraper shopping malls are interconnected by air conditioned walk ways making the shopping experience, whilst hecticly busy, cool at least.

Bangkok is stuffed full of temples and historical buildings, as you might expect. Thai Buddhist temples are richly decorated, bright, dripping with gold, and always seem to have a fresh coat of paint. The murals inside are usually worth a study too. All the splendour doesn’t imply overformality of use though. As we’ve seen across the east, temples – including mosques – are places to meet and be, as well as worship. While making phone calls during the service isn’t done, there’s plenty of checking for messages. Perhaps they’re all buying devotional gold leaf on eBay?

More temples…
Back on the road and cycling south down the coast of the Gulf of Thailand, we stumbled across the claimed 5th best caving system in Asia. It was indeed spectacular with dramatically lit stalactites and stalacmites, but unbearably hot. Gid couldn’t see much through steamed up glasses, so took them off in the end.
Our second caving experience was to see the cave shrines at Tham Khao Laung, Phetchaburi.  Vast open caverns, lit by beams of light penetrating through the roof top onto Buddha images made for a very spiritual aura. The extended cave was again dramatically lit with multicoloured tubes.
Gid decided the cave was a great place to experiment with ICM – Intentional Camera Movement. Posted separately, this blog is getting too big!
Later, still in Phetchaburi, catching up on our palaces and temples, we walked up a hill to visit the breezy summer palace of Thailand’s recent kings.

Maybe time for a few more general Thailand pictures:

Culture gave way to beaches and parks as our route took us further south. Both of us were keen to see wild elephants but the odds weren’t looking good. We hoped for more success than on our¬†futile tiger safari. The Lonely Planet mentioned several places but sightings were all in the lap of the gods until Gid found a small National Park – Kui Buri -whose TripAdvisor reviews ‘guaranteed’ near 100% success rate.
A quick 60km dash back north got us to the reserve but my heart sank, as we set off in the truck, when our guide excitedly exclaimed, ‘There’s an elephant!‘ Disappointment coursed through my body; I couldn’t believe that the trees moving some 30 or 40 metres away in a dense thicket was going to be our sighting. Gradually we saw more and more shapes in the undergrowth until the unbelievable happened. A lone male sauntered out into the open while we were standing on a ridge up above it. Our guide sped us along a footpath to get a better view as it continued dawdling on its way. The moment was capped by a herd of gaur (also known as Indian bison) grazing in a clearing on the other side of the valley. At that point our luck changed. From this sighting we went on to get several more clear views of family groups as well as a pair of elephants who seemed to be on a mission as they sped across a meadow. The finale to our day was 100m from the center when the motor bike a head of us rapidly u- turned, frantically waving us down. Back he went as a herd of elephants, with at least two babies in their midst, alarmed by our close proximity, trumpeted across the road dust flying, some 20 m ahead of us.
For the first time in ages we camped at the park. Although the kit all unfolded fine, and the facilities were adequate it was horribly uncomfortable – way too hot and no airflow. Back in the bags it all went!
Conscious we’d rather screwed up by having backtrack to see the hefalumps, we pored over the map, google, etc, to plot our course. As we went further south, the majority of interest switches to the west coast of the peninsular. Not to mention a wee bit of political violence in Thailand’s extreme south east; one day, maybe, we’ll find another country everyone wants to be in. Not the UK, obviously, although that nice Ms Sturgeon¬†shows no interest in AK47s, fortunately. Anyway, Phuket is the famous Andaman Sea resort, but we aimed a little further south, to Ao Nang, for our beach stop. Blue sea, check. Spectacular limestone islands, check. Golden sandy beaches, check. Following a surprisingly rainy spell, it’s still cloudy and often grey, but hot when the sun gets through, enough to entice some wonderfully wobbly derrieres out of jeans and into, or at least, almost into, itsy bitsy pieces of coloured Lycra (sorry, no pics).
¬†Boats between beaches…
We’re planning to linger in Thailand until after the Thai new year on¬†April 13-16. So we’ve hunkered down in the coastal town of Krabi, for a few day’s rest, and to join in the water fights. Apparently it’s a good time to keep off the roads – road casualties double over the period. There’s the same drink driving issues as at home, and also not everyone can concentrate….

Splat!

Travelling the world isn’t what it was. Not only are we frequently referring to the Garmin bike navigator, Kindle’s lightweight version of Lonely Planet’s weighty and dog-eared tomes, online sources, and Google Maps and Open Street Map, but Gid (foolishly?) joined a WhatsApp chat group, which generates a background hum of mostly European gap-yearers on bikes in SE Asia, all discussing the best roads for each segment, and how to get a wheel fixed in rural Cambodia. It’s all good info, but we all seem so unromantically well informed, compared to long haulers tales in books (not blogs!) from the eighties and nineties. Plus many of these smooth asphalt roads didn’t exist back then… So, we make our choices, based on a deluge of information. And skip by so much, waving and crying out, “Can’t stop there this time“. I wonder if there will be another?

Thailand

Thailand was initially, following on from our route across the ‘Stan’s’, India and Myanmar, extraordinarily ordinary.

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Much of the scenery could have been back in Sussex; fields dotted with trees, some ploughed others left to scrub land. A few oxen, occasional sugar cane fields and the odd palm tree marked it as different. The homes and shops were frequently brick built. The shacks, when they existed, were now a more up market version of log cabins rather than the flimsy woven bamboo affairs frequently seen in Myanmar. Actually, we haven’t seen much bamboo growing, perhaps that’s why?
There is also no evidence of a national or historical costume. Way back we have seen traditions that have marked the different nations: the occasionally worn Lederhosen in Germany, shoes with curled up toes right back in Vienna, scull caps Рsquare, Uzbekistan, scull caps round, Kazakhstan,  tall felt hats РKyrgyzstan or buzzbeee style hats Р Karakalpakstan, and saris in India of course.
Having just crossed the border from Myanmar, where more men than women wore long wrap around skirts called longees, it was a surprise to see in Thailand we’re back to western clothes and hair styles.¬†If there’s a national costume, it seems to be the mini-skirt, at least for the ladies.
And the road traffic features fewer local oddities as seen in the ‘stans, India and Myanmar. On the wide main roads mostly modern vehicles travel at developed world speeds, unlike their western neighbours.
We knew that Thailand is more Westernised than its western neighbours but it felt rather disappointing. Although it is nice to dive into the frequent 7-11 or Tesco Lotus for chocolate milk shake and other goodies.
Gradually, like opening a Pandora’s box, we’ve uncovered Thailand’s unique delights.
Keen to keep off the main roads, we’ve, as often, relied upon the Garmin to weave us a route along the minor roads. At times this has lead to the occasional dirt track which has so far been well compacted and manageable. We drew the line at the ‘path’ where a narrow trail led off across the grass next to a field and luckily found an alternative track. (After all these month’s I’ve finally learnt how to scroll between visual maps on the Garmin and step by step written directions so we can now check out what delights our route has in store and reject ¬†‘bad track’ options.)
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It’s been along these minor roads that we’ve discovered Thailand’s delights. After crossing the border we were, as in India, in the midst of the sugar cane harvest. Then pineapple farms were a nice surprise followed by waterways where wooden longtail boats power past less sophisticated shacks bringing home the reality that economic development hasn’t reached every corner of Thailand.
Oh yes – another reason it’s a bit familiar – as you can see in a lot of these pictures, around week #3 in Thailand,¬†¬†April got rather cloudy and rainy. In a way, that was a relief, as it wasn’t so hot and we could go further and faster. Air-con rooms meant we dried out overnight. But after a few days the heavy rain showers got tedious, and certainly the bikes’ gears and brakes didn’t appreciate them.¬†
Coconut palm plantations were another delight where we wove our way through small lanes between furrowed waterways densely planted with palm trees. The tall palms cut out the light giving it a real jungle feel with lots of birds calling from the under growth.  Homes are dotted amongst them where people busily welded machetes chopping off the husks and splitting the coconuts Рmilk one way , flesh another.
Markets, many floating in this maze of water ways, also have a few treasures. Frogs, half gutted of course, chickens feet, fresh or on the caf√© menu, pig’s trotters or whole face if you’re feeling hungry, together with a large assortment of fish and shell fish, are now all available.
As well as the above we now have salt farms and fish farms. The latter in an array of inland lakes or with fishing huts out in the estuary, which add a different take on farming. Some we think may be shellfish or crayfish as the dug out pits whilst aeriated are quite shallow.
As we have cycled further south the dominant crop is coconut. ¬†Unlike Myanmar where bamboo ladders were used to climb the tall trunks, here our primate cousins are exploited as it’s monkeys who agilely bound up the lofty heights. A bit of chewing, a bit of twisting and down thumps another husk while the owner, looking on, makes a few encouraging noises from the ground.
These harvesting teams travel about in style; monkeys are¬†pillion passengers, in the shopping baskets or on the side-cars of motorbikes. It’s not the dog peering out of the utility trucks, monkeys are keen to see where they are going. On these rural roads the traffic is less like home – everyone seems to ride a small motorbike, almost all commercial traffic is in pickups, and there are¬†the distinctive Thai open sidecars with a fringe on top.
The wildlife has also taken off. In Myanmar even the trekking guides carry catapults, so the wildlife needs to keep its head down. Thailand doesn’t seem to have that problem – and has many national parks – so we’ve seen a lot more. Also, now in southern Thailand, we’re definitely in a different ecosystem – tropical rainforest – even if a lot of it is replaced with monoculture¬†palm or pineapple plantations and hotels. More about wildlife in the birds and beasties log¬†(update coming soon).