If you are planning a Thailand “Off the Beaten Track” holiday (or if you want to discover hidden Bangkok, Chiang Mai, or Phuket) it’s important to learn “how to see” undiscovered Thailand. This involves developing a few easy-to-learn skills, and building a new mindset: one that reframes your outlook from tourist taker to beauty explorer.
The following Thai travel advice is divided into three parts: Seeing Thailand Like a Photographer, Seeing Thailand with a Sense of Duty, and Peeling the Thai Onion.
With the invention of smart phones with high quality cameras, nearly everyone has discovered the joys of photography, without the need for lugging around a big camera. However, most people never learn to see the world like a professional photographer does. This is why friends often cringe when asked if they want to see your travel photos, or they quickly scroll by them on Facebook.
But if you visit Thailand with the eyes of a true photographer, not only will friends rave about your photos, you’ll open your own eyes to world most tourists never see. Why? Because seeing Thailand through the eyes of a photographer involves developing a heightened sense of observation, an appreciation for details, and a unique perspective on the beauty that surrounds you.
Seeing the world like a photographer not only enhances your photography skills. It enriches your overall experience of life. So, here are some tips on how to develop a photographer’s perspective, which will deepen your connection with the world:
Practice Mindful Observation:
1. Slow down and take the time to closely observe your surroundings, whether it is on the sois of Bangkok, inside a Buddhist temple, or in a Thai national park
2. Notice the interplay of light and shadow, the colors, and the textures.
3. Train yourself to see beyond the obvious and delve into the nuances of a scene. In undiscovered Thailand, such subtle nuances are everywhere!
Frame Your View:
1. Everywhere you cast your gaze in Thailand, imagine the scene as if it were within a frame. Consider the composition and how elements within the frame interact.
2. Experiment with different angles and perspectives to find the most compelling composition. Look for unconventional angles or viewpoints that others might overlook. Get low or high, move around your Thai subject, and explore different vantage points to discover fresh perspectives.
3. Consider the rule of thirds, leading lines, and symmetry to create visually engaging images. If you aren’t familiar with these concepts, look them up. They are easy to master.
Pay attention to the small details. Zoom in on textures, patterns, or intricate features that can tell a story or evoke emotions — whether it be a plate of Thai food or indigo dyed shirt; a Thai temple or tuk tuk; a street elephant or monitor lizard; a construction site or whatever comes within your frame of view.
Learn to observe and work with natural light. Pay attention to how it illuminates your subjects and creates shadows. Experiment with different times of day to capture varied lighting conditions. If the thought of getting up at 5am on a Thai holiday sounds outrageous, then stay up all night until 5am. Undiscovered Thailand is most beautiful at daybreak.
Photography often involves capturing moments in time. Be present and ready to capture spontaneous, fleeting scenes. Develop the patience to wait for the right moment to unfold, whether it’s a play of light or an interesting interaction. Thailand will reward you for your patience.
Approach Thailand with a curious mindset. Put away the guidebook and get lost for awhile. Google has mapped undiscovered Thailand to an amazing extent. It’s nearly impossible to actually get lost anywhere in the country, even when traveling the mountains of Mae Hong Son or the countryside of Sakon Nakhon. All you need to do to find your way home is look at your phone.
Develop a habit of appreciating the beauty in the world around you. Great photographers have developed a gratitude mindset as they actively seek and capture the moments that inspire themselves and others. You can feel the gratitude in their photos.
It’s Wow or Nothing:
If you’ve taken a photo and it seems boring or uninteresting in hindsight, first see if you can make it more interesting or beautiful by changing the cropping. Sometimes average photos can become great with skilled cropping. If cropping doesn’t help, then don’t share it. You want every photo to make others say “Wow!” or “Cool!”. Life’s too short to bore people with mundane photos of undiscovered Thailand.
Lastly, keep in mind that you can do all of these things without drawing too much attention to yourself. Don’t be like those “influencers” who are continually drawing attention to themselves as they take photos and videos of their escapades. Be as surreptitious as you can (blending into the world around you) as you begin to see Thailand like a photographer.
There is a wonderful quotation from Sharon Olds that goes like this: “I am doing something I learned early to do, I am paying attention to small beauties, whatever I have – as if it were our duty to find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world.”
In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it’s easy to lose sight of the small beauties around us, the little things that truly make life worthwhile (and which are within the grasp of everyone). If you look upon your Thailand holiday as a duty, and opportunity, to pay attention and share the overlooked wonders of the Land of Smiles, you’ll find your trip transformed from a holiday to a transcendent experience, one that binds you intimately to the rich tapestry of Thai existence.
Millions of tourists come to Thailand every year. And yet the Kingdom is filled with small beauties waiting to be discovered and appreciated. The act of consciously directing your attention towards these details (which others overlook as insignificant) is a skill to be honed and practiced, and there is no better place to practice it than undiscovered Thailand, especially if you go off the beaten tourist path.
By viewing this practice of discovering “small beauties” as a duty introduces a sense of responsibility to your holiday in Thailand. You might think that “escaping responsibility” is one of your holiday goals, but true happiness and fulfillment is rooted in responsibility, of being of helpful service to others. We are obligated to bind ourselves to the world, to forge connections with the people and things that collectively create the fabric of our shared reality.
When we commit ourselves to discovering and savoring the small beauties, we also inherently cultivate gratitude (like the photographer does). And we’re given a powerful antidote to the culture of instant gratification and constant distraction. In a world inundated with stimuli vying for our attention, the deliberate choice to focus on the simple, the subtle, and the beautiful becomes an act of resistance — a rebellion against the relentless pursuit of more, bigger, and faster.
Lastly, in our pursuit of the small beauties of undiscovered Thailand, there are hidden levels of beauty and fascination that always lay just beneath the surface, of pretty much everything! Henry Miller describes the phenomenon this way:
“I have a theory that the moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself. I have tried this experiment a thousand times and I have never been disappointed. The more I look at a thing, the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I want to see.
It is like peeling an onion. There is always another layer, and another, and another. And each layer is more beautiful than the last. This is the way I look at the world. I don’t see it as a collection of objects, but as a vast and mysterious organism. I see the beauty in the smallest things, and I find wonder in the most ordinary events. I am always looking for the hidden meaning, the secret message. I am always trying to understand the mystery of life.”
So, as you discover the small beauties of Thailand, really look and consider them. Meditate on how those items and beauty were created, and their deeper connection to life itself. Develop that mystical gift of William Blake who could see eternity in a grain of sand and heaven in a wildflower. Contemplate what you are seeing Thailand, and how those Thai people, places, and things may reflect the richness of your own inner world that you have yet discovered.