Blog Post – What have I been up to this month? Motivation, Organisation, Plans!

Blog time! This is for anyone interested in my photography progression and the practical side of things. The rest of you can scurry away to your holes/homes/whatever and wait till I upload my next New Zealand album.

I’ve been beavering away (is that appropriate these days?) on this website, the About Me page is updated, and I’ll be re-organising the headings on the site. Then I’ll start creating a portfolio which includes my travel photos from the last 4 years. Any photographer will tell you that this is the stuff nightmares are made of – I’m wondering how best to group the photos and how many I should have. Less is more? Different categories for different genres, or different categories for different countries? There’s no easy answer. I’m also struggling to find galleries that I like on WordPress. I like the flexibility and ease of WordPress for a non-programmer like me, but it can be hard to get things looking good when showcasing your work. If anyone has any gallery plugins to recommend for showcasing photography, please let me know!


It’s me! The new About Me page has up to date photos, where I am older, more grizzly and of course more handsome in a George Clooney kind of way, I found a few grey hairs this year so therefore I am getting sexier by the minute. Most of the photos taken of me recently were in New Zealand in autumn and therefore get used to seeing that green rain jacket!

What other “wonderfully interesting” stuff have I been up to? On the photography front, I have been active on Instagram – where I am alansadventurefails. I’ve been getting some nice comments on my pics and slowly gaining followers, so that’s cool. I’m using my Android tablet to post to that, and brilliantly it lets you link to Facebook, Twitter and Flickr so finally I can post one photo on Instragram, and have it appear on all of those sites at the same time. Ooh, the technologies! This is such a big timesaver, I don’t have to jump between accounts any more, or remember what photos I posted on what sites. Brilliant. Sadly Twitter just includes a link to Instagram and doesn’t show the photo in your Twitter feed, but still, its better than nothing. I’m going to continue to use Instagram and its linking as the main way to get my photos out there to the public.


Picking New Zealand best photos has taken a while to get through. Of course, they aren’t exactly original, I mean, rocks on a beach, mountains, whatever, but a nice picture is still a nice picture. One day I’d like to go back and do the place justice with my photography.

I’m also getting business cards made for my photography, to help me with networking and finding potential projects to work on. I’m hiring a designer to do a basic card design, and after that I have some ideas for a simple logo/illustration that I can tie into my business card, my website and my photo watermarks. We’ll see how it goes. Of course once I have a business card I am officially a real photographer and therefore logically I will become rich and famous, right? One funny problem with designing a logo is making it clear that this is Alan Stock Photography and not Alan who does stock photography which I find amusing – I’m tempted never to change my business name even if I do go pro, just for entertainment value.

I got to play with my sister's boyfriends big zoom lense in our garden. The bokeh on this thing is awesome!

A recent Scottish pic. I got to play with my sister’s boyfriends big zoom lens (400mm?) in our garden. The bokeh on this thing is awesome!

I’m not taking many photos at the moment. Occasionally I take the camera out on dog walks and get murdered by hayfever. But I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors at the computer the past few months, like a little goggle eyed, hunchbacked hermit. I’ve needed a bit of a rest and some stability after my travels, and have been working and playing on the computer, reverting to my previous lifestyle. The Scottish summer is pretty awful, lots of grey and rain and I’ve not been inspired to get out much and photograph things. Which is bad. Of course, being on the go with my camera for such a long time like I did in NZ, I am appreciating having a break from it. I can go out and see things without feeling the need to be photographing it all the time, like some crazed documentary maker with a low budget David Attenborough voiceover.

What I need is some projects or work to motivate my photography. I need to learn more of the practical side of taking photos, I’m still getting to grips with this camera and using fully manual modes. I need to work on getting consistently good exposure, amongst other things. But to do that, I need to practice, practice, practice and just take photos. Maybe I need to do a Henry Cartier Bresson. And to be around people who can inspire me, and I can learn from. To take photos, I need inspiration. When travelling, it was easy – there was always something new and interesting or beautiful to photograph. Now I’m home, its a lot harder. But, hark, I have a solution!

Village school kids await Sophie's instructions

Great photographer Sebastian Belaustegui, who has worked for institutions like National Geographic, picked this photo out of my portfolio as one of his favourites from a travel/documentary outlook. I did a private workshop with him in Bali and it inspired me to keep pushing my level.

So, to counter this, I’m going to start looking for photography work, training programs, work experience, projects I could do, anything to get practice and improve. I’ll start on this once my website and portfolio are updated. Although I am happy with the level I have achieved with my photography so far, I know I can do so much better and I want to take really awesome photos. Meeting some great photographers on my travels and being exposed to quality photos online all the time shows me how far I have to go. Sometimes I get depressed when I look through my work and compare it to other photographers, I don’t feel I have many outstanding photos. But when I do get great photos, I feel happy and it drives me to raise my standard. If anyone has any photographic opportunities for me, or can point me in the right direction to get experience or work, please let me know!

A screenshot I took in videogame Metal Gear Solid 5. You can get quite creative thanks to PS4's new screenshot button. I like taking "photos" in games, some recent titles have great photo modes allowing you to play with aperture, filters, camera control and so on.

A screenshot I took in videogame Metal Gear Solid 5. You can get quite creative thanks to PS4’s new screenshot button – like here I found the location, positioned the character, waited for the moon to rise, angled the camera. I like taking “photos” in games, some recent titles have great photo modes allowing you to play with aperture, filters, camera control and so on.

Outside of photography, I have been getting some work in my other passion, video games. I was commissioned to write some game articles and reviews for website Comiconverse. This was good exposure for me and has led to some further, interesting work. The money’s not good yet, but this is a good start on my plan to go freelance – part of my plan to give me more flexibility for travel and photography. I’ve also been playing a ton of video games, which I really missed during my travelling years. I think I’ve overdone it now though, and some balance in my life is returning. The goggle eyes are slowly returning to normal!

Well, there you have it. A slightly boring few months, but a chance for me to take a step back, get started on some new projects and consider what direction to take in future. On second thoughts, sod all that, I’ve decided to become an astronaut – I’ll see you on the moooooooooooooon!

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New Zealand Photos – My Best Travel Images – Year 2 Gallery

Hello folks, long time no see! I spent the last two years working and travelling in NZ. Now I’m looking through the last year’s worth of New Zealand photos – 15,000 of them, and I’m picking out the best. So, here is the first collection from my second year in the country.

This is a big job but its fun, bringing back all those memories. As the focus was work and travel, not photography, I didn’t get so many great shots. But, there are some images I am happy with. After these Best Of collections, the next job is the long overdue update to my portfolio on this website! Enjoy!

Click an image to see it in full. Need to find a cooler gallery plugin, suggestions are welcome!


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Backpacking Bangkok – Beginners Survival Guide


Monks at the Grand Palace

Monks at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Obviously they knew big celebrity Alan Stock was coming…

First time in Bangkok or Asia? Tips, advice and recommendations for Thailand’s most crazy city.


“HELLO WELCOME KAA… YOU WANT MASSAAAAAGE?” Bangkok: a madhouse city of temples, street food, tuk tuks, ladyboys, and, look – wandering around like a little lost flea – it’s you! If you want to skip to the most essential tips, check out “Bangkok First Impressions”, airport taxis in the “Getting In” section, and “Scams” to avoid dirty horrible scammers (it happens). Everyone else, stick on your grandmas reading glasses and get your eyes stuck into this! Do you have any other good tips or suggestions for Bangkok – leave a comment below!

I’ve been to Bangkok many times and wanted to make this guide to ease you into the madness – learn from my mistakes and maximise your enjoyment. Whether you’re starting a backpacking adventure, its your first time in Asia or taking a few weeks off to party in or explore Thailand, you will arrive at the airport and then – what? It’s ok, a ladyboy won’t immediately jump on you (unless you like that sort of thing), but Bangkok is a pretty crazy city for first timers and there’s lots of things that are useful to know, from how to get around to how to avoid the common scams (dollar signs appearing in Thai peoples eyes is usually a bad sign). Sawat de kap! (Hello!)

Starting Out
Most backpackers stay around the famous travellers mecca of Khao San road in Bangkok (the slightly dented but well-oiled hub of travelling in SE Asia) and this guide is based on the assumption that you are heading there. Khao San road is a fun but tiring mix of everything that a traveller could need, but thankfully its surrounded by some chilled streets to get away from it all, ideal when you are about to punch the next person who shouts Tuk Tuk or Ping Pong Show! at you. You can still find backpackers scattered throughout Bangkok – if you want to stay away from the Khao San area (some people do hate it!) then do some research – but Khao San is where you’ll find the things you need to get started, and also the most travellers, from fresh-off-the plane wide-eyed 18 year olds chewing scorpions for dares with a grimace on their face, to dreadlocked veteran backpackers in hippy clothes who haven’t bathed for years, to fat 60 year old ex-pats with their Chang vests waddling along with a Thai girl on each arm – PS if in the future I become that guy… just shoot me.

Thai market stall girl on Khao San Road

Thai market stall girl on Khao San Road. The fake Diesel flip flops I bought off her broke after two weeks, but that’s to be expected when you spend two quid!

Bangkok First Impressions
Be prepared for a *lot* of heat and humidity outside of Nov/Dec especially if you are from the UK where a reward is offered for the return of the sun, last seen many summers ago. You will sweat like an obese pig who has just done a triathlon. It gets very tiring. Take your time! Stop for breaks at places with fans or air-con. Drink lots and lots of water or you will get weak and tired with heat exhaustion. Add hydration sachets or salt or look for other hydrating drinks like coconut water. Trust Doctor Al, it helps a lot to enjoy things to stay hydrated. Buy bottled water, tap water is not safe to drink here. Don’t worry, most of the rest of Thailand isn’t like being in an oven, more like a family BBQ.

A bewildered looking backpacker in the heart of the Khao San throng!

Khao San Road. This guy is thinking – What is happening? How did I get here? Why did that guy buy that stupid hat?

Bangkok is crazy, especially if its the first Asian city you’ve visited. Traffic is everywhere, tuk tuks and motorbikes rush past and ambush you even on footpaths, it’s noisy, its full of hordes of people and everywhere there is something new and weirdly Thai going on. It can be overwhelming for first-time travellers and you may feel your head will explode. It may be your first time from home and culture shock can happen. Instead of becoming a gibbering wreck hiding in the supermarket just for a taste of normality, once again I say – take your time! There’s no hurry. Take it all in, walk slowly, stop for breaks, drink your water, retreat to your room or a park if you need to give your brain a rest. Get on the wi-fi or to an internet cafe and contact home if you need to touch base. Head to Rambuttri parallel to Khao San to the quieter lanes there and get a fruit shake and sit in front of a fan. Get a dirt cheap massage! Just because the rest of Bangkok goes at breakneck pace doesn’t mean you have to to. Don’t get pressurised by salespeople or drivers. You get used to it and soon you will be click stepping along Khao San Road with a smile on your face, bantering and haggling with the hard sellers, exploring and making your plans for seeing the rest of this great country.

Please take the time to read the “Safety and Scams” section at the end, especially to avoid common scams which are easy to fall for and rife in this area. It’s ok, not everyone’s out to get you but you need to be aware of them.

Most people swoop into Thailand via Bangkok International Airport (BKK). Otherwise you are probably on an international tourist bus from elsewhere in SE Asia (see “arriving by bus” below).

Know this:

  • Arrival/Departure Card: On your flight, your sexy flight attendant should give you an Arrival/Departure card in two pieces. If your flight attendant isn’t sexy, spend more money on the flight next time. Keep the two card pieces together. Don’t panic if you forget to get one – you can find these on the desks just before immigration, or ask a staff member there. You need to fill both of these out, including the Departure section. If you have a one-way flight to Bangkok, just make a rough estimate of departure date and country destination, and you can just make up a flight number if necessary. If you don’t have accommodation booked, just write Khao San Road. No worries.
  • Tourist Visa: Easy peasy – Most western countries are able to enter Thailand if flying in by visa exemption – basically you get 1 month automatically that you can spend in Thailand – they put a stamp with your departure date on a separate bit of paper which you should keep with your passport. If you want to stay longer, you can also extend your visa by a month at a time by just leaving the country by plane or land, officially they are cracking down on this for long term “offenders” but in reality it seems most people can still do it – you can book Visa Runs at travel agents around the country specifically to do this. I met one guy in his 50s who has been living in Thailand for 20 years by doing a visa run every month! You can see a list of countries that are eligible here: – however Thai visa rules change often and its best to do your research beforehand and if you aren’t in the visa exemption list you will need to get hold of a tourist visa before you travel, and possibly proof of onward travel to show when you board your flight to Thailand.
  • Address of Accommodation: if you have booked accommodation in advance, its a good idea to have the address written down, and in Thai too if possible – useful for immigration card, taxis and if you get lost!
Coins in offering bowl at Wat Pho temple

Coins in offering bowl at Wat Pho temple. Be prepared to have lots of annoying 1 Baht coins in every orifice. Where do they all come from?

Cash Up!
For travel money tips check out my article here. First thing you need when you arrive is to get some dosh. You’re going to need cash to get transport at the very least unless your plan is to teleport (in which case why did you fly?). If you haven’t already got Thai Baht (the currency) – the cheapest way is to withdraw it at ATMs in the airport or there are expensive money exchange desks in there too. I wouldn’t get out more than 5000 Baht to begin with (around 100 pounds). Bet you feel rich now! If everything’s written in Thai, look for a button to change the language to English, they all have them. At ATMs, you will be charged a small amount to withdraw cash – accept this when it asks you. When asked if you want to do a conversion to your own currency, pick No – it will save you money. Keep your money in your bra, up your bum, or my favourite, in my wallet like normal people do.

If you are planning on carrying large amounts of cash around or going to be backpacking around Asia, a money belt to wear is wise especially for crowded places or transport you will be sleeping in. Travellers cheques are another, probably safer option to get access to cash and add extra security, if you can be bothered with the hassle of organising it – might be good for emergencies and you get a better exchange rate. The majority of Thai banks accept them. Most people I know use credit cards though. Don’t forget to let your bank know that you are going to Thailand. It sucks to arrive and then get locked out of your account because they think there’s something fishy going on leaving you high and dry in the airport!

Getting from the airport to the city
Congratulations, you have arrived in Thailand! Unless you fancy a half day walk along a highway, I recommend finding some transport. If you are staying around Khao San, then get a taxi – trains don’t stop nearby and buses are hard and stressful to deal with when you have just arrived.


    • The easiest and fastest way is by taxi to get into town is by taxi. By western standards the taxis are cheap. Bangkok traffic can be terrible, so allow between 40 minutes to an hour (longer at rush hour) to get into town whilst watching motorbikes carrying 3 people, mental Thai drivers probably whilst some awful Thai music is pumped out of the stereo. At least there’s aircon!
    • To get a taxi *always go to the public taxi rank*. It’s easy these days! Its down on the 1st floor of the airport just outside the doors and well signposted throughout. Ignore the other transport desks and people, they will overcharge you.
    • In front of the taxi parking bays there are a number of terminals and queue barriers and sometimes helpful staff to make life easier. Just hit the button on the terminal touchscreen to print a ticket. This is your receipt – do NOT give it to the taxi driver, even if they ask for it. It is your insurance and contains the details of the taxi that is assigned to you, protecting you from scams and so on. The ticket has a bay number printed on it – just walk to the corresponding bay and if a taxi is not there already, just wait and it will come – Thai taxi black magic, I say. Other organising staff may ask to see your ticket, that’s fine, but don’t give it to the driver.
Tuk Tuk Rank in the Old City

Tuk Tuk Rank in the Old City. Tuk Tuk drivers seem to have only 3 states: Annoying, Asleep, and Not There

  • Your driver may not speak English. Oh no! You don’t speak Thai! MELTDOWN. Breathe. No problem. If you have your acommodation booked, tell or show him your address. Otherwise just ask for Khao San Road which most of them will understand and you can find your way from there. If you have problems you can just go back to the machine and get another number, or get someone to translate for you.
  • These are meter taxis – do not agree a price in advance – when you set off, the meter should be at around 35 baht or zero. Be aware you also need to pay cash seperately during the drive for toll booths (see below). Don’t worry about needing small change.
  • Costs to Khao San Road vary depending on traffic but you shouldn’t be paying more than about 700/800 Baht plus the road tolls and 50 baht extra for the driver which is complusary from the airport. The majority of drivers are fine but occasionally some naughty drivers try to con tourists with rigged meters – just keep an eye on it. If it seems to be jumping up way too quickly or going over the amount you expect, point it out to the driver. Any problems – make a note of the driver ID in the left of the windscreen and make it obvious you are doing this. There are authorities which can be complained to so a driver will think twice about scamming you if you do this. Eat that, dirty driver!
  • Toll booths – taxis will use the highways and will usually pass through one or two toll booths. You give the driver cash to pay for the toll when you arrive at these and he will give you the change back directly. Don’t worry if you only have 1000 baht notes, they should still be able to get change. Occasionally a driver may want the toll fare in advance when you leave the airport, its up to you. Personally I would hold onto your money until you need to give it to them to be on the safe side.
  • At your destination, pay the driver whatever it says on the meter plus 50 baht. The 50 baht is an airport charge that is paid to drivers directly by you (it tells you this at the taxi rank there) and is not negotiable . Tipping is not expected in Thailand for metered taxis, 50 baht or less would be a nice little tip if you have had a good experience. Welcome to the city! How many near-fatal accidents did you witness on the way? Only 3? Good going!
A public meter taxi - I have been told the green and yellow ones are the most trustworthy as they are an older firm

A public meter taxi – I have been told the green and yellow ones are the most trustworthy as they are an older firm. Sometimes I never want to leave a taxi – I see them as portable aircon machines!

From Airport By Bus
There are classic old Bangkok public buses that you can get that will take you around the city and also to a road near Khao San. If you really need to save money this is really cheap, but allow around 2 hours and be aware in rush hour you may struggle with fitting in your luggage. There is usually a conductor who will come to collect your fare when you sit down. It will likely be very hot, too. Google for info on these buses. Also I recommend having the name of the street or area you need to get off at written down and even a map so you can show the conductor as most don’t speak Engish. Make sure you get off where you intended and check the bus is going in the right direction before you get on it! I have met travellers sat on Bangkok local buses who have no idea where they are because they didn’t get off at the right spot and noone talks English! For the stop near Khao San, a good landmark you will pass on the bus is the Democracy Monument, its not far after that.

From Airport by Skytrain
The Skytrain rail service is quite fast and friendly, and fairly easy to use. I recommend it if your accommodation is easy walking distance from a Skytrain terminal. If you want to get to Khao San by train, I have been reliably informed that you can take the city line from the airport to Makkasan station and then catch the 556 bus to the Democracy Monument (or get a taxi from the station).

It's worth walking down to the big park in front of the Grand Palace in the late afternoon/early evening, especially on Sundays. Thai people hang out here and you can often see cool stuff like this! Who needs Tuk Tuks to get around?

It’s worth walking down to the big park in front of the Grand Palace in the late afternoon/early evening, especially on Sundays. Thai people hang out here and you can often see cool stuff like this! Who needs Tuk Tuks to get around?

Arriving in Bangkok via Bus (long distance)
International or domestic tourist buses will usually drop you in the Khao San area. Check with your travel agent/driver exactly where you will be dropped in Bangkok. Often the big buses drop you about a block away from Khao San. Ask the driver or locals for directions if you are confused about where you have been dropped off instead of playing the random direction game – its easy to get lost in Bangkok!

Public buses and some “VIP” (VIP meaning you paid like 50 Baht more than the other guy… ) buses arrive at one of the two city bus terminals, which are right on the outskirts. From there you can get public buses into town but its usually easier just to take a taxi from the taxi ranks. The cost will be similar to the aiport transfer price and it will take up to an hour or more to get in. Both bus stations now have information points or at least counter staff who speak English, so its worth asking what your options are – sometimes there are minibus shuttles available for example.

Budget hotel room in Bangkok. Does the job, nothing more!

Budget hotel room in Bangkok. Does the job, nothing more!

The Khao San area is packed with accommodation for all budgets. It’s not hard to find decent rooms. Just be aware that you are in Thailand, standards may not be as high as you are used to, but remember you are paying a fraction of the price! Most places accept walk-ins and are used to sweaty tired backpackers rocking up any time of the day looking for refuge.

For your first night or two, I highly recommend booking in advance either online (, Tripadvisor, Agoda, Hostelworld, Hostelbookers are a good start) or by phone – it saves you so much time and energy to have everything arranged and to know you are getting somewhere decent too. Expect to pay between 200-600 baht for your own room or dorm. Why not splurge out a bit for your first few nights, after all you are probably quite rich by Thai standards! There are quite a few hostels in the area, which is a great way to meet people if you’re travelling solo, however most of them are pretty low quality and dingy, if you can live with that its the best social option.

Accommodation quality varies massively for the same price, some places are nasty, dirty and cockroach infested, others are more like cheap hotels – clean and with aircon. Its fine (and recommended) to ask to see a room before you pay. If you don’t like it, ask for a different room or haggle the price down – or just go elsewhere. If you arrive at midnight though, your options will be more limited – I have stayed in some rancid hovels because nothing else was available. Suck it up, at least you’ll have a nice travel horror story about cockroaches crawling over your bed to tell your friends!

If your room doesn’t have a safe inside, its a good idea to leave your essential valuables such as your passport at the front desk safety deposit box. Security can be lax in some guesthouses so its wise to play it safe. Treat your passport like solid gold, its the most important thing you own (even more important than your little teddy bear you just couldn’t leave at home).

A bar on Rambuttri street. If you stay above one of these, don't expect to get an early night till the live music in the area stops around midnight.

A bar on Rambuttri street. If you stay above one of these, don’t expect to get an early night till the live music in the area stops around midnight.

Staying on Khao San road itself is going to be noisy, with the party continuing to the wee hours. Of course if you are out in the party all night, every night, or enjoy sleeping to the thud of bass drums, by all means go ahead. In general the better acommodation (and I recommend for first timers) is found on Rambuttri street which runs parallel to Khao San. Here its much quieter and relaxing assuming you don’t stay right next to the bars. If you want an even quieter stay, follow Rambuttri around the back of the temple and try the guest houses down there. Other options include Trok Mayom – an alleyway running parallel to Khao San just to the south which is packed with cheap little guest houses which I have heard is nice and quiet. Another quiet alley with accommodation runs between Khao San and Rambuttri Soi just after Buddy Lodge on Khao San road. Another option is to follow Samsen road over the canal away from Khao San for about 5-10 minutes – there is tons of cheap accommodation hidden down the Sois (side streets) there.

It’s hot and tiring walking around Bangkok with all your luggage. If you haven’t booked in advance, don’t waste hours and precious energy looking around. Just pick somewhere half-decent, you can always use earplugs if its noisy or look for a better place the next day without dragging your 100 kilo luggage behind you!

Street food trolley on Rambuttri street. These are probably seafood balls, quite good actually.

Street food trolley on Rambuttri street. These are probably seafood balls, quite good actually.

One of my favourite things to do in Thailand is stuff my fat little belly full of as much food as I can fit in there. Restaurants and food stalls are everywhere serving Thai and Western food. The little Thai restaurants with stools and tables outside generally have better and cheaper food than the restaurants. Don’t be afraid to try the street food from stalls and trolleys. If its well-frequented and there aren’t flies over everything it’ll be fine. If you think the food (especially meat) has been sitting out in the heat then be wary. Most vendors speak some English, if they don’t just point. Cheap and yummy! Don’t miss out on nighttime snacks like roti pancakes. The bugs and scorpions are generally safe to eat too and not too bad (they are deep fried to a crisp in oil so quite tasteless) – personally I won’t go any bigger than grubs or grasshoppers as I don’t like crunching through shells into oily bodies, it triggers my inner “urgh” switch.

At the “proper” restaurants you can get an approximation of Western food and an easy introduction to Thai food, though the quality is usually average. Thai food will usually be less spicy. You are in Thailand, get involved in Thai food!

Personal recommendations for Thai food are Tom Yum Soup (spicy prawn+veg soup – ask for less spicy if you can’t handle chillies), Red, Green or Massaman Curry (green and red again ask for less spicy at first), Pad Thai (noodles with prawns, egg, lime and peanuts – not spicy), Pad See Ew (flat noodles with meat, really tasty and not spicy). I’m drooling right now thinking about them.

Tom Yum Soup - one of my favourites. This was a particularly lethal one full of chilies, the crying began pretty quickly!

Tom Yum Soup – one of my favourites. This was a particularly lethal one full of chilies, the crying began pretty quickly!

If its all too much and you are craving familiar food – there are a few pizza places and a Burger King and Macdonalds in the area and its pretty much the same as home. You wimp. However even I admit to occasionally crumbling when I get a hangover burger craving!

Another easy option is the 7/11 supermarkets you’ll find everywhere. They sell sandwiches, microwave food (which they will usually heat for you at the counter), crisps/chips, hot asian buns and hot dogs etc at the counter. Also be sure to check out the toasties in the fridge for amazing post-drinking food (they’ll heat them at the counter). The staff usually speak English.

Where: Khao San Road for the big party, Rambuttri for good beats and live music, Rambuttri behind the temple for chilling.

What: For beer, Chang is the traveller favourite but try Leo and Singha too. Spirits give good old Sangsom a go with coke or red bull, it tastes a bit like dark rum but is a whiskey. Cheap and strong cocktails can be found everywhere. But if you want to go partying or are sharing, get a bucket!

When: Every night, though Friday and Saturday is busier and everywhere opens later.

Sangsom and Red Bull bucket - this will keep you up all night dancing!

Sangsom and Red Bull bucket – this will keep you up all night dancing!

Khao San road is where the mad drinking is, full of party bars and street bars, Rambuttri also has a bunch of nice bars and street bars, many with live music. The little thai stool restaurants also sell much cheaper drinks than the big bars, and you can usually meet people more easily there with their close table proximity. For the cheap cheap option, buy beer at 7/11 or the little coolers on the street and walk around, its acceptable in this area. Check Trip Advisor for some other good chilled bars nearby particulary for live music. Outside of the weekend most of the area closes down by 1am, so get drinking early, but there are a few clubs on Khao San you can migrate to.

Ping Pong Shows and Go Go Bars
Many tourists end up going to see the notorious Ping Pong shows (pop pop! Look it up) or go and check out the red light district which is full of bars and strip clubs. You will find a bunch of tourists of different backgrounds, groups and couples all enjoying (or being gobsmacked by) the various “entertainment” on offer at these places. However – if you are interested in doing this – be wary of offers from tuk tuk drivers offering you it around Khao San, especially if you are a group of guys. A lot of these guys will take you to expensive private places way out in the city and charge you a fortune. Do a bit of research before hand, ask other travellers who have done it or just take a meter taxi to the red light area – its quite commercial and relitavely safe. If you are in a large group and go from Khao San road to a Ping Pong show even if you get ripped off a bit it will still probably be a laugh. Most of the main bars on the red light drag will have hostesses who may come and join you – nothing is expected by this, although its nice to buy them a drink. Of course most are available for other “services” but they are also employed to just give customers social company out for a drink and are usually a good laugh to hang out no matter your group composition.

The big party bars at Khao San road are always a riot - if only they stayed open later!

The big party bars at Khao San road are always a riot – if only they stayed open later!

What to do around Khao San?
Time to be a tourist! There are quite a few things nearby to see. Khao San is a short distance from Bangkok’s two most famous temples – the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, which are both great. If you only want to do one (they are pretty similar) I would suggest Wat Pho with its massive reclining golden Buddah and its many spires and statues. Its about a half hour walk from Khao San, but be warned that you will be crossing some big roads and it will probably be super hot. You can get a metered taxi for really cheap to these locations. Don’t take a tuk tuk unless you want to get ripped off or scammed!

The massive reclining Buddah at Wat Pho

The massive reclining Buddah at Wat Pho

Another good option is to head down to the docks opposite the big tower temple of Wat Arun which has a good view of the temple particularly at sunset (unfortunately it is currently in scaffolding – August 2015). The docks are full of colourful stalls and markets. If you make your way back along the river street towards Khao San, you will come to a road full of stalls where people buy holy amulets and its common to see monks around here.

Wat Arun - taken from the docks opposite

Wat Arun – taken from the docks opposite

You could ride the ferry down the river (there are stops near to Khao San) and see some of Bangkok’s sights, Chinatown is only one stop away and full of cool markets and a big flower market.

If you have a bit longer and you like temples then there some interesting ones beyond the Demcracy monument which is a long walk but worth it, and you will see very few tourists there. There’s also the quaint and quiet old town to explore there with wooden buildings and craft workshops.

Don’t miss your chance to get a super cheap massage around Rambuttri street – Thai massage is awesome, although if you don’t want bits of your body wrenched around then go for a foot or head and shoulders massage. Buy a one hour massage for pure relaxing bliss and they are open late into the evening, perfect to unwind after a busy day in the city. Don’t worry, these are professional establishments and they shouldn’t be asking you for happy endings… you should feel happy enough already!

Thai Foot Massage - I hadn't realised it was a reflexology massage, which resulted in mega pain as the guy scraped a metal rod along my nerves - I suggest a normal foot massage instead!

Thai Foot Massage – I hadn’t realised it was a reflexology massage, which resulted in mega pain as the guy scraped a metal rod along my nerves – I suggest a normal foot massage instead!

Tours and Activities

For tours and activities around the city expect to pay quite a bit more, but some are pretty good:

  • Cooking schools around Khao San are good fun and highly rated, you get to make a bunch of Thai dishes and visit local markets to buy ingredients. Check Trip Advisor for reviews. I ate so much on mine with Lee’s cooking school (recommended) that I fell asleep for 5 hours straight afterwards!
  • Bicycle tours are a great way to see the real Bangkok and really get away from the tourists, again check Trip Advisor. Be prepared for a hot ride in the day but there are late afternoon and night rides also available. Try not to get flattened by crazy Thai motorists or fall in the canals, whether they contain actual water in that liquid is debatable…
  • The floating markets are interesting but exist just for tourists and will have a lot of hard sell. There are “real” floating markets around Bangkok that you can visit that will be more hassle to arrange but will be more authentic.
Chef Lees Cooking School near Khao San Road

Chef Lees Cooking School near Khao San Road

For shopping, prepare your mind and wallet and get a taxi or bus to the Siam Square area which is full of huge malls and cheap prices compared to home. Allow half an hour to an hour for the journey as the traffic is awful around there. Around Khao San there are loads of stalls where you can buy everything a backpacker could need from bags to beachware to souvenirs, but remember to haggle and with a smile! Remember that most things you can find everywhere here, so if you don’t like the price, try somewhere else. For more expensive things check out a few places to get a feel for the going price. It’s quite annoying to realise you paid triple what its worth because you were too lazy to check around. At least you only probably “lost” a few hundred Baht.

Safety and Scams

Do not drink water from the tap in Thailand, its generally not considered safe. You can buy bottled water cheaply and sometimes you can find water bottle refill services. Brush your teeth with bottled water and don’t swallow water when you take a shower. Some people are paranoid about ice for drinks in Asia, in my experience it’s not a problem at least in Thailand, if you have a particularly sensitive stomach do a bit of research about what to look out for. The accepted “safe” ice in drinks is blocks like a cylinder with a hole punched through – fragmented ice less so, but don’t worry too much.

Check out Magic Thaifood - a little street restaurant on Rambuttri, you can get cheap food and drink listening to live music from other bars and in the evening Max does tricks for customers - he is pretty good!

Check out Magic Thaifood – a little street restaurant on Rambuttri, you can get cheap food and drink listening to live music from other bars and in the evening Max does tricks for customers – he is pretty good!

The Khao San area attracts a lot of scammers who love to try and take tourists’ money. It is quite common to end up on the receiving end of a scam but they are easy to avoid once you know what to watch out for. These people see Farangs (westerners) as a walking ATM, which is often true! As a general rule, use your head. If an offer sounds too good, something is dodgy. Never buckle to pressure to buy things or do or go places that you don’t want to. You are your own boss. Sometimes the scams are quite believable so here are things to look out for:

  • Tuk tuk drivers are terrible for scams of various kinds. Cheap tuk tuk tours are anything but. If they try to take you to tailor shops or gem stores or “shopping” firmly refuse and continually do so if they persist. If you do end up in any of these shops on a tuk tuk tour, they will pressurise you to buy things. Just stand firm, if you aren’t spending money they are wasting their time anyway and they will take you back. Worst case scenario just leave and flag down a taxi.
  • I have also heard first hand reports of travellers being asked by tuk tuk drivers (or other individuals) if they want to buy drugs, particularly weed, or that they are getting weed for a friend. These are scam tactics which will end up with you trying to be framed for buying weed by a convienient police raid. Basically, be extremely careful if you want to buy drugs in Bangkok – I wouldn’t recommend it. Places where weed is relitavely safe to buy is on the chilled out islands in the south full of rasta bars. In the city, take the risk if you dare…
  • Strangers, usually Thais, may approach you in the streets around Khao San being friendly or asking questions. Unless they are other backpackers, beware. They may ask you about your family, where you are from, claim to be working for the tourist department, a teacher, whatever and they may look completely respectable. At the end of the day their main aim will be to scam you in some way. Its happened to me and its easy to be taken in by their “hospitality”. Normal Thai people will never randomly approach you like this except in the non-touristy areas. You can just ignore them and they will soon leave you alone.
  • Sellers will always be trying to make sales or strike up conversation with you around Khao San, it gets annoying. Just ignore them completely or say no thank you and then ignore them. Its the fastest way to get rid of them, if they think there is any chance of a sale they will follow you like a little lost puppy. Aww.
This little temple opposite the entrance to Khao San is worth a look. Remember in temples to respect the rules - no short shorts, no vest tops/bikinis and take off your shoes at the entrance to buildings

This little temple opposite the entrance to Khao San is worth a look. Remember in temples to show respect for the culture – no short shorts, no vest tops/bikinis, take off hats and take off your shoes at the entrance to buildings. Busier temples have long sleeved clothes you can borrow.

General crime
Thailand is generally very safe for travellers. The recent bombings are an isolated event – are you really going to let one terrorist and a few isolated attacks scare you out of the city? Be aware that it seems religiously motivated and not targeted at tourists, especially not backpackers. Sadly though, it has massively hit tourism and I have seen a lot of businesses affected by rich tourists cancelling their holidays and scared to go to the country. Its had a devastating impact on a country which relies heavily on tourism. Don’t let it stop you having a good time!

Muggings and violent crime against tourists in the country are rare. I feel far safer walking around Bangkok at night than I would in a city in the UK! The main crime to be aware of is general theft. Like any tourist destination, it can happen, although don’t let paranoia ruin your holiday, just be sensible. Don’t leave valuables lying around screaming “free money!” especially if you are popping to the toilet in a restaurant for example. Keep your passport and other valuables on your person, in a safe or at your accommodation front desk. For larger expensive things you can put them in your main bag and lock it with a padlock – combo locks are good because if you lose those annoying little keys, you are screwed! Can you tell its happened to me? Of course it is just a deterrent but unless you want to take a Fort Knox with you then it’ll do the job. I love those ridiculous cage meshes you can buy for backpacks, which most people ditch after two weeks of lugging the stupid heavy thing around!

An important thing to do is bring two credit cards which let you withdraw cash from ATMs. Keep one in your main bag and one with you, or in a safe. That way if something happens to one you have a backup and won’t go broke. ATMs occasionally eat cards in Asia, its happened to me before, and if you have any PIN or lose one, no worries, you have a spare! I have met naive backpackers who travel with one card and then have a massive nightmare when something happens to it. Don’t walk around with hundreds of pounds worth of Baht, a few thousand Baht should be enough. As a last resort, if you need money, head to a Western Union which you can find in the major towns and cities and get money sent from home to you.

The awesome tourist police of Surat Thani who helped me out a few years ago. Very nice people!

The awesome tourist police of Surat Thani who helped me out a few years ago. Very nice people!

Many local Thai police may not speak good or any English and there can be problems with corruption and shakedowns. If you have any problems with crime or local police, always use the Tourist Police who speak English and are usually very helpful. They have branches in most cities in Thailand and you can call them on 1155. I had a great experience with them in Surat Thani when I lost my bag and the tourist police guy looked after me for two days, and actually managed to track down my bag which had somehow ended up in Bangkok!

Crossing The Road!
Why did the backpacker cross the road? Actually they didn’t cross the road because they were too scared!

Look for white stripey lines on the road if it is busy, these are crossing points. If there are pedestrian lights, use them. But be aware that just because the light says green doesn’t stop some drivers for going for it anyway leaving a wake of flattened tourists. If there are no lights, a good tip when you are learning is to follow in the footsteps of a Thai person or group, I love doing this with little old ladies or monks because noone wants to run them over, haha! When they go, you go. If you are alone, pick a gap in the traffic (the gap doesn’t have to be all the way across) and move forward with purpose. Don’t stop and don’t turn around (unless you are definitely about to get flattened!). Hold out your hand towards oncoming traffic. Thai drivers are used to this and will adjust speed or drive around you. It takes faith and practice. Use your judgement and watch how other people do it. Be extra careful on the fast main dual carriageways – its better to wait for a while for a good gap across the whole road than risk your life! Also watch out for motorbikes on narrow streets, I have met people who have had their feet ran over because they weren’t careful enough. That hurts quite a lot!

You'll probably have to cross this busy road to Khao San a number of times. This is quite gappy compared to normal!

You’ll probably have to cross this busy road to Khao San a number of times. This is quite gappy compared to normal!

Almost all ATMs charge you to withdraw with a foreign card, usually about 150 baht. Take out a couple of thousand at a time or watch your costs rack up. There are ATMs everywhere around Khao San. There are money exchange places all over too. You can pay by credit card for many things.

Get Out
When you can’t take any more of Bangkok, its not too hard to just do like the locals and head to the bus terminals or train stations and make your own way to your destination. At the bus terminals on the outskirts of the city you can take buses anywhere in the country and the staff generally speak English and you will be travelling with Thai people in a safe bus for locals.

Flights are a good option to major cities in the country, cheap, fast and pretty easy. For flights you can just book online and make your own way to the airports. It’s often only marginally more expensive to take internal flights than long bus/boat journeys and you will save a lot of time. Try Skyscanner, AirAsia, Lion Air and Kayak.

Trains are more difficult, staff don’t always speak English but they are usually happy to help and its a great experience on the old Thai trains, mingling with the locals, buying food off vendors and you’ll usually run into a few other backpackers doing the same thing. Definitely try it once – the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai or night trains from Bangkok to the south are good options. If you book in advance you can even get private booths for a bit more money.

Siranee - awesome travel agent at Roof Garden on Rambuttri

Siranee – awesome travel agent at Roof Garden on Rambuttri

For anything else, including buses to other countries and island transfers, Khao San area has travel agents in abundance and most tourist specific transport leaves from the Khao San area. Be warned that there are a lot of dodgy and rip-off agents in this area. I always use Siranee at Roof Garden (see below) who I can trust. Do take the time to do a bit of research or get recommendations from other travellers for reputable travel agents here, there are a lot of horror stories out there.
I personally use Siranee’s travel desk at the Tree House accommodation on Rambuttri, who I met through a tour guide. She is great, she knows her stuff, she is honest and she is a traveller too and wants you to have a good, safe time – and prices are good. I have used her many times and never had a problem. I do not get commission for recommending her, she is genuinely great!

Siranee's business card. Follow Rambuttri behind the temple all the way round and keep an eye out for the Roof Garden sign

Siranee’s business card. Follow Rambuttri behind the temple all the way round and keep an eye out for the Roof Garden sign

Useful Thai Words

The Thais, like any other country, appreciate it when you try to speak a bit of their language. At least try to learn Hello and Thank You and you will often get a smile! The wording may depend if you are a guy or a girl speaking, (m) for male, (f) for female.

  • Hello – Sawat Dee Kap (m), Sawat Dee Kaa (f)
  • Thank You – Khop Khoon Kap (m), Khop Khoon Kaa (f)
  • Goodbye – Lah Gorn
  • Good – Dee
  • How are you? – Sabai Dee Mai?
  • I am good – Sabai Dee Kap (m), Sabai Dee Kaa (f)
  • Toilet – Hong Naam
  • It is very hot! – Rorn Mak Ma!

That’s It!
Now you know what to expect, you can concentrate on enjoying Bangkok’s melting pot! Nothing can quite prepare you for the experience of entering a new city in a foreign land and a different culture – that’s something you can look forward to! After Bangkok, everything gets easier and you can escape to the other great places Thailand has to offer, relax and go on your adventures!

Railay Beach near Krabi - paradise, if you can ignore the hordes of tourists and chugging of longboats all day! Tip - go further along the beach to avoid them!

Railay Beach near Krabi – paradise, if you can ignore the hordes of tourists and chugging of longboats all day! Tip – go further along the beach to avoid them!

Personal Thailand Highlights
Here are some of my favourite places in Thailand:

  • Koh Tao – Great diving and snorkeling, lovely chilled beaches but you can still party in town.
  • Railay Beach – Beautiful beach surrounded by limestone formations everywhere where you can rock climb or just enjoy the views.
  • Khao Sok National Park – Stay in floating huts on a huge lake in the jungle full of limestone formations, kayak around the lake, see wildlife and trek in the forest in isolation.
  • Chiang Mai – Relaxed city full of temples, monks, and loads of things to do such as trekking, elephant camps, cooking classes, rafting, Thai boxing shows and night markets with a great coffee shop and arts scene.
  • Pai – Chilled out town in the hills near Chiang Mai with a hippy arts vibe and awesome caves and landscapes reachable by scooter, with cool bonfire bars at night.
  • Koh Phi Phi – Horribly touristy but still beautiful and good beach parties for the young at heart.
  • Sankhlaburi – Little town up near Kanchanaburi on a lake. A floating village, hardly any tourists, relaxed atmosphere and lots of friendly locals, fishermen and boat trips on the lake available. Super chill. Check it out on my blog.
Floating accommodation in beautiful Khao Sok National Park

Floating accommodation in beautiful Khao Sok National Park

Useful Information:

  • Wikitravel – great for Asia, lots of insider knowledge although remember not all info may be up to date
  • Travelfish – particularly good for Thailand, similar to Wikitravel
  • Trip Advisor – Particulary useful in Asia for finding decent accommodion and restaurants if you don’t have the energy to go hunting around yourself – although be aware of course not all accommodation is in here, you may miss some gems. Also good for learning about activities and tours available in the area.
  • Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forums – If you have any questions head to the Thailand forum, it’s quite well used by other travellers and you often get a reply within a day. Do a forum search for what you are looking for, usually someone’s asked the same question already.

Enjoy your time in Thailand! Lah Gorn! (Goodbye!)

I would love to hear your own tips and recommendations for Bangkok – please leave a comment!

Monks I met at one of the quieter temples in Bangkok. Monks tend to be quite friendly, don't be afraid to approach them and have a chat, many speak English in the cities. In some temples "Monk Chat" is available, its an interesting experience.

Monks I met at one of the quieter temples in Bangkok. Monks tend to be quite friendly, don’t be afraid to approach them and have a chat, many speak English in the cities. In some temples “Monk Chat” is available, its an interesting experience.

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10 Photography Tips for Beginners


With these amazing tips you can be a massive poser like me holding your camera one handed gangster style suppin’ coffee like a boss whilst taking awesome photos wearing shades in the dark. Awww yeahhhhh. Except don’t just use one hand, I just did it cos I had my bling (coffee) in the other hand, AIiiiight?! Dammit.

Whether you take photos with an iPhone, compact camera or 5 zillion buck SLR it doesn’t matter – these tips can work for YOU (PS give me that SLR). If you aren’t a beginner, maybe you can pick up some good practice from this.

We begin with the basics. I’m sure you have seen these kind of tip lists a bunch before, but I sometimes get asked for tips from friends who don’t really know anything about photography and want to improve. These are tips that I personally use to improve my own photography. Got any good beginner tips of your own? Put them in the comments so we can learn from you, you sly devil you.

Tip 1 – Take your camera with you!
Yes, it’s obvious, but I bet you my last Ferrero Rocher  (with these, I am really spoiling you) that you have been somewhere and wished you had had your camera. No longer lie weeping in the night about the award-winning photo you could have had… by actually taking your camera out with you! Whatever you do, where-ever you go, you could run into an great photo opportunity. I’m not saying carry your camera with you everywhere (true hardcore photographers actually do, caressing their camera and muttering to it under their breath), but if you are popping out for the day, off on a dog walk, even going for a drink, bring it out. If that’s too much of a pain, bring your iPhone or a small camera, slip it in your pocket/handbag and now there’s no excuse, is there? Smartphones have amazing cameras nowadays. Use them!


We were walking down the beach to a restaurant, it was getting dark, I was tired but I had brought my camera just on the off-chance of seeing something… and we passed this boy taking his little sister for a ride in a plastic tub. That’s when it pays off to keep your camera handy! Go plastic tub girl, go!

Tip 2 – Check or Die
This is a long tip but it’s important.

You are walking the dog when a UFO lands in front of you. An alien pops out and decides to make first contact with your dog. You pull your camera out ready to capture this beautiful, historic moment, hoping to get the shot before the inevitable leg-humping occurs. You click the shutter and… nothing. The battery is empty. You forgot to charge it. Snowy starts humping the Aliens leg. The world is doomed. All you can do is scream: “NOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooo!”

This thrilling account is based on a true story. Such tragedies are common for us photographers. To avoid them, just remember to check these things on your camera when you grab it at home. This is camera Mum talking to you now, heed her or you will get slapped.

  • Charge the battery and remember to put it back in the camera once it is charged. If you take a lot of photos, or you are taking a longer trip, take a spare battery too. They aren’t expensive. Protip – I put empty batteries on charge as soon as I come home so I don’t forget.

Me, all the time. Until I started following these tips. Bosh.

  • Check you have your memory card in the camera – not in your computer, or down the sofa, or in the dog, or wherever the hell they always end up. Make sure you have enough space for a bunch of new photos. You don’t want to be deleting photos to free up space at that critical moment. On big trips, take an extra card or two for backup. Before you leave with your camera, take a quick snap and play it back to check the memory card is working ok. Corrupt memory cards make everybody sad.
HAHAHA! You pathetic human fool! I, Wagging Fury, have consumed your important blue chip as part 1 of Dog Plan: Inherit Earth. Nothing to do with the fact it looked like a sweet and I didn't chew it to check otherwise, no siree...

HAHAHA! You pathetic human fool! I, Wagging Fury, have consumed your important blue chip with your favourite photos on it, and I know you don’t have a backup! MWAHAHAHAA – oh, walkies? WALKIEEESSSS!

  • Check the lens. It’s fun to snap all day only to realise at the end there is a huge dirty thumbprint in the middle of every photo. Don’t risk scratching your lens using your clothes – grab a microfiber cloth from any photo shop and some cleaning spray, or even better get a Lenspen (or Lenspen clone). I discovered the Lenspen a few years ago and never looked back. They are not paying me to say this (although Lenspen, buy me a new camera, cheers). It has a brush on one end and a lens cleaning tip on the other, which is covered in carbon – which is amazing at cleaning off fingerprints and dirt without scratching the lens. They are cheap, come in different sizes and are small enough to take out with you too. Everyone I have showed a Lenspen usually ends up buying one.

You can get these at most camera shops or online for a few quid. If more than ten people read this, Lenspen you owe me 1 million dollars, yeah?

  • If you have a camera strap, put it on the camera, and use it. I know plenty of people who have dropped or lost their cameras because they didn’t have the strap attached or they didn’t bother to use the strap when doing camera-unfriendly activities such as paragliding, taking photos from speeding tuk-tuks, on rickety boats in the middle of storms and so forth. My personal triumph was dropping my waterproof camera in the river at Vang Vieng, Laos whilst spinning around in a tyre tube, because I couldn’t be bothered to attach the wrist strap to the camera that morning. So it was sitting on my lap instead of tied to me. Now it is sitting somewhere else – on the riverbed annoying the fish with its bright fluorescent case. Yes, I was drunk. Use your camera strap.

If only the photographer had used his camera strap wisely, this could all have been avoided…

  • Increase your image quality. On most cameras you can change how high quality (video resolution) the photos will be. A lot of the time compact cameras use a medium setting by default instead of a high setting. Have a peek into your settings (it’s ok to use the manual if you need to, don’t be scared) – check whether you are using an appropriate setting. Crank it as high as possible, unless you have a small memory card. Just remember though, higher quality = more memory space used. A memory stick of 1GB or more will easily take hundreds of the highest quality JPEG photos, so why not max the quality setting and bathe in that high resolution that your scummy low quality pixelated friends can only dream of.

A typical Image Quality Screen. L for Large (best) down to S for Small (lowest quality). If you don’t pick L here, you need to rethink your priorities in life.

  • Check the camera setting. It’s easy to forget that yesterday you were engrossed taking photos of the 100m European Ant Olympics in your garden in Macro mode. That’s going to be pretty annoying today, because you suddenly come across a dying elephant who has heroically taken a bullet for his best friend Mousey the mouse and they are having their final embrace. You whip out your camera, get the once in a lifetime shot and then later check it back only to find a huge grey and brown blur because the camera was still in Macro mode from yesterday. Stupid bloody ants! So let this definitely true story be a lesson before you go out, set the camera back to whatever standard setting you usually use. Protip – if you have fiddled with the ISO setting, remember to reset that too.

Tip 3 – Keep your camera steady and LOOK
When you take a photo, use two hands when possible to steady the camera and hold it close to you, not at arms length (it’s not infected, probably). Even with an iPhone it can help. Look in the viewfinder or screen to check what you are actually photographing rather than what your eyes are seeing. It’s not the same. And STOP (Hammertime). I am amazed at the amount of people who take snaps whilst they are walking! If you are in a hurry at least stop moving for a few seconds to line up the shot properly and press the button. A lot of out of focus photos are caused by camera shake and it’s easy to fix. Protip: For sharper results, don’t jump up and down or use pneumatic drills whilst taking a photo.


This could have been a good photo of a kid showing me his fresh caught fish, but the low light and hand shake made it blurry. Using two hands and bringing the camera closer to my body or resting it on the railing might have helped.

Tip 4 – Isolate your Subject, Remove Clutter, Receive Bacon
What are you taking a photo of? Quickly think about your subject and isolate it – make it the focus of the photo. Is your subject supposed to be your partner or that yellow dustbin they are standing by? Get rid of it, move the view so its gone (I mean the bin, unless your partner is that bad that the bin is preferable!). Try moving or zooming so only the subject fills the frame. Get rid of visual distractions in the photo if you can. I don’t want to see traffic, and random hands, and wires, and messy backgrounds. You get the idea.

At this beach I could have photographed tons of stuff, looking down the whole beach for example, but I felt this simple shot summed up the location best. Pass me a margarita, dear.

At this beach it was hard to get a photo without resort clutter or beachgoers entering the scene, even though it was quite peaceful. So by zooming a bit and doing a portrait composition rather than landscape, I isolated the palm trees and huts to sum up the location. Pass me a margarita!

For portraits, get close to your subject, or use zoom to isolate them. Advice that photographers often give you is “get close and then get closer”, and “keep it simple”. And they ain’t wrong. The more simple your shot, usually the more effective it is. Try simplifying your pictures. If the photo is a landscape, or you want to show off the environment that your subject is in, no worries. Just think about how much of the environment you want to show and try to remove clutter and distractions. Do you really want a fat man’s bum escaping from Speedos in the same photo as your baby at the beach? I hope not.


This portrait wasn’t taken with a zoom so I was very close to this Vietnamese lady at this point – of course you need to respect boundaries but she was quite happy for me to come in to get this close-up. I had other photos of her where her whole hat was in view, but the background was quite messy in those with a busy shop interior. I found her face interesting too so I isolated and got closer – the inside of her hat acts as a good background and frame, much better and simpler than the busy room that was creating the background before.

Tip 5- Try Different Angles
99% of people take photos standing up, holding the camera up to their face. A lot of photos you will see in galleries and magazines will not be taken from this position. Unless you are a robot or a circus performer on stilts, take a minute to get low. Or find something to stand on to get high, hold your camera above your head, or put the camera on the ground and check out the shots from there. Amazing, you have just discovered how to use your body’s full range of movement AND you can take photos too! Congratulations. Move around the subject and see if you can find a more interesting angle. Sometimes simply crouching may present a nice foreground you didn’t even think about. Plus think of the entertainment you are providing all those non-photographers around you, as you jump up and down and crouch and duck. Brilliant.


Straight on, these prayer wheels didn’t make for a very interesting shot especially with the grey and messy background…


But by moving in closer to the right, zooming and taking a side angle I lost the messy surroundings and was able to focus on what made the prayer wheels visually interesting – the colours and patterns.

Tip 6 – Check Your Camera. Again.
Just like the starting checklist, don’t forget to check your camera from time to time. Check the lens, maybe it has a whopping thumbprint or a raindrop on it (Protip – don’t take photos at upward angles when it’s raining, yeah?). Quickly check your shots after you have photographed a subject to check there’s not something horribly wrong. Once you are home it’s too late to go back. Start crying.

Great picture! Except you forgot to take off the lens cap. Good job you checked, isn't it. Dummy.

Great picture! Except you forgot to take off the lens cap. Good job you checked, isn’t it. Dummy.

Tip 7 – Limit your Shots
Hurray for digital cameras! 400 sunset photos in 10 minutes! Now you are home and looking through them, thinking, which one is better – 7:15 and 10 seconds or 7:15 and 11 seconds, or 12 seconds, or 13 seconds? Whoop de doo! What a life! Before you take a photo, think about whether its really worth taking. Is it a moment you want to capture or a thing you don’t want to forget, or are you just taking a photo for the sake of taking a photo? Are you really going to want to see this photo again? Cut down the amount of photos that you take and you will start to think more about the photo you want to take rather than snapping non-stop. It saves time and pain later when reviewing and organising. Hell, you can even take some time to see the scene with your own eyes! Imagine that! You can even force a limit on yourself by putting a small memory card into the camera. Also, delete as you go. Know a photo is terrible? Delete it now, why wait? You have just freed up memory space and saved time later. You’ll also be realising “why the hell did I take that photo anyway?” – and you’ll learn. Oh yes, my precious, you will learn.


Oh great, another 50 photos of the same sunset to go through! This will be so fun! PS – This is after I’d already deleted about 200 of them…

Tip 8 – Use your Camera Modes
If you always shoot in Auto mode, try using your other camera presets. If you don’t know how, have a play with the menus (Protip – “Delete All” is not a camera mode), or check your manual. They are easy to use and it can make a big difference. Landscape mode, Portrait Mode, Macro Mode and Night Photo modes you can use a lot and get better results from. Just remember to change back to Auto when you have finished photographing that subject to avoid pain and suffering later on.

Protip - when underwater use the Underwater Mode. Genius. Unless your camera is not waterproof, in which case sorry, your camera is damaged beyond repair.

Protip – when underwater use the Underwater Mode. Genius. Unless your camera is not waterproof, in which case sorry, your camera is now damaged beyond repair.

Tip 9 – The Rule of Thirds
Cue cultish chanting. You’ll see this in photo tips for good reason. You can read about it in more depth anywhere online. Don’t follow it religiously, you can compose photos however you like and so you should, but I can tell you from experience that it is a great starting point for improving your composition. Imagine your photo overlaid with a grid like this:


That’s a nice grid, isn’t it? Like a window except better because it was free. I composed that photo using the rule of thirds as a guide. The sky is in the top third, the path roughly follows the left vertical line, and the boy is on the intersection of the lines. Even the mountain on the right almost follows the grid corner. Try to place your subject, points of interests, and natural lines along the grid lines or at the intersections, and try to split the image into thirds. For landscapes, try putting the sky in the top third, or, if it’s a really interesting sky (angels descending, The Perfect Storm, etc) then you could use the top two thirds. For some reason our strange little brains find this more satisfying to look at. Why? Go read some other articles, lazybones. It’s all mystic photography brain wizardry but it does work. Those articles will have more advice for composing using the rule. If you are mental you could use a marker pen to draw this grid on your viewfinder, but a saner person can check the display settings of the camera. Some of them let you put a grid overlay like this on your screen and so you can compose without having to imagine the lines. I often use a grid overlay when I am taking photos to help my composition. Here are some examples from my collection where you can see how I’ve used the Rule of Thirds – and after this article have a look through my other blog photos or my Facebook page ( and see if you can see the rule at work.



Tip 10 – Don’t Shoot into the Sun
You are welcome to fire whatever weapons you want into the sun but unless you want a silhouette, taking a photo into the sun is a bad idea. Just try it and notice how it “blows out” all the colour and detail of your photo (unless its sunset/sunrise). Anyone in the photo is going to look really dark. Instead, take photos with the sun behind you. If you are photographing people switch positions with them – just watch out for them squinting at you now they have to look at it (using shade can help). If you can’t do much about the sun and your subject position, at least try altering your shot so the sun is covered by an object. I use branches of trees and buildings a lot of the time to do this. Take that, sun! By doing this you cut down the glare and you can sometimes get a decent shot.

I was shooting into the sun when I took this photo of a koala in a wildlife sanctuary. The sky is "blown out" as we say in photography, and the subject is dark.

I was shooting into the sun when I took this photo of a koala in a wildlife sanctuary. The sky is “blown out” as we say in photography, and the subject is dark. The koala is clearly annoyed at my lack of photo prowess.

I repositioned myself with the sun behind me and zoomed into the koala's face to get rid of all the clutter. See what a big difference it has made!

I repositioned myself with the sun behind me and zoomed into the koala’s face to get rid of all the clutter. See what a big difference it has made! Now he is proud and well impressed with my skills, look at his big smile.

The tree is blocking the sun and reducing the glare. Good job, tree.

The tree is blocking the sun and reducing the glare. Good job, tree.

So, go forth, camera pioneers, and may you never take a bad photo again! Hope these tips are some help, let me know if they are useful and get out there with that dusty camera of yours! I welcome your comments and feedback, and I would love to hear your own tips for beginners. Now I’m off to find my memory card. That cat looks suspicious.

Next time we’ll look at some more advanced tips and specific shooting situations. Ciao for now!

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Goodbye Australia, Welcome New Zealand!

Sunset at Byron Bay, Australia

Hi folks. As you may have gathered, this photo blog is waaaay behind. With my working and travelling in Australia I found it hard to find the time and fast enough Wi-Fi to keep it up. So, I’ve decided to change the format so I can update it more regularly. I’m going to experiment with some different styles of blog post and see what I think works best.

As the blog was using images from over a year ago, I have decided to start again in the present!

So – I arrived in New Zealand two days ago and flew from Auckland to Queenstown in the south island – adventure capital of the world! It’s been snowing, a bit weird as I haven’t seen snow falling for over two years! It’s coooold (I am acclimatised to Asian and Australian summers) and I just bought a new beany (a hat for cool people). It is red as I am so passionate and of course sexy and it goes so well with my very uncool Kathmandu jacket.

The skylift vanishes into the clouds

Queenstown is on a big lake where they do powerboating and Extreeeeeeeme stuff like that. Most people here are on holiday to ski/board and are excited about the snow as there hasn’t been much lately, it’s just the start of winter here. The town is very commercialised and reminds me of the ski towns in France I’ve been to.

I am here for a few more days then I will have to decide whether to stay and try and find work/accommodation – everything is booked out – or scoot off to nearby Wanaka (very quiet but beautiful) or over to Christchurch where there is plenty of work, but the town isn’t so good to live in (mainly due to it being flattened from the earthquake a few years ago!). I fear if I work here I will save no money as I will want to snowboard and party…

The cloud has been low so there isn’t much to see, but when I flew in yesterday we were surrounded by big snow-topped mountains. The weather hasn’t stopped some of the lake activities though, here’s a close-up of the lake. Maybe I’ll take you back to Asia next post!

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Koh Payam

I got back to my bay after a narrow encounter with territorial dogs and just beat the rain - catching this nice sunset.

I got back to my bay after a narrow encounter with territorial dogs and just beat the rain – catching this nice sunset.

Koh Payam, Thailand

16/01/13 – 23/01/13

On Marc’s suggestion I headed from Bangkok on a night bus to the island of Koh Payam in the east, right next to the Burmese border.

  • The original plan was to visit Burma but Marc had recently been there leading a tour. It was peak season – full of tourists and many travellers could not find accommodation. So I decided to stay in Thailand instead.
  • Arrived in border town of Ranong in the middle of the night, got a rip-off tuc-tuc and waited until dawn in a deserted port for the morning ferry.
  • The mudflats there were full of salamanders and crabs with one giant claw, fighting for territory. They were a first for me!
  • Tourists trickled in. A little German boy with one arm ran around excitedly, it was good to see his injury hadn’t affected his enthusiasm.
  • Drove past trucks full of ice blocks on the way to the ferry, ice seems to be in big demand for the seafood industry and to ship to the islands.
  • Journey to Koh Payam was in a basic wooden ferry, loaded with ice and supplies in the hold. It took a few hours. I slept!

We passed a few islands like this on the way. It was very hot!

  • Koh Payam is maybe 5 miles from end to end. There are few big vehicles, most people travel by motorbike or scooter. A few narrow roads pass between the main resorts through the lightly forested interior.
  • I caught a motorbike taxi with an Italian girl I met at the ferry to a bay on the other side of the island – Ao Yai – and I took a basic beach bungalow on a big, brown beach.
  • The restaurants at the many bungalow resorts here served a selection of Burmese food due to the proximity to the border. Soups and curries. Tasty!
  • On day two I went exploring on foot in the sweltering heat into the island.

    A rare break in the trees along the road.

    Locals on motorbikes and tourists on scooters whizzed past me. I didn't want to risk a scooter because of my recovering shoulder.

    Locals on motorbikes and tourists on scooters whizzed past me. I didn’t want to risk riding a scooter because of my recovering shoulder.



    I eventually reached the bay of Aow Kao Kwai (Buffalow Bay), dotted with resorts and lined with mangroves at one end. Salamanders frolicked in the wet sand.


    A lot of the sand is quite brown and churned up thanks to the tiny crabs which burrow into the sand leaving these patterns. Each tiny blob is a little sand sphere!

    A lot of the sand is quite brown and churned up thanks to the tiny crabs which burrow into the sand leaving these patterns. Each tiny blob is a little sand sphere!



As the skies clouded over, I had a tasty prawn pad thai. Yum.

As the skies clouded over, I had a tasty prawn pad thai. Yum.

The famous Hippy Bar, a masterpiece of driftwood craft.

The famous Hippy Bar at Buffalo Bay, a masterpiece of driftwood craft.



I got back to my bay after a narrow encounter with territorial dogs and just beat the rain – catching this nice sunset.

  • I spent the next 4 or 5 days relaxing at my bay. I was tired and wanted to recoup. I moved up to Smile bungalows up the beach where the sand was nicer.
  • I tried my hand at bodyboarding in the breakers there. It was fun but I got too enthusiastic and badly sunburned myself! I spent the rest of my days here hiding in the shade reading, eating tasty cheap food and beers at sunset.


Ao Yai Bay, where I was staying.

Ao Yai Bay, where I was staying.

Me looking a bit sunburned!

Me looking a bit sunburned!


  • Met a young British couple who I went drinking with at a Rasta bar, owned by a German guy and his Chinese girlfriend. They told me a crazy story about the Chinese girl after we left:
  • She’d been travelling to India with her best friend before coming to Thailand, and her friend had… been shot dead! No joke! Her friend was very promiscuous and had been openly carousing in public with an Indian guy, which is a big no-no in their society. One day the couple were outside her hotel and a motorbike had driven up next to them – then a man on the back opened fire with a pistol and shot them both dead! The Indian guy must have been mixed up with the wrong crowd and it was assumed by the authorities that the couple’s lewd behaviour had angered a local gang. The Chinese girl, of course immensely distressed at losing her friend, was kept under armed guard for over two months whilst an investigation took place, but no culprit was found – the corruption in the police there meant that they probably had gang ties anyway and were just going through the motions. Eventually she was allowed to leave the country. Madness.


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Wat Arun, Seedy Areas and off to Ranong

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Bangkok, Thailand

14/01/13 – 15/01/03

I needed to change to a cheaper hotel today, but I had problems finding anywhere with room. After a fruitless two hours of walking around in the sweltering Bangkok heat I gave up and went to Tuptim, a little joint I’ve stayed at before on noisy (but fun) Rambuttri Street parallel to Khao San road. I spent the rest of the day working on the blog and researching Burma, I planned to go to the visa office tomorrow to get my Burmese visa.

In the evening I got the usual free entertainment of the local breakdancers who come to Rambuttri to show off their moves to the music pumping out of the bars. They are really good, spinning, flipping and even doing sychronised moves, occasionally making way for the odd tuk tuk – very entertaining! The next day I completely failed to get up in time to go to the visa office, my sleep pattern was really out of whack and the loud live music next door didn’t stop till 1am. I spent another day bumming around. In the evening I was sat in a restaurant and a tipsy man from Laos started talking to me, practicing his English. He is an English teacher and told me it was a relaxed place with nice people and said if I was ever near his city I was welcome to meet him. Love the Asian hospitality!

Wat Suthat

Wat Suthat


I again failed to get up in time to go to the visa office, I had suffered from insomnia the night before. I was pretty annoyed, another day wasted! I went to the post office to send some memory sticks to my parents with all my photographs on them. The stick I’d bought on Khao san road turned out to be a copy and corrupted all the files on it – annoying as it was 20 quid down the drain and no refunds! Welcome to Thailand! The Thai post office was easy to use, the staff spoke English and it only cost about 50p to send them to the UK, bargain! This way my photos from the last 6 months would be doubly safe.

I heard from my friend in Bangkok, Marc, the tour guide who works in South East Asia. We for a catch-up drink. He’d just come from a tour in Burma but advised me against going. He said there were so many tourists that all the sites were jam packed, and there is so little accommodation that some travelers were turning up to find every room in town taken! They then had no option but to go to the local monasterys and give a donation to spend the night on a hard floor or mattress there! In addition, the accommodation prices had risen to over $30 a night in most hotels, some as high as $50 a night!

Monk at Wat Ratchanatdaram

Monk at Wat Ratchanatdaram

It sounded crazy and I agreed if I was to go to Burma I would come back and do it in the low season instead when it would be quieter and cheaper. Marc offered to show me the view of one of the famous Bangkok temples, Wat Arun, down by the river. We walked for about half an hour to the dockside across from the big old temple. We walked through a maze of busy tourist markets to a floating jetty on the river. The sun was setting and the cunning jetty owners try to charge you for taking photos from there. Marc quickly whisked us away before they caught us!

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

We walked through a seedy area where prostitutes were sitting on plastic chairs on the corners, waiting for customers later at night. The place was full of ugly little motels for dubious purposes. However it was also host to a nice restaurant that Marc goes to with his clients sometimes. The rooftop there was a nice reprieve from the noise and offered a good view of the Golden Mount lit up in the twilight. We had some good food, a duck curry, star bean salad and beef liver which considering I don’t like liver was actually pretty nice.


With Burma off the agenda, I spent the day researching where to go next. Marc had suggested Ranong on the South West coast, close to the Burma border, and its nearby islands of Koh Chang and Koh Payam. I decided to head there and check it out. I had a week to burn before I’d return to meet my friend Paul from Manchester and his wife Amy who were due in Bangkok on their honeymoon. The rest of the day was spent in a valiant attempt to buy a waterproof case for my little underwater camera (!). It had broken in Nepal and the repair guy said it should have come with a rubber case, (it didn’t) which protects it from the water pressure. I took a local bus to the commercial area of Pathum Wan, very busy and full of giant malls and shoppers of all nationalities. I tried in a big electronics mall with no joy, they directed me to another one – a mighty modern posh plaza mall. In there all of the camera shops, even the Panasonic affiliated ones had nothing. Damn it, a wasted journey. I did get to see the most modern part of Bangkok though and also a little look at the famous but small Erawan shrine, overshadowed by skyscrapers and on a busy crossroads. I didn’t have any wish to come back to this part of Bangkok though.

The Democracy Monument

The Democracy Monument

In the evening I attempted to get a bus to the Southern Bus Station to get to Ranong, but the only correct bus whizzed past us, looking full to the brim. With my time running out I got an expensive taxi to the station which turned out to be right on the edge of the city, about 45 minutes drive through heavy traffic. At the bus station I bought a ticket on a local VIP night bus and settled back in the massage seat (!) to enjoy a really cheap western action film dubbed into Thai. As normal on the local buses they turned off the lights really early so I used my camera light to read until late. There was only one other westerner on the bus. We stopped at 1am for a meal at a bus terminal, just as I was falling asleep. The meal is included in the ticket price so the passengers, ever-eager to get their money’s worth, staggered out like zombies and we ate a bog standard buffet in the VIP room of the station. We continued onwards, but I only caught a few hours sleep, it was pretty uncomfortable.

At around 4am we arrived at Ranong bus station. I got out with the western girl who was in her early 30s. We got into a Songtaow (truck taxi) which took us to the pier for the island ferries, 15 minutes away. The price was double but as we were a captive market we didn’t have much choice despite arguing with the driver. The pier was deserted but the lights were on and a TV was showing western programs. The girl, Anna, was Italian. She ran her own little bar in a town on the Italian coast close to Croatia and was heading to Koh Chang to meet a friend of hers. We chatted for the next few hours as a few more tourists arrived by taxi, and zombied out to the boring transport history programs on TV.

Monk at Wat Ratchanatdaram

Monk at Wat Ratchanatdaram

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