Off The Beaten Path Street Photography: From Hat Yai with Love
It doesn't happen often and certainly not in Thailand but we discovered a city with almost no tourists – Western tourists that is – and we just loved it. There's not much to do except for some cheesy attractions so we just indulged in great food at the food courts and explored the streets for some good old street photography. Five days went by like a breeze.
Hat Yai is the fourth largest city of Thailand and is located in the South. Like I said, we didn't see Western tourists until a couple arrived in our hotel the last day but Hat Yai, also known as the city that wants to be the next Bangkok, is super popular with Malaysian and Singaporean tourists who'll visit during holidays and weekends.
Because of that, it feels like the city is far off the beaten path when it actually isn't so we surely recommend it for a visit when you're traveling from Thailand to Malaysia or vice versa. We took a cheap flight from Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur and it costed almost the same as if we would've used public transport to cross the border...
Street Photography in Asia
I love street photography but somehow I often don't like to shoot in large Asian cities. It's difficult to explain why but I guess it just doesn't fit my style of photography. I have very clear and simple style of communicating with the viewer and in overcrowded cities with lots of buildings, people and narrow streets it's more difficult to shoot when that's your style.
Shooting photos in the streets of Hat Yai
I really enjoy street photography in small cities or even villages. Sleepy towns in America have always been one of my favorite locations to shoot and in a way Hat Yai gave me the same feeling. The locals aren't used to seeing “white” faces often and we could feel the curious stares when walking through the back alleys. They weren't uncomfortable looks though, like it was the case in India and always accompanied by a welcoming smile or “Hello, welcome...!” It's that feeling of being welcomed that makes me take out my camera more than in a large city where everybody is more to themselves.
Even after dark it was nice to roam the streets for some nice shots. I love to shoot right before sunset but also after dark and Hat Yai gave me some awesome photographs. I think you can really feel the vibe of the city through these pictures.
Street photography in a mall
Somehow, when we're in a city, we always end up in the mall. We're not shoppers at all but we like the movies, food, refreshments and air conditioning in tropical climates so it seems to be the perfect place to satisfy all those needs and while we're there, I love to take some pictures. Some people won't call it street photography but hey, I've talked about that before. What should I call it then? Mall photography?
We both really liked Hat Yai and could've easily stayed longer than five days because we had a great time. The food was awesome, we caught up on some movies and of course, the streets are a superb location to explore for street photography. Don't forget to visit when you're in the South of Thailand!
Street photography tips and ideas for Thailand
Thailand is not the most difficult country for street photography. Most people are used to travelers and cameras and as long as you don’t act like a sneaky paparazzo, you’ll go home with some excellent photos.
Use a flash during the day
Here’s a street photography technique you might not have heard before. Thailand is hot and especially around noon, the sun is scorching and the light harsh. It’s a difficult time to shoot if you don’t like that light. Personally, I hate to go out and shoot at the hottest time of the day. I usually go out early in the morning or evening because I just appreciate the light at that time a lot more. Cloudy days are awesome too, by the way…
But most of the times, you’ll be out under the burning sun when traveling in Thailand. Sometimes, I use a flash to make things interesting. For this little project for example, I used a flash. I connected a Canon Speedlight to my Canon 5D with a cord so I could hold it in my hand and control the direction of the light. It makes the use of a flash more interesting compared to a flash mounted on the camera itself.
It takes practice when shooting street photography with a handheld flash because you have to hold the flash in one hand and the camera in the other. It’s also more obtrusive so expect some surprised looks. Let me know in the comments if you like this technique.
Explore beyond tourist areas
Whenever I go to Thailand, Bangkok has always been my favorite place to shoot but it’s the city in Thailand where many street photographers go and sometimes that kills my inspiration. On our last trip to Thailand, we visited some off the beaten path cities like Trang and Hat Yai.
This is probably the best tip I can give you when you want to go to Thailand and you like photography: Don’t limit yourself to the famous cities!
How to get to Hat Yai
We went the other way from Hat Yai to Malaysia but there are cheap flights between Hat Yai and Kuala Lumpur International Airport every day. Make sure to check Air Asia as they usually have the best offers.
Trains and buses are also an option both ways but we found a flight that was lonely slightly cheaper than a border crossing bus or train.
From Trang or Krabi
Mini vans go every day between Krabi or Trang and Hat Yai. We paid 220 baht for one ticket from Trang and it took around 2.5 hours. We found the minivans in Thailand pretty decent especially when picking the official (government?) ones at bus terminals. At Trang bus terminal you don't have to worry about scams. We got sent straight to the official minivans.
Where to stay
We stayed at Chamnan Residence for €15 ($17.5) / night
A basic but clean hotel with spacious rooms and friendly staff. Overall a nice place to stay for a few days. It's close to Greenway Food Court and the city centre and mall (movies!) is also within walkable distance.
What’s you favorite place for street photography?