Chiang Dao getaway

This weekend we took A Day of Photography with our neighbor Alan on an excursion out to Chiang Dao. We left Chiang Mai early in the morning and caught a bus out to Chiang Dao, which took about an hour and a half. Once we arrived, Alan flagged down a songthaew and negotiated a route further up into the mountains. We stopped several times en route at spots that Alan had scouted out for great photographs at the optimal time of day. His knowledge of northern Thailand is surprisingly deep and was quite useful in knowing the differences not only in the lighting of given scenes, but also how clouds and fog moved through the mountains at different times of day.

Our group consisted of us and one other couple, and all four were already rather familiar with the technical aspects of our cameras, so most of the day’s instruction was regarding bracketing and composition of shots rather than camera controls and exposure settings; in other words, what makes up an artistically interesting or unique image as opposed to simply a sharp, well-exposed one. We were able to capture some very moody and interesting shots of the Doi Chiang Dao mountains as fog rolled through in the morning, and as the day progressed, the fog subsided little by little until much more of the mountains were revealed.

After stopping at several shot locations, we arrived at our lodging for the evening, Malee’s Nature Lovers Bungalows. We opted to stay for the night, but the other group on our tour decided they’d rather head back to Chiang Mai that evening. Either option makes for a full day of photography, but it was definitely nice to have a second day in Chiang Dao. It’s a charming, beautiful and aromatic area that makes even laid back Chiang Mai seem like Manhattan by comparison.

From the Bungalows, we walked a few KM stroll up to the Buddhist Cave Temple, which allowed for interesting shots in a low light environment. A fast prime lens really would’ve shined here, but even our relatively slow kit lens was able to get some great shots with nice shadow gradients.

After the cave temple was a truly delicious lunch at Chiang Dao Nest 2. After a month in Thailand and some wonderful meals, Nest 2 had some of the best food yet, and an excellent view of Doi Chiang Dao mountain.

From lunch we took the hike towards Wat Tham Pha Plong temple, which was nestled high in the mountains. On the way up the 600 steps to the temple, we met several monks. Alan was able to converse with them in Thai, and was able to politely ask if it would be acceptable for us to photograph them. This was a great opportunity for stimulating portraits of several monks at a Buddhist monastery in the jungle. Wat Tham Pha Plong was definitely our favorite stop of the weekend, despite the 600-step climb up. The view was worth it! Walking the path was not as strenuous as we’d expected either, and we got to see a lot of interesting and beautiful flora, and even a little fauna (hello, giant spider!).

It was a fantastic day of photography, hiking and food. Alan’s knowledge of fine art photography, northern Thailand, and the Thai language allowed for a day that we wouldn’t have been able to provide on our own. Chiang Dao was a good chance to explore the more rural side of Thailand, and to fill our lungs with fresh misty mountain air. If you’re planning a visit, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and pack extra camera batteries if you have an itchy shutter finger, as there are a plethora of gorgeous subjects to capture. All in all, an excellent day of photography and culture with Alan MacArthur, and very highly recommended!

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