Ko Lanta, a rather large island separated from the mainland by a narrow channel, features a well-developed western coast with at least 100 resorts stretching over twenty five kilometers. The farther south you go the more mountainous the shore becomes, and thus the more remote the resorts begin to feel. By the time you get to the bottom of the island you’ll find resorts on beaches with only a dozen people out in the sand at a time – a truly secluded feel. The islands eastern coast features no beaches, and almost no tourist development, and there you can find village life proceeding normally, albeit with dozens of pink-skinned Europeans zipping by on their motorbikes taking in a tour of the island. Ko Lanta is said to be the best island for motorbiking in Thailand – a full circuit of the island takes about an hour and a half and is about 70 kilometers. It features beach riding, city riding, and winding mountain riding. I was on my bike at least an hour a day, often much more.
Scouting Compositions and Impromptu Portraits
My second morning on the island I got up at 5:45, put my photography backpack on, and got on my motorbike. It was dark, but still pleasantly warm. The humidity seems to drop a bit in the night and the sea breeze is surprisingly refreshing. I cruised down the narrow roads, climbing high ridges and then plunging down along beautiful beaches studded with large rocks. I stopped briefly for gas and as I waited the Muslim call to prayer issued forth on loud speaker, seeming to come from the depths of the jungle itself. It was another twenty minutes to the location I had scouted out the day before. Behind an abandoned public park on the outskirts of a fishing village was a large, decrepit, wooden fishing boat set up on a stand framed by a large bush on the right and a view to the sea on the left – all facing east – a perfect sunrise composition. As I set up my equipment, standing in a tidal mudflat strewn with a few large mangrove trees and longboats, an old villager approached pacing meditatively with his hands clasped behind his back. He wore a long plaid traditional wrap around his waist which extended down to his ankles. He came down off the walkway, surveying the equipment, then looked me in the eye and pointed to himself, “Me,” he said.
“Ahh, yes ok,” I answered back, pulling a couple Thai bows impulsively. I was so excited my hands were shaking a bit as I scrambled to reconfigure my equipment for a portrait. I had to set up my remote flash triggers, light stand, etc., which took several minutes. The old man grew disinterested and walked away, at which I nearly despaired. When I finished with the equipment I skip-sprinted* after him, urging him to return and throwing in a couple of Thai bows for good measure, although the bows were probably more humiliating than anything. The result speaks for itself, one of the photos I’m most proud of to date.
On the Beach
The beach was small, secluded. It was bordered on either side by high rock walls topped with jungle. There were only three small resorts on the beach and none of them were busy, so that during the day there were never more than twenty people out on the sand, moving slowly. The sun was oppressive, and after two days I was forced to avoid it for most of the day. Many peaceful moments were found sitting on the veranda, reading Burmese Days by Orwell, watching fat cicadas buzz about clumsily, the light coming off the sand glimmered onto their decorative scales, making them glow like little green lanterns in the shade.
*I’m still recovering from a skiing injury.