Shooting on a tropical island - rough duty? Actually, yes - it's work. A bit about my 36 Hours in Koh Phangan.
As with most assignments I got about a weeks notice. I had a 4 day shoot in Malacca prior to so I would have to make my way from Malacca to Kuala Lumpur, then Bangkok to Koh Samui and on to Koh Phangan by ferry. I had 1 day to shoot the assignment and 6 connections to get there. I would travel on a Thursday, shoot Friday and part of Saturday, fly back to Penang Saturday night via Bangkok, edit and caption images Sunday and upload to the NYT's ftp so that they had the images Monday morning, December 24th.
Travel is always a little stressful and in this case I had no room for error. It was peak season and The Times needed the images before the Christmas holidays. A small screw up along the travel chain and I'd have some problems.
I had the article as a guide and made as many phone calls as I could to set up appointments and get a feel for the island. Although I had been to Koh Samui (which is adjacent to Koh Phangan) I had no idea what to expect from Koh Phangan (except it's well deserved reputation for sillyness) but figured with a little planning and some good luck I could find the 'anti-Phangan'.
I arrived at my hotel in Haad Rin at about 8:30pm on Thursday and immediately set about finding a car for the next day's excursions. I had choosen Haad Rin, not because I had hoped to party all night but because I planned to roughly circle the island starting first in the north east corner for sunrise and ending on the southwest end for sunset. Haad Rin was the halfway point and since it was a little larger I figured I would be assured of booking a reasonably priced car for the day and as luck would have it I was able to do just that. So all there was to do at this stage was grab a beer, have some dinner and set the alarm for a 4:30am wake up.
Next morning I poked my head out the door and hear the faint sounds of techno music. The driver shows up (right on time) and we make our way in the dark, past groups of late night (early morning?) partiers and off to our first appointment at Anantara Resort to catch the sunrise.
And it was an amazing sunrise (hightened by the smug feeling that I was up while others were just turning in for the night). So often I'll get up early for a 'non-event' sunrise but thankfully not this time. I gotta say that putting a few images in the bag early on (if even before my first cup of coffee) is a nice feeling.
By 7:30, was off to my next destination, shooting at the Buri Rasa Resort and along Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach (pictured above).I had made a noon appointment so my next order of business was to search out quiet, local destinations. Wat Khao Tham seemed to fit the bill so I stopped by and had a look around.
(Sculpture depicting an elephant and a monkey making an offering to Buddha. Wat Khao Tham).
(A resident monk at Wat Khao Tham).
The only problem with Wat Khao Tham is that the name sounded much like the Thai rice porridge khao tom and since I had not had breakfast yet (it was now approaching 11am) I figured it was time to find something tasty.
A roadside stop offering grilled chicken (gai yang), grilled pork (moo yang) and green papaya salad (som tom) fit the bill perfectly. A quick refresher and I was off to my next appointment at The Yoga Studio.
The Yoga Studio is owned and operated by Canadian transplant Melanie Schorr. Melanie told me that when she proposed to move to Koh Phangan with her Thai husband that his family argued against it saying that the island was full of 'druggies and criminals' but from her quiet end of the island they could not have been further from the truth.
Next up I hiked up to the Phaeng Waterfall. Admittedly it was dry season so not much happening at the falls but still a nice place to hike around and enjoy nature.
As afternoon approached I headed to the western side of the island checking out fishing harbors and hanging out briefly with a woman drying fish (below).
Heading to my 4pm appointment at the Kupu Kupu Resort I was surprised to learn that it was still under construction, but since I had made an appointment with the resort's manager they had happily set up a room (one of the images from Kupu Kupu ended up as the lead to the article).
With the sun starting to set I headed to my final destination, Beach Lounge and a walk along Thong Sala Beach.
This is often where it starts getting toughest in an assignment - that point where you've already had a super long day and you see others kicking back and you still have work to do.
Sunset and back to the hotel by 8-ish to grab dinner and download the days images. I felt like I had a pretty good range of images but since I had some time in the morning that I'd head out again with an eye for getting a sunrise landscape from the hilltop at Wat Khao Tham.
Out the door at 6am but no joy. Grey skies gave rise to rain and finally lightening chased me off Wat Khao Tham. I cruised up the coast a bit stopping at the Thongsala Market but really not much happening. Saturday had been the day - I felt lucky (and relieved). I returned to see my hotel for the first time in daylight (frankly it looked better at night..) packed up and headed for the ferry to Samui for the flight to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and home to Penang).
I submitted the images Monday (to a nice thumbs up from my editor,). In the end one image ran
but that's how it goes. It's work but I wouldn't have it any other way.