UNESCO World Heritage
Southeast Asia Photo Tour Workshop
Thailand, Laos, Cambodia
David Lazar is one of the world’s foremost travel photographers
— Practical Photography Magazine
Welcome to our Southeast Asia Unleashed! photo tour spectacular. The heart of Southeast Asia’s photogenic best is definitely a ‘bucket lister’ for any travel photography enthusiast interested in Asia, or at least it should be!
The UNESCO World Heritage sites you’ll get inside access to are the ancient temple ruins of Ayutthaya, Thailand; the idlyllic French colonial Mekong River town of Luang Prabang, Laos; and the magnificent Khmer Empire temples and monasteries of Angkor Wat & Environs, Cambodia. To any of you thinking, “been there, done that”, please check out this Photography Life article and images, and consider a reboot!
You might think that visiting three countries in two weeks means a lot of rushing around and waiting in airports, but this is not the case. While the schedule is full and packed with photo ops, these countries are all adjacent to each other. The flights are short, and visas and immigration are normally quite easy. In Thailand it’s free and available on arrival, for most nationalities. Laos & Cambodia are also visa on arrival. The trip starts and finishes in Bangkok, where round trip tickets from just about anywhere can be had at good prices.
“The Southeast Asia photo tour was great! It’s always such a pleasure to travel with David Lazar. I was doubtful that I would get good photographic opportunities in the tourist spots, but I have to change my mind: we went against the flow and off the beaten track as much as possible. In so doing I got some shots that I can define as “unique”, in places photographed millions of times. I think this is quite an achievement!!” – Paul D’, Switzerland
Luminous Journeys’ “prime directive” is to always put our guests’ image making first and foremost, thereby ensuring that you get the utmost out of your Southeast Asia photo tour experience. Any travel photographer, novice to semi-pro, stands to gain a tremendous amount from working with an outstanding professional, insightful teacher, and all around great guy like David Lazar. David is a Nat Geo contributor and widely published travel photographer with a number of major awards to his credit. But what matters most here is that he's the hardest working photo tour leader in the business, and sincerely cares that your goals and expectations for the trip are met or surpassed. So come on over, you're in great hands!
Golden Temples of Exotic Bangkok
Lux Welcome Dinner Party in Bangkok near Wat Arun, Chao Phraya River
Private Photo Session w/ Mekong Elephants
World Heritage Site of Ayutthaya
World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat + Extraordinary Hidden Temples
Remote Akha Tribal Village & Tea Plantation
World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, Laos
The Warm & Welcoming People of Southeast Asia
Amazing Southeast Asian Cuisine!
Southeast Asia Photo Tour Adventure
Day 1 – Bangkok – Welcome to the Land of Smiles!
While some of you will arrive a day early to get acclimated, those arriving today should try to do so by 1 pm, if possible. David Lazar will conduct an orientation & slideshow at 3 pm at the hotel. Afterwards you’ll continue with a more informal orientation at a local watering hole. As the sun drops, your first Southeast Asia photo tour photo op will be magnificent Wat Arun on the Chao Phraya River. A sumptuous Thai Welcome Dinner follows.
Day 2 – Bangkok – Ayutthaya – Wat Po and UNESCO!
After a rooftop breakfast with river views, photograph the gorgeous multi-temple grounds of Wat Po & its massive reclining Buddha. Return to hotel for photography discussion and a little free time before heading to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ayutthaya. David has arranged shoots at a minimum two prime ruin locations, the first with monks in orange robes and the second during sunset at a magnificent ancient temple location.
Day 3 – Ayutthaya – Chiang Rai – Blissful Buddha & Temples Wild
This morning visit an old monastery with a giant interior seated Buddha, plus many Buddha rooms for environmental portraiture with Buddhist monks. Then it’s about an hour and a half drive to the airport for the flight to the far north and beautiful Chiang Rai. Photograph the oddly ornate white temple of Wat Rong Khun which has to be seen to be believed. It’s brilliant blue counterpart at twilight is perhaps more so! Great dinner spot on the river follows.
Day 4 – Chiang Rai – Mae Salong – Tribal Portraits and a Tea Plantation
As travel photographers it’s sometimes necessary to capture high quality images in touristy locations. But that does not mean it cannot be fun. This morning’s envoronmental portrait sessions with Padaung (brass neckrings) and Lahu (stretched earlobes) tribes present a great opportunity to see how David Lazar works the scene. And as always you are free to go off on your own. Last year we had to pry participants out of the village!
Day 5 – Mae Salong – Equestrian Monks & Remote Akha Village
Optional visit to a rainforest monastery where the monks do their alms rounds on horseback. We have to leave quite early, so if you are not up for it you can sleep in and enjoy breakfast on your private balcony with awesome views. Return from the monastery for an early lunch, then it’s off to a remote Akha village that has only ever been visited by foreigners once before – by us! Photograph ladies in colorful traditional Akha clothing working the remote mountain tea plantation.
Day 6 – Mae Salong – Luang Prabang, Laos – Sunrise & High Skies
Sunrise landscapes in this simply gorgeous mountain location, flight time permitting. Return to the airport for the flight to Laos and the World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, which could not be more charming or picturesque. Golden hour free shoot in around a cluster of beautiful temples and monasteries before a glorious dinner and adult beverages overlooking the Mekong River.
Day 7 – Luang Prabang – Sunrise Alms & Turquoise Waterfalls
Every morning all over Laos Buddhist monks leave the monastery with their alms bowls in single file lines to receive alms of rice, other foods, or money. In Luang Prabang, with so many monasteries in close proximity, the number of monks is in the hundreds! Then head for the stunning Kuang Si Waterfalls and its numerous turquoise pools set in the rainforest. Built for silky slow shutter speed waterscapes. Have lunch at the falls and on the return, photograph at our favorite little Hmong village. Free time and/or afternoon shoot in Luang Prabang.
Day 8 – Luang Prabang – Elephants, Editing & Free Time
We meet with six mahouts & their marvelous Asian elephants this morning for their bath in the Mekong River. This is a private photo shoot near the retreat, and not open to the public. Once the exciting photography at the river is over, it will be time to feed & commune with the gentle giants. This includes Lao’s only White Elephant, who has quite the funny personality. These are rescue elephants (except for the baby) and very well taken care of. The rest of the day is free to do as you please in this idyllic town. David will hold image review and offer Photoshop help for those interested.
Day 9 – Luang Prabang – Siem Reap, Cambodia– Sunrise River to Angkor
This morning photograph Buddhist monks in orange robes walking along the river and then crossing the Mekong back to their monastery. A river life free shoot follows as time allows. Return to the hotel for check-out and then it’s back to the airport for the flight to Siem Reap and the mind blowing temples of the ancient Khmer Empire.
Day 10 – Angkor Wat & Environs – The Ancient Road Less Traveled
There were some amazing temples built by the Khmer before Angkor, which today are seldom visited. Some are clad in great tree roots similar to Ta Prohm, only there are no obstacles to good photography. We’ll photograph with locals and/or monks at two such temples today, as well as explore a rural delta village & take a relaxing sunset photo cruise to wrap the shooting day.
Day 11 – Angkor Wat Central - Of Temples & Goddesses
Today is about learning the strategies & techniques of shooting effectively in and around the maddening crowd. We go against the flow as much as possible, and otherwise dodge & weave various locations to offer you the very best image opportunities available. For those who want to capture the classic Angkor Wat sunrise, we depart the hotel at 4:30 am to secure the prime shooting positions. We also have a little known angle for sunrise shortly after the classic.
Day 12 – Angkor Wat & Environs - Return to the Road Less Traveled
Return to the road less traveled and some stunning, rarely visited forest temples, with local monks. In between are some rural villages to explore Khmer life in the authentic. Arrive back in time for an afternoon at the Bayon to get those “must have” shots. Nearby where tourists take no notice, water blessings of locals (and even their motorbikes!) are performed by monks, which are fun captures to get.
Day 13 – Siem Reap – Bangkok – Time to Say Farewell ?
The flight from Siem reap is scheduled to arrive late morning into Bangkok. Your return flight home therefore should allow time for any possible delay. If you cannot find a flight time that works for you, you can spend the night at an airport hotel and leave the next morning. There is a short stay hotel inside the airport called Boxtel. The closest real hotel is Novotel, 400 meters away.
*Please note the above itinerary is only a brief and subject to change, if necessary or for the better. A 30+ page detailed schedule and information kit concerning traveling on your Southeast Asia photo tour will be sent to all participants approximately 100 days prior to tour start date.
What’s Included in the Price of Your Southeast Asia Photo Tour?
Photographer fees and top English speaking guide
4 flights, airport & ground transport
All meals (Day 1 dinner to Day 13 breakfast)
Ample bottled water & refresh towels throughout
All entrance, zone and camera fees
Local model and/or village donations
International airfare to/from your home country
Drinks @ lunches & dinners
Trip cancellation or medical insurance
Gratuities – porters, local guide/driver
End of trip gratuities for photographer tour leader
More Knowledge – Better Pictures
The Khmer Dynasty
The Khmer kingdom was the largest and most sophisticated in the world for over 4 centuries, from about 800 – 1200 AD, covering a contiguous area that included present day Cambodia, large swaths of Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, and parts of Myanmar and Malaysia. At its height Angkor Thom (the ancient city that contains Angkor Wat) was over 115 square miles, and the largest pre-industrial complex in existence, larger than modern New York. Its population was nearly 1 million, while at the same time London had all of about 20,000! No written record of the empire exists. Its history is understood only through royal inscriptions on stone temples; archaeological excavation; stone reliefs of palace life, military marches, market scenes and everyday life; and reports from outside travelers and officials.
While centuries of Khmer temples can be found in many places within Cambodia as well as neighboring countries, most of the best are near the town of Siem Reap, where the crown jewel of Angkor Wat stands. The visiting photographer should take note that although Angkor in high season is packed with tourists, that many other grand and worthy temples see very few if any tourists at all! It’s all about timing during the day, and being willing to explore off the beaten path locations the way Luminous Journeys does. Here’s an article and images offering tips at shooting in and around Angkor.
Thai Buddhism – On the Street
Buddhism in Thailand is almost exclusively Theravadan and is interwoven throughout the society. Virtually every house, business, shopping mall, grocery store, and government building has a “spirit house” shrine on the premises, usually in front. If you see a lone Thai on the street putting their hands together in a “wai” and bowing slightly, you will most likely see a spirit house. The spirit house is tended daily with offerings to the Buddha and a various spirits. Offerings are commonly flower garlands, rice, fruits and things to drink, including soft drinks.
In the early mornings and sometimes later, you will see orange robed monks making their alms rounds with large black lacquer bowls supported by slings. These bowls filled by people in front of homes and businesses located in the neighborhood of a monastery, provide a portion and sometimes all the food monks eat. Their last meal of the day is lunch, typically served at 11:30 am. Those offering alms daily (mostly rice and fruit) become known and an alms route is formed. In the far north (a place we visit on tour) they make their rounds through the rainforest on horseback. Often but not always, monks chant a blessing to the alms giver. It’s a lovely sound and sight to experience early in the morning. And they don’t object if you take photographs.