111 Photos - Jan 5, 2014
Photo: A family trip to Thailand and Cambodia for the last two weeks of December, 2013.

Unless otherwise noted, the pictures in the first half of this album were shot with the Sony NEX-7 and 18-200mm zoom lens and processed in Lightroom. However, there are also pictures taken by the Google Nexus 5 in HDR+ mode, and by the end of the trip, I had largely set aside the NEX-7 in favor of the smartphone - it was easier to carry and use, took equally good pictures as long as I didn't need a special lens, and took better pictures in low light because it uses burst-mode computational photography.

Pictured here is the Wat Phra Kaeo temple complex on the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. From left to right are the The Phra Mondop library, the bell-shaped Phra Si Rattana Chedi containing a piece of the Buddha's breastbone, and the multi-roofed Bot of the Emerald Buddha.Photo: Closeup of the Phra Mondop library. Although built in the late 1700's, these buildings have been restored to near-pristine condition. Zeiss 24mm prime lens.Photo: The Bot of the Emerald Buddha, the most sacred temple in Thailand.Photo: Every inch of its exterior walls are covered with gold, mother-of-pearl, and colored glass mosaics.Photo: These gargoyle-like creatures are "garudas" - half-bird, half-human.Photo: The entrance to the Bot is guarded by "singhas" - Cambodian-style stone lions.  Zeiss 24mm.Photo: This entrance is also a standard place for group photos: Adrienne and boyfriend Stephen, shoeless as required for a Buddhist temple.Photo: Laurie.  Zeiss 24mm lens.Photo: A side entrance to the Bot, shot with Sony's new 10-18mm wide-angle zoom lens for the NEX cameras.Photo: Decorating the inside wall of the cloisters whose exterior is visible in the first shot are these painted and gilt panels. They depict stories from the Ramakien, Thailand's version of the Hindu epic Ramayana.Photo: A beguiling group of gilt statues on the terrace nearby.  Leica 50mm/2.0 Summicron-M lens.Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: Although not gilt, this guard at the nearby secular palace stood nearly as still as the statues while I photographed him.Photo: A covered gallery northwest of the palacePhoto: The amulet market nearby.Photo: Laurie and Adrienne plot our next move at a terrace restaurant overlooking the Chao Phraya river. Nexus 5 in HDR+ mode.Photo: The Rama VIII cable-stayed bridge across the river, with extra "webbing" provided at night by green lasers.Photo: Another sort of Buddha, gracing a restaurant in the slightly seedy Rambuttri Alley. Nexus 5/HDR+Photo: From left to right: Laurie, Julia, Benjamin, Adrienne and Stephen.  HDR+ mode returned a remarkably clean shot despite lighting dim enough that Laurie's face is illuminated mostly by the candle in front of her.Photo: Our next stop was Siem Reap, Cambodia, a sleepy French colonial town that is now the crowded tourist gateway to the ruins of Angkor Wat. Nexus 5/HDR+Photo: A fruit stand in the Old Market.  The fruit at lower left are short bananas, not plantains (I believe). Next to the vendor is a pile of lychee (or longan?) still in their tough brown skins. Nexus 5/HDR+Photo: At night Siem Reap's Pub Street mixes eastern and western signage in a glitzy melange, made even glitzier for Christmas eve.  Again, HDR+ mode shows its prowess in low light.Photo: Returning from the profane to the sacred (and from the Nexus 5 to the Sony NEX-7), these are the ruins of Angkor Wat. Built in the early 12th century as the centerpiece of the Khmer empire, it is the largest religious building in the world.Photo: The inner gallery is unfortunately closed to the public, perhaps because its steps (visible behind the barricade at right) are dangerously steep. Sony 10-18mm zoom lens.Photo: Although I've wanted to visit Angkor Wat since learning about it in architecture school, I found the massive ruin to be surprisingly uninspiring.Photo: I was, however, impressed by the exquisite architectural carvings, although you had to imagine how they looked when the temple was intact.Photo: I found the outer galleries more appealing, perhaps because they interfaced closely with nature.Photo: The day was hot and hazy, which makes photography difficult.  I had to look for ways to make the haze work for me.Photo: Hazy sunlight filtered through an opening is great for available-light portraiture.Photo: A lunch break of coconut and sticky rice. The rice is stuffed into a section of bamboo pole, and eaten by peeling the pole a few inches at a time. Nexus 5/HDR+Photo: The square moat that surrounds Angkor Wat, visible at left, is 2.2 miles on a side.  Given the vast scale, the best way from site to site is by bicycle. Nexus 5/HDR+Photo: Bicycles made it easy to explore the smaller outlying temples, which I found more suggestive than Angkor Wat. This is the entrance to Banteay Kdei, watched over by an imposing four-headed Buddha.Photo: Without crowds of tourists, one could explore the narrow alleyways in peace. Turning a corner, one might encounter a delicate bas-relief like this one...Photo: ...or a pair of family members lounging by a window.Photo: A short walk through the jungle leads to the more famous ruins of Ta Prohm.Photo: This temple was built in the late 12th century. Nowhere else at Angkor is nature working faster to reclaim its territory from the hand of man.Photo: In this view (made famous by the movie Tomb Raider starring Angelia Jolie), the roots of giant fig trees split and topple the blocks.Photo: A good way to escape the tourists of Siem Reap is by renting a bicycle and wandering through the Cambodian countryside.  On this outing I took only my Nexus 5 smartphone (shocking!)  All shots use HDR+ mode.Photo: In stark contrast to Thailand, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia. Many people still live in houses without electricity or modern sanitation.Photo: A traditional ox-cart, but evidentally still used (note the fresh tracks). Look at the cart closely; its construction is subtle and complicated. What is the function of the lashings that pass beneath the axle near its center?Photo: Biking south from Siem Reap, the jungle gradually gives way to rice paddies.Photo: Spaced along the road are open lodges with hammocks, presumably for farmworkers.Photo: Rice paddies in turn give way to the wetlands surrounding Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and a part of the vast Mekong river system.Photo: In the dry season the lake level falls, leaving these houses and walkways perched on spindly poles.Photo: The road ends at the lake, where fishermen eke out a living in floating houses. Further out in the lake are entire villages of such houses, which one can visit by boat.  However, at this point we were in tourist-avoidance mode, so we skipped that tour.Photo: Back in Thailand. Adrienne and Stephen are professional ornithologists, and they specifically wanted to explore Southeast Asia's upland rain forests. This is Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, near the northern city of Chiang Mai. Resuming use of the Sony NEX-7.Photo: It's surprisingly hard to photograph a rain forest; one must look for a clearing in order to see any distance.Photo: Monthatharn falls, shot with an ND16 neutral density filter, which provides 4 f/stops of darkening. This permits a 0.6 second exposure, blurring the water.Photo: A smaller nearby waterfall - 1 second with an ND16 filter.Photo: We hired an open-back taxi for the day - basically a pickup truck with benches and a roof. Julia enjoys riding shotgun.  Seat belts?  Who needs seat belts?! Nexus 5/HDR+ (next few shots)Photo: After watching us struggle to remove the meat from a coconut, our taxi driver deftly slits a reed with his machete...Photo: ...and shows us how to bend it into a U-shape to scoop out the meat. The materials one needs are readily at hand in nature, if one knows how to make use of them.Photo: Our destination was Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a pilgrimage temple on the shoulder of Doi Suthep mountain. Back to the Sony NEX-7.Photo: Devout Buddhists circumnavigate the central tower ("chedi") 3 times while reciting prayers. Stitched panorama using the Zeiss 24mm lens.Photo: The chedi is plated with gold, presenting a blinding sight in the tropical sun. Zeiss 24mm.Photo: Photo: More beguiling statuesPhoto: Our self-directed "tour" ended by visiting a village belonging to the Hmong, one of the hill tribes of northern Thailand.Photo: A traditional Hmong thatched hut.Photo: The interior of a (restored) house.Photo: Locals wearing traditional dress (for special occasions and tourists). The faces of the Hmong are noticeably rounder than is typical in Thailand, even accounting for the age of these children.Photo: Chiang Mai is a city of temples:

1. Wat Chedi Luong (old temple), constructed in the 14th century. Most of the elephants are modern replicas. Sony 10-18mm.Photo: 2. Wat Chedi Luong (new temple). Nexus 5/HDR+Photo: Interior of the same temple. Back to the NEX-7.Photo: Photo: One can buy squares of gold foil and affix them to this statue, which stands near the entrance of the temple.Photo: 3. Wat Phra Singh, the largest temple in the old city.Photo: Here one can buy sheaves of Thai currancy and hang them from an overhead grid of wires as a donation to the temple.Photo: To one side of the shrine are statues of famous (historical) monksPhoto: Yes this is also a statue, probably wax.Photo: 4. Wat Phan Tao, a small temple with an exquisite wood interior. Sony 10-18mm lens.Photo: Donation bowls.Photo: Shedding shoes before entering a temple. This picture and the rest of the album were shot using the Nexus 5 in HDR+ mode, except for a few GoPro stills and videos as noted.Photo: Thai street food (yum!)Photo: A "cooking school" on the street during the "Sunday night market".Photo: The smiles of Thailand at the Sunday night market.Photo: A second shot, taken a moment later. Notice the thumbs-up and the V-sign. This is a cheerful people.Photo: The last stop on our trip was Koh Lanta, an island in southern Thailand, to the east of Phuket (and less crowded with tourists). One reaches the island on this creaky old ferry.Photo: In the porch light of our bungalow (seen from below), three geckos stake out their territory. Turning on the light attracts insects, which keeps the geckos well fed.Photo: A highlight of going to Thailand was an all-day snorkling trip from Koh Lanta to the uninhabited island of Koh Haa. Here the speedboat from "Dive & Relax" picks us up at the beach.Photo: After a 45-minute ride, the speedboat approaches Koh Haa.Photo: The water was clear, and the fish and corals were colorful, but you had to hold your breath and dive close to them to overcome the sea's blue-green tint and see the colors in their full glory. GoPro Hero3 (head-mounted).Photo: The GoPro's waterproof housing introduced chromatic aberration in the corners, even at medium field of view (instead of wide), and even after cropping. Next time I'll consider a professional underwater camera.Photo: Mermaid #1: AdriennePhoto: who is evidentally enjoying herself.Photo: These still pictures don't do justice to the magic of swimming in these waters...Video: ...but maybe this video helps... (with sound)Photo: Shooting above water with the GoPro still in its waterproof housing is not recommended - the image quality is poor - but it gives an idea of what Koh Haa's lagoon and beach look like.Photo: Mai Thai's, mojitos, and coconut smoothies after a successful but tiring day of snorkling.  Back to the Nexus 5/HDR+Video: A French family releasing a candle lantern balloon on New Year's Eve.  (We saw hundreds, and of course we released a few ourselves.)Photo: The next day Laurie and I rented 4-cycle mopeds and explored Koh Lanta.  Motorcycling is fun!Photo: The interior of the island is heavily cultivated. In the distance is a palm oil plantation (I think).Photo: Here is a plantation of young rubber trees.Photo: When the trees are mature they are tapped to collect the sap, called latex, which is the primary ingredient in natural rubber.Photo: Sand bar and islet at low tide during golden hour.Photo: The southern tip of Koh Lanta is mountainous, densely forested, and full of monkees.Photo: Sunset glimpsed through a rare opening in the canopy.Photo: An open-air restaurant perched on a bluff.  There are mosquitos, but the ocean breeze keeps them at bay.Photo: On our last day we took a ferry to the famous, glitzy, and crowded island of Ko Phi Phi. As the ferry left Koh Lanta we noticed this quirky hostel, constructed largely on pilings.  Note the man doing yoga on the terrace roof at left.Photo: An easy way to avoid the crowds on Ko Phi Phi is by renting kayacks and taking them around to the back side of the island.Photo: The cliffs tower a thousand feet over the oceanPhoto: Adrienne and StephenPhoto: Julia and BenjaminPhoto: The classic view of Ko Phi Phi: white-sand beach, a blue-green sea, long-tail boats, and distant cliffs.Photo: The family squeezes into a hot, over-crowded ferry for the ride back to Koh LantaPhoto: Sunset in the tropicsPhoto: Seen through the taxi windshield on the way back to Krabi airport.Photo: Bunches of palm oil kernels fill a truck on the ferry.Photo: A final virtuoso HDR+ picture from the Nexus 5 - sunrise as we board the plane for San Francisco.