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Old December 7th, 2010, 06:41 PM   #1
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Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Posts: 204
Thailand / Burma Border

I've got a trip scheduled next year to the troubled border of Thailand / Burma. We would be on the Thailand side mostly, flying into Bangkok.

Anyone ever been there with gear? Anything to watch out for?

We are probably going to be going to the warzone of Thailand/Burma to document the horrible genocide of the Karen people and hopefully be able to help them out somehow.

I think I'll leave the EX1s at home, but the 7D seems like just the camera to take, plus lenses. But then I start freaking out about getting them stolen or confiscated, etc.... I've got a good collection of nice lenses that I would normally take along on a trip here in the States, but I'm uncertain what all I should take with me there as this would be my first big international trip with gear.

I don't want to stand out any more than I already will, but I don't want to get all the way over there and have to get just a decent shot when I could get "money shots" with the right (expensive) lenses.

Anyone got any tips?
Lloyd Ubshura is offline   Reply With Quote
Old December 8th, 2010, 12:05 AM   #2
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Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: Kanto Plain (関東平野), Japan
Posts: 682
Fantastic Idea!

The economy right now is not good, so crime is way up. The thieves don't do "hold-ups", they simply shoot you in the head and take what they want. The King has health issues and is in his 80's. When the throne passes to his grand-son, I'd avoid visiting there until things settled down.

Be wary of taxi drivers. Know where you're going and the route. I carry a map and GPS and a local cell phone. Don't let the driver decide where you're going, don't ask them for hotel recommendations, etc. It's common for them to get kickbacks for bringing you to various establishments. But worse then that, if you're not careful, they will drive you down an alley and, usually with the aid of an accomplice, rob you. Of course, not all drivers are bad, but I use the same guys over and over. For your first time, I'd say talk to the manager of a large hotel or other reputable business for a driver recommendation. Give a price range you're willing to pay. I typically pay $100/day for a driver. And by this I mean for 24 hours of service. Get someone who can help carry your equipment and then tip them well after each day. They will take good care of you. If something happens to you, you're never seen again, the authorities will start by questioning your driver.

Best thing is to have a local with you. If not a driver, then maybe you can do like me and get some college students to accompany you. Pay their food and lodging, give them $100/day and you're set. Your safety goes up by about 10X. Little notice is paid if a foreigner gets himself robbed or killed, but if harm is done on a Thai, then the police are more interested in catching the perps. You'll want a local who speaks decent English and is smart enough to know what to do in an emergency, like if you get stung by a jelly fish. You don't want someone who will panic and run off. I always take my driver even out to the islands and tell them where my passport is and that if anything happens to me, they'll be WELL compensated for getting me medical help.

Keep your gear concealed as much as you can. Don't wear expensive-looking clothes, jewelry.

Get a local cell phone and have the Tourist Police number on speed dial. I've foiled two robbery attempts on myself by simply pulling out my phone and threatening to call the tourist police. With the reputation of the taxi drivers well known, the tourist actually has a good chance of winning a dispute.

I met an ex-CEO of an airline who has been there 4 times and was robbed 4 times. No wonder. He was wearing a custom suit and shoes and had gold jewelry hanging all over him. The first time a tuk-tuk driver was planning to rob me, I had a video camera over one shoulder and a dSLR with my brand new Canon 70-200mm lens over my other shoulder. You really stand out walking or riding around like this. Most low-end workers make about $2,600/year. So, you're gear really looks good.

I would take all the gear you think you might need. This is a great opportunity. You might find yourself in an excellent situation and it would be a shame to go through all the risks and expense of getting there, then be limited by your scant gear. I typically carry $14,000 worth of gear, and I'm a friggin hobbyist.

Make a scanned copy of your passport photo page and put in your wallet, keep passport in hotel lock box.
Tell hotel where you are going each time you venture out to a risky location. Have good situational awareness and use your street smarts. Learn about the Thai customs, social do's and don'ts so you don't offend them.

Coolest time of year Nov-Jan. If you have the chance, visit the little-known museums in Siriraj Hospital (Forensic Museum, Museum of Human Anatomy).

I've enjoyed every one of my visits to the Kingdom of Thailand and plan to make many more. The people there are the kindest I've met in the world. Have a fun trip.

Mark Watson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old December 8th, 2010, 03:39 AM   #3
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Join Date: May 2008
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Posts: 378
Mark is spot-on in pointing out what to expect being a videographer first coming into the country. Especially important is having a reliable local assistant who can speak very good English so he (much better be a he than a she, believe me) can help you sort things out if you happen to run into any trouble. Also ideally this assistant should be a Thai local who speaks the native dialect, not just the central or official Thai dialect that the majority speak, of the border area you plan to spend your time in.

On the gear to bring, Mark is also right that it's not worth it to bring scant equipment for fear of loss or it being too conspicuous to the thieves or other undesirable elements. Bring enough gear that you think you can use. If I were you I would take the EX1 with basic but indispensable accessories like a tripod, monopod, a shotgun mic and either a back-up mic or a lav with a wireless system, a portable audio recorder such as a Zoom, a compact or two lights and maybe a wideangle adapter and a set of filters (Tiffen T1, clear protection, polarized etc.) and of course a back-up camera. The 7D or any DSLR for that matter would not be suitable for shooting in the kind of environment you plan to shoot in. The body may be light and compact but by the time you pimp it to be fully capable of shooting in such dangerous and uncontrollable environment, it would weigh too much, take too much time to pack and unpack or set up, attract too much attention from god-know-whom. The whole thing may just be too fiddly to grab the critical scenes you hope to come across. The EX1 will be much faster and get you more usable shots. The 7D's footage may be more cinematic or, simply speaking, more to your taste but you definitely will lose more shots.

Just my $0.02 and if you have any questions, post them on this thread or to my email. I and people like Mark will help you find the solutions. Good luck.
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