Max Salk’s Travel Diaries — Thailand

As part of my continued desire to pursue landscape photography as a passion project, foreign lands often present the most profound results. Particularly, during my exploration of Thailand and Laos, I was inspired by the local landscape, culture, and unique viewpoint of being a tourist thrust into the everyday lives of local residents. My variety of new experiences and landscapes naturally opened the doors to capturing thoughtful photographs, and left me with great memories.

After first arriving and spending a week in Bangkok, I then made it to Northern Thailand, where I stayed with a local family, and experienced daily life in this part of the world. Though a luxurious hotel stay can be memorable, I preferred the prospect of staying with locals. Not only did this provide a meaningful way of learning about different people and cultures, but it offered the opportunity to discover parts of the country or region that tourism agencies may not highlight.

During my stay in Northern Thailand, I was fortunate to be able to volunteer my time in the construction of a local mud-brick building that would eventually house village artifacts, essentially acting as a local museum. Throughout this time, I captured the process via photographs, and tried to take in the moment, recognizing my place in creating something long-lasting.

As an active individual, I constantly find myself trying new exercise routines, pursuing outdoor adventures, and working toward remaining physically active, no matter where I may find myself. With the old adage “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” at the forefront of my mind, I couldn’t think of a more fitting time to partake in a traditional Muay Thai martial arts class. Though much of the recorded Muay Thai artifacts were destroyed upon the Burmese attack on Thailand in the 14th century, the whole-body discipline has rich roots in the country. Using the body to mimic the effectiveness of traditional weaponry, Muay Thai is studied by millions. Though an amateur at best, my traditional Muay Thai class was inspiring, difficult, and left me with the desire to learn more about this ancient practice with modern implementations.

Of course, in seeking natural beauty throughout the vast landscapes of Thailand, I recognized that I needed to go out, venture forth, and capture the wilderness. With this in mind, I hiked with our small travel group through the dense Thai jungle in search of an environment completely unadulterated by human influence. Across grassy flatlands, steep mountainside hills, and muddy wetlands, I trekked through some truly beautiful and unforgiving land.

I then headed for Laos, where my first stop was Luang Prabang, in the northern part of the country. Serving as the country’s capital until 1975, Luang Prabang has been home to countless residents for thousands of years, making it a location rich with history and artifacts. Known for its Buddhist temples, the location is incredibly well-preserved, and contains historical elements of architecture, religious monuments, and other aesthetically notable locations. Though I could have happily spent several days in the ancient city, my journey was only beginning.

From Luang Prabang,I then began what was supposed to be a four hour bus trip to Vang Vieng, Laos, centrally located on the Nam Song River. Surrounded by rich limestone mountains and caves, I was eager to get to my destination, and begin exploring. However, travel karma had different plans in store. After our bus broke down, our group was finally back on the road again after a few hours. Of course, this singular stretch of bad luck would have been too easily forgotten, and we were met with further delays, rendering our bus literally stuck on a mountainside road due to a massive landslide that had blocked the road. With no feasible way to move forward, I made the fateful choice to exit the bus, and hitch hiked back to Luang Prabang with an exceptionally welcoming family. This humbling experience brought me close to a group of strangers who showed me hospitality, grace, and kindness. Due to their welcoming nature, I considered this fateful trip to be a meaningful part of my journey through Laos and Thailand.

Throughout my experiences in Thailand and Laos, I regularly witnessed the best of humanity, as locals not only allowed for my safe passage and stay, but demonstrated nothing short of grace, kindness, and dignity. I was made to feel welcomed, a feat that is sometimes difficult to accomplish for a traveler abroad in a foreign country. I welcomed every adventure, and sought to capture the scenic beauty along the way. Throughout my trip, I continued to recognize the value of leaving the “known” behind, and venturing to places that are outside the span of one’s comfort zone.

Investment analyst and landscape photographer based in NYC. Interested in financial markets, travel, music, and sports (go Cubs!).