Wan­der­lust Photo of the Year: the win­ners re­turn

The win­ners of 2016’s Wan­der­lust Photo of the Year com­pe­ti­tion were sent on the pho­tog­ra­phy com­mis­sion of a life­time to the tem­ples, is­lands and wild parks of Thai­land. Here are the thrilling results…

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

The win­ners of the 2016 Wan­der­lust Photo of the Year com­pe­ti­tion are back from their Thai­land com­mis­sion with some in­cred­i­ble shots – we catch up with them to see how they got on…

From shim­mer­ing white-sand shores to the com­pelling his­tory of its an­cient tem­ple com­plexes, Thai­land has long been seen as one of travel’s golden lo­ca­tions. But it’s not just its gilded rep­u­ta­tion that draws vis­i­tors. Whether gaz­ing on the lush emer­ald palms that shade its beaches, the neon streaks that are splashed across the sky­scrapers of Bangkok or the limpid-blue wa­ters that rip­ple around the leafy coast, Thai­land is a gift to trav­el­ling pho­tog­ra­phers.

This is a coun­try that pro­vides a wealth of colour­ful ex­pe­ri­ences. For visit­ing lens lovers, its land­scapes are just one facet of its ap­peal. Away from the end­less scenic hori­zons, plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for spec­tac­u­lar shots await amid the crum­bling tem­ples, the in­quis­i­tive hill tribes of the north and the many bustling mar­kets.

This is why Thai­land was the ideal des­ti­na­tion to send three of the win­ners of our 2016 Wan­der­lust Travel Photo of the Year com­pe­ti­tion. Our trio went in search of wild vis­tas, busy ur­ban life and an ex­otic melt­ing pot of cul­tures far be­yond the beach hon­ey­pots that most vis­i­tors en­joy, and what they found ex­ceeded all ex­pec­ta­tions.

In­quis­i­tive wildlife

With such a rich ar­ray of land­scapes, it’s no sur­prise that Thai­land is teem­ing with wildlife – much more than it’s given credit for. Ele­phants slink through the misty moun­tains of Chi­ang Mai, myr­iad birdlife twit­ters in the jun­gles of Khao Sok Na­tional Park and macaques chat­ter on the trop­i­cal isle of Koh Phangan. While wildlife tourism in Thai­land makes some trav­ellers wary, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to un­savoury ele­phant-rid­ing tours, our win­ners were re­ally im­pressed with how the coun­try is pro­mot­ing more eth­i­cal ven­tures.

“My most mem­o­rable mo­ments were in the ele­phant sanc­tu­ar­ies of Kan­chanaburi,” says Ju­lia Wain­wright, win­ner of the Wildlife cat­e­gory. “Learn­ing about the ac­tions be­ing taken to re­duce their ex­ploita­tion, visit­ing two very dif­fer­ent res­cue cen­tres and even play­ing a small part in look­ing af­ter some ele­phants was a mind-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

But wildlife in Thai­land isn’t al­ways found in the wildest places. “A great pho­to­graphic mo­ment came in Lop­buri, where we were tak­ing pic­tures of the macaques that had made the town their home. I chat­ted to one lo­cal who, de­spite the fact they raided their homes at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity, seemed to treat them like they were his ex­tended fam­ily.”

Warm & friendly lo­cals

Thai­land is a place much her­alded for its im­pres­sive scenery and an­cient his­tory, but it’s the lo­cals that re­ally bring this coun­try to life. “I was re­ally im­pressed by the warm hos­pi­tal­ity of the Thai peo­ple,” ex­plains Travel Icon win­ner Sang­hami­tra Sarkar.

For Sang­hami­tra, Thai­land was a coun­try that of­fered a di­verse and en­chant­ing mix of hu­man in­ter­ac­tion. Nowhere was this bet­ter felt than dur­ing the lantern fes­ti­val of Yi Peng, where a blend of peo­ple (and not just those from Thai­land) came to­gether to re­lease thou­sands of glow­ing dots into the sky. It was an ex­pe­ri­ence she counted as one of her most in­deli­ble; lanterns be­came the theme for her ad­ven­ture, hav­ing also wit­nessed a group of monks re­leas­ing them from Wat Phan Tao tem­ple in Chi­ang Mai.

Lovely land­scapes

For Christo­pher Roche, win­ner of the Peo­ple cat­e­gory, Thai­land of­fered a whole new chal­lenge. Or­di­nar­ily, Christo­pher would be drawn to a des­ti­na­tion’s hu­man cul­ture, but in­stead he found an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent muse in the coast: “My favourite spot was the is­land of Koh Yao Noi be­cause even though it was small, it was re­ally easy to get off the beaten track.”

It wasn’t just the ru­ral side of Thai­land that caught the eye (and lens) of our win­ners. “I loved the city of Chi­ang Mai be­cause of its large num­ber of beau­ti­ful tem­ples dot­ted through­out,” adds Christo­pher. Cer­tainly, any­one look­ing to see an­other side of this an­cient coun­try would agree.

Di­verse won­ders

As our three com­pe­ti­tion win­ners dis­cov­ered, Thai­land is full of epic ex­pe­ri­ences. “There is some­thing to see around ev­ery cor­ner,” says Ju­lia, “whether it was the hus­tle and bus­tle of Bangkok or the quiet soli­tude of the na­tional parks and vil­lages in be­tween.”

For the bulk of ad­ven­tur­ous trav­ellers, the chance to ex­plore be­yond packed beaches and un­ravel a coun­try filled with wild de­lights, com­pelling cul­ture and, above all, friendly lo­cals is what draws them to Thai­land. And, to the de­light of all three of our com­pe­ti­tion win­ners, that’s ex­actly what they found.

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