When my good friend Paul, a videographer for REI, called me up out of the blue and asked if I would be cool if REI could send Lisa (my fiance') and I to Thailand for a couple of weeks, I didn't really have to think before responding with a 'hell, yes!' Paul explained that our function on the trip would be pretty varied. We (and 6 friends) would be expected to model during shoots, help scout out locations, haul gear, fix lines (for climbing shoots) and play lens caddy while touring around the highlands and beaches of a pretty amazing country.
We knew the trip would be dramatically different than our typical travel style. The usual for us: collect baggage, find cab, get scammed by cab driver, inspect 5-7 different guest houses before realizing that we should have taken the first room, go back to the first guesthouse, get told that it's now booked out, settle for flea ridden room with a soggy mattress and lively ant population. We would then head to the nearest bar for some medicinal booze.
Anyway, this trip was based upon one of REI's highly acclaimed Thailand multi-sport Adventures Trip. Of course we would tailor the trip to accommodate the needs of the film/photo team (ie. lighting, shooting locations, etc) But it would more or less be an REI Adventures trip. Meaning we would have guides and vehicle support. These guides would ensure that our gear was cared for, our hotels were lined up and we always had a plan. And I gotta say, it was pretty nice to get spoiled while traveling for a change!
After an obscene amount of time spent in the air, we finally touched down in Chiang Mai where we met our most awesome guide: Pan. Pan scooped up our luggage, checked us into our rooms and steered us towards the infinity pool. A couple of glasses of champagne later, our jet-lag was a distant memory.
Whether on mountain bikes or packing around on foot, our shooting schedule took us everywhere from hill tribe villages to mountain-top temples shimmering in morning light. Alpine start was the theme of this trip and despite the early mornings heavy equipment and a stomach bug making the rounds, everyone's spirits stayed high and we had an absolute blast!
When we hopped back on a plane and headed south toward Phuket, we were working as a pretty cohesive group – our routine was dialed and we were having too much fun to be calling this work. We skipped around the Andaman Sea for a bit. Shooting kayak and paddle board scenes and exploring the occasional sea cave as we went. We then left the REI Adventures itinerary all together and headed off to the craggy Island of Koh Yao to shoot some climbing.
Because this is a relatively new area to Thailand's booming climbing scene, Koh Yao didn't draw quite the crowds of neighboring Railay and Tonsai. This was perfect as we didn't have to plan our shoots around massive, peak-season crowds.
The quality of this limestone is certainly on par with what one encounters in Krabi. Long, beautiful routes in the mid 6 to 7 range dotted upon marbled blue and orange stone. And every anchor offered sweeping views of turquoise sea.
One of the mornings, we decided to head out and try some deep water soloing. This is something that as a climber I've always wanted to try. I must admit that I while I'm not exactly afraid of heights, I do have a healthy respect of elevation. Needless to say, 5 meters off the water was pretty much my limit before making a plunge. Some of the others in our group decided to kick it up another level. Our friend Iris climbed nearly 30 meters before making her jump. No thanks, I like ropes.
So, all in all – awesome trip! Every time I go to Thailand, I love it more and more. And because I was there in an assisting role, I didn't have time to shoot much. But man, did I learn a ton! For two entire weeks I was given the opportunity to shadow two amazing photographers as they worked in the field. So, I consider that more than a fair trade.