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10-30-2015, 11:56 AM   #1
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Gearing up for Southeast Asia

Hello all.

This is one of my first posts, despite having lurked on the forums for years. I usually find the answer I have been looking for without even asking. But this time I was hoping for some personalized advice.

I am heading to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos for 5 weeks. We will be in Bangkok, Ayutthaya, trekking through northern Chiang Mai (for a week), boating down the Mekong, in Luang Prabang, SIem Reap and spending a week in Koh Tao for beaches and SCUBA. We'll be presented with lots of street photography, ruins, wildlife, landscapes, etc. Indeed the variety is almost endless. I have been doing some research on sites to see, photographers I'm hoping to be able to emulate and conditions/times to watch for. Of course I would be remiss not to ask around for your opinions though.

My kit includes a K-3, 21mm limited, 40mm X-S and the Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4-5.8 ED WR. Tripod, GPS Unit, Filters, spare batteries, charger (plug converter) and cards are all packed.

What I am looking for feedback on is any tips on specific sites along that route, a piece of gear I may want to consider or perhaps leave behind, and any suggestions for a good camera bag. My current camera case was perfect for the K-X but the K-3 and 55-300mm combo is just a touch too large to fit comfortably.

I know, a lot to cover, but any thoughts you would have are appreciated.


10-30-2015, 01:27 PM   #2

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I used to live in SE Asia so I am really jealous of you right now.

If I was going on that trip myself I would take my three amigos (the three FA Limited lenses) and my newly acquired (as of yesterday) 16-85. For a tripod the sirui travel tripod (I forgot the exact name but Hieie did a review on it)...I have it and its great. Leave everything else at the house. Well except several spare batteries. Depending on how far off the beaten path you are going you will appreciate the batteries and twice as much memory cards as you think you will need.
10-30-2015, 05:31 PM   #3
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Add a grip to the K3 so that you have an extra battery on the camera. Buy a dozen top of the line AA batteries for the other holder to see you through when the two on camera batteries run out of juice: you can just change holders while you charge the D-li90's.
10-31-2015, 07:17 AM - 1 Like   #4

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Here is a bit more to think about... I actually developed my entire camera system based around trip(s) like the one you are taking, albeit maybe a little bit different. It all depends on where you are going and how hardcore and off the beaten path you want to go. Regardless it will be very valuable to be able to pack everything (and I mean everything) into a single bag. I personally have had the basic criteria since day one of my taking pictures (3 years ago) to be able to carry all of my photo gear plus a single backpack for my personal stuff while riding or driving a scooter. If it doesn't fit, lose it.

All too often people go on trips and they have these 'places' that they want to go to. That's all good and nice and nothing is wrong with that, but those 'travel days' to get from point A to point B in my opinion need to be appreciated more. It's like in my opinion ignoring base camp at Mount Everest merely because it's not the top of the mountain. In my opinion if you set out to enjoy the journey and go for that you will wind up with much more compelling pictures and you might have a little fun in the mean time too Of course you might not want to take photos of the airport waiting terminal, but once you are on the ground, if at all possible don't be scared to detour and stop. A lot of people get so wrapped up in their preset itinerary that they miss all the good stuff in between. This is especially true where you are going. It all depends on you and how much time you have. With 5 weeks available, that's pretty good.

My advice is to not plan. Have an idea of the stuff you want to do and see but go with the flow more. Fly in and lets say you go to Bangkok and have 5 days planned there. Well what if after two days you get bored because it's just not your scene? You can hop a bus or a flight or a train or whatever and be done with it. Over there rigid anything, especially schedules are not part of how people live. You will have more fun if you just kind of 'go with it'.

As for gear this is how all this stuff relates... I have started a few threads here and there about the 'nature' of zooms vs primes... I am a dyed in the wool prime user. Until recently I didn't own a zoom for daily shooting needs. (I tried them before and then when I discovered primes they got abandoned and sold a few years back)... Now though I can definitely see the light of having both. If you are cruising down a river in a canoe odds are the boat (or action) won't stop to suit your need to swap lenses or whatever. You need to be able to be a 'hunter' hence the zoom. On the flip side you want primes for when you get the chance to be a 'chef'. By 'hunter' I mean you can react and go for it even though everything might not be perfect. By 'chef' I mean you see a scene out somewhere and you can park your butt on a chair and compose and focus more on the fine art elements of photography and cook up what you desire. You might find a friendly local person that is willing to pose for a shot or something like that. Just have fun...and smile! But as for gear you can over do it.

I have a friend who is by all accounts a professional photographer... he is really good at what he does, but when he showed up to Africa he bought a donkey (yes a donkey) and a cart...he literally drove the mule around the countryside. He had an entire cart loaded up with who knows how much stuff. Given he had a specific purpose and he went into some very remote places not accessible by car, but he was carrying everything he needed to create a mobile studio. Given in his case this paid off in a big way because that turned out to be some of his best work, but for most of us we probably won't be towing a ton of stuff like that.

On balance I personally am no expert and I am always looking for better stuff, but the kit I mentioned above is a pretty good start for my needs. Of course there are always variables based on personal preference. That said, preference or not, most of the time the boat won't stop for you to get ready so plan accordingly.

10-31-2015, 08:33 AM - 1 Like   #5
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[RAMBLE WARNING]A bit of rambling from an old Pentaxian[/RAMBLE WARNING]

On several occasions I have recently taken advantage of the K3 and taken only the DA 12-24 and DA 55-300 with me, in a LowePro 100 AW sling bag. I have also done that with my previous camera, the K10 which only has 10 Mpx and is a bit more forgiving. I think that if I were taking a touring type of vacation that adding the either M 100 macro (or maybe the DA* 16-50 instead) would be all I would need to photograph everything. I deliberately left out the DA* 16-50, my third zoom, to leave the gap between 24mm and 55mm uncovered, and found that I did not particularly miss that range of focal lengths. When we travel in our trailer, I take pretty well everything in my signature except the film bodies. On our last long trip, to Vancouver Island's Pacific Rim National Park Reserve where the next stop West is Japan, I took the whole kit plus the 100 AW for walkabout with the above two lenses in it.

As alamo5000 suggests, overweight is no fun. Modern zoom lenses are much better than they were in the last century. At one point in my life I owned a 50-250 with a two element close up lens. I got some acceptable images with it, but it was slow and not particularly sharp. The 55-300 is giving me images that compare favourably with images from the M 400 with and without the AFA 1.7x. I am testing now to see if the AFA 1.7x and the 55-300 get along together when the images hit the pixels. If they do, and the K3 will certainly point up any faults on either combination, I might be able to retire the 400. If they work together, for walkabout I would be able to take the DA 12-24, the DA 55-300 and the AFA 1.7x for a very light kit. Backing it up with the Benbo Trekker tripod for its flexibility and light weight, I would have probably the lightest walkabout combination I have ever owned.

The most common walkabout sees me with the 12-24, 16-50, 55-300, M 100 macro, the M 400 and the AFA 1.7x plus the Manfrotto 055B and 0168 ball head. Throw in the AF 540 FGZ, and assorted cleaning equipment and lunch and something to relieve my thirst and I am over 50 lb (~23 kg). Add the not uncommon reluctance to change lenses in less than ideal conditions, and I have less enjoyment of the walk; it turns into a route march and I have done more than enough of those when I was younger and in uniform.
10-31-2015, 08:51 AM   #6

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I spent a few days in Bang Saen Thailand a few years ago with the Pentax MX and 2 lenses.
The problem I had was (severe) condensation/fogging inside the lenses in the morning after they had been in the air con hotel room.
Next time I might try to leave the camera bag in the hotel lobby or somewhere where the air con is not so cold.
11-02-2015, 12:45 PM   #7
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On the bag front, for me, a shoulder bag that doesn't look too much like a camera bag is a good thing. Get one with space for passport etc and it is with you all the time. Crumpler make an outpost series that are strong, innocuous and have a rain cover for tropical downpours.

You might checkout Phonsavan and the plain of jars about 6 hours from Luang Prabang - not for everyone but interesting imo. MAG international put on some sobering movies each night.
11-02-2015, 07:50 PM   #8

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My suggestion is that you swap out the 21mm for at least the DA15ltd or 10-20/12-24.
Some sites (eg. temples), you are limited on how much you can step back if your lens FL is too long.

Even with a 15ltd, its safer to have a nodal head to be able to do a proper stitch pano.
Otherwise, get an inexpensive nodal head on ebay for that 21mm.

Traveling wise, good to have a small poncho (those plastic ones that fold up real small will do)
It protects from rain and keeps warm if you find yourself in higher elevations in the morning/night.

If you are used to the smell of medicated oil, have a little bottle of it in the bag too.
Multi purpose insect repellent, dissolves glue/marker marks, headache relief, sore shoulder relief, wards off offensive smells.

Have some plastic bag chucked somewhere too that can be a rain cover for your stuff if need be.

Last edited by pinholecam; 11-02-2015 at 07:55 PM.
11-03-2015, 11:14 AM   #9
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Lots of great advice already but I will share my experience. I go about once a year to Vietnam (my wife's family lives there) and this year we spent the entire month of July traveling about the country. I like to arrange a nice compact kit that as alamo5000 already suggests fits into one bag. This year I brought with me a K3, DA 15mm, DA 21mm, FA 31mm, DA*55mm, and DFA 100mm WR macro. This made for a relatively light/small but versatile kit, although I could have managed with only either the 15mm or 21mm but their size is so negligible it really wasn't an issue. That is one of the benefit of primes and even though zooms have their place I prefer to use primes with the additional benefits of their stellar IQ and their ability to not generate any unwanted attention.

The lenses I found the most useful were the 31mm, *55mm, 21mm and 100mm in that order with the 31mm and *55mm garnering the most shots out of the whole trip. I brought along the 100mm since its a small and WR multipurpose lens that served as both a macro and moderate telephoto although I think either a FA 77mm or even DA 70mm would work well as a short telephoto. The *55mm proved more useful to me than I had at first imagined and I used it extensively for a variety of boat trips down the Mekong both in dry and wet weather as well as for small island beaches etc... I also had an assortment of filters, 4 batteries total, small portable charger, cards, lens cleaning stuff and a small mefoto daytrip mini tripod that was perfect for my needs as it folds to a compact 9.4" and is built like a tank. I have other tripods but I really wanted to remain with the compact theme and so obtained the mefoto for this trip and have since found it very useful.

I used one of my older looking relatively small regular hiking backpacks (daypack probably best describes it) with a built in rain cover (the rain cover came in handy) that I combined with a water resistant divided camera insert that fit my K3 and lenses. All other accessories fit in the backpack as well with room to spare. As a result I stood out far less than other foreigners that I saw with large zoom lenses, obvious looking camera bags, and neck straps emblazoned with Nikon,Cannon logos. Also a backpack is easy and comfortable to reverse carry on your ventral side for security when in crowded areas.

I am extremely lucky to have the benefit of traveling and staying with family who are locals so for those who don't, not attracting excess unwanted attention may be something to consider especially if you have expensive gear. I have yet to have experienced any negative occurrences by following common sense guidelines and this goes no matter where in the world you are...I generally follow the same approach even when traveling in large US cities. Most of all have fun and be a traveler not a tourist and mingle with the locals, SE Asia is a beautiful part of the world and I look forward to going there each year. Perhaps next year we will arrange a trip to Thailand or Singapore/Malaysia so I hope you will share your experiences when you return. Oh yes, as pinholecam suggested a poncho is indispensable in this region depending on the time of year!

QuoteOriginally posted by pinholecam Quote
If you are used to the smell of medicated oil, have a little bottle of it in the bag too.
Multi purpose insect repellent, dissolves glue/marker marks, headache relief, sore shoulder relief, wards off offensive smells.
+1 to this, should be able to pick it up there...look for Eagle brand or similar

Last edited by gda13; 11-03-2015 at 11:59 AM.
11-15-2015, 08:59 PM   #10
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Thank you all for the advice. I thought I had subscribed to my own thread and just wasn't getting any feedback. I'll make sure I post some pictures when I return.
11-18-2015, 12:03 PM   #11
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Mr frogoutofwater and I did a 3-week trip to Malaysian Borneo and to Singapore in 2014, so my gear list might be of use to you. I was mainly interested in photographing animals, flowers (macro), and some city scenes - less interested in landscape photography at the time.

What I packed:
- Lowepro 200 AW sport. PERFECT bag for travel days and anytime I needed to have all my gear with me. It's super-lightweight, has room for a decent amount of camera gear plus some extras, sits close to your back (but without sticking sweatily to your back), has a built-in raincover, etc. The surprise bonus was that the "water bladder" was large enough to fit my small laptop (11.6") plus my passport wallet (good way to protect it).
- I packed in my suitcase the Tamrac Aria 3 shoulder bag (I also have the 6), and used that bag for short excursions when I only wanted to carry my camera plus an extra lens or two and some odds and ends. It also worked well as a purse (that's important to a girl), but it's not girly so my husband didn't mind borrowing it. It blended into the city well and I could take that bag out to dinner without looking like I was carrying a camera. It's also water resistant, easy to wipe clean, very lightweight, etc.
- K-3
- Lenses: WR 18-135, WR 55-300, 77mm limited, 15mm limited, 50mm f/1.8, Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro. I did put clear protective filters on my lenses. My husband brought an all-in-one-zoom (I can't remember whether it was a Sigma or Tamron, with a range of 18-250). He also brought a tripod. (I debated bringing my Sigma 17-70 2.8-4 but decided that the weather resistance of the 18-135 and longer zoom range was a better choice. I occasionally regretted not having the Sigma, but overall I think I made the right decision.)
- AF360FGZII flash
- Accessories: rocket blower, pec pads (to clean lenses), lens brush, twelve 16GB high speed cards, card reader, several ziplock bags, small reflector, flash cord

What I used most of the time: The 55-300 was on my camera about 70% of the time. The rest of the time was a mixture of the 18-135, the 77mm f/1.8 and (once) the Tamron 90mm. Mr frogoutofwater mostly used his all-in-one-zoom, the 50 and the 90.

What I wish I'd had for the trip (but didn't acquire/discover) until later: the 35mm macro plus teleconverter, the fisheye 10-17 (used this a lot in Iceland this year and loved it). Nikon lens cleaning wipes Nikon Moist Cloth Lens Cleaners (21 sheets) 8175 B&H Photo Video

What I wish I'd left behind: the flash (never used it), the 15mm.

Much as I love the 77mm, if I were to do this trip again, I'd probably leave it behind and take the 35+50+teleconverter combo, as well as the 10-17, 18-135 and 55-300. I'd make my husband carry the Pentax 100mm macro (to combine with the teleconverter) and leave the Tammy at home. If I had to drop one more lens from the list (to keep the load light), I'd drop the 100mm macro.

A few other bits of non-camera gear that I highly recommend:
- Ben's mosquito repellent wipes (with DEET). Oddly, the main places we encountered mosquitoes were the airport. These wipes are great because they're individually sealed (and aren't in liquid form), so you can put a couple in your carry-on, or in a back pocket and have repellent whenever you need it, instead of having to carry a sticky bottle around.
Nikon Moist Cloth Lens Cleaners (21 sheets) 8175 B&H Photo Video
- A tiny, quick-drying camp towel (about the size of a facecloth). These are great for mopping up sweat when it's humid.
- I mostly wore super-lightweight long-sleeved shirts that had been pre-treated with permethrin (an insecticide) and similarly treated lightweight long pants, which meant that I didn't have to wear sticky insect repellent (or sunscreen) for much of the time. The comfort difference between long sleeves/short sleeves and shorts/pants is actually minimal when it's really hot, and not having to wear sunscreen and insect repellent tipped the balance in favor of long sleeves and long pants. Plus, that attire was more appropriate from a cultural perspective.
- I really like Eddie Bauer's Horizon line of pants: super-lightweight, moisture repelling and quick-drying, with lots of pockets for small bits of camera gear (lens caps, wipes etc).
11-19-2015, 07:02 AM   #12
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Thanks for the advice frogoutofwater. Found a new 100mm WR Macro for $500CAD ($375US). Have been debating it, but I love the 55-300mm. Glad to have your opinion on how well the 55-300 worked and that you would drop the 100mm if need be.
11-19-2015, 10:24 AM   #13
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I would add that if I were taking a trip to focus principally on wildlife photography, I would pack a slightly different kit. I would compromise on my desire to travel light and I would bring some faster and/or longer lenses, and I would probably bring a second K-3 with me (putting a prime on one and a zoom on the other). On our Borneo trip, I found that although the 55-300 did a good job most of the time, if I was shooting from a distance into low light (e.g., from the riverboat into the forest), image quality wasn't ideal. So, for example, on our 2016 trip to the Galapagos Islands, I will probably bring my 200mm f2.8, which is about as big a lens as I'm willing to walk/scramble around with. On our Africa trip (2018), I will want to take something with a longer reach (but in an environment where I often will be shooting from a car/i.e. not lugging it overland on tricky ground).

But my advice above still stands for a multi-activity/multi-venue trip where you want to or need to travel fairly light.

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