Exploring Around the Bangkok Skytrain

It’s my late journal from my trip to Bangkok in June 2017. Phew, two years already and I began to miss this city. It was my third time visiting the capital city of Thailand. I realized that I always love to come back again and again to Bangkok. It’s far from home, but there’s a sense of familiarity for me.

The high-rise buildings, heavy traffic congestion, intense heat, things that are not much different with Jakarta. Maybe those are also the reasons why Bangkok feels like home to me. Aside from those things, Bangkok has its strong character that I love with its magnificent temples and palaces, authentic canals, and busy markets.

In June 2017, last year, I had a workshop in Ploenchit, Bangkok. It’s a few days work trip basically and I had other things to do in Jakarta after that which made me didn’t arrange for extensions (why do I feel like I always use this excuse in my writing?). It’s a bummer that I couldn’t go to visit some sites with more authenticity such as local temples. Though I had visited some temples such as Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, Wat Saket, back then in my previous trips to Bangkok in 2013 and 2015, it felt incomplete to visit Bangkok without going to the temples during my last trip there.

Anyway, as I always love to explore town during traveling, I still can enjoy Bangkok without having to go to its touristy places. Since I only had free time in the evening to night or very early morning at that time, so I went around the neighborhood a little bit. I had a long walk during the night, I took the Bangkok Skytrain (BTS) and went to Sukhumvit Road (good place to explore night life in town – but also made me cautious to safety, especially carrying around a camera).

I also took the BTS and went to Siam in the morning, last day before my flight in the afternoon, and captured some scenes in the streets of Bangkok. Even that made me simply happy.

I always have a great time to do urban street photography in Bangkok. Maybe that’s also one of the reasons why I love this city. Whether you walk along the street or take BTS ride, you can easily capture simple daily urban scenes that might be interesting to some of us.

The main streets are clean and give you the mixture of modern and local elements. The Thai letters especially become the element that gives you this sense of place, telling that you are in Bangkok. Whether it’s placed in giant billboard, store banners, bus shelter, signage, or many other spots, they look pretty to me.

I’m not sure whether camera is allowed or not in BTS station or not, but I love to photograph there while waiting for the train to come. Even in Jakarta, the Commuter Line train station is also one of my favorite spots for street photography.

Talking about BTS (not the Korean boyband, but the sky train), I think a lot of the Bangkok citizens, including the tourists, are relying to this public transport. It is an elevated rapid transit system operated by the Bangkok Mass Transit System. In my opinion, Bangkok is quite advanced in providing its public transport service to the public. The BTS itself has been operating since December 1999. They have prepared in advance to reduce the traffic congestion in the city. At some point, traffic jam still happens anyway. But it’s always better for the public to have options in commuting or getting around from one place to another in the city.

Besides the BTS, Bangkok also has the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) railway lines and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. Comparing to Jakarta, even though we’re quite behind in having the infrastructure, but it’s better late than never. As the MRT Jakarta is going to be officially operating soon, I’m expecting a new positive change to public transportation system in this capital city of Indonesia.

I guess I always have a heart for train station and its architecture. It has become my habit to try or use public transport, especially the rail system, whenever I visit different countries (if they have one). There are a lot of chances where we can get moments of people interacting or busy with themselves while they’re waiting. Always keep in mind to not trespassing people’s privacy while taking pictures, though.

I think 8 am to 9 am is a perfect time to do street photography in Bangkok if you have some time in the morning, especially if you’re a shadow hunter. Since there are a lot of high-rise buildings in Bangkok, also by the existence of sky train concretes lane across up there, there are a lot of chances of getting high contrast of shadows in places like this.

Morning like this is also a busy hour where you can see many people are walking down the streets. A lot of students are going for school while the adults are going for work. You just only have to wait for the right moment to hit your camera shutter.

Bangkok is always special to me. My first trip going to Bangkok in 2013 back then was a result of my savings from my first job working as a research assistant in a university. I used that as a reward for myself. Since then, it feels like I left some part of my heart to this city. I’m happy I had the chance to go back again after my first trip, but even that did not make me saying I’ve had enough. So, yeah, I’d love to come back again for sure.

Menjelajahi Jalanan Kathmandu Lewat Street Photography

Pertengahan Oktober tahun 2018 yang lalu saya mendapat tugas dari kantor untuk mengikuti workshop di Kathmandu, Nepal. “Wah, Nepal!” batin saya saat mendapat kabar ini sekitar dua bulan sebelum akhirnya berangkat ke sana. Dari dulu saya selalu tertarik melakukan street photography di negara-negara Asia Selatan seperti Nepal dan India. Meski sebelumnya pernah mendapat kesempatan melakukannya di Colombo, Sri Lanka dan Dhaka, Bangladesh (meski hanya lewat dalam mobil yang berjalan karena waktu yang terbatas), akhirnya saya punya kesempatan lagi di Nepal!

Selain kesempatan memotret suasana Kota Kathmandu, orang-orang pasti akan berpikir kenapa tidak lanjut menjelajahi Himalaya? Lagi-lagi waktu saya terbatas (dan juga tidak berani bertaruh dengan pengalaman naik Gunung yang terbatas).  Berhubung ini adalah perjalanan dinas dari kantor, tentu prioritas utama adalah menunaikan tugas terlebih dahulu. Jadi, memotret Kota Kathmandu hanya saya lakukan di kesempatan-kesempatan terbatas dan extend satu hari di sana. Sayangnya, ada urusan lain yang harus segera dikejar lagi di Jakarta setelahnya.

Dengan waktu satu hari yang saya dedikasikan penuh untuk memotret Kathmandu, apa yang saya dapat?

Kurang lebih, area yang saya eksplor tergambar dalam peta di bawah. Ada tiga titik utama yang saya jelajahi dalam sehari, yaitu Durbar Square, Swayambhu, dan Thamel. Lalu, ada dua fokus eksplorasi saya, yaitu kuil (temple) dan jalanan. Kuil atau temple yang banyak tersebar di kota dengan mayoritas penduduk Nepal yang beragama Hindu dan Buddha tentu menjadi objek yang menarik karena arsitektur dan kulturnya yang khas. Selain itu, jalanan di Kota Kathmandu menawarkan suatu visual dengan kultur dan atmosfer yang belum tentu dapat ditemukan di tempat lain.

Seperti yang sudah saya sebutkan sebelumnya, kita bisa menemui banyak kuil di berbagai sudut Kathmandu. Salah satu titik yang menarik ada di daerah Durbar Square. Daerah ini termasuk daerah turis dan cukup terkenal karena merupakan jantung kota tua Kathmandu sehingga arsitektur bangunan-bangunan di sini cukup khas dan atraktif. Di sini terdapat beberapa kuil yang menarik untuk dipotret. Favorit saya adalah Jagannath Temple yang dipenuhi oleh burung merpati. Sebagai catatan, area ini cukup terdampak oleh gempa hebat yang terjadi di tahun 2015 dan sampai sekarang masih dapat dilihat proses rekonstruksi beberapa bangunan di sana.

Di area Durbar Square ini juga ada banyak biksu atau biarawan. Beberapa di antaranya ada yang disebut sebagai Sadhuyaitu orang yang memutuskan untuk fokus menjalani kehidupan spiritual. Para Sadhu ini hidup dengan sedekah dari orang-orang. Biasanya, warga setempat akan meminta Sadhu untuk mendoakan mereka dan kemudian mereka akan memberikan sejumlah uang sebagai gantinya. Uniknya, beberapa Sadhu juga menawarkan jasanya untuk dijadikan objek foto para fotografer. Setelah diambil gambarnya, maka fotografer atau turis harus memberikannya imbalan (seikhlasnya). Praktik ini sebenarnya agak menimbulkan perdebatan karena ada beberapa Sadhu yang meminta imbalan lebih sehingga konsep melepaskan hasrat duniawinya menjadi pertanyaan. Anyway, let’s not get too far on this.

Jika ingin merasakan atmosfer yang lebih lokal lagi, cobalah menelusuri jalan-jalan di sekitar Durbar Square ini, khususnya jalan-jalan kecilnya. Saat itu saya menginap di Hotel Annapurna yang terletak di area DurbarmargUntuk mencapai Durbar Square, saya memilih mengambil rute menelusuri Siddhidas Marg yang cukup ramai pejalan kaki. Koridor ini diisi dengan banyak toko-toko kecil, bahkan cenderung seperti pasar karena orang-orang menggelar jualannya di jalanan begitu saja. Saya melewati area ini saat pagi hari dan banyak sekali orang berdagang dan berbelanja. Selalu ada banyak momen yang bisa ditangkap di area pasar seperti ini. Ibaratnya, tinggal tengok kanan kiri, banyak pemandangan menarik dengan karakter lokal yang kuat.

Ternyata, saat saya kembali dari Durbar Square menuju ke penginapan dan melewati rute yang sama, atmosfernya cukup berbeda. Jalanan jauh lebih ramai di siang hari dibandingkan pagi hari. Orang-orang berlalu lalang berpergian seperti lautan manusia. Uniknya, tetap ada kendaraan bermotor yang menerobos kerumunan ini.

Bahkan, di tengah gang-gang sempit Kathmandu, kita juga bisa menemukan kuil-kuil dengan arsitektur yang menarik. Tentunya dengan bantuan Google Map, saya mencoba melihat-lihat kuil-kuil apa saja yang berlokasi dekat dengan tempat saya menginap. Ternyata banyak sekali kuil-kuil di tengah permukiman penduduk. Analoginya sama seperti di Indonesia, berhubung mayoritas penduduknya beragama Islam, maka tempat ibadah seperti masjid akan mudah ditemukan. Begitu juga di Nepal, kuil-kuil Hindu dan Buddha sangat mudah ditemukan di sini.

Selain kuil-kuil di Durbar Square dan sekitarnya, di siang hari saya menyempatkan mampir ke Swayambhunath Temple yang letaknya agak lebih jauh. Kuil ini terletak di sebelah barat dan lokasinya cukup tinggi di atas bukit sehingga dari atas kita bisa melihat pemandangan Kota Kathmandu yang berbentuk lembah. Untuk menuju ke sini saya memutuskan naik taxi lokal saja karena jaraknya yang cukup jauh.

Daya tarik utama dari Swayambhunath Temple adalah stupa utama berbentuk kubah yang menyangga suatu struktur kubus yang dilukis dengan mata Buddha yang memandang ke empat arah. Untaian bendera warna-warni yang cantik juga menjadi ciri khas, tidak hanya di kuil ini, tapi di banyak sudut lain di Kathmandu. Bendera-bendera ini bukan sekedar dekorasi, tapi punya makna tersendiri. Orang asing biasanya menyebutnya dengan istilah prayer flags atau bendera doa yang merupakan potongan-potongan kain berwarna dan bertuliskan doa, mantra, dan simbol keberuntungan. Warga setempat, khususnya umat Buddha, percaya bahwa saat bendera doa tersebut tertiup angin maka doa-doa yang telah dipanjatkan di sekitarnya akan dibawa ke tempat tinggi di atas. Ternyata maknanya cukup dalam ya.

Beberapa turis asing menyebut kuil Swayambhunath ini sebagai Monkey Temple karena areanya banyak dihuni oleh para kera. Saran saya sebaiknya jangan gunakan istilah ini apalagi saat berbicara dengan masyarat lokal di sana. Teman saya yang warga asli sana bilang, meski mungkin bagi orang asing lebih mudah mengingat dengan nama itu, tapi sebenarnya menyebut Swayambhunath Temple dengan istilah Monkey Temple dianggap kurang sopan. Anyway, kuil ini cukup terkenal dan merupakan salah satu landmark di Kathmandu. Jadi, cukup banyak turis yang datang ke sini dan juga banyak toko suvenir seperti daerah wisata pada umumnya.

Di sore sampai malam hari, saya mencoba menghabiskan waktu di area Thamel. Ternyata, area ini adalah area para backpacker. Banyak penginapan-penginapan murah, termasuk kawasan komersil yang menjual berbagai barang khas untuk oleh-oleh. Sangat mudah untuk mencari makan di sini. Salah satu yang wajib dicoba adalah Mo Mo! Makanan khas Nepal ini sebenarnya semacam dumpling yang tersedia dalam berbagai isian seperti daging dan sayuran. Menjelang makan malam, saya memanfaatkan waktu untuk sedikit berbelanja barang-barang khas yang bisa saya bawa pulang sebagai kenang-kenangan.

Fakta yang kurang menyenangkan dari Kathmandu adalah statusnya sebagai kota dengan polusi yang buruk, nomor 5 di dunia. Bahkan, kota berpopulasi sekitar 1 juta penduduk ini memiliki julukan sebagai “dust bowl“. Dari artikel yang saya baca dan juga info dari teman yang tinggal di sana, masalah debu ini disebabkan oleh kegiatan pembangunan yang cukup masif, terutama akibat konstruksi bangunan dan pengembangan jalan. Sayangnya, proses konstruksi yang berlangsung bersamaan di berbagai tempat ini kurang terkelola dengan baik sehingga menyebabkan debu yang cukup tebal. Saya sendiri tidak bisa bertahan lama berada di luar gedung, apalagi lebih dari 3 jam berjalan di luar. Badan dan muka terasa cepat kotor, khususnya di siang hari. Jadi, kalau ingin mengeksplorasi Kathmandu, pastikan untuk mengatur waktu jeda beristirahat. Misalnya kembali ke penginapan atau mengembalikan tenaga di tempat makan sebelum melanjutkan agenda outdoor.

Terlepas dari debunya yang tebal, menjelajahi jalanan Kathmandu terasa menyenangkan bagi saya. Meskipun bahasa nasional di sana adalah Nepali, mayoritas warga bisa berbicara Bahasa Inggris karena tingkat kunjungan turis yang sangat besar, khususnya yang ingin pergi ke Himalaya. Di tahun 2018 sendiri, kunjungan turis asing mencapai angka 1 juta dalam satu tahun tersebut. Sektor pariwisata merupakan sektor penting yang mendatangkan pendapatan baik bagi negara maupun warga setempat. Maka dari itu, penduduk Nepal berusaha untuk memastikan turis betah di sana dan mau kembali lagi. Jadi, berjalan-jalan di sini bisa dikatakan cukup aman. Orang-orang di sini juga sangat ramah dan akan dengan senang hati membantu jika diminta. Bahkan, dalam konteks street photography, warga Nepal termasuk tipe yang tidak keberatan diambil gambarnya. Setidaknya itu yang saya rasakan. Meski demikian, kita harus tetap jaga etika dan menghindari perbuatan yang membuat orang lain tidak nyaman.

Bagi teman-teman dari Indonesia yang mau pergi ke Nepal, proses imigrasinya tidak sulit kok. Kita bisa gunakan Visa on Arrival (VoA) saat tiba di bandara setempat sehingga tidak perlu mengurus dokumen-dokumen sebelum keberangkatan (tentunya harus punya paspor). Biaya visa Nepal bervariasi mulai dari 25 USD (untuk 15 hari), 40 USD (untuk 30 hari), sampai 100 USD (untuk 90 hari). Lengkapnya bisa dicek di sini.

Andai saya punya waktu lebih, masih banyak hal yang bisa dilihat dan dijelajahi di sini. But overall, it was a very nice experience.

Ada yang tertarik melakukan street photography di Kathmandu? Semoga bisa mencoba dan merasakan sensasinya!

Namaste.

Walking Down the Tunnel of MRT Jakarta

I never imagine myself having the chance to go underground entering the tunnel of MRT Jakarta. When turned out I had the chance, I would say I was lucky.

Everything started when Farhan from MRT Jakarta team reached me through my instagram and offered me to participate in their event. They were preparing a gathering for their instagram followers in Car Free Day that is regularly held every Sunday in central of Jakarta. So, they asked me if I could join a sharing session with other resource persons, @ijoeel and @dj_jocky, talking about Jakarta and its public transportation development through a perspective of instagram user. The event was combined with a photo challenge called #UbahJakartaChallenge (change Jakarta), competing for access to go to MRT tunnel as a prize.

It’s so exciting to see the enthusiasm of people submitting their photo that tells about Jakarta development. Within less than 3 days, around 450 photos entered the competition and we had to select 10 photos as winners to be announced during the event in Car Free Day.

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During sharing session. (Captured by @farhanhers)

I really enjoyed the ‘instameet’ event, sitting together with big names such as Ijul and Mas Jocky and sharing not only about photography, but also about our perspective towards public transport and how Jakarta is accommodating this service. There were around 200 people participated and most of them had submitted their photos to the #UbahJakartaChallenge.

At the end of the sharing session, we announced the 10 winners of the challenge. Unfortunately, two of them did not appear when their names were called. With instant creativity, the @mrtjktteam gave another challenge on the spot for the audience. They were asked to do a photo hunt in Taman Dukuh Atas, the venue of the event. Within 15 minutes, they had to upload their best shots to instagram. As a result, we got the 2 replacement winners right away. (There were around 100 pictures submitted for this on-the-spot challenge and it’s so difficult to choose only 2 of them. Man, people are so freaking fast!).

So, the group that has the eligibility for MRT underground tour was set. (Quick funny story: three people in the group had to buy new trousers at the CFD because they wore shorts before and it’s not allowed for safety reason). Fast forward, after we put all safety equipments including the boots, visitor helmet, and light vest, we were so ready to go to the MRT Tunnel at the Bundaran HI station.

As additional information, for Bundaran HI – Lebak Bulus route, it consists of 6 km underground track and 10 km elevated track. Located in varied depths ranging from 17.5 to 28 meters below ground level, there are 6 MRT underground stations out of total 13 MRT stations along Bundaran HI – Lebak Bulus. In each underground station, there are two floor levels. One is the concourse area as a commercial place where people can buy ticket and shop for things available there (because there will be stores too). The other one, after the concourse, is the platform area for people to wait for the train.

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Because we had the opportunity, the MRT Jakarta Team walked us passing the platform area right to the tunnel. Since the MRT is ready to operate soon in the last week of March 2019, this ‘underground tunnel tour’ will be a very rare opportunity.

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The MRT Jakarta team was very kind to explain the development process and the details of the construction. Very educational!

My first impression when I set my foot there, it felt like between being in a science fiction movie or being in a National Geographic expedition. I don’t know what is the right word to describe it, but it’s so impressive. I saw some other social media influencers that already went here during construction phase and I really adore the circle shape with all the lights and shadows that form a beautiful pattern.

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The plan during this tour was to walk from Bundaran HI station to the nearest intersection where we can see the split of railways. So basically we had to walk around 1 km underground back and forth, almost 30 meters below the ground. The MRT Jakarta Team had warned us that it would be a bit hot and makes us wet in sweat, but it wasn’t that bad actually because there’s still a good airflow down there.

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Talking about the intersection, there are two railway tracks connecting this corridor. First is the downtrack line, called as southbound, which leads from the Bundaran HI to Lebak Bulus. The other one is the uptrack line, called as northbound, which takes passengers from Lebak Bulus to the Bundaran HI.

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Each time we passed this distance sign, the MRT team asked the group if there’s any of us feeling exhausted or not

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Where the track splits for different direction

This Bundaran HI – Lebak Bulus is only the first phase of the MRT Jakarta development. There will be a continuous process of other routes. At least the phase after this will be covering the central to the north trip, from Bundaran HI to Kampung Bandan.

For now with current progress of MRT, people can commute from Lebak Bulus to Bundaran HI just within under 30 minutes! With normally 1 to 1.5 hours during peak hour car drive, it’s a good time saving you make with MRT. One thing for sure, MRT Jakarta offers you a more predicted commuting time rather than uncertainties by being stuck in road traffic. I’ve tried riding the MRT Jakarta once during the limited trial and it’s indeed under 30 minutes.

For each trip, it can carry from 1200 to 1800 people. Imagine these people are driving cars individually everyday to go to work, if they can switch to MRT then it will reduce the traffic jam on the road. And this is just a start of a bigger change.

People have been anticipating for the MRT Jakarta itself. It’s been decades and finally we’re going to have one! It’s so exciting to see how Jakarta is changing to a positive direction. Of course, as users, we have to participate in taking care of the facility. Let’s be civilized community and take part in changing Jakarta for the better.

PS: If you want to try MRT Jakarta before it’s officially operating, you can register yourself for public trial that will start in 12 March 2019. Check the MRT Jakarta website or social media for further information.

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