Man travels 12,000 km to capture beautiful Thailand scenes for Google

Story highlights

  • Google hired Thai triathlete Panupong Luangsa-ard to travel 12,000 kilometers wearing special 'Trekker' camera
  • Street View's new Thailand imagery includes popular attractions such as beaches and temples

Bangkok (CNN)How does it feel to travel 12,000 kilometers with an 18-kilogram, 4-foot-tall camera strapped to your back?

Surprisingly not that bad, says Thai triathlete Panupong Luangsa-ard, the man behind some of the beautiful 360-degree panoramic imagery just released by Google Street View of 150 major Thailand sights.
    Of those 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles), Luangsa-ard -- who goes by the nickname "Man" -- traveled 500 kilometers on foot wearing the Google Street View "Trekker" -- a wearable backpack with a 15-lens camera attached to the top.
    The entire journey took two years.

    Fitness counts

    "It's easy to walk with Trekker on your back!" he tells CNN.
    "Anyone could do it with a little effort. As a trained athlete, I have the fitness to go further and capture more awesome photos."
    That doesn't mean there weren't trying times.
    "One of the biggest challenges was going into places where there is a low shaft above my head and you have to duck all the down to capture the images, because Trekker goes about one meter above your head.
    "There were times when I was sure I was breaking the world record of squatting!"
    The new Street View imagery includes popular tourist destinations such as historical parks, beaches, temples, markets and mountains.
    "The tea plantations in Chiang Mai were a real highlight because the views are the most stunning I've ever seen," says Luangsa-ard.
    "It was exhausting to get up at 4:30 a.m. in the morning, but once the dawn was breaking and the sun was rising above the misty clouds, the view across the tea fields and the smell of the fresh air made it totally worth the effort.
    "Another site that blew me away was the Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya. This huge wooden temple has been under construction for the last 35 years and it's still being made. The amount of craftsmanship that has been put into this is just incomparable."

    Alien invasion? Jetpack?

    Though the Google Street View Trekker has been capturing footage around the world since 2012, including places such as Mount Fuji and Egypt's ancient Pyramids, it continues to perplex those who see it in action.
    "One time I was stopped by a local asking if I was marching with the soccer world cup trophy," Luangsa-ard recalls.
    "A few times kids ran away from us shouting 'Aliens are invading the earth!'
    "On one trip capturing temples on top of a mountain, a monk asked me if I was going to fly down the mountain using the jetpack on my back."

    The challenges of capturing the world

    In addition to the 12,000 kilometers traveled by Luangsa-ard, Google's car drove a total of one million kilometers over two years to collect the new Thailand footage, says Cynthia Wei, Google Street View's Asia Pacific program manager.
    "In all 76 countries Street View is available in, we had unique challenges that we dealt with to capture the imagery and we always brainstorm new ways to do it safely and get the best imagery," she tells CNN.
    "For example, in a recent launch in Canada we had to make sure the trekker was safe from polar bears so there was a special vehicle.
    "Here in Thailand, we really wanted to include the floating markets, so we worked out the right kind of boat we could go on to do that. There was some tough terrain in the tea plantations and some high altitude to deal with too."
    So what does Luangsa-ard hope people will gain from his experience?
    "I hope that my journey and the steps I took give people around the world a sense that they too are walking around these beautiful sites and that it inspires them to come and see the wonders of Thailand in person," he says.