In standard near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM), a subwavelength probe acts as an optical 'stethoscope' to map the near field produced at the sample surface by external illumination1. This technique has been applied using visible1, 2, infrared3, terahertz4 and gigahertz5, 6 radiation to illuminate the sample, providing a resolution well beyond the diffraction limit. NSOM is well suited to study surface waves such as surface plasmons7 or surface-phonon polaritons8. Using an aperture NSOM with visible laser illumination, a near-field interference pattern around a corral structure has been observed9, whose features were similar to the scanning tunnelling microscope image of the electronic waves in a quantum corral10. Here we describe an infrared NSOM that operates without any external illumination: it is a near-field analogue of a night-vision camera, making use of the thermal infrared evanescent fields emitted by the surface, and behaves as an optical scanning tunnelling microscope11, 12. We therefore term this instrument a 'thermal radiation scanning tunnelling microscope' (TRSTM). We show the first TRSTM images of thermally excited surface plasmons, and demonstrate spatial coherence effects in near-field thermal emission.