Monthly Archives - December 2010

Southern Laos

Southern LaosThis beautiful region of Laos is a great place to explore for those with a strong sense of adventure and eye for beauty. Although you won’t find tourist towns like those in the north of the country, those who take the time to explore southern Laos will find an impressive number of pretty islands, dense jungle and magnificent mountains. (more…)

Northern Laos

Northern Laos
Northern Laos

With lush forests, high plateaus, sparkling waterfalls, caves, mountains and rice fields, northern Laos is intensely beautiful. This area of Laos is very diverse and offers travellers a range of different experiences. Although travelling through this region is challenging, the rewards are significant and a warm welcome awaits those who venture off the tourist trail to explore the villages and small towns scattered throughout northern Laos.

This is where you will find the mysterious Plain of Jars, the enormous stone containers that cover the landscape. This is the perfect place to go trekking, especially around Luang Namtha and Phongsaly, while the Gibbon Experience offers visitors a rare opportunity to view these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.
This region of Laos is home to many of the hilltop tribes, each with their own unique styles of dress, culture and belief systems. Exploring northern Laos provides to opportunity to get to know a little about this interesting people and discover traditional village life.

Although this area has only been open to tourist for around 10 years, there are already a number of vibrant tourist hangouts in northern Laos. Top of the list is Vang Vieng, where travellers can indulge on Western food, explore the caves and float down the river in a large rubber tube. The nearby temple town of Luang Prabang is also particularly tourist friendly and there is plenty to see and do here.

Adventure sports are popular in northern Laos and this is a good place for white water rafting, hiking, cycling, rock climbing and a number of other activities. Simply walking through the countryside is a great way to spend a day or two as the scenery is always striking and many surprises await the adventurous.

The mighty Mekong River flows through northern Laos and into Thailand. A good way to continue exploring is to take a slow boat from Luang Prabang along the river into Thailand. The journey offers spectacular views of Laos and the chance to stay in the pretty village of Pakbeng along the way.

Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand
Southern Thailand
Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand is large and inviting, featuring dozens of beautiful islands and a whole host of pristine beaches on which to top up your tan or enjoy water sports. The most famous resorts are on the west-facing Andaman Sea coastline, and the east-facing Gulf of Thailand coast.

Many people head straight to the South of Thailand and spend the rest of their stay enjoying all that this beautiful region has to offer. There are 14 provinces in all and each offers something different, to the highly popular and crowded areas in Phuket and Krabi to the much quieter, less visited areas of Songkla and Yala near the border with Malaysia.

Although areas of the west coast of Thailand were badly affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, all infrastructure has long since been repaired thanks to the hard work of local and international volunteers. Perhaps the most effected area was Koh Phi Phi, and people still wanting to make a contribution can do so through the Children of Phi Phi Island foundation www.childrenofphiphi.com.

Many people tend to avoid the very south of Thailand, scared off by the stories of bombing and murders. The trouble started in 2004, when a long resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. However, this all took place well off the beaten tourist trail, and few visitors were affected.

The Songkla Province town of Hat Yai has also been hit by a series of related bombings, although none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.

In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in Hat Yai bomb blasts. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but no westerners have been directly singled out for attacks and generally the south of Thailand is still a safe place to travel.

Eastern Thailand

Eastern Thailand
Eastern Thailand
Eastern Thailand

Eastern Thailand contains 7 provinces, situated to the south of Isan and east of the Central Thailand, between Bangkok and Cambodia.

This region of Thailand is particularly popular with visitors who wish to enjoy all the natural beauty and golden beaches of Southern Thailand whilst avoiding the crowds.

For many, the tourist destination of Pattaya provides an interesting diversion, whilst others head straight to the beautiful island of Koh Samet to enjoy all the benefits of an island holiday with less of the hassles.

The large island of Koh Chang is a great place to spend a few days and there are many areas of natural beauty located on the island as well as several smaller islands close by. This is a great place to go snorkeling and diving as there is plenty of pristine coral and colourful fish to see.

The town of Si Racha is well known for its deliciously spicy sauce and seafood, and while there visitors can visit the Sri Racha Tiger Zoo for the opportunity to cuddle the tiny tiger cubs.

For travelers who really want to get away from it all, the peaceful island of Koh Si Chang makes a great destination as it is virtually ignored by tourists.

Although the region is easily reachable by bus, there is are also small airports at U-Tapao and Trat.

Central Thailand

Central Thailand
Central Thailand
Central Thailand
Central Thailand

Most visitors to Thailand begin their journey in Central Thailand. Although many find the bustling capital city of Bangkok a little bit too populated and overwhelming, there are many beautiful locations close by. Whilst in the metropolis, check out the large lush parks, chill out at a rooftop bar and take a trip down the river to discover the sleepy Mon settlement of Koh Kret, which is famous for its pottery kilns and abundant beauty.

There are 19 provinces in Central Thailand, of which most are widely visited by tourists and international travelers. Perhaps the most well known province is Kanchanaburi, famous for the Bridge over the River Kwai, tiger temple and stunning natural scenery such as the Erawan National Park.

There are also several beautiful beaches in Central Thailand, and Hua Hin should not be missed, especially during the Jazz Festival, when thousands of people flock to the beaches to listen to some of the best jazz music from around the world.

Dotted around the region are some enchanting islands and especially worth visiting is the pleasant beach area of Cha-am, which is just a two hour bus journey from Bangkok. However, the island is very popular with Thai people and can become very crowded on the weekends and during major holidays.

whilst lovers of history will find their heart’s desire amongst the interesting ruins of the Ayutthaya Historical Park and Nakhon Pathom, which is Thailand’s oldest city and features the largest stupa in the world.

Generally speaking, travel within Central Thailand is undemanding as there is a good road and rail network. Catering to tourist tastes and taste buds, this is a good region in which to take it easy and acclimatize to Thailand.

North Eastern Thailand

North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand

North Eastern Thailand is better known as Isan – also written as Isaan, Isarn, Issan, or Esarn. There are 19 provinces in Isan, but only a few receive interest from tourists, which is a shame as this is a great part of Thailand to relax, wander in nature and get to know the friendly and welcoming people.

Isan covers an area of 160,000 km and much of the land is given over the farms and paddy fields as agriculture is the main economic activity. The region of Isan has a strong, rich and individual culture. Examples of this can be found in the folk music, called mor lam, festivals, dress, temple architecture and general way of life.

The main regional dialect is Isan, which is actually much more similar to Lao than central Thai. Unfortunately, because the rainfall is often insufficient for crops to grow properly, Isan is the poorest region of Thailand, and many people leave the province to seek their fortunes in the bustling metropolis of Bangkok.

The average temperature range is from 30.2 C to 19.6 C. The highest temperature recorded was a sweltering 43.9 C, whilst the lowest was a freezing -1.4 C. Unlike most of Thailand, rainfall is unpredictable, but it mainly occurs during the rainy season, which takes place from May to October.

Although completely unique, Isan food has adopted elements of both Thai and Lao cuisines. Sticky rice is served with every meal and the food is much spicier than that of most of Thailand.

Popular dishes include:

som tam – extremely spicy and sour papaya salad
larb – fiery meat salad liberally laced with chilies
gai yang – grilled chicken
moo ping – pork satay sticks

Isan people are famous for their ability to eat whatever happens to be around, and lizards, snakes, frogs and fried insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, silkworms and dung beetles often form a part of their diet.

Both men and women traditionally wear sarongs; women’s sarong often have an embroidered border at the hem, whilst those of the men are chequered. Much of Thailand’s silk is produced in Isan, and the night markets at many of the small towns and villages are good places to find a bargain.

There is no major airport in Isan, but the State Railway of Thailand has two lines and both connect the region to Bangkok. This is also a good place to enter Laos via the Thanon Mitraphap (“Friendship Highway”), which was built by the United States to supply its military bases in the 1960s and 1970s. The Friendship Bridge – Saphan Mitraphap – forms the border crossing over the Mekong River on the outskirts of Nong Khai to the Laos capital of Vientiane.

An Introduction to Burma

Introduction to Burma
Introduction to Burma
Introduction to Burma

Often still referred to by its former name of Burma, Myanmar is a beautiful diamond-shaped country spanning roughly 575 miles (925 kilometres) from east to west and 1300 miles (2100 kilometres from north to south.

Myanmar is part of Southeast Asia and is bordered by Bangladesh and India to the west, China to the north, and Laos and Thailand to the east. This is a country rich with natural beauty, culture, wildlife, forests, coastal resorts and temples and in many ways is the perfect tourist destination.

However, Myanmar is ruled by a brutal military regime, and many people avoid visiting Myanmar in order to avoid supporting this regime. However, the sad truth is that most tourist services such as guesthouses, restaurants and tours are run by the people themselves and not the government. The recent reduction in tourism has simply meant that the people of Myanmar are forced to suffer from lost earnings in addition to the numerous hardships and constraints imposed by the government. As long as you are careful to avoid government run hotels, buses and other services, it is possible to experience the most of this captivating country and possibly make a bit of a difference at the same time.

Although various parts of Myanmar are currently closed to tourists, the tourist numbers have been rising over the last couple of years, allowing many resorts to reopen. The Irrawaddy River runs through the centre of the country and this is a great way to travel and see the countryside.

Travelling through Myanmar feels like stepping into the past. Even though the capital city is fairly modern compared with the rest of the country it is still perhaps half a century behind many modern Southeast Asian capitals such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, while the country’s remote villages have changed little of the last few centuries.

This is a large part of Myanmar’s charm and as you explore you will discover ancient marvels such as the 4000 sacred stupas which are scattered across the plains of Bagan and the mysterious golden rock that somehow manages to balance on the edge of a chasm. As you ride in a Wild West stagecoach you will pass grand British mansions and men wearing traditional long skirt-like cloths around their waists.

Despite their years of suffering, the people of Myanmar are friendly, gentle and have a unique sense of humour. As you wander through villages and small towns you will probably be invited to get to know these people and share a part of their lives, an incomparable experience.

One of the best things about Myanmar is that it hasn’t been inflicted by the blight of Starbucks, McDonalds and other chain outlets that cover most Asian countries. Myanmar’s charms are subtle but they are authentically Asian and this is one of the few places in the world where you can experience true Asian culture without the integration of Western consumerism.

An Introduction to Malaysia

Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia

Situated in Southeast Asia, Malaysia’s tropical climate makes it the perfect place to visit in the winter when the chilly weather in other countries makes people want to head for the sun. Blessed with a number of beautiful beaches, sun-kissed islands and pristine rainforest, many people travel to Malaysia to enjoy the good weather and natural beauty.
A good way to reach Malaysia is by train from Thailand, which borders Malaysia to the north. First stop should be the pretty island of Penang, where you will find clean beaches, hilltop temples, large gardens and colonial buildings. To the south is the capital city of Kuala Lumpur with its famous Petronas Towers and great shopping and dining options.

Head to the Cameron Highlands to wander through lush tea plantations in the cool air and snorkel in amongst colourful coral on the Seribuat Archipelago before stretching out on one of the picture perfect beaches. There are a good number of national parks to explore, all offering stunning natural beauty such as sparkling waterfalls and caves as well as interesting wildlife. Soak away aches and pains in the Poring Hot Springs and head to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre for an unforgettable experience.  

One of Malaysia’s big attractions is its cultural diversity. Malays, Chinese and Indians all live side by side here, adding their own individual style to the mix. This is a good place to experience festivals and particularly vibrant are the Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas celebrations.

Food lovers will never be bored in Malaysia as the blend of cultures means that there are a wide range of dishes to try. As well as traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine, fusion food is also popular and western fast food restaurants are easy to find.

Malaysia is a country that truly offers something for everyone. Explore magnificent mosques and glittering temples in the country’s bustling cities before heading to the beach to soak up the sun or take part in a range of adventure activities such as diving, rock climbing, windsurfing and snorkelling.

An Introduction to Laos

laos_gibbon_experience_bokeo_3Poetically dubbed the “land of a million elephants”, the charming country of Laos is situated in the centre of the Indochina Peninsula. Bordered by China to the north, Myanmar to the northwest, Vietnam to the east and Cambodia to the south, Laos embodies everything that makes its neighbouring countries great.

You will be sure to find a warm welcome and broad smiles as you explore Laos and discover all that the country has to offer. Despite years of war and hardship, this former French colony has managed to retain its unique culture and stunning natural scenery. The pace of life here is gentle and as you explore you will be seduced by the chilled-out attitude of the people you meet.

Laos has only been part of the tourist trade for just over a decade, yet it has a lot to offer those with a strong sense of adventure. There are plenty of opportunities to get away from the tourist scene and discover the dense forests and wander along dusty back roads where you will be greeted by waving children and friendly families as you pass.

North-eastern Laos is still very underdeveloped and this is a great place to head if you want to escape the tourist scene and really get to know the country, while to the south you will find plenty of pretty islands and beaches and even the chance to view the elusive Kratie river dolphin.

However, there are several small towns and villages geared towards tourism, such as the enchanting village of Vang Vieng, where visitors are encouraged to relax with a good meal and a beer or two, surrounded by spectacular views of the limestone cliffs and sparkling river.

This is a great place to go trekking and explore the countryside, spending the night in a traditional village with a family. White water rafting, kayaking, rock-climbing and cycling are all popular, while to the south the Four Thousand Islands offer the perfect piece of paradise.

Travellers in Laos will never go hungry and there is a good range of dishes available for those with a sense of adventure. Lao food has been influenced by the French, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese and throughout Laos you will discover culinary delights such as French baguettes, spicy Thai salads and Vietnamese noodles. 

Laos is a good place to explore at any time, but it really comes alive during its festivals, especially the New Year and Rocket Festival. It’s a good idea to time your trip to coincide with one of these festivals as the streets are filled with singing and dancing and people put on their best clothes and biggest smiles.