Tag - northern

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.

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary

The name of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary is a little misleading, as rather than a wide open space where animals are permitted to roam freely, this is little more than a large zoo. All of the animals at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary are cages, and as is often the way in Asia, the cages seem to be rather cramped.

However, those who are travelling with children may want to take the kids here as a break from visiting the area’s temples and other historical sites. All of the animals that can be found at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary have been recued from the clutches of traffickers and the traps of poachers, however, and the sanctuary does give visitors the chance to view a number of rare species.

Those who want the chance to get up close and personal with the animals of Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary have the chance to be a bear keeper for a day, which involves feeding and taking care of one of the cute infant Malaysian sun bears, an offer almost too good to be true.

Many of the animals are also trained to perform tricks to capture the attention and admiration of visitors, an it is possible to take in the unusual sight of elephants playing football or creating works of art, while nearby colourful birds walk on tightropes and solve maths problems.

It is possible to visit Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary on a daytrip from the capital city of Phnom Penh, as it is located just 40kms from the city centre. Most of the local drivers know the way here, and also offer to chauffer visitors around the sanctuary itself, which is ideal for those who are suffering from the heat and humidity.

Ban Lung, Cambodia

Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia

Known by the local people as ‘dey krahorm’, which means red earth in Khmer, Ban Lung is a modest town where you will find genuine people and friendly faces. This is a great place to use as a base while you explore the surrounding countryside and there are a number interesting attractions nearby.

Most people travel to Ban Lung to visit the nearly Boeng Yeak Lom. Also known as Yak Lom Lake, this is an impressive volcanic crater filled with freshwater. There is a well worn train leading from the town to the volcano and the trek takes about an hour each way. Take the time to fully explore the volcano and have a swim in the cool waters. Watch out for the legendary Yak Lom monster as you swim and visit the nearby culture centre, which contains some interesting information about the volcano and items made by the tribes people who live in the area.  

This is a great place for trekking and you can wander through the countryside, with its rich red earth and pretty villages. The scenery here is simply spectacular and there is plenty to hold the attention.

Scattered around Ban Lung are a number of small villagers where tribes people live, following the same cultural styles and general life styles that they have practiced for hundreds of years. Most of the tribes people gather at Ban Lung market to buy and sell goods, and this is a great place for people watching and to also pick up a bargain or two.

The market is also a good place to pick up a cheap, tasty meal. There are a number of food stalls scattered around the town as well as restaurants and hotels, making this a good place to stay for a day or two.

Around the market place you will find a large number of small shops selling colourful precious stone. The gems come from the surrounding hills and also more distant places such as Sri Lanka. Although you should be careful about buying, browsing through the multi-hued stones can be a good way to spend an hour two.

Poipet, Cambodia

Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia

The dusty border town of Poipet is largely ignored by the people who pass through it on their way from Thailand to Cambodia. For many this is simply a place to get their passport stamped and perhaps wait for the bus to whisk them away to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.
However, if you do need to spend the night here you will find the town is not quite as rough as it appears at first glance and there are a few things to amuse and entertain. Gambling is illegal in Thailand and so large numbers of people cross the border to try their luck at one of the town’s many flashy casinos.

Theft is quite high in Poipet, so if you do decide to spend some time here make sure you keep your wits about you and don’t give money to beggars as the young girl staring at you with pleading eyes quickly multiplies into dozens of demanding beggars once some slight generosity is shown.

There are a number of places to eat in Poipet, many serving western snacks such as sandwiches and French fries. There is also a large bustling marketplace selling clothes and souvenirs, although this is a popular spot for pickpockets, so keep a careful eye on your belongings.

The border crossing is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is a good idea to arrive early to beat the crowds and try to avoid arriving on the weekend. Queues can last for several hours, although the longest queues are usually for those heading into Thailand from Cambodia. Don’t trust anyone offering to make your visa for you, even if they are wearing official looking laminated badges. Instead, head to the Cambodian Consulate or get your visa made on arrival. The cheapest and easiest way to get a visit for Cambodia is to go online and get a e-Visa, which costs USD $25.

Once you have your visa you can travel by bus or pickup truck to a number of places such as Siem Reap, Sisophon and Battambang. You may have to wait a few hours for the bus to fill up, but once it starts moving simply sit back and relax as the worst part of the journey through Cambodia is now behind you.

Kota Bharu, Malaysia

Kota Bharu, Malaysia
Kota Bharu, Malaysia

Although the city of Kota Bahru is often overlooked by visitors to the north of Malaysia, those who take the time to explore will find that there is plenty to see and do here. Kota Bahru is often referred to as the Islamic City, and this is the perfect place to get a feel for the rich history and culture of this part of the world.
Kota Bahru boasts a number of vibrant markets, which are ideal places to indulge in a spot of people watching, while those who are in search of something cheap and tasty will also find some of the best selections of eateries scattered in and around the city’s markets.

Wander around Independence Square – Padang Merdek – and you will find a large number of museums and the Balai Besar or Royal Palace. This elegant building is a great place to explore, while nearby is the interesting octagonal building of the Pesar Besar central market.

When it comes to seeing the sights, Kota Bahru features a number of interesting places of worship, and while most are devoted to the Muslim faith, there are also a few Buddhist temples to explore here. Sun worshippers will also be in their element, as a few pristine stretches of sand can be found on the outskirts of the city.

A great way to see the area around Kota Bharu is to embark on a two hour river cruise along Sungai Galas down to Dabong. Rafting along the river is also popular and trips can easily be arranged.

Another good excursion is the Stong Waterfall, which about 900 metres high and is said to be the highest waterfall in Southeast Asia. Combine a trip to the waterfall with a visit to the impressive collection of caves at Gua Ikan, before finishing the day with a delicious, cheap evening meal at the night market, known as Pasar Malam in the Malay language.

While the people of this conservative city are welcoming towards visitors, it is best to follow the example set by those who live here and cover up. Women in particular are advised to dress conservatively, and it is also best to avoid making public displays of affection, as this is likely to cause offense.

Sungai Petani, Malaysia

sungai_petani_1Welcome to Sungai Petani, a friendly town in the northern state of Kedah. Farming is very much the lifeline of this region and even the name Sungai Petani means ‘Farmer’s River’ in the Malay language.

This interesting town has plenty to entertain tourists and is a great place to take a break before exploring the rest of the country. There are a number of lush green parks to explore as well as interesting buildings, dense jungle and sandy beaches where you can soak up the sun or swim in the cool waters.

To get an idea of the size and beauty of this area, climb to the top of Gunung Jerai, which is the tallest mountain. There is a 15 mile trekking route which winds its way to the top of the mountain and the somewhat challenging climb to the top is rewarded by spectacular views of the Straits of Malacca and the surrounding jungle.

Heading back to the town, pay a visit to the Jalan Ibrahim, which is a large clock tower located on Sungai Petani’s main street. Built in 1936, the clock tower measures a little over 12 meters and was given to George V and Queen Mary to commemorate their Silver Jubilee.

As you wander through the centre of town you will come to Jubli Perak or Silver Jubilee public park, which is a great place to take a break and sit in the shade for a while. Another great recreational area is Bird Park, where you will see a large collection of our feathered friends roaming in a large leafy area.

Travellers who want to relax and unwind for a while can go fishing in many of the rivers, lakes and streams that can be found in this part of the world, while those who want to get back into the swing of things can do so with a round or two of golf.

The Carnivall is Kedah’s first water park and attracts people from all over the state. Situated in the grounds of Cinta Sayang Golf and Country Resort, the Carnivall has been open for less than two years and is a great place to cool off.

Pantai Merdeka is a popular beach destination and features a large number of seafood restaurants and closest point to the nearby islands of Pulau Bidan and Pulau Telor.

Those who are searching for local flavour will want to head on over to the farmer’s Market, which is held in the very heart of the town on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the year.

Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi, MalaysiaLangkawi is the number one Malaysian holiday destination for many tourists, featuring a number of tropical palm fringed beaches with clear sea and sandy beaches as well as jungle and forests to walk through. With a name that translates roughly as the land of all one’s wishes, many people come to Langkawi to live out their tropical island fantasies.

Many people intend to visit Langkawi for a day or two and end up extending their stay, seduced by the natural beauty of this large and lovely island. This is a great time to visit Langkawi as it has been recently been given a face lift, with the addition of the Telaga Harbour Park.

The highlight of Langkawi has to be its beautiful beaches. There are a number to choose from, and the most popular include Pantai Cenang, Burau Bay, Pantai Kok and Pantai Datai. Water sports such as snorkeling, sailing and kayaking are popular here, while many people are content to simply lay to the sand.

If you are feeling adventurous, take a tour through the islands lush mangroves. There many tours to choose from including cruises, kayaking and nature walks. There is also an island hopping tour which gives visitors the chance to explore some of the hundreds of uninhabited islands in the area.

A fantastic way to see Langkawi is by taking the cable car to the very top of Gunung Mat Cincang. Walk across the sky bridge for spectacular views of the numerous surrounding islands. Hiring a bike and cycling through the countryside is a good way to enjoy the scenery and provides the opportunity to spot some of Langkawi’s colourful birds.

A great time to visit Langkawi is in April to take part in the wild and wet Langkawi International Water Festival. Other interesting festivals include the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition in November, December’s Langkawi Arts and Crafts Festival and the Langkawi International Festival of Arts.

There are many ways to reach Langkawi, and particularly popular is the ferry from the nearby island of Penang, which is located to the very north of Malaysia. There are also regular ferries from southern parts of Thailand such as Saturn and Ko Lipe.

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Alor Setar, Malaysia

Alor Setar, MalaysiaThe vibrant city of Alor Setar is also referred to as Alor Star, and this is the capital of Kedah state, situated on the west coast of Malaysia. This is a great place to get a real feel for Malaysian culture. The city is also surrounded by natural beauty such as rich paddy fields, forests and fishing villages, all of which make good day trip destinations.

Alor Setar is a great place to discover Malaysian art as there are a number of galleries situated in the city. Balai Seni Negeri is also known as The Kedah State Art Gallery and contains an interesting collection of paintings, photographs, musical instruments and handicrafts, while Balai Nobat is used to protect the instruments of the Royal orchestra.

Visitors to the city will find an impressive collection of buildings in various styles. A good example of Malaysian architecture is the Royal Hall, which was commissioned in 1735 by Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin Muazzam Shah, the 19th Sultan of Kedah. Another interesting building is the Mahathir Birthplace, which was home to the fourth Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad.

Malaysia is well known for its impressive mosques, and a good example is the Zahir State Mosque, which covers 124,412 square feet and is one of the grandest mosques in the country. Alor Star Tower is located in the centre of the city and this magnificent 165 meter tall tower offers spectacular views of the city from the top.

This loud and lively city can become overwhelming at times, but there are plenty of great day trips nearby where you can escape the hustle and bustle. Drive to the town of Merbok to see archaeology museum and explore the Tanjong Dawai fishing village, where you are sure to receive a warm welcome.

Another popular place to hang out is the Kuala Kedah Fort, which can be found at the edge of the Kedah River. A charming little fishing village can also be found nearby, and the restaurants that can be found here serve up some of the best cuisine in the whole area, while the restaurants of Alor Setar are famed for their rich and lightly spiced curry dishes.

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Penang, Malaysia

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Situated just off the mainland of Malaysia to the very north, the pretty island of Penang – known as Pulau Pinang in Malay – is a great place to spend a few days. Bordered by Thailand to the north, many people head straight to Penang after taking the train through Thailand and across the border.

There are many reasons to visit Penang. With its beautiful beaches, Kek Lok Si – perhaps the largest and finest Buddhist temple in Asia – and spectacular scenery, it is easy to see why the island has earnt the nickname Pearl of the Orient.

Don’t miss Kek Lok Si, the terrific pagoda-style temple situated atop Penang Hill. Not only is this a great place to relax and meditate, but the views from the top are spectacular as well. Another good place to visit is the Botanical Garden. This 30-hectare garden was created in 1884 and features a sparkling waterfall as well as beautiful wild Rhesus monkeys.

Also known as Foreigner’s Rock, Batu Ferringhi is a picturesque beach resort. Take a break from temple hopping and trekking through the jungle to simply lie back on the sand a soak up the sun for a while. The Penang Butterfly Farm is located nearby at Teluk Bahang. The butterfly farm is set in picturesque tropical gardens and has thousands of species of butterflies and insects.

In 2004 Time Magazine announced that Penang had the ‘Best Street Food in Asia’, a fact that many dedicated gastronomes have known for some time. People flock from all over Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to sample the wide range of cuisines available, which include Malay, Chinese, Indian, Nyonya, Thai and a sprinkling of Western dishes such as pasta and hamburgers.

As you walk through Penang’s Indian area, you are greeted by the scent of dozens of stalls and small shops cooking up spicy biriyanis, masalas, daal and dosas whilst meat marinated in tandori spices roasts on spits and in ovens.

If you fancy a treat, take a spin in the Revolving Restaurant on 25A Lebuh Farquhar. It takes an hour for the restaurant to make a complete revolution, allowing you to enjoy spectacular views of Penang.

Some of the best and cheapest accommodation can be found in Georgetown, especially on Lebuh Chulia, where there are several guesthouses offering rooms from RM 200 per night.

Butterworth, Malaysia

penang_malaysia_3The town of Butterworth is a main stopping off point for people travelling from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur. There is a sleeper train that runs all the way from Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok to Butterworth. Passengers can then change trains at Butterworth station and continue their journey to Kuala Lumpur.

The pretty island of Penang is also located just across the water from Butterworth station and there are regular ferries running between the two ports from 5:30 in the morning until just after midnight.

Although few people give Butterworth more than a fleeting glance, the town does have a few attractions to explore and there are some good places to stay if you arrive too late to catch the train or ferry.

If you do find yourself with a little time to kill in Butterworth, head to the Bird Park, which is just a short bus ride away from the Butterworth Ferry Terminal. Here you will find Malaysia’s largest bird park, which contains a collection of more than 300 species of birds, including the colourful hornbill.

As you wander around Butterworth you will be sure to spot the elaborately decorated Temple of the Ninth Emperor God, situated on Jalan Raja Ud. There is also a lush golf course known as Teluk Air Tawar, where golfers can play a round or two and stop off for refreshments at the bar.

Butterworth even has its own small stretch of sand, and this is a good place to relax for a while, dine on deliciously fresh seafood and perhaps indulge in a cocktail or two.