Tag - province

Chaiyaphum, Thailand

 

Barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks.
Barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks.
Barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks.

Though not as rich in attractions as its neighbouring provinces, barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks, and has a few worthy spots of its own too. CHRIS WOTTON gets under the skin of this undiscovered slice of Isaan.
 
Never heard of Chaiyaphum? That’s little surprise, as few people have. Tucked up in Thailand’s north-eastern Isaan region and bordered by Khorat and Khon Kaen, this largely untouristed province barely registers a foreign face. Still very Thai in appearance and character, the main industries here are rice and sugar production, while the province is also renowned as a silk centre. The capital city of an otherwise largely rural province shows the signs of some limited urban development, but venture here and you will still discover somewhere pleasingly quiet and low-key, the perfect antidote to the Bangkok lifestyle.

The primary attractions here, the Jao Pho Praya Lae monument and Prang Ku, are largely unimpressive and at most worth a passing glance. In fact, you will probably pass the former several times before even realising what it is. Jao Pho Phraya Lae was the eighteenth century Lao ruler of Chaiyaphum, and this statue in his name is the centrepiece of a roundabout in the centre of town on Bannakan Road. He switched sides to fight with Bangkok when Vientiane declared war on Siam at the start of the 1800s.

Jao Pho Phraya Lae lost his life in the ensuing battles, but was kept in high esteem in Chaiyaphum and today has two annual festivals celebrated in his name in January and May.

The Khmer Prang Ku further along Bannakan Road past the entrance to Siam River Resort, meanwhile, is really equally disappointing as a sight. Poorly preserved and not much to look at at all, in its heyday it was a temple on the route that connected Angkor Wat with the (far more impressive and better restored) Prasat Muang Singh just outside of Kanchanaburi.
Today, if nothing else it serves as a reminder of just how small Chaiyaphum proper really is – particularly at night, by the time you’ve walked just a short way east to this site, you feel like you’re well out of the city and into Isaan village life.

Tat Ton National Park makes for far more of a reason to visit Chaiyaphum. Twenty-three kilometres away and easily reached by 30 baht public songthaew share taxi from a stand at the north end of the city on Non Muang Road, it boasts amongst other sights an impressive waterfall that stretches to 50m wide in the rainy season – take care as it is easy to sip by the water’s edge. Group tours aside, you are likely to be almost alone in the park, and pretty much certainly the only foreigner. The 100 baht entrance fee gets you access to the whole park, which also includes the smaller Tat Fah waterfall.

The park as a whole is the perfect spot for a dose of back-to-nature relaxation sure to enliven the senses, and if you want to drag it out a little longer there are bungalows to rent too. The return journey to Chaiyaphum is a bit more of a pain than getting there, since songthaews don’t take this route after the morning – but you can hitch a ride back to Chaiyaphum quite easily. If all else fails, walk some way along the road you came down, make yourself look tired and wait for a few women to start shouting, asking if you need a lift back to Chaiyaphum (for a price). They came to our rescue, so they’re bound to for you as well.

Back in Chaiyaphum proper, picnics are the order of the day at a secluded, peaceful spot at the side of a small lake in the streets behind the Tesco Lotus supermarket on Sanambin Road. Roll up on a bike or on foot, having stopped at food stalls on the lanes nearby for giant Isaan-sized grilled chicken skewers and fresh pineapple with dried chilli and sugar, and soak up the goodness of some fresh Chaiyaphum air from the shade of the many trees lining the lake. As is the beauty with so much in this city, aside from the odd local fisherman you will likely have the place to yourself.

GET THERE: Buses run by at least three different companies connect Chaiyaphum with Bangkok’s northern Morchit bus terminal in about six hours. On the return leg, the three companies unhelpfully all have their own departure terminals dotted around town, but there are also local bus connections to Khon Kaen and Khorat, both linked to Bangkok by trains and planes.

WHERE TO STAY: Most western tourists stay at the five-star Siam River Resort, towards the far end of Bannakan Road, where 990 Baht will bag you a plush room with balcony and breakfast, and access to the pool. There’s free wi-fi and bike hire and staff are excellent. The Deeprom Hotel is also worth a look, with its pleasing pastel exterior, though staff speak little English. Expect to pay 800 Baht for a double air-con room.

MOVING ON: Khon Kaen is two and a half hours away by local bus – great for foodies, it also boasts the Bueng Kaen Nakhon lake which makes for a great walking spot. Buses to Khorat take two hours.

CHRIS WOTTON is a twenty-something crazy about Thailand. After a first visit in 2008, he fell in love with the country and has since travelled its length and breadth, searching out local life – and local food! – while writing and researching for SE Asia travel guides and magazines. When not discovering and writing about Thailand, Chris studies French and German in his native UK, and runs an online shop selling authentic Japanese and Thai cooking ingredients.

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.

Saravane, Laos

northern_laos_1
northern_laos_2

Not many travellers make it to Saravane, which is located on the Bolaven Plateau in south eastern Laos. Although they are certainly missing out, this perhaps makes the experience even more exceptional for those who do take the trouble to step off the tourist trail and explore this striking region.

Also known as Salavan, this pretty province is full of sparkling waterfalls, dense jungle, tiny tribe villages and caves to explore. This is also home to one of Lao’s best preserved prehistoric sites, and trekking to this area is rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding countryside and a nearby waterfall.

Those who do venture this far usually come to experience the stunning beauty of the Phu Xieng Thong National Biodiversity Conservation Area. This immense area of pristine jungle is home to a diverse collection of animals such as the Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard, Douc langur, elephant, gibbon, banteng, Siamese crocodile and even a tiger or two. It is a good idea to take a guide with you as the sheer size of the area makes it easy to get lost.

Another interesting feature of this province is a cave containing a number of huge stone caskets. These caskets are all piled on top of each other and although there are many theories about the reasons behind it, nobody really has the answers about how and why they got there.

Saravane’s large market is a great place to sample the region’s food and watch local life unfold. Local life revolves around the market as people turn up to sell produce, swap gossip and shop for goods. Take a break beside the river and watch this colourful street drama.

Despite its remoteness, there are a few good places to stay around Saravane. The people who live here are warm and welcoming and it is not unusual to be invited to share a meal with one of the families or even spend the night in their home.

Khammouane, Laos

Khammouane, Laos
Khammouane, Laos
Khammouane, Laos

This very pretty Lao province is surrounded by amazing limestone formations, caves, rivers and dense jungle. The population of the province is around 260,000, with people coming from several different tribes such as Phuan, Tahoy, Kri and Katang. Most of the settlements in Khammouane province are small villages with collections of houses built from wood in the traditional Lao style. Everywhere you turn in Khammouane you are surrounded by intense natural beauty. Rich dark soil is covered with colourful plantations of rice, cabbage, sugar cane and bananas, while the Annamite mountain range is to the east and sparkling rivers, forests and caves are just waiting to be explored.

Khammouane province is easy to reach by bus from Vientiane in just five or six hours. There are plenty for visitors to do here such as kayaking, rafting, and caving. There are a large number of caves to explore and some of the highlights include the Buddha cave and Tham Nang Aen cave, while the Tham Xieng Lap caves are so pretty that they are worthy of a day trip by themselves.

Another great day trip destination is That Skihotabang, which is a large and interesting stupa commissioned by King Nanthasen in the 10th century.  The stupa was carefully restored in the 1950s and is an impressive sight.

The province’s capital is Tha Kek and this is a good place to stay for a night or two while you explore this lush and leafy area of Laos. While in Tha Khek take the time to explore the striking French colonial architecture in the city and sample the delicious range of Lao dishes, which is slightly different to those found in the rest of the country.

Nature lovers will want to explore the Nakai-Nam Theun Biodiversity Conservation Area, where you can spot a wonderful range of animals such as elephant, tigers, lemur and turtles. For excellent views over the jungle climb the Khammouane Limestone, which is a maze of limestone karst peaks.

Champassak, Laos

Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos

Situated in south-western Laos, The province of Champassak is stunningly beautiful and has a lot to offer visitors. The people who live here have a distinctly different language, culture and life style to people in the rest of Laos and this is an interesting place to explore.

Pakse is the capital of Champassak province and it is here you will find the enchanting irriwaddy dolphins. Take a boat trip on the Mekong River for a chance to spot these shy mammals as they play in the water and leap through the waves.

Situated on picturesque Done Khone Island, the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Centre is a good place to find out more about these interesting animals and how to protect them. Nearby you will find Wat Phou, which is located high atop a mountain and considered to be one of the most important sights in Laos. The temple dates back to the same period as Cambodia’s treasure Angkor Wat and offers spectacular views from the top.
Champassak is also home to the largest waterfalls in Southeast Asia. Known as Khone Pha Pheng, these pretty falls are easy to get to by boat or road and are a great place for a swim and a picnic, surrounded by dense jungle and a colourful array of wildlife.

Another great day trip is the Dong Hua Sao Forest reserve, which is a great place to spot a wide variety of wildlife. There are a large number of waterfalls to explore here such as the Li Phi falls and it is possible to spend the night.
The town of Champassak itself was home to the royal family until about 30 years ago and you will still find a large number of grand buildings here, including a collection from the French colonial-era, which make an interesting contract beside the traditional wooden Laotian houses and shining temples. The town has a sleepy feel to it these days and there are few vehicles to clog the streets.

There are plenty of things to do in Champassak such as elephant riding, trekking and boat rides. Champassak’s rich and fertile land is perfect for growing crops and you will find large coffee, cardamom and bananas plantations here, which make the perfect backdrop for a scenic country walk.

Oudomsay, Laos

Oudomsay, Laos
Oudomsay, Laos
Oudomsay, Laos

Also known as Oudomxay or Oudômxa, this pretty province in the northwest of Laos was created in 1976 and is a good place to stop for a break if you are travelling between the temple town of Luang Prabang and Phonsaly or Sayabouri.

This is an area of intense natural beauty and the ideal place for trekking and to explore the neighbouring ethnic villages. Adventure sports such as rock climbing and rafting are popular here, while this is also a good place for cycling and bird watching.

Oudomsay is located close to the Chinese border and you will find an interesting mix of cultures as you wander through the province. There are 23 different ethnic minority groups living within the province, all with their own unique belief systems, customs, food and styles of dress.

A great way to spend a day is by trekking the 8 miles to the very pretty waterfall of Tad Lak Sip Et. Explore the Muong La District of Oudomsay and you will find an interesting range of temples, villages and hot spring located deep in the jungle.

One of Oudomsay’s main attractions is the Saymoungkhoune Rattana Stupa. This towering white stupa is a sacred spot and a great place to visit if you’re walking through the surrounding countryside. For spectacular views of the countryside, climb to the top of Phouxay Mountain. Gaze out at a rich vista of paddy fields, jungle, farmland and tiny villages before exploring the rest of the area.

A great place to try traditional Lao food is the Muang Xai market. People travel from all over the province to this large and vibrant market to sell their wares and this is a good place to stop eat and pick up and bargain or two.

An interesting way to travel through this region of Laos is to trek to Muang Say, then take a short bus or pickup truck ride to the picturesque village of Pakbeng. The mighty Mekong River flows from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang and the journey by large, wooden boat takes around five hours. As you sail slowly down the river you will pass limestone cliffs, mangroves and fishing villages.

Luang Namtha, Laos

Luang Namtha, Laos
Luang Namtha, Laos
Luang Namtha, Laos

Bordered by both China and Myanmar, Luang Namtha province is situated to the north of Laos and is home to 39 of the country’s ethnic groups. This is a good place to pause before making your way into China as the Chinese-Lao border crossing is located nearby at Boten and connects Laos with Mohan in China. Visitors to Luang Namtha will notice some similarities between the local culture and that of China, and those familiar with Laos will enjoy making comparisons between this province and the rest of the country.

This region is famous for its stunningly beautiful rainforest and unspoilt monsoon forest and no visit to Luang Namtha would be completed without a trip to the Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area. There are plenty of animals to spot here including tigers, bears, clouded leopard, and gibbons as well as a large collection of colourful birds and reptiles.

Luang Namtha is a good place to rest and relax and immerse yourself in the beauty of the area. Walking is a good way to explore and there are several villages where you can stay for a day or two and simply explore or relax by the river and listen to the wind in the trees.

The town of Luang Nam Tha is a good place to stay and you will find plenty of basic places to stay and evening entertainment at the night market. Surrounded by a pretty patchwork of rich rice paddy fields, this is a great place to stop for a day or two and get learn about the diversely different tribes that live in the villages nearby. The town sits on a hilly area and provides great views of the surrounding countryside.

A popular activity around Luang Namtha is trekking. There are a number of experienced guides available and embarking on a trek with a qualified guide can be a rewarding experience as they can provide an insight into the unique culture of the region and make can provide access to the many villages and villagers themselves.

Tranquil and picturesque, the town of Muang Xing has a great collection of friendly guesthouses where you are sure to receive a warm welcome and a good meal. This is a good place to arrange trekking and hiking trips and to meet fellow travellers to share a beer or two in the evening and swap stories with.

Houa Phah, Laos

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Houa Phah, Laos
Houa Phah, Laos

The former base for the Lao People’s Revolutionary Army, Houa Phan province is located in the northeast of Laos. Now free from trouble, this pretty province is surrounded by natural beauty such as caves, waterfalls, mountains and rich rice fields.

Few tourists step off the tourist trail long enough to experience Houa Phah’s gentle charms, yet there are wonderful rewards in store for those who make the effort. Pristine emerald green forests and limestone mountains are just waiting to be explored and there is a good variety of wildlife to spot.

There are more than 100 caves located in Houa Phanh. Available in all shapes and sizes, visiting the caves is an interesting experience and also a good way to keep cool. Perhaps the most famous of all the caves is Tham Than Souphanouvong, which was once the home of Prince Souphanouvong when he was forced into hiding.

Other caves worth visiting in the area are Tham Than Kaysone and Tham Than Khamtay. Both of these caves were the residences of leading Lao political figures and are very grand in scale featuring meeting rooms and reception areas.

After a busy day of climbing through the caves, visitors to Houa Phah can soak away their aches and pains in the local hot spring in the Xam Tay district, where the waters reach temperatures of 40?C. Cool off afterwards in the pretty Xam Tay waterfall and explore the surrounding forest.

There are a large number of villages dotted around Houa Phah and the talented villages are well known for their craftwork skills. This is a good time to watch weaving, which is still done using traditional methods. The textiles made here are thought by many to be some of the finest in Asia and make great souvenirs.

Hintang Archeological Park is one of Laos’ more important prehistoric sites and a great place for a daytrip. Wander through the ruins and discover the foundations of this picturesque region and pay a visit to the large and inviting Keo Nong Vay temple.

Borikhamsay, Laos

Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos

If you want a place to relax and unwind surrounded by stunning natural scenery, Borikhamsay is the place to be. Borikhamsay province is located in central Laos, about a three hour drive from the capital city of Vientiane. Borikhamsay’s close proximity to Vientiane makes it a good destination for a day trip, although it is also a good place to pause for a day or two and discover the natural beauty of Laos.  

Also known as Bolikhamsai, Borikhamsay is an important pilgrimage site and people travel from all over the country to visit Wat Phra Baat, which contains a footprint believed to have been made by Lord Buddha as he travelled through the countryside. Laos was once home to a large collection of Buddhist monuments but sadly most have been decimated by war over the years, making this footprint all the more precious.

Another good day trip is the stone forest at Poupha Mane, where the large collection of rocky pinnacles are a striking sight. To the south it is possible to spot wildlife such as the hatinh langur, mable cat and the Asian forest tortoise in the pristine forests of Nam Thuen, while the National Biodiversity Conservation Area is Laos’ largest conservation area. Here you will find many endangered animals including the Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard, elephant, giant muntjac, guar, Malayan sun bear, and tiger. There are guides available to lead you through the forests and explain all about this amazing area.

The capital town of the province is Paksan, and here you will find plenty of places to stay as well as some good restaurants and of course the famous Laos hospitality. A good way to get around this area is by hiring a bicycle or simply walking, talking the time to share smiles and greetings with the people you pass along the way.

Paksan is also a good stopping off point for people travelling to Vietnam as it is situated close to the Vietnamese border. The majority of the region’s population is comprised by tribes such as the Thai, Phuan, Tri and Hmong. This is a good time to learn more about these interesting tribes and their alternative lifestyles.

Bokeo, Laos

Bokeo, Laos
Bokeo, Laos
Bokeo, Laos

The name Bokeo means ‘gem mine’ in the Laos language, and this small province is famous for its sparkling sapphires. Situated to the northwest of Laos near Thailand and Myanmar, this is Laos’ smallest province.

Most people travel to Bokeo to visit the Bokeo Nature Reserve, which is managed by The Gibbon Experience. Visitors to the reserve have the unique opportunity to stay in tree-top accommodation and observe the beautiful black crested gibbons in one of their last remaining habitats in the world. Visitors can also trek through the forest along the picturesque Nam Nga River.

Bokeo is home to 34 of Laos’ ethnic groups, with the largest being the Akha. These ethnic groups each follow their own individual traditional cultural practices. There are more than 450 villages in Bokeo to explore and trekking through the countryside can be a very rewarding experience.

Take a walk to the Chomkao Manilat temple and climb the steep flight of steps to the very top witness stunning panoramic views over Houy Xay city, the Mekong River and surrounding mountains and countryside.

Also known as ‘the Land of Sapphires’, panning for gold and mining precious stones is still a profitable job in Bokeo and you can witness this and perhaps pick up a bargain or two in the picturesque village of Ban Nam Khok.

A boat trip is a very relaxing and pretty way to explore Bokeo and it easy to arrange trips upstream from Houixay, stopping off at traditional villages such as Ban Namkeung Kout, Ban Namkeung Mai and Ban Done Deng on the way through the province.

The people of Bokeo are warm and welcoming and you are sure to be well received wherever you go. In the evening, head to the local markets for a good meal and some light banter with the people who work there.