Tag - angkor wat

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.

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.

Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia

The second largest city in Cambodia, Battambang makes the idea base to explore the surrounding attractions. Situated to the northwest of Cambodia, Battambang is full of interesting buildings left over from the French colonial era and has a pleasantly relaxed feeling that entices many travellers to extend their stay for a day or two.

Battambang takes its name from the legend of an ancient Khmer king, who is said to have calmed the city’s rebellions with his battambang staff. As you wander through the city streets you will see a statue representing this event as well as a number of interesting statues depicting mythical animals and religious characters.

There is plenty to see and do in Battambang. Start by climbing the hill of Phnom Sampeu to enjoy spectacular views of the city and explore the hill’s caves, stupas and monastery. Near the hill is Wat Banan, which is dubbed a mini Angkor Wat and contains a large Buddhist shrine. Just to the west of the city, Wat Ek Phnom has also been constructed in Angkorian style, while Wat Baydamran is home to hundreds of fruit bats.

Situated 70 kilometers north of the city of Battambang in northeastern Cambodia, Bantaey Chhmar is a pretty temple complex built by Jayavarman VII as a tribute to the death of his son Indravarman and four generals in battle. Dating back to the 9th century, this is a great place to explore on a day trip. A mighty battle took place on this site in 1177 when it was invaded by the Cham people. Those interested in the areas unusual history can find the story engraved on the stone ways that surround Bantaey Chhmar. The complex has been overgrown by forest, giving it a mystical quality and it features large Avalokiteshvara faces which are reminiscent of the Bayon temple near Siem Reap.

Head out of Battambang to discover the ancient wooden houses of Watkor, which is a very pretty village. Other nearby villages worth exploring include Kompong Seyma, and Ksach Puoy. These villages offer a real insight into traditional Khmer life and you will still find people engrossed in skills such as weaving and basket making.

An interesting way to explore this area is by riding the bamboo train known as the norry. The Wat Poveal Museums is a good place to learn more about the Khmer arts, while just 44 kilometres from the city is Pich Chenda, a very pretty nature and wildlife preserve.

Walk along the bank of the Sangker River in the evening and you will discover a large number of small food stalls selling traditional Khmer food and also delicious French bread. This is a great place to get a cheap meal and perhaps wash it down with a beer or two.

A great way to travel to Battambang is by boat from Siem Reap. This scenic journey takes you slowly through the countryside, past floating villages and fishermen along narrow canals and waterways.

Anlong Veng, Cambodia

Anlong Veng, Cambodia
Anlong Veng, Cambodia
Anlong Veng, Cambodia

Anlong Veng is famous – or rather infamous – as being the home of Khmer Rouge Brother Number One Pol Pot as well as other leaders such as Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ta Mok. The little town is close to the border crossing of Choam–Choam Srawngam, and this is a good place to enter Thailand if you want to avoid the crowds and general hustle and bustle at Poi Pet.

Exercise caution when exploring this area as there are still a large number of unexploded landmarks in the countryside around the town. Make sure you stick to the clearly marked paths and if in doubt hire a guide to show you the sights.

Most people visit Anlong Veng to discover more about Cambodia under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Those who are interested in the life of former leader Pol Pot will be able to take a motorcycle ride through paddy fields to get here. Although the house itself is a bit of a let down, the ride is worthwhile as it takes visitors past the picturesque Damrek Mountains.

Next, take a short walk to Ta Mok’s mountain house, which offers stunning views of the surrounding area from is lofty position. Those who want to spend the night here will find a comfortable guesthouse nearby. Afterwards, take a short trip to Ta Mok’s town house, which is set overlooking a large lake. The house was built by Tak Mok himself and contains a number of large murals depicting scenes of Preah Vihear and Angkor Wat.

Pol Pot’s grave is also located in the town of Anlong Veng, although it is a fairly modest construction, complete with wire from old tires and a rusting metal roof. There is a small shrine nearby, which was put up by someone from Thailand after they had a dream in which Pol Pot appeared to them with the winning lottery numbers. Even in death, Pol Pot’s legend lives on in its own bafflingly bizarre way.

Local people often tend to gather at the manmade Anlong Veng Lake to do a spot of fishing, and this is also a good place to swim or take a boat out. Those who are feeling a bit peckish can buy food from the snack stalls that can be found near the lake and enjoy a picnic while soaking up the scenery.

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

The small city of Siem Reap is the best place to stay if you intend to visit the Angkor Wat complex. There are a number of good places to stay, restaurants offering a wide variety of international cuisine and bars to hang out in the evening.

Before you visit Angkor, stop by Miniature Replicas, where you will see sculptures of all the temples situated in a lovely garden. This is a good way to get an idea of how much there is to see and plan your time accordingly. There are also a number of modern temples situated around Siem Reap, such as Wat Bo with its beautiful paintings and former royal palace Wat Dam Nak, which provide an interesting contrast to the wonders of Angkor.

Angkor Wat is a major symbol in Cambodia; it appears on the flag, on coins, posters and just about anything else you can name. The site was reopened in 1991 after nearly two decades of closure due to civil unrest. The best way to start a tour of Angkor is to visit Phnom Bakheng in time for sunset. Not only is admission free, but you can get your pass made, avoiding the crowds the next day.

Get up early the following day and hire a moto with a driver for the day so that you can travel in style. Head straight to Angkor Thom, which is surrounded by a vast moat, before moving on to the Terrace of the Elephants, which is over 300 metres long.

The next temple to visit is the enchanting jungle temple of Preah Khan, while the nearby Neak Pean is a symbol of the lake that lies at the top of the universe.

It is best to allow around four hours to see Angkor Wat properly, so perhaps devote the following day to exploring this magnificent temple. According to records, it took around 30 years to complete Angkor Wat, which measures an impressive 65 metres and covers some 500 acres.

The mighty Wat is built on several levels. The Gallery features 1,000 Buddhas where Buddha effigies of all descriptions line the corridors, while the temples picture galleries display scenes from Hindu epic texts the Ramayana, the Battle of Kurukshetra, and other epic scenes such as the Judgement of Heaven and Hell. 1,500 apsaras or ‘heavenly dancing girls’ wonderfully decorate the second level interior.

Now it is time to screw up you courage and climb to the very summit of the top level, which is a privilege that was originally reserved for the High Priest and the King. 480 steep steps lead up to the five towers, which lie waiting like the Holy Grail at the end of a virtuous quest. Ascend the 70 degree angled steps carefully and walk around the outer gallery, enjoying the magnificent view, which is incredible from all angles. Watch the sun set before slowly descending once more.

Most people find it difficult to leave Siem Reap and you need to allow at least through days to explore thoroughly.

Northern Cambodia

Northern Cambodia
Northern Cambodia

Most of Cambodia’s tourist attractions are located in the north of the country. Not only is the national monument of Angkor Wat located here, but also the nearby vibrant town of Siem Reap. Just a short distance away is the capital city of Phnom Penh, which contains a wide range of attractions as well as good restaurants and places to stay.

Visitors to the northern region of Cambodia will find plenty to see and do. There are two major border crossings in the area, allowing visitors to cross travel into Cambodia from the neighbouring country of Laos or from Thailand via the notorious casino town of Poipet.

Before you visit Angkor Wat, take the time to travel through the countryside and visit some of the other ancient temples, many of which predate the magnificent temple complex. Climb to the top of Sambor Prei Kuk and hike through the dense forest surrounding Pursat

Located in amongst the Damrek Mountains, Anlong Veng is the home town of a number of Khmer Rouge leaders such as Pol Pet and Nuon Chea. Explore this town to discover the houses of the two men and wander through the picturesque landscape.