Tag - architecture

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.

Kuching, Malaysia

Kuching, MalaysiaThose who love cities won’t be disappointed by Kuching, which offers a wide range of amenities as well as plenty of interesting things to see and do.

One of the most enchanting activities here involves wandering along the banks of the gently flowing Sarawak River. A large number of interesting buildings can be found close to the river, including historical houses, shops and temples, and one of the highlights here is the large and lovely Fort Margherita, which was constructed by Charles Brooke in 1879 as a tribute to his beloved wife Rani Margaret. A number of ferries also offer to take visitors across the river for a few Ringgit, and this is a great way to view the area.

Those who want to relax and unwind for a while can spend time wandering in the picturesque gardens of Kuchin, which can be found in abundance. Those who enjoy temple hopping will also be in their element here, and one of the most enchanting places of worship here is the Hong Saan Temple, while culture vultures will want to make sure that they check out the Sarawak Museum and Islamic Museum.

Stargazers can pay a visit to Kuchin’s Planetarium, which was the first ever to be built in Malaysia, while those who like to shop until they drop will want to check out the wide range of goodies that can be found at the weekend market, which is known locally as Pasar Minggu.

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.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang was formerly the capital of Laos and is situated at the meeting point of the Mekong and Mae Kok rivers in northern Laos. Most travellers in Laos make it to this large and inviting city at some point during their journey and this is a great place to spend a few days.

Luang Prabang Province is considered by many to be Laos’ cultural and heritage centre and here you will find a large collection of Buddhist monasteries, temples and monuments. The town itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers some stunning examples of French architecture and traditional temple art.

Surrounded by dense jungle and sparkling rivers, Luang Prabang Province is extremely beautiful. The earth is a rich brown colour and to the north rocky mountains make an impressive backdrop. Trekking is popular here and there are a good range of activities available such as rock climbing and boat trips.

Among the largest and most impressive of Luang Prabang’s temples are Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Visoun and Wat Ou Tay, while the 24-metre high stupa of That Chomsi is an impressive sight. For spectacular views over the city climb to the top of Phu Si, which is also one of the best places to watch the sun set over the city.

There are plenty to see and do around the province. 30 miles north of Luang Prabang city is the cave of Tham Ting, which is filled with large Buddha images and is a prominent place of worship for the local people. The cave is situated right on the river and combined with the two hour boat trip to get there this is a great way to spend a day.

Another good day trip destination pretty the Tad Sae waterfall and Kuang Si waterfall, while the National Museum is a good place to learn more about the local culture and history. Topped by an impressive golden-spired stupa, Luang Prabang’s former royal palace has been transformed into the Palace Museum, and here you will find an impressive collection of regal artefacts and royal portraits

There are a large number of cheap guesthouses available in Luang Prabang and plenty of restaurants serving international food. A great time to visit is during one of the country’s festivals, when the streets are filled with colourful and noisy processions.   

Getting around Luang Prabang is easy and this is a great place to take it easy before venturing into the more remote areas of Laos.

Yangon, Burma

Yangon, Burma
Yangon, Burma
Yangon, Burma

Formerly known as Rangoon, this large, vibrant city is full of gleaming temples, markets and interesting buildings. The focal point of any visit to Yangon will probably be the much photographed Shwedagon Paya. This ancient Buddhist shrine is said to be more than 2,500 years old and gigantic golden stupa can be seen from all over the city, much like the Taj Mahal in Agra. 

There are many sides to this fascinating city. Wander along the waterfront and you will discover aged streets full of British colonial-era architecture, while other streets such as the Strand or Pansodan Street have been renovated and have an ultra-modern feel.

In many ways Yangon feels like a Western city with tree-lined avenues, picturesque lakes and colonial architecture. A trip to Chinatown offers a different dimension to the city and this is a particularly good place to get an evening meal and wander through the bright lights and colourful decorations.

Most tours of the city will start with its temples and pagodas and there are certainly plenty to see. Top of the list should be the ancient Sule Pagoda, the mirrored maze inside the Botataung Pagoda and the Maha Pasan Guha.

Despite its often chaotic feel, there are plenty of places to relax in Yangon. Take a walk through the Mahabandoola Garden and you will find a beautiful rose garden, while there is a water fountain and informative museum in People’s Park.

Take a boat trip on the large Inya Lake before viewing the traditional Burmese royal boat at Kandawgyi Lake.

Those interested in the city’s history can visit Aung San’s house, which has been turned into a museum of sorts, before visiting the place where Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest for so many years. 

There is plenty to see just outside Yangon such as the Naga-Yone enclosure near Myinkaba. Here you will find a large Buddhist statue, while the Golden Rock Pagoda at Kyaik Tyo is an 18 foot high shrine built on a gold-plated boulder on top of a cliff.

Take the The Dallah Ferry across the river to visit the pretty village of Dallah. The ride itself is beautiful and provides an interesting inside into country life as people try hard to sell their ways and compete for attention.

Mandalay, Burma

Mandalay, Burma
Mandalay, Burma
Mandalay, Burma

Mandalay was the former capital of Burma and home to a number of Burmese kings. This is the country’s second largest city and is very modern compared to much of Myanmar. The city is rich with culture and history and here you will find large palaces, stupas, temples and pretty pagodas interlaced with vibrant market places, dusty streets and stunning views.

Mandalay was founded in 1857 by King Mindon and there are still plenty of examples of architecture from this period such as the golden Eindawya Pagoda, collections of old wooden buildings originally from Amarapura and the the Shwekyimyint Pagoda, which houses the original Buddha image sanctified by Prince Minshinzaw.

Near Mandalay Hill you will find the enormous Shweyattaw Buddha and the Royal Palace, which is situated in the middle of a large moat at the foot of Mandalay Hill. Climb to the top of Mandalay Hill for magnificent views across the city. As you climb you will come across a number of monasteries and temples, while there are a collection of pretty pagodas and temples at the very top.

Venture just outside Mandalay and you will discover a number of former capital cities, each with their own unique character. A short trip to Sagaing is rewarded with views of the pretty Tupayon, Aungmyelawka and Kaunghmudaw pagodas, while a trip along the river to Mingun gives visitors the chance to see the Mingun Bell, which is believed to be the world’s largest uncracked hung bell. The bell was cast in 1790 to be hung in the giant pagoda of King Bodawpaya and is an impressive sight.

Mandalay is certainly a record-breaking city and in addition to the world’s largest uncracked bell you will find the world’s largest book in the Kuthodaw Paya at the foot of Mandalay Hill. The Kuthodaw Paya comprises more than 700 white stupas and the complete text of the Tripitaka, which is the most sacred text of Theravada Buddhism.

Mandalay is a good place to pick up a souvenir or two as the large markets are full of local produce and handicrafts. Alternatively, a short trip south of Mandalay will take you to the city of Amarapura, which is famous for cotton and silk weaving and you can watch the traditional skills being practiced here.

The vibrant city of Mandalay is a good place to get a bite to eat and there are a number of food stalls and restaurants offering Shan, Myanmar and Muslin food. While you’re here, try htou moun, which is a traditional dessert only found in Mandalay. Very sweet and oily, people travel from all over the country to sample the gelatinous dessert.

Kalaw, Burma

Kalaw, Burma

Kalaw, Burma
Kalaw, Burma

Surrounded by dramatic mountains, flowing rivers, colourful villages and bamboo groves, the pretty hill station of Kalaw is the perfect place for trekking. Many people take advantage of the cool climate to visit during the summer months, when the rest of Myanmar is significantly hotter and more humid.

Inle Lake is located around 30 miles to the west of Kalaw and this is a popular place for hiking to. As you hike through to countryside you will discover a number of small Shan villages, where the people are warm and welcoming and you can witness the gentle nuances of traditional life. Watch as the people weave their colourful clothing and roll cigars from the leaves of the Thanatphet trees.

This is a great place to relax for a while and enjoy the slow pace of life. Kalaw was a former British colonial town and you will find a number of churches such as Christ the King church and other British style buildings. Tudor-style houses sit amongst English rose gardens, making an interesting contrast to the traditional Burmese villages that surround the town.

There are still plenty of examples of Asian architecture in and around Kalaw however. An interesting example is the Hnee Phaya, which is an old and highly revered pagoda featuring a Buddha image made from woven strips of bamboo. Also worth visiting is the Shweumin Pagoda, which is built inside a natural limestone cave. There are a number of Buddha images inside the cave that were commissioned by King Narapataesithu.

Climbing one of the surrounding hills provides a fantastic view of Kalaw. As you explore you will see spectacular scenery such as elephants working in the pine forests, sweeping tea and coffee plantations and women plucking tea leaves from the low bushes.

The vibrant Kalaw market is held every five days and is a great place to stock up on supplies for your trek. People travel from all over the areas to sell their wares and the market is a very lively affair. This is a great place to pick up a bargain or two and sample a delicious variety of local food and drink.

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand

Just one hour from Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya is a key destination for anyone interested in history, culture and architecture. This former capital of Thailand is steeped in history and is a great place to spend a couple of days.

Formerly known as Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, the city was founded by King U-Thong in 1350 and kept its status as the nation’s capital until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767. Ayutthaya was once one of the richest cities in Asia by the 1600s, as its vast array of temples still testifies.

Most visitors come to explore The Ayutthaya historical park, which contains most of the magnificent ruins of the ancient city and was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1981. Over 400 hundred temples were originally built in Ayutthaya, and the fact that they were built by various rules means that they comprise an interesting range of designs and styles.

Many of the temples from Ayutthaya’s glory period still exist today, although in various states of preservation. Wat Mahathat is by far Ayutthaya’s most photographed temple, made famous by the head of a large Buddha statue which has become entangled in the roots of a giant banyan tree.

Other temples of note include Wat Lokayasutharam (also known as the temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Mongkhon Bophit and Wat Naphrameru.

Ayutthaya’s temples cover an area of several kilometres, and many people choose to explore the area by hiring a bicycle or a tuk-tuk for the day. You can learn more about Ayutthaya’s rich and interesting history at the Chantharakasem National Museum.

But there is much more to Ayutthaya than simply temples. The Ayutthaya Elephant Camp provides visitors with the perfect opportunity to find out more about these mighty beasts and rides can be arranged around the scenic area.

The nearby town of Bang Pa In, with its glorious Summer Palace provides an excellent site for a day trip. Another great day trip is the Bang Sai Royal Arts and Crafts Center, which aims is to train people with poor backgrounds and to try provide them with the skills to earn a descent income. The arts and crafts here are of a very high quality and make excellent souvenirs.

Phichit, Thailand

Phichit, Thailand
Phichit, Thailand
Phichit, Thailand
Phichit, Thailand

Located roughly 345 kilometres north of Bangkok, Phichit is known as the land of the crocodiles. In the past, this area was home to a large number of ferocious land crocodiles and now contains several fresh-water crocodile farms.

There are many interesting sites to explore in Phichit and many visitors find it necessary to extend their stay by several days in order to see everything. A great way to explore is to hire a motorbike or bicycle and cycle through the province at your own pace, noting the scenery and interesting architecture.

If you are interested in history, pay a visit to Utthayan Mueang Kao Pichit, which is a large park with an ancient town dating back more than 900 years. Most of the structures were built during the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods and the old town is surrounded by city walls and moats. In the town centre is Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat with its large bell-shaped chedi, containing numerous votive tablets.

Another site of historical and cultural interest is Ku Mahathat, where you can see ancient Khmer ruins, whilst Bung Si Fai is a large fresh-water lake to the south of town. There is a pretty landscaped park along the banks of the lake, which is a good place for a picnic. There is an aquarium on the other side of the park, which contains species of native fish and local fishing equipment.

There are a large number of interesting temples in Phichit. Among the best are Wat Pho Prathap Chang with its bronze Buddha statue, Wat Tha Luang and the extremely beautiful Wat Nakhon Chum.

Wat Bang Khlan was once the resident temple of the highly revered monk Luang Pho Ngoen and many people visit the temple in order to pay homage to a statue of Luang Pho Ngoen. Worth visiting is the Chai Bowon Museum inside the temple, which displays ancient items such as votive tablets, Buddha statues and earthenware. It is open every Saturday and Sunday.

Another interesting temple is Wat Khao Rup Chang, which is located along the Phichit-Taphan Hin road, 15 kilometres from town. On the hilltop is an old, Ayutthaya-style Chedi built from bricks. There is also a Mondop featuring interesting if slightly faded wall murals. The main purpose of the Mondop is that it houses a bronze Holy Relic.

The long awaited boat racing festival is usually held after the homage-paying rites to the province’s principal Buddha statue during September of each year and takes place on the Nan River in front of Wat Tha Luang. The entire area comes alive during the boat races, when teams of up to 50 men compete to be the first to row their enormous boat to the finish line. The festival is celebrated with displays of traditional singing and dancing and there is much merry making.