Tag - attractions

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.

Melaka, Malaysia

Melaka, MalaysiaThe city of Melaka is a great place to pause for a while on the trip through Central Malaysia, and this traditional city is often referred to as the ‘soul of the nation’, as many people see it as summing up exactly what Malaysia is all about. Of course, there are a large number of large and impressive mosques here, while visiting the vibrant local market places is the perfect way to gain an insight into local life as well as doing a spot of shopping along the way.

Melaka is famed for its rich and varied cuisine, and excellent restaurants can be found all over the city. Taking a cooking class here is also a good way to find out what Melaka is all about while gaining a skill that you can use to impress friends and family members with when you get back home.

While the city can be rather busy during the daytime, it is surrounding by intense natural beauty, and sun worshippers will want to spend time soaking up the sun on Melaka’s pristine sandy beaches. There are also large forests and parks to explore here, which are simply teeming with a diverse range of flora and fauna.

Local legend explains that the city of Melaka was founded by Parameswara, who is believed to have been related to a Hindi prince and possibly even Alexander the Great. The story goes that Parameswara was hunting and stopped to rest near the Malacca River. He was standing next to an Indian gooseberry tree known as a melaka when one of his hunting dogs was startled by a mouse deer and fell into the river. Parameswara took this incident as an auspicious sign and decided to build the capital of his new kingdom where he stood, naming it after the tree under which he had been resting.

Visitors will want to spend at least three days exploring Melaka, as there are numerous unmissable attractions to discover here. The city can also be used as a convenient base to explore a whole host of surrounding attractions, while this is the perfect place to arrange for tour guides, change money and make use of endless other amenities.

Central Malaysia

Central MalaysiaThe central region of Malaysia is a great place to visit to escape the scorching Malay weather as temperatures are significantly cooler here, especially in the stunningly beautiful region known as the Cameron Highlands.
Central Malaysia is also home to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, which contains all the interesting attractions and facilities you would expect from a modern Asian city. This is a good place to use as a base as you explore the beauty that surrounds Kuala Lumpur.

Another interesting metropolis is Melaka, which is renowned as the center of the Muslim faith in Malaysia. This is a good place to learn about the Muslim faith and traditions, as well as sampling a range of traditional Malay dishes.

One of the great things about central Malaysia is that it is particularly easy to get around, with bus and rail networks linking the major towns and cities. The railway network starts in Thailand and continues south into Singapore, meaning that both countries are easily accessible.

Malaysia’s many festivals are particularly vibrant in central Malaysia, with much of the attention focused on Kuala Lumpur. Many visitors try to arrange their trip so that they will be in Malaysia capital city during at least one of the major festivals or holidays.


Beaufort, Malaysia

Beaufort, MalaysiaA great place to spend the night while passing through Eastern Malaysia, the town of Beaufort is just waiting to be explored. This is a great destination to just wader through aimlessly, as pretty wooden shop houses and other buildings can be found at every twist and turn and the town’s sleepy atmosphere gives it a rather enchanting feel.

Those who enjoy taking place in adventure sports will be able to try their hands at white water rafting on the Pandas River, which is just a short trip away. This river is not for the faint of heart however, as it varies between Grade Three and Grade Four, and those who dare to paddle a kayak along the nine kilometre run will have seven rapids to negotiate.

Other good ways of seeing all that the area has to offer include taking a train ride through the countryside and a cruise on Klias River. Dinner cruises can also be arranged and this is the perfect way to see the area’s wildlife in style and comfort whilst dining on delicious Malaysian dishes.

Another popular attraction near Beaufort is Pulau Tiga Marine Park. Situated on one of Malaysia’s most picturesque and interesting islands, the first season of the reality-TV series Survivor was shot here. This area of diverse natural beauty features mud volcanoes and sea snakes.

The train ride that takes passengers along the Padas River Gorge to the traditional village of Tenom is particularly pretty, and this makes an excellent daytrip activity for those who have the time to spare, while visitors who travel here on Friday evening will be able to dine in style at the weekly night market.

Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia

Kinabalu National Park, MalaysiaHome to the area’s highest mountain and some spectacular forest, Kinabulu National Park is a great place to explore. Climbing to the summit of the impressive Mount Kinabalu is the most popular activity here, while there are also a large number of enchanting forest trails for visitors to follow.

Covering 754 square kilometers, Kinabalu National Park features a large number of natural attractions such as waterfalls, gardens and the Poring Hot Springs, where the warm mineral waters are the perfect place to soak away aches and pains after a hard day of mountain climbing or trekking through the forest.

Mount Kinabalu towers 4,095 meters above northern Borneo. Climb to the top for spectacular views and for the unparalleled sense of achievement that conquering this mighty mountain brings. It is possible to climb to the summit and back in about four hours, although it is better to allow a couple of days and take an overnight break at Laban Rata as the best views come in the early morning.

Unlike many other mountains of its loftiness, there are no special mountain climbing skills needed to scale Mount Kinabalu, although potential climbers should be reasonably fit. However, the park staff recommend that those planning to climb the mountain hire a guide as the mountain can be rather dangerous.

Kinabalu National Park has its own museum, where visitors can learn about the area’s flora and fauna before climbing the mountain or taking one of the marked trails through the forest. There are also a number of places to spend the night within the park, with options ranging from dorm beds to pretty chalets.

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

An area of incredible natural beauty situated in Krabi Province, there are actual two main islands of Koh Phi Phi; Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Leh. The Phi Phi Islands are believed by many to be among the most beautiful tropical islands in the world and have become one of Thailand’s most popular tourist attractions.

Koh Phi Phi Don is the area’s tourist hub. This is where you will find the majority of the hotels, beach bungalows, bars and restaurants. Koh Phi Phi Don covers an area of 28 square kilometres and features the twin bays of Ao Ton Sai and Ao Lo Da Lam with their stunning curving white sandy beaches, the perfect picture of an exotic tropical paradise. A great way to get an idea of the island’s true beauty is to tackle the 1000 foot vertical climb to Viewpoint. Although slightly challenging, the climb, which takes you through a lush leafy jungle, and the view more than make up for it.

There are many interesting activities to engage in on Koh Phi Phi Don, and it is easy to spend a week or more there. Fire jugglers and beach bars make up the evening entertainment, and there are plenty of restaurants showing western movies throughout the day and late into the night. There is dancing on the beach most nights. To experience a true touch of hedonism, visit the island around the full moon.

The sunset yoga classes on the beach are a good way to unwind, and you can learn a new skill and impress your friends by taking Thai cookery classes.

When it comes to food, just about every taste can be catered for, whether you fancy a fish barbecue on the beach, an all-you-can-eat feast or traditional Thai cooking. There is also a small market where you can eat with the locals at dramatically reduced prices and this is a good place to buy fresh fruit.

The clear waters, beautiful coral and colourful fish mean that the area is popular for diving and snorkelling, whilst many visit the island to climb the limestone cliffs. Boat trips are extremely popular and are usually combined with snorkelling and a visit to the extremely striking island of Koh Phi Phi Leh.

Koh Phi Phi Leh is famous for Ao Maya – the location where the movie “The Beach” was filmed. The island covers a mere 6.6 square kilometres and is surrounded by limestone mountains and sheer cliffs, which plunge hundreds of metres to the sparkling blue sea. The sea is around 20 metres deep and the deepest point to the

south of the island is approximately 34 metres. There is no accommodation on Koh Phi Phi Leh, and the only way to see it is by an arranged boat trip.

Koh Phi Phi Other islands in the area to explore include Koh Jam (also know as Koh Pu) and Koh Si Buya. Although extremely pretty, both of these small islands are less popular with tourists and are great places to stay if you want to avoid the crowds.

Loei, Thailand

Loei, Thailand
Loei, Thailand
Loei, Thailand
Loei, Thailand

This sparsely populated province in the North-East of Thailand has a lot to offer for the independent traveler with a strong sense of adventure and a dash of curiosity. Close to the Laos border, this can be a great place to stop off for a few days and discover the spirit of Thailand.

With its low mountains, flowing waterfalls and immense areas of open, fertile land forming plains that hold the province’s main town and the River Loei, this is a place of great natural beauty and contains a wide range of both natural and cultural attractions.

The province of Loei experiences different weather conditions to much of the rest of Thailand. During the winter the temperature can drop to 0 degrees C with swirling fogs and mists, whilst in the summer it is not unusual for temperatures to exceed 0 degrees C.

There are three main areas in this richly diverse province that draw travellers: Loei city, Dan Sai and the sleepy yet picturesque and very welcoming town of Chiang Khan.

The city of Loei was formed in 1853 by king Mongkut (Rama IV) in order to better administer the accelerated population in the area. Loei city is the capital of Loei Province and there are many things for visitors to see and do.

The extremely beautiful Phu Kradung National Park is well worth exploring, and it is easy to spend an entire day there as it contains several sparkling waterfalls and Tham Yai – which literally means ‘big cave’ in Thai.

Another great day trip idea is the Phu Reua National Park, which can be combined with a visit to the nearby Tham Erawan and Wat Tham Erawan.

The Culture Center of Loei is a great place to explore at your leisure and get to grips with the local history, and you can discover the uniquely creative side of the people at the Sirindhorn Arts Centre.

The centrally located night market is a good place to pick up a bargain, engage in some colourful local banter and find a cheap and tasty meal.

If you are in Loei city at the end of January, don’t miss the Cotton Blossom Festival, where floats are decorated with cotton and there is dancing and cavorting in the streets.