Click here for information on a pickup from Khao San Road to Suvarnabhumi Airport
Cherating started life as a traditional fishing village, and fishing is still one of the most popular forms of livelihood head. Those who like to dine on freshly caught seafood will find a large number of restaurants that serve up the catch of the day and the restaurants that line the beach offer visitors the chance to soak up the atmosphere while eating their fill. Simply choosing a spot on the sand and sunbathing for a while. Water sports are also popular, especially yachting, surfing and swimming.
Although this is the perfect place for doing nothing all day, there are plenty of things to do if you have extra energy to spare. Bicycles can be hired from most guesthouses and cycling is a great way to explore the village and surrounding area. People wave as you cycle past and beckon you to stop and shop for locally made souvenirs.
Visit the turtle sanctuary and you may be lucky enough to arrive when the turtles make their way to the shore, which takes place between June and August. The Green turtles emerge from the sea late at night during these months to lay as many as 100 eggs at a time and visitors have the chance to watch the event.
Cherating is also famed for its arts and crafts, and this is the perfect place to purchase gifts and souvenirs to take back home. Items such as pandanus leaf hats, bags and mats are all popular purchases here and make for unique reminders of your trip to Cherating.
The jungle here dates back some 130 million years and has managed to withstand the tests of time remarkably well. Those who have sharp eyesight and a good guide will have the chance to spot a wide range of animals as they make their way through the undergrowth, including monkeys swinging through the trees, a whole host of different species of snakes, tigers, elephants, rhinos, shy deer and the unusual looking tapir.
Those who have a strong sense of adventure will find plenty to do in Taman Negara, and among the most popular activities here are river rafting and cave exploration. Special treks are held in the evening, which gives visitors the opportunity to spot some of the park’s most active nocturnal creatures.
The majority of people come here in order to go trekking through the rain forest, and Taman Negara offers visitors a wide range of different types of trekking experiences. One of the most popular lasts for half a day and takes trekkers to the top of Teresek Hill, which is famed for its stunning panoramic views. The Canopy Walks offers visitors the chance to view Taman Negara from a different perspective, while others lead the way to stunning natural features such as waterfalls and caves.
Those who want to really get to know Taman Negara will want to spend the night here, and a wide range of different accommodation options are available. Camping out offers visitor the chance to really get back to nature and it is possible to hire camping equipment as well as fishing rods and other gear from the Mutiara Taman Negara resort shop.
The Old Town district is the perfect place to explore on foot, and there are also plenty of pavement cafes and restaurants in this part of the city where visitors can simply sit and soak up the atmosphere for a while.
Ipoh is famous for its food, and there are a wide variety of dishes to try. People travel from as far away as Singapore to dine on delicious curries, noodle dishes and a huge range of local specialities. A good place to find cheap and tasty food is at the hawkers stalls that line the road and gather by busy markets, especially in the evening.
Those who have got plenty of time to spare in Ipoh will want to take a trip to the cave temples of Perak Tong. This area was established as a place of worship by a devout Buddhist priest back in q926, and a large number of caves and grottos can be found here, many of which have been decorated with murals, which some of the chambers feature Buddha images and are used as places of worship to this day.
The cave of Sam Poh Tong is located to the south of Ipoh and contains a turtle pond. Another interesting day trip is the temple of Kek Look Tong, which also features a cool cavern. Climb into the cave and walk through to the back, where you will discover the Chinese Buddha of Future Happiness. There is also an ornamental garden with ponds and pagodas behind the cave.
There is a large causeway linking Malaysia to Singapore and many people pass through Johor Bahru on the way to ‘the garden city’. However, for those who take the time to explore, Johor Bahru is full of natural and cultural delights.
A great way to get an idea of the natural beauty of this area is by climbing Mount Ophir. At 1,276 meters this is the highest point in the area and provides fantastic views across the city and the Straits of Johor.
There are a large number of interesting buildings to explore and top of the list should be the ornate Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque and the Royal Palace Museum. The nearby communities of Kukup village and Muar town are good places to visit to gain an insight into traditional Malay life.
Those who want to soak up the sun for a while should take time to visit the enchanting Desaru beaches as well as the tropical island that are situated just to the south of Johor Bahru. Featuring cool, clear waters, Pulau Dayang is perhaps the most popular of these islands and is an excellent place to practice water sports such as scuba diving and snorkelling.
A great day trip destination is the Endau Rompin National Park, where you will have the chance to wander through pristine tropical rainforest and perhaps spot the Sumatran rhinoceros. You will also find the pretty Kota Tinggi waterfall, which is a good place to cool down after trekking through the forest.
Other local attractions include Johor Zoo, Saleng Zoo, Orchid Valley and Istana Garden, which is a great place for jogging or simply a walk in the park.
With its cool climate and lush natural beauty, the Cameron Highlands feel like they should be located somewhere in Europe rather than in Malaysia, and this is the perfect place to retreat from the heat and take part in natural activities such as hiking and trekking.
A large number of guided tours are offered by local companies and take visitors to surrounding places of interest such as the BOH tea factory, where visitors can learn all about the art of tea manufacture, right from the time the tender tealeaves are first picked to the drying and packing processes.
Other interesting attractions that can be found in the area include strawberry fields, bee gardens and insectariums. Most daytrips through the area also include trekking through the forest, and knowledgeable local guides will be able to tell visitors all about the flora and fauna that can be found along the way.
The Cameron Highlands has long been receiving visitors from all over the globe, and there are plenty of amenities for travellers to make use of here. In addition to stunning accommodation options visitors will also find an excellent selection of restaurants here, which serve up everything from authentic Indian curries to Chinese fare, while there are also a number of bars and shops to be found along the main drag.
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.
Nature lovers will want to spend time strolling around the banks of the city’s large and lovely parks, while there are also plenty of pretty parks to relax and unwind in. the city is also famed as a centre for traditional Minangkabau art and handicrafts, which make excellent gifts to take back home to friends and loved ones.
A great place to see traditional Minangkabau architecture is the Rumah Minangkabau, which is located right next to the State Museum on Jalan Labu. This ornate wooden building was constructed in 1898 and is engraved with verses from the Holy Koran. Not for the faint of heart, the Rumah Minangkabau is believed by locals to be haunted and definitely has a spooky feel.
One of the great things about Sremban is its diversity and you will find a wide range of temples here. A particularly decorative example is the Sri Bala T. Temple, which is dedicated to Hindu deities. Built in 1970, the State Mosque can be found on a small hill top overlooking the picturesque Lake Gardens, while nearby is the Catholic Church of the Visitation. Large fast food chain McDonalds may not seem like the holist of places, but you will even find a small, colourful Chinese shrine situated here.
If you’re looking for something a little bit different, visit the Jelita Ostrich farm, which is Malaysia’s first Ostrich Show Farm. Learn more about our fine feathered friends and breath in the fresh country air.
Another great day trip destination is Jeram Toi, which is a small, yet vey pretty waterfall. This is the perfect place for swimming, trekking and picnicking, and visitors can even camp at the falls overnight.
Seremban Parade is an interesting place to hang out, and this is a good place to pick up a bargain, find a good meal and shop for local arts and crafts. Another good place to people watch is the Seremban Lake Garden, which are large and beautiful. Here you will see people jogging, families picnicking and amorous couples sneaking looking at each other and perhaps even holding hands.
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.
Most people travel to Cambodia to visit the magnificent Angkor Wat, located near the bustling town of Siem Reap. One of the seven wonders of the world, Angkor Wat is just one in a number of enchanting ancient temples in this area, while the capital city of Phnom Penh also has plenty to offer visitors.
Although this richly diverse nation is bordered on virtually all sides, there are still some pretty islands and beaches to explore in Cambodia, such as the beach resort of Sihanoukville and the nearby islands in Ream National Park. The mighty Mekong River flows through Cambodia from Laos to Vietnam and is a great way to travel through the country.
Cambodia’s natural beauty makes it a great place for trekking and there are plenty of dense jungles, unspoilt forests and paddy fields to explore, while the Cardamom and Elephant Mountain Ranges provide a spectacular backdrop.
Subsistence farming is the main occupation of this impoverished nation, and most people live in stilted huts in small village communities. Although the majority of people (about 95%) are Khmer, there are also about twenty different hill tribes, each with their own unique culture, believes and style of dress.
The official language of Cambodia is Khmer and it is spoken by most people, while some people also speak French, Laos and Vietnamese, especially near the country borders. Although many people speak English in tourist areas and you will often be approached by people who want to practice their English, it is a good idea to learn a few basic phrases in Khmer.
Buddhism is the main religion in Cambodia, with about 90% of the population following either Therevada or Hinayana Buddhism. Worship is an important part of Khmer life and you will find a large number of temples scattered around Cambodia, although a large percentage were destroyed during the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge.
Cambodia really comes alive during the numerous festivals and public holidays, and it is idea to time your trip to coincide with one of these festivals as the streets are filled with singing and dancing and people put on their best clothes and biggest smiles.
Myanmar is part of Southeast Asia and is bordered by Bangladesh and India to the west, China to the north, and Laos and Thailand to the east. This is a country rich with natural beauty, culture, wildlife, forests, coastal resorts and temples and in many ways is the perfect tourist destination.
However, Myanmar is ruled by a brutal military regime, and many people avoid visiting Myanmar in order to avoid supporting this regime. However, the sad truth is that most tourist services such as guesthouses, restaurants and tours are run by the people themselves and not the government. The recent reduction in tourism has simply meant that the people of Myanmar are forced to suffer from lost earnings in addition to the numerous hardships and constraints imposed by the government. As long as you are careful to avoid government run hotels, buses and other services, it is possible to experience the most of this captivating country and possibly make a bit of a difference at the same time.
Although various parts of Myanmar are currently closed to tourists, the tourist numbers have been rising over the last couple of years, allowing many resorts to reopen. The Irrawaddy River runs through the centre of the country and this is a great way to travel and see the countryside.
Travelling through Myanmar feels like stepping into the past. Even though the capital city is fairly modern compared with the rest of the country it is still perhaps half a century behind many modern Southeast Asian capitals such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, while the country’s remote villages have changed little of the last few centuries.
This is a large part of Myanmar’s charm and as you explore you will discover ancient marvels such as the 4000 sacred stupas which are scattered across the plains of Bagan and the mysterious golden rock that somehow manages to balance on the edge of a chasm. As you ride in a Wild West stagecoach you will pass grand British mansions and men wearing traditional long skirt-like cloths around their waists.
Despite their years of suffering, the people of Myanmar are friendly, gentle and have a unique sense of humour. As you wander through villages and small towns you will probably be invited to get to know these people and share a part of their lives, an incomparable experience.
One of the best things about Myanmar is that it hasn’t been inflicted by the blight of Starbucks, McDonalds and other chain outlets that cover most Asian countries. Myanmar’s charms are subtle but they are authentically Asian and this is one of the few places in the world where you can experience true Asian culture without the integration of Western consumerism.
A good way to reach Malaysia is by train from Thailand, which borders Malaysia to the north. First stop should be the pretty island of Penang, where you will find clean beaches, hilltop temples, large gardens and colonial buildings. To the south is the capital city of Kuala Lumpur with its famous Petronas Towers and great shopping and dining options.
Head to the Cameron Highlands to wander through lush tea plantations in the cool air and snorkel in amongst colourful coral on the Seribuat Archipelago before stretching out on one of the picture perfect beaches. There are a good number of national parks to explore, all offering stunning natural beauty such as sparkling waterfalls and caves as well as interesting wildlife. Soak away aches and pains in the Poring Hot Springs and head to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre for an unforgettable experience.
One of Malaysia’s big attractions is its cultural diversity. Malays, Chinese and Indians all live side by side here, adding their own individual style to the mix. This is a good place to experience festivals and particularly vibrant are the Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas celebrations.
Food lovers will never be bored in Malaysia as the blend of cultures means that there are a wide range of dishes to try. As well as traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine, fusion food is also popular and western fast food restaurants are easy to find.
Malaysia is a country that truly offers something for everyone. Explore magnificent mosques and glittering temples in the country’s bustling cities before heading to the beach to soak up the sun or take part in a range of adventure activities such as diving, rock climbing, windsurfing and snorkelling.
Hace 20 anos era solo un albergue que brindaba alojamiento barato para los primeros mochileros. Y a travns de los anos ha evolucionado hasta llegar a convertirse en una de las calles mas frecuentadas de todo el mundo. Y ha crecido hasta propagarse a las calles y barrios adyacentes. Se puede decir, sin temor a equivocarse, que es el Estado Mayor de los viajeros.
Khaosan Rd. es indudablemente el mejor lugar en Bangkok para descansar despuns de un largo viaje por Viet Nam, Laos o Cambodia. Desde aqun, uno puede prepararse para el prnximo destino. Sea cual fuere, en la misma calle se pueden encontrar todas las opciones de viaje (desde las mas baratas), no importa si Ud. quiere ir a Malasia, Filipinas, la India, Espana o Argentina. O si quiere viajar a una de las maravillosas islas de Tailandia, sea Ko Samui o Ko Chang, para bucear entre los arrecifes coralinos. Pero no olvide pasarse unos dnas en Khaosan Rd. En pocos lugares podrn encontrar tal afluencia de culturas y viajeros de todo el mundo. Durante el dna puede ir de compras por Khaosan Rd y los alrededores, y de seguro encontrara lo que esta buscando (y a buen precio).
Souvenirs tailandeses manufacturados y todo tipo de productos tradicionales, joyerna, tiendas de mnsica, ropa y calzado de cualquier tamano y para toda estacinn, tatuajes, peinados, masaje, etc., etc... Tambinn puede encontrar a minutos de distancia a pie muchas de las principales atracciones culturales de Bangkok. Como el Museo Nacional (The National Museum), el Gran Palacio (The Grand Palace), la Galerna Nacional de Arte (The National Art Gallery), la Montana de Oro (The Golden Mountain), asn como innumerables templos budistas celebres por su arquitectura. Asimismo, es muy sencillo trasladarse desde Khaosan Rd en bus hasta cualquier parte de Bangkok. Igual puede utilizar los numerosos botes que circulan a travns del rno Chao Phraya, que se encuentra a solo 10 minutos de Khaosan.
nTiene hambren Solo tiene que caminar dos pasos. En el nrea puede encontrar literalmente cientos de opciones para satisfacer su apetito y bolsillo. Desde, por supuesto,todo tipo de delicias tailandesas, pasando por la comida china, hindn, malaya, vietnamita, coreana hasta los platos nrabes, mejicanos y europeos y bueno, los consabidos McDonalds, Subway y Pizza Hut.
Pero la vida nunca se detiene en Khaosan. El lugar esta lleno de bares, restaurantes y clubes donde por la noche puede encontrar todo lo que necesite. Lo mismo puede bailar una salsa o un reggae, que tomarse una cerveza bien frna mientras conversa con nuevos amigos de todo el mundo, e intercambiar historias y experiencias de viaje. La juventud tailandesa tampoco falta en Khaosan, muchos prefieren pasar su tiempo libre acn. Podrn estar al tanto de la vida cultural moderna de Tailandia tambinn y sumergirse en la diversidad repleta de nuevas experiencias, emociones y amistades.
Y si pasa en abril por acn, le tocara mojarse si sale a las calles durante la celebracinn del Festival de Songkran. En esos dnas Khaosan Rd. se convierte en un campo de batalla con todo el mundo tirnndose agua mutuamente, celebrando el Nuevo Ano tailandns. Asn que traiga un impermeable. Y la gente regresa siempre a Khaosan Rd. Ano tras ano. Por que no hay otro lugar como este. Es unico e irrepetible. Un destino obligado para todos.
Beyond those flirty eyelashes are intelligent creatures with their own thoughts, memories and even a sense of humour. These old souls form a unique bond with the mahouts that guide them – and this world is now accessible to visitors of the National Elephant Institute (formerly known as the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre), a division of the Forestry Industry Organization, in Lampang. Working with these clever creatures is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most tourists.
Homestays and mahout training courses help people to get closer to elephants and learn more about the mahouts’ way of life. The homestay programme has been going for approximately five years and has become especially popular with foreign visitors. “There are about 100 participants each month coming from the UK, Australia, America and other far away destinations,” says Wilawan Intawong, Homestay Coordinator. Visitors can choose to stay from just one day, up to three days and two nights.
The institute tries to provide each customer with their own elephant for the duration of the programme, however, sometimes guests must share if there is a large group. “There are only 10 elephants in the homestay programme at this time,” says Intawong. “We only use the best trained elephants to ensure the safety of our customers.” The 50 or so elephants at the institute are raised ‘semi-wild’: they work at the centre during the day and are returned to sleep and feed in the jungle at night.
Homestay guests sleep in one of three rustic homestay bungalows, each with three bedrooms – one for the mahout and two for guests to share. The open-air common area and kitchen come together to form an ideal space where the group can cook with the mahout and everyone can get to know each other in the evenings. “We have many guests who say the accommodation is too comfortable,” chuckles Intawong. “They are looking for a rougher experience – but they all have a good time anyway.” Other activities include: watching the mahouts as they make woodcarvings of elephants, visiting the Elephant Hospital, learning how to make elephant dung paper, and participating in the elephant show. “Many homestay participants become repeat customers in following years,” says Intawong, testifying to the quality of the programme.
A slightly different, but equally exciting programme is provided by the Mahout Training School, which was established to train real mahouts – not just tourists. Today, the centre receives significant interest in mahout training from visitors, who can take part in programmes lasting from one day to one month. Mahout trainees sleep at the school and in the jungle with their elephants. The school allows those interested in experiencing the life of mahouts and elephants firsthand to do so in a natural but relatively safe environment. Guests not only learn how to ride an elephant but also how to care for it. One of the most important aspects of the course is learning elephant behaviours and commands used by the mahouts. Mahout trainees learn actual commands in Thai so they can communicate with their charges. Intawong says “It takes about three days to learn all the commands, but putting them into practice might take longer.”
“There are typically two mahouts to each elephant,” says Intawong. The word for ‘mahout’ in Thai is kwaan, and there is a kwaan kaaw (neck mahout) and kwaan theen (foot mahout). She explains, “This dates back from the logging days, when there was one mahout on the elephant’s neck to guide it and another by its feet to coordinate the movement of the timber.”
There are no women mahouts at TECC, and in fact, Intawong has never seen a female mahout at all. She says, “Being a mahout is like being married to the elephant, and this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to have a [human] family.” Mahouts form a deep bond with their elephants, spending the majority of their lives with them. When the elephants are chained in the jungle at night and one of them cries out, that elephant’s mahout can distinguish its voice from all the others and will go to its aid.
A mahout at the centre for 20 years, 55-year-old Pbun is now working with his third elephant since the age of 15, when he first started training to be a mahout at another village. He says, “I wake up at 5am every day to collect my elephant Tantawan (‘Sunflower’ in Thai) from the jungle and then bathe her.” Tantawan, along with many other elephants at the centre, has the important task of giving rides to tourists and other visitors. She works a few times a day, taking turns with the other elephants and finishing at 3.30pm to head back to the jungle. Mahouts at the centre only get four days off per month to go back to their hometowns. “Being a mahout is fun, but it takes a lot of dedication and true love of your elephant,” says Pbun.
Thai Elephant Conservation Center
KM 28-29 Lampang-Chiang Mai Highway
Hangchat District, Lampang 52190
By Chantana Jasper
Sukhumvit Road in the center of Bangkok is more recognized as street of excess than a place of retreat. It's where people work hard, play hard and enjoy the bounty of riding the back of one of Asia's more successful tigers. Yet, like elsewhere in the capital, pockets of spiritual resistance exist providing a ongoing reminder of just what is important in life. Fortunately, for visitors and expats wishing to learn more about the spiritual elements that forge this kingdom's unique identity, there are people around that are willing and able to offer tutelage and guidance in a language many foreigners understand - plain English.
I recently visited a one-day meditation workshop held at Ariyasom Villa Boutique Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 1 in Bangkok. Unlike many of the hotels in the area, Ariyasom is genuinely fetching - built in 1942 as a family home it is still owned by the family that built it, and they really have made the most out of everything they've got. The hotel grounds are not huge, yet their design gives the impression of a vast area that you can wonder through and get lost in. Ariyasom's gardens offer various nooks and crannies that you can walk around and find yourself a bit of personal space - probably one of the reasons this is an ideal location for a mediation workshop.
As a Brit, and a northerner at that, I haven't made too many sorties into the world of the spiritual. Although it's got a few Thai restaurants and Chinese takeaways, there aren't that many temples or the like in mid-Cheshire. So, although I didn't know what to expect from this workshop, I did, to some extent, expect to be a fish out of water. It was then very reassuring then to find out that Pandit Bhikkhu, owner of Littlebang and one of the organizers of the workshop, was in fact not Thai like I thought, but from Altrincham, a small town only a few miles from my home. In addition, David Lees, the broadminded owner of Ariyasom, proved to be a foreigner from Mere, which is even closer to my home than Altrincham! At that point in time, the three of us standing there was probably the only incidence of three Cheshire Cats being in the same room at the same time in the whole of Southeast Asia… well, at least I thought so.
Aside from its splendor, Ariyasom has even more surprises. Whereas most hotels in the area push restaurants and "discos" into every spare inch available, Ariyasom offers a spacious, dedicated meditation area replete with a bedroom for visiting monks... That certainly is a first for me.
"My wife is Thai and has been involved in meditation for a number of years," suggested David Lees. "In fact she runs a blog about meditation. We rebuilt Ariyasom with meditation in mind. With a dedicated facility it's easy for us to run events on a regular basis. There's a decent-sized community of English-speaking Buddhists in Bangkok, and we help cater for them. Our events also extend to visitors to Thailand looking to learn more about Thai-style meditation. We get a good mix of people and I think people enjoy our workshops and benefit from them."
David and his wife obviously talk the talk and walk the walk. While other hotels in the area might squeeze every cent out of their visitors, arriving at 08:30 before the start of the meditation workshop, I was greeted by hot coffee, Pa Thong Ko (the deep fried doughnuts that are a traditional Thai breakfast) and juice - all free of charge. As the day progressed, hot coffee was on tap and a vegetarian lunch was provided, again, free of charge. At the end of the day a variety of Thai fruit was on offer. Alongside offering a huge air-conditioned room for the comfort of meditators, catering for around 30 people in this way was not likely to be a cheap affair.
The workshop itself was also free of charge, and like David said, attracted a mix of backpackers, tourists and well-healed expats, although as the bulk of people seem to know each other, the latter did appear to dominate. The workshop was, not surprisingly, insightful - the Vipassana meditation being taught is better known as "Insight Meditation". The instruction was provided by Aussie Mike Sansom and German Helge Sansom. Both are trainers at Wat Kow Tahm (Mountain Cave Monastery) International Meditation Center on Koh Phangan in southern Thailand. Mike and Helge walked beginners and veterans alike through the techniques and methodology of Vipassana meditation and the instruction proved both accessible and pragmatic.
Basically, mediation offers the opportunity to reflect. We were told to sit, eyes closed and consider the in and out of our breathing. Directing my awareness towards my breathing proved both easy and difficult at the same time. Becoming aware of my breathing generated a stillness that was immediately accessible, but it was also very easy to drift off into a reverie of thought without really noticing where my mind was going. It's was sometimes very hard to pull myself away from thoughts of bills, work, commitments, family, and curiously, the theme music to 1980's British TV program, "Black Beauty" - quite where that came from I dread to think. Obviously some deep and dark place. However, as Mike pointed out, any awareness was beneficial, and as Helge suggested, making a mental note of the mental distractions put them in their place and allowed you to revert to concentrating on breathing. In fact, this for me was the most valuable thing I took away from the day… Just sitting quietly like this, acknowledging the thoughts that entered my head allowed me to really understand exactly what was on my mind.
Later, we were introduced to walking meditation. Although I followed the instruction and understood the technique, the sight of people walking around and meditating at the same time was a little spooky I thought. The technique is intended to be used while you are in motion and with your eyes open. It requires full awareness of your body, its movement, and even the ground beneath your feet and the feeling pressure stepping on the ground creates. I honestly couldn't do it in front of people, not for fear how I looked, but genuine fear of how others looked. To practice this I needed to find a bit of space well away from others, and fortunately this was possible at Ariyasom.
We were also introduced to guided meditation leading to compassion and understanding. Helge introduced the meditation using an everyday scenario: You are in a shop; the check out desk is slow and you are being inconvenienced. This causes anxiety and perhaps even rage. You might even be moved to complain. However, although these emotions appear to be driven by external events, they are, in fact, only your reaction to external events. Changing your perception, through an injection of compassion, will help alleviate YOUR anxiety. Perhaps the checkout girl is having a bad day; perhaps she has financial problems or other problems at home; perhaps even she has just found out she has lost her job and today is her last day. Each of these possible scenarios would account for today, and each, with compassion, would be fully understandable.
At the end of the day's workshop, I can honestly say I felt very refreshed - a similar feeling to that you get after having a weekend away, and yet it was really only a few hours. I really did feel I had been given some tools that would help and enrich my daily life. I felt better for the workshop. Our introduction to compassion and understanding was though immediately put to the test. During the latter stages of the workshop, a freak thunderstorm dumped what appeared to be thousands of tons of water into Soi 1. Not surprisingly, given the downfall, the Soi was completely flooded… and just to be fair - this really is the exception rather than the rule in Bangkok these days.
Even if you are only Bangkok for a couple of days, likelihood is there will be something happening that will provide you with the type of experience I had on Sukhumvit Road. Key places at look for events have already been mentioned - the Littlebang website gives broad details on what's happening in Bangkok while mind.matters.at.ariyasom will provide you with specific details of what's happening at Ariyasom.
I really recommend that you get involved in something while you are here. At the very least, you'll take home with you a greater understanding into what Thais find commonplace, and that in itself, will be much more of an understanding of Thailand than some take home with them.
The Misnomer of Street Food: So often when I host an overseas visitor they are amazed at the sheer number of people eating on the street asking me "How safe is it really and do people get sick?" If you've been to India, then eating fresh fruits, noodles, grilled chickens and other curiously looking meats from the street vendors in Bangkok is nothing. I've been eating from food stalls/street vendors/push carts for years and find that dining in this manner is no more dangerous than eating in a restaurant except for the fact that you are eating in plastic chairs, perhaps share a table with another hungry patron or breath a little exhaust from passing cars here and there; but generally the food is fresh, well prepared, very tasty and overall fairly safe to eat-street vendors don't like to carry a lot of over-head; most cannot afford to so everyday they go to the fresh markets buying only the amount of ingredients that they anticipate using in a given day; very seldom do they store meats and vegetables like a restaurant.
When trying to decide which food stall to eat from (as there are many to choose from) it's best to observe where the locals eat (of course using your judgment to a certain extent) and if there is a line, a lot of chaos, and definitive smells that draw a curious sense and hunger; then you are probably at the right place.
Sukhumvit Soi 38 has a plethora of street vendors hawking various dishes such as Moo Grob (crispy pork belly with Chinese broccoli, chili and oyster sauce), Ca Pow Gai (Thai Basil Chicken Fried Rice), and Kuaytiaw Raat Naa (Fried Noodles with Pork & Vegetable Gravy) among others-my favorite is Ba Mee Puu (Egg Noodles with Crab) served from a push cart about 20 meters on the right hand side of Sukhumvit Soi 38 when coming from Thonglor BTS. At the corner of Soi Convent and Silom road (Friday and Saturday nights only) P' Uan (meaning fat in Thai; not to be construed in a negative sense as in the western culture) serves up the best Moo Ping (Pork Thai Barbecue) in Bangkok-the pork is grilled and caramelized to perfection where the robustness of each bite intensifies leaving you not just tasting the Moo Ping, but experiencing it.
My Pad Thai and Noodles: The first meal that many Bangkok “first timers” order is either Pad Thai or Fried Rice as they want to compare these dishes to the familiar dishes that they get in their own home country (an normally associate these dishes as not being too spicy). Pad Thai is made up of stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, and a combination of bean sprouts, shrimp, chicken, or tofu; for a slight variation of Pad Thai from the traditional sense, I recommend Pad Thai Thip Samai (Salaya, Puthamonthon, Nakornpathom, Bangkok, (0) 81630 6444); established in 1966 that serves two definitive dishes such as the Pad Thai with large prawns enclosed in an egg omelet (Pad Thai Kai Ho) or the Pad Thai Song-Krueng where the Sen Chan or grass noodle can be laced with crab meat, ground cuttlefish and/or sliced mango.
Located in Pranakorn, Somsrong Pochana’s kitchen creations originate from the Sukhothai Province serving Sukhothai noodle consisting of BBQ pork with green sprouts in the noodles and delicately sprinkled with dried chili’s for taste and intensity—for a less spicy flare the Thai Spaghetti with coconut milk, pineapple, & dried shrimp (Kanom Jeen Sao Nam) is a safe bet. Soi Watt Sangwej (Opposite Sangwej Temple), Pra Atit Rd., Pranakorn Bangkok, (0) 2 282 0972.
If you like Duck and happen to be in the Phaholyothin area, a must try is the Steamed Duck Noodles at Yothin Duck Noodles food stall (#1301 Soi Paholyothin 11 (beginning of the Soi), Paholyothin Rd., Bangkhen, Bangkok, (0) 2 278 1738) where the duck meat effortlessly falls off the bone releasing the succulent juices and natural ripeness of the duck.
Don't Be Scared - Just Eat it!: Bangkok has lots of hidden delicacies and interesting cuisines that are often overlooked as newcomers and veterans of Bangkok tend to stick to the same restaurants over and over again. There is so much great food out there to be eaten that I encourage everyone to venture away from the more touristy areas into the more unknown or 'less frequented by foreigner ones.' Talk to locals, people watch, read online reviews, get yourself lost in China town. Whether you have a strong passion for food or just like to enjoy a good meal, get out and do a little exploring. You won't like everything you taste as you'll have good meals and bad meals, but who cares-it is all part of the experience! The main thing is that you have fun and learn a lot about the Thai culture, people and food along the way.
The above are just a few examples of some places to enjoy while dining in Bangkok. For more information visit www.PekoPiko.com featuring Bangkok's Best Restaurants, Street Food and Hidden Cuisines along with restaurant information, user reviews, and saver promotions-everything you need to guide you on Where to Eat and What to Eat in Bangkok. If you like what you've read above I recommend PekoPiko's 'Old Bangkok Eateries' section for other similar restaurants.
Written By Jason Buckalew, Bangkok Foodie Photos By Pukky Churuphant.
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Bangkok holds the record for the longest place name! In Thai, Bangkok is known as Krung Thep; and over time has been referred to as 'The City Of Angels' and enmasse Thailand as 'the Land of the Smiles' (as it's citizens have that famous enduring smile). Why not also head north-west to Kanchanaburi City - where Australian, British, Dutch and American soldiers endured years of torment and hardship building the Thai-Burma Railway for the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942-5. Whilst there visit the Tiger Temple, Sai Yok Waterfall or drive to Sangklaburi and visit the Mon people on the border of Thailand and Burma. There is so much to see and do.
The Grand Palace in Bangkok is pure opulence; Thai and western style buildings share the opulent rai's (acres) and are utilised for ceremonial and administrative purposes alike. The gold leaf tiles and attention to every minor detail in design is exceptional - the man hours that are invested here is incredible, something a westerner could not probably fully understand nor would our unions allow. Guards stand out the front and are not permitted to move - the heat and humidity must be so oppressive standing to attention in all their regalia. There is a lot to see at the Grand Palace for your 200 baht entry cost, the palace has an area of 218,400 square metres, the length of the four walls totals 1900 metres where construction began in 1782. There is a group of canons that is worth a look as well as swords and weapons of a bygone era. You can visit an active Wat (temple) inside one of the Thai style temples and see how the locals pray and are humbled by their god - Lord Buddha. It is interesting to note that even Thai teenagers and younger Thai adults also participate in the religious homage in all of these and many other Thai Wats.
Wat Phra Kaeo is situated within the grounds of the Palace; it is a two storey Wat with many antiques and valuables to see; including scale models of the Palace grounds today and of a century ago - you can see how it has progressed over the years by the many influences of the Kings.
Wat Phra Kaeo houses the most revered Buddha image in all of Thailand - the Emerald Buddha (known in Thai as Phra Kaeo Morakot) it is carved from a large piece of Jade. The Emerald Buddha is 48.3cm in width across the lap and 66cm in height, the three seasonal costumes for the Emerald Buddha consist of those for the hot and rainy seasons donated by King Rama I and one for the cold season donated by King Rama III.
Pra-Tu-Nam is an excellent market and one you can easily get lost in - but this is a good thing right? It is basically below the Bai Yoke Sky Hotel and the silk, clothing, watches, and all other nick nacks etc are very cheap compared with other more 'touristy' venues, a lot of locals shop here so you know it is good value. For a side trip whilst at Pra-Tu-Nam, visit the Bai Yoke Sky Hotel and their observation deck on level 78 (cost 120 baht), there is an inside and outside deck with one revolving - the cityscape continues up there as far as the eye can see.
Silk products, especially silk in rolls for dressmaking etc can be purchased cheaply at 'Porn Phaisal' 288/6 Rajprarop Road, Opposite Golden Gate Plaza, Pra-Tu-Nam. On the way to Pra-Tu-Nam is a shopping centre called Panthip Plaza - this is a popular multi level shopping centre for all your electronic and computer related needs, including software and accessories, digital camera memory is very cheap here. Remember to haggle prices and keep receipts. The big daddy of all the tourist markets is of course Patpong Night Market. The name Patpong comes from the family who owns it, a must visit in Bangkok and whilst it caters for the tourists who flock here some bargains can be found but generally it is way overpriced. There are two alleys known as Soi's dedicated for the market and it gets packed full of tourists on most nights especially weekends. Stop off at the Tip Top Restaurant (in the middle of Patpong 1) if the ambience of the market becomes too smothering, remember to haggle and offer a smile. Have a beer in a 'bar' there and you will see some interesting sites.
Allied Prisoners of War were utilised as forced labour by the Japanese Army and sent by ship, train and marched to Kanchanaburi and beyond to begin the Thai-Burma Railway in 1942, to create a rail link from occupied Thailand to current day Myanmar - to feed supplies to the Japanese fighting in Burma. As a consequence 2,710 Australians died all along the railway and as one writer has said - 'A Life for Every Sleeper.' If it wasn't for the Australian tenacity, mateship and medical legends such as Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop and Sir Albert Coates, many more of our soldiers would have perished. Kanchanaburi is two hours by bus from Bangkok (from the Southern Bus Terminal), there is the Don Rak War Cemetery to see - the southern cemetery for the railway with approximately 7,000 war dead including 1,362 Australians. Adjacent the cemetery is the Thai-Burma Railway Centre, a museum on the railway with many wall panels etc describing events on the railway plus a cafeteria overlooking the cemetery. Two kilometres north is the Bridge Over the River Kwai - built by POWs and destroyed in 1945 by United States Air Force B24's on a bombing mission. Next door to the bridge is a floating restaurant, spend a night having dinner here and have the famous bridge as a backdrop and toast the men who are still there. Another 80 kms north following the Kwai Noi River is the infamous Konyu Cutting or Hellfire Pass. It is said it got it's name from POW's standing at the top of the cutting looking down during the night with the bamboo bonfires and oil lamps burning with hundreds of men toiling in the balmy night and their captors ready to pounce with a bamboo stick at the ready - men likened this 'to the jaws of hell' where it subsequently became known as Hellfire Pass. It took three months to cut a way through this solid rock and it has been said cost some 700 lives. Without men of this calibre, tenacity and spirit we certainly could be speaking 'A Different Brand Of English'.
'Prik' and 'Phed' or hot and spicy, that's the way Bangkok food has been since the traders introduced chilli some centuries ago. One top restaurant among hundreds is the Nipa Thai Restaurant on level three inside the Landmark Hotel near Soi 5. Attention to detail at the Nipa Thai is to be commended; the Thai decorations down to the carpet make for a pleasant and classy surrounding. For AUD$50, two can dine until stuffed like a Christmas turkey, with several lagers to wash down the well presented and flavorsome Thai (aharn) food. This restaurant would make a small fortune if nestled in uptown Collins Place; this is one where any good Aussie Shiraz or Merlot would dazzle the palate against the spices of the Bangkok cooking. For starters try 'Toon Ngern Yuang' or Fried Minced Pork and Prawns wrapped in a Bean Curd Pastry', these little packets come with plum or sweet and sour sauce for dipping and tantalize the taste buds, they are certainly equal to South Melbourne Market's 'Cricket Ball Dimmy' only a smaller size but equal on taste. This restaurant out does itself with 'Kao Ob Sabprarod' or Fried Rice served in Pineapple, the half pineapple is finely cut by the chef and beautifully produced with other delicately sliced vegetables including carrots that resemble an award winning 'David Austin Rose' and finely shaped cucumber and tomato, perfectly laid out on a presentation Thai style plate with accompanying dipping sauces - perfect. These dishes alone would overprice such treats in Melbourne with all the time taken to present them with their intricately cut vegetables and service staff that hover like on-ballers at the centre bounce at the MCG. Don't forget Thailand's favourites like the Green Chicken Curry, the Panang and Musaman curries - delish.
If you enjoyed your dining experience and fell in love with the 'Prik' and 'Phed' of Thai aharn, then try the cooking course offered by this restaurant. You can choose the one day or full week of cooking all types of popular Thai cuisine, both fun and rewarding; where else could you cook, consume and learn without having to do the dishes? (Landmark Hotel at 138 Sukhumvit Road Bangkok, 10110, Thailand, Tel: (662) 254 0404).
The Montien Hotel Bangkok is a four star hotel and was opened in 1967 by Queen Sirikit, inside it has been lovingly renovated and cared for - the grand staircase is golden, long and made of marble, it sweeps up to the business floor area adjacent the bar where they serve expensive but delicious cocktails. The doorman wears a white military style suite and pith helmet and the majestic lobby borrows the stately name 'Montien' meaning Royal Residence. This hotel has everything from an inviting pool to a bakery, Chinese Restaurant, all you can eat buffet breakfast which has all types of dishes from salmon to fresh local fruits and bacon - lots of bacon, Club 54 to it's cigar bar and karaoke booths. It is a five minute walk to the Skytrain and is directly across the road from the market of Patpong - I mean you could throw a stone and hit a tout in the head (don't get any ideas!) Travel brochures all mention the real estate catch phrase for this hotel: 'location, location, location.' This is the hotel that you can spend time in, swimming, smoking a cigar, having a smooth 'Jack and Coke' at the lobby bar listening to the 'Tinglish' piano singer whilst the Pong people set up their wares ready for you to start with your bargaining skills. This is relaxing!
When on the expressway heading for the airport, don't look back; planning for your next Thailand adventure starts there - on that fast expressway home. Was it all an action packed dream? Mai Pen Rai (She'll be right).
Andrew Mason is author of a published travel guide for Thailand, titled, 'A Different Brand of English' and is available at: www.poseidonbooks.com/a_different_brand_of_english.htm.
Full of security tips, travel advice and staying safe in Thailand and Singapore. It has what the other travel guides miss - heart & history.
For those in the know, a trip to Cafe Democ is very much a trip to the source - to where it all began. Despite its unimposing architecture and presence (by Bangkok club standards anyway), Cafe Democ is the spiritual home of Bangkok's club scene. Opened in 1999 and located on a corner of Democracy Monument (hence its name), Cafe Democ is no more than a 10-minute walk from Khao San Road and is where the seed of local DJ talent was nurtured into the vibrant scene that exists today.
As I sit outside the club with owner Mr. Apichart - or Tui to his friends - we talk against a backdrop of some killer homegrown Drums and Bass. "This is not really a club to me," suggests Tui wistfully. "I also own club Culture, a big club in the center of town. That to me is a club - this (Cafe Democ) is my home! This is where I was brought up," he enthuses.
Now in his 40s, Tui started life as a DJ at Diana's in 1984, one of Bangkok's leading clubs back in the day. There he pumped out Madonna, Michael Jackson, and any other commercial sound his undiscerning audience fancied. At the time the local talent for even this was limited, and UK companies would send DJs out to Thai venues to entertain the masses.
The DJs brought a smattering of club sounds that although established in the west, represented something of a revolution in Thailand. Rubbing shoulders with these DJs, Tui's tastes changed, as did that of his audience. Slowly, seamlessly, pockets of resistance to commercial music emerged and along with it local DJs experimented. Thailand's first real underground music scene was born.
"15 years ago Bangkok was the leading place for club music in Southeast Asia," adds Tui. "DJs from places like Singapore and Hong Kong came over here to sample the scene. Unfortunately, as with other places in the world, in 90s the club scene became synonymous with drug culture. Drugs pretty much killed the underground. The police closed venues, and Bangkok became a bit of a wilderness. Hip Hop changed that."
"Local artists like Joey Boy made Hip Hop respectable and brought it into the mainstream," he continued. "Once there, the scene emerged again - it was a safe environment where people could experiment with sounds. Clubs and DJs started to flourish again, and Cafe Democ was there to help things along. Local DJs came here to play exactly what they wanted, with no commercial pressure. We brought over the occasional international act, but primarily, Cafe Democ was for local DJs".
The scene grew to the extent that Cafe Democ DJs turned professional and a number of venues emerged to cater for the increased demand for club music. RCA flourished and places like Astra (now Club 808) went from strength to strength. Many of those venues though stuck to a more traditional format, catering for Bangkok's party scene.
"Cafe Democ is no Route 66,"suggested Tui, talking about a famous RCA club where patrons dance around small tables to top 30 US tunes alongside more commercial local sounds. "There's a genuine sub-culture around these days. This sub-culture has had to be resilient. It's faced 'Social Order' issues that placed curfews on clubbers, political uncertainty, and of course bouts of economic downturn. Despite all of this, the scene remains healthy and you can experience it at Cafe Democ."
These days Cafe De Moc serves up an eclectic assortment of sounds - Electro, Mash Up, Drums and Bass, and despite its proximity to KSR, caters to a predominantly Thai crowd (often based out of Thammasat University) and a few expats who speak a smattering of Thai. Things warm up around 23:30, but before that people sit around and enjoy the great local food Cafe De Moc offers its punters.
"We don't have the marketing budget," suggested Tui when asked why Cafe De Moc doesn't compete with some of the brasher places on KSR. "Nowadays foreigners only stay on Khao San for a couple of days and then they are off. It's not like before when they used to stay up to a couple of months and really get to know the area, including this place (Cafe De Moc)."
Cafe De Moc does though have a small but loyal foreign clientele. DJ Curmi (?) from Brighton, UK was there the night we visited. He wasn't playing; he was just hanging out. "I love this place," he confided. "This is where it all started and it's still going strong. I come here every time I am in Thailand. It's not like one of the big Sukhimvit clubs - it's very intimate".
Cafe De Moc opens nightly until about 1:30 in the morning. If you are looking for a slice of the local scene, it's well worthy of a visit. It's usually free to get in and there's a solid line up of acts.
Check out the much less than pretentious Cafe De Moc website to see what's on offer.
Check out the toilets for excellent graffiti!
Here is our email:
I am the founder of www.khaosanroad.com - a website dedicated to budget travel in Thailand and the Khao San Road area of Bangkok. We regularly receive emails from people with queries regarding foreign prisoners in Bangkok and Thailand, especially British prisoners. The queries are varied but often follow one of a couple of themes:
1) People looking for information on how they can visit foreign prisoners when they are in Thailand, and
2) People looking for relatives who they believe might actually be in prison in Thailand.
For the former point, we have some information gathered from visitors who have been through the process of visiting prisoners, but the information always leads to the same point - people must get a list of current prisoners from the relevant embassy. In addition, the information we provide is far from comprehensive.
For the latter point, very little seems to be available on the Internet about how people can go about finding out if one of their relatives is in prison in Thailand, and again, the trial leads to the British and other embassies.
I was therefore wondering to what extent the British Embassy in Thailand might be able to officially comment in these two issues in a fashion that might be published on www.khaosanroad.com.
I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Very best regards
Here is the British Embassy's reply:
Many thanks for your e-mail. There are a number of the British nationals who are in prison in Thailand, who have indicated that they are willing to receive visitors. The major difficulty is that the visiting times in the prisons vary according to which room number the prisoner is in. It is best for anyone who wishes to go on a visit, and is serious about their visit, to contact us for more detailed information. When can they tell them who they can visit and exactly what the visiting days and times are. But what I am keen to avoid are frivolous enquiries from people who do not follow through with the visit.
The Royal Thai Police are required to notify the Embassy of the arrest of any British national in Thailand. Anyone who believes that a relative has been arrested or is in prison should contact us, unless they are in the UK. In the UK they contact the Thailand Desk of the Consular Directorate in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Telephone 0207 008 0105. But, for data protection reasons, we can only confirm the details of anyone who has been arrested or is in prison if they consent.
I hope that this information helps.
Vice-Consul British Embassy, Bangkok 1031
So, there you have it - contact the British Embassy in Bangkok if you are looking for someone who might be in prison AND if you want to visit British prisoners. However, in the latter case, make sure you are serious about the visit.
|Illustrations by Yurie Ball|
But let's start at the beginning. Thailand has more than 960 documented species of birds and of these approximately one third are migrants but it's not as simple as that. Some species are migrant, resident and breeding visitors in different parts of the country.
There are well over 100 protected areas in the country and they are categorised as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, conservation areas or non-hunting areas. Some of these have breeding programmes which include the breeding of species on the endangered list. The infrastructure is such that most of these places are easily accessible by road, train or plane. Some are closed to the public, which to my mind is good as it means that Thailand is taking it's conservation of wildlife seriously but even these can be entered with special permission, for research and other such reasons. The main ones, though, are definitely open to the public and very well run with the welfare of the fauna uppermost in the minds of the national parks officials.
Probably the most popular national park is Khao Yai and for the very good reason that it is overflowing with birdlife. Birdlife apart, the park is also noted for its tigers and elephants and if you were to pop into the visitors centre you would see the stuffed remains of a man-eating tiger that attacked two park officials and was shot for its sins. There are said to be about twenty tigers (I very much doubt that) in the park and possibly around two hundred elephants, signs of which can be found in the shape of their huge droppings along-side the road.
Khao Yai national park covers an area of 2168 sq.km. and 318 species of birds have been documented in the area. The highest point in the park is 1351 m. so some montane species can be found. Most birdwatching is done around the head-quarter's area and you don't really have to go much farther afield to find most of the different species. There are 11 trails for the more adventurous and all of these were made by elephants which still use them, most of them are marked with different colours of paint applied to the trees.
Some of the more spectacular birds you will see are the hornbills and there are 4 species in the park, the Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis, 122 cm.), the Wreathed Hornbill (Rhyticeros undulatus, 100 cm.), the Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris, 70 cm.) and the Brown Hornbill (Ptilolaemus tickelli, 74 cm.). 5 different species of Barbets (family Megalaimidae) with their brightly coloured plumage abound in the park, their ringing, repetitive calls will be heard more often than the bird is seen. Flocks of Fairy Bluebirds (Irena puella) will be seen in flowering or fruiting trees, they are very noisy birds with their piercing whistling call. The list is almost endless. Accommodation in the park is difficult to come by and special permission must be obtained in advance but there are plenty of hotels and other accommodation just outside the park. The park itself is a 3 hour drive from Bangkok.
Next you would move up to the north and base yourself in Chiang Mai, a city built around a beautiful old moated town. Parts of the old wall remain to this day and altogether it is a very attractive place, in 1997 Chiang Mai celebrated it's 700th. anniversary. Here you will certainly want to visit Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain at 2565 m. and although in winter it can be extremely hot in the plains, on the summit of this mountain the temperature can go down to close to 0 degrees centigrade, warm clothing is strongly recommended. This national park is 60 km. south-west of Chiang Mai and can be treated as a day trip but for the serious birdwatcher 3 or 4 days would be more appropriate. 382 species have been documented on Doi Inthanon, as many as the total bird population of some countries.
Birdwise everyone comes to see one bird in particular and that is the Green-tailed Sunbird (Aethopyga nipalensis-angkanensis). This bird is endemic to Thailand and can only be found in the upper reaches of Doi Inthanon and there it is very common. But the other birds are not to be ignored; there is the Ashy-throated Warbler (Phylloscopus maculipennis) which, again, in Thailand can only be found on the upper reaches of Doi Inthanon. This is one of only two Leaf Warblers that are resident here, the rest are migrants, one wonders why. One of the best birdwatching sites is the jeep track at 37.5 km. (ca. 1700m.) and it is here that you might be lucky enough to see the rare Purple Cochoa (Cochoa purpurea), I have seen it there 3 or 4 times, you might also see it's relative the Green Cochoa (Cochoa viridis). This bird is listed as uncommon and I have only seen it once, so maybe I was lucky with the Purple Cochoa. This jeep track is good at any time of the day as it is well shaded with some very thick primeval looking forest. Here also you will find 2 skulkers, the Pygmy Wren-Babbler (Pnoepyga pusilla) and the Slaty-bellied Tesia (Tesia olivea), these two are more often heard than seen. One of my favourite birds can also be found here and that is the Long-tailed Broadbill (Psarisomus dalhousiae), it is straight out of a Walt Disney cartoon with its finely delineated multi-coloured markings. I have found it to be a very curious bird and sometimes I find myself peering up at it as it peers down at me. Its colours include black, yellow, light green, dark green and blue, working from head to tail.
Other places in the north of Thailand worth a visit are Doi Angkhang and Tha Ton, both on the Burmese border. I mention these because they are the southernmost overspill area of the north Asian birds and some of the birds can't be found anywhere else in Thailand. Tha Ton is noted for the rare Jerdon's Bushchat (Saxicola jerdoni), the Paddyfield Warbler (Acrocephalus agricola), the Long-billed Plover (Charadrius placidus) and the Black-faced Bunting (Emberiza spodocephala). The Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius), abounds on the sandbars of the Maekok river where it breeds. I really could go on and on but the best thing is to come and see for yourself. If you do decide to come and 'discover' Thailand and its birds please feel free to contact me in Chiang Mai, after 16 years of living in Thailand I can put you on to the best areas for the different birds.
By Tony Ball: Email | Tel. + 66 53 223128
In April of this year myself, my friend Miranda and her eight year old son Jordan visited Koh Tao. On our second day we met a small black mongrel that we later called Noi - which is Thai for little one. She had been rejected by the pack because she had weak back legs and a clubfoot, she was starving and infected by maggots. We fed her up and managed to enlist the help of the pharmacist to procure some anti-biotics from the nearby Koh Samui island. After I jabbed her she ran off and we didn't see her for three days. We thought she was dead. Then one evening when we were walking along the beach in the sunset she appeared from nowhere. At first we weren't sure if it was the same dog because she looked so much better. She followed us around faithfully from then on and spent the nights on our balcony. By now we were completely hooked and wanted to take her home with us but it seemed impossible. We would have to leave her behind.
When we came back to the UK we couldn't stop thinking about Noi. I discovered that there was a Dog Rescue Centre on the nearby Koh Samui island and we made contact with Bridget and her husband Hans who run the centre. After another month of deliberation we decided that the only thing to do was to go back and get Noi. Bridget put us in contact with another Brit who had done the same thing - Roger Cooper. Roger had had a similar experience with his dog Gypsy. He had become attached to her during a holiday and when he and his family returned thirteen months later the dog recognised them instantly. The clincher was when they got into a taxi for a sight seeing trip and the dog ran after the taxi for a mile and a half and then sat in the road howling.
Miranda can speak fleunt Thai which was to be a great help. When we arrived there we took the photo we had taken of Jordan and Noi around to the different restaurants but no one had seen her. There were a few heart stopping days when we thought she was dead. Then she suddenly turned up but she was in a pretty bad state. She was sicker than before and was covered in mange and wouldn't eat. Over the next few days we fed her up and gave her some anti bioitics and Vitamin C. But now there was another problem. Whilst they were looking for Noi another outcast had attached himself to us another black mongrel who we called Star. Since we'd first met Star someone had thrown stones at him and he was now hobbling on three legs. We decided that we would take him with us to the vet at the dog's home in Koh Samui, fix him up and return him to the island.
The only way from Koh Toa to Koh Samui is by speedboat and it's a pretty rocky journey. The journey by jeep to the jetty and then the crossing to Koh Samui with two dogs, a kid and luggage was a challenge particularly as the dogs wouldn't walk on leads and had to be carried. But probably most challenging of all was the continual vomiting of little Star on the speed boat that reached such a pitch that we wanted to throw him overboard!
Arriving at Koh Samui we were met by the motorbike and sidecar from the dogs home. The dogs were loaded up and Star howled all the way the rescue centre. We had to go between two different vets to get the dogs injected, get their vaccinations and get Star's leg fixed and then take them back to the rescue centre. By the time we arrived our hotel we were exhausted. We stayed on Koh Samui for the next few days visiting Noi and Star and generally helping out at the rescue centre. By now we had another dilemma. Star was really attached to us how could we take him back to the life of a beach dog where anything might happen? After much soul searching we decided to bring Star home.
To prepare for the next leg of the journey - the flight from Koh Samui to Bangkok, the airline had insisted that the dogs be sedated until they were asleep. The quarantine kennel here in the UK had expressly said not to sedate them because of the danger of hypothermia. A double dose of tranquilliser was administered to Noi because the first one didn't seem to work.
When we arrived at Bangkok the dogs were actually sent out on the conveyor belt with the luggage!!! Miranda and I went off to sort out some documentation and whilst we were away Jordan, thinking that Noi didn't look too good, put his hand into the cage and in her drugged state Noi bit him and wouldn't let go. He started screaming. It took a security guard to prise her off. We came back to find Jordan in tears and blood all over the floor. We had to bundle the two dogs, still in their cages, Jordan and the luggage off to the nearby private hospital where Jordan had to have rabies and a tetanus injection and get his wound cleaned and his arm bandaged. We dropped the dogs off with Tai - the contact in Bangkok that Bridget from the rescue centre had arranged and dragged ourselves off to the hotel.
At nine o'clock the next morning Tai rang the hotel. There was a problem. The excessive dose of the tranquilliser may have caused Noi to go blind. We rushed to Tai's. Things didn't look good. Noi's eyes were completely blue. Thankfully over the next few days her sight returned.
Noi and Star came out of quarantine in February and there were quite a handful - to say the least! But now they are house trained and understand basic commands. Star is very nervous of other dogs and this makes him quite aggressive to them but both of the dogs are great with humans. Soon they are going off for an intensive four week live in training course with Brian from Just For Dogs. He has a fantastic reputation for non aggressive training methods with amazing results.
This experience has led me to start a charity the Noistar Thai Dog Rescue to help the hundred of dogs still on the island. The Noistar Thai Dog Rescue intends to introduce a neutering and education programme to bring the dog population under control and thereby improve the quality of life for both the humans and the canines who inhabit the island. We will involve local people directly in this programme as well as targeting tourists to act more responsibly.
There will be a clinic on the island, which is already running with a bare staff of volunteers, this will be the focus for the medical and educational activities.
Koh Tao should be a refuge for the beach dogs that live there. With help they would be able to exist in harmony with the islanders and the many thousands of visitors that go there each year. We may not be able to change the world but we can change an island.
If you are interested in helping out contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org
A: Taxi, bus, airport pickup - nearest railway station is Hualumpong.
Q: Andreas writes: "Hi, I need the cheapest way from Bankok Airport to Khao San Road?"
A: By airport bus - 150 Baht per person - 05.30 to 24.00 hours daily. It takes from there around 1 and half hour, getting off at the last bus stop near Khaosan Road.
Q: Mike writes: "Hello, what are the options for getting to Hua Lamphong Train station from Suvarnabhumi airport, please."
A: AE4 Suvarnabhumi-Hua Lamphong (by expressway) - taxi to Morchit MRT and MRT to Hua Lamphong.
Q: Gwyn Jones writes: "Dear Sir, travelling from UK to Phuket on 2nd Jan 07. Best case scenario is that luggage will be checked through to hkt from Manchester. On arrival in the new airport will I be able to remain in 'transit'/collect boarding pass from Thai Airways desk and eventually clear immigration in Phuket, or will I have to clear immigration on arrival and check in again at domestic? Any advice you have will be appreciated. Thank you in advance."
A: We presume you can go directly to domestic and your luggae will be transfered to your on flight. Again, we are looking to hear from people who can confirm this...
Q: Cheryl writes: "I'll be flying from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok on Oct 13 using Air Asia. Will it be at the same terminal as all international flights. I'll be staying at Mandarin Hotel. What is the taxi fare from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Mandarin Hotel. My departure time is very early in the morning around 7am. Will your taxi stop at the proper arrival area or to a certain place whereby I need to use your shuttle bus. Is it easy to get a cab early in the morning let's say 4am."
A: Sorry - again we don't know... has anyone been to Mandarin Hotel from the new airport? If so please let Cheryl know...
Q: Bbaker writes: "I am trying to find hotels/guesthouses near the NEW airport and am having trouble as all tour books and sites still list places near the old airport. Please advise." We have had a number of people asking this question...
A: We don't know much about about discount accommodation and if anyone has details let us know. However, there's Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel, Royal Princess Srinakarin, Grand Inn Come Hotel, and Novotel Bangna amongst others.
Q: Larry writes: "I used to take the airport bus from the old airport all the way to Tower Inn. Will I be able to take the same bus from the new airport?"
A: We don't know for sure, but it's pretty unlikely - the old aiport and the new airport are opposite ends of Bangkok!
Q: Ocean writes: "Where is the taxi stand for taxis into the city at the new airport?"
A: Public taxis taxi stands are located on level four of the departures concourse.
Q: Han s. Chen writes: "Hi; I will be in BKK on Oct.3 at 11;45 PM , this is a scaring time to arrive of a new airport, I don\'t know the latest airport bus to Khaosan Rd is what time and is Rte 551 bus directly going to Khaosan Rd also if not which bus is?! Would you please tell me this urgent and confusion questions.Thanks in advance for your helps of this anxious awaiting questions. Best Regards Han Chen"
A: We don't know about the 551 - can anyone help? The AE2 goes directly to Khaosan Road and costs 150 Baht. the journey takes an hour and gets to KSR by expressway.
Q: Wim writes: "Do the bus services from Khao Sarn Road to the new airport (556 and AE2) have 24 hour service?"
A: Sadly - we can't find the answer... anyone?.
Q: Tony writes: "Hi. I'm flying into Bangkok from Samui on Monday and on to Bahrain on Tuesday. Is the old airport totally gone or is it still being used for domestic fligts? "
A: Our understanding is that the new airport will deal with both domestic flights and international flights… the old airport will be used for charter flights and some domestic routes, althoughn not key routes.
Q: L.Mogan Muniandy writes: "What is the taxi (meter) fare from Airport (New) to Grande Ville Hotel?"
A: Sorry, no idea... anyone?
Q: Mike writes: "There is an airport bus advertised from Suvarnabhumi airport to the On Nut BTS Station - does this come off the Expressway down Sukhumvit Road from Nana ie past the Landmark Hotel or does it come to On Nut for passengers to get the BTS up towards Nana. It is very difficult to find this out. Thanks,"
A: We don't know the answer to this one.... Anyone?
So he made it back, 35 min. back to Khaosan - 240 on the meter and 65 for the toll ways. No 50 baht !!! I went with the bus, had to wait 1 hour for it. So at 01.30u I left from the airport and 35 min. later I was at Khaosan. For 35 baht, this was ok. If your not in a rush or carrying to much luggage, the bus is a fine alternative. If you are in a rush and don\'t mind the money, take a taxi. Note: the busses don't drive on a schedule.
It might be possible that you have to wait a while to get a bus. However, the information counter at the public transport terminal is very useful and gives you all kinds of alternative routes to the city. You can take the 552 bus to and get out on Sukhumvit. From there bus 511 to Khaosan... And so on. Just ask them, they speak good English and were very helpful at 01.00 in the morning! Regards Ryan"
Shai Pinto has been to the new airport twice already so he should have a few insights... here's what he has to say...
The bottom line for the new airport is - it's big, it's easy if you know your way around airports,and it isn't such a big change as expected. As I have managed to go through the new airport twice in it's first 3 days of operation here is the lowdown for you to update everyone.
Basically, once you get out of the baggage claim you are still on the arrivals floor 2, and you have a few options:
1- Go down 1 level and get an airport authority taxi - it will cost you a flat rate and it is expensive
2- Walk out the doors of the terminal - there are 3 curbs or sidewaks ahead off you. The first one has a big stop for the shuttle bus - this bus will take you to the transport centre, a seperate building 10 min drive away. From there you can take regular taxis, buit they add at least 50 baht rack rate surcharge. You will also have to wait for the bus a bit. BGy the way - make sure you get the express one, or you will end up stopping at all kinds of buildings along the way (usefull if you have a special fettish for new airport buildings, hangars or storage rooms..)
3 - As you exit the doors - just flag down the first taxi you see. They will all stop even though they are not supposed to, and they all seem just as lost as you do, so they will hurry up to take you before the funny man with the whistle and the uniform chases them away. It also helps with bargaining..
4 - As in the old airport - go up to departures and grab a taxi that just dropped off passengers. it still works...
By the way - only go meter!!! it is exactly 220 baht to KSR (3 journeys, same price), and if you pay the tollway fees add another 65 Baht.
In summary - new airport or not, just walk out the door, hail the first taxi to drive by, say meter, pay for tollway, and in exactly 45 min you will be at KSR.
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.
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.