The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park

The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park

“I think I’ve spotted one!” Mr C gives an ecstatic gasp, before plunging into the undergrowth, leaving my new friends and I feeling confused and bemused. Suddenly, we hear hooting and whooping noises as our guide trying to communicate with a white handed gibbon. Next thing we now, Mr C appears, beaming broadly. “I’ve found a gibbon,” he announces in awe. “Come and see, quick!” We quietly follow Mr C into the undergrowth, where he has set up his tripod and binoculars. Sure enough, through the binoculars we can clearly see a group of gibbons playing in the treetops. I have traveled to Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park for some relaxation and a much-needed break from the city.

Khao Yai is Thailand’s most popular nature reserve, and it is easy to see why. With 2168 square kilometres of lush forest, the park is a real Eden for the 300 bird species and 20 species of big mammals which shelter within its boundaries. Khao Yai means Big Mountain and the name refers to the Phanom Dongrek Mountains that make the park so special.

I had left the neighbouring town of Pak Chong early that morning, expecting to explore Khao Yai on foot. Catching a songthaew from the center of town, I arrive at the park just before 8 am. I am dropped at the park checkpoint, where I pay my 200 baht entrance fee and wait for a lift to the visitor’s centre.

After a couple of minutes, a jeep rolls down the road towards me. The driver greets me warmly and agrees to take me to the visitor’s centre. The two passengers, Fiona and Henry, also greet me warmly.

Along the way, the driver stops several times to point out macaques, kingfishers and other interesting wildlife. He introduces himself as Mr C, but it is not long before I have dubbed him ‘Mr Crazy’. Mr C is like the Thai version of Steve Irwin; he is incredibly passionate about wildlife and sometimes his enthusiasm seems a little goofy. Still, you couldn’t hope for a more knowledgeable guide.

It takes nearly an hour to reach the visitor’s centre. Once there, Mr C offers to take me along on the tour for just 400 bhat for the entire day. He explains that many of the park’s features are as much as 20 kilmetres apart, making it impossible to cover them on foot. As I am already captivated with Mr C and Fiona and Henry seem happy to have company, I gratefully agree.

After a short break, Mr C Provides long, white canvass socks, which we put on over our trousers, feeling rather silly. They are to protect against leeches, and I notice most of the other visitors are also wearing these latest fashion accessories.

Back in the jeep, Mr C takes us on a short ride along beautifully forested roads. Suddenly, he pulls to a halt. “Did you see that?” he asks, before plunging into the undergrowth once more. This time he has spotted a hornbill. “Khao Yai is one of the best places in South East Asia to observe these golden-beaked beauties,” Mr C tells us proudly, before demonstrating their call.

There are four species of hornbill at Khao Yai. On a neighbouring tree we spot a pied hornbill. Fiona suddenly notices we are standing near a ‘Tiger Zone’ sign and expresses her concern. Mr C simply laughs; “I have been visiting the park for seven years and I have never seen a tiger,” he confesses.

After a few minutes, Mr C drops us at the edge of the forest where we are to begin our trek. We walk for three hours, but the pace is fairly gentle. Mr C stops every few minutes to point out woodpeckers, yellow-browed warblers and an extremely beautiful red-breasted flycatcher.

Just as my energy is beginning to fade, we reach the edge of the forest. It takes a minute for my eyes to adjust to the sunlight as we walk across a grassy plain. After a few minutes, we pass a small lake, which is a watering hole for many of Khao Yai’s birds and animals.

A short distance away is Nong Pak Chee observation tower, and we are all quite relieved when Mr C announces we will stop here for lunch. We climb a wooden ladder up into the observation tower. Already inside are two Thai men who are camping out, hoping that their patience will be rewarded with some animal sightings.

After lunch, Mr C directs us along a neat path leading away from the observation tower. Suddenly, he orders us to crouch down to the ground. Just in time; a swarm or big black bees cross our path, hovering above our heads for a moment before passing on.

Once we reach the waiting jeep, Mr C drives us to a caf?, where he buys us drinks to cool off. The four of us sit relaxing and talking for awhile. When we have rested, Mr C leads us down a short path, at the end of which lies the Haew Suwat Falls. This 25 metres high waterfall starred in the film The Beach. There is currently not much water flowing down the vast rock face as it is the dry season, but during the wet season many travelers take the plunge, fancying themselves, perhaps, as the next Lionardo Di Caprio.

When we have admired the waterfall from all angles, Mr C drives us to Khao Lem hill, where there are spectacular views over the park. Another short drive and a wander through the jungle, and we find ourselves perched at the very top of Khao Luuk Chang (Baby Elephant Mountain). As we sit on a rocky perch, we are actually above the highest treetops of the surrounding jungle, and the view is breathtaking.

Finally, it is time to leave Khao Yai, although I find that I am very reluctant. Mr C has one more surprise for us. On the drive back, he suddenly pulls to a halt. His sharp eyes have spotted a large scorpion sunbathing at the edge of the road; another trophy for our photo albums.

Getting There:

Khao Yai is 120 kilometres north east of Bangkok. It is best to make the journey to nearby Pak Chong first as the town can be reached by bus or train.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!

Koh Phangan – a Magical Mystery Tour

Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour

Another lazy day on holiday and I am sitting at a bar on the beautiful Koh Phangan, waiting for the guide of the Reggae Magic Boat Trip to arrive. As I wait I watch in wonder as a Thai man tries to sell his tiny exotically coloured ‘pet’ bird. “Ha roi” (tasty) he announces to my indignation. “No! Mai arroy!” I cry, thinking the man has just told his friends that the bird would be delicious. “No, no,” the man laughs. “I say I will sell bird for 500 Baht, ha roi!” Just then the bird escapes from the man’s grip and flies out of reach onto a rooftop.

Just then, the enigmatic Thai man who calls himself Peter Pan strides around the corner. Dressed in yellow shorts, a patch work shirt streaked with gold and a brightly-coloured scarf, the man’s colourful costume matches his personality perfectly. “It’s OK, I am here now,” he chirps. “We can go!”

The relieved Israelis, who have been impatiently waiting, and I follow Peter Pan to a large wooden boat with a large group of relieved Israelis. There are 22 of us in all, including Peter and his two helpers, but there is plenty of room for us all.

Like a genial genie, Peter Pan sits cross-legged on the cool box, smiling down on us. “Now, we must balance the boat, otherwise we will flip over,” he tells us once we are all aboard. “I not care if you drown, but I love my boat, you know?”

It takes about an hour for us to reach our first destination. I lounge in the boat, lazily watching the scenery and the sun sparkle on the idyllically blue water.

Finally, we reach the beautiful beach of Haad Sadet and the boat shudders to a halt. The boat rocks violently as all the passengers race for the shore, eager to explore.

Once on terra firma, we pile into a waiting truck and are transported along a steep, treacherous road. Then, on foot, we follow a winding jungle path.

Suddenly, I emerge from the trees to find myself at the foot of the enchanting Than Sadet waterfall. Carefully climbing over huge granite boulders and navigating pools of fresh water, I make my way to where the others are waiting.

Than Sadet is Koh Phangan’s most famous waterfall. This 3km fall has had its share of royal attention. It was first visited by King Rama V in 1888. The magnificent waterfall clearly crept into his heart, for King Rama V visited the fall more than 10 times. The current monarch, King Bhumibol, has also visited Than Sadet and its waters are used for royal ceremonies.

After about half an hour, we begin to make our way back to the beach. Back in the boat, we sail for another 30 minutes or so. I sprawl on the deck, basking in the sun’s rays.

Soon enough, we reach Haad Khuat, also known as Bottle Beach. “You know why we call it Bottle Beach?” Peter Pan asks from his perch on the cool box. “Because that’s its name?” I chime in before I can stop myself. “No,” peter Pan grins. “Because it is shaped like a bottle.”

We climb out of the boat once more and onto the deserted golden beach. The only sign of civilization is a small restaurant, where we are scheduled to eat lunch. After perusing the extensive menu, I decide on vegetable pad Thai, as I don’t want to be too full for swimming.

After eating, I have half an hour to entertain myself and immediately head for the warm, clear water. Peter pan and his colleagues, I notice, are already snoozing in the shade.

When it is time to leave, I dry myself in the sun and join the rest of the group in the boat. Peter Pan is continuing his rest, softly snoring under a blanket.

This time, we are treated to a short ride around the coast to Mae Haad. Peter Pan’s colleague, who I am told is called Wendy, explains that this area has very beautiful tropical fish and coral. He hands out the snorkels and one by one we plunge into the waiting waters.

As I lower my face into the sea, my gaze is instantly met by several dozen fish. Striped black and white with yellow fins, these are known as Sweet lips. Deeper down, close to the beautiful soft coral, I spot the odd Hexagonal Grouper and exquisite exotically coloured Blue Ringed Angel Fish.

When I eventually surface, the other assistant – Tinker Bell, presumably – hands me some bread. As soon as I bring the bread beneath the water, dozens of fish surge towards me and begin to nibble the bread right from my hand.

After an amazingly timeless period, I pull myself back into the boat. Peter Pan is finally awake and is handing out chunks of pineapple for us to munch on. The fruit tastes wonderful after the saltiness of the sea.

The boat hand starts the engine once more and begins the journey back to Haad Rin, completing a circuit of the entire island. By the time we arrive, I am glad to be getting out of the hot sun.

At 7:30 pm, I return to a bar for a feast. My companions and I hungrily devour a delicious dinner of rice and vegetables with chicken curry for the meat eaters. Once the meal is finished, Peter Pan gives someone a guitar to play. With a happy belly, I sit back in my chair and sleepily listen as Israeli music floats out on the night air.

Information:

Tours start from 12 pm and cost 500 baht for six hours. The bar is situated on Haad Rin Noi (Sunrise Beach) just around the corner from Same Same Lodge.

Getting There:

The nearest international airport to Koh Phangan is at Koh Samui. From here the island is an hour ferry ride away. Joint bus and ferry packages are available from all of the travel agencies on Khaosan Road and take 12-15 hours.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!

Things to Do Under 50 Baht


Things to do under 50 Baht in Bangkok
Things to do under 50 Baht in Bangkok
Things to do under 50 Baht in Bangkok
Things to do under 50 Baht in Bangkok
Things to do under 50 Baht in Bangkok

There are no two ways about it; Bangkok can be a pretty expensive place to hang out. The vibrant night life and tempting food can eat through your budget faster than a mouse through grain.

For those on a tight budget, Bangkok’s diversions can seem out of reach, and becoming confined to whiling away the hours watching movies around Banglampu becomes a disheartening prospect.
 
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Many activities in the city cost less than 50 baht and can be rich and rewarding. Here are some of my favourite ways to spend time in the city
 
Situated just behind Chatuchak, Suan Rotfai, or Railway Park, is one of Bangkok’s best kept secrets. Filled with water lilly ponds, streams and places to relax, this huge park is extremely picturesque. One of my favourite ways to spend an afternoon is to hire a bicycle from the stand at the far side of the park and navigate the specially constructed cycle paths. Just 20 baht will buy you three hours of cycling fun.
 
Whilst exploring the park, don’t forget to visit the Bangkok Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in the Southeastern area. A 15-metre-high glass dome covers an area of 1,100 square meters, abundant with beautiful butterflies. Admission is free and you can watch the butterflies and learn about them in the attached museum. Open 8:30-4:30 Tuesday-Sunday.
 
The easiest way to get to the park is to take the MRT to Chatuchak Park station or the BTS to Mo Chit. You can also take bus 3 from Samsen Road, just around the corner from Khao San. Simply walk through Chatuchak Park, turn right and walk along the back road until you come to the gates to another park.
 
If you are interested in science, the Bangkok Planetarium and Science Museum is a great place to spend a few hours. A combined ticket to the Planetarium and Museum costs just 20 baht and includes an information leaflet. Tracing the history of space travel, the Planetarium show has spectacular visual imagery and sound. Visit on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. for the English language show.
 
The science museum covers everything from dinosaurs to marine biology and has many interesting exhibits. Open 9-4 Sunday to Tuesday, it is located near to the BTS Ekkamai Station and the Eastern Bus Terminal. You can also catch buses 2, 25, 38, 40, 48, 72, 98, 501 and 511.

Few visitors venture across the Chao Phraya River to the Thonburi side, but there are some attractions worth visiting. Take the ferry down the river one afternoon to pier 6, known as Memorial Bridge or Phra Pok Klao. After walking across the bridge, follow the road to your right and you will soon come to a large red gate flanked by two enormous stone turtles. I love to watch the cute baby turtles learning to swim under the watchful guidance of their and feed the older turtles meat and fruit on sticks.
 
Just around the corner, The Princess Mother Memorial Park is another good place to relax. Established in 1993 by His Majesty the King as a tribute to his mother, these beautiful gardens feature a reconstruction of the Princess Mother’s childhood home. These open rooms allow a rare insight into a traditional Thai home and are very interesting to observe.
 
The gardens also include two exhibition rooms, where photographs and text both in Thai and English tell the story of the Princess Mother’s life. Perhaps most revealing is a passage written by the King’s elder sister, HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana:
 
“Mother said once she was living in this house near Wat Anong. It was like a row-house with many rooms, a rented house with only the wall panels and the roof. The tenants had to provide the other parts of the house, such as the floor. It had a balcony with a roof. Inside the house to the right was a raised platform, which served as an image room and Father’s office. Beyond that there were a sleeping chamber and a kitchen. There was no bathroom. They took a bath by the water jar on the front balcony, or in the canal nearby.”     

A sign outside Wat Prayura Wongsuwat illustrates the way to the Princess mother’s memorial Park. Just a five minute walk away, simply follow the green signs.

Just a short boat ride from Thailand’s capital, Koh Kret is like the land that time – and tourism – forgot. Steeped in culture, this is the perfect place to escape from the frantic pace of Bangkok for an afternoon.

No cars are allowed on Koh Kret, and you can walk around the island – which is a little under 4 kms in circumference – undisturbed. The smell of traffic fumes is replaced by a rich, earthy scent. People sit in the shade beside their houses, completing household chores and chatting to pass the time. Koh Kret has an unusual history. The name literally means ‘the land surrounded by water.’ It was artificially created nearly 300 years ago, when a channel was cut through a bend in the Chao Phraya River to make the journey to Ayuthaya shorter.

Thousands of Mon people flocked to Thailand in 1757, when Burmese troops destroyed Pegu, the capital of Monland. King Taksin the Great of Thailand encouraged the Mon People to settle on Koh Kret and they used their skills in pottery to set up kilns, producing pots, jars, plates and bowls for Thai people. Today, more than 6,000 people live in peace on Koh Kret.

Worth a visit is Suan Kret Phutt, or Buddha Park, a beautiful garden in the center of Koh Kret. Secluded from the road, this is a wonderful place to sit and meditate, and I spend an hour or so relaxing and listening to the wind in the trees.

Before you leave, stop at the food market near the ferry pier to sample some Mon delicacies. Especially good are Khao Chae; rice in jasmine water, accompanied by tempura vegetables. This food is refreshing and delicious and sweet tea is served in clay pots, which make great souveniers.

I love to finish the day by taking a ferry down the Chao Phraya River just as the sun sets. Wat Arun looks spectacular lit from behind by the warm rich tones on Bangkok’s sunset.

Other Attractions:

Housing a total of 52 vessels, the Royal Barge National Museum is worth a visit, as are the National Museum and National Gallery. If you are looking for somewhere cheap to eat, check out the vegetarian food section of Chatuchak market, where all dishes range from 12-20 Baht. Situated near the MRT and open daily from 8 a.m-2 p.m.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!

Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes

Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes
restaurants_on_kha_san_road_8
Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes
Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes
Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes
Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes
Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes

The area on and around Khao San Road offers one of the widest selections of restaurants in the entire city. Diners can choose between a large variety of both traditional Thai and international cuisine, and most of the restaurants in this area have menus written in English, Thai and a few other languages. The waiters in this area are used to dealing with customers from all over the world, which makes dining here a simple and pleasant experience.

When it comes to Thai food, the options are endless as most restaurants on Khao San Road serve a selection of the most popular Thai dishes. It is possible to order dishes to taste. Simply ask for ‘mai pet’ if you don’t like chilli, ‘pet nit noi’ for medium spicy or ‘pet pet’ if you want to enjoy eat Thai curries, soups and Thai salads at their full fiery strength. If you’re not sure how much chilli you can handle it is best or err on the side of caution as fresh chillies can always be added when eating to increase the firepower. 

Khao San Road and the surrounding streets are perhaps the best place in Bangkok to enjoy Indian food, as there are most than a dozen different restaurants in this area serving traditional Indian fare. Most restaurants employ Indian cooks and waiters and the food is served fresh. These Indian eateries here come in all shapes and sizes, from cheap and cheerful street stalls to luxuriously decorated restaurants.

There is also a wide selection of other cuisines available here including a handful of Israeli restaurants, Japanese restaurants, Italian restaurants and eateries specialising in authentic British grub such as fish and chips.

Vegetarians will find plenty of places to choose from in this area as well. Not only do many of the restaurants offer a large selection of vegetarian dishes, there are also around half a dozen restaurants that serve purely vegetarian and vegan food. These restaurants often serve as meeting places for like-minded travellers and the atmosphere inside is relaxed and friendly. Vegetarian travellers can choose between Thai, Indian and international cuisine and some of the eateries offer extra services such as a bed for the night, cookery courses and massage.

One of the great things about eating in this area is that there are plenty of places for the budget traveller to dine. There are dozens of different street stalls to choose from, which serve light bites and meals from as little as 25 baht. Many of these stalls provide tables and chairs to allow customers to eat in comfort. Simply grab a table, place your order and watch the world go by while you tuck into dishes such as som tam, pad thai, vegetarian food and Indian cuisine. Many of these street stalls also serve beer to those who want to relax for a while and indulge in a spot of people watching.

Sometimes it is nice to be able to treat yourself to something familiar and travellers will also be able to satisfy their food cravings at one of half a dozen different well-known fast food restaurants.

When hunger strikes, Khao San Road is definitely the place to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Religion in Thailand


Religion in Thailand
Religion in Thailand
Religion in Thailand
Religion in Thailand

Most Thai people (around 95%) are Buddhist, whilst 4.6% are Muslim, and Christianity comprises 0.7%. Most of Thailand’s Muslims live in the south of Thailand. There are also a significant number of Hindus and Sikhs. Thailand also has a history of animism – which generally means the belief in souls and spirits – and this is still practiced by some of the people of the hill tribes in the north of Thailand.

Although Buddhism is by far the main belief, Thailand prides itself on religious freedom and welcomes the emergence of newer religions and beliefs.

The strain of Buddhism worshipped in Thailand is Thai Theravada Buddhism, which is supported and overseen by the government. Most men are expected to become a monk at some point in their life, and this is often undertaken during the three monk Khao Phansa period, which begins in July.

Monks can be easily recognised by their saffron coloured robed and shaved heads. Monks cannot carry money and so can be seen early in the morning collecting their daily food. Monks also receive a number of government benefits, such as free use of public transport.

Religion forms a cornerstone of most Thai people’s lives, entwined with daily activities and special events. Most people will worship at the temple (known as a wat) during festivals and monks and spirits are consulted when important decisions need to be made such as weddings and starting a business.

Khao San Road Bars and Clubs


Khai San Road Pubs and Clubs, Bangkok, Thailand
Khai San Road Pubs and Clubs, Bangkok, Thailand
Khai San Road Pubs and Clubs, Bangkok, Thailand
Khai San Road Pubs and Clubs, Bangkok, Thailand

After the sun sets Khao San Road is transformed into a neon wonderland as people flock from all over the city to sip cocktails on the street, listen to live music or shake a tail feature in one of the area’s trendy clubs.

Whether you simply want to enjoy a cold beer or two or are looking for a hedonistic clubbing experience, Khao San Road has a good selection of nightlife, which attracts tourists, travellers and Thai people from all walks of life.

Khao San Road is a great place for drinking and socializing as prices are generally much lower than in other parts of the city and those on a tight budget will be able to enjoy a drink or two at the end of a hard day of sightseeing. Many of the bars here also show movies and live sporting events free of charge to customers.

Most of the bars on Khao San Road and the surrounding area open mid morning and stay open until the early hours. Some places also have licenses to stay open 24 hours a day, meaning that there is always somewhere to grab a drink and make friends here.

There are a good number of street side bars in this area, which serve cheap beer and strong cocktails. Sitting at the tables here is a good way to meet people and watch events as they unfold on Khao San Road.

Those who enjoy live music will find plenty of venues to choose from. The bands in this area play both covers of popular Western and Thai tunes as well as their own songs. These bars attract a good mixture of Thai and Western customers and the atmosphere is usually very lively, with plenty of room to dance.

Those who like to boogie will be able to take their pick from dozens of different clubs. Most of these venues get going at around 11pm and stay open until two or three in the morning. Featuring DJs from all over the world, the clubs on and around Khao San Road pump out all sorts of music, from hip hop to trance and offer a lively atmosphere in which to see and be seen.

One of the great things about partying on Khao San Road is that there is always something to see and do here. Most venues are open every night of the week and have special nightly deals in order to attract customers.

Travellers should bear in mind that some of the women who hang out on Khao San Road aren’t quite as feminine as they appear at first glance. Ladyboys are common all over Thailand and it can be quite difficult to tell them apart from the real McCoy, especially after a few beers.

However, one of the great things about Thai people is that they are rarely pushy and both men and women can feel save and comfortable when partying on Khao San Road.