Tag - cool

Xieng Khouang, Laos

Xieng Khouang, Laos
Xieng Khouang, Laos
Xieng Khouang, Laos

Situated in the northeast of Laos, the enchanting province of Xieng Khouang is a popular stop on the trail through Laos. This is a great place to go trekking as the landscape is infinitely interesting; with broad ochre hills, and the eucalypts and pine plantations, the mountains of Hua Phah and lush valleys. The climate is quite cool and this is also a good place to escape the heat of southern Laos.

Most people come to Xieng Khouang province to visit the Plain of Jars, where hundreds of stone jars are scattered across the landscape. Carved from solid rock, these enormous jars are more than 2500 years old, and are an impressive sight. Although legends tell that the jars were used to ferment wine in the sixth century, nobody is really certain of their origins and another theory is that they were tombs for the people who died in battle. The Plain of Jars is also known as Thong Hai Hin and one of the highlights of Laos as it is entirely unique.
After a hard day of exploring, soothe aching muscles with a dip in the hot springs. There are two hot springs in the area, Bo Noi and Bo Yai, which reach temperatures of around 60?C, are set in a beautiful forest and the perfect place to relax and unwind.

The capital of Xieng Khouang is Muang Khun, and this is a great place to spend the night and explore. Here you will find some interesting temple ruins as well as the complete Wat Pia Wat. As you wander around the city you will find a number of good restaurants and places to stay.

The town of Muang Khun features both night a day markets, which are large and lively. People travel to the market from all over the province to sell their wares, swap stories and do some shopping. This is a good place to buy a cheap meal and indulge in some people watching as you witness Lao life unfold around you.

Pyin U Lwin, Burma

Pyin U Lwin, Burma
Pyin U Lwin, Burma
Pyin U Lwin, Burma

The town of Pyin U Lwin is distinctly different from much of Myanmar. A step away from the ancient temples and shining stupas in many of the surrounding towns and cities, here you will find colonial style buildings, stately homes and cool weather. The coolness of this area makes it a good place to visit if you happen to be in Myanmar during the hot months of March, April and May.

Pyin U Lwin is situated in the northern foot hills of Shan State and was formerly known as Maymyo during the time when many British governors lived here. There are many interesting ways to get around the town, and one of the most pleasant is by stately Victorian horse drawn carriage known as a gharry.

For the ultimate luxurious feel, take a gharry to the National Kandawgyi Gardens for a stroll in the shade and breathe in the fresh, pine scented air. Established in 1915 by Alex Rodger, the gardens are a great place to explore the area’s flora and fauna, while the pond with its central stupa makes an excellent photograph.

A tour of the town will take you to the Purcell Tower and on to the English Cemetery before stopping to allow you to inspect the pretty Shiva Temple and Chinese Temple. To the south of the town you will find the Candacraig, which is a colonial mansion built as a guesthouse and offers an interesting insight into colonial life.

Venture out of the town and you will discover a couple of pretty waterfalls. Anisakan Falls is a great place to visit for those who enjoy hiking, and you can trek for half a day through jungle to get witness the inviting cascade of water and nearby temple. Pwe Kauk Falls are a popular picnic spot and you can simply hire a taxi to get there before relaxing or hiking to the nearby caves of U Naung Gu.

There are a number of great restaurants in this area and Western food is quite easy to find, while traditional cooking is hot and spicy, moderated with flavours of Chinese and Indian cuisine.

When to Visit Cambodia

When to Visit Cambodia
When to Visit Cambodia
When to Visit Cambodia

Cambodia’s climate is tropical and the weather is hot and humid practically all year round. However, there are four main seasons; the cool and dry season from November to February, the hot and dry season from March to May, the hot and wet season from June-August, and the cool and wet season that lasts from September-October.

The temperatures in Cambodia are significantly higher than other Asian countries such as Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, with average temperatures of between 28-35?C in the hot season. The weather is also very humid during this period. April is by far the hottest month, and only travel during this time if you are used to walking around in the heat.

However, things cool down to around 25-30?C in November to February, and this is a good time for temple hopping. There are occasional cool evenings, but Cambodia could never be referred to as cold and you will rarely need a jacket, if ever.

The rain descends on Cambodia from June to October, with heavy showers and storms sweeping the entire country. However, the rain is mainly restricted to the afternoon, so it is still possible to rise early and spend the morning exploring and relax in the afternoon and evening.
Tourist numbers are low during the rainy season, so this is a good time to beat the crowds.

The peak tourist season is from December to January and if you are travelling in Cambodia during this time it is a good idea to book popular hotels in advance, although there is usually plenty of accommodation available.

Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand
Pai, Thailand
Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand

Located halfway between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, Pai is an intimate little village which draws visitors from all over the world with its cool climate, friendly locals and stunning scenery, which includes mountains and waterfalls.

As soon as you arrive in Pai, the fresh mountain air and warm smiles make you feel at home and slow your pace a little. The absolutely stunning scenery is just waiting to be explored, and many people hire bicycles or motorbikes and ride out to the nearby hill tribe villages. The village of Ban Piang Luang makes a good day trip, and the local people are welcoming. Pai has a total population of less than 3,000 people, which gives a real feeling of community, a nice contrast after spending some time in one of Thailand’s bustling cities or busy beach areas.

There are many tiny hill tribe villages located around Pai and hill tribes include Karen, Hmong, Lisu and Lahu. Although usually quite used to tourists by now, many of the hill tribe villagers are shy and should be approached respectfully.

The village of Pai takes its name from the river that runs through the lush valley. There are a few local temples to explore, including the very pretty Wat Luang and Wat Klang and the beautiful forests make a great setting for a soak in the Tha Pai Hot Springs, where you can choose to bath in the incredibly hot water (which can reach scorching temperatures of 200 degrees Celsius) with friends, or treat yourself to a private pool.

Originally a quiet market village inhabited by Shan people, Pai has adapted to provide a haven for the road weary traveler.

The water in Pai is cool and clear, and the waters at Mo Paeng Waterfall are a good place to cool down after a walk through the countryside or a visit at one of the nearby elephant camps.

For shopping, check out the Wednesday Market, when colorful crowds of local villagers and tribal people from all around the Pai Valley gather to trade their wares.

But the main past time in Pai is simply chilling out. With a large variety of guest houses, restaurants, bars and cinema rooms, this is a perfect place to learn the art of relaxation.

Petchaboon, Thailand

Petchaboon, Thailand
Petchaboon, Thailand
Petchaboon, Thailand
Petchaboon, Thailand

Situated 346 kilometres from Bangkok, Petchaboon is a very pretty province in the northern region of Thailand. The name of the province actually means the land of crops and food in the Thai language and this is a very fertile area, largely due to its location on the Pa Sak river basin. With mountain ranges running along both the western and eastern parts, Petchaboon Province is the perfect place for nature lovers as it is full of well-known national parks, beautiful waterfalls and great lakes.

A great place to discover the abundant beauty of the area is at the Nam Nao National Park. This enormous conservation park is full of forests, grasslands and virgin jungles. Nam Nao Park offers visitors the opportunity to learn about plants, wild animals and outdoor activities through trekking and bird watching. More than 100 species of birds have made their home in Nam Nao Park, and it is also a good place to see the famous fog that gathers in the region during cool weather.

Other extremely beautiful areas are the Namtok Than Thip Forest Park and Thung Salaeng Luang National Park, whilst you can soak away your troubles after a hard day of trekking at the Ban Phu Toei Hot Spring Park.

The Khao Kho Wildlife Captive Breeding Centre is a great place to find out how to care for and protect animals. The centre can be found in Khao Kho National Park, which is located about 1 hour northwest of Petchaboon town and thought by many to be the most beautiful of all the area’s parks because of its stunning mountain views. Also in the park are the Khao Kho International Library, which is shaped like an upside down diamond, and the Khao Kho Sacrificial Monument.

There are a large number of sparkling waterfalls in the area, which make a good focus point for trekking and hiking. Of particular note are Namtok Si Dit and the large Than Thip Waterfall, located in the Than Thip Forest Park, whilst Tham Ruesi Sombat is a large and interesting cave.

If you are interested in temples, Petchaboon has many treats in store. Look out for the ancient Wat Si Mongkhon, Phra Borommathat Chedi Kanchanaphisek, Phra Tamnak Khao Kho and Chedi Phra Borommasaririkkathat Khao Kho, which contains relics of Lord Buddha brought to Thailand from Sri Lanka.

Petchaboon Province is the home of many exciting and vibrant festivals. The Um Pra Dam Nam festival is an unusual event held on the fifteenth day of the waning

moon in the 10th lunar month. The festival features a special ceremony, during which an image of Phra Buddha Maha Thammaracha is carried around the town so that people can pay respect to it and stick gold leaf onto its body. The Buddha image is then taken by the governor of Petchaboon to be immersed in the Pah Sak River. After the ceremony, the water in the river is regarded as sacred.
Another interesting and unique tradition is Seng Klong, when the villagers of Petchaboon ask god and the angels to come to make merit with them. The ceremony is held during the end of Buddhist Lent around the Por Kun Pah Maung Monument to promote the honor of Por Kun Pah. This celebration features many other activities, such as the drum contest, the beauty queen contest and colorful floating lanterns, which fill the sky.

Chiang Rai, Thailand

Chiang Rai, Thailand
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Chiang Rai, Thailand

This picturesque northern province is situated 785 kilometres from Bangkok and shares borders with Myanmar in the north and Laos in the east. The city of Chiang Rai was founded by King Mengrai in 1262 and the centrally located King Mengrai the Great Memorial depicts the king in all his former glory.

This is a great place to visit if you appreciate cool weather, walking amongst attractive natural scenery, good food and chilling out in a city that has all the charm and atmosphere of a small village.

The city of Chiang Rai has a rather sleepy, relaxed feel to it, and exploring the streets can yield some interesting sights. The pure white temple of Wat Rong Khum has to be seen to be believed, whilst Wat Phra Kaeo is the original home of the Emerald Buddha, now located in the temple of the same name in Bangkok. Also worth exploring are Wat Pa Sak and Wat Phra That Doi Tung.

Although not as large as its neighbour in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai’s Night Bazaar is a great place to pick up a bargain or two, whilst the sleepy village of Chiang Saen with its interesting history, warm welcome and architecture is a great place for a day trip.

But it is Chiang Rai’s natural beauty that draws most visitors to the area. As well as enchanting jungle waterfalls such as Khun Korn Waterfall and Pong Phra Bat waterfall, there are also dozens of hot springs scattered around the area, where you can soak up the goodness of meltingly hot water and natural minerals either in public pools or secluded in your own private tub. Look out for the Pha Soet Hot Springs and Huai Hin Fon Hot Springs and Waterfall with its stunning jungle backdrop. What could be better than listening to the insects and wind in the trees as you enjoy a good soak?

The Hilltribe Museum and Education Centre is a great place to learn about the local people before going on a trek, and The Hall of Opium museum also provides a lot of interesting information about life in the area, both past and present.

No visit to the area would be complete without a trip to the absolutely stunning Phu Chi Fa Forest Park, and animal lovers can get up close and personal with the elephants at the Mae Sa Elephant Training Center.

Chiang Mai, Thailand


Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Situated in the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai Province is full of natural beauty spots such as Doi-Suthep-Pui National Park, Thap Lan National Park, Buak Hat Park and dozens of inviting waterfalls, among which Huay Kaew falls, Mae Sa Waterfall and Wachiratharn Waterfall should not be missed. The area is also a great place for bird watching, so make sure you bring your binoculars.

The capital of Chiang Mai Province is Chiang Mai city, which is the second largest city in Thailand and forms the focus point for travel to the north. Thousands of people visit Chiang Mai every year, drawn by its rich culture, cool climate and wide range of entertainment options.

Chiang Mai boasts over 300 temples, of which Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, situated atop Doi Intanon – Thailand’s biggest mountain – is probably the most famous. Other temples worth seeing include the ancient Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang and the tranquil forest temple of Wat U-Mong.

The city of Chiang Mai was founded by King Mengrai in 1296, and a tribute to the great king can be seen in the Three Kings Monument. Both the informative Chiang Mai City Art and Cultural Center and the nearby Chiang Saen National Museum are good places to discover more of the area’s interesting history and you can take a course or use the facilities at Chiang Mai University.

Often referred to as the ‘Rose of the North’, Chiang Mai is a great place to lose yourself for a week or two. The Old City is a great place to explore, where surprises wait around every corner, or why not go on a cycling tour with the Chiang Mai Cycle Club.

With prices often markedly less than in Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a great place to go shopping. Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is world famous and definitely should not be missed. The quaint umbrella village of Bo Sang makes a great place for a day trip and Talat Warorot is a good place to buy local produce, with prices to match.

Chiang Mai is a good place for self improvement and there are numerous courses and classes available. This is a great place to cook up a storm in a cookery class, and meditation courses always prove popular, whilst the sporty can learn a new skill at the Muay Thai Boxing Camp.

The stunning local scenery also provides a good backdrop for a range of sports such as Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures, and both Chiang Mai Flying Club and Oriental Balloon Flights provide a new perspective on the area.

Hanoi by Foot

Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
hanoi_vietnam_3
hanoi_vietnam_4
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam

Further north than Bangkok, Hanoi is refreshingly cool and is a perfect blend of colonial French and Asia at its exotic best. I’d heard horror stories about this ancient city but couldn’t find an awful lot wrong with it. My only complaint was that I’d not bothered to visit sooner.

The taxi from the airport to Hanoi centre took about 45 mins and cost US$10. The fare each way is pretty much standard so ignore any driver trying for a higher price. I checked into the Old Darling Hotel in the Old Quarter. I’d found the place on the internet and it sounded reasonable at US$15 a night for a room with en-suite, fan and air-con and a TV.

Hanoi’s Old Quarter is something along the lines of a local Khao San Road, but bigger. It’s a network of narrow streets with guest houses, hotels, food outlets, cafes, art galleries and travel and tour companies. The French influence is strong. Caf? culture is alive and kicking, art galleries are two a penny and I saw at least half a dozen old Vietnamese decked out in waistcoats and berets.

The traffic is something else. There are traffic lights and directions painted on the roads but it’s not immediately clear why as no one seems to pay any attention to them. Motorbikes and mopeds rule the roads. Young Vietnamese girls glide through the streets on Vespas and their latest Japanese equivalent with a truly Parisian grace.

At intersections traffic moves in from all angles simultaneously. It seems impossible but it works. A friend who studied engineering once told me about some daft theory whereby if all the molecules of two solid objects were facing the same direction the objects could pass through one another. This is exactly as it seems to happen on the streets of Hanoi.

The best way to cross the road is slowly. Just position yourself on the pavement pointing in the direction you want to move and then slowly advance. Traffic will somehow move around you. It’s scary but it works. I’m convinced you could close your eyes and get across unscathed; but never did pluck up enough courage to test the theory. Try it back in Bangkok and you’ll get flattened.

The best place to observe Hanoi’s vehicular chaos from is the excellent Papa Joe’s caf?/restaurant on Cau Go, overlooking a ridiculously busy intersection and the scenic Hoan Kiem Lake. From the balcony you can watch Hanoi bustle by whilst sipping on a fresh juice or coffee.

Daytime the streets are alive and teeming with people. Street markets provide the familiar aromas so common with many Asian cities. Street vendors weave their way between pedestrians, carrying baskets of goods slung from poles across their shoulders. Everywhere you look someone is selling something and calling for your attention.

The streets were alive at night with foreigners and locals alike. Restaurants were generally busy and early in the evening gangs of people gathered for a gossip and some beer at street stalls selling the famous Bia Hoi.

Apparently the Czechs taught their knowledge of brewing to the Vietnamese and now there are micro-breweries everywhere. This un-preserved draft beer is available all over Hanoi. It’s dirt cheap at something like 13 baht a glass (half litre) and is so smooth you’ll want to keep them coming all night. 100 baht will get you almost 8 beers! These street-side beer stops are a very multi-cultural affair with locals mixing happily with backpackers and tourists.

By nine at night the streets had changed. Office workers and the night’s early shift had dined, supped and moved on home, leaving party goers and less desirable types to come out to play. The only annoyance I encountered was the continual attention from motorbike taxi guys who are everywhere and seem to think that every foreigner is in need of a lift somewhere. Oh, and a street hooker and her pimp tried coercing me into a quick sex session which, I felt, would have left me severely out of pocket one way or another.

Out by six the next morning in time to watch the sun rising. Traders were getting into their stride, cafes and restaurants preparing for the early morning trade and motorbike taxis still hawking for business. On the wide path at the top of Hoan Kiem Lake ladies were practicing Tai Chi with red fans. It’s therapeutic just watching.

Apart from art galleries and cafes the Vietnamese also inherited a love of fresh bread from their old colonial masters. Every few yards there were women with baskets of freshly baked crusty baguettes for sale. The smell is very inviting and hard to resist.

East of the Old Quarter on Pho Bien Dien Phu is the Army Museum. It’s worth a look. It’s basically a celebration of the most recent Vietnamese victories over first the French, then the US and finally China. There is a collection of captured and shot-down US and French hardware including a helicopter, rocket launchers, and numerous pieces of aircraft shot down and piled together as a piece of art. There are also weapons used by the Vietnamese in their military victories.

As expected the picture painted of the noble Vietnamese soldier is nothing short of saintly whilst the opposition are always evil, cloven hoofed and horned monsters hell bent on torture and destruction. One thing for sure, the Vietnamese are clearly a force to be reckoned with whatever they are armed with.
 
 
A long walk south from the Temple of Literature is Lenin Park. This is a huge recreational area set around Bay Mau Lake. This is where locals come to exercise, dance, eat, listen to live music, watch traditional dancing and generally chill. The entrance is lined with stalls selling local produce, ready to eat food, and gifts.
 
On a large stage by the top of the lake local girls were demonstrating traditional dance, similar to Thai dancing. Another stage had a modern singer belting out local favourites at deafening volume. Many people are simply using the park for exercise, a past-time that seems to be taken quite seriously here.
 
Back up to Hoan Kiem Lake and it seemed that the Vietnamese who weren’t exercising in Lenin Park were here. Hundreds of locals were marching anti-clockwise around the lake in a grand display of communal fitness. Early evening has a very Chinese feel to it with families coming together for exercise and general interaction.
 
On the last morning I head out on foot again, after an excellent breakfast at the Paris Deli, for the Vietnam Revolutionary Museum and the Vietnam History Museum. Both are interesting and well worth the hike, despite the formers somewhat one-sided view of things.
 
This was my first visit to Vietnam and will certainly not be the last. The people are surprisingly welcoming and at the same time don’t smother you with attention (with the exception of book sellers and motorbike taxis).
 
The level of English is lower than Thailand but there is more chance of a stranger trying to strike a conversation even if they can’t speak a word of English. On several occasions I was invited to join people on the street for tea and a chat. No catch, no con and no payment, they just wanted buy me a tea, chat and try to learn a few words of English.
 
Hanoi can be a cheap destination. There are cheaper places than the hotel I stayed in and to be honest, it wasn’t really worth the money. Food is very affordable and even the classier restaurants aren’t prohibitively priced. As for beer, I doubt anywhere in this region can compete on that front.
 
With Air Asia offering return flights for around 5,000 THB all in it is no more expensive to get to than Singapore, Vientiane or KL.
 
There are many things to see in Hanoi alone even before venturing up country and I only touched on what the city has to offer. The leading tourist attraction is Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. As much as I wanted to see it the queue was too much just to see another jaundiced communist leader stiff as a board in a glass case so Uncle Ho will have to wait until next time.