Tag - cultural

Johor Bahru, Malaysia

johor_bahruThe bustling city of Johor Bahru is the capital of Johor state and was once named Tanjung Puteri. The city can be found on the very southernmost tip of Southeast Asia and is famed for its intense natural beauty. Travellers come here from all over the world to explore the tropical rainforests, climb the mighty mountains and swim in the waters of the sparkling waterfalls that surround the city of Johor Bahru.

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.

Dos and Don’ts in Malaysia


Dos and Don'ts in Malaysia
Dos and Don'ts in Malaysia
Dos and Don'ts in Malaysia

Malaysia receives a large number of tourists and the Malay people are used to the different habits of foreigners. Although Malay people tend to be tolerant to cultural differences, it is important to remember that this is a conservative country and you should show respect by trying to follow the established customs. While some customs may sound a little bit complicated at first, simply observe the behaviour of other people and all will become clear.
Clothing
The people of Malaysia generally dress conservatively by Western standards, and showing too much skin in public is sure to cause offense. Although the high temperatures and humidity levels throughout the country may make visitors want to strip off, it is best to wear long, loose clothing at all times. Wearing shoes indoors is also considered to be rude, and visitors will usually notice a place to put shoes just outside temples and private houses.

Greetings
Malaysian people usually greet each other with a salam, which is a type of handshake that it made with both hands. When greeting someone for the first time, the protocol is for you to stretch out your hands in greeting. The other person will touch your outstretched hands, and then bring them to their chest in a gesture that means “I greet you from my heart”. Now it is the visitor’s turn to return the gesture. In some cases, someone may offer to shake hands instead, although this isn’t common and shouldn’t be initiated.

Eating etiquette
Eating etiquette is important in Malaysia and varies depending on the type of food you are eating. While Malay and Indian food is usually eaten with the right hand (never the left, as it is considered to be unclean), chopsticks tend to be used to eat Chinese food. Those who prefer to use cutlery than their right hand will be supplied with a spoon and a fork. Knives are not commonly used here, as most dishes feature pieces of meal that are small enough to scoop into your mouth without cutting them first.

Showing Affection
People rarely show affection in public, aside from the traditional salam greeting, and kissing and holding hands when in a public area is sure to cause embarrassment to onlookers and attract unwanted attention.

Luang Prabang, Laos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bokeo, Laos

Bokeo, Laos
Bokeo, Laos
Bokeo, Laos

The name Bokeo means ‘gem mine’ in the Laos language, and this small province is famous for its sparkling sapphires. Situated to the northwest of Laos near Thailand and Myanmar, this is Laos’ smallest province.

Most people travel to Bokeo to visit the Bokeo Nature Reserve, which is managed by The Gibbon Experience. Visitors to the reserve have the unique opportunity to stay in tree-top accommodation and observe the beautiful black crested gibbons in one of their last remaining habitats in the world. Visitors can also trek through the forest along the picturesque Nam Nga River.

Bokeo is home to 34 of Laos’ ethnic groups, with the largest being the Akha. These ethnic groups each follow their own individual traditional cultural practices. There are more than 450 villages in Bokeo to explore and trekking through the countryside can be a very rewarding experience.

Take a walk to the Chomkao Manilat temple and climb the steep flight of steps to the very top witness stunning panoramic views over Houy Xay city, the Mekong River and surrounding mountains and countryside.

Also known as ‘the Land of Sapphires’, panning for gold and mining precious stones is still a profitable job in Bokeo and you can witness this and perhaps pick up a bargain or two in the picturesque village of Ban Nam Khok.

A boat trip is a very relaxing and pretty way to explore Bokeo and it easy to arrange trips upstream from Houixay, stopping off at traditional villages such as Ban Namkeung Kout, Ban Namkeung Mai and Ban Done Deng on the way through the province.

The people of Bokeo are warm and welcoming and you are sure to be well received wherever you go. In the evening, head to the local markets for a good meal and some light banter with the people who work there.

Songkhla, Thailand

Songkhla, Thailand
Songkhla, Thailand
Songkhla, Thailand
Songkhla, Thailand

Songkhla can be found in the very south of Thailand, near the Malaysian border. Located 950 kilometres from Bangkok, Songkhla is known as ‘the great city on two seas’. Songkhla’s history and culture is quite different to much of Thailand, making this an interesting place to get to know. About a third of the population is Muslim, and most are of Malay ancestry, which means that they speak the Patani Malay language.  

Songkhla has a lot to offer, whether you are interested in history and culture, appreciate stunning scenery or simply want to chill on the beach and swim in the sea. The town is endowed with ancient ruins, arts, and places of cultural importance. Songkhla is a melting pot of Thais, Chinese and Malays and charms visitors with its unique traditions, dialect, and folk entertainment.  

To discover the area’s history, the first stop should be The Songkhla National Museum, while the Phathammarong Museum is also a great source of local knowledge. The Bronze Mermaid Statue usually appears on postcards of Songkhla and represents the Hindu-Buddhist earth goddess Mae Thorani.  

Songkhla is well known for its interesting architectural styles, which can best be seen in its temples and chedis. Some good examples are Wat Cha Thing Phra, Wat Pha Kho, Wat Chai Mongkhon and Wat Matchimawat. The city’s black and white stupas – known as Chedi Ong Dam and Chedi Ong Khao – should not be missed and Sating Phra Ancient Community is well worth a visit.  

Songkhla also contains some areas of stunning natural beauty. Top of the list are the Khao Nam Khang National Park with its jungle, caves and waterfalls and Khu Khut Waterfowl Park. As its name suggests, Namtok Boriphat Forestry Park features a large number of waterfalls and beautiful forest, while Wat Tham Khao Rup Chang is an interesting cave temple.  

Songkhla is blessed with a large number of caves to explore and mountain tops offering spectacular views over the area. A good place to start is Khao Nam Khang Historic Tunnel, while other mountains include Khao Tang Kuan, Khao Kao Seng and Khao Noi.  

There are some very pretty beaches to soak up the sun on including Hat Samila and Hat Sakom, while Hat Yai is the liveliest town and famous for fresh seafood and Muay  

Thai boxing matches. Whilst in Hat Yai, pay a visit to Wat Hat Yai Nai, which features a 35 meter reclining Buddha known as Phra Phut Mahatamongkon and the very pretty and peaceful Hat Yai Municipal Park.  

Amongst the area’s small and somewhat secluded islands are Koh Maeo and Koh Nu (cat and mouse islands) and Koh Yo, which is a very pretty island famous for its cotton weaving community.  

Of course, when it comes to eating, seafood dominates the menu. The best place to find a good selection of reasonably priced seafood is at the local night markets, where you can relax for a while at one of the small tables and watch the dramas of this charismatic area unfold around you.

Samut Prakarn, Thailand

Samut Prakarn, Thailand
Samut Prakarn, Thailand
Samut Prakarn, Thailand
Samut Prakarn, Thailand

Located 29 kilometres south of Bangkok, Samut Prakan is easy to get to and has many interesting tourist activities on offer for those who are willing to take a small step off the usual tourist trail. Built during the Ayutthaya period, Samut Prakan is home to numerous historical and cultural sites.

A great way to get an overview of all that Thailand has to offer is by visiting The Ancient City, which is also known by its Thai name of Muang Boran. This huge park contains large scale models of all Thailand’s major tourist attractions. Visitors can hire a bicycle or a small electrical cart and spend a few hours discovering sites such as the temples of Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Surat Thani.

Many visitors combine a trip to The Ancient City with the nearby Crocodile Farm, while the Erawan Museum was constructed by the creator of The Ancient City and is the world’s first free-standing metal sculpture to use a hand-shaped technique. This mighty sculpture has to be seen to be believed as it measures 43.60 metres in height and contains hundreds of thousands of pieces of copper meticulously hammered together to form the shape of the beloved mythological elephant.

An alternative to the popular tourist spot of Damnoen Saduak, the Bang Namphueng Floating Market is newly opened. Unlike other floating markets, this is the real deal, created to help local farmers sell their produce and create employment for the community. The floating market is open Saturdays and Sundays 8.00 a.m. – 2.00 p.m.

Samut Prakarn is home to some interesting temples, including Wat Klang Worawihan, Wat Asokaram, Wat Phaichayonphonsep Ratchaworawihan and Wat Prot Ket Chettharam, which contains revered Buddha images and the Buddha’s footprint complete with valuable mother-of-pearl inlays.

Samut Prakarn is home to many unique and interesting festivals, which bring people from all over Thailand. Beginning the 5th day of the waning moon of the 11th lunar month, the Phra Samut Chedi Fair is a lively annual affair. Many people flock to the province for the nine day ceremony where they pay homage to the Phra Samut Chedi. The festival features a float contest and a colourful boat procession along the Chao Phraya River to Phra Pradaeng District Office and back to the Phra Samut Chedi. Other activities include a candle light procession around the Phra Samut Chedi, boat races on the Chao Phraya River, singing and dancing.

The Yon Bua Festival is held each year on the 13th day of the waxing moon of the 11th lunar month. The main feature is the respect paying and procession of the Luangpho To image both by land and water. The event also features competitions of folk activities such as lotus arrangement, boat contests and folk entertainment such as Phleng Ruea or boat songs.

Ratchaburi, Thailand

Ratchaburi, Thailand
Ratchaburi, Thailand
Ratchaburi, Thailand
Ratchaburi, Thailand

Ratchaburi, is located on the banks of the mighty Mae Klong River, just 80 kilometres west of Bangkok. The province is full of areas of natural beauty and historical sites. Surrounded by stunning scenery such as the smoky Tanao Si Mountains, paddy fields and waterways, a great way to see the area is to hire a bicycle and explore.

One of the main attractions in this area is the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Visitors flock to this market to discover Thailand’s unique traditional way of trading. Although today the market is dominated by souvenir stands, you can still take a boat trip through the market and barter for exotic fruit.

Ratchaburi Province contains some stunning natural caves for you to explore. Just 8 kilometres from the town you will find the famous Tham Ruesi Khao Ngu, whilst Tham Khao Bin is said to be the most beautiful. 30 kilometres west of the town you will find Tham Chomphon, whilst the mountain top of Khao Chong Phran offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

There are many interesting temples in the area such as Wat Muang, Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, Wat Khongkharam and Wat Khanon, which contains an interesting collection of more than 300 traditional Nang Yai puppets.

The area is well known for its abundant history, and a good place to discover more about it is at the Ratchaburi National Museum, whilst the Bo Khlueng Hot Spring is a great place to soak away your aches and pains after a busy day of exploring.

History enthusiasts would do well to visit the Ban Khu Bua Ancient City, which displays many of the archaeological discoveries of the area. The Siam Cultural Park is also interesting as it contains fibre glass wax images of important people such as Mother Teresa, President Deng Xiaoping and Chairman Mao Tse-tung. This display has to be seen to be believed as it is certainly unique.

The province hosts some interesting fairs and festivals and it is worth trying to time your trip to coincide with one of them.

The Ratchaburi Tourism Fair is held annually during February-March in the grounds of the City Hall. Featured activities include demonstrations of famous handicrafts, such as jar making and “Sin Tin Chok” cloth weaving, folk art and cultural performances by local tribal groups.

The Sweet Grape and Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Week Fair happens around March-April each year to introduce agricultural produce to the market. This is a good opportunity for visitors to buy agricultural produce such as coconuts, pomelos grapes and lichis at discounted prices.

The Khao Ho or ‘Ang Mi Thong’ Festival is a Su Khwan blessing ceremony for happiness and longevity in life, held around the ninth lunar month. Karen people believe that the ninth lunar month is a bad time of the year, when ghosts and evil spirits hunt and eat the “Khwan” ‘spirit’ of people. During the festivals many traditional methods are practiced to ward off the evil spirits. The elders of each family tie red threads on the children’s wrists and give a blessing for good luck.

Pattaya, Thailand

Pattaya, Thailand
Pattaya, Thailand
Pattaya, Thailand
Pattaya, Thailand

Located about 170 kilometres southeast of Bangkok, Pattaya makes a good destination for a weekend break, although with so many entertainment options to choose from, many people tend to stay in the small seaside city for several days. Pattaya means the ‘south-west monsoon wind’ in the Thai language and ranks as one of the most successful beach resorts in the world, with more than 5 million visitors each year.

Pattaya is probably best known for its night life. For the curious, this is a good place to see a “Tiffany Show”, where stunningly attractive transsexuals dress in incredibly elaborate costumes and perform gracefully choreographed song and dance numbers on stage. There are also a wide range of go-go bars and discotheques to explore on Walking Street, which is the center of Pattaya’s nightlife.

By day, Pattaya offers a large number of intriguing diversions that are hard to find in most other parts of Thailand. A great entertainment option is the Million Years Stone Park and Pattaya Crocodile Farm, whilst visitors can ride the mighty beasts at the Elephant Village. The world class aquarium at Underwater World Pattaya has beautiful displays of local sea life and you can see scale replicas of Thailand’s key attractions in Mini Siam. Also popular with visitors to Pattaya is Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, and the sign for this can clearly be seen for the beach front.

Pattaya is a great place to let off some steam, and the go cart course and shooting range and good places to do just that, whilst the many spas and massage parlours offer a different way to unwind.

But Pattaya isn’t all neon lights and lipstick, there are also some very beautiful nature spots waiting to be discovered. Pattaya Beach is situated alongside the city centre and is a popular spot for jet-skis and speed boats. Just south of the city is the pretty stretch of sand known as Jomtien Beach, which is much quieter than Pattaya Beach and a good place to chill out for a few hours.

Another great day trip is the large and interesting Sri Racha Tiger Zoo, which features several hundred tigers and thousands of alligators. The tiger zoo offers the opportunity to view and interact with animals in exciting new ways, such as cuddling tiger cubs and helping hatch baby crocodiles from their eggs.

If you need a break from the beach, pay a visit to the Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden, which is located 15 kilometers east of Pattaya and has lively cultural shows.

It is absolutely impossible to be bored in Pattaya, and no matter what you are looking for you are sure to find it here.

Chiang Khan, Thailand

Chiang Khan, Thailand
Chiang Khan, Thailand
chiang_khan_2
Chiang Khan, Thailand

Situated in the northern part of Loei Province, Chiang Khan is the perfect postcard destination. This quaint little town is full of traditional timber houses and boasts a beautiful riverside location. This is natural location is a great place to unwind for a while or prepare to take a meditation course.

The village is easy to walk around and the many temples make good places to stop and explore. Wat Pa Klang is interesting as it is more than 100 years old, whilst Wat Mahathat is the village’s oldest temple. Also worth visiting are Wat Santi, Wat Thatkhok, Wat Si Khun Meuang and Wat Tha Khaek.

12 kilometers to the east of Chiang Khan, the monastic centre of Samnak Song Phu Pha Baen is a great place for a day trip. Here you will witness the rare and unforgettable sight of monks meditating in caves and on tree platforms.

Another great day trip is the Tai Dam village of Ban Napanard, where you can interact with the Tai Dam people and learn all about them at the Tai Dam Cultural Centre. You can even choose to stay on in one of the home-stay rooms to get a real feel of the culture and general way of life of these people, who originally migrated from Laos more than 100 years ago to live peacefully in Thailand.

For the adventurous, the opportunity to ride the rapids at Kaeng Khut Khu might prove irresistible. The rapids are located 6 kilometers from Chiang Khan. It is easy to hire a bicycle and cycle to Kaeng Khut Khu, or you can easily arrange a boat trip from Chiang Khan and enjoy a relaxing boat trip along the Mekong River.

Although valued for its peace and quiet, this little village definitely knows how to party. Those arriving during wan awk phansaa at Buddhist Rains Retreat in late October will experience an entirely different atmosphere. Chiang Khan marks the end of Buddhist lent with a week of celebrations. The boat races can get especially wild, and the giant carved wax candles are extremely beautiful. Definitely an event not to be missed.

Loei, Thailand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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