Tag - culture

Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand
Southern Thailand is large and inviting, featuring dozens of beautiful islands and a whole host of pristine beaches on which to top up your tan or enjoy water sports. The most famous resorts are on the west-facing Andaman Sea coastline, and the east-facing Gulf of Thailand coast.

Many people head straight to the South of Thailand and spend the rest of their stay enjoying all that this beautiful region has to offer. There are 14 provinces in all and each offers something different, to the highly popular and crowded areas in Phuket and Krabi to the much quieter, less visited areas of Songkla and Yala near the border with Malaysia.

Although areas of the west coast of Thailand were badly affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, all infrastructure has long since been repaired thanks to the hard work of local and international volunteers. Perhaps the most effected area was Koh Phi Phi, and people still wanting to make a contribution can do so through the Children of Phi Phi Island foundation www.childrenofphiphi.com.

Many people tend to avoid the very south of Thailand, scared off by the stories of bombing and murders. The trouble started in 2004, when a long resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. However, this all took place well off the beaten tourist trail, and few visitors were affected.

The Songkla Province town of Hat Yai has also been hit by a series of related bombings, although none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.

In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in Hat Yai bomb blasts. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but no westerners have been directly singled out for attacks and generally the south of Thailand is still a safe place to travel.

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North Eastern Thailand

North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand is better known as Isan - also written as Isaan, Isarn, Issan, or Esarn. There are 19 provinces in Isan, but only a few receive interest from tourists, which is a shame as this is a great part of Thailand to relax, wander in nature and get to know the friendly and welcoming people.

Isan covers an area of 160,000 km and much of the land is given over the farms and paddy fields as agriculture is the main economic activity. The region of Isan has a strong, rich and individual culture. Examples of this can be found in the folk music, called mor lam, festivals, dress, temple architecture and general way of life.

The main regional dialect is Isan, which is actually much more similar to Lao than central Thai. Unfortunately, because the rainfall is often insufficient for crops to grow properly, Isan is the poorest region of Thailand, and many people leave the province to seek their fortunes in the bustling metropolis of Bangkok.

The average temperature range is from 30.2 C to 19.6 C. The highest temperature recorded was a sweltering 43.9 C, whilst the lowest was a freezing -1.4 C. Unlike most of Thailand, rainfall is unpredictable, but it mainly occurs during the rainy season, which takes place from May to October.

Although completely unique, Isan food has adopted elements of both Thai and Lao cuisines. Sticky rice is served with every meal and the food is much spicier than that of most of Thailand.

Popular dishes include:

som tam - extremely spicy and sour papaya salad
larb - fiery meat salad liberally laced with chilies
gai yang - grilled chicken
moo ping - pork satay sticks

Isan people are famous for their ability to eat whatever happens to be around, and lizards, snakes, frogs and fried insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, silkworms and dung beetles often form a part of their diet.

Both men and women traditionally wear sarongs; women's sarong often have an embroidered border at the hem, whilst those of the men are chequered. Much of Thailand's silk is produced in Isan, and the night markets at many of the small towns and villages are good places to find a bargain.

There is no major airport in Isan, but the State Railway of Thailand has two lines and both connect the region to Bangkok. This is also a good place to enter Laos via the Thanon Mitraphap ("Friendship Highway"), which was built by the United States to supply its military bases in the 1960s and 1970s. The Friendship Bridge - Saphan Mitraphap - forms the border crossing over the Mekong River on the outskirts of Nong Khai to the Laos capital of Vientiane.

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Eating Your Way Through Bangkok

Eating Your Way Through Bangkok
Eating Your Way Through Bangkok
Whether you are visiting Thailand for the first time or have been living there for longer than you can remember, there is always something new, interesting and exotic to experience. What has always been the most dear to me is the multitude and availability of local dishes and cuisines (both traditional and fusion style) that really express Thailand's culture and the Thais flavor and attitude towards life.

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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Ban Lung, Cambodia

Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia
Known by the local people as ‘dey krahorm’, which means red earth in Khmer, Ban Lung is a modest town where you will find genuine people and friendly faces. This is a great place to use as a base while you explore the surrounding countryside and there are a number interesting attractions nearby.

Most people travel to Ban Lung to visit the nearly Boeng Yeak Lom. Also known as Yak Lom Lake, this is an impressive volcanic crater filled with freshwater. There is a well worn train leading from the town to the volcano and the trek takes about an hour each way. Take the time to fully explore the volcano and have a swim in the cool waters. Watch out for the legendary Yak Lom monster as you swim and visit the nearby culture centre, which contains some interesting information about the volcano and items made by the tribes people who live in the area.  

This is a great place for trekking and you can wander through the countryside, with its rich red earth and pretty villages. The scenery here is simply spectacular and there is plenty to hold the attention.

Scattered around Ban Lung are a number of small villagers where tribes people live, following the same cultural styles and general life styles that they have practiced for hundreds of years. Most of the tribes people gather at Ban Lung market to buy and sell goods, and this is a great place for people watching and to also pick up a bargain or two.

The market is also a good place to pick up a cheap, tasty meal. There are a number of food stalls scattered around the town as well as restaurants and hotels, making this a good place to stay for a day or two.

Around the market place you will find a large number of small shops selling colourful precious stone. The gems come from the surrounding hills and also more distant places such as Sri Lanka. Although you should be careful about buying, browsing through the multi-hued stones can be a good way to spend an hour two.
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Alor Setar, Malaysia

Alor Setar, MalaysiaThe vibrant city of Alor Setar is also referred to as Alor Star, and this is the capital of Kedah state, situated on the west coast of Malaysia. This is a great place to get a real feel for Malaysian culture. The city is also surrounded by natural beauty such as rich paddy fields, forests and fishing villages, all of which make good day trip destinations.

Alor Setar is a great place to discover Malaysian art as there are a number of galleries situated in the city. Balai Seni Negeri is also known as The Kedah State Art Gallery and contains an interesting collection of paintings, photographs, musical instruments and handicrafts, while Balai Nobat is used to protect the instruments of the Royal orchestra.

Visitors to the city will find an impressive collection of buildings in various styles. A good example of Malaysian architecture is the Royal Hall, which was commissioned in 1735 by Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin Muazzam Shah, the 19th Sultan of Kedah. Another interesting building is the Mahathir Birthplace, which was home to the fourth Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad.

Malaysia is well known for its impressive mosques, and a good example is the Zahir State Mosque, which covers 124,412 square feet and is one of the grandest mosques in the country. Alor Star Tower is located in the centre of the city and this magnificent 165 meter tall tower offers spectacular views of the city from the top.

This loud and lively city can become overwhelming at times, but there are plenty of great day trips nearby where you can escape the hustle and bustle. Drive to the town of Merbok to see archaeology museum and explore the Tanjong Dawai fishing village, where you are sure to receive a warm welcome.

Another popular place to hang out is the Kuala Kedah Fort, which can be found at the edge of the Kedah River. A charming little fishing village can also be found nearby, and the restaurants that can be found here serve up some of the best cuisine in the whole area, while the restaurants of Alor Setar are famed for their rich and lightly spiced curry dishes.

Click on a picture to see more images by the photographer. (Some pictures do not have links.)
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Northern Malaysia

Northern Malaysia
Northern Malaysia
For many visitors, northern Malaysia will provide their first glimpses of the country as they arrive by train in Butterworth station from Thailand, perhaps on their way to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Although the jungles of eastern Malaysia beckon, it is worth taking the time to explore this interesting region. Malaysia is a real melting pot of cultures and this is especially apparent in the regions large and bustling cities. Wander through the streets of Alor Setar and you will notice an interesting blend of Malay, Chinese and Indian styles, with a hint of British Colonial style thrown into the mix for good measure.

This is also evident in the picturesque island of Penang, where each ethnic group has its own area situated alongside the other. Loud Bollywood music and the rich smells of curry drifts from shop fronts in the Indian section, while a few streets away the roads are strung with colourful Chinese lanterns and a number of large Chinese temples sit at the side of the street.

Northern Malaysia is a good place to fall in love with the culture and history of Malaysia before heading to other regions to discover its natural beauty. However, there are also a number of pretty beaches to soak up the sun in northern Malaysia such as the modest stretch of sand on Penang and the popular beach resort of Langkawi, which is referred to as the land where one’s dreams come true.
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Labuan, Malaysia

Labuan, MalaysiaThe serene island of Labuan may not be the liveliest place in Malaysia, but for those who crave peace and quiet surrounded by natural beauty this is a great place to relax for a day or two.

Most visitors to Labuan simply stake out a place on the sand and lay back to catch the sun’s rays. However, there are plenty of things to see and do for those who can be bothered to tear themselves away from the golden sand and cool, clear waters.

Labuan Bird Park is located towards the island’s northern tip. Here you will discover a colourful collection of our feathered friends as you wander through the tunnels that connect the large aviaries. Another popular attraction is the Labuan Marine Park, where visitors are encouraged to take aboat tour to see the picturesque deserted islands known as Pulau Kuraman, Pulau Rusukan Kecil and Pulau Rusukan Besar.

The Labuan Museum is a good place to find out about the island’s interesting history and culture. Full of artifacts and colourful displays, the museum attempts to bring Labuan’s history to life. A great way to explore Labuan is to hire a bicycle and simple cycle around, pausing to take in the spectacular views of the South China Sea.

Returning to the beach, Labuan is a great place for those who enjoy water sports. Diving is popular as there are a number of wreck sites to explore and some stunning coral. Many people come to Labuan to enjoy the world class deep sea fishing opportunities, while swimming and snorkelling are always rewarding.

Evenings are pleasant on Labuan. Stroll along the shore as the sun sets and enjoy fresh barbecued fish, perhaps washed down with a beer or two.

Getting to Labuan is relatively easy as there are regular ferries from Brunei, Kota Kinabalu, Limbang, Spitang and Lawas. There are also daily flights from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, making this the perfect place to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
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Kuching, Malaysia

Kuching, MalaysiaThose who love cities won’t be disappointed by Kuching, which offers a wide range of amenities as well as plenty of interesting things to see and do.

One of the most enchanting activities here involves wandering along the banks of the gently flowing Sarawak River. A large number of interesting buildings can be found close to the river, including historical houses, shops and temples, and one of the highlights here is the large and lovely Fort Margherita, which was constructed by Charles Brooke in 1879 as a tribute to his beloved wife Rani Margaret. A number of ferries also offer to take visitors across the river for a few Ringgit, and this is a great way to view the area.

Those who want to relax and unwind for a while can spend time wandering in the picturesque gardens of Kuchin, which can be found in abundance. Those who enjoy temple hopping will also be in their element here, and one of the most enchanting places of worship here is the Hong Saan Temple, while culture vultures will want to make sure that they check out the Sarawak Museum and Islamic Museum.

Stargazers can pay a visit to Kuchin’s Planetarium, which was the first ever to be built in Malaysia, while those who like to shop until they drop will want to check out the wide range of goodies that can be found at the weekend market, which is known locally as Pasar Minggu.
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Festivals and Holidays in Malaysia

Festival and Holidays in Malaysia
Festival and Holidays in Malaysia
Festival and Holidays in Malaysia
Malaysia is a real melting pot, where a large number of cultures live side by side. This means that the country celebrates a large number of festivals, with the Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist religious festivals all being observed.
Malaysian festivals tend to be loud and colourful, marked with plenty of singing, dancing and parades through the streets. Malaysian people tend to be tolerant of people from other faiths and welcome them into their homes to celebrate with them. These festivals are a good opportunity for foreigners to learn more about Malaysian culture and hospitality.

Here are some major Malaysian festivals to look out for. Many festivals revolve around the lunar calendar, so dates vary slightly from year to year.

New Year's Day
January 1st is a public holiday and New Year's Eve is marked in most cities with sporting events, competitions, exhibitions and cultural performances by Malaysian multi-ethnic groups.

Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days and is very colourful, filled with feasting and firework displays.  Gather to watch the traditional dragon and lion dances, which take place to the beat of gongs and drums. Penang is the best place to experience Chinese New Year in Malaysia.

Thaipusam
This festival is celebrated by Hindus on the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. Thaipusam is a day for penance and atonement and during this time devotees to fulfill a vow they have made to Lord Muruga, who is also known as Lord Subramaniam. Devotion is demonstrated by fasting and piercing their bodies with elaborately decorated metal structures decorated with colored paper, fresh fruit and flowers and parading through the streets. To get the most out of this festival, head to Kuala Lumpur to watch Lord Muruga's jeweled chariot carried  through the streets to the Batu Caves in Selangor.  

Wesak Day
Buddhists celebrate this festival in May to remember the birth, enlightenment and ascension of Lord Buddha. The daytime is filled with visits to the temple and merit making, while there are processions of floats and candles in the streets after dark.

Gawai Dayak
On the 1st of June the people of Sarawak celebrate the good annual with parties, games, processions and feasting. People gather to sing traditional songs, dance and drink the locally produced rice wine. Children bring their parents plates of food and cattle is sacrificed to ensure that there is a good harvest the following season.  

Hari Raya Aidil Fitri
Also known as Hari Raya Puasa, this Muslim festival marks the end of fasting throughout the month of Ramadhan, which is the tenth month of the Muslim calendar. The celebrations last for one month and feature bright decorations, feasting and parties

Lantern and Moon Cake Festival
This festival is celebrated by all Malaysians, who hang colourful lanterns on their houses and eat moon cakes in this celebration of peace and unity. 

Hungry Ghost Festival
According to Chinese tradition the gates of hell are opened during the 15th day of the seventh lunar month to allow the hungry ghosts to wander the Earth in search of food and possibly seek revenge. The Chinese hold a festival at this time to remember their dead ancestors and pay tribute to them, setting aside food for them and burning money so that their relatives can use it in the afterlife.

Deepavali
The Festival of Lights, also known as Deepavali, is celebrated as the triumph of good over evil, marking the legendary time that Lord Krishna is said to have defeated Narkansura. Mainly celebrated by Hindus, people visit the temple during the day and lit candles and oil lamps in the evening. There are colourful parades through the street and much merrymaking.

Christmas
Unlike most Asian countries, Malaysia celebrates Christmas much like people do in western countries. Houses are decorated with lights and a large Christmas tree, carols are sung and the traditional roast turkey dinner is often eaten to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
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Champassak, Laos

Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos
Situated in south-western Laos, The province of Champassak is stunningly beautiful and has a lot to offer visitors. The people who live here have a distinctly different language, culture and life style to people in the rest of Laos and this is an interesting place to explore.

Pakse is the capital of Champassak province and it is here you will find the enchanting irriwaddy dolphins. Take a boat trip on the Mekong River for a chance to spot these shy mammals as they play in the water and leap through the waves.

Situated on picturesque Done Khone Island, the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Centre is a good place to find out more about these interesting animals and how to protect them. Nearby you will find Wat Phou, which is located high atop a mountain and considered to be one of the most important sights in Laos. The temple dates back to the same period as Cambodia’s treasure Angkor Wat and offers spectacular views from the top.
Champassak is also home to the largest waterfalls in Southeast Asia. Known as Khone Pha Pheng, these pretty falls are easy to get to by boat or road and are a great place for a swim and a picnic, surrounded by dense jungle and a colourful array of wildlife.

Another great day trip is the Dong Hua Sao Forest reserve, which is a great place to spot a wide variety of wildlife. There are a large number of waterfalls to explore here such as the Li Phi falls and it is possible to spend the night.
The town of Champassak itself was home to the royal family until about 30 years ago and you will still find a large number of grand buildings here, including a collection from the French colonial-era, which make an interesting contract beside the traditional wooden Laotian houses and shining temples. The town has a sleepy feel to it these days and there are few vehicles to clog the streets.

There are plenty of things to do in Champassak such as elephant riding, trekking and boat rides. Champassak’s rich and fertile land is perfect for growing crops and you will find large coffee, cardamom and bananas plantations here, which make the perfect backdrop for a scenic country walk.
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Oudomsay, Laos

Oudomsay, Laos
Oudomsay, Laos
Oudomsay, Laos
Also known as Oudomxay or Oudômxa, this pretty province in the northwest of Laos was created in 1976 and is a good place to stop for a break if you are travelling between the temple town of Luang Prabang and Phonsaly or Sayabouri.

This is an area of intense natural beauty and the ideal place for trekking and to explore the neighbouring ethnic villages. Adventure sports such as rock climbing and rafting are popular here, while this is also a good place for cycling and bird watching.

Oudomsay is located close to the Chinese border and you will find an interesting mix of cultures as you wander through the province. There are 23 different ethnic minority groups living within the province, all with their own unique belief systems, customs, food and styles of dress.

A great way to spend a day is by trekking the 8 miles to the very pretty waterfall of Tad Lak Sip Et. Explore the Muong La District of Oudomsay and you will find an interesting range of temples, villages and hot spring located deep in the jungle.

One of Oudomsay’s main attractions is the Saymoungkhoune Rattana Stupa. This towering white stupa is a sacred spot and a great place to visit if you’re walking through the surrounding countryside. For spectacular views of the countryside, climb to the top of Phouxay Mountain. Gaze out at a rich vista of paddy fields, jungle, farmland and tiny villages before exploring the rest of the area.

A great place to try traditional Lao food is the Muang Xai market. People travel from all over the province to this large and vibrant market to sell their wares and this is a good place to stop eat and pick up and bargain or two.

An interesting way to travel through this region of Laos is to trek to Muang Say, then take a short bus or pickup truck ride to the picturesque village of Pakbeng. The mighty Mekong River flows from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang and the journey by large, wooden boat takes around five hours. As you sail slowly down the river you will pass limestone cliffs, mangroves and fishing villages.

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Phongsaly, Laos

Phongsaly, LaosSituated in north Laos, not too many people venture into the town of Phonsaly. However, those who do take the time and trouble will find an area rich in traditional culture and natural beauty. With more than twenty ethnic tribes living in the area, this is a good place to discover the diverse life styles, dress styles and religious practices that make these tribes unique. (more…)
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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.

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Luang Namtha, Laos

Luang Namtha, Laos
Luang Namtha, Laos
Luang Namtha, Laos
Bordered by both China and Myanmar, Luang Namtha province is situated to the north of Laos and is home to 39 of the country’s ethnic groups. This is a good place to pause before making your way into China as the Chinese-Lao border crossing is located nearby at Boten and connects Laos with Mohan in China. Visitors to Luang Namtha will notice some similarities between the local culture and that of China, and those familiar with Laos will enjoy making comparisons between this province and the rest of the country.

This region is famous for its stunningly beautiful rainforest and unspoilt monsoon forest and no visit to Luang Namtha would be completed without a trip to the Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area. There are plenty of animals to spot here including tigers, bears, clouded leopard, and gibbons as well as a large collection of colourful birds and reptiles.

Luang Namtha is a good place to rest and relax and immerse yourself in the beauty of the area. Walking is a good way to explore and there are several villages where you can stay for a day or two and simply explore or relax by the river and listen to the wind in the trees.

The town of Luang Nam Tha is a good place to stay and you will find plenty of basic places to stay and evening entertainment at the night market. Surrounded by a pretty patchwork of rich rice paddy fields, this is a great place to stop for a day or two and get learn about the diversely different tribes that live in the villages nearby. The town sits on a hilly area and provides great views of the surrounding countryside.

A popular activity around Luang Namtha is trekking. There are a number of experienced guides available and embarking on a trek with a qualified guide can be a rewarding experience as they can provide an insight into the unique culture of the region and make can provide access to the many villages and villagers themselves.

Tranquil and picturesque, the town of Muang Xing has a great collection of friendly guesthouses where you are sure to receive a warm welcome and a good meal. This is a good place to arrange trekking and hiking trips and to meet fellow travellers to share a beer or two in the evening and swap stories with.

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Mandalay, Burma

Mandalay, Burma
Mandalay, Burma
Mandalay, Burma
Mandalay was the former capital of Burma and home to a number of Burmese kings. This is the country’s second largest city and is very modern compared to much of Myanmar. The city is rich with culture and history and here you will find large palaces, stupas, temples and pretty pagodas interlaced with vibrant market places, dusty streets and stunning views. Mandalay was founded in 1857 by King Mindon and there are still plenty of examples of architecture from this period such as the golden Eindawya Pagoda, collections of old wooden buildings originally from Amarapura and the the Shwekyimyint Pagoda, which houses the original Buddha image sanctified by Prince Minshinzaw. Near Mandalay Hill you will find the enormous Shweyattaw Buddha and the Royal Palace, which is situated in the middle of a large moat at the foot of Mandalay Hill. Climb to the top of Mandalay Hill for magnificent views across the city. As you climb you will come across a number of monasteries and temples, while there are a collection of pretty pagodas and temples at the very top. Venture just outside Mandalay and you will discover a number of former capital cities, each with their own unique character. A short trip to Sagaing is rewarded with views of the pretty Tupayon, Aungmyelawka and Kaunghmudaw pagodas, while a trip along the river to Mingun gives visitors the chance to see the Mingun Bell, which is believed to be the world’s largest uncracked hung bell. The bell was cast in 1790 to be hung in the giant pagoda of King Bodawpaya and is an impressive sight. Mandalay is certainly a record-breaking city and in addition to the world’s largest uncracked bell you will find the world's largest book in the Kuthodaw Paya at the foot of Mandalay Hill. The Kuthodaw Paya comprises more than 700 white stupas and the complete text of the Tripitaka, which is the most sacred text of Theravada Buddhism. Mandalay is a good place to pick up a souvenir or two as the large markets are full of local produce and handicrafts. Alternatively, a short trip south of Mandalay will take you to the city of Amarapura, which is famous for cotton and silk weaving and you can watch the traditional skills being practiced here. The vibrant city of Mandalay is a good place to get a bite to eat and there are a number of food stalls and restaurants offering Shan, Myanmar and Muslin food. While you’re here, try htou moun, which is a traditional dessert only found in Mandalay. Very sweet and oily, people travel from all over the country to sample the gelatinous dessert.
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Do’s and Don’ts in Burma

Do's and Don'ts in Burma
Do's and Don'ts in Burma
Dos and Don'ts in Burma
Paying attention to the social norms and cultural practices can make a big difference to the reception you will receive in Myanmar and your overall travel experience.  Most things are common sense and can be easily observed, while others are subtle and based on years of traditional.

Greetings
People usually shake hands when they meet and use full names with U (pronounced oo) at the front for older and respected people, Aung in the case of younger men, Ko for adult males and Daw when you are greeting women. People often give small presents to each other when they meet. 

Respectful Dress
People always cover their arms and legs in public so you should avoid wearing shorts and miniskirts, especially around sacred places. Shoes and socks must be removed before entering any religious building and often private houses as well. If you want to keep cool, don the traditional long skirt known as a longyi, which is worn by both men and women.

Religion
Dress respectfully around the temple and make sure you take off your socks before entering. Showing the soles of the feet is considered disrespectful, so make sure you sit with your feet tucked underneath you and never point to things with your feet. Women are not allowed to enter certain areas of the temple and everyone should avoid touching relics within the temple.

General
There are severe penalties for drug taking and trafficking, which range from five years’ imprisonment to a death sentence and homosexuality is also illegal in Myanmar.
Make sure you know which parts of Myanmar are out of bounds to foreigners and regularly check for updates.

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Pailin, Cambodia

Pailin, Cambodia
pailin_4
A good place to stop off on the way into Thailand, Pailin is a pretty town famous for its precious gems. Although most people simply pass through this dusty town on their way to Cambodia’s larger towns and cities, those who do take the time to stop for a while will find cool waters, picturesque villages and a warm welcome.

There are a number of interesting temples to explore in and around Pailin. Wat Phnom Yat was built in 1922 from Sham migrants travelling from Myanmar and has a unique style. Climb to the top of this temple for excellent views over the town and surrounding countryside. Nearby is Wat Rattanak Sopoan, which is intricately decorated with the legend of the churning of the ocean of milk from Hindu mythology.

Pailin is a great place to explore. However, there are a number of unexploded landmines in the area and it is best to hire a guide, especially if you plan to head into the nature and wildlife preserves of Kbal O Chra and Steng Kuy. Just outside Pailin is the spectacular Phnom Kiev Waterfall, which is a great place to swim and relax.

The houses in Pailin are made of wooden and set atop wooden stilts to protect them in case the river should flood. They are mostly inhabited by the Kola people, who originate from Myanmar. Most people still follow their traditional cultural practices and beliefs and can be seen wearing colourful traditional clothes. This is a good time to discover this unique culture and witness local weaving and woodwork skills.

For those who know a lot about gems, this is a good place to pick up a bargain, although make sure you take the time to sort through the gems carefully to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

Despite its slightly sleepy feel, there is plenty to do in Pailin in the evening. Regular movies are show at the open air cinema, and many people gather to try their luck in the town’s casino. There are also a number of places to eat and it is possible to find a selection of international dishes, although local cuisine is cheap and very tasty.
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Extreme Sports in Thailand


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Extreme Sports in Thailand
Extreme Sports in Thailand
Extreme Sports in Thailand

Just how extreme is this?

The only thing more amazing than the rapid development of extreme sports in Thailand is its roots. Thai extreme sports didn't emerge from grunge culture or a pursuit of hedonism and excess, but from a gauntlet laid down to society's youth at risk - those dabbling with drugs, underperforming at school or otherwise losing their way. The challenge was for change... The challenge was for greatness.

The man in charge of extreme sports in Thailand is the same man responsible for promoting them here in the first place - Khun Apichat Rutnin, former drugs rehabilitation officer, gymnast, and Secretary General of the Extreme Sports Association in Thailand. To him extreme sports represented an opportunity to challenge rule breakers to push the envelope and in 1994 he scoured department stores and other youth hangouts to invite youngsters to take part in informal in-line skating programs. Whether slum kids or middle-class errant youth, it made no difference - these kids got the right kind of addiction and with it the life changing drive and self-imposed discipline that comes from a passion for something good.

Fast forward to 1998 and the Asian X-games were held in Phuket. Out of nowhere, Thailand established its credentials as an extreme sporting nation and began a series of achievements that saw the country's extreme sportsmen and women travel the world in pursuit of competition and victory.

Today, the success of Khun Apichat's programs for the young at risk have guaranteed their continuation, but with 2,000 youngsters on his books, things obviously haven't stopped there.

"These days our focus has changed," suggested Khun Apichat. "Thailand's extreme sportsmen and women are at a level where they are competing with the best of the best. Our emphasis now is on 'sporting excellence' - on ensuring extreme sports in Thailand keep developing at the rate they have over the last years. What we need now are people with skills and experience willing to devote their time and energy to help us get to the next level and further."

And that's where you might come in…

If you have the skills and experience to offer (and you will know if you are good enough), this is a chance for you to turn your trip to Thailand into a genuine contribution both to extreme sports and the development of Thailand's youth. You will teach them the tricks you have learned and also pass on English language skills. In return you will learn Thai and get an insight into the Thai way of life few will ever experience.

At this stage the details have not been hammered out, but it might be possible to assist those able to stay for an extended period with visa arrangements, but even a couple of days will do. Although free accommodation won't ever be part of the package, it may be possible to arrange home stays for those offering training at centers outside Bangkok.

Think about this… does it get much better? At this stage we'd like to hear from people who are planning a trip to Thailand and feel they might have enough to offer to help out. Use the form below to let us know when you might be heading out this way.

Click here to contact the Thai Extreme Sports Association of Thailand.

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Narathiwat, Thailand

Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand
Situated on the banks of the Bang Nara River, this friendly province can be found approximately 1,149 kilometres south of Bangkok near the Malaysian border. Malaysia can be reached from Narathiwat though a ninety-minute bus trip, and this is a good place to rest for a day or two before making the crossing.

75 percent of this beautiful province consists of jungles and mountains, and there is a lot for the nature lover to explore. There are also pretty beaches on which to top up your tan and magnificent temples to discover.

The name Narathiwat literally means "the residence of good people" in the Thai language, and visitors will soon find that the area lives up to its name as hospitality is as warm as the weather. The city of Narathiwat has preserved its traditional culture and authenticity and has a feel of village-like tranquillity. The residents of Narathiwat are mainly farmers and fishermen and the majority are Muslim.

If you love nature, a visit to Hala-Bala Wildlife Reserve should be top of the list. Established in 1996, the reserve covers the Sankala Khiri mountain range, Hala forest and Bala forest and is a good place to see a large selection of wildlife. Lucky visitors have the chance to see hornbills, gibbons, the large Thut frogs, and rhinoceroses.

Another area of great natural beauty is the Sirindhorn Peat Swamp Forest Nature Reserve, and you can combine a visit with a trip to the Khao Kong Buddhist Park, which is situated about 9 kilometres from town. Here you will find Wat Khao Kong and the golden Phra Phuttha Thaksin Ming Mongkhon Buddha image sitting in the lotus position atop a mountain. And the park offers spectacular views over the province.

Other interesting temples to explore include Wat Chon Thara Singhe, Wat Choeng Khao, the Old Central Mosque and Taloh-manoh Mosque, while Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace is situated on Tanyongmat Mountain, and contains throne halls decorated with an assortment of trees.

Back to nature; don't miss the stunning Ao Manao Park, which features a 4 kilometre sandy bay lined with pine forest to explore when you tire of soaking up the sun. Other beaches include Hat Narathat, Kubu Beach-Ban Khlong Tan and the small, peaceful island of Ko Yao.

Visitors arriving during one of the area's lively festivals are treated to displays of traditional song and dance, combined with much laughter.

The Narathiwat Products Fair showcases the highlights of the province, such as special arts and crafts.

The Kolae-Long Boat Races are held on Bang Nara River opposite Sala Prachakhom (community pavilion). This is an annual event held when the Royal Family is in residence at Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace.

Krachut Sedge Day is held around the same time as the boat races in order to promote hemp products. Activities include an exhibition on production from the preparation of raw materials that are the Krachut sedge trees that grow in peat swamp forests or waterlogged areas of the province, to weaving the sedge into beautiful mats or transforming it into other unusual products such as hats, handbags, letter holders, food covers, and lamp shades. There are also Krachut contests and stalls selling Krachut sedge products.

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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.

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Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Just one hour from Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya is a key destination for anyone interested in history, culture and architecture. This former capital of Thailand is steeped in history and is a great place to spend a couple of days.

Formerly known as Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, the city was founded by King U-Thong in 1350 and kept its status as the nation's capital until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767. Ayutthaya was once one of the richest cities in Asia by the 1600s, as its vast array of temples still testifies.

Most visitors come to explore The Ayutthaya historical park, which contains most of the magnificent ruins of the ancient city and was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1981. Over 400 hundred temples were originally built in Ayutthaya, and the fact that they were built by various rules means that they comprise an interesting range of designs and styles.

Many of the temples from Ayutthaya's glory period still exist today, although in various states of preservation. Wat Mahathat is by far Ayutthaya's most photographed temple, made famous by the head of a large Buddha statue which has become entangled in the roots of a giant banyan tree.

Other temples of note include Wat Lokayasutharam (also known as the temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Mongkhon Bophit and Wat Naphrameru.

Ayutthaya's temples cover an area of several kilometres, and many people choose to explore the area by hiring a bicycle or a tuk-tuk for the day. You can learn more about Ayutthaya's rich and interesting history at the Chantharakasem National Museum.

But there is much more to Ayutthaya than simply temples. The Ayutthaya Elephant Camp provides visitors with the perfect opportunity to find out more about these mighty beasts and rides can be arranged around the scenic area.

The nearby town of Bang Pa In, with its glorious Summer Palace provides an excellent site for a day trip. Another great day trip is the Bang Sai Royal Arts and Crafts Center, which aims is to train people with poor backgrounds and to try provide them with the skills to earn a descent income. The arts and crafts here are of a very high quality and make excellent souvenirs.

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Chanthaburi, Thailand

Chanthaburi, Thailand
Chanthaburi, Thailand
Chanthaburi, Thailand
Chanthaburi, Thailand
Popularly known as the 'city of the moon', Chanthaburi is famous for its large quantity of tropical fruits and also as a centre for beautiful gem stones. This interesting province is blessed with lush forests featuring sparkling waterfalls, fishing villages and tranquil beaches on which to relax and soak up the sun.

A great place to get an idea of the natural beauty of this province is to visit the Khao Laem Sing Forest Park, whilst Khao Khitchakut National Park contains a breathtaking waterfall and is a good place to spot wild elephants. Another great reserve is the Namtok Phliu National Park which, as its name suggests, contains a large number of enchanting waterfalls to splash about in.

If you are interested in water sports, Khlong Pong Nam Ron is a great place to go white water rafting, the best time being between July and January. Another breathtaking experience is the view from the top of Khao Phloi Waen, which means Sapphire-Ring Mountain in the Thai language. The mountain is an impressive 150 metres high and has a Sri-Lankan style chedi on the top. Many visitors to Chanthaburi Province go there in order to pay their respects at Wat Khao Sukim, which has a famous meditation centre. Other interesting temples in the area include Wat Phlup, Wat Hai Lom and the very pretty Wat Mangkon Buppharam, which has been built in the Chinese style.

The Chanthaburi Cultural Centre is a great place to go to get an idea of the area's diverse history and culture. The ancient city of Khai Noen Wong also makes an interesting day trip and you can combine your visit with a trip to the Underwater Archaeological Office, which is a kind of maritime museum.

The province is home to some extremely pretty beaches and the quiet, shaded beach of Hat Ao Yang is great for relaxing on, while the larger stretch of sand at Hat Laem Sing is also a good place to hang out.

There are plenty other interesting attractions in and around Chanthaburi. The Chamsom Crocodile Farm and Zoo offers visitors the opportunity to see different crocodile species and a range of other animals. Another good way to see Thailand's wildlife is to pay a visit to Oasis Sea World, while the King Taksin Park is a great place for a picnic.

When it comes to food, there is plenty to be found, especially if you enjoy fresh seafood. A good place to find a cheap meal is at the local night market, and there are plenty of restaurants around catering to every taste and budget.

Chanthaburi Province is well known for some special festivals, and a good time to visit is during the Gem Festival, which takes place in early December and features jewellery shows and a gem design competition Another interesting festival is the annual fruit festival in the first week of June.

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Ubon, Thailand

Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani Province is located in the southeast of the Isan region of Thailand. The capital city bears the same name, but is more commonly known as Ubon. The name means Royal Land Lotus Blossom in the Thai language and refers to the exceptional natural beauty of the area.

The city, which sits on the northern bank of the Mun River, was originally founded in the late 18th century by Lao immigrants and still retains many aspects of Lao style and culture. For an insight into the rich and interesting history of this area, pay a visit to the Ubon National Museum.

Ubon Ratchathani is best loved for its stunning national parks. No visit is complete without seeing the spectacular Phu Chong Na Yoi National Park, which covers an area of 687 square kilometers, featuring stunning views from the cliffs at Pha Pheung and the huge Bak Tew Yai Waterfall.

Another area of great beauty is the Kaeng Tana National Park and don't miss the Pha Taem National Park with its pre-historic cliff paintings showing scenes of fishing, rice farming, figures of people and animals.

There are many beautiful waterfalls in the area, and it is possible to swim in the clear waters of most. Some of the best include Nam Tok Saeng Chan, Nam Tok Thung Na Muang and the magnificent Nam Tok Soi Sawan.

It goes without saying that there are many interesting temples to explore, embodying design features of both Lao and Thai temple art. Look out for Wat Tung Si Muang, Wat Supattanaram, the rectangular chedi of Wat Phra That Nong Bua, Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram and many others.

Koh Hat Wat Tai is a small island in the Mae Nam Mun which is great for swimming and sunbathing. Another attraction in the area are the Warin Chamrap District Temples. These are two temples where people from all over the world gather to study meditation. Wat Nong Pa Phung is reserved for Thai people, while Wat Pa Nanachat is for non-Thais.

The silk weaving village of Wat Nong Bua is located 18 kilometers from the city and makes a great day trip, while many people travel to ride the Kaeng Saphue rapids or take a boat trip on the turbulent white waters.

Ubon has a large night market, which is a great place to get a cheap meal and buy some local produce.

If you are in the area during the festival of awk hansaa in July, make sure you stay for the Candle Festival, when processions of wax religious images are carried through the city on floats.

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Nakhon Phanom, Thailand

Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
Nakhon Phanom, Thailand
The name Nakhon Phanom means 'city of hills' in the Thai language, and this ancient city located on the right bank of the Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom Province in northeast Thailand gets its name from the striking jungle covered mountains which surround it. Nakhon Phanom is situated 580 kilometers northeast of Bangkok, across the Mekong River from the Laotian town of Thakhek. Nakhon Phanom is well known as a place of great beauty and a gentle pace of life which immediately enchants visitors and stays with them throughout the rest of their journey.

The culture, art, music and customs of the Lao people have a strong influence on this area, and it is blended well with the elements of Thai culture as well as the faint traces of other cultures which still linger in the background.

It is well worth taking the time to explore the town's temples, especially as many of them embrace both Thai and Lao temple design features. Wat Si Thep is a good place to start as it is covered with a collection of beautiful murals. Other interesting temples include Wat Okat Si Bua Ban, Wat Maha That and Wat Noi Pho Kham.

Located 50 kilometres from Nakhon Phanom town, Phra That Phanom is the most celebrated temple in the area and makes a good day trip. The temple features a magnificent 53 metre high five-tiered golden umbrella inlaid with a plethora of precious gems.

Just 4 kilometres west of Nakhon Phanom town, Ban Na Chok offers a rare opportunity to visit a Vietnamese community in Thailand and learn about their unique culture and traditional way of life.

There are many other appealing villages around Nakhon Phanom town that make good day trips. Hire a bicycle and head 45 kilometres north to Nam Song Si. Another great day trip is the cotton weaving village of Renu Nakhon, 52 kilometres south. Whilst there, pay a visit to the attractive Wat Phra That Renu Nakhon.

The Riverside Promenade follows the banks of the mighty Mekong River, and there are dozens of food stalls dotted along the banks from which to buy a cheap meal and watch the world go by.

Nestled in the Langka Mountain Range, the Phu Langka National Park is a great place of natural beauty and stunning vistas. There are two sparkling waterfalls to swim in and many places to enjoy a picnic in the sunshine.

Interestingly, the beach of Hat Sai Thong - Golden Sand Beach - only appears between February to April, when the river is at its lowest. If you happen to be in the area at the time, this is a good opportunity to slap on some suntan lotion and soak up some rays.

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Nong Khai, Thailand

Nong Khai, Thailand
Nong Khai, Thailand
Nong Khai, Thailand
Nong Khai, Thailand
Nong Khai Province, in the very northeast of Thailand, is often referred to as the gateway to Laos as many people stop off there on their way to visiting Thailand's northern cousin. Even if you're not planning to cross into Laos, make sure you check out the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, which spans the Mekong River.

The province features stunning scenery consisting of forests, national parks, and many small towns located on the banks of the Mekong River. There are two main points of interest for visitors to Nong Khai Province; the city of Nong Khai and the quiet yet charming dusty town of Beung Kan.

Nong Khai is the capital of the Nong Khai Province and offers a wide range of things to see and do. Indeed, many people visit the city only intending to stay a day or two and end up staying for several weeks.

The main attraction of Nong Khai city is the Sala Kaew Ku Sculpture Park, which is full of massive sculptures from Buddhist and Hindu ideologies. Here you will find incredible images such as seven-headed Naga snakes and a wide range of human-animal hybrids.

Visitors should make a point of seeing Wat Pho Chai, which contains the magnificent Laos-style Luang Phra Sai. Other temples of interest include Wat Noen Phra Nao, Wat Lam Duan and Wat Tung Sawang.

During the dry season, the spire of Phra That Nong Khai appears above the waters of the Mekong River. Also appearing in the dry season is the beach of Hat Jommani, which is a good place to soak up the sun.

Nature lovers should pay a visit to the extremely beautiful Phu Wua Wildlife Reserve, while the Nong Khai Museum is a great source of local history and culture.

Nong Khai is a province that loves to party, and there are many colourful festivals to see and enjoy. Late May brings the Rocket Festival, while the full moon in October brings the Rowing Festival. This festival is famous as this is the time when fireballs mysteriously shoot from the Mekong River. The fireballs are widely believed to be breathed by a sea monster living in the river - dispute it at your peril!

Another festival worth looking out for is Anou Savari, which occurs on March 5th and is the city's biggest street fair.

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Khon Khen, Thailand

Khon Khen, Thailand
Khon Khen, Thailand
Nestled in the heart of Isan, Khon Kaen is the centre of Northeast. The capital of Khon Kaen Province is the city of Khon Kaen, which is a rich source of culture.

The Khon Kaen National Museum, Khon Kaen City Museum and the Art and Culture Museum are all great places to spend a couple of hours and learn about the area and its people.

To the centre of the city, the beautiful 100-hectare lake known as Beung Kaen Nakhon (Kaen Nakhon Lake) is a great spot for a picnic, whilst the nearby temples of Wat That and Wat Nong Wang Muang and definitely worth exploring.

Khon Kaen is the centre of the north-eastern silk industry, and the Sala Mai Thai silk village 55 kilometres to the west makes a great day trip. Here you will see top quality silk dyed in a wide range of colours and made into a multitude of different products, and in the traditional weaving households you can actually see the silk being skilfully woven.

Khon Kaen is a province with stunning natural beauty and it features a couple of great national parks. Phu Wiang National Park was recently made famous when dinosaur remains were unearthed there, whilst the Nam Nao National Park contains the region's highest mountain

peak - Phu Pha Jit, which measures a colossal 1271 metres. It is possible to camp in the grounds of both national parks for just 30 baht, which makes a very cheap and picturesque option, although not so much so during the monsoon season!
Next door to the park the Phu Kiaw Wildlife Sanctuary, which is home to leopards, tigers, elephants and many other beasties.

Also not to be missed is the unusual Ban Khok Sa-Nga Cobra Village, where the local snakes are highly revered. Here you can witness the love and trust shown by the villagers to the mighty snakes as well as daily cobra shows.

Another great day trip is Prasat Peuay Noi (also know as Ku Peauy Noi), where you will see the region's largest Khmer temple.

Khon Kaen celebrates its local skills and traditions with the Silk Fair and Phuk Siaw Festival, which last for 12 days in late November. The Phuk Siaw Festival is specially intended to preserve the unique Phuuk Siaw (friend bonding) tradition and is marked with much merry making and folk dancing.

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Phimai, Thailand

Phimai, Thailand
Phimai, Thailand
Phimai, Thailand
Phimai, Thailand
Part of Nakhon Ratchasima Province to the north of Thailand, Phimai is a great place to visit for those with a keen interest in history and culture, and the small town also has some beautiful nature spots in which to enjoy a picnic and relax for a while away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Most visitors are draw to Phimai by the Phimai Historical Park, which contains a large number of temples and ruins to explore including the beautiful Khmer temple of Prasat Phimai. Don't forget to check out to informative Phimai National Museum in order to learn more about the temples and to discover some rare temple artefacts.

Nearby, the brick chedi of Meru Boromathat and the Pratu Chai - victory gate - are just waiting to be discovered, whilst on an island in the middle of a large reservoir the Sai Ngam (Beautiful Banyan) draws Buddhists from all over the world. You can take a rowing boat out onto the reservoir for a closer look at the sacred tree. Whilst there, don't forget to pay a visit to the interesting Tha Nang Sa Phom - which is an ancient and intricately decorated landing platform.

Nakhon Ratchasima Province is famous for its unique and beautiful pottery, and a good place to see it is at the Dan Kwian pottery village, where you can still see craftsmen creating the Thai ceramics.

Another famous skill from the north of Thailand is silk weaving, and visitors can go to the Pak Thong Chai silk weaving village, which is very close to Phimai. Here, the weaving looms are still being put to good use today, creating beautifully shimmering Thai silk, which is then dyed in a dazzling array of colours and made into a wide range of products for people to buy as souvenirs.

In November, Phimai celebrates with the Phimai Festival. This is a good opportunity to experience the traditional folk songs, dancing and theatre of the region as well as sample the many delicious dishes and sweets.

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Lamphun, Thailand

Lamphun, Thailand
Lamphun, Thailand
Lamphun, Thailand
lamphun_4
Situated to the south east of Chiang Mai, Lamphun Province is steeped in history and culture. The province capital is the quiet town of Lamphun, which can be found 670 kilometres from Bangkok. The town is located on the bank of the Kuang River and contains many interesting attractions including ancient sites and relics, forests, mountains and pretty lakes. Lamphun is also well known as a producer of longans, the extremely sweet and delicious Thai fruit with its hard, yellow shell.

Lamphun is an area of great natural beauty. Particularly picturesque is the Mae Ping National Park, with its lush forests and the Ping River running through it. The park is also home to the seven-tiered Namtok Ko Luang and a limestone cave full of stalactites and stalagmites.

Another area of intense natural beauty is the Doi Khun Tan National Park, with its pretty orchids and lilies as well as impressive bamboo and pine forests. Namtok Tat Moei is an imposing waterfall in this park and an interesting feature is that it can be reached directly by train from Chiang Mai.

Lamphun is blessed with a large number of sites of highly respected historical and cultural importance. Wat Phra That Hariphunchai was built during the reign of King Arthitayarat, a descendant of Queen Chamthewi, around 800 years ago. Principal features of this temple include the 46-metre tall golden chedi and the Khmer-style Buddha statue. Other interesting temples in this area include Wat Phra Yuen, Wat Mahawan, Wat Chamthewi and the highly revered Wat Phra Phutthabat Tak Pha, where according to legend the Lord Buddha once stayed, leaving a likeness of monk's saffron robe and his footprint imprinted in the stone ground.

The impressive Hariphunchai National Museum is a good place to discover the area's rich and interesting history. The museum features displays of prehistoric human skeletons and objects of arts from the Dvaravati, Hariphunchai, Lanna and Rattanakosin periods. There also some interesting displays of temple art, which has been carefully collected and displayed over a period of several years.

Another way to get an idea of the area's history and culture is by visiting Ban Hong, which is the site of a warm and welcoming 1,400-year-old community dating back to the Hariphunchai Kingdom.

If you are interested in handicrafts, the cotton weaving village of Pasong makes a good day trip. Whilst there, pay a visit to Wat Chang Khao No and the bustling market places, where you can buy a wide range of cotton products.

There are a large number of interesting celebrations in Lamphun Province. Particularly vibrant is the Lam Yai Festival, which takes place in the second week of August. Also known as the Longan Fair, the objective is to promote the area's sweet and succulent the fruit. The festival features a parade of floats made from longan fruit and the Miss Lam Yai contest.

Another popular event is the Song Nam Phra That Hariphunchai which is held to celebrate the province's principal religious site and takes place in May.

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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.

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