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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.