Tag - east

Eastern Thailand

Eastern Thailand

Eastern Thailand

Eastern Thailand
Eastern Thailand contains 7 provinces, situated to the south of Isan and east of the Central Thailand, between Bangkok and Cambodia.

This region of Thailand is particularly popular with visitors who wish to enjoy all the natural beauty and golden beaches of Southern Thailand whilst avoiding the crowds.

For many, the tourist destination of Pattaya provides an interesting diversion, whilst others head straight to the beautiful island of Koh Samet to enjoy all the benefits of an island holiday with less of the hassles.

The large island of Koh Chang is a great place to spend a few days and there are many areas of natural beauty located on the island as well as several smaller islands close by. This is a great place to go snorkeling and diving as there is plenty of pristine coral and colourful fish to see.

The town of Si Racha is well known for its deliciously spicy sauce and seafood, and while there visitors can visit the Sri Racha Tiger Zoo for the opportunity to cuddle the tiny tiger cubs.

For travelers who really want to get away from it all, the peaceful island of Koh Si Chang makes a great destination as it is virtually ignored by tourists.

Although the region is easily reachable by bus, there is are also small airports at U-Tapao and Trat.

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An Introduction to Laos

laos_gibbon_experience_bokeo_3Poetically dubbed the “land of a million elephants”, the charming country of Laos is situated in the centre of the Indochina Peninsula. Bordered by China to the north, Myanmar to the northwest, Vietnam to the east and Cambodia to the south, Laos embodies everything that makes its neighbouring countries great.

You will be sure to find a warm welcome and broad smiles as you explore Laos and discover all that the country has to offer. Despite years of war and hardship, this former French colony has managed to retain its unique culture and stunning natural scenery. The pace of life here is gentle and as you explore you will be seduced by the chilled-out attitude of the people you meet.

Laos has only been part of the tourist trade for just over a decade, yet it has a lot to offer those with a strong sense of adventure. There are plenty of opportunities to get away from the tourist scene and discover the dense forests and wander along dusty back roads where you will be greeted by waving children and friendly families as you pass.

North-eastern Laos is still very underdeveloped and this is a great place to head if you want to escape the tourist scene and really get to know the country, while to the south you will find plenty of pretty islands and beaches and even the chance to view the elusive Kratie river dolphin.

However, there are several small towns and villages geared towards tourism, such as the enchanting village of Vang Vieng, where visitors are encouraged to relax with a good meal and a beer or two, surrounded by spectacular views of the limestone cliffs and sparkling river.

This is a great place to go trekking and explore the countryside, spending the night in a traditional village with a family. White water rafting, kayaking, rock-climbing and cycling are all popular, while to the south the Four Thousand Islands offer the perfect piece of paradise.

Travellers in Laos will never go hungry and there is a good range of dishes available for those with a sense of adventure. Lao food has been influenced by the French, Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese and throughout Laos you will discover culinary delights such as French baguettes, spicy Thai salads and Vietnamese noodles. 

Laos is a good place to explore at any time, but it really comes alive during its festivals, especially the New Year and Rocket Festival. It’s a good idea to time your trip to coincide with one of these festivals as the streets are filled with singing and dancing and people put on their best clothes and biggest smiles.

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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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Bintulu, Malaysia

Bintulu, MalaysiaThe pretty coastal town of Bintulu is a good place to visit to witness the traditional Malay way of life. Although the town is only beginning to market itself as a tourist destination, it has plenty to offer tourists such as colourful Chinese temples, fishing villages and lively bars.

Most people simply pass through Bintulu’s bus station on the way to surrounding attractions such as Niah National Park and Miri. However, those who do decide to stop for a day or two will discover a warm and welcoming atmosphere and homely touches that make any visit to Bintulu memorable.

Bintulu originated as a fishing village with few old Chinese shop houses.  Head to the fishing village known as Jepak, which is situated on the banks of the Kemena River near Bintulu town centre. There are a number of good restaurants here serving fresh fish and traditional Malay dishes.

A great way to explore Bintulu is by taking the express boat to surrounding areas such as Sebauh, Tubau and Labang. Walking is also a good way to get around and see the sights. Visit the local markets of Pasar Utama and Pasar Tamu Bintulu to sample local delicacies such as shrimp paste known as belachan and cincaluk.

Pasar Malam is a good place to eat, and this daily market serves everything from burgers to fried bread and savoury pork buns. This is also a good place to pick up a bargain or two and particularly popular are handbags, jeans and alcohol.

There are a number of interesting temples to explore, such as the Muslim Masjid Assyakirin and Chinese Kuan Ying Yong Temple, which features an interesting rock garden and waterfall. Christianity is represented by the St. Thomas Anglican church, Methodist Church and St. Anthony Catholic church, which are all located near the Kuan Ying Yong Temple.

Head to Tanjung Batu beach to soak up the sun, while the Taman Tumbina zoo is a great place for jungle trekking. Climb to the top of the hill inside the zoo compound for spectacular views of the South China Sea.

The Similajau National Park features a pretty stretch of golden sand, and a great way to end the day is by taking a stroll along the Bintulu Prominade as the sun sets.
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Beaufort, Malaysia

Beaufort, MalaysiaA great place to spend the night while passing through Eastern Malaysia, the town of Beaufort is just waiting to be explored. This is a great destination to just wader through aimlessly, as pretty wooden shop houses and other buildings can be found at every twist and turn and the town’s sleepy atmosphere gives it a rather enchanting feel.

Those who enjoy taking place in adventure sports will be able to try their hands at white water rafting on the Pandas River, which is just a short trip away. This river is not for the faint of heart however, as it varies between Grade Three and Grade Four, and those who dare to paddle a kayak along the nine kilometre run will have seven rapids to negotiate.

Other good ways of seeing all that the area has to offer include taking a train ride through the countryside and a cruise on Klias River. Dinner cruises can also be arranged and this is the perfect way to see the area’s wildlife in style and comfort whilst dining on delicious Malaysian dishes.

Another popular attraction near Beaufort is Pulau Tiga Marine Park. Situated on one of Malaysia’s most picturesque and interesting islands, the first season of the reality-TV series Survivor was shot here. This area of diverse natural beauty features mud volcanoes and sea snakes.

The train ride that takes passengers along the Padas River Gorge to the traditional village of Tenom is particularly pretty, and this makes an excellent daytrip activity for those who have the time to spare, while visitors who travel here on Friday evening will be able to dine in style at the weekly night market.

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Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia

Kinabalu National Park, MalaysiaHome to the area’s highest mountain and some spectacular forest, Kinabulu National Park is a great place to explore. Climbing to the summit of the impressive Mount Kinabalu is the most popular activity here, while there are also a large number of enchanting forest trails for visitors to follow.

Covering 754 square kilometers, Kinabalu National Park features a large number of natural attractions such as waterfalls, gardens and the Poring Hot Springs, where the warm mineral waters are the perfect place to soak away aches and pains after a hard day of mountain climbing or trekking through the forest.

Mount Kinabalu towers 4,095 meters above northern Borneo. Climb to the top for spectacular views and for the unparalleled sense of achievement that conquering this mighty mountain brings. It is possible to climb to the summit and back in about four hours, although it is better to allow a couple of days and take an overnight break at Laban Rata as the best views come in the early morning.

Unlike many other mountains of its loftiness, there are no special mountain climbing skills needed to scale Mount Kinabalu, although potential climbers should be reasonably fit. However, the park staff recommend that those planning to climb the mountain hire a guide as the mountain can be rather dangerous.

Kinabalu National Park has its own museum, where visitors can learn about the area’s flora and fauna before climbing the mountain or taking one of the marked trails through the forest. There are also a number of places to spend the night within the park, with options ranging from dorm beds to pretty chalets.
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Eastern Malaysia

Eastern Malaysia
Eastern Malaysia
Eastern Malaysia is divided from Central and northern Malaysia by the South China Sea. East Malaysia consists of the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, which are located on the island of Borneo, as well as the Federal Territory of Labuan, which lies off coast of Sabah. Although less populated than Peninsular Malaysia or West Malaysia, East Malaysia is much larger and contains more of the country’s natural resources.

Most visitors to Malaysia tend to head straight to East Malaysia to enjoy adventure activities such as trekking, caving, white water rafting and camping. There are a number of spectacularly beautiful national parks in this region of Malaysia such as Kubah National Park and Bako National Park.

East Malaysia is home to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, and thousands of people come here each year to interact with the old men of the forest. There are a number of beautiful beaches and islands to discover in this region of Malaysia as well as pretty towns to explore.

The people of East Malaysia are warm and welcoming and visiting the region’s villages is a rewarding experience. This region is famous for its diverse cuisine, and top of the menu is fresh fish, which is especially delicious when eaten on the beach at sunset.
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Location and History of Malaysia

Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia
Covering 329,847 square kilometres, Malaysia is situated in Southeast Asia and is bordered by Thailand, to the north, Indonesia and Singapore to the south, and Brunei and the Philippines to the east. Malaysia is divided into two separate land masses – known as Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo - by the South China Sea.

Malaysia has a tropical climate, with a hot summer and intense rainy season. With forest and mountain ranges running through the country from north to south, there are mangrove swamps and mudflats on the west coast, which separate into bays and inlets. There are a number of beautiful beaches on the west coast as well as dense forests to explore.

Malaysia’s modern history dates back to the 2nd century AD, when there were a collection of up to 30 separate Malay kingdoms. The Malay kingdoms gained power and riches as costal city ports, which were established in the 10th century. Originally Hindu or Buddhist states, Islamic found a place in Malaysia in the 14th century.

The Sultanate of Malacca was established at the start of the 15th century by prince Parameswara, from Palembang, who fled to the area from what is now known as Singapore. Prince Parameswara turned Malacca into an important trading port, putting Malaysia firmly on the map. However, Malacca was conquered by Portugal in 1511 and a Portuguese colony was established there.

In 1786 Britain established a colony in the Malay Peninsula, with the British East India Company leasing the island of Penang from the Sultan of Kedah. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty was signed in 1824, which divided the Malaya archipelago between Britain and the Netherlands.

Although there were Malaysian figureheads, the British mostly ruled Malaysia until the Japanese occupation during WWII. The Federation of Malaya was established in 1948, which reinstated the independence of the rulers of the Malay states under British protection.

From 1948 to 1960 the Communist Party of Malaya embarked on a guerrilla campaign known as the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960 to force the British out of Malaya. Independence for the Federation within the Commonwealth was finally granted on 31 August 1957, and the Federation was renamed Malaysia in 1963.

At first there was much fighting with Indonesia over boundary lines, culmination in the racial riots of 1969. The New Economic Policy was established to restore peace to the country and since then Malaysia’s various ethnic groups have lived more or less in harmony.  

These days Malaysia’s economic and social structures are good and the country’s affluence can be seen in modern structures such as Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers and the Sepang F1 Circuit.
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Koh Chang, Thailand

Koh Chang, Thailand
Koh Chang, Thailand
Koh Chang, Thailand
Koh Chang, Thailand
The name Koh Chang means Elephant Island in Thai and people interested in the island's elephants should visit the Ban Kwan Elephant Camp or Ban Khlong Son Elephant Camp, where you can interact with the animals and go elephant trekking through the jungle. Animal lovers can also volunteer at the Koh Chang Animal Foundation.

With its many mountains, sparkling waterfalls and rainforest, Koh Chang is an island of intense natural beauty and is part of the Mu Koh Chang Marine National Park, which comprises a total of 52 islands.

There are many beautiful beaches where visitors can chill out and catch some rays or play in the water. Most of the beaches are located along the west cost of the island. Check out Lonely Beach, Hat Kaibae, Hat Klong MaKohk and Hat Kai Mook for beautiful stretches of sun lined with palm trees and beach bars. Generally, the further south you head the more secluded the beach, and there are some virtually untouched beaches at the very bottom of the island. A good example is Hat Wai Chek, which is unreachable by road, making this the perfect trekking destination.

This is a great area for snorkeling and scuba diving as the coral is beautiful and the water clear. There are lots of small islands to explore such as Koh Kut, Koh Mak, Koh Wai and Koh Kham and basic accommodation is available on most if you decide to stay for a day or two.

Koh Chang also offers plenty of opportunities for self improvement. The Koh Chang Cookery School is a good place to learn to create all the delicious food you'll have been sampling. You can study the Japanese art of reiki healing at Jungle Way, whilst yoga and healing classes are available at Baan Zen.

But Koh Chang is also the perfect place to be lazy for a few days. There are excellent bars, restaurants and spas all around the island, so just put up your feet and relax for a while.

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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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Trat, Thailand

Trat, Thailand
Trat, Thailand
Trat, Thailand
Trat, Thailand
Located 315 kilometres from Bangkok, Trat is a small province to the very east of Thailand near the Cambodian border. Many travellers stop in the province capital town of Trat on their way to one of the surrounding islands and beaches. Indeed, Trat Province contains over fifty islands of various sizes and popularity, all of them featuring long, white sandy beaches and amazingly colourful coral.

There are regular buses to Trat from many parts of Thailand, and a direct journey from Bangkok should take 5-6 hours.

Particularly of interest to visitors is the immensely beautiful island of Koh Chang, part of the Mu Chang Marine National Park and the smaller but no less attractive Koh Kood. There are both regular ferry and speedboat services to the surrounding islands, and both Koh Chang and Koh Kood can be reached in an hour or less.

The smaller and less visited islands of Koh Kham, Koh Mak and Koh Phi can also be found in Trat Province. These islands are all exceptionally beautiful, although somewhat less developed, and make a good option for those who want to slow down a pace or two and simply relax on the beach.

But the town of Trat itself, although often neglected by travellers, has many interesting features and is definitely worth a second look. Trat is most famous for its gemstone mining and trading, and many a good bargain can be picked up at one of the town's gem stores. There are also some excellent restaurants in the town, serving fresh seafood expertly cooked in a range of Thai and Western styles.

Trat's vibrant night market is a good place to pick up a bargain and get a good, cheap meal cooked in the local style, and whilst in the town you can pay a visit to the pretty temple of Wat Plai Khlong.

In addition to the islands, there are a multitude of beaches with pristine stretches of sand just a stone's throw away from the town. Amongst the best are Hat Sai Si Ngoen (Silver Sand Beach), Hat Sai Kaew (Crystal Sand Beach), Hat Thap Thim and Hat Ban Cheun, while Hat Ban Cheun is located at the southernmost part of Trat.

A good way to pass a day or two is to hire a motorcycle and visit each of the beaches in turn. Of course, snorkeling and scuba diving are readily available at all the area's islands and beaches. Another good way to get an idea of the vastness and beauty of the area is to go on a boat trip.

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Rayong, Thailand

Rayong, Thailand
Rayong, Thailand
Rayong, Thailand
Rayong, Thailand
Rayong is a pretty province which contains a whole host of interesting islands and beaches where you can escape the frantic pace of the city and unwind while catching the sun and dining on delicious seafood as you watch the sun set. The province contains over 100 kilometres of coastline to explore and is easily reachable in just a few hours by bus from Bangkok's Ekkamai bus terminal.

There are many popular tourist destinations in the province, including Koh Samet, Koh Mun and Koh Kodi. All of these islands feature stretches of golden sand, beach bars and a variety of western and Thai food.

Naturally, snorkeling and scuba diving are major activities in this province, whilst many people like to go on a boat tour of the islands. Other smaller sun kissed islands which are just waiting to be explored include Koh Man Klang, Koh Man Nok and the often overlooked Koh Man Nai.

While in the area, pay a visit to the Khao Chamao/Khao Wong National Park. Here you will find several pretty waterfalls where you can swim amongst the fish, as well as seeing tigers, wild elephants and bears.

Nearby is the Rayong Turtle Conservation Centre, which cares for the area's endangered sea turtles with a view to releasing them back into the wild. You can learn more about the now rare and beautiful turtles at the visitors' centre, which contains pictures of the turtles and shells from their eggs.

Suan Son 'Pine Park' is situated just 5 kilometers from the pretty port of Ban Phe. This is a great place to spend a couple of hours walking when you need a break from the beach. Incidentally, Ban Phe is the port from which to catch the ferry to the large and beautiful island of Koh Samet.

11 kilometers east at Suan Wang Keaw you will find yet more sandy beaches and the island of Koh Thalu, which is particularly good for diving as the waters are home to some pretty colourful coral and shoals of exotic fish. This is also a great place to hang out if you happen to arrive on the weekend and want to avoid the crowds that tend to congregate on many of the other islands and beaches at the end of the working week

The province's main industry is fishing, and a good way to start the day is to get up early and walk along the beach, where you will see the fishermen spreading their freshly caught fish, sparkling and shimmering on the sand.

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Chonburi, Thailand

Chonburi, Thailand
Chonburi, Thailand
Chonburi, Thailand
Chonburi, Thailand
Chonburi is a province full of beautiful sandy beaches, enchanting tropical islands, abundant natural resources and delicious fresh seafood. This is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city for a while and relax on the beach. The capital town of Chonburi is the nearest seaside town to Bangkok. Located on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Thailand, Chonburi is just 80 kilometres from Bangkok and very popular with residents of Bangkok on weekends and holidays.

Chonburi province contains many places of interest for visitors. Particularly well known throughout the world is the seaside town of Pattaya, while the town Si Racha is famous throughout Thailand for its spicy chilli sauce.

Particularly of interest in the area is the picturesque island of Ko Si Chang, which was made popular when King Rama IV, Rama V and Rama VI visited the island for some much deserved rest and relaxation. King Rama V initiated the construction the first palace for royal home-stay in the summer, and the idea proved popular with subsequent rulers and people of note.

There are many beautiful beaches and other places of interest on Ko Si Chang. The meditation caves at the Tham Yai Phrik Vipassana Monastery are a good place to get in touch with nature while learning the art of meditation.

There are plenty of great places on the island to swim, such as the picturesque Hat Tham Phang (Fallen Cave Beach), Hat Sai Kaew and Hat Tha Wang Palace, which is a great picnic spot.

The San Jao Phaw Khao Yai Chinese Temple is located high on a cliff top overlooking the sea and offers spectacular views over the ocean, and the limestone cave of Tham Saowapha is definitely worth a visit, although don't forget to take a torch.

There are a number of small islands located around Ko Si Chang such as Ko Khaam Noi, Ko Ran Dok Mai and Koh Prong. A good way to explore them is to rent a sea kayak, go scuba diving or go on a snorkeling trip to the nearby Ko Khaang Khaow (Bat Island).

Koh Si Chang is a great place to sample the abundant local seafood, and what could be better than eating fresh barbecued seafood on the beach whilst you drink and cold beer and watch the sun slowly set.

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Pattaya, Thailand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When to Visit Thailand

When to visit Thailand
When to visit Thailand
When to visit Thailand
When to visit Thailand
Thailand has three main seasons: the monsoon or 'rainy season', which occurs from July until November, the cooler winter season from November to mid-February and the hotter summer season from March to June.

Many people find the summer season far too hot, whilst newcomers to Thailand find the monsoon season humid and sticky. Generally, it only rains for two or three hours a day during the monsoon season, usually in the early morning and then again around 5 pm.

Most people prefer to visit Thailand between November and February, when the weather is dry and relatively cool and the beaches are at their best. This is also when most of Thailand's festivals take place.

The peak tourist season is from November to late March, with a secondary peak season in July and August. However, this is also naturally when accommodation is the most expensive. People wishing to save money and avoid the crowds would do well to visit during September and October, when the fear of rain keeps most tourists away.

Regional variations:

Thailand's size and location naturally means that different areas of the country are better to visit at different times of the year.

Central Thailand and the East

Often roasting during the summer (40 degress C is not unusual), it rarely gets cold in the capital and surrounding area. If you want to beat the heat and the often torrential rain of the monsoon season, it is best to visit between November and February, with the coolest weather usually in January.

Northern Thailand and the Northeast

This region is quite a bit cooler than the rest of Thailand. Although you may need a jacket, November-February is the best time to visit as it is a good time to see the flowers and spectacular scenery. If in Thailand during April, the north is a little cooler, so this region makes a good summer retreat.

Southern Thailand

This region is probably best avoided during the monsoon season, especially if you are planning to visit the islands. The island regions often experience heavy storms during the monsoon season, and it can be difficult to travel by boat. Once again, November to April is probably the best time to visit this area.

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Cycling in Laos

cycling_in_laos_1
Cycling in Laos
Cycling in Laos
cycling_in_laos_4
Cycling is fun in Southeast Asia; it has become a way of life for me. I can't even imagine a trip without my bike. I have had many adventures and lots of great experiences. There are so many new things to see and learn from. This story is just a glimpse of what I have done, how I have felt and where I have gone.

A couple of years ago, I was lying in a bed. It was cold, the kind of cold you get on crisp English mornings in winter time. I was wrapped in my guest house blanket, a blanket of dubious history. These are the kind of things you must deal with when you are cycle touring, or backpacking, around Southeast Asia. Blankets and sheets in guest houses often give you a strong indication of the economics of the guest house you are staying in. If the bed linins are old, dirty or smelly then it doesn't bode well for your stay. If the blankets or sheets are crisp, clean and new (ish) then your stay may be full of care and attention. I have found that the blanket rule often supersedes the pricing rule, prices do not necessarily reflect the quality of your stay.
 
My journey to this blanket had begun on khao San Road in Bangkok. I had battled through the Bangkok heat, pollution and traffic on my bicycle. This is never a safe or healthy thing to do, but it is a necessary journey. I boarded my train to Nong Khai at Hualompong Station as I was heading for the Plain of Jars in central Laos, close to the town of Phonasavan. My cycling would start in earnest in the northeastern Thai town of Nong Khai. The journey had been planned for months; my goal was to see the mysterious jars of central Laos.
 
Getting off the sleeper train in the cool morning haze of northern Thailand, I collected my bicycle from the front luggage compartment and assembled the various parts (panniers, bungee cords etc.). The ride to the border point was a gentle 4 Km. The Laos border crossing was as user friendly as any good border crossing in the region. Everything is detailed for you with clear instructions and the wait for the slow bureaucratic clogs of the immigration police is minimal.
 
The ride into Vientiane was excellent. The welcome from the people is always good. You pass the Beer Laos factory on your right after about 10Km. This, after my first visit to Laos 10 years ago, was to become a place of worship and awe. I stopped and took some photos, I already have plenty of photos from previous trips, I just can't help myself. This time I went on the tour of the brewery. The free samples went down well and provided an excellent break for my ride into Vientiane. Beer Laos truly is one of the worlds great largers.
 
The ride into Vientiane is a relaxed affair; you pass the old communist work slogans on advertising boards on the way into the sleepy capital city. These act as a reminder that you have entered a 'workers' paradise', although I doubt Marx would agree with the 21st century version of his dream.
 
The local folk are very unobtrusive in the interest in a
western cyclist riding through their neighborhood. Vientiane is one of my favorite capitals in the world, primarily because you feel the lack of bustle and hustle of the place; you get the sense that the tumbleweed will float passed at any second. The place is small, there are no high rise developments (bar that huge new Chinese hotel) and the place has a sleepy, relaxed feel to it.
 
Leaving Vientiane the next day, the ride to Phonasavan took me north to Vang Vieng in a 2 day ride through the central plains of Laos. The ride to Vang Vieng is flat and one of those great little stretches where you can take a gentle pace, stop and chat with the locals over a meal of rice and fruit and feel good on a bike. There are no difficult mountain stretches and the scenery is beautiful.
 
Vang Vieng itself nestles in between a few mountains and is an idealic spot to stop and recharge for the coming ride to Phonasavan. I stayed for 2 days as there is plenty to do, not least the fun day out tubing down the river or taking in the nearby caves and wonderful swimming in clear, fresh lagoons.
 
I set off early on the next leg of the trip, the most difficult part of this tour. This is a monster stage, much like the Alp D'huez in the Tour de France. There is a 130Km ride to Phu Khun in the mountains. The wind was blowing fiercely; I was battling the head wind until the town of Kasi. At Kasi the challenge began in earnest. Here each assent to a higher plateau left me exhausted. At each peak there was a Hmong village waiting to welcome me, invariably selling the same lukewarm cola refreshments. The refreshments were lacking, but the locals' reception definitely made up for the lack of cool coca-cola.
 
The day climaxed in a stunning uphill section that really took my breath away. About 10Km from my destination of Phu Khun I began the final assent. I did run out of energy and water at some point and had to stop by a mountain stream to fill my water bottle. In the process I managed to scare some Laotian ladies who were taking a wash in the stream, naked. I don't know who was more embarrassed, the naked Laos ladies or the sweaty, sun burnt, limping semi-naked white boy. After both parties covered their dignities we managed to have a chuckle and communicate together, they even offered me some of their food.
 
I have christened this style of riding 'whirlwind riding' as you just have to go at it as quickly as you can come-what-may. I was definitely on my last reserves of strength, but still I needed to get to the village and a bed. I had to get on with the ride, there was no other option. Everything was hurting me, but between the fresh water and the stunning views across central Laos I was revitalized enough to push on.
 
Eventually I found the down slope in the road and headed into Phu Khun and I ventured into the first guest house that I found. I took a look at the room, and the all important blanket, and did the (not so) complex equation of cost vs comfort vs tiredness. My legs made the decision for me, virtually screaming at me that they couldn't go on to the other guest house 100 meters down the road.
 
And so it came to pass that I awoke wrapped in the dubious blanket on the cold, crisp Laotian mountain morning at the end of December. I was being welcomed to the hills of Laos at Christmas time by a smelly blanket and guest house which didn't have a shower. The bed bugs had been kept at bay by my sarong; my legs felt better but were still aching a little. I stumbled out of my room, threw some water over me from the bucket in the 'bath'room and repacked my bike.
 
The reason for putting myself through the previous days' pain and the ache in my legs really hit me when I cycled away from the guest house; the air was fresh, the mountains surrounding me looked like they had been taken from a movie set and the roads were empty. I will never forget me exit from Phu Khun, it was made even more special by the locals who all waved and shouted 'sabaii dee' as I past. It really does make you feel special and alive.
 
I set off for my destination, the town of Phonasavan nearly 140Km away. The first assent of the day left me delirious with joy, so much so I was laughing and sweating at the top of the first peak. The views across the valley which unfolded before me were spectacular. Any soreness in my legs was replaced by adrenalin. The climbs continued, punctuated, thankfully, by a few great descents. At one point I descended 19Km in one long downward free wheel. This is truly and exhilarating experience. These kinds of days are what you start (and seemingly I can never stop) cycling for; upward challenges, downward enjoyment, stunning scenery and friendly local villages.
 
The 140Km stretch is punctuated by villages, both Hmong and central Laos villages. I stopped at one point at a village which seemed to be full of AK47 toting Laos army cadre. I decided to have my morning tea (you can take the man out of England but you can't take England out of the man) in the middle of the village. I was immediately surrounded by Laotian soldiers carrying guns. However, the threat level did descend a few notches when I looked down and most of them had dispensed with the customary army uniform boots and instead were wearing flip flops. These guys certainly didn't look menacing but there was a threat in the air as they were all carrying guns, albeit in a relaxed fashion, slung over their shoulders.
 
Now, the situation may seem to be a worrying to some as I was miles from any main town, alone and surrounded by soldiers. However, my survival skills were not required as, to a man, the soldiers were laughing and goofing around. They were obviously curious about my presence, but they soon settled down, sat on their haunches and watched me brew my tea from a polite distance.
 
At one point I opened my map and asked the guys where we were. The most senior officer was pushed forward to answer my question. Apparently the village wasn't on any map, presumably for military reasons, but I am only speculating about that as my Laos conversation skills are not what they should be.
 
After my tea I packed up and handed my rubbish to a young lad who took it and held it with a confused look on his face and I rode off with the bemused military men staring at me.
 
My cycling was becoming better; I was becoming used to the merciless hills. I eventually stormed up the last hill. Getting onto the plains of central Laos was a joy I have felt only a few times in my life. I cycled into Phonasavan at dusk, a tired, sweaty, aching cyclist nut with a warm glint of joy in my eyes. I had battled with some big mountain stages and I had won.
 
My hotel was luxurious in comparison to my previous night's encounter with the blanket. I collapsed in my large bed and slept the sleep of the dead.
 
Early the next morning I awoke and got out of bed with a bounce in my step. This was the final leg of my tour, the finish of my tour was within grasp. I asked at the reception for directions, never underestimating my knack for geographical embarrassment, and headed out. I soon found the road and cycled the short distance in under an hour. I found myself at the reception hut for the Jars and paid the small entrance fee. Walking up the small slop and arriving at the crest of the hill I caught my first glimpse of a stone jar. The round, skewed, moss covered jar was a sight that gave me a euphoric high. I enjoyed the sight, but not as much as I had enjoyed the journey to it. This trip was, as most are, about the journey, not the destination.
 
The jars are impressive for their mystery, they are strange and intriguing. The recent history of them is as interesting as the speculation about the origins. There are hundreds of these large man size stone jars strewn across the Laos plains. No-one knows why they are there, and therein lays the intrigue.
 
Cycle touring has become a way of life for me. I enjoy the sedate pace of the bike; you get to see so much more of the places you are traveling in. You also interact with the locals more, often seeing a friendlier, and more helpful side to a country or culture. Cycle touring can be tiring, it can make your body ache, but cycling is fun, healthy and a great way to see a country.
 
About the author: Simon Stewart is a cycling evangelist who has made it his mission to spread the gospel through the excellent tours he organizes.

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