Tag - eastern

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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Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia

Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia
Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia
Covering an area of more than 500 square kilometres, Gunug Mulu National Park is one of the most picturesque spots in the whole of eastern Malaysia. People travel here from all over the world in order to explore the cool caves that can be found here, while the national park is also famous for its impress sandstone and limestone mountains.

Those who enjoy exploring independently will have no trouble finding their way around, as the Hunter’s Trail is clearly marked and leads visitors for some 300 kilometres past a whole host of interesting flora and fauna. The trail also leads to the network of caves that can be found in the very heart of Gunung Mulu National Park.

Visitors who are unable to complete the 300-kilomtre circuit will find a number of pretty trails leading off of Hunter’s Trail, which offer access to other natural beauty spots. It is also possible to arrange for a guide, who will take intrepid travellers off of the beaten path to discover a whole host of hidden treasures.

One of the most popular caves is known as Clearwater Cave. This is believed to be the longest cave in Southeast Asia and the trip includes a boat ride up the Melinau River to the mouth of the cave.

Dee Cave is also popular as it contains the world’s largest cave passage and visitors to this interesting cave must first embark on a three kilometre walk through the jungle.
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Kubah National Park, Malaysia

Kubah National Park, Malaysia
Kubah National Park, Malaysia
Situated just on the outskirts of Kuching, Kubah National Park is the perfect daytrip destinations and not to be missed by nature lovers. The park covers an area of 22 square kilometres and is covered by pretty sandstone hills and lush forests.

A number of well-worn walking trails led the way through Kubah National Park, and visitors who follow these will be able to reach stunning natural features such as caves and sparkling waterfalls, while the rainforest is full of plants such as colourful orchids. The trails that lead the way through the park are easy to navigate for those who like to explore independently, while visitors who want to learn more about the park can hire a guide for a small fee.

One of the most enchanting natural features here is Gunug Serapi, which is the highest mountain in this part of the world. Visitors can follow a trail that leads to the very summit of this mighty mountain, which offers simply stunning views of the entire park from is lofty vantage point. Walking through the rainforest can be rather humid at times, and it is also possible to follow the Waterfall Trail to a sparkling cascade of water where visitors are invited to take a dip to cool off.

Follow the Ulu Rayu Trail to the Matang Wildlife Centre. This area of the park features a number of pretty rock pools and waterfalls as well as animals such as crocodiles and hornbills. This is the perfect spot for a picnic, and visitors can also make use of the barbecue pits located at Matang Wildlife Centre.

It is impossible to see everything that Kubah National Park offers in one day. Luckily, it is possible to sleep over in one of the self-catering forest lodges and a hostel. There is also plenty of comfortable accommodation in nearby Kuching, and this is a good option for those who don’t fancy fending for themselves.
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Kuantan, Malaysia

Kuantan, Malaysia
Visitors who are exploring Eastern Malaysia will want to take the time to spend a few days in Kuantan, as this large coastal city is famed for its picturesque sandy beach and surrounding natural beauty. Cool caves, sparkling waterfalls, large and lovely national parks and a whole host of other attractions are just waiting to be discovered here, and the city also offers travellers an excellent range of amenities to make use of.

Kuantan’s main attraction has to be its beaches and there are a number of beaches in this area. Situated just two miles north of Kuantan, Teluk Chempedak is a great place for kayaking and boating, while windsurfers should head to Balok. Lovers of fresh fish will find a great selection at the fishing village near Beserah beach and beautiful Taman Teruntum also has a mini zoo and golf course.

A great day trip destination is the island of Pulau Ular, which means Snake Island in Malay. Legend tells how the snakes that live here helped to scare away pirates during the 11th century and there is a pretty village named Snake River after the event.

Another good way to spend a day is by visiting the town of Sungai Lembing, where you will find one of the largest underground tin mines in the world as well as an interesting Tin Museum and the spookily named ‘hanging bridge’. It is worth getting up early to trek up Bukit Panorama to see the sunrise and spectacular views of the surrounding area.

Just two miles along the coast from Kuantan is the picturesque Gelora Park, which is the perfect place to wander on a sunny day. There is also a pretty beach to soak up the sun on nearby, which is lined with restaurants that serve up delicious seafood dishes.

Another place of intense natural beauty is the Panching Caves, which are situated in a limestone mountain near the picturesque Panching village. Also known as the Ninth Mile Waterfall, Berkelah Falls is located nine miles from the town of Kuantan and is well worth the journey.

Kuantan is famed for its cuisine, and one of the most popular local dishes is known as sata. Consisting of grated coconut and fish paste that is wrapped in coconut leaves before being barbecued, this dish is often served with rice, while chicken and beef satay sticks make a great snack to enjoy at any time or as the accompaniment to a main meal.
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Miri, Malaysia

Miri, Malaysia
Miri, Malaysia
The city of Miri is a good place to spend a few days. Surrounded by a number of large national parks and beaches, this is a good place to use as a base while you explore the surrounding area, while the city itself offers vibrant nightlife and a whole host of good places to stay, shop and eat. Miri is a very multicultural city, with Chinese, Malay, Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and a number of other ethnic groups living side by side. Most people speak English and are friendly, making this a great place to spend some time and discover Malaysia’s diversity.

A good way to get a feel for Miri is to hire a bicycle and explore. Climbing to the top of Canada Hill offers stunning views of Miri and the surrounding area, and this is the perfect place from which to watch the sunset. Malaysia’s first oil well was established on this very spot several decades ago, and those who are interested in the history and culture of the area can also take the time to check out the Petroleum Museum, which can be found near the summit of the hill.

Not to be missed is the City Fan, which consists of a number of themed gardens located around the biggest open-air theatre in the whole of Malaysia. Other amenities that can be found here include an indoor stadium, a public swimming pool and the impressive San Ching Tian Temple, which has the distinction of being is the biggest Taoist temple in the whole of Southeast Asia

One of the best times to travel to Miri is in the third week of May, as this is when the city’s annual festival is held. Featuring vibrant street parades as well as plenty of singing, drinking and dancing, this is a great time to see the people of Miri at their best.

A large number of interesting attractions can also be found just outside the city, and sun worshippers will want to spend time soaking up the sun on the beautiful Hawaii Beach. Also nearby is Taman Selera Beach, which is the perfect place to relax and unwind for a while.
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Bako National Park, Malaysia

bako_national_park_1
Bako National Park, Malaysia
Situated in Sarawak in East Malaysia, the large and lively Bako National Park is a great place to spend a day or two. With 27 square kilometres of dense rainforest and a number of beautiful beaches, this is one of the real highlights of Malaysia. Bako National Park officially opened in 1957 and is home to a diverse range of animals such as monitor lizards, long-tailed macaques, plantain squirrels and silver leaf monkeys. Visitors who are blessed with keen eyesight and a little luck may be able to catch a glimpse of the rare and weird looking proboscis monkey, which features a bulbous nose and can sometimes be spotted up in the treetops. Well-worn jungle trails also lead visitors past a diverse range of flora and fauna, while those who want to view the park from a different perspective can wander along the elevated wooden walkway.

As you explore the national park you will have the opportunity to discover a number of different habitats. The park is comprised of vegetation from seven complete eco-systems, namely beach vegetation, cliff vegetation, kerangas, mangrove forest, mixed dipterocarp forest, grasslands vegetation and peat swamp forest.

Visitors can stay at Bako National Park overnight in one of the bungalows or dorm rooms. Spending the night is a good option for those who want to go on a guided night hike, while waking up in the wilderness is an awe-inspiring experience. The best times to spot wildlife are just before dusk and dawn, so staying the night is the best option to get the most out of this unique experience.

While you’re in the area, take a boat trip to the nearby island of Palau Lakai for fantastic views. This tiny island is unpopulated and offers the perfect deserted island experience.

To get to Bako National Park you will need to take a boat ride from the nearby village of Kampung, which serves as an interesting introduction to the area. Although you are free to explore alone, it is a good idea to hire a guide to make sure you catch all the highlights of the park.
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Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysia

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysia
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysia
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysia
For many, the Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre is the highlight of their visit to Malaysia. Situated on the edge of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, the centre was established in 1964 in order to rescue orphaned and abandoned young orangutans and to teach them how to look after themselves, with the aim of one day releasing them back into the wild.

Visitors are given the rare opportunity to explore the world of the orangutan and see them in a semi-natural environment. Follow trails through the jungle and creep along boarded canopy bridges to spot some of the other animals that live in the forest reserve such as long-tailed macaques.

There are only four orangutan sanctuaries in the entire world and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is probably the best known, with up to 700 visitors each day. So far the centre has rescued more than a hundred orangutans, 20 of which have successfully returned to the wild.

The best time to visit the rehabilitation centre is during feeding times, which take place at 10am and 3pm. The orangutans are vegetarian and are especially fond of bananas and sugar cane, sharing their meal with the long-tailed macaques.

It often rains in the forest reserve, so it is a good idea to wear a poncho. Pack plenty of insect repellant to ward off the unwelcome attention of mosquitoes and other insects and take a bottle or two of water as it can be rather hot and humid.

The Rainforest Discovery Centre is a good place to find out more about the lovable orangutans. Souvenirs such as postcards, soft toys and hats are available in the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre. It is possible to spend the night at the centre and accommodation ranges from cheap and cheerful dorm rooms to large suites with spectacular views.

The easiest way to see Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre is to book a tour. Tours often include a visit to the Proboscis Monkey Reserve and nearby Taman Hiburan Jalil ALip, which is a recreation park where visitors can see crocodiles and deer.  
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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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Kratie, Cambodia

Kratie, Cambodia
kratie_4
Situated on the banks of the Mekong River in eastern Cambodia, Kratie is a pretty colonial town surrounded by natural beauty. Although not a major tourist attraction in itself, large numbers of people flock here for the chance to spot the beautiful Irrawaddy Dolphins.

It is possible to visit Kratie on a day trip from Stung Treng, which is three hours away. However, Kratie’s quiet charm and the warmth of the local people coaxes many people to extend their stay for several days in order to explore fully and enjoy the tranquillity.

Kratie was developed by French colonialists towards the end of the 19th century and as you explore you will discover a number of French colonial buildings nestled alongside traditional wooden Cambodian houses.

Tragically, there are less than a hundred Irrawaddy Dolphins play in the waters of the mighty Mekong. A good time to spot them is at sunset and you can hire a boat and driver to take you out onto the river.

Perhaps the best way to fully explore Kratie is by hiring a bicycle from one of the many guesthouses. Cycle to the pretty pagoda of Sasar Moy Roy with its 100 pillars. According to legend this pagoda holds the ashes of a princess who was killed by a crocodile more than 500 years ago.

 Climb the steps to the top of Phnom Sambok for fantastic views of the river and surrounding countryside and visit the traditional Cambodian temple of Wat Roka Kandal. Forget about noisy motos, horse and cart is the main form of transport in Kratie and this is an interesting way to get around and see the sights.

There are a number of pretty islands close to Kratie such as Koh Trong and Kho Pdao. As you explore you will also discover a number of floating villages, where you can watch fish being caught in the traditional way and perhaps buy the catch of the day to be cooked at one of the local restaurants.

The sunsets over Kratie are simply spectacular and many people gather in the evening to watch the dying of the day. Enjoy freshly caught river fish at one of the many riverside restaurants and wash it down with a beer or two for the perfect end to a relaxing day.  

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Eastern Cambodia

Eastern Cambodia
Eastern Cambodia
Eastern Cambodia
Bordered by Vietnam, the eastern region of Cambodia is scattered with picturesque hill tribe villages. This is a good place for hiking and there is plenty of natural beauty to discover such as waterfalls, caves and forests.

Many people head straight to the town of Kratie to watch the Irrawaddy dolphins swimming in the river, while the town of Stung Treng is also a good place to relax for a while.

The mighty Mekong River runs through this region and travelling by boat is a great way to reach many of the area’s towns and cities. Fish is plentiful here and the local market is a great place to find freshly cooked fish dishes.

The region’s proximity to Vietnam means that visitors will discover an interesting blend of Khmer and Vietnamese styles in many of the border towns, which is particularly apparent in the designs of the temples, clothes and food. Spend some time in eastern Cambodia before hopping across the border to discover an entirely different side of life.

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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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Beung Kan, Thailand

Beung Kan, Thailand
Beung Kan, Thailand
Beung Kan, Thailand
Situated in Nong Khai Province to the northeast of Thailand, Beung Kan makes a good stopping off point on the way to Laos. This is a quieter alternative to the interesting yet sometimes overwhelming bustling city of Nong Khai. Baung Kan may be quaint, dusty and slightly sleepy, but there is still plenty here for the adventurous to see and do.

A great attraction is the temple of Wat Phu Tok. This temple features six levels of steps, which can be slightly difficult to climb in the heat of the day - it is best to visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon. However, the spectacular views over the surrounds countryside from the top more than make up for the effort. This is a absolutely enchanting place, and people are offered the opportunity to get to know it better by staying overnight in one of the dormitories.

A pleasant day trip from Beung Kan is the charming little town of Sangkhom, which looks out on the Lao island of Don Klang. This is the home of several beautiful flowing waterfalls such as Nam Tok Than Thip and Nam Tok Than Thong, which is a great place for swimming and cooling down after a hike through the countryside.

Whilst there, make sure that you check out the pretty little temple of Wat Pa Tak Sua, which is located 4 kilometers from the town and another great hiking destination. Another point of interest is Wat Silawat. Beung Kan, a great place to hire a bicycle and go exploring or go trekking to.

This peaceful village is also a good place to be lazy for a few days and just soak up the stunning scenery, fresh air and tranquility. There are a few local guesthouses where you can indulge in delicious Thai food and practice the simple art of doing nothing.

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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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Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand

Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima Province was once part of the Khmer empire and was moved by King Narai between 1656-1688. Around 260 kilometres from Bangkok, travel to Nakhon Ratchasima is easy as it is connected with the northeastern railway line and the Nakhon Ratchasima Airport is 26km east of the city.

There are two main focal points for visitors to this province, the city of Nakhon Ratchasima and the picturesque town of Phimai.

The city of Nakhon Ratchasima is better known as Khorat or Korat. Korat is the capital of Nakhon Ratchasima Province, and there is a great deal to see and do and many opportunities to learn about the city's interesting history.

A good place to start is the Maha Viravong National Museum, which contains good displays and countless well labeled artifacts. Another interesting site is the Thao Suranaree Monument, where you can see the revered Lady Mo statue.

A tour of the city will lead you to the city wall and unique Chumphon Gate, and don't forget to look out for the l?k meuang (city pillar shrine).

Nakhon Ratchasima Province is famous for its pottery, and excellent examples of this can be seen decorating Wat Salaloi. Other interesting temples in this city include Wat Phra Narai Maharat and Wat Pa Salawan.

Nakhon Ratchasima is special in that it has two night bazaars, and both the Thanon Manat Night Bazaar and Wat Boon Night Bazaar and good places to do some shopping, have a cheap meal and do a little people watching.

One of the main attractions of this area is the magnificent Khao Yai National Park with its dense jungles, spectacular mountain views and famous waterfall.

Another great day trip is the Reclining Buddha Image at Wat Dhammachakra Sema Ram, just 40 kilometres south of Korat.

If you are in the area during March, make sure you time your trip to coincide with the Thao Suranari festival. Celebrated between March 22nd and April 3rd, the festival features parades, theatre and folk songs. 

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Loei, Thailand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Buriram, Thailand

Buriram, Thailand
buriram_4
Buriram, Thailand
Many places in Thailand are given poetic names and Buriram, which means City of Happiness, is no exception. The town of Buriram is the capital of Buriram Province in Isan and is located roughly 410 kilometers northeast of Bangkok.

Located on the northeastern railway line and with a regional airport; Buriram Airport, Buriram is easily assessable. Buriram Province is steeped in history and the beautiful backdrop makes this a good place in which to chill out for a few days and to get to know Thailand.

The Phanom Rung Historical Park, 40 kilometres south of Buriram town is situated on the summit of an erupted volcano and has spectacular views of the surrounding paddy fields. This thousand-year-old site contains one of the most important Khmer sites outside Cambodia, the magnificent Phanom Rung temple, which is also the largest Khmer monument in Thailand.

The Khmer temple at nearby Prasat Meung Tam is also well worth a visit, and there are dozens of other interesting Khmer ruins in the area such as Kuti Reusi Nong Bua Rai, Kuti Reusi Khok Meuang and Prasat Khao Praibat.

Bird enthusiasts should check out the Buriram Bird Park, and the ancient kilns at Tao Sawai ancient kilns offer an insight into the craft of pottery.

The Lower Isan Cultural Centre is a good place to visit to learn more about the rich and interesting history and people of this unique area, and the beautiful Khao Kradong Forest Park, with its enormous Buddha image crowning a hill offers spectacular views over the lush green countryside.

Buriram Province is some what cooler than most of Thailand and a great way to explore the region and pass a few days is to hire a bicycle and explore.

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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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Incense

Incense
Incense
Incense
Incense
In many parts of the world incense is an important part of daily life, associated with religion, ritual and health. As you wind your way through narrow streets in bazaars and market places stalls are crammed with colourful boxes of incense with exotic and evocative names and the air is filled with rich incense smoke as you wander past temples and shrines. But what exactly is incense and why does it play such a prominent role in society, especially in temples?

Incense traditionally comes from tree resins, but can also be produced from certain bark, flowers, seeds and roots. There are two main types of incense; Eastern and Western.

Western incense comes from the gum resins of tree bark such as the sticky gum found on fir trees. The gum hardens to become resin, which is collected by cutting it from the tree with a knife. The pieces of resin are called grains and are sprinkled on burning coal to release their fragrance.

Eastern incense is produced from plants such as sandalwood, patchouli, agar wood and vetiver. These ingredients are ground using a pestle and mortar. Water is then added to make a paste along with saltpetre – potassium nitrate – to help the mixture burn evenly. The mixture is then processed in various ways.

In India, the mixture is spread on a stick of bamboo to make agarbatti, or an incense stick, whilst the Chinese sieve the mixture to form strands. In some cases, incense cones are also formed and incense paste can be formed into Chinese characters, which bring good fortune when burned.

Throughout history, incense has been used by many different cultures and religious faiths to produce a wide range of results. In ancient times it was believed that plants were scared and closely associated with the gods. The burning of certain plants was believed to drive away demons and encourage the gods to appear on earth.

In Hinduism, incense made from sacred wood and flowers is burnt to purify the atmosphere and provide worshippers with a clear frame of mind to perform ritualistic worship or meditation.

Egyptians associate incense with the dead. Incense is specially blended with each ingredient selected for its unique magical properties, which carry the soul of the dead to heaven along with the prayers and good wishes of the mourners.

The Native Americans are also known to have burned mixtures of herbal smoke in ceremonial cleansing and healing rituals. These rituals date back thousands of years and are believed to drive away negative energies and restore balance. Herbs and plants such as cedar, sweetgrass, sage and tobacco were tied into bunches and fanned through the energy field to attract positive forces.

Incense is widely used throughout Buddhism for a number of purposes. It is burned in large quantities at all religious ceremonies and in daily worship. In Tibetan Buddhism, incense is also used in healing and can be used to treat a wide range of symptoms including skin diseases and fatigue.

It has long been thought that the burning of certain fragrances can heighten the senses of sight and smell and in today's society incense is playing a prominent role in aromatherapy.

Many aromatherapy specialists promote the extensive use of incense, attributing it with a wide range of beneficial properties. Certain types in incense are used to reduce anxiety, stress and fear, alleviate insomnia, accelerate healing, revitalise and renew energy.

It is believed that each fragrance has its own vibration and can be carefully selected to aid mood enhancement and assist personal development.

To produce the most beneficial effects for your personality, many aromatherapists recommend blending your own incense. This is a lot simpler than in sounds and can also be a lot of fun.

To start, choose a selection of wood and spices that you feel positive towards. You should use at least one resin or wood as a base, which should be frozen for at least 15 minutes before use. The ingredients must be in the form of a fine powder; you can use either a pestle and mortar or a coffee grinder to produce the powder.

Although there is no limit to the ingredients you can use, it is easiest to start with just three, such as one wood and two herbs. Mix all the dry ingredients together and then add the resins. Place the mixture in a ceramic dish or a large seashell and set light to it to release the calming aroma.

Most incense sticks for sale in shops or on street stalls are produced in factories in China or India. Production is simple and economic. Large bundles of wooden sticks – known as ‘punk’ sticks – are bought from a specialist supplier in bundles of 100 sticks.

The ends of the sticks are cleaned and the bundles selected for a particular fragrance with the ends painted the colour relating to that fragrance. The bundles are then left to dry overnight.

The fragrance oils are mixed the next day and the punk-covered ends of the bundles are dipped into the fragrance and left to dry overnight once more.

Once dry, bundles are individually wrapped in wax paper, sealed in plastic bags and placed in bins to await orders for sale.

So there you have it. From cleaning the mind to honouring the spirits and mourning the dead, incense is used in numerous ways by many different cultures and religions. However, all seem to agree that these small scented sticks have the power to release human spirit and potential.
 
About the author:

Kirsty Turner This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!
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