Also known as Salavan, this pretty province is full of sparkling waterfalls, dense jungle, tiny tribe villages and caves to explore. This is also home to one of Lao’s best preserved prehistoric sites, and trekking to this area is rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding countryside and a nearby waterfall.
Those who do venture this far usually come to experience the stunning beauty of the Phu Xieng Thong National Biodiversity Conservation Area. This immense area of pristine jungle is home to a diverse collection of animals such as the Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard, Douc langur, elephant, gibbon, banteng, Siamese crocodile and even a tiger or two. It is a good idea to take a guide with you as the sheer size of the area makes it easy to get lost.
Another interesting feature of this province is a cave containing a number of huge stone caskets. These caskets are all piled on top of each other and although there are many theories about the reasons behind it, nobody really has the answers about how and why they got there.
Saravane’s large market is a great place to sample the region’s food and watch local life unfold. Local life revolves around the market as people turn up to sell produce, swap gossip and shop for goods. Take a break beside the river and watch this colourful street drama.
Despite its remoteness, there are a few good places to stay around Saravane. The people who live here are warm and welcoming and it is not unusual to be invited to share a meal with one of the families or even spend the night in their home.
Khammouane province is easy to reach by bus from Vientiane in just five or six hours. There are plenty for visitors to do here such as kayaking, rafting, and caving. There are a large number of caves to explore and some of the highlights include the Buddha cave and Tham Nang Aen cave, while the Tham Xieng Lap caves are so pretty that they are worthy of a day trip by themselves.
Another great day trip destination is That Skihotabang, which is a large and interesting stupa commissioned by King Nanthasen in the 10th century. The stupa was carefully restored in the 1950s and is an impressive sight.
The province’s capital is Tha Kek and this is a good place to stay for a night or two while you explore this lush and leafy area of Laos. While in Tha Khek take the time to explore the striking French colonial architecture in the city and sample the delicious range of Lao dishes, which is slightly different to those found in the rest of the country.
Nature lovers will want to explore the Nakai-Nam Theun Biodiversity Conservation Area, where you can spot a wonderful range of animals such as elephant, tigers, lemur and turtles. For excellent views over the jungle climb the Khammouane Limestone, which is a maze of limestone karst peaks.
Pakse is the capital of Champassak province and it is here you will find the enchanting irriwaddy dolphins. Take a boat trip on the Mekong River for a chance to spot these shy mammals as they play in the water and leap through the waves.
Situated on picturesque Done Khone Island, the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Centre is a good place to find out more about these interesting animals and how to protect them. Nearby you will find Wat Phou, which is located high atop a mountain and considered to be one of the most important sights in Laos. The temple dates back to the same period as Cambodia’s treasure Angkor Wat and offers spectacular views from the top.
Champassak is also home to the largest waterfalls in Southeast Asia. Known as Khone Pha Pheng, these pretty falls are easy to get to by boat or road and are a great place for a swim and a picnic, surrounded by dense jungle and a colourful array of wildlife.
Another great day trip is the Dong Hua Sao Forest reserve, which is a great place to spot a wide variety of wildlife. There are a large number of waterfalls to explore here such as the Li Phi falls and it is possible to spend the night.
The town of Champassak itself was home to the royal family until about 30 years ago and you will still find a large number of grand buildings here, including a collection from the French colonial-era, which make an interesting contract beside the traditional wooden Laotian houses and shining temples. The town has a sleepy feel to it these days and there are few vehicles to clog the streets.
There are plenty of things to do in Champassak such as elephant riding, trekking and boat rides. Champassak’s rich and fertile land is perfect for growing crops and you will find large coffee, cardamom and bananas plantations here, which make the perfect backdrop for a scenic country walk.
Most travellers overlook Sayabouri on their way to nearby Luang Prabang and Vientiane, but peaceful Sayabouri is a great place to relax and discover the natural beauty of the areas such and waterfalls, caves and forests.
As you wander around Sayabouri you will discover a large number of pretty temples to explore, and Wat Ban Thin, Wat Ban Phapoun and Wat Ban Natonoy are probably the largest and most popular.
A great day trip destination is the Nam Phoun National Biodiversity Conservation Area. This enormous forest contains a large number of high peaks and climbing to the top provides excellent views of the region. The conservation area is also home to a large number of animals such as the Asiatic black bear, elephant, gibbon, Malayan sun bear and Sumatran rhino.
The people of Laos have been using elephants in the forestry industry for centuries and Sayabouri is one of the few places where you can still see this practice in action, which makes a refreshing change from viewing the mighty beast from behind bars.
A good time to visit Sayabouri is during the annual elephant festival, which is held over two or three days in the middle of February by the Lao PDR National Tourism Authority to encourage the use of elephants in tourism-related activities. There are around 200 elephants in Sayabouri and during the festival more than fifty of them take part in a procession through the town. The festival is a vibrant affair with much drinking, dancing, fireworks and boat races.
More than 10,000 people travel from all over Laos to take part in the elephant festival and this is a great time to see Laos people at their best as they dress in traditional costumes, share food and drink.
Although Sayabouri is much quieter the rest of the year you will find a warm welcome whenever you arrive and there are some interesting places to sleep and eat.
This is also a good place to get back to basics and retreat from the modern world for a while, as there is currently no running water here and electricity is often only available for a few hours a day. Nature lovers are sure to be in their element here, as they sit on the porch of their guesthouse and gaze at the freely wandering wildlife and listen to the sounds of the birds in the trees.
A large number of the local people here double as tour guides, and visitors to Chi Pat can take a walk through the Cardamom Protected Forest to discover a wide range of flora and fauna. Those with a little patience and good eyesight will be able to watch monkeys swinging through the trees and may also spot flying squirrels, lizards and hornbills.
Travellers who have a strong sense of adventure will want to take their turn at riding along one of the aerial ziplines, while canopy walks offer visitors the chance to take in the Cardamom Protected Forest from a bird’s perspective.
Or why not ride the rapids along the Stung Proat River for the ultimate thrilling experience. Those who prefer to explore independently can also hire a bicycle and cycle through the forest to destinations such as the local elephant rescue centre and waterfall.
Khmer people love to eat and despite the village’s remoteness there are a number of places where you can find a good meal. There are plenty of cheap food stalls in the covered market, while beside the river are a couple of restaurants beside a pool hall.
Getting to Chi Pat is simple and adventurous, as buses regularly complete the four-hour road journey from Phnom Penh. Travellers will be deposited at the side of the road, where they then take a three-hour boat ride up the river, which is the perfect way to see the surrounding countryside.
Kirirom means ‘mountain of joy’ in the Khmer language. This is a great place to escape from the heat and King Sihanouk had a palace built here in the 1960s as a summer retreat. This is also a great place to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city and experience Cambodia’s natural beauty.
As you explore the park you will discover a number of pretty lakes and waterfalls. There are food vendors located at various points throughout the park and this is the perfect place to stop for a picnic while you soak up the spectacular scenery.
There are a number of walking trails, with one of the most popular being the two hour hike up to Phnom Dat Chivit. Also known as End of the World Mountain, pause for glimpses of black bears and unparalleled views of the Elephant Mountains and Cardamom Mountains.
At the top of the mountain you will find a Buddhist monastery and a clear water lake, which is a good spot to cool and enjoy a snack from one of the vendors’ carts. Although a number of animals live in the national park such as elephants and tigers sightings are rare, although it is possible to see other animals such as porcupines and colourful hornbills.
If you don’t fancy travelling straight back to Phnom Pehn when darkness falls, head to the nearby Chambok village to spend the night in a traditional wooden house. There are a number of good restaurants here and an impressive 40 meter high waterfall.
Most people travel to Kampot in order to visit the stunningly beautiful Bokor National Park. With 1,581 square kilometres of forest to explore, the national park is certainly the highlight of the region, but there are plenty of other things to see and do here.
Visitors will want to allow at least two days to explore Kampot, and wandering through the streets past pretty colonial French buildings is a popular pastime with visitors. Many of the main bars and guesthouses can be found along the banks of the Tuk Chou River, which is the perfect place to simply sit and soak up the atmosphere for a while as you gaze at the backdrop of Elephant and Bokor mountains.
There are also plenty of things to see and do just on the outskirts of the town, and those who are interested in culture will want to explore the Cham fishing villages, while riding the Teuk Chrreu rapids is sure to appeal to thrill seekers. Those who prefer to slow the pace a little can also opt to take a cruise on the Tuk Chou River to see the surrounding scenery and perhaps explore the caves and waterfalls that can be found near the edge of the water.
A large number of companies in Kampot offer to hire out bicycles to visitors, and cycling through the countryside is a popular activity with independent travellers. Cyclists can pause at the local pepper plantations to receive a guided tour before hopping back on their bikes to explore once more.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you return to the restaurants that can be found on the banks Tuk Chou River in the evening to dine in style on freshly caught seafood and perhaps enjoy a glass or two of beer or the local moonshine.
Hat Chaweng is the island's longest and most popular beach. This area is party central and you will find restaurants catering to every taste, large beach bars and theme pubs and clubs. Although not as large as those on Koh Pha-ngan, there are often lively beach parties at Chaweng, especially around the full moon.
Also popular is Hat Lamai, which is famous for the Grandfather and Grandmother rocks and the slightly seedier night life.
Hat Bophut is a quiet and romantic fisherman's village. This area is relaxed and more traditional than the larger communities, and has a number of very good French-owned cafes and restaurants.
Nearby, Ao Bang Po is a quiet bay perfect for snorkeling, swimming and meditation, whilst Ao Tong Takian is a small cove north of Lamai beach. Also known as Silver Beach, this is a good place for people who crave tranquility.
Bang Rak, is situated just two kilometers east of Bophut. The big attraction in this area is the 19-metre gold tinted statue of Lord Buddha, which overlooks the entire bay. Climb the steps to the top for an excellent view over the island.
Getting to Koh Samui is pretty simple as there is a large airport on the island with regular flights from BangKohk. The flight takes just over an hour, or you can choose to travel by train or air-conditioned bus to Surat Thani and then take the ferry.
There are many interesting attractions on and around Koh Samui. Perhaps the most popular is the Ang Thong National Marine Park. A good way to explore the park is to go on a boat tour, which will enable you to see the 40 small islands, limestone cliffs, white sandy beaches, lagoons and caves. No trip to the park is complete without visiting Tham Bua Bok, a cavern filled with lotus-shaped cave formations.
Another weird and wonderful attraction is the mummified monk, which can be found at Wat Khunaram. The mummified remains are of monk Luang Phaw Daeng and can be seen complete wearing dark sunglasses.
Of course, water sports such as snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, jet skiing and kayaking are popular in the area. Other diversions include a crocodile farm, monkey theatre, elephant trekking, a snake farm, an aquarium and a butterfly garden.
Koh Samui is an island that likes to look after its wildlife, and visitors can donate to the Dog Rescue Centre Samui, which cares for hundreds of local pooches.
Surat Thani Province is home to several great tourist destinations, including Ko Samui, Ko Pha-ngan, Ko Tao and the stunningly beautiful Ang Thong Marine National Park.
Although to many people the town of Surat Thani is simply a stop off point on the way to one of the area's beautiful tourist destinations, the town and surrounding area actually has a lot to offer and is worth looking at more closely.
Worth exploring is the tiny village known as Chaiya. In the village you will find Wat Suan Mokkhaphalaram, which is a tranquil forest temple founded by Ajahn Buddhadasa Bhikku, who is perhaps Thailand's most famous monk. The temple holds monthly meditation retreats, and this is a perfect place to get in touch with your spiritual side and discover a sense of inner peace and harmony.
Also situated in the village is the Chaiya National Museum, which is a good place to discover the area's interesting history. Another interesting place is the Folklore Museum, which is located around 300 meters from Chaiya, whilst Ban Phumriang is a small handicraft village, which can be found 6 kilometres east of Chaiya.
The stunning Khao Sok National Park features 646 square kilometres of thick rainforest and mountains. With its sparkling waterfalls, mysterious caves and cool lakes, this area has an ancient feel about it. Elephant trekking is a great way to explore, and you can spend the night on a floating lodge if you find yourself reluctant to leave and return to the 'real' world straight away.
When it comes to eating, just about anything is possible in this province of plenty. If you love oysters, pay a visit to the Oyster Farms, where you can buy large fresh oysters for a bargain price.
The Chak Phra Festival is an interesting event which takes place each year immediately after the end of the three month rain retreat in October. Although widely celebrated, Surat Thani's festivals are particularly vibrant and long anticipated. The festival features elaborately decorated floats, which are pulled across the town by the eager participants. At the same time, a float decorated
with colorful Thai design carries an auspicious Buddha image across the water. The festival also features an exciting boat race and traditional songs, dancing and games.
There is plenty to see and do in this province, and it is easy to lose yourself here for more than a month as you hop from island to island and beach to beach. Popular activities are sea kayaking and canoeing, whilst diving and snorkelling are always popular in Thailand's crystal clear waters.
Ao Nang is the closest beach to Krabi Town. This area is mainly occupied by large, upmarket beach resorts. You can hire a sea kayak or long-tail boat and explore the uninhabited island of Koh Hong.
Just 6 kilometres away from Ao Nang is the well loved are much talked about Hat Noppharat Thara, which is a famous 3 kilometer long white sandy beach, perfect for taking it easy and soaking up some rays. Elephant trekking is popular in this area, while the hot springs at Khlong Thom are a good place to ease aching muscles. Whilst there, check out the informative Wat Khlong Thom museum.
Railay is perhaps the prettiest beach in this area. This is a great place for rock climbing, and the sunsets at Hat Rai Leh West are spectacular.
There are some interesting limestone cliffs to explore. Tham Phra Nang is named Princess Cave after a local legend. The cave is hidden in the lagoon of Sa Phra Nang (Holy Princess Pool). Climb the cliff top for spectacular views.
Nearby, Tham Phra Nang Nai (Inner Princess Cave) is a series of illuminated caverns of high beauty. A feature point is the unusual 'stone waterfall', which is made of sparkling golden quartz.
Khao Phanom Bencha National Park consists of 50 square kilometres of virgin rainforest and a whole host of pretty waterfalls including Nam Tok Huay To, Nam Tok Huay Sadeh and Nam Tok Khlong Haeng and it is possible to swim in most of the waterfalls. The park is also home to the cave of Tham Khao Pheung, which contains stunning shimmering mineral stalactites and stalagmites.
Another area of natural beauty is the large Than Bok Khorani National Park, where caving is the main activity. Caves of interest here include Tham Hua Kalok, Tham Lawt and Tham Sa Yuan Thong. If you need a break from the beach, there are many interesting temples in the area to explore. Look out for the monastery of Wat Sai Thai, which is a particularly auspicious place and very interesting around Buddhist holidays.
There are many places to get a good meal, and of course seafood is top of the menu. Barbecues can be found all along the beach and western food is widely available. If you are looking to save a few baht, the night markets are generally the cheapest places to eat and these are the best places to find tasty, authentic Thai food.
A great way to get an overview of all that Thailand has to offer is by visiting The Ancient City, which is also known by its Thai name of Muang Boran. This huge park contains large scale models of all Thailand's major tourist attractions. Visitors can hire a bicycle or a small electrical cart and spend a few hours discovering sites such as the temples of Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Surat Thani.
Many visitors combine a trip to The Ancient City with the nearby Crocodile Farm, while the Erawan Museum was constructed by the creator of The Ancient City and is the world's first free-standing metal sculpture to use a hand-shaped technique. This mighty sculpture has to be seen to be believed as it measures 43.60 metres in height and contains hundreds of thousands of pieces of copper meticulously hammered together to form the shape of the beloved mythological elephant.
An alternative to the popular tourist spot of Damnoen Saduak, the Bang Namphueng Floating Market is newly opened. Unlike other floating markets, this is the real deal, created to help local farmers sell their produce and create employment for the community. The floating market is open Saturdays and Sundays 8.00 a.m. - 2.00 p.m.
Samut Prakarn is home to some interesting temples, including Wat Klang Worawihan, Wat Asokaram, Wat Phaichayonphonsep Ratchaworawihan and Wat Prot Ket Chettharam, which contains revered Buddha images and the Buddha's footprint complete with valuable mother-of-pearl inlays.
Samut Prakarn is home to many unique and interesting festivals, which bring people from all over Thailand. Beginning the 5th day of the waning moon of the 11th lunar month, the Phra Samut Chedi Fair is a lively annual affair. Many people flock to the province for the nine day ceremony where they pay homage to the Phra Samut Chedi. The festival features a float contest and a colourful boat procession along the Chao Phraya River to Phra Pradaeng District Office and back to the Phra Samut Chedi. Other activities include a candle light procession around the Phra Samut Chedi, boat races on the Chao Phraya River, singing and dancing.
The Yon Bua Festival is held each year on the 13th day of the waxing moon of the 11th lunar month. The main feature is the respect paying and procession of the Luangpho To image both by land and water. The event also features competitions of folk activities such as lotus arrangement, boat contests and folk entertainment such as Phleng Ruea or boat songs.
There are two main towns in Kanchanaburi Province that are popular with visitors; Kanchanaburi city, which is the capital of Kanchanaburi Province, and the picturesque border town of Sangkhlaburi.
Located on the banks of the Kwae Noi, or River Kwai as it is popularly know to travelers, Kanchanaburi city is the home of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, which is visited each year by thousands of tourists from every country.
Surrounded by beautiful mountains, lush paddy fields and farms, there is no limit to what can be seen and done in this interesting region. A great way to view the countryside is to ride the Death Railway to Nam Tok. Once there, make sure you visit the Sai Yok National Park with its two Sai Yok waterfalls, the perfect way to cool down on a hot sunny day. Whilst in Sai Yok, check out the Mueang Sing historical park, where you will discover the ruins of a Khmer town and temple.
The spectacular seven-tiered Erawan waterfall, situated in the Erawan National Park must not be missed, and climbing the 1,500 feet to the very top offers incredible views out over the top of the jungle. It is easy to combine a visit to Erawan National Park with a trip to the nearby tiger temple of Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, where many tame tigers reside and roam freely under the watchful eye of the gentle monks who also live there.
Of course, Kanchanaburi is famous for its World War II POW camps, and visits to the JEATH War Museum and the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum are good places to find out the facts behind this sad period of history, whilst people can pay their respects at the Kanchanaburi War Cemeteries.
There is plenty for the adventurous to do and activities such as trekking, cave exploration, elephant riding and canoeing are all popular. Kanchanaburi's roads are good and clearly sign posted, so a good way to spend a day or two is to hire a bicycle or a motorbike and drive off into the countryside.
It's worth trying to time your trip to coincide with the River Khwae Bridge week, which is celebrated around November with sound and light shows at the Death Railway Bridge.
Formerly known as Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, the city was founded by King U-Thong in 1350 and kept its status as the nation's capital until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767. Ayutthaya was once one of the richest cities in Asia by the 1600s, as its vast array of temples still testifies.
Most visitors come to explore The Ayutthaya historical park, which contains most of the magnificent ruins of the ancient city and was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1981. Over 400 hundred temples were originally built in Ayutthaya, and the fact that they were built by various rules means that they comprise an interesting range of designs and styles.
Many of the temples from Ayutthaya's glory period still exist today, although in various states of preservation. Wat Mahathat is by far Ayutthaya's most photographed temple, made famous by the head of a large Buddha statue which has become entangled in the roots of a giant banyan tree.
Other temples of note include Wat Lokayasutharam (also known as the temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Mongkhon Bophit and Wat Naphrameru.
Ayutthaya's temples cover an area of several kilometres, and many people choose to explore the area by hiring a bicycle or a tuk-tuk for the day. You can learn more about Ayutthaya's rich and interesting history at the Chantharakasem National Museum.
But there is much more to Ayutthaya than simply temples. The Ayutthaya Elephant Camp provides visitors with the perfect opportunity to find out more about these mighty beasts and rides can be arranged around the scenic area.
The nearby town of Bang Pa In, with its glorious Summer Palace provides an excellent site for a day trip. Another great day trip is the Bang Sai Royal Arts and Crafts Center, which aims is to train people with poor backgrounds and to try provide them with the skills to earn a descent income. The arts and crafts here are of a very high quality and make excellent souvenirs.
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.
For many, top of the list is Chiang Dao National Park, which covers over 1000 square kilometres and features bamboo forests, sparkling mountain streams and waterfalls. Also in the park is the mighty mountain of Doi Chiang Dao, which is a colossal 2225 metres high and is said to be Thailand's highest mountain and offers incredible views over the area from the top. Scattered around the park are a large number of many Lisu and Karen hill tribe villages, and a good way to see them and to really appreciate the lush nature of the park is to go trekking and stay overnight.
Another popular attraction is Tham Chiang Dao - Chiang Dao Cave. The extremely beautiful cave complex is cool and inviting and stretches for an impressive 12 kilometres, filled with sparkling stalactites. It is a good idea to hire a guide with a lantern for the chance to explore the caves fully.
Experienced hikers can embark on a two day mountain trip up Doi Luang Chiang Dao, which is a great way to see the area. Another good way to explore is to visit the Elephant Training Centre Chiang Dao and go on an elephant trek through the forest. The treks can last from between 30 minutes to half a day an offer an interesting view point of the beautiful scenery, seen at a leisurely pace.
Chiang Dao is also popular for river rafting, and many people chose to visit the area in order to shoot the rapids, whilst others choose to hire a motorbike and discover all that the area has to offer by themselves.
If you are looking to get in touch with your spiritual side, visit Samnak Song Tham Pha Plong, which is also known as the Tham Pha Plong Monastic Centre. Many monks travel to this very special area to meditate, and visitors can climb a long flight of steps, which lead up the mountain past limestone cliffs and forest to a large chedi. The view from the top of the steps and the general vibe of the area more than makes up for any hardship encountered on the climb.
The extremely vibrant Tuesday morning market is a good place to buy local produce and see the hilltribe people, who come to the market in order to trade their wares. The
market is open each week between 7 a.m. and 12 a.m. and is a great place to get a good, cheap meal. Don't forget to use the bartering system to get the most for your money.
This is a great place to visit if you appreciate cool weather, walking amongst attractive natural scenery, good food and chilling out in a city that has all the charm and atmosphere of a small village.
The city of Chiang Rai has a rather sleepy, relaxed feel to it, and exploring the streets can yield some interesting sights. The pure white temple of Wat Rong Khum has to be seen to be believed, whilst Wat Phra Kaeo is the original home of the Emerald Buddha, now located in the temple of the same name in Bangkok. Also worth exploring are Wat Pa Sak and Wat Phra That Doi Tung.
Although not as large as its neighbour in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai's Night Bazaar is a great place to pick up a bargain or two, whilst the sleepy village of Chiang Saen with its interesting history, warm welcome and architecture is a great place for a day trip.
But it is Chiang Rai's natural beauty that draws most visitors to the area. As well as enchanting jungle waterfalls such as Khun Korn Waterfall and Pong Phra Bat waterfall, there are also dozens of hot springs scattered around the area, where you can soak up the goodness of meltingly hot water and natural minerals either in public pools or secluded in your own private tub. Look out for the Pha Soet Hot Springs and Huai Hin Fon Hot Springs and Waterfall with its stunning jungle backdrop. What could be better than listening to the insects and wind in the trees as you enjoy a good soak?
The Hilltribe Museum and Education Centre is a great place to learn about the local people before going on a trek, and The Hall of Opium museum also provides a lot of interesting information about life in the area, both past and present.
No visit to the area would be complete without a trip to the absolutely stunning Phu Chi Fa Forest Park, and animal lovers can get up close and personal with the elephants at the Mae Sa Elephant Training Center.
After speaking to all your friends especially those who had traveled before, a short list of destinations was considered. At some stage over a month or so you decided on the destination and the method of travel. For the young it nearly is always backpack, because a greater experience can be had on a smaller budget, and lets face it you are fit and can more easily cope with sleepng on the floor, and as statistics show you stay longer on holiday.
For those who are in the 35-50 age group other priorities are clearly defined, with other interests other than rafting or elephant trekking. Suitable literature should be obtained on the country of destination, to prepare you for differences in cultures, language, and day to day existence. As a seasoned traveler I cannot stress this 'preparation' highly enough. Especially in a country that speaks a tongue that is not your own.
If you think that it is going to be easy 'just a walk in the park' -- think again. Every country has its wise guys and they seek out vulnerable persons and take advantage of them. So being armed against that type of situation by reading books will help you understand. I am not going to promote any books but there are many around that shed light on to every subject.
Anyway... Why did you select Thailand?-- Was it the history, food, nightlife, the beach? Whatver the reason, it was the right reason. Remember tourists descend on Thailand from all over the world, most with a good deal of money. The Thai government welcomes you to swell their coffers with your foreign currency, and hope you have a great time and return soon. The Thais only see a walking money bag. They do not resent you, but your presence only reinforces their position, that they are not as well off as you. So, in their attempt to raise their standard of living sometimes surharges are applied to foreigners, and in many instances quite a lot.
It is often said 'you farang, you have money too much' They only see the holiday aspect of your life and can't understand that you have saved money for a long time to travel. This is their pleight, most cannot save money. Now that we understand that you are a "rich farang" and nothing will ever dissuade them from their belief you can get on with your holiday, remembering always that you have the money and the Thais will do their best to separate you from it.
I am writing this from serious experience, having fallen into every trap that was about. A few simple rules will help enormously- never bullshit about your wealth or status, try not to overdress. Neat casual, but not dinner suite with all the trimmings. Dont try to impress by offering to buy drinks for everyone.
The National Elephant Institute (formerly the Thai Elephant Conservation Center) was founded in 1991 by the Forest Industry Organization and has since provided care for more than one hundred elephants as well as jobs and housing for mahouts and their families who were displaced after the ban on logging in 1989.
The Elephant Hospital at the institute currently cares for 15 elephants. I and my companions had the great fortune of receiving a tour of the hospital by a resident volunteer, Janique von Kanel. Originally from Switzerland, Janique has been living at the Elephant Hospital for over a year and is founder of The Elephant Hospital Society, a non-profit organization. Janique's other passion is working with children who have leprosy in India. Can we call her 'saint' yet?
Janique introduced us to Babar, a baby elephant suffering from paralysis in his hind legs and back due to a fall. The 'little' guy hangs from a sling during the day and sleeps with a volunteer on a bed of stuffed burlap sacks at night. His mother comes to the hospital to feed him and he receives acupuncture treatment.
We also met Councy, a 45-year-old female elephant severely injured by a land mine while being used for illegal logging activities near the Burmese border.
True animal lovers can experience genuine mahout training, complete with stylish baggy pants. The institute offers programs ranging from 3 to 30 days and starting at 4,000 Baht.
Entry to the institute and hospital is free. Nominal fees are charged For elephant rides and show tickets. See how elephant dung paper is made and purchase some cards, paper or photo frames. I quite enjoyed ending my letters with, 'Guess what you are holding...'
The National Elephant Institute:
Highway Chiang Mai-Lampang km 26-28, Amphor Hang Chat, Lampang 52000.
Elephant Hospital Society: firstname.lastname@example.org
Events and activities, Elephant Donation Project:
Elephant dung paper:
Jungle Immersion for the Nature Fan
From Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal, head to Khao Yai National Park for a few scenic days of jungle treks. Thailand's oldest natural park boasts 2172 square kilometres of rainforest, evergreen forest, and countless wildlife. A few guesthouse spots make you safe from the park's natural population, which includes elephants, deer, black bears, tigers, gibbons and macaques, and leopards.
Next on the list is historic Kanchanaburi. This town is an easy homebase for your daytrip to the Erawan Waterfall. This seven-tiered waterfall, located in nearby Erawan National Park, is considered one of the most beautiful in Thailand. Visitors can trek up the side of the falls, or like local people, hop right in to swim and climb at the same time.
An overnight bus to Chiang Mai may leave you worn out, so take some time to rejuvenate before bussing to Doi Inthanon National Park. The challenging treks around Thailand's highest peak are rewarded with fresh mountain air and breathtaking scenery. The mountain boasts hundreds of bird species, and is one of the last remaining homes of the Asiatic black bear.
A History Tour for Temple-lovers
Start in Bangkok, which offers countless temples and wats to feed your curiosity. Take your time touring Wat Phra-Kaew and the Grand Palace, more commonly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This property contains hundreds of buildings and represents architecture and art from 18th and 19th century royalty. Have your camera ready for gilded chedis, mosaics, and murals. From here, stop at Wat Pho, Bangkok's oldest wat, to see the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand.
A two-hour train ride to Ayutthaya drops you in the
middle of Thailand's compact and walkable former capital. During the 14th-18th centuries, this city was the hub of the Siam empire, and the "Ayutthaya-style" architecture, made popular by the royals of the time, is still a prominent influence on Thai design. Rent a bike and circle the river for some temple-spotting, then head to the centre of the town to Ayutthaya Historical Park, where a small entrance fee lets you explore the expansive grounds of temples, gardens, and statues.
Go north to Sukhothai, Thailand's first capital, for a glimpse of royal architecture in the 13th and 14th centuries. Sukhothai Historical Park boasts Khmer-style and early Thai architecture, with popular lotus-bud and bell-shaped stupas. This park offers 70 sites within the old city walls.
Scenic R&R for Beachgoers
Your trip starts in Phuket, the island nicknamed "pearl of the south" for its sparkling beaches and exotic beauty. Once you fly onto the island, you can settle in Phuket Town for some snorkeling and diving in popular nearby beaches, or spend a couple of days beach-hopping to the island's more remote beaches in northwestern Mai Khao, Nai Yang, and Nai Thon.
From Phuket Town, hop a ferry to Ko Phi Phi Don, an island of long white beaches and pretty coral reefs. Ao Ton Sai is the tourist hub, while smaller beaches with modest bungalows dot the coastline southeast of the city. while pricier resorts occupy the beaches on the eastern coast.
Catch another boat to Ko Lanta for denser wildlife as pretty beaches neighbour mangroves and crops of wide umbrella trees. The island's booming tourist economy means that diving, snorkelling, and boat tours are readily available to visitors. Take a day tour of Koh Lanta National Marine Park for easy island-hopping to the coral-filled beaches of Koh Ha and Koh Bida, or cliffy Koh Rok Nok. The latter beach allows camping.
From here, outdoor athletes can move on to Krabi to make use of its famous limestone cliffs and caves for rock-climbing. Slower-paced travelers can explore the pretty mainland beach of Ao Nang. Visitors can follow the main road to the waterfront, which is lined with bungalows and tourist-friendly restaurants and shops. The landscape is pretty and fairly unspoilt, despite the beach's popularity. Those in search of peace and quiet can head a few hundred metres north along the coast to Hat Noppharat Thara, a 2-kilometre strip of shallow emerald waters and clean sand.
A Weeklong Crawl for the Life of the Party
Starting in Bangkok, you'll have no shortage of nightlife options. Sukhumvit (around soi 20-26) and the head of Silom street are packed with bars. Go-go bars line the streets of Patpong. Silom soi 4 is considered the main artery of gay nightlife. Those in search of live music should try the concert venues around Siam Square. Those hoping to dance should go to the trendy strip of bars known as RCA.
Next to the city nightlife, popular beach parties are another popular way to let your hair down. Head south to the well-known islands of the Gulf of Thailand, starting with the popular Ko Samui. The island boasts beautiful mountainous landscapes, long beaches, and enough tourist amenities for many nights' entertainment. Hat Chaweng, on the east coast, is the longest beach with the biggest concentration of accomodations. As a result, it offers the best nightlife on the island, with a main strip running parallel to the beach that stays lively well into the night. Hat Lamai, though smaller than Chaweng, has the same lively atmosphere and dance-til-dawn nightlife.
Hop a ferry to the infamous Koh Phagnan and you may be in time for one of the famous full-moon parties on popular Hat Rin. If the timing isn't right, you may stumble across a half-moon, quarter-moon, or new moon party. Visitors to this island will cook up easy excuses for all-night festivities, where beachside bars spill onto the sand and partygoers dance, mingle, spin fire, drink potent cocktails from plastic beach buckets, and lose time until the sun rises.
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.