natural beauty kanchanaburi

A bridge, elephants, temples, and green: beautiful Kanchanaburi Province

Only a few hours from Bangkok is Kanchanaburi Province. Green and lush this time of year. Mountains and lots of water. The famous bridge over the river Kwai (actually pronounced kwae by locals) is a popular sight. Lots of other things to do and see.

Saravane, Laos

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Not many travellers make it to Saravane, which is located on the Bolaven Plateau in south eastern Laos. Although they are certainly missing out, this perhaps makes the experience even more exceptional for those who do take the trouble to step off the tourist trail and explore this striking region.

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, Laos

Khammouane, Laos
Khammouane, Laos
Khammouane, Laos

This very pretty Lao province is surrounded by amazing limestone formations, caves, rivers and dense jungle. The population of the province is around 260,000, with people coming from several different tribes such as Phuan, Tahoy, Kri and Katang. Most of the settlements in Khammouane province are small villages with collections of houses built from wood in the traditional Lao style. Everywhere you turn in Khammouane you are surrounded by intense natural beauty. Rich dark soil is covered with colourful plantations of rice, cabbage, sugar cane and bananas, while the Annamite mountain range is to the east and sparkling rivers, forests and caves are just waiting to be explored.

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.

Champassak, Laos

Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos

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

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

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

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

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

Sayabouri, Laos

Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos

Also known as Sainyabuli, this pretty province is situated in the northwest of Laos, to the west of the Mekong River. Surrounded by limestone mountains, rice fields and forests, this is a great place to explore the countryside and experience the traditional Lao way of life.

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.

Chi Phat, Cambodia

Chi Phat, Cambodia
Chi Phat, Cambodia
Chi Phat, Cambodia

A popular destination with nature lovers who want to wander off of the beaten track, the charming village of Chi Pat can be found in the centre of the Cardamom Protected Forest. Chi Pat offers visitors a wide range of amenities such as accommodation and excellent restaurants, making this a great place to use as a base while exploring the area.

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 National Park, Cambodia

Kirirom National Park, Cambodia
Kirirom National Park, Cambodia
Kirirom National Park, Cambodia

Cambodia’s first official national park, Kirirom has been open to visitors since 1997 and covers an impressive 800 acres. Situated 112 kilometres from Phnom Penh, many local city dwellers travel here on the weekend, spending the night amid lush forest and pine groves. However, arrive during the week and you will have this picturesque area virtually to yourself.

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.

Kampot, Cambodia

Kampot, Cambodia
Kampot, Cambodia
Kampot, Cambodia
Kampot, Cambodia

The enchanting colonial town of Kampot is the perfect place to spend a little time for those who want to unwind for a while. Famed for its intense natural beauty and featuring natural attractions such as cool caves, tropical islands complete with pristine sandy beaches and waterfalls, this is a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life for a while.
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.

Koh Samui, Thailand

Koh Samui, Thailand
Koh Samui, Thailand
Koh Samui, Thailand
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Located in Surat Thani Province in the south of Thailand, Koh Samui is Thailand’s third largest island and has an area of 228.7 square kilometers. Koh Samui is a very popular tourist destination and has much to offer. There are several beaches located around the island, all with distinctly different characters set to appeal to different desires, entertainment needs and paces of life.

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, Thailand

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Surat Thani, Thailand
Surat Thani, Thailand
Surat Thani, Thailand

Surat Thani is the largest province in the south of Thailand and is located 685 kilometres from Bangkok. The name literally means “City of the Good People” in the Thai language and features high plateaus and richly forested mountains, low river basins and numerous pretty little islands. This is the perfect place for losing yourself for a week or two and simply drifting away for a while.

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.