Tag - elephants

Taman Negara, Malaysia

taman_negaraThe large and lovely Taman Negara is one of the most interesting national parks in the whole of Malaysia, which is no mean feat considering the amount of areas that compete for this title. This is a great place for independent travellers to explore, while those who book a guided tour of Taman Negara will be taken to many of the park’s most enchanting spots by a local guide, who will also be able to reveal hidden gems.

The jungle here dates back some 130 million years and has managed to withstand the tests of time remarkably well. Those who have sharp eyesight and a good guide will have the chance to spot a wide range of animals as they make their way through the undergrowth, including monkeys swinging through the trees, a whole host of different species of snakes, tigers, elephants, rhinos, shy deer and the unusual looking tapir.

Those who have a strong sense of adventure will find plenty to do in Taman Negara, and among the most popular activities here are river rafting and cave exploration. Special treks are held in the evening, which gives visitors the opportunity to spot some of the park’s most active nocturnal creatures.

The majority of people come here in order to go trekking through the rain forest, and Taman Negara offers visitors a wide range of different types of trekking experiences. One of the most popular lasts for half a day and takes trekkers to the top of Teresek Hill, which is famed for its stunning panoramic views. The Canopy Walks offers visitors the chance to view Taman Negara from a different perspective, while others lead the way to stunning natural features such as waterfalls and caves.

Those who want to really get to know Taman Negara will want to spend the night here, and a wide range of different accommodation options are available. Camping out offers visitor the chance to really get back to nature and it is possible to hire camping equipment as well as fishing rods and other gear from the Mutiara Taman Negara resort shop.

An Introduction to Laos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary

The name of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary is a little misleading, as rather than a wide open space where animals are permitted to roam freely, this is little more than a large zoo. All of the animals at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary are cages, and as is often the way in Asia, the cages seem to be rather cramped.

However, those who are travelling with children may want to take the kids here as a break from visiting the area’s temples and other historical sites. All of the animals that can be found at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary have been recued from the clutches of traffickers and the traps of poachers, however, and the sanctuary does give visitors the chance to view a number of rare species.

Those who want the chance to get up close and personal with the animals of Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary have the chance to be a bear keeper for a day, which involves feeding and taking care of one of the cute infant Malaysian sun bears, an offer almost too good to be true.

Many of the animals are also trained to perform tricks to capture the attention and admiration of visitors, an it is possible to take in the unusual sight of elephants playing football or creating works of art, while nearby colourful birds walk on tightropes and solve maths problems.

It is possible to visit Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary on a daytrip from the capital city of Phnom Penh, as it is located just 40kms from the city centre. Most of the local drivers know the way here, and also offer to chauffer visitors around the sanctuary itself, which is ideal for those who are suffering from the heat and humidity.

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.

Kalaw, Burma

Kalaw, Burma

Kalaw, Burma
Kalaw, Burma

Surrounded by dramatic mountains, flowing rivers, colourful villages and bamboo groves, the pretty hill station of Kalaw is the perfect place for trekking. Many people take advantage of the cool climate to visit during the summer months, when the rest of Myanmar is significantly hotter and more humid.

Inle Lake is located around 30 miles to the west of Kalaw and this is a popular place for hiking to. As you hike through to countryside you will discover a number of small Shan villages, where the people are warm and welcoming and you can witness the gentle nuances of traditional life. Watch as the people weave their colourful clothing and roll cigars from the leaves of the Thanatphet trees.

This is a great place to relax for a while and enjoy the slow pace of life. Kalaw was a former British colonial town and you will find a number of churches such as Christ the King church and other British style buildings. Tudor-style houses sit amongst English rose gardens, making an interesting contrast to the traditional Burmese villages that surround the town.

There are still plenty of examples of Asian architecture in and around Kalaw however. An interesting example is the Hnee Phaya, which is an old and highly revered pagoda featuring a Buddha image made from woven strips of bamboo. Also worth visiting is the Shweumin Pagoda, which is built inside a natural limestone cave. There are a number of Buddha images inside the cave that were commissioned by King Narapataesithu.

Climbing one of the surrounding hills provides a fantastic view of Kalaw. As you explore you will see spectacular scenery such as elephants working in the pine forests, sweeping tea and coffee plantations and women plucking tea leaves from the low bushes.

The vibrant Kalaw market is held every five days and is a great place to stock up on supplies for your trek. People travel from all over the areas to sell their wares and the market is a very lively affair. This is a great place to pick up a bargain or two and sample a delicious variety of local food and drink.

Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia

Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia
Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia
Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia

Situated in south-western Cambodia, many people pass through the town of Krong Koh Kong on the way to or from Thailand. This is a good place to stop for a while and explore the surrounding countryside.
Krong Koh Kong can be found close to the mouth of the mighty Kah Bpow River and this entire area is famed for its intense natural beauty. One of the best known and loved natural features here is Koh Kong, which is a tiny tropical island that features pristine sandy waters lapped by cool, clear waters. Naturally, this is a popular spot to stretch out and soak up the sun for a while, and it is easy to simply stay here and drift away for a day or two.

The Thai border is located just a few kilometres away from Krong Koh Kong, and this makes the perfect place to take a break from the rigors of travel and gather your strength before hitting the road once more. Another popular spot in this part of the world is Bak Khlong Beach, which is famous for its sandy beaches and restaurants that serve freshly caught seafood prepared to local and Western tastes.

If you’re looking for entertainment, Koh Kong Safari World has a good collection of animals and has regular live shows, although it’s doubtful whether the interests on the animals on display are the primary concern here and animal lovers may want to stay away.

Real nature lovers should head instead to Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary, where you will see an impressive collection of wildlife such as sun bears, leopards, elephants, gaur, banteng and sambar. Another area of great natural beauty is the Botum Sakor National Park, where you will find a number of pretty waterfalls.

Other interesting diversions in the area include a small ice rink and some quaint Cham Muslim villages, where you can learn more about the traditional Khmer way of life.

Bokor National Park, Cambodia

Bokor National Park, Cambodia
Bokor National Park, Cambodia
Bokor National Park, Cambodia

One of the most enchanting destinations in the whole of Cambodia, Bokor National Park is a great place to explore. A large number of well-worn trails lead through the jungle here, and those who book a guided tour will have the chance to spy a wide range of wildlife including tigers and elephants, while swimming in the cool, clear water provided by the park’s waterfalls is the perfect way to cool down.
One of the best things about Bokor National Park, which was established in 1993, is that it is possible to travel here on a daytrip from the popular destinations of Kampot and Sihanoukville. The park covers an area of just over 1,500 square kilometres and is officially known as Preah Monivong National Park. This area of protected land is covered with dense forest and is particularly popular with birdwatchers, who come for the chance to spot a wide variety of our fine feathered friends.

In addition to birds such as the green peafowl, hornbills and the rare chestnut-headed partridge, the park is also home to animals such as red muntjac deer, sun bears, leopards and the pretty pileated gibbon. Other highlights of the park include the French hill station, an enchanting jungle church and the simply stunning Popokvil Falls.

As with most areas of Cambodia that are located outside of towns and cities, it is best to hire a guide when exploring Bokor National Park, as there is a chance that unexploded landmines could be hidden beneath the overgrowth. Local guides know the area well as will be able to ensure that their charges stick to areas that have been thoroughly swept for landmines.

Nothing can compete with the magic of spending the night in Bokor National Park and waking at dawn to the sound of the birds in the trees and the call of other animals as they awaken. Located within the park is the Bokor Palace Hotel, which offers clean and comfortable rooms as well as amenities such as a good restaurant and casino. However, rooms here tend to be a little pricy, and those who are on a tight budget may prefer to spend the night in the Ranger’s Station instead.

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

The small city of Siem Reap is the best place to stay if you intend to visit the Angkor Wat complex. There are a number of good places to stay, restaurants offering a wide variety of international cuisine and bars to hang out in the evening.

Before you visit Angkor, stop by Miniature Replicas, where you will see sculptures of all the temples situated in a lovely garden. This is a good way to get an idea of how much there is to see and plan your time accordingly. There are also a number of modern temples situated around Siem Reap, such as Wat Bo with its beautiful paintings and former royal palace Wat Dam Nak, which provide an interesting contrast to the wonders of Angkor.

Angkor Wat is a major symbol in Cambodia; it appears on the flag, on coins, posters and just about anything else you can name. The site was reopened in 1991 after nearly two decades of closure due to civil unrest. The best way to start a tour of Angkor is to visit Phnom Bakheng in time for sunset. Not only is admission free, but you can get your pass made, avoiding the crowds the next day.

Get up early the following day and hire a moto with a driver for the day so that you can travel in style. Head straight to Angkor Thom, which is surrounded by a vast moat, before moving on to the Terrace of the Elephants, which is over 300 metres long.

The next temple to visit is the enchanting jungle temple of Preah Khan, while the nearby Neak Pean is a symbol of the lake that lies at the top of the universe.

It is best to allow around four hours to see Angkor Wat properly, so perhaps devote the following day to exploring this magnificent temple. According to records, it took around 30 years to complete Angkor Wat, which measures an impressive 65 metres and covers some 500 acres.

The mighty Wat is built on several levels. The Gallery features 1,000 Buddhas where Buddha effigies of all descriptions line the corridors, while the temples picture galleries display scenes from Hindu epic texts the Ramayana, the Battle of Kurukshetra, and other epic scenes such as the Judgement of Heaven and Hell. 1,500 apsaras or ‘heavenly dancing girls’ wonderfully decorate the second level interior.

Now it is time to screw up you courage and climb to the very summit of the top level, which is a privilege that was originally reserved for the High Priest and the King. 480 steep steps lead up to the five towers, which lie waiting like the Holy Grail at the end of a virtuous quest. Ascend the 70 degree angled steps carefully and walk around the outer gallery, enjoying the magnificent view, which is incredible from all angles. Watch the sun set before slowly descending once more.

Most people find it difficult to leave Siem Reap and you need to allow at least through days to explore thoroughly.

Phuket, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand

Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, located approximately 862 kilometres south of Bangkok. Often referred to as the pearl of the Andaman, or the pearl of the south, Phuket is an island of limestone cliffs, white beaches, tranquil broad bays and tropical in-land forests, which make it one of Thailand’s most popular islands and provinces.

Phuket is easy to get to as there are frequent flights to and from Bangkok airport as well as direct flights to many other Asia and European airports. There are also regular buses and trains from around the country and Phuket can be reached by boat from many of the surrounding islands.

As well an the enormous main island, Phuket Province contains 39 other small islands, all perfect for exploring, whether via a snorkelling or scuba diving trip or a boat tour. Located just 25 kilometres from Phuket City, Ko Nakha Noi is a popular destination for a boat trip, as are Ko Si-re, Ko Lon, Ko Bon, Ko He and Ko Mai Thon, which is famous for its unique and very beautiful colourful coral.

Also known as Coral Island, Kho Hae is located to the Southeast of Phuket Island. Reachable in just 15 minutes by speedboat from Chalong Bay, this beautiful island is a great destination for a day trip, or visitors can choose to stay overnight at the resort.

Another popular day trip is the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, which is located near the beautiful Bang Pae waterfall. This is an amazing opportunity to meet the Gibbons in their natural environment and there is a visitor centre manned by Western volunteers and English speaking Thai staff who will tell you all about the project.

If you are interested in the island’s wildlife, elephant trekking is a good way to support the remaining domesticated elephants of Thailand and offers a new way to explore the jungle. The Phuket Zoo has an interesting collection of animals, whilst Phuket Submarine takes visitors on daily tours of the underwater world.

Both Khao Rang (Phuket Hill) and Laem Promthep are great places to see the sunset and get an idea of the island’s size and beauty. Whilst in Phuket, pay a visit to the Khao Phra Thaew Forest Reserve, which protects a stunning area of lush rainforest.

Many visitors to Phuket like to plan their trip to coincide with one of the area’s vibrant festivals. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is held for 10 days during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which usually occurs in October. This is the time when local residents, especially those of Chinese ancestry, follow a vegetarian or vegan diet in order to cleanse their spirit and make merit. The festival features self-mortification rituals such as walking barefooted over hot coals and ascending ladders with bladed rungs, as well as much singing and dancing and of course delicious vegetarian food.Another long awaited festival is the Phuket Gay Pride Festival, which takes place in February and the Siam World Cup Windsurfing Championships on Ao Bang Thao are held in January.

If you are in the area between November and February, head to the pretty beach of Hat Mai Khao on the northwest coast. Here you will discover sea turtles laying their eggs, but be careful not to disturb them as the turtles are now quite rare.

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.