Click here for information on a pickup from Khao San Road to Suvarnabhumi Airport
Most people travel to Cambodia to visit the magnificent Angkor Wat, located near the bustling town of Siem Reap. One of the seven wonders of the world, Angkor Wat is just one in a number of enchanting ancient temples in this area, while the capital city of Phnom Penh also has plenty to offer visitors.
Although this richly diverse nation is bordered on virtually all sides, there are still some pretty islands and beaches to explore in Cambodia, such as the beach resort of Sihanoukville and the nearby islands in Ream National Park. The mighty Mekong River flows through Cambodia from Laos to Vietnam and is a great way to travel through the country.
Cambodia’s natural beauty makes it a great place for trekking and there are plenty of dense jungles, unspoilt forests and paddy fields to explore, while the Cardamom and Elephant Mountain Ranges provide a spectacular backdrop.
Subsistence farming is the main occupation of this impoverished nation, and most people live in stilted huts in small village communities. Although the majority of people (about 95%) are Khmer, there are also about twenty different hill tribes, each with their own unique culture, believes and style of dress.
The official language of Cambodia is Khmer and it is spoken by most people, while some people also speak French, Laos and Vietnamese, especially near the country borders. Although many people speak English in tourist areas and you will often be approached by people who want to practice their English, it is a good idea to learn a few basic phrases in Khmer.
Buddhism is the main religion in Cambodia, with about 90% of the population following either Therevada or Hinayana Buddhism. Worship is an important part of Khmer life and you will find a large number of temples scattered around Cambodia, although a large percentage were destroyed during the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge.
Cambodia really comes alive during the numerous festivals and public holidays, and it is 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.
This is where you will find the mysterious Plain of Jars, the enormous stone containers that cover the landscape. This is the perfect place to go trekking, especially around Luang Namtha and Phongsaly, while the Gibbon Experience offers visitors a rare opportunity to view these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.
This region of Laos is home to many of the hilltop tribes, each with their own unique styles of dress, culture and belief systems. Exploring northern Laos provides to opportunity to get to know a little about this interesting people and discover traditional village life.
Although this area has only been open to tourist for around 10 years, there are already a number of vibrant tourist hangouts in northern Laos. Top of the list is Vang Vieng, where travellers can indulge on Western food, explore the caves and float down the river in a large rubber tube. The nearby temple town of Luang Prabang is also particularly tourist friendly and there is plenty to see and do here.
Adventure sports are popular in northern Laos and this is a good place for white water rafting, hiking, cycling, rock climbing and a number of other activities. Simply walking through the countryside is a great way to spend a day or two as the scenery is always striking and many surprises await the adventurous.
The mighty Mekong River flows through northern Laos and into Thailand. A good way to continue exploring is to take a slow boat from Luang Prabang along the river into Thailand. The journey offers spectacular views of Laos and the chance to stay in the pretty village of Pakbeng along the way.
Many people head straight to the South of Thailand and spend the rest of their stay enjoying all that this beautiful region has to offer. There are 14 provinces in all and each offers something different, to the highly popular and crowded areas in Phuket and Krabi to the much quieter, less visited areas of Songkla and Yala near the border with Malaysia.
Although areas of the west coast of Thailand were badly affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, all infrastructure has long since been repaired thanks to the hard work of local and international volunteers. Perhaps the most effected area was Koh Phi Phi, and people still wanting to make a contribution can do so through the Children of Phi Phi Island foundation www.childrenofphiphi.com.
Many people tend to avoid the very south of Thailand, scared off by the stories of bombing and murders. The trouble started in 2004, when a long resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. However, this all took place well off the beaten tourist trail, and few visitors were affected.
The Songkla Province town of Hat Yai has also been hit by a series of related bombings, although none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.
In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in Hat Yai bomb blasts. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but no westerners have been directly singled out for attacks and generally the south of Thailand is still a safe place to travel.
This region of Thailand is particularly popular with visitors who wish to enjoy all the natural beauty and golden beaches of Southern Thailand whilst avoiding the crowds.
For many, the tourist destination of Pattaya provides an interesting diversion, whilst others head straight to the beautiful island of Koh Samet to enjoy all the benefits of an island holiday with less of the hassles.
The large island of Koh Chang is a great place to spend a few days and there are many areas of natural beauty located on the island as well as several smaller islands close by. This is a great place to go snorkeling and diving as there is plenty of pristine coral and colourful fish to see.
The town of Si Racha is well known for its deliciously spicy sauce and seafood, and while there visitors can visit the Sri Racha Tiger Zoo for the opportunity to cuddle the tiny tiger cubs.
For travelers who really want to get away from it all, the peaceful island of Koh Si Chang makes a great destination as it is virtually ignored by tourists.
Although the region is easily reachable by bus, there is are also small airports at U-Tapao and Trat.
There are 19 provinces in Central Thailand, of which most are widely visited by tourists and international travelers. Perhaps the most well known province is Kanchanaburi, famous for the Bridge over the River Kwai, tiger temple and stunning natural scenery such as the Erawan National Park.
There are also several beautiful beaches in Central Thailand, and Hua Hin should not be missed, especially during the Jazz Festival, when thousands of people flock to the beaches to listen to some of the best jazz music from around the world.
Dotted around the region are some enchanting islands and especially worth visiting is the pleasant beach area of Cha-am, which is just a two hour bus journey from Bangkok. However, the island is very popular with Thai people and can become very crowded on the weekends and during major holidays.
whilst lovers of history will find their heart's desire amongst the interesting ruins of the Ayutthaya Historical Park and Nakhon Pathom, which is Thailand's oldest city and features the largest stupa in the world.
Generally speaking, travel within Central Thailand is undemanding as there is a good road and rail network. Catering to tourist tastes and taste buds, this is a good region in which to take it easy and acclimatize to Thailand.
Isan covers an area of 160,000 km and much of the land is given over the farms and paddy fields as agriculture is the main economic activity. The region of Isan has a strong, rich and individual culture. Examples of this can be found in the folk music, called mor lam, festivals, dress, temple architecture and general way of life.
The main regional dialect is Isan, which is actually much more similar to Lao than central Thai. Unfortunately, because the rainfall is often insufficient for crops to grow properly, Isan is the poorest region of Thailand, and many people leave the province to seek their fortunes in the bustling metropolis of Bangkok.
The average temperature range is from 30.2 C to 19.6 C. The highest temperature recorded was a sweltering 43.9 C, whilst the lowest was a freezing -1.4 C. Unlike most of Thailand, rainfall is unpredictable, but it mainly occurs during the rainy season, which takes place from May to October.
Although completely unique, Isan food has adopted elements of both Thai and Lao cuisines. Sticky rice is served with every meal and the food is much spicier than that of most of Thailand.
Popular dishes include:
som tam - extremely spicy and sour papaya salad
larb - fiery meat salad liberally laced with chilies
gai yang - grilled chicken
moo ping - pork satay sticks
Isan people are famous for their ability to eat whatever happens to be around, and lizards, snakes, frogs and fried insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, silkworms and dung beetles often form a part of their diet.
Both men and women traditionally wear sarongs; women's sarong often have an embroidered border at the hem, whilst those of the men are chequered. Much of Thailand's silk is produced in Isan, and the night markets at many of the small towns and villages are good places to find a bargain.
There is no major airport in Isan, but the State Railway of Thailand has two lines and both connect the region to Bangkok. This is also a good place to enter Laos via the Thanon Mitraphap ("Friendship Highway"), which was built by the United States to supply its military bases in the 1960s and 1970s. The Friendship Bridge - Saphan Mitraphap - forms the border crossing over the Mekong River on the outskirts of Nong Khai to the Laos capital of Vientiane.
Myanmar is part of Southeast Asia and is bordered by Bangladesh and India to the west, China to the north, and Laos and Thailand to the east. This is a country rich with natural beauty, culture, wildlife, forests, coastal resorts and temples and in many ways is the perfect tourist destination.
However, Myanmar is ruled by a brutal military regime, and many people avoid visiting Myanmar in order to avoid supporting this regime. However, the sad truth is that most tourist services such as guesthouses, restaurants and tours are run by the people themselves and not the government. The recent reduction in tourism has simply meant that the people of Myanmar are forced to suffer from lost earnings in addition to the numerous hardships and constraints imposed by the government. As long as you are careful to avoid government run hotels, buses and other services, it is possible to experience the most of this captivating country and possibly make a bit of a difference at the same time.
Although various parts of Myanmar are currently closed to tourists, the tourist numbers have been rising over the last couple of years, allowing many resorts to reopen. The Irrawaddy River runs through the centre of the country and this is a great way to travel and see the countryside.
Travelling through Myanmar feels like stepping into the past. Even though the capital city is fairly modern compared with the rest of the country it is still perhaps half a century behind many modern Southeast Asian capitals such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, while the country’s remote villages have changed little of the last few centuries.
This is a large part of Myanmar’s charm and as you explore you will discover ancient marvels such as the 4000 sacred stupas which are scattered across the plains of Bagan and the mysterious golden rock that somehow manages to balance on the edge of a chasm. As you ride in a Wild West stagecoach you will pass grand British mansions and men wearing traditional long skirt-like cloths around their waists.
Despite their years of suffering, the people of Myanmar are friendly, gentle and have a unique sense of humour. As you wander through villages and small towns you will probably be invited to get to know these people and share a part of their lives, an incomparable experience.
One of the best things about Myanmar is that it hasn’t been inflicted by the blight of Starbucks, McDonalds and other chain outlets that cover most Asian countries. Myanmar’s charms are subtle but they are authentically Asian and this is one of the few places in the world where you can experience true Asian culture without the integration of Western consumerism.
A good way to reach Malaysia is by train from Thailand, which borders Malaysia to the north. First stop should be the pretty island of Penang, where you will find clean beaches, hilltop temples, large gardens and colonial buildings. To the south is the capital city of Kuala Lumpur with its famous Petronas Towers and great shopping and dining options.
Head to the Cameron Highlands to wander through lush tea plantations in the cool air and snorkel in amongst colourful coral on the Seribuat Archipelago before stretching out on one of the picture perfect beaches. There are a good number of national parks to explore, all offering stunning natural beauty such as sparkling waterfalls and caves as well as interesting wildlife. Soak away aches and pains in the Poring Hot Springs and head to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre for an unforgettable experience.
One of Malaysia’s big attractions is its cultural diversity. Malays, Chinese and Indians all live side by side here, adding their own individual style to the mix. This is a good place to experience festivals and particularly vibrant are the Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas celebrations.
Food lovers will never be bored in Malaysia as the blend of cultures means that there are a wide range of dishes to try. As well as traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine, fusion food is also popular and western fast food restaurants are easy to find.
Malaysia is a country that truly offers something for everyone. Explore magnificent mosques and glittering temples in the country’s bustling cities before heading to the beach to soak up the sun or take part in a range of adventure activities such as diving, rock climbing, windsurfing and snorkelling.
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|Illustrations by Yurie Ball|
But let's start at the beginning. Thailand has more than 960 documented species of birds and of these approximately one third are migrants but it's not as simple as that. Some species are migrant, resident and breeding visitors in different parts of the country.
There are well over 100 protected areas in the country and they are categorised as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, conservation areas or non-hunting areas. Some of these have breeding programmes which include the breeding of species on the endangered list. The infrastructure is such that most of these places are easily accessible by road, train or plane. Some are closed to the public, which to my mind is good as it means that Thailand is taking it's conservation of wildlife seriously but even these can be entered with special permission, for research and other such reasons. The main ones, though, are definitely open to the public and very well run with the welfare of the fauna uppermost in the minds of the national parks officials.
Probably the most popular national park is Khao Yai and for the very good reason that it is overflowing with birdlife. Birdlife apart, the park is also noted for its tigers and elephants and if you were to pop into the visitors centre you would see the stuffed remains of a man-eating tiger that attacked two park officials and was shot for its sins. There are said to be about twenty tigers (I very much doubt that) in the park and possibly around two hundred elephants, signs of which can be found in the shape of their huge droppings along-side the road.
Khao Yai national park covers an area of 2168 sq.km. and 318 species of birds have been documented in the area. The highest point in the park is 1351 m. so some montane species can be found. Most birdwatching is done around the head-quarter's area and you don't really have to go much farther afield to find most of the different species. There are 11 trails for the more adventurous and all of these were made by elephants which still use them, most of them are marked with different colours of paint applied to the trees.
Some of the more spectacular birds you will see are the hornbills and there are 4 species in the park, the Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis, 122 cm.), the Wreathed Hornbill (Rhyticeros undulatus, 100 cm.), the Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris, 70 cm.) and the Brown Hornbill (Ptilolaemus tickelli, 74 cm.). 5 different species of Barbets (family Megalaimidae) with their brightly coloured plumage abound in the park, their ringing, repetitive calls will be heard more often than the bird is seen. Flocks of Fairy Bluebirds (Irena puella) will be seen in flowering or fruiting trees, they are very noisy birds with their piercing whistling call. The list is almost endless. Accommodation in the park is difficult to come by and special permission must be obtained in advance but there are plenty of hotels and other accommodation just outside the park. The park itself is a 3 hour drive from Bangkok.
Next you would move up to the north and base yourself in Chiang Mai, a city built around a beautiful old moated town. Parts of the old wall remain to this day and altogether it is a very attractive place, in 1997 Chiang Mai celebrated it's 700th. anniversary. Here you will certainly want to visit Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain at 2565 m. and although in winter it can be extremely hot in the plains, on the summit of this mountain the temperature can go down to close to 0 degrees centigrade, warm clothing is strongly recommended. This national park is 60 km. south-west of Chiang Mai and can be treated as a day trip but for the serious birdwatcher 3 or 4 days would be more appropriate. 382 species have been documented on Doi Inthanon, as many as the total bird population of some countries.
Birdwise everyone comes to see one bird in particular and that is the Green-tailed Sunbird (Aethopyga nipalensis-angkanensis). This bird is endemic to Thailand and can only be found in the upper reaches of Doi Inthanon and there it is very common. But the other birds are not to be ignored; there is the Ashy-throated Warbler (Phylloscopus maculipennis) which, again, in Thailand can only be found on the upper reaches of Doi Inthanon. This is one of only two Leaf Warblers that are resident here, the rest are migrants, one wonders why. One of the best birdwatching sites is the jeep track at 37.5 km. (ca. 1700m.) and it is here that you might be lucky enough to see the rare Purple Cochoa (Cochoa purpurea), I have seen it there 3 or 4 times, you might also see it's relative the Green Cochoa (Cochoa viridis). This bird is listed as uncommon and I have only seen it once, so maybe I was lucky with the Purple Cochoa. This jeep track is good at any time of the day as it is well shaded with some very thick primeval looking forest. Here also you will find 2 skulkers, the Pygmy Wren-Babbler (Pnoepyga pusilla) and the Slaty-bellied Tesia (Tesia olivea), these two are more often heard than seen. One of my favourite birds can also be found here and that is the Long-tailed Broadbill (Psarisomus dalhousiae), it is straight out of a Walt Disney cartoon with its finely delineated multi-coloured markings. I have found it to be a very curious bird and sometimes I find myself peering up at it as it peers down at me. Its colours include black, yellow, light green, dark green and blue, working from head to tail.
Other places in the north of Thailand worth a visit are Doi Angkhang and Tha Ton, both on the Burmese border. I mention these because they are the southernmost overspill area of the north Asian birds and some of the birds can't be found anywhere else in Thailand. Tha Ton is noted for the rare Jerdon's Bushchat (Saxicola jerdoni), the Paddyfield Warbler (Acrocephalus agricola), the Long-billed Plover (Charadrius placidus) and the Black-faced Bunting (Emberiza spodocephala). The Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius), abounds on the sandbars of the Maekok river where it breeds. I really could go on and on but the best thing is to come and see for yourself. If you do decide to come and 'discover' Thailand and its birds please feel free to contact me in Chiang Mai, after 16 years of living in Thailand I can put you on to the best areas for the different birds.
By Tony Ball: Email | Tel. + 66 53 223128
A: Taxi, bus, airport pickup - nearest railway station is Hualumpong.
Q: Andreas writes: "Hi, I need the cheapest way from Bankok Airport to Khao San Road?"
A: By airport bus - 150 Baht per person - 05.30 to 24.00 hours daily. It takes from there around 1 and half hour, getting off at the last bus stop near Khaosan Road.
Q: Mike writes: "Hello, what are the options for getting to Hua Lamphong Train station from Suvarnabhumi airport, please."
A: AE4 Suvarnabhumi-Hua Lamphong (by expressway) - taxi to Morchit MRT and MRT to Hua Lamphong.
Q: Gwyn Jones writes: "Dear Sir, travelling from UK to Phuket on 2nd Jan 07. Best case scenario is that luggage will be checked through to hkt from Manchester. On arrival in the new airport will I be able to remain in 'transit'/collect boarding pass from Thai Airways desk and eventually clear immigration in Phuket, or will I have to clear immigration on arrival and check in again at domestic? Any advice you have will be appreciated. Thank you in advance."
A: We presume you can go directly to domestic and your luggae will be transfered to your on flight. Again, we are looking to hear from people who can confirm this...
Q: Cheryl writes: "I'll be flying from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok on Oct 13 using Air Asia. Will it be at the same terminal as all international flights. I'll be staying at Mandarin Hotel. What is the taxi fare from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Mandarin Hotel. My departure time is very early in the morning around 7am. Will your taxi stop at the proper arrival area or to a certain place whereby I need to use your shuttle bus. Is it easy to get a cab early in the morning let's say 4am."
A: Sorry - again we don't know... has anyone been to Mandarin Hotel from the new airport? If so please let Cheryl know...
Q: Bbaker writes: "I am trying to find hotels/guesthouses near the NEW airport and am having trouble as all tour books and sites still list places near the old airport. Please advise." We have had a number of people asking this question...
A: We don't know much about about discount accommodation and if anyone has details let us know. However, there's Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel, Royal Princess Srinakarin, Grand Inn Come Hotel, and Novotel Bangna amongst others.
Q: Larry writes: "I used to take the airport bus from the old airport all the way to Tower Inn. Will I be able to take the same bus from the new airport?"
A: We don't know for sure, but it's pretty unlikely - the old aiport and the new airport are opposite ends of Bangkok!
Q: Ocean writes: "Where is the taxi stand for taxis into the city at the new airport?"
A: Public taxis taxi stands are located on level four of the departures concourse.
Q: Han s. Chen writes: "Hi; I will be in BKK on Oct.3 at 11;45 PM , this is a scaring time to arrive of a new airport, I don\'t know the latest airport bus to Khaosan Rd is what time and is Rte 551 bus directly going to Khaosan Rd also if not which bus is?! Would you please tell me this urgent and confusion questions.Thanks in advance for your helps of this anxious awaiting questions. Best Regards Han Chen"
A: We don't know about the 551 - can anyone help? The AE2 goes directly to Khaosan Road and costs 150 Baht. the journey takes an hour and gets to KSR by expressway.
Q: Wim writes: "Do the bus services from Khao Sarn Road to the new airport (556 and AE2) have 24 hour service?"
A: Sadly - we can't find the answer... anyone?.
Q: Tony writes: "Hi. I'm flying into Bangkok from Samui on Monday and on to Bahrain on Tuesday. Is the old airport totally gone or is it still being used for domestic fligts? "
A: Our understanding is that the new airport will deal with both domestic flights and international flights… the old airport will be used for charter flights and some domestic routes, althoughn not key routes.
Q: L.Mogan Muniandy writes: "What is the taxi (meter) fare from Airport (New) to Grande Ville Hotel?"
A: Sorry, no idea... anyone?
Q: Mike writes: "There is an airport bus advertised from Suvarnabhumi airport to the On Nut BTS Station - does this come off the Expressway down Sukhumvit Road from Nana ie past the Landmark Hotel or does it come to On Nut for passengers to get the BTS up towards Nana. It is very difficult to find this out. Thanks,"
A: We don't know the answer to this one.... Anyone?
So he made it back, 35 min. back to Khaosan - 240 on the meter and 65 for the toll ways. No 50 baht !!! I went with the bus, had to wait 1 hour for it. So at 01.30u I left from the airport and 35 min. later I was at Khaosan. For 35 baht, this was ok. If your not in a rush or carrying to much luggage, the bus is a fine alternative. If you are in a rush and don\'t mind the money, take a taxi. Note: the busses don't drive on a schedule.
It might be possible that you have to wait a while to get a bus. However, the information counter at the public transport terminal is very useful and gives you all kinds of alternative routes to the city. You can take the 552 bus to and get out on Sukhumvit. From there bus 511 to Khaosan... And so on. Just ask them, they speak good English and were very helpful at 01.00 in the morning! Regards Ryan"
Shai Pinto has been to the new airport twice already so he should have a few insights... here's what he has to say...
The bottom line for the new airport is - it's big, it's easy if you know your way around airports,and it isn't such a big change as expected. As I have managed to go through the new airport twice in it's first 3 days of operation here is the lowdown for you to update everyone.
Basically, once you get out of the baggage claim you are still on the arrivals floor 2, and you have a few options:
1- Go down 1 level and get an airport authority taxi - it will cost you a flat rate and it is expensive
2- Walk out the doors of the terminal - there are 3 curbs or sidewaks ahead off you. The first one has a big stop for the shuttle bus - this bus will take you to the transport centre, a seperate building 10 min drive away. From there you can take regular taxis, buit they add at least 50 baht rack rate surcharge. You will also have to wait for the bus a bit. BGy the way - make sure you get the express one, or you will end up stopping at all kinds of buildings along the way (usefull if you have a special fettish for new airport buildings, hangars or storage rooms..)
3 - As you exit the doors - just flag down the first taxi you see. They will all stop even though they are not supposed to, and they all seem just as lost as you do, so they will hurry up to take you before the funny man with the whistle and the uniform chases them away. It also helps with bargaining..
4 - As in the old airport - go up to departures and grab a taxi that just dropped off passengers. it still works...
By the way - only go meter!!! it is exactly 220 baht to KSR (3 journeys, same price), and if you pay the tollway fees add another 65 Baht.
In summary - new airport or not, just walk out the door, hail the first taxi to drive by, say meter, pay for tollway, and in exactly 45 min you will be at KSR.
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.
Most people travel to Ban Lung to visit the nearly Boeng Yeak Lom. Also known as Yak Lom Lake, this is an impressive volcanic crater filled with freshwater. There is a well worn train leading from the town to the volcano and the trek takes about an hour each way. Take the time to fully explore the volcano and have a swim in the cool waters. Watch out for the legendary Yak Lom monster as you swim and visit the nearby culture centre, which contains some interesting information about the volcano and items made by the tribes people who live in the area.
This is a great place for trekking and you can wander through the countryside, with its rich red earth and pretty villages. The scenery here is simply spectacular and there is plenty to hold the attention.
Scattered around Ban Lung are a number of small villagers where tribes people live, following the same cultural styles and general life styles that they have practiced for hundreds of years. Most of the tribes people gather at Ban Lung market to buy and sell goods, and this is a great place for people watching and to also pick up a bargain or two.
The market is also a good place to pick up a cheap, tasty meal. There are a number of food stalls scattered around the town as well as restaurants and hotels, making this a good place to stay for a day or two.
Around the market place you will find a large number of small shops selling colourful precious stone. The gems come from the surrounding hills and also more distant places such as Sri Lanka. Although you should be careful about buying, browsing through the multi-hued stones can be a good way to spend an hour two.
However, if you do need to spend the night here you will find the town is not quite as rough as it appears at first glance and there are a few things to amuse and entertain. Gambling is illegal in Thailand and so large numbers of people cross the border to try their luck at one of the town’s many flashy casinos.
Theft is quite high in Poipet, so if you do decide to spend some time here make sure you keep your wits about you and don’t give money to beggars as the young girl staring at you with pleading eyes quickly multiplies into dozens of demanding beggars once some slight generosity is shown.
There are a number of places to eat in Poipet, many serving western snacks such as sandwiches and French fries. There is also a large bustling marketplace selling clothes and souvenirs, although this is a popular spot for pickpockets, so keep a careful eye on your belongings.
The border crossing is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is a good idea to arrive early to beat the crowds and try to avoid arriving on the weekend. Queues can last for several hours, although the longest queues are usually for those heading into Thailand from Cambodia. Don’t trust anyone offering to make your visa for you, even if they are wearing official looking laminated badges. Instead, head to the Cambodian Consulate or get your visa made on arrival. The cheapest and easiest way to get a visit for Cambodia is to go online and get a e-Visa, which costs USD $25.
Once you have your visa you can travel by bus or pickup truck to a number of places such as Siem Reap, Sisophon and Battambang. You may have to wait a few hours for the bus to fill up, but once it starts moving simply sit back and relax as the worst part of the journey through Cambodia is now behind you.
Most of the town’s life is located along the pretty riverfront. Here you will find a fish market and a number of foods stalls, while there are traditional painted houses along the country lanes. A great way to explore is by hiring a bicycle, or you can simply wander around at your leisure.
There are two beaches located just outside Lundu. There are regular buses to the golden sands of Pandan beach, while Siar is also a pretty place to soak up the sun. There are a good number of seafood restaurants located near the palm fringed shore of both beaches as well as bars offering modest entertainment.
Lundu is famous for the Rafflesia flower, which grows up to a meter across and is extremely rare. This plant is very unusual as it has no roots and gives off a scent similar to rooting meat. A monument has been set up in the centre of town in tribute to this rare flower and makes for interesting photographs.
It is possible to visit the large and lovely Gunung Gading National Park on a day trip from Lundu. Wander through forest trails for a chance to glimpse the area’s flora and fauna before returning to Lundu in the evening to eat beside the river and soak up the town’s lay back atmosphere.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most visitors to Malaysia tend to head straight to East Malaysia to enjoy adventure activities such as trekking, caving, white water rafting and camping. There are a number of spectacularly beautiful national parks in this region of Malaysia such as Kubah National Park and Bako National Park.
East Malaysia is home to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, and thousands of people come here each year to interact with the old men of the forest. There are a number of beautiful beaches and islands to discover in this region of Malaysia as well as pretty towns to explore.
The people of East Malaysia are warm and welcoming and visiting the region’s villages is a rewarding experience. This region is famous for its diverse cuisine, and top of the menu is fresh fish, which is especially delicious when eaten on the beach at sunset.
However, most people return to their home town or village a day or two before public holidays, and public transport is usually very crowded during this time. Try to avoid travelling during public holidays and especially major festivals such as Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas.
Travelling across Malaysia by aeroplane is generally quite cheap and certainly the easiest way to get around. The main airline is Malaysia Airlines and booking in advance online can save quite a bit of cash. Cheap flights are also provided by AirAsia.
There are regular ferries running between the mainland and the numerous islands located just off the east and west coasts of Malaysia. Tickets are usually bought in advance from booths on the mainland. In a few states, such as Sarawak, express boats are the most common form of public transport, carrying passengers down the rivers and streams that run through the areas.
Malaysia’s railway network is fast and efficient, consisting of three types of service: express, limited express and local trains. Express trains are reserved for 1st and 2nd class passengers, limited express trains usually just 2nd and 3rd coaches, while local trains are usually limited to 3rd class. There are overnight sleeper births available on Express and limited express trains. Tourist rail passes are a good way to save money if you planning on travelling by train a lot and last for five days, ten days and fifteen days.
The Jungle Railway runs across Malaysia, stopping at every station between Tumpat and Gemas. This service is 3rd class only and there is no air-conditioning or reservations, meaning that the trains tend to be rather hot and crowded. However, the stunning jungle views more than make up for the discomfort.
Buses are the cheapest way to get around Malaysia and the best place to catch the bus and guarantee a seat is at the town’s bus terminal. There are luxury buses available for long-distance travel and these can be booked a couple of days in advance. The air-conditioned buses can be rather chilly, so take a blanket with you. Although they tend to be rather slow, local buses are regular and reliable.
Car and motorcycle
Driving in Malaysia is safe and convenient as the roads are good and there are plenty of new cars available to hire. Road rules are basically the same as in Britain and Australia, with right-hand drive cars that stick to the left side of the road. Petrol is generally cheap and motorbikes can also be hired from guesthouses in tourist towns and cities. Although Malaysian drivers are generally good, drivers still need to be careful, especially in large towns and cities as animals often roam freely across the roads.
Taxis can be found in all cities and larger towns and usually drive around looking for customers. You will usually need to negotiate the fare in advance and it is a good idea to ask the staff at you guesthouse for an estimate of the going rate.
These bicycle rickshaws seat two people and can be a romantic way to see the sights.
Although it tends to rain throughout the year, rainfall is particularly heavy during the monsoon season, which lasts from November until February.
Many people find travelling in the hot and humid weather taxing, so allow plenty of time to recover after long journeys and carry plenty of water with you.
Generally, the best time to visit Malaysia is from May to September. However, the heaviest rail tends to occur from May to October on the west coast of Malaysia and those intent on soaking up the sun on the beach should avoid arriving during this period. However, the monsoon season is the best time to spot some of Malaysia’s coastal wildlife such as turtles, who pick this time to lay their eggs on the beach.
The best time to see some of Malaysia’s most colourful festivals is during the winter months of November, December and January. Christmas, New Year's Eve, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Puasa are all vibrant affairs and celebrated throughout Malaysia.
Possession of drugs in Malaysia can be punished by the death sentence, even if you are carrying a small amount for personal use. It is best to avoid all contact with drugs in Malaysia and be suspicious of any stranger who offers to give or sell you drugs. Gambling is also highly illegal and can receive a heavy punishment.
Pick pocketing is a common crime in large towns and cities, especially Johor. There are also incidents of people driving up on motorbikes and snatching bags, often taking their victim along with them if they refuse to let go. Carry your bag on the shoulder facing away from the road and keep a close eye on your possessions in crowded areas.
Vehicles do not stop at pedestrian crossings and it is safer to cross busy roads at pedestrian bridges and pedestrian traffic lights.
Buy a good padlock for your bag and hotel door. You may find that windows don’t always fasten properly and you should fasten them securely with a cable lock. Don’t leave valuables in hotel rooms: carry your passport or ID document and other valuables with you at all times or deposit them in the hotel safe.
Make sure you negotiate the taxi fare with the driver before getting in and try to avoid fake or unregistered taxis late at night by using a dial-a-taxi service.
Although female travellers who dress conservatively will rarely have trouble in Malaysia, it is best to avoid travelling alone at night. Also, make sure you lock you hotel room door when in the room to discourage unwanted visitors.
Generally speaking, the cost of living in Malaysia in higher than in many Asian countries, especially Thailand and Laos, although it is cheaper than is Indonesian and significantly less than in western countries. Those on a tight budget should be able to spend just $20 a day, although this will only buy the absolute basics and $35 a day will allow you a few small luxuries. Those who can afford to spend $150 each day will be able to stay in some of the country’s top hotels and dine in style, while for those with a real taste for luxury $275 a day should be more than enough to experience the best of Malaysia.
ATMs are abundant in all Malaysian cities, especially in shopping areas. The most reliable machines are attached to banks and it is probably best to stick to these as ATM machines to occasionally swallow cards.
Travellers’ Cheques and Credit Cards
Most major credit cards are generally accepted in top of the range hotels, shops and restaurants throughout Malaysia. Check for surcharges added to your bill before you pay as these are illegal. Travellers’ cheques in pounds sterling or US Dollars can be cashed in most banks and even some shops.
Changing Your Money
It is illegal to carry more than RM1000 into or out of Malaysia, so most of your money will need to be changed within the country. Although there are a large number of banks located around Malaysia with money changing facilities, the best deals are found at licensed moneychangers’ kiosks. These kiosks pop up all over Malaysia and tend to stay open until about 6pm.
Malaysia has a tropical climate, with a hot summer and intense rainy season. With forest and mountain ranges running through the country from north to south, there are mangrove swamps and mudflats on the west coast, which separate into bays and inlets. There are a number of beautiful beaches on the west coast as well as dense forests to explore.
Malaysia’s modern history dates back to the 2nd century AD, when there were a collection of up to 30 separate Malay kingdoms. The Malay kingdoms gained power and riches as costal city ports, which were established in the 10th century. Originally Hindu or Buddhist states, Islamic found a place in Malaysia in the 14th century.
The Sultanate of Malacca was established at the start of the 15th century by prince Parameswara, from Palembang, who fled to the area from what is now known as Singapore. Prince Parameswara turned Malacca into an important trading port, putting Malaysia firmly on the map. However, Malacca was conquered by Portugal in 1511 and a Portuguese colony was established there.
In 1786 Britain established a colony in the Malay Peninsula, with the British East India Company leasing the island of Penang from the Sultan of Kedah. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty was signed in 1824, which divided the Malaya archipelago between Britain and the Netherlands.
Although there were Malaysian figureheads, the British mostly ruled Malaysia until the Japanese occupation during WWII. The Federation of Malaya was established in 1948, which reinstated the independence of the rulers of the Malay states under British protection.
From 1948 to 1960 the Communist Party of Malaya embarked on a guerrilla campaign known as the Malayan Emergency from 1948 to 1960 to force the British out of Malaya. Independence for the Federation within the Commonwealth was finally granted on 31 August 1957, and the Federation was renamed Malaysia in 1963.
At first there was much fighting with Indonesia over boundary lines, culmination in the racial riots of 1969. The New Economic Policy was established to restore peace to the country and since then Malaysia’s various ethnic groups have lived more or less in harmony.
These days Malaysia’s economic and social structures are good and the country’s affluence can be seen in modern structures such as Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers and the Sepang F1 Circuit.
Hawker stalls and coffee shops are good places to find a cheap and tasty meal. Hawker stalls tend to be very clean and open until late in the evening. Curry dishes and other meals in western style restaurants, while seafood restaurants serve fresh fish prepared in the Chinese style. For western food, head to the shopping malls, where you will usually find a large food court with a number of well known fast food restaurants.
Here is a selection of the numerous dishes you will find on your travels in Malaysia:
Nasi lemak – the most common Malaysian breakfast dish consists rice cooked in light coconut milk with anchovies, peanuts, a slice of cucumber and a little chilli.
Rendang – usually made with beef, this dry curry dish consists of stewed meat in a spicy curry paste.
Chilli crab – a whole crab is covered with a generous amount of sticky, strong chilli sauce.
Laksa – this dish varies from place to place but is basically a coconut both with seafood or chicken.
Bak chor mee – this noodle dish is cooked in a chilli-based sauce with minced pork, fried anchovies, vegetables and mushrooms.
Popiah - these delicious spring rolls can be either fried or raw. Filled with boiled turnips, fried tofu, fried shallots and garlic, chopped omelette, chopped stir fried long beans, there is usually a sweet chilli sauce to dip them in.
Hainanese chicken rice - usually found on street stalls, this steamed chicken dish is served with special gently spiced rice and tasty ginger.
Bubur cha-cha – a traditional Malay desert with cubed yam, sweet potato and sago added to coconut milk soup.
Kuih – this sweet desert is made with coconut milk, coconut flesh and either glutinous rice or tapioca. It is often made into cute and colourful designs.
Avoid drinking tap water and drinks with ice in Malaysia. Bottled water is cheap and easy to find.
Coffee – known as kopi – and tea – teh – are both popular and tasty drinks in Malaysia as well as a local variation known as teh tarik. Tea and coffee usually comes hot, with condensed milk to sweeten it. If you don’t want milk ask for teh o, while teh ais will get you iced milky tea.
Also popular is a drink known as kopi tongkat ali ginseng, which is a mixture of coffee, a local aphrodisiacal root and ginseng served with condensed milk.
Despite being a predominately Muslim country, alcohol is widely available throughout Malaysia. Beer and other alcohol can be bought in bars, restaurants and 7-11 shops. The local brew is tuak, which fermented rice wine that comes in many forms. Usually served lukewarm, tuak is often flavoured with sugar or honey.
Malaysian festivals tend to be loud and colourful, marked with plenty of singing, dancing and parades through the streets. Malaysian people tend to be tolerant of people from other faiths and welcome them into their homes to celebrate with them. These festivals are a good opportunity for foreigners to learn more about Malaysian culture and hospitality.
Here are some major Malaysian festivals to look out for. Many festivals revolve around the lunar calendar, so dates vary slightly from year to year.
New Year's Day
January 1st is a public holiday and New Year's Eve is marked in most cities with sporting events, competitions, exhibitions and cultural performances by Malaysian multi-ethnic groups.
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days and is very colourful, filled with feasting and firework displays. Gather to watch the traditional dragon and lion dances, which take place to the beat of gongs and drums. Penang is the best place to experience Chinese New Year in Malaysia.
This festival is celebrated by Hindus on the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. Thaipusam is a day for penance and atonement and during this time devotees to fulfill a vow they have made to Lord Muruga, who is also known as Lord Subramaniam. Devotion is demonstrated by fasting and piercing their bodies with elaborately decorated metal structures decorated with colored paper, fresh fruit and flowers and parading through the streets. To get the most out of this festival, head to Kuala Lumpur to watch Lord Muruga's jeweled chariot carried through the streets to the Batu Caves in Selangor.
Buddhists celebrate this festival in May to remember the birth, enlightenment and ascension of Lord Buddha. The daytime is filled with visits to the temple and merit making, while there are processions of floats and candles in the streets after dark.
On the 1st of June the people of Sarawak celebrate the good annual with parties, games, processions and feasting. People gather to sing traditional songs, dance and drink the locally produced rice wine. Children bring their parents plates of food and cattle is sacrificed to ensure that there is a good harvest the following season.
Hari Raya Aidil Fitri
Also known as Hari Raya Puasa, this Muslim festival marks the end of fasting throughout the month of Ramadhan, which is the tenth month of the Muslim calendar. The celebrations last for one month and feature bright decorations, feasting and parties
Lantern and Moon Cake Festival
This festival is celebrated by all Malaysians, who hang colourful lanterns on their houses and eat moon cakes in this celebration of peace and unity.
Hungry Ghost Festival
According to Chinese tradition the gates of hell are opened during the 15th day of the seventh lunar month to allow the hungry ghosts to wander the Earth in search of food and possibly seek revenge. The Chinese hold a festival at this time to remember their dead ancestors and pay tribute to them, setting aside food for them and burning money so that their relatives can use it in the afterlife.
The Festival of Lights, also known as Deepavali, is celebrated as the triumph of good over evil, marking the legendary time that Lord Krishna is said to have defeated Narkansura. Mainly celebrated by Hindus, people visit the temple during the day and lit candles and oil lamps in the evening. There are colourful parades through the street and much merrymaking.
Unlike most Asian countries, Malaysia celebrates Christmas much like people do in western countries. Houses are decorated with lights and a large Christmas tree, carols are sung and the traditional roast turkey dinner is often eaten to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.