Tag - forests

An Introduction to Cambodia

Introduction to Cambodia
Introduction to Cambodia
Introduction to Cambodia

In spite of decades of suffering, persecution and poverty, the people of Cambodia love to laugh and you are sure to receive a warm welcome wherever you wander through this charming country. The Kingdom of Cambodia covers 181,035 square kilometres and bordered by Thailand to the west, Laos in the north, Vietnam in the east and the Gulf of Thailand in the south.

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.

Northern Laos

Northern Laos
Northern Laos

With lush forests, high plateaus, sparkling waterfalls, caves, mountains and rice fields, northern Laos is intensely beautiful. This area of Laos is very diverse and offers travellers a range of different experiences. Although travelling through this region is challenging, the rewards are significant and a warm welcome awaits those who venture off the tourist trail to explore the villages and small towns scattered throughout northern Laos.

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.

Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi, MalaysiaLangkawi is the number one Malaysian holiday destination for many tourists, featuring a number of tropical palm fringed beaches with clear sea and sandy beaches as well as jungle and forests to walk through. With a name that translates roughly as the land of all one’s wishes, many people come to Langkawi to live out their tropical island fantasies.

Many people intend to visit Langkawi for a day or two and end up extending their stay, seduced by the natural beauty of this large and lovely island. This is a great time to visit Langkawi as it has been recently been given a face lift, with the addition of the Telaga Harbour Park.

The highlight of Langkawi has to be its beautiful beaches. There are a number to choose from, and the most popular include Pantai Cenang, Burau Bay, Pantai Kok and Pantai Datai. Water sports such as snorkeling, sailing and kayaking are popular here, while many people are content to simply lay to the sand.

If you are feeling adventurous, take a tour through the islands lush mangroves. There many tours to choose from including cruises, kayaking and nature walks. There is also an island hopping tour which gives visitors the chance to explore some of the hundreds of uninhabited islands in the area.

A fantastic way to see Langkawi is by taking the cable car to the very top of Gunung Mat Cincang. Walk across the sky bridge for spectacular views of the numerous surrounding islands. Hiring a bike and cycling through the countryside is a good way to enjoy the scenery and provides the opportunity to spot some of Langkawi’s colourful birds.

A great time to visit Langkawi is in April to take part in the wild and wet Langkawi International Water Festival. Other interesting festivals include the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition in November, December’s Langkawi Arts and Crafts Festival and the Langkawi International Festival of Arts.

There are many ways to reach Langkawi, and particularly popular is the ferry from the nearby island of Penang, which is located to the very north of Malaysia. There are also regular ferries from southern parts of Thailand such as Saturn and Ko Lipe.

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Alor Setar, Malaysia

Alor Setar, MalaysiaThe vibrant city of Alor Setar is also referred to as Alor Star, and this is the capital of Kedah state, situated on the west coast of Malaysia. This is a great place to get a real feel for Malaysian culture. The city is also surrounded by natural beauty such as rich paddy fields, forests and fishing villages, all of which make good day trip destinations.

Alor Setar is a great place to discover Malaysian art as there are a number of galleries situated in the city. Balai Seni Negeri is also known as The Kedah State Art Gallery and contains an interesting collection of paintings, photographs, musical instruments and handicrafts, while Balai Nobat is used to protect the instruments of the Royal orchestra.

Visitors to the city will find an impressive collection of buildings in various styles. A good example of Malaysian architecture is the Royal Hall, which was commissioned in 1735 by Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin Muazzam Shah, the 19th Sultan of Kedah. Another interesting building is the Mahathir Birthplace, which was home to the fourth Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad.

Malaysia is well known for its impressive mosques, and a good example is the Zahir State Mosque, which covers 124,412 square feet and is one of the grandest mosques in the country. Alor Star Tower is located in the centre of the city and this magnificent 165 meter tall tower offers spectacular views of the city from the top.

This loud and lively city can become overwhelming at times, but there are plenty of great day trips nearby where you can escape the hustle and bustle. Drive to the town of Merbok to see archaeology museum and explore the Tanjong Dawai fishing village, where you are sure to receive a warm welcome.

Another popular place to hang out is the Kuala Kedah Fort, which can be found at the edge of the Kedah River. A charming little fishing village can also be found nearby, and the restaurants that can be found here serve up some of the best cuisine in the whole area, while the restaurants of Alor Setar are famed for their rich and lightly spiced curry dishes.

Click on a picture to see more images by the photographer. (Some pictures do not have links.)

Location and History of Laos

Location and History of Laos
Location and History of Laos
Location and History of Laos

Covering 236.800 square kilometres, Laos is a small landlocked country situated in the Indochinese peninsula. Bordered by Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, the population of Laos is around 5 million.

With a tropical climate, Laos is a country of stunning natural beauty. The southern most part tends to be the hottest and here you will find a variety of pretty islands. The centre of Laos is covered with dense forests, while there are dramatic mountains to the north.

Laos’ past is somewhat turbulent and the country has suffered greatly from the effects of war and poverty. The people of Laos originated from Thailand and it can be observed that the culture of Laos has a lot in common with that of Thailand. It was also formerly a French-Indochinese state and you will still find French influences as well as traces of the Vietnamese and Khmer cultures.

After centuries of invasion from neighbouring countries, Laos took a severe beating during the French Indo-China war and again during World War II. Laos finally gained full independence from France under the reign of King Sisavang Vong in 1953, although peace still did not follow as the monarchy was opposed by the Laotian Patriotic Front. Years of warring followed, with the LPF forming an alliance with the group that would become the Viet Cong.

Finally, after years of instability cultural and bilateral trade agreements were signed with China in December 1987 and the political situation began to improve. Relations were improved with neighbouring countries and the west and the king retired in 1991, allowing a new constitution to form. Laos has been governed by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party since 1975 and the political situation finally seems stable, allowing the country to rebuild and resettle.

Despite former hardship, the people of Laos are warm and welcoming and smiles are frequent and genuine. Today Laos is one of the world’s poorest countries, with agriculture the main form of economy. Laos’ main products are rice, pulses, fruit, sugar cane, tobacco and coffee, with coffee being the country’s largest export.

The official language of Laos is Lao, although a range of tribal languages as well as French, Vietnamese and English are also sometimes spoken. The majority of people are Buddhist, with a range of other religions such as animism, Confucianism and Christianity practiced by the tribes people.

Sekong, Laos

Sekong, Laos
Sekong, Laos
Sekong, Laos

Sekong is the ideal place for those who really want to step off the well worn tourist trail and get to know the real Laos. This pretty area is situated in the southeast part of Laos in the Sekong River Valley, and the river is a good spot for fishing and swimming and perhaps even a boat trip down the river to one of the nearby villages.

This is a great place for hiking and trekking and as you walk through the countryside you will wander through lush rice paddies, fruit orchards and tropical forests which are home to a large number of unusual animals and pretty plants and flowers.

A number of different ethnic tribes live in the Sekong River Valley and the countryside is full of small villages belong to people such as the Lave, Lanam, Kaleum, Dakchung and Thateng. This is a good place to get to know the different tribes and discover their unique lifestyles.

A great way to pass the time is by getting up at around 5a.m to watch people fishing in the river and walking along the banks. The Buddhist monks wander through the villages early each morning to receive alms and you will see processions of orange robed monks carrying large metal bowls.

 Part of Sekong’s appeal for most people is its remoteness and the fact that not many travelers make it this far. Don’t expect to find a large number of fancy guesthouses or restaurants selling international food here. But for those who do decide to stay, the gentle pace of life and friendliness of the people can be very addictive. However, people who need their creature comforts will be able to find a hotel or two here and it is possible to hire a motorbike to explore.

Sekong is blessed with electricity around the clock, but if this seems a little too decadent pay a visit to the nearby village of Tha Teng, which is extremely picturesque and without electricity or running water offers a real insight into the traditional Lao way of life.

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.

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.

Houa Phah, Laos

houa_phah_1
Houa Phah, Laos
Houa Phah, Laos

The former base for the Lao People’s Revolutionary Army, Houa Phan province is located in the northeast of Laos. Now free from trouble, this pretty province is surrounded by natural beauty such as caves, waterfalls, mountains and rich rice fields.

Few tourists step off the tourist trail long enough to experience Houa Phah’s gentle charms, yet there are wonderful rewards in store for those who make the effort. Pristine emerald green forests and limestone mountains are just waiting to be explored and there is a good variety of wildlife to spot.

There are more than 100 caves located in Houa Phanh. Available in all shapes and sizes, visiting the caves is an interesting experience and also a good way to keep cool. Perhaps the most famous of all the caves is Tham Than Souphanouvong, which was once the home of Prince Souphanouvong when he was forced into hiding.

Other caves worth visiting in the area are Tham Than Kaysone and Tham Than Khamtay. Both of these caves were the residences of leading Lao political figures and are very grand in scale featuring meeting rooms and reception areas.

After a busy day of climbing through the caves, visitors to Houa Phah can soak away their aches and pains in the local hot spring in the Xam Tay district, where the waters reach temperatures of 40?C. Cool off afterwards in the pretty Xam Tay waterfall and explore the surrounding forest.

There are a large number of villages dotted around Houa Phah and the talented villages are well known for their craftwork skills. This is a good time to watch weaving, which is still done using traditional methods. The textiles made here are thought by many to be some of the finest in Asia and make great souvenirs.

Hintang Archeological Park is one of Laos’ more important prehistoric sites and a great place for a daytrip. Wander through the ruins and discover the foundations of this picturesque region and pay a visit to the large and inviting Keo Nong Vay temple.

Borikhamsay, Laos

Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos

If you want a place to relax and unwind surrounded by stunning natural scenery, Borikhamsay is the place to be. Borikhamsay province is located in central Laos, about a three hour drive from the capital city of Vientiane. Borikhamsay’s close proximity to Vientiane makes it a good destination for a day trip, although it is also a good place to pause for a day or two and discover the natural beauty of Laos.  

Also known as Bolikhamsai, Borikhamsay is an important pilgrimage site and people travel from all over the country to visit Wat Phra Baat, which contains a footprint believed to have been made by Lord Buddha as he travelled through the countryside. Laos was once home to a large collection of Buddhist monuments but sadly most have been decimated by war over the years, making this footprint all the more precious.

Another good day trip is the stone forest at Poupha Mane, where the large collection of rocky pinnacles are a striking sight. To the south it is possible to spot wildlife such as the hatinh langur, mable cat and the Asian forest tortoise in the pristine forests of Nam Thuen, while the National Biodiversity Conservation Area is Laos’ largest conservation area. Here you will find many endangered animals including the Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard, elephant, giant muntjac, guar, Malayan sun bear, and tiger. There are guides available to lead you through the forests and explain all about this amazing area.

The capital town of the province is Paksan, and here you will find plenty of places to stay as well as some good restaurants and of course the famous Laos hospitality. A good way to get around this area is by hiring a bicycle or simply walking, talking the time to share smiles and greetings with the people you pass along the way.

Paksan is also a good stopping off point for people travelling to Vietnam as it is situated close to the Vietnamese border. The majority of the region’s population is comprised by tribes such as the Thai, Phuan, Tri and Hmong. This is a good time to learn more about these interesting tribes and their alternative lifestyles.