Tag - guesthouse

Airport Pickup From Airport to Anywhere in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and the rest of Thailand

toyota_hiaceKick off your holiday with a convenient start... with an Airport Pickup!
From the airport to ANYWHERE in Bangkok - only 400 Baht! That's right, for only 400 Baht (one person per trip - maximum of 6 people for the van to leave) you can miss the queues and the buses to start your holiday straight away! No additional charges, expressway and other fees inclusive... A good start to a great trip! Also, from the airport, train station and bus station to ANYWHERE in Chiang Mai - only 100 Baht!


Click here for information on a pickup from Khao San Road to Suvarnabhumi Airport

Read more...

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.
Read more...

An Introduction to Burma

Introduction to Burma

Introduction to Burma

Introduction to Burma
Often still referred to by its former name of Burma, Myanmar is a beautiful diamond-shaped country spanning roughly 575 miles (925 kilometres) from east to west and 1300 miles (2100 kilometres from north to south.

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.

Read more...

An Introduction to Malaysia

Location and History of Malaysia

Location and History of Malaysia

Location and History of Malaysia
Situated in Southeast Asia, Malaysia’s tropical climate makes it the perfect place to visit in the winter when the chilly weather in other countries makes people want to head for the sun. Blessed with a number of beautiful beaches, sun-kissed islands and pristine rainforest, many people travel to Malaysia to enjoy the good weather and natural beauty.
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.
Read more...

Disclaimer

All the information contained herein is correct at the time of publication. While every care is taken in the preparation of this web site, KhaoSanRoad.com is not responsible for any errors or omissions which may occur. KhaoSanRoad.com does not act as a travel agency. Emails requesting bookings for guesthouse/hotel rooms on Khao San Road or elsewhere are redirected from KhaoSanRoad.com to guesthouse/hotel management/owners. Reservations are made directly with the management/owners of guesthouses/hotels featured on KhaoSanRoad.com. Sending an email to KhaoSanRoad.com does NOT guarantee a reservation. Reservations are only confirmed when a guesthouse/hotel has responded to your enquiry with a confirmation.

Any reference made by KhaoSanRoad.com to any site, company or any other corporate entity, or to their services or products, is not an endorsement, nor should it imply any such endorsement, of the quality or fitness of purpose of that site, company or entity, or its services or products. Disputes arising from purchases of goods and/or services from a site, company or any other corporate entity mentioned on KhaoSanRoad.com should be directed to the owners of that site, company or corporate entity.

The links in this web site will allow you to leave the KhaoSanRoad.com web site. The linked sites are not under the control of KhaoSanRoad.com and we are not responsible for the contents of any linked site or any link contained in a linked site, or any changes or updates to such sites. KhaoSanRoad.com is only providing these links as a matter of convenience to users, and linking is not to be implied as an endorsement of the linked site.

The opinions of our guest writers are not necessarily supported by KhaoSanRoad.com or its staff.

Read more...

Bird Watching in Thailand

Bird Watching in Thailand
Bird Watching in Thailand
Bird Watching in Thailand
Bird Watching in Thailand
Illustrations by Yurie Ball
You think that's overkill? Just wait till you hear your first Great Hornbill with its harsh and almost deafening call, wait till you hear it take off with its "whoosh-whoosh-whoosh" and then accuse me of overkill! Your hair will stand on end!

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

Read more...

Suvarnabhumi Airport Questions and Answers

Suvarnabhumi Airport Questions and AnswersQ: Kemal writes: If i come to thailand...how can i go from airport for to khaosanroad,airport-khaosan if there bus which number? And nearist which railway station to khaosan road...

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?

To contact the person asking the question click on his/her name. Please CC your answers and comments to us here: info@khaosanroad.com. Contact us with more information.

Read more...

Suvarnabhumi Airport – Insights

Suvarnabhumi Airport Questions and AnswersRyan writes: "John, something for travelers who want to take a less expensive way to go to the airport. From Khaosan to the airport by taxi is about 400 baht. I did it for 340 baht last night. Brought my parents to the airport. On the meter… no 'special deals'. 65 for the toll ways - (40 for the first one, 25 for the second) and 50 for the airport surcharge. We left at 23.00u and 35 min. later we were at the airport. Fast and not to expensive. Back was different. As my friend came with me, we decided to split up. He takes a taxi and i took the bus, number 556. He took a taxi at the departures level, were the taxi's drop off people. It is not allowed to pick up people there but at 00.30 there are no security guards...

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.

Read more...

Types of Transport in Malaysia

Types of Transport in Malaysia
Types of Transport in Malaysia
Types of Transport in Malaysia
Transport in Malaysia tends to be safe and reliable and there aren’t really any no-go areas of the country. This usually means that getting around Malaysia is pleasant and hassle free.

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.

Plane
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.

Boat
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.

Train
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.

Bus
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
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.

Trishaws
These bicycle rickshaws seat two people and can be a romantic way to see the sights.
Read more...

When to Visit Malaysia

When to visit Malaysia
When to visit Malaysia
When to visit Malaysia
The weather in Malaysia tends to be hot and humid throughout the year, usually reaching around 30?C or higher in the daytime. Even at night, the temperature rarely falls below 20?C.
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.
Read more...

Survival Tips for Malaysia

Survival Tips for Malaysia
Survival Tips for Malaysia
Survival Tips for Malaysia
When travelling in Malaysia it is important to remember that this is a conservative country. Consequently, things that may not seem like a big deal in western countries or only receive a slight fine are seen as major offences in Malaysia and receive severe punishments.
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.
Read more...

Money Matters in Malaysia

Money Matters in Malaysia
Money Matters in Malaysia
Money Matters in Malaysia
Malaysia's currency is the Malaysian ringgit, which is pronounced rin-gay and written as RM. There are 100 sen in one ringgit, which is also often referred to as a dollar. Notes come in RM1, RM2, RM5, RM10, RM20, RM50 and RM100 notes, while the available coins are 1 sen, 5 sen, 10 sen, 20 sen and 50 sen.

Costs

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
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.
Read more...

Location and History of Malaysia

Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia
Covering 329,847 square kilometres, Malaysia is situated in Southeast Asia and is bordered by Thailand, to the north, Indonesia and Singapore to the south, and Brunei and the Philippines to the east. Malaysia is divided into two separate land masses – known as Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo - by the South China Sea.

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.
Read more...

Food and Drink in Malaysia

Food and Drink in Malaysia
Food and Drink in Malaysia
Food and Drink in Malaysia
Malaysia is a great place for people who love to eat and experiment with food. There are a wide range of Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes available through the country and some interesting mixtures of culinary styles. As you travel through Malaysia, look out for regional specialities and try to experience the full range of Malay cuisine.
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.
Read more...

Festivals and Holidays in Malaysia

Festival and Holidays in Malaysia
Festival and Holidays in Malaysia
Festival and Holidays in Malaysia
Malaysia is a real melting pot, where a large number of cultures live side by side. This means that the country celebrates a large number of festivals, with the Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist religious festivals all being observed.
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.

Thaipusam
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.  

Wesak Day
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.

Gawai Dayak
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.

Deepavali
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.

Christmas
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.
Read more...

When to Visit Laos

When to come to Laos
When to come to Laos
When to come to Laos
Laos’ climate is tropical and the weather tends to be quite hot and humid, with temperatures climbing as high as 40?C to the south of the country. There are two main seasons in Laos; the rainy season, which lasts from May to September and the dry season from October to April.

The coolest and driest months are between November and February and this is the best time to visit the country, especially as this is when many of Lao’s vibrant festivals are held.

However, temperatures are significantly lower in the mountainous regions to the north of Laos and can be pleasant all year round, although it can get rather chilly in the evening during January and February. The hottest part of Laos is by far the southern region and it is best to avoid this area during the very hottest part of the year, especially March and April.

You can expect heavy rain practically every day during the rainy season. However, these rain showers tend to be over quite quickly and are easily avoided. Travelling during the rainy season can still be enjoyable, although be aware that many of the roads won’t be in as good a condition as during the rest of the year.

The peak tourist seasons occur from December to February and again in August. January can be very busy and it is a good idea to book in advance if you are travelling at the start of the year.

Read more...

Types of Transport in Laos

types_of_transport_in_laos_1
Types of Transport in Laos
Types of Transport in Laos
Laos has only been open to international visitors for little over a decade, so you cannot expect to find the spectrum of travel options available in some of the neighbouring countries. There is no rail service and although most of the roads are now paved vehicles can be old and unreliable. The secret to successful travel in Laos is to allow plenty of time and don’t worry too much if things don’t go exactly to plan. Just sit back and enjoy the journey as you watch the stunning scenery slide past.

Plane
This is of course the most convenient way to travel, although not necessarily the most rewarding and certainly not the cheapest. The national airline is Lao Aviation and there are regular domestic flights from most major towns and cities such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Pakse and Oudomsay. There are even weekly flights from smaller towns such as Luang Namtha, Sayaboury, Houeixay, Sam Neua, Saravane, Lak Xao, Muangkhong and Attapeu.

Taxis
Mainly restricted to Vientiane, taxis can be both metered and unmetered. It is also possible to hire taxis for the day if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing.

Tuk-tuks and jumbos
The Lao answer to the taxi, these small and somewhat rickety motorized vehicles can be found all over Laos and are a good way to get around. Fares are generally negotiable, so make sure you agree the price with the driver before setting off.

Buses
Public buses run around large towns and cities between towns and villages throughout Laos. They tend to be rather small and cramped but quite reliable. There are also slightly larger tourist buses available for a slightly higher fee.

Mini Buses
These are a more comfortable way to travel if you are following the tourist trail between places such as Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane.

Boat
The mighty Mekong River flows through Laos and travelling by slow boat is a great way to see the country, while speed boats race down the river, much to the delight of thrill seekers. Daily services run from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai.

Bicycles
A great way to explore the countryside is by hiring a bicycle at a tourist hub and simply cycling away.

Car hire
Although private car hire is possible, it is generally more trouble than it’s worth. A better option is to hire a car with a driver, which can be done through most hotels or tourist agencies.

Read more...

Survival Tips in Laos

Survival Tips in Laos
Survival Tips in Laos
Survival Tips in Laos

As a rule Laos is a very safe country to travel in. People are friendly and honest and the crime rate is low. However, as with any place there are certain things you should look out for so that you can make sure you stay safe while you travel.

Most people will have trouble changing large kip notes, so it is essential to carry a selection of smaller notes as well. Change larger notes at banks, luxurious hotels and upmarket shops.

Tap water is undrinkable, so make sure you buy bottled water, even for brushing your teeth. Bottled water is cheap and can be purchased at most shops.

Lao people don’t follow western queuing methods and trying to form a polite line to buy your bus ticket or at the post office will simply mean that you get pushed to the side. Be assertive and don’t be afraid to elbow your way into position, nobody will think any less of you for it.

Although crime is low in Laos, money and belongings do occasionally go missing from hotel rooms. There is also sometimes pick-pocketing and bag snatching on crowded buses. Stay alert and keep your valuables with you.

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.

There is a risk of banditry is some of the less travelled regions of Laos. If you plan to explore off the tourist trail it is a good idea to take a guide with you or consult a local tour company to find out which areas are at risk.

There are also a number of unexploded bombs left over from the Second Indochina War. Although tourist areas have been swept carefully, many areas of jungle and farmland remain uncleared. Be sure to stick to well worn paths when exploring and consult a tour company before wandering off on your own.

Remember to carry your passport or ID document with you all the times in order to avoid a fine.

Read more...

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.

Read more...

Food and Drink in Laos

Food and Drink in Laos
Food and Drink in Laos
Food and Drink in Laos

Food in Laos is similar to northern Thai food, yet with its own unique twist. Rice is as popular here as in the rest of Asia, although in Laos sticky rice known as khao niaow is served instead of long grained rice. Sticky rice comes in bamboo containers and is eaten with your hands, usually dipped in a selection of spicy sauces.

The French influence in Laos can be found in the cuisine and baguettes filled with pâte known as khao jii pat-te are delicious at any time of the day, especially for breakfast served with kaafeh thung – rich and tasty Lao coffee. Lao coffee usually comes with a thick layer of condensed milk at the bottom, or black - kaafeh dam.

International food is widely available in tourist towns and in Vientiane, the country’s capital, where you will also find a great selection of gourmet French restaurants.

Here is a selection of popular Lao dishes to get your taste buds tingling.

Laap – the national dish, an extremely spicy salad made from minced meat, herbs, spices, lime juice and a LOT of chilli. This dish sometimes uses raw meat.

Tam maak hung – know as som tam in Thailand, this is fresh, spicy grated papaya salad, where the flavours are pounded with a mortar and pestle to combine them.

Foe – Vietnamese noodles, often served as a snack or at breakfast time.

Khai phaan – this Mekhong River weed is served in Luang Prabang as a delicious side dish.

Padeck – fish preserved with salt and stored for anything up to three years. Padeck is usually eaten with sticky rice.

Read more...

Money Matters in Laos

Money Matters in Laos
Money Matters in Laos
Money Matters in Laos
The official currency of Laos is the Laos kip (LAK), which comes in 100, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 kip notes. Although this is the country’s only official currency, Thai Baht and US Dollars are also accepted in many places, especially tourist areas, which can make life easier if you are travelling to Laos from Thailand. You will need a ready supply of kip notes for use in smaller towns and villages as well as for small purchases.

Because it is such a poor country, the cost of visiting Laos is low, even compared to other Asian countries. Accommodation and transport are cheap and most people should be able to get by comfortably on $15 USD per day, although you can spend a lot more if you choose to eat and sleep in exclusive hotels. If you need to save money, it is possible to spend as little as $10 USD per day by eating at the local markets and staying in the cheapest hotels or guesthouses.

Make sure you bring a good supply of cash and traveller’s cheques with you as most places don’t accept credit cards and finding a cash machine can be difficult.

Changing your Money
There are banks located in all main towns and these can exchange all major currencies. The best rates can be found in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, where competition is higher than the rest of the country.

Traveller’s cheques can be cashed in exchange bureaus and banks, which can be found all over Laos and traveller’s cheques in US Dollars, are preferred.

You cannot exchange kip outside of Laos, so make sure you convert your cash before leaving the country.


ATMs
Cash machines have only recently made their way into Laos, and even now they can only really be found in Vientiane. Unfortunately, even in Vientiane the number to ATM machines are limited and they often break down. Also be aware that there is a limit to how much you can draw out at a time and there are quite hefty charges for doing so. To avoid potential problems it is best to make sure you draw enough money for your trip before entering Laos or take traveller’s cheques as these can be cashed in most of the tourist areas.

Tipping
Tipping is not common practice is Laos and will not be expected of you. However, generosity will always be appreciated, especially as the average salary is very low.

Read more...

Festivals and Holidays in Laos

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

Bun Pha Wet

Celebrated at the end of December or early January, this festival marks the birth of Prince Vestsantara, the last Buddha to walk the earth. A large number of men enter monkhood during this period and it is a good time for families to get together.

Vietnamese Tet and Chinese New Year
This three day festival takes place in March and is marked with fireworks, loud street parties and visits to the local Vietnamese and Chinese temples.

Boun Pimai
Visitors arriving in the middle of April will witness one of Laos’ most lively festivals, held over three days to celebrate Lao New Year. This is the hottest part of the year and during Boun Pimai people soak each other in the streets with water guns, hosepipes and buckets of water to cool down a little. Luang Prabang is a great place to experience this festival as there are parades through the streets and the residents party long into the night.

Boun Bang Fai (rocket festival)
Not to be missed, the rocket festival is a Buddhist rain-making festival where huge bamboo rockets are built and decorated by monks. The rockets are carried in procession and then launched into the sky. There is much singing and dancing during this festival and the atmosphere is highly charged.


Visakha-Busaa

Celebrated on the 15th day of the 6th lunar month, this festival marks the days of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. Activities focus around the country’s temples and there are pretty candlelit processions in the evening.

Khao Phansaa
This festival marks the start of Buddhist Lent, when the monks must retreat to their monasteries and commence a period of fasting. Many men become monks for a short time during Khao Phansaa, which lasts from June or July until October.

Boun Ok Phansaa
The end of the rainy season is celebrated with huge boat races along the Mekong River. Smaller boats are decorated and paraded through the town before being floated on the river.

Awk Phansaa
As the monks emerge from their monasteries once more people gather to greet them and present the spiritual guides with gifts such as robes, alms bowls and candles. Small banana-leaf boats containing candles, and incense are floated on the rivers and other waterways.

That Luang Festival
Taking place at That Luang in Vientiane, people travel from all over the country to witness the hundreds of monks, who gather to receive alms early in the morning. This festival lasts for a week and features a vibrant procession between Wat Si Muang and Pha That Luang. As well as music, dancing, chanting and delicious food.

Lao National Day
December 2nd is the day to commemorate the 1975 victory of the proletariat over the monarchy. There are parades through the streets, speeches and mass flying of the communist hammer-and-sickle flag.

Read more...

Dos and Don’ts in Laos

Dos and Don'ts in Laos
Dos and Don'ts in Laos
Dos and Don'ts in Laos
Click on a picture to see more images by the photographer. (Some pictures do not have links.)
Lao people are friendly and quite accepting of others. Although most people won’t treat you badly or even draw attention to it if you offend them, showing your respect and appreciation for their hospitality by learning some traditional Lao customs can make a big difference to your overall experience. Most things are common sense, but there are also traditional Lao customs and habits that you should be aware of.

Clothing
You should dress conservatively, especially around temples or other religious monuments. Men should always wear a shirt in public and women should avoid shorts and sleeveless shirts around holy sites. Make sure you remove your shoes before entering temples or private houses and place them neatly outside the doorway.

Buddha Images
Buddha images are extremely sacred and must be treated with respect. If you have to touch them, handle with extreme care and never touch someone’s personal Buddha statue or amulet unless you are invited to do so. When sitting on the floor in a temple you must be careful not to point your feet at a Buddha image. Sit with your legs crossed or with your feet tucked to the sid with the soles pointing backwards.

Monks
Women must be careful not to touch monks as they are forbidden female contact. If a woman wants to give something to a monk it must first be given to another man or put on a piece of cloth. Monks have to be careful to observe this, even when interacting when their mothers and sisters.

Head and Feet
The head is believed to be very scared, whilst the feet are seen as unclean. Be careful not to touch anyone on the head and avoid touching them with your feet or pointing to things with your feet.

Showing Affection
Sexual relations between people who aren’t married is actual illegal, and this extends to relationships between Lao people and foreigners. Public displays of affection such as kissing and holding hands can be offensive to Lao people, as is greeting them with a hug or kiss on the cheek.

General
You must carry your passport or ID document with you all the times as the fine for not producing it when asked can be very high. Lao people highly value personal hygiene and it is important to make sure your clothes are always clean as well.

Read more...

Location and History of Burma

Location and History of Burma
Location and History of Burma
Location and History of Burma
Covering an area of 676,552 square kilometres, Myanmar is bordered by Bangladesh and India to the west, China to the north, and Laos and Thailand to the east. The capital city is Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon and Myanmar’s population is around 49 million.

Although the official language is Myanmar, there are over 100 dialects spoken in this diverse country and English is generally used when conducting business. The majority of people (around 87%) are Buddhist, with other people being Hindu, Muslim, Christian and animist.

The history of Myanmar is turbulent to stay the least. Originally named Burma, the country’s proximity to so many dominant nations has mean that wars and land right disputes have been going on for centuries and the territory wasn’t reunified until the middle of the 16th century. Years of war followed as this now unified nation invaded first the Mon people and then Thailand in an attempt to gain more land. 

Burma became part of British India towards the end of the 19th century, during which time the British helped develop the country and establish trade relations. The British were driven out of the country during WW II and Burma became independent in 1948. However, the hill tribes, communists, Muslims and Mons within Burma all revolted, causing chaos.

General Ne Win led a revolt in 1962 and basically seized control of the country, eliminating the democratic government. The economy crumbled over the years that followed and people started to demonstrate in 1987 and 1988 in order to get Ne Win to resign. The general resisted and conflicts between the between pro-democracy demonstrators and the military ended in around 3,000 deaths in just six weeks.

General Saw Maung and his State Law & Order Council (SLORC) took control of the government after a military coup and there was an election. However, despite the fact that the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi scored a massive victory, the party leaders were prevented from taking office and were actually arrested under very dubious circumstances while a know drug baron took over the running of the country.

During her years of imprisonment, Aung San Suu Kyi has attempted to spread the world of Myanmar’s dictatorship government and her illegal house arrest, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and finally her freedom in 2002.

The state of affairs in Myanmar was finally put into the spotlight in 2007 when thousands of monks marched in protest at the unfair beating of three of their fellow monks were beaten at a protest march. Although the government tried to suppress the march by firing on the crowds and closing communications, the word was already out and people around the globe are becoming aware of the conditions opposed on the people of Myanmar.

Although things are still tightly controlled in Myanmar there seems to be hope on the horizon and many are optimistic that the situation will soon improve.

Read more...

Types of Transport in Burma

Types of Transport in Burma
Types of Transport in Burma
Types of Transport in Burma
Although a lot of Myanmar is off limits to foreigners, there are still plenty of areas to visit and you are free to explore the towns and villages within these areas.

Plane
There are more than sixty airstrips located within Myanmar and this is by far the easiest way to travel. There are four domestic airlines, although many people prefer to avoid Myanma Airlines as it is run by the government. The three private airlines are Air Bagan, Air Mandalay and Yangon Airways. One-way tickets need to be bought at least a day in advance and are cheaper at travel agencies than airline offices. Unfortunately, flights tend to be irregular and the safety record is not the best, so it might be better to consider other options.

Boat
There is an extensive river network running through Myanmar and travelling by boat is by far the best way to see the country. The service between Mandalay and Bagan is particularly popular with travellers and you can choose between the ferry or speedboat service. Boats can sail along the Irrawaddy River even in the dry season and places such as Bhamo and Myitkyina are easy to get to, while Yangon can be reached via the Twante Canal. However, boat trips can only be arranged as part of an organized tour group, which limits your options and the journey takes a lot longer than by road or air. 

Bus
Bus travel is cheap and the buses run regularly, making this a convenient form of transport. While it is better to avoid the old, crowded buses, the newer long distance buses are quite comfortable. The older buses break down frequently and are often delayed by several hours. Try to buy you ticket in advance to snag a good seat. Bus fares are priced in Kyat and can sometimes be bought from guesthouses as well as the chaotic bus station. The front of the bus is always the best as the back is usually crowded and uncomfortable.

Train
Myanmar Railways is owned by the government and it is best to avoid travelling by train. In addition, foreigners are forced to pay at least six times the standard fare, and train travel is slow and quite dangerous as the trains regularly derail.

Car and Motorcycle
Although it is possible to hire a car or motorbike in places such as Mandalay, International Driving Licences and British licences are not accepted and you must apply for a Myanmar licence at the Department for Road Transport and Administration in Yangon first. 

Around Town
Local transport options include bicycle rickshaws or trishaws known as sai-kaa, horse carts -myint hlei - ancient taxis and modern Japanese pick-up trucks. Fares are negotiable and it is essential to agree on the fee before getting in. 

Read more...

When to Visit Burma

When to visit Burma
When to visit Burma
When to visit Burma
Like much of Southeast Asia, Myanmar has a tropical monsoon climate with three distinct seasons. The hottest season is from February to May, and this is also the driest time of the year. The monsoon or rainy season lasts from May to October, while there is a cool season between October and February. The weather also tends to be quite dry in the cool season.

Most people prefer to visit Myanmar in the cool season, probably arriving around November and heading out by the time the weather starts to turn at the end of January. Temperatures start to climb dramatically in the middle of February and April is scorching hot, peaking at around 45?C. The rains arrive in the middle of May and cool things down considerably, although this time of year can also be rather humid.

You can expect rain showers pretty much every day during the monsoon season, although in many places such as Yangon the rain tends to fall in two short showers, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In other parts of Myanmar such as Bagan and Mandalay the rainfall is rather low.

If you are visiting Myanmar in the summer head to the hills as temperatures tend to be much lower here than in the rest of the country, meaning that you will need warm clothes if you are visiting during the cool or wet seasons.

Read more...

Staying Safe in Burma

Staying safe in Burma
Staying safe in Burma
Staying safe in Burma
Although it is only common sense to be careful with your belongings while you travel, theft is virtually unheard of in Myanmar and you don’t have to keep looking over your shoulder here. Of course, there are people who will try to make an easy dollar and the main scams involve dishonest money changers and drivers and guides who take you to certain shops in order to receive a commission.

Local people can get in serious trouble for discussing politics so avoid bringing up the topic. If you are keen to find out local opinion be discrete and wait for the subject to be raised by others.

Power cuts are frequent and although most places have their own generator it is best to check before paying for a room in a guesthouse as it can get pretty hot at night without an electric fan to cool things down.

Although the local people are honest, Myanmar is one of the world's most corrupt countries and it is common for officials and other civil servants to discreetly ask travellers for bribes. These requests are rarely reinforced however and refusing to understand generally does the trick. 

Although there have been bombings in Myanmar in the past these have now stopped and the main danger zones are off limits to tourists anyway. The situation in Myanmar is constantly changing and tourists and banned from several areas. Make sure you get the latest information before you go to avoid problems. It is possible to apply in Yangon for a permit to enter restricted areas, although such requests are seldom granted.

Read more...

Money Matters in Burma

Money matters in Burma
Money matters in Burma
Money matters in Burma
Myanmar’s official currency is Kyat, pronounced "Chat” and usually written as K. The Kyat comes in K1, K5, K10, K15, K20, K45, K50, K90, K100, K200, K500, and K1000 notes and is the best way to pay for small items. US Dollars are also accepted throughout Myanmar and larger fees such as hotel rooms and transport are quoted and paid for in US Dollars.

Changing your Money
Plenty of people will offer to change your money for you as you travel around Myanmar, although the best places to change money are guesthouses, shops and travel agencies. Of course, exchange rates fluctuate between places, so make sure you take a good look around before handing over your cash.

You can only exchange US Dollars and Euros, and rates tend to be slightly better in Yangon than in the rest of Myanmar. Check the serial number on your bank notes carefully as US Dollars that start with AB or BC are often refused.

ATMs
There are no ATMs at all in Myanmar, so it is a good idea to stock up with cash or traveller’s cheques before entering the country. Traveller’s cheques can be changed at a few chic hotels in Yangon for a commission of between 3% and 10%.

Credit Cards
Although not widely accepted, some major hotels, airlines, international shops and restaurants will accept credit cards, but Master Card is not currently accepted in Myanmar.

Tipping
It is common practice to add 5 to 10 per cent to hotel and restaurant bills as a tip.

It is important to remember that the import and export of local currency is strictly prohibited.

Read more...

Food and Drink in Burma

Food and Drink in Burma
Food and Drink in Burma
The people of Myanmar love their food to be hot and spicy, with most dishes liberally dosed with plenty of chilli, garlic and ginger. Local food is actually a blend of traditional dishes with influences of Chinese, Indian and Mon culinary styles. Characteristic dishes are curry-based with chicken, seafood and mutton as pork and beef tend to be avoided. Rice is the staple dish and vegetarian food is widely available throughout the country.

Food in Myanmar tends to be cheap and tasty, making this a great place to experiment. There is plenty of fresh fruit available in the markets and food stalls can be found on practically every corner in the towns.

Although coffee can be hard to find, tea is popular, served with brightly hued spices. Most bars and select restaurants sell locally produced beer, whiskey and gin. Toddy juice is made from fermented palm sugar and tastes a lot like rum.

There are a large number of Chinese and Indian restaurants throughout Myanmar and Western food can be found in most hotels and an increasingly growing number of independent restaurants, although there are no fast food chains in Myanmar, which is probably a very good thing.

It is not safe to drink the tap water in Myanmar, but bottled water is cheap. It is also best to avoid ice as this may be made with tap water.


Here is a selection of the dishes you are likely to discover in Myanmar:

Lethok son – a very spicy salad using rice and vegetables.

Mohinga – filling fish curry soup with thin noodles.

Onnokauswe – a slightly sweet and creamy dish of rice noodles, chicken and coconut milk. This curry is strong and pungent.

Mee swan – noodles in a thick broth served with herbs and meat.

Palata – known as paratha in India, this thin bread is fried and served with sugar for breakfast and curried meat at lunch and dinnertime.

Read more...

Festivals and Holidays in Burma

Festivals and Holidays in Burma
Festivals and Holidays in Burma
Festivals and Holidays in Burma
The people of Myanmar like to celebrate and attending their festivals is a good way to get an idea of the country’s traditional songs, dances and costume. Most Buddhist holidays are set according to the phases of the moon rather than standard calendars, so dates tend to vary from year to year.

Here is a list of some of the most prominent festivals with details of what you can expect to experience.

Independence Day
This national holiday is celebrated on January 4th. Most businesses close for the day and foreigners are not permitted to join the ceremonies.

Ananda Pagoda Festival
Held between January 10th and February 1st in the city of Bagan, this lively festival features singing, dancing, plays, and film screenings. A large number of stalls set up and this is a good time to purchase local produce.

Mahamuni Ceremony
Celebrated in Mandalay in the second week of February, monks gather here to chant and the festival is also full of singing, dancing and traditional theatre.

Union Day
On February 12th people gather and the hill tribes dance in their traditional dress.

Shwe Saryan Pagoda Festival
Take a boat along the river from Mandalay to witness this colourful festival and buy traditional products such as toys, boxes, baskets and mats.

Pindaya Cave Festival
Held on March 16th in Pindaya, this two day festival features much singing and dancing.

Water Festival
Similar to Songkran is Laos and Thailand, people throw water during this festival in mid April and most things are closed as everyone joins in the fun.

Sand Stupa Festival
In Mandalay in the middle of April intriguing sand stupas are built in different parts of the city using traditional techniques.

Waso Full Moon Day
Buddhist Lent begins in the middle of July and people gather at the temples and stupas to donate good to the monks.


Martyr's Day

On July 19th ceremonies are held to mark the assassination of General Aung San.

Taung Byone Festival
Travel to the village of Matara near Mandalay on August 8th to witness the traditional Nat dance.

Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival
During this 2 week festival Buddhist images are placed in decorated barges and floated on Lake Inle.

Elephant Dance Festival
This vibrant festival is held on October 9th and 1oth near Mandalay.

Tadingyut Festival
On October 11th the whole country celebrates the end of Buddhist Lent

Fire Balloon Festival
This special three-day festival starts on November 16th in Taunggyi. Taunggyi the festival is celebrated with competitions of decorated hot-air balloons in different shapes and forms of animals such as elephants, cattle, the mythical Hintha bird and hens as well as with fireworks and firecrackers in the evening.

Robe Weaving Contest
Held in all major cities on November 7th, teams of women compete against each other to gain recognition as the best robe weavers.

Read more...