Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia

Kinabalu National Park, MalaysiaHome to the area’s highest mountain and some spectacular forest, Kinabulu National Park is a great place to explore. Climbing to the summit of the impressive Mount Kinabalu is the most popular activity here, while there are also a large number of enchanting forest trails for visitors to follow.

Covering 754 square kilometers, Kinabalu National Park features a large number of natural attractions such as waterfalls, gardens and the Poring Hot Springs, where the warm mineral waters are the perfect place to soak away aches and pains after a hard day of mountain climbing or trekking through the forest.

Mount Kinabalu towers 4,095 meters above northern Borneo. Climb to the top for spectacular views and for the unparalleled sense of achievement that conquering this mighty mountain brings. It is possible to climb to the summit and back in about four hours, although it is better to allow a couple of days and take an overnight break at Laban Rata as the best views come in the early morning.

Unlike many other mountains of its loftiness, there are no special mountain climbing skills needed to scale Mount Kinabalu, although potential climbers should be reasonably fit. However, the park staff recommend that those planning to climb the mountain hire a guide as the mountain can be rather dangerous.

Kinabalu National Park has its own museum, where visitors can learn about the area’s flora and fauna before climbing the mountain or taking one of the marked trails through the forest. There are also a number of places to spend the night within the park, with options ranging from dorm beds to pretty chalets.

Tha Khaek, Laos

Tha Khaek, Laos
Tha Khaek, Laos
Tha Khaek, Laos
Tha Khaek, Laos

With a name that means “Guest landing” in the Lao language, visitors to Tha Khaek can be sure of receiving a warm welcome. This pretty town has managed to retain its unique feel and identity, making it a great place to visit to discover more about the traditional Lao spirit and way of life.

The village can be reached easily by crossing the Mekong by boat from the town of Nakhon Phanom in Thailand and the village receives a large number of travelers making their way across the border. Many people gather on the banks of the river to eat and drink and for the good views of Thailand that can be seen.

Walking around Tha Kaek is a rewarding experience as surprises wait around every corner. Explore the network of narrow lanes and you will soon come across the large open market, where it is literally eat or be eaten. Almost every type of animal seems to be on the menu here including snakes, squirrels, bats and frogs.

A good way to explore this interesting area is to hire a bicycle or moped and simply cycle away. The roads are not too bad around Tha Khaek and you can follow route 13 to the east and then cycle back up and around, returning to Tha Kheak on route 12.

There are many things to see and do along the way. One good stopping point is the Tham Nong Pafa cave, also known as Buddha cave, or you can continue further along the trail and you will come to Aen Cave.Many people visit this are in order to explore Konglor Cave, where you can take a boat ride along the 5 mile river that flows through the cave. 

Lush scenery surrounds Tha Khaek and as you cycle you will pass by paddy fields, dense jungle and fields full of rich brown or dark red earth.

If you need to cool down, pay a visit to Tha Falang, which is a swimming area in the river. Splash around here for a while before following the river to the small cave known as a Tham Xiengliab. 

There are a good variety of restaurants located along the river when it’s time to eat. Another lively eating spot is at the market, and amongst the assortment of crispy fried wildlife you will also find more familiar treats such as pancakes and stuffed French baguettes.

Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng, Laos
Vang Vieng, Laos
Vang Vieng, Laos

The chilled out traveller’s hot spot of Vang Vieng is situated 120 miles from Vientiane. The journey takes just three of four hours by bus, while it is 150 miles to Luang Prabang. The best way to get around this picturesque village is to walk or hire a bicycle, but mopeds are also available for rent.

The tranquil atmosphere of Vang Vieng is very addictive. The landscape is incredibly serene and picturesque; beyond the sparkling river sheer limestone cliffs rise from a plateau of paddy fields. The river is spanned by a number of wooden bridges, which despite their flimsy appearance compliment the scenery perfectly.

Vang Vieng is a real haven for travellers and you will find a great assortment of cheap guesthouses dotted around the village. Many westerners arrive here and never leave, setting up their own bars and guesthouses alongside the many others owned by Lao people.

Chilling out is the main activity in Vang Vieng. Restaurants show Friends reruns throughout the day and night and there is plenty of good food and drink to go with it. International food is popular here and most restaurants offer a selection of backpack favourites such as pizza, pasta and spicy curry.

Walking through the scenic landscape is also popular and there are some other beautiful caves to explore on the far side of the river. Alternatively, if you fancy something a bit more energetic, why not hire an inner tube and float away down the river? Other popular activities in and around 
Vang Vieng include rafting, trekking and bicycle and motorbike trips.

Many of the families that live in Vang Vieng are self-sufficient and have chickens clucking in the garden in front of the house. As you explore the picturesque dusty lanes you will find puppies running around and fluffy yellow chicks cheep in the long grass, watched over by their clucking mother.

If you are feeling adventurous, take a walk through the village to the Vang Vieng Resort which is a large, picturesque garden with a large cable bridge spanning the river. At the far end of the park is the impressive cave of Tham Jang. Climb the 147 steps for enchanting views of the surrounding countryside and sparkling rocks inside. In the evening, sit beside the river and watch the sun slip behind the horizon with a beer or two.

Phongsaly, Laos

Phongsaly, LaosSituated in north Laos, not too many people venture into the town of Phonsaly. However, those who do take the time and trouble will find an area rich in traditional culture and natural beauty. With more than twenty ethnic tribes living in the area, this is a good place to discover the diverse life styles, dress styles and religious practices that make these tribes unique. (more…)

Bagan, Burma

Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos

Also sometimes spelt Pagan, the Bagan plain contains a collection of more than 4,000 ancient temples and is an impressive sight, even if you’re not particularly interested in old buildings or have already feeling ‘templed out’. One of Myanmar’s most significant historical sites, the best time to visit Bagan is around sunrise or sunset.

Although the collection of pagodas and temples at Bagan is still very impressive, their number once totaled around 13,000, and they were built in the years between 1044-1287 before finally being abandoned when Kublai Khan invaded the area from China and people literally ran to the hills.

Although the detailed carvings on each pagoda and temple make them all special in their own way, the most highly revered temple is considered to be Ananda, which was built by King Kyan-zit-tha in 1091. The main feature of the temple is the four large Buddhas, which represent the first four holy men to have achieved enlightenment.

Another great temple to visit is the Thatbyinnyu Temple, which is Bagan’s highest point and provides spectacular views of the entire area, while the Shwegugyi Temple was built in 1311 and is decorated with especially attractive carvings. Also worth looking out for is the Gawdawpalin Temple, which despite some damage during the 1975 earthquake is still very impressive.

There are quite a few decent places to stay in Bagan as well as restaurants, markets and surrounding beauty, making this a great place to spend a day or two while you explore slowly. While you’re here, check out Bagan’s interesting museum and lacquerware workshops.

For a fresh perspective and excellent views, take a hot air balloon ride over the Bagan Plain at sunset. This is a truly memorable experience and provides the opportunity to take some fantastic photographs.

Bagan is situated on the banks of the Ayerwaddy River, and sunset cruise on the river is a relaxing experience, while you can also be driven around the area in a horse cart or hire a bicycle and peddle around.

Kampot, Cambodia

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

The enchanting colonial town of Kampot is the perfect place to spend a little time for those who want to unwind for a while. Famed for its intense natural beauty and featuring natural attractions such as cool caves, tropical islands complete with pristine sandy beaches and waterfalls, this is a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life for a while.
Most people travel to Kampot in order to visit the stunningly beautiful Bokor National Park. With 1,581 square kilometres of forest to explore, the national park is certainly the highlight of the region, but there are plenty of other things to see and do here.

Visitors will want to allow at least two days to explore Kampot, and wandering through the streets past pretty colonial French buildings is a popular pastime with visitors. Many of the main bars and guesthouses can be found along the banks of the Tuk Chou River, which is the perfect place to simply sit and soak up the atmosphere for a while as you gaze at the backdrop of Elephant and Bokor mountains.

There are also plenty of things to see and do just on the outskirts of the town, and those who are interested in culture will want to explore the Cham fishing villages, while riding the Teuk Chrreu rapids is sure to appeal to thrill seekers. Those who prefer to slow the pace a little can also opt to take a cruise on the Tuk Chou River to see the surrounding scenery and perhaps explore the caves and waterfalls that can be found near the edge of the water.

A large number of companies in Kampot offer to hire out bicycles to visitors, and cycling through the countryside is a popular activity with independent travellers. Cyclists can pause at the local pepper plantations to receive a guided tour before hopping back on their bikes to explore once more.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you return to the restaurants that can be found on the banks Tuk Chou River in the evening to dine in style on freshly caught seafood and perhaps enjoy a glass or two of beer or the local moonshine.

Bokor National Park, Cambodia

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

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

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

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

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

Kratie, Cambodia

Kratie, Cambodia
kratie_4

Situated on the banks of the Mekong River in eastern Cambodia, Kratie is a pretty colonial town surrounded by natural beauty. Although not a major tourist attraction in itself, large numbers of people flock here for the chance to spot the beautiful Irrawaddy Dolphins.

It is possible to visit Kratie on a day trip from Stung Treng, which is three hours away. However, Kratie’s quiet charm and the warmth of the local people coaxes many people to extend their stay for several days in order to explore fully and enjoy the tranquillity.

Kratie was developed by French colonialists towards the end of the 19th century and as you explore you will discover a number of French colonial buildings nestled alongside traditional wooden Cambodian houses.

Tragically, there are less than a hundred Irrawaddy Dolphins play in the waters of the mighty Mekong. A good time to spot them is at sunset and you can hire a boat and driver to take you out onto the river.

Perhaps the best way to fully explore Kratie is by hiring a bicycle from one of the many guesthouses. Cycle to the pretty pagoda of Sasar Moy Roy with its 100 pillars. According to legend this pagoda holds the ashes of a princess who was killed by a crocodile more than 500 years ago.

 Climb the steps to the top of Phnom Sambok for fantastic views of the river and surrounding countryside and visit the traditional Cambodian temple of Wat Roka Kandal. Forget about noisy motos, horse and cart is the main form of transport in Kratie and this is an interesting way to get around and see the sights.

There are a number of pretty islands close to Kratie such as Koh Trong and Kho Pdao. As you explore you will also discover a number of floating villages, where you can watch fish being caught in the traditional way and perhaps buy the catch of the day to be cooked at one of the local restaurants.

The sunsets over Kratie are simply spectacular and many people gather in the evening to watch the dying of the day. Enjoy freshly caught river fish at one of the many riverside restaurants and wash it down with a beer or two for the perfect end to a relaxing day.  

Koh Samet, Thailand

Koh Samet, Thailand
Koh Samet, Thailand
Koh Samet, Thailand
Koh Samet, Thailand

Koh Samet is an extremely pretty island situated in Rayong Province, which is within easy reach of Bangkok. The island features 14 beautiful white sand beaches. Although a popular tourist destination and a major destination for Thai families on weekends, Koh Samet somehow manages to maintain the feel of a quiet remote tropical hideaway, especially during the week.

Although seemingly sleepy, there is still plenty to do on Koh Samet, especially in the evening when the beach bars come alive and there is loud music, drinking and dancing on the beach, especially on weekends or around the full moon.

Located in Rayong Province, the island is reached by a short ferry ride from the pretty port town of Bang Phe. Bang Phe itself can be reached in 2-3 hours from Bangkok’s Ekkamai bus terminal.

A good way to see all of the island’s pristine beaches is to hire a motorbike, whilst songthaews will take you just about anywhere you want to go. Another great option is to take a boat tour around the island. Boat tours can usually be combined with snorkelling or scuba diving trips.

The island largely consists of jungle in the center, and another great way to explore is to go hiking, while you can watch the sunset from dramatic cliff side locations along the south-west coastline.

There are evening fire shows at a few of the islands beach bars. They are usually held after 8 pm and act as a showcase for some of the talented locals. While on Koh Samet you can learn a new skill and show off to people back home by taking fire juggling lessons from one of the experienced fire jugglers.

Yoga classes are held daily at Ao Pay beach and the yoga teacher has been practicing yoga for more than thirty years. You can also ease aching muscles with one of many types of massages on offer.

Food wise, the island is famous for seafood, and some of the best barbeques are found along Ao Phai and Haat Sai Kaew beaches. However, you can also find just about any style of food that takes your fancy, from curries to pizza.

Many of the bars show movies and football in the evening and a good way to escape the heat in the middle of the day and chill out is to order a coconut shake and tune in to a cheesy western movie.

Samut Prakarn, Thailand

Samut Prakarn, Thailand
Samut Prakarn, Thailand
Samut Prakarn, Thailand
Samut Prakarn, Thailand

Located 29 kilometres south of Bangkok, Samut Prakan is easy to get to and has many interesting tourist activities on offer for those who are willing to take a small step off the usual tourist trail. Built during the Ayutthaya period, Samut Prakan is home to numerous historical and cultural sites.

A great way to get an overview of all that Thailand has to offer is by visiting The Ancient City, which is also known by its Thai name of Muang Boran. This huge park contains large scale models of all Thailand’s major tourist attractions. Visitors can hire a bicycle or a small electrical cart and spend a few hours discovering sites such as the temples of Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Surat Thani.

Many visitors combine a trip to The Ancient City with the nearby Crocodile Farm, while the Erawan Museum was constructed by the creator of The Ancient City and is the world’s first free-standing metal sculpture to use a hand-shaped technique. This mighty sculpture has to be seen to be believed as it measures 43.60 metres in height and contains hundreds of thousands of pieces of copper meticulously hammered together to form the shape of the beloved mythological elephant.

An alternative to the popular tourist spot of Damnoen Saduak, the Bang Namphueng Floating Market is newly opened. Unlike other floating markets, this is the real deal, created to help local farmers sell their produce and create employment for the community. The floating market is open Saturdays and Sundays 8.00 a.m. – 2.00 p.m.

Samut Prakarn is home to some interesting temples, including Wat Klang Worawihan, Wat Asokaram, Wat Phaichayonphonsep Ratchaworawihan and Wat Prot Ket Chettharam, which contains revered Buddha images and the Buddha’s footprint complete with valuable mother-of-pearl inlays.

Samut Prakarn is home to many unique and interesting festivals, which bring people from all over Thailand. Beginning the 5th day of the waning moon of the 11th lunar month, the Phra Samut Chedi Fair is a lively annual affair. Many people flock to the province for the nine day ceremony where they pay homage to the Phra Samut Chedi. The festival features a float contest and a colourful boat procession along the Chao Phraya River to Phra Pradaeng District Office and back to the Phra Samut Chedi. Other activities include a candle light procession around the Phra Samut Chedi, boat races on the Chao Phraya River, singing and dancing.

The Yon Bua Festival is held each year on the 13th day of the waxing moon of the 11th lunar month. The main feature is the respect paying and procession of the Luangpho To image both by land and water. The event also features competitions of folk activities such as lotus arrangement, boat contests and folk entertainment such as Phleng Ruea or boat songs.