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Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang was formerly the capital of Laos and is situated at the meeting point of the Mekong and Mae Kok rivers in northern Laos. Most travellers in Laos make it to this large and inviting city at some point during their journey and this is a great place to spend a few days.

Luang Prabang Province is considered by many to be Laos’ cultural and heritage centre and here you will find a large collection of Buddhist monasteries, temples and monuments. The town itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers some stunning examples of French architecture and traditional temple art.

Surrounded by dense jungle and sparkling rivers, Luang Prabang Province is extremely beautiful. The earth is a rich brown colour and to the north rocky mountains make an impressive backdrop. Trekking is popular here and there are a good range of activities available such as rock climbing and boat trips.

Among the largest and most impressive of Luang Prabang’s temples are Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Visoun and Wat Ou Tay, while the 24-metre high stupa of That Chomsi is an impressive sight. For spectacular views over the city climb to the top of Phu Si, which is also one of the best places to watch the sun set over the city.

There are plenty to see and do around the province. 30 miles north of Luang Prabang city is the cave of Tham Ting, which is filled with large Buddha images and is a prominent place of worship for the local people. The cave is situated right on the river and combined with the two hour boat trip to get there this is a great way to spend a day.

Another good day trip destination pretty the Tad Sae waterfall and Kuang Si waterfall, while the National Museum is a good place to learn more about the local culture and history. Topped by an impressive golden-spired stupa, Luang Prabang’s former royal palace has been transformed into the Palace Museum, and here you will find an impressive collection of regal artefacts and royal portraits

There are a large number of cheap guesthouses available in Luang Prabang and plenty of restaurants serving international food. A great time to visit is during one of the country’s festivals, when the streets are filled with colourful and noisy processions.   

Getting around Luang Prabang is easy and this is a great place to take it easy before venturing into the more remote areas of Laos.

Bago, Burma

Bago, Burma
Bago, Burma
Bago, Burma

Situated some 50 miles to the north of Yangon, the pretty town of Bago is one of Myanmar’s leading attractions and a great place to spend a little time. Also known as Pegu, the town is home to a large collection of sacred Buddha images, making it one of the country’s holiest sites.

Many people simply pass by Bago on their way to Mandalay, but those who take the time to stop and look around will come across many unique features. Here you will find literally thousands of Buddha images in carved niches in a rocky cavern and an interesting array of pagodas, temples and other buildings.

The site of Bago was founded in 573 AD by two Mon princes and paid an important role in the history of both Mon land and Myanmar before being destroyed by the Burmese King Alaungpaya in 1757. Although only a few buildings remain as testimony to this interesting period of history, those that do are worth taking the time to investigate.

Bago has a number of large pagodas, of which the Shwemawdaw or Golden Shrine is the most sacred as it is believed to contain a couple of hairs belonging to the Gautama Buddha. As you explore the town you will discover the Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha statue and the impressive Kalyani Sima or Hall of Ordination.

There are a number of interesting places to explore on the outskirts of Bago. Just 40 miles to the east is one of Myanmar’s most prominent landmarks. Also know as Golden Rock, the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is a 5.5 meter high pagoda atop a large bolder covered with gold leaf. What makes this site so unusual is that the bolder is balanced on the very edge of a precipice and looks as though it will topple over the edge at any moment.

Bago is situated between the forested Pegu Mountains to the west and the Sittang River to the east. Surrounded by picturesque paddy fields, this is a good area to explore to get a real feel for Myanmar. There are number of places to get a bite to eat around Bagan and a couple of cosy places to stay.

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Cambodia’s capital city is loud, dirty and rather violent on first glance, earning it the reputation as a ‘rough city’. However, scratch the surface and you will find plenty of pretty places to walk, good restaurants and interesting buildings. Although the residents are not as warm and welcoming as in the countryside, many people are willing to provide much needed advice and a friendly face.

Phnom Penh was largely destroyed during the time of the Khmer Rouge and is slowly being restored to its former glory. Also known as Riverside, Sisowath Quay is a pretty avenue running along the banks of the Mekong River and is an interesting place to walk in the evening when dozens of stalls set up selling everything from good meals to cheap souvenirs.

According to popular legend, the city was founded in the 14th century by an old woman named Penh who discovered a tree with a handful of Buddha images wedged in a niche. She recovered the images and had a hill – phnom in the Khmer language – built to contain them. The city grew from there into the sprawling metropolis it is today.  

A tour of Phnom Penh should lead you straight to the Royal palace with its Silver Pagoda and temple of the Emerald Buddha. Also known as Wat Preah Keo Morokat, the entire floor of the Silver pagoda is covered with over 5,000 silver tiles, each weighing 1 kilo. Inside is the Emerald Buddha, which was crafted from baccorant crystal and is one of Cambodia’s most famous images.

Opposite, the National Museum is home to some impressive Khmer sculptures, including many pieces previously at Angkor. This is a good place to get a feel for the ancient art work and various styles. Climb a hill at the centre of a small park near Sisowath Quay for spectacular views and to visit Wat Phnom with its resident monkeys.

To get an idea for the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, many people take a day trip to the Killing Fields, which are located at Cheoung Ek, about 17 kilometres south of Phnom Penh. Now peaceful, this is the place where the Khmer Rouge killed several thousands of their victims and visitors can explore the Buddhist stupa which is filled with human skulls.  

Another gruesome reminder is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which is the actual school building that the Khmer Rouge leaders converted to a prison. The museum contains a number of graphic photographs detailing the brutality and handwritten accounts by a few of the survivors.

On a lighter note, taking a cruise on the Mekong River is a great way to see the area, and many tour companies offer sunset dinner cruises. Before you leave Phnom Pehn visit Mekong Island and watch the traditional weaving.

In additional to the city’s many bars and nightclubs, evening entertainment is provided by the French Cultural Centre, who show regular movies.

Phang-Nga, Thailand

Phang-Nga, Thailand
Phang-Nga, Thailand
Phang-Nga, Thailand
phang_nga_4

Welcome to an area of intense and unforgettable natural beauty; Phang-nga Province, which is located roughly 788 kilometres from Bangkok in the south of Thailand. Full of spectacular national parks, pretty beaches and islands, it is easy to see why this is a popular destination for both international travellers and Thai holiday makers.

The most famous attraction is perhaps Ao Phang-nga National Park, which is a geological wonderland filled with islets, sunken caverns and astonishing rock formations rising out of the sea. The bay is ideal for expeditions of sea canoes to explore the many fascinating caverns, all of which have their own interesting eco-systems.

Also extremely beautiful is the Surin Islands Marine National Park, which is a great place to go diving and snorkelling. Between March and April whale sharks can be spotted in the park, while people can stay overnight in a bungalow in Morken Village. There is also an interesting Walking Trail around the bay of Ao Mai and into the jungle.

There are a large number of pretty islands around Phang Nga Bay just waiting to be explored. The most famous is the island of Ko Phing Kan, popularly known as James Bond Island. In 1974, the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed around this needle formed limestone rock, which juts out of the sea. A good way to see the island is by taking a boat tour.

Other areas of intense natural beauty include the Similan Islands Marine National Park, the Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park, Ton Pariwat Wildlife Conservation Area and Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Park, which is a public park located opposite the interesting building of the former City Hall.

Phan-nga is a great place for trekking through the jungle and exploring. There are a large number of spectacular waterfalls to discover, all of which make great trekking destinations. Of particular interest are Namtok Saeng Thong, Namtok Hin Lat, Namtok Tao Thong, Namtok Raman and the stunning five-tiered Namtok Lamru.

The Ban Bo Dan Hot Springs are a great place to soak away your aches and pains after a busy day of exploring. Not to be missed is the enchanting Wat Tham Suwannakhuha, which means Heaven Grotto Temple in English and is a cave full of Buddha images including a 15 meter reclining Buddha.

Said to resemble an elephant, Khao Chang is a huge mountain which offers spectacular views of the area from the top. Whilst there, check out the interesting Phang-nga Wildlife Nursery Station, which is located nearby.

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.

Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Nakhon Nayok, Thailand
Nakhon Nayok, Thailand
nakhon_nayok_3
Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Welcome to Nakhon Nayok Province, an ancient site of the Dvaravati civilisation, which dates back more than 900 years. The province capital, Nakhon Nayok town was originally established as an eastern fort town of Ayutthaya during the reign of King U Thong and is located 106 kilometres from Bangkok.

There is a lot in Nakhon Nayak for lovers of nature to see and explore. The northern part of the province is situated amongst the colossal Dong Phaya Yen mountain range, and most of that area is covered by the lush green jungle of the spectacularly beautiful Khao Yai National Park.

In the central part of the province you will find the flowing waters of the Nakhon Nayok River. There are many opportunities to hire various kinds of boats around the area as this river is perfect for kayaking and canoeing. You can take out kayaks and canoes for the entire day and use your craft to explore the narrow tributaries at Khlong Wang Takhrai, which lead through a vast coffee plantation.

A short bus ride away from town is the Wang Takhrai Botanical Garden and the popular Wang Takhrai waterfall. There are also many other waterfalls to discover in the province such as Nam Tok Nang Rong, the nine-tiered Sarika waterfall and also the stunning Lan Rak waterfall. Another beautiful waterfall is Nam Tok Heo Narok, where the water cascades from a 200 metre cliff.

For those interested in the rich history of the area, a visit to the Dong Lakhon Ancient City should be high on the agenda. Located 9 kilometres south of the town, this is an ancient town of the Dvaravati period (about 6th-13th centuries). Don’t forget to pay a visit to the local museum to discover more about the area’s interesting past and to see well labelled displays of ancient Buddha images.

Worth looking out for are the long awaited Nakhon Nayok Canoe Races, which commence at the Wang Takhrai Canal Bridge in Tambon Sarika and end in the Nakhon Nayok River near the provincial capital, a distance of 5 kilometres. The races take place at various times throughout the year and tourists are welcome to join in the fun and try to beat the local contestants.

Ubon, Thailand

Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand

Ubon Ratchathani Province is located in the southeast of the Isan region of Thailand. The capital city bears the same name, but is more commonly known as Ubon. The name means Royal Land Lotus Blossom in the Thai language and refers to the exceptional natural beauty of the area.

The city, which sits on the northern bank of the Mun River, was originally founded in the late 18th century by Lao immigrants and still retains many aspects of Lao style and culture. For an insight into the rich and interesting history of this area, pay a visit to the Ubon National Museum.

Ubon Ratchathani is best loved for its stunning national parks. No visit is complete without seeing the spectacular Phu Chong Na Yoi National Park, which covers an area of 687 square kilometers, featuring stunning views from the cliffs at Pha Pheung and the huge Bak Tew Yai Waterfall.

Another area of great beauty is the Kaeng Tana National Park and don’t miss the Pha Taem National Park with its pre-historic cliff paintings showing scenes of fishing, rice farming, figures of people and animals.

There are many beautiful waterfalls in the area, and it is possible to swim in the clear waters of most. Some of the best include Nam Tok Saeng Chan, Nam Tok Thung Na Muang and the magnificent Nam Tok Soi Sawan.

It goes without saying that there are many interesting temples to explore, embodying design features of both Lao and Thai temple art. Look out for Wat Tung Si Muang, Wat Supattanaram, the rectangular chedi of Wat Phra That Nong Bua, Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram and many others.

Koh Hat Wat Tai is a small island in the Mae Nam Mun which is great for swimming and sunbathing. Another attraction in the area are the Warin Chamrap District Temples. These are two temples where people from all over the world gather to study meditation. Wat Nong Pa Phung is reserved for Thai people, while Wat Pa Nanachat is for non-Thais.

The silk weaving village of Wat Nong Bua is located 18 kilometers from the city and makes a great day trip, while many people travel to ride the Kaeng Saphue rapids or take a boat trip on the turbulent white waters.

Ubon has a large night market, which is a great place to get a cheap meal and buy some local produce.

If you are in the area during the festival of awk hansaa in July, make sure you stay for the Candle Festival, when processions of wax religious images are carried through the city on floats.

Phitsanulok, Thailand

Phitsanulok, Thailand
Phitsanulok, Thailand
Phitsanulok, Thailand
Phitsanulok, Thailand

Phitsanulok Province is situated 377 kilometres north of Bangkok and is an important centre for travellers wishing to explore the lower North and western Northeast regions of Thailand. The city of offers many interesting sites for visitors and a range of activities.

Phitsanulok is relatively easy for the independent traveller as most of the residents speak central Thai, whilst many speak English. The weather tends to be a little more moderate than much of the region and transportation is easy to find.

This is a great place for exploring the surrounding countryside, and the nearby Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park contains many beautiful waterfalls as well as a White Hmong Village. Another area of natural beauty just waiting to be discovered is the Tung Salaeng Luang National Park, with its stunning mountains, caves and waterfalls.

Phitsanulok was the birthplace of King Naresuan the Great, who reigned from 1590-1605. This is the legendary King who declared Ayutthaya’s independence from Burma in 1584 and is celebrated for his victorious and admirable single handed combat on elephant back against the Burmese Crown Prince.

There are many interesting temples to explore in and around the city of Phitsanulok including Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Nang Phaya and Wat Chedi Yod Thong. If you are interested in temple art, make sure you pay a visit to The Buranathai Buddha Foundry, which specializes in casting bronze Buddha images and is unique in the province

The Sergeant-Major Dr. Thawee Buranakhet Folklore Museum is an interesting place to spend an hour or two as it contains a collection of folk arts, crafts, pottery and ancient kitchen utensils.

Many visitors come to Phitsanulok to experience the challenging and exciting rapids nearby white water rafting, whilst others find inner peace at the Dharma Abha Vipassana Meditation Center.

The daily night market is a great place to shop for souvenirs, buy local fabrics and have a cheap meal, whilst others choose to splash out on a romantic evening meal at one of the city’s floating restaurants.

The people of Phitsanulok love to celebrate, and it is worth trying to time your trip to coincide with one of the festivals and local fairs. Each January, Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahatat Woramahawihan plays host to the Phra Buddha Chinnarat Fair, whilst the The Suan Chom Nan Park festival is held twice yearly along the Nan River. Also interesting are the Dragon Boat Races, which take place on the first weekend of each October. People crowd on the edge of the river banks to cheer for the huge, elaborately decorated boats, which are painstakingly created and have a crew of about 30 oarsmen.

Dos and Don’ts in Thailand

Dos and Don'ts in Thailand
Dos and Don'ts in Thailand
Dos and Don'ts in Thailand
dos_and_dots_in_thailand_4

Thailand is a rather liberal country and Thai people are very accepting of the differences in the behaviour of foreigners. Generally, the need to save face means that Thai people will not draw attention to it if you have made a mistake or comment if you have offended them, so it is up to you to be aware of expectations.

However, there are a few things which are guaranteed to cause offence and should be avoided when possible.

The Monarchy

All Thai people think very highly of the royal family and will not permit criticism. In fact, Thailand’s lese majeste laws mean that criticising the king can result in 7 years imprisonment, which applies to both Thais and foreigners. Pictures of the king should also be treated with respect and if placed on the wall – as they are in most homes and businesses – must hold pride of place. Defiling a picture of the king also carries a serious penalty, as a tourist in Chiang Mai discovered when he drunkenly drew a moustache on an image of the king. He was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment, but was later pardoned by the king and released.

Religion

Always dress ‘politely’ when entering a temple or religious shrine. Many temples require you to cover your knees and shoulders and it is very important to remember to remove your shoes. Shoes should also be removed when entering private homes and some shops.

Buddha Images

Buddha images are sacred and must be treated with respect. Never climb on a Buddha image, and be very careful about taking photos – some images are so sacred that photographs are forbidden. When sitting on the floor, 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 side, 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. Often, special seats are allocated on public transport for monks only, be careful to avoid them and give up your seat for a monk if there are none available.   

Head and Feet

In Thailand, the head is very scared, whilst the feet are seen as unclean. Be careful not to touch a Thai on the head and avoid touching them with your feet or pointing to things with your feet.

Saving Face

In Thailand it is considered very impolite to shout and show of anger, regardless of the situation.

General

Showing affection between partners such as kissing and cuddling in public is frowned upon – especially amongst older Thais.

Thailand is quite conservative and people do not appreciate seeing too much bare skin. Men should avoid walking topless as what are often mistaken for looks of appreciation are actually shares of disgust! Spaghetti tops, sleeveless tops and bottom revealing micro shorts should also be avoided.

Smoking and dropping litter in the street are illegal a 2,000 Baht fine awaits anyone who is caught.