Tag - jungles

Northern Malaysia

Northern Malaysia
Northern Malaysia

For many visitors, northern Malaysia will provide their first glimpses of the country as they arrive by train in Butterworth station from Thailand, perhaps on their way to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Although the jungles of eastern Malaysia beckon, it is worth taking the time to explore this interesting region. Malaysia is a real melting pot of cultures and this is especially apparent in the regions large and bustling cities. Wander through the streets of Alor Setar and you will notice an interesting blend of Malay, Chinese and Indian styles, with a hint of British Colonial style thrown into the mix for good measure.

This is also evident in the picturesque island of Penang, where each ethnic group has its own area situated alongside the other. Loud Bollywood music and the rich smells of curry drifts from shop fronts in the Indian section, while a few streets away the roads are strung with colourful Chinese lanterns and a number of large Chinese temples sit at the side of the street.

Northern Malaysia is a good place to fall in love with the culture and history of Malaysia before heading to other regions to discover its natural beauty. However, there are also a number of pretty beaches to soak up the sun in northern Malaysia such as the modest stretch of sand on Penang and the popular beach resort of Langkawi, which is referred to as the land where one’s dreams come true.

Savannakhet, Laos

Savannakhet, Laos
Savannakhet, Laos
Savannakhet, Laos

Located in the southern section of Laos, Savannakhet province is bordered by both Thailand in the west and Vietnam in the east. Many travellers pass this way on their way in or out of Thailand as the Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge spans the mighty Mekong River, connecting Savannakhet with Mukdahan in Thailand.

Another way to reach the town is by boat from northern Lao areas such as Vientiane and Tha Khaek or from Pakse in the south. Travelling through Laos by boat can be very relaxing and a great way to see the countryside at a leisurely pace.

The name Savannakhet means ‘city of paradise’ in the Laos language and this is Laos’ second-largest city. This is a good place to pause for a while as the town has a lot to offer tourists and there are a good number of guesthouses, hotels and restaurants serving international food. You will also find plenty of Asian delights such as curries and spicy salads from Thailand and Vietnamese noodles.

Savannakhet’s close proximity to Thailand and Vietnam means that you will discover a number of different styles as you explore. Take a look around the city’s old Vietnamese temples, French colonial quarters and Buddhists temples. Among the most popular temples are Wat Inghang and Wat Xayaphoum, while the large Catholic church provides an interesting contrast.

If you are interested in the history of this unique area, take a day trip to Heuanehine or Stone House. This rocky house was designed by the Kham people and is thought by many to be one of the most important and interesting sites in the province. The house was built somewhere between 553 and 700 AD and contains a collection of Khmer artwork.er important site is the That Phon stupa, which was built around the same time as the Stone House. Unlike most of the religious shrines and temples in Laos, this stupa is Hindu in origin and dedicated to Phra Shiva and other Hindu deities.

Before you leave Savannakhet, drop by the Dinosaur Exhibition Hall in the town of Khanthabouly at the heart of the province. Here you will find a collection of dinosaur remains that were discovered by an intrepid French scientist in the 1930s. This is one of the few collections of dinosaur remains in Laos and they make an interesting break from exploring the country’s temples and jungles.

 

Ream National Park, Cambodia

Ream National Park, Cambodia
Ream National Park, Cambodia
Ream National Park, Cambodia
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Ream National Park is Cambodia’s most diverse national park. Located about 12 miles from Sihanoukville, the park has been open since 1993. Ream covers 21,000 hectares; 15,000 hectares of land and 6,000 hectares of river and sea. Here you will find secluded beaches, tropical jungles and wide rivers. Over 155 species of bird call Ream home, as well as Sun Bears, the endangered elongated tortoise, eagles and even dolphins.
A boat trip through the national park is the perfect way to see the natural beauty of this charming area. Sail away down the Prek Tuk Sap River in a small motorboat, sheltered from the hot sun by a canvass roof. The scenery is spectacular and the banks of the river are lined with mangrove forests. There is plenty of wildlife to see such as beautiful green kingfishers, monkeys hooting in the trees and purple jellyfish.

As you glide slowly along the river, you will pass people digging in the river bed for shellfish and fishing from small boats. After a couple of hours, you will arrive at Koh Som Poch Beach, where you can swim or sunbathe while lunch is prepared.

Walk for about an hour through tropical jungle rich with plant life and you will come to the Thmor Thom fishing village. The buzz of cicada beetles is loud and exoticly beautiful butterflies flutter through the forest.

Ream’s intense natural beauty leads many people to set up home here and the population has doubled in the last eight years. This means that resources such as wood, herbs, fish and fruit are seriously over-used. There is also the problem of illegal logging and poaching to deal with. Luckily, this situation is slowly but steadily changing thanks to the injection of cash that the tourism industry is providing. Illegal fishing and logging are being stamped out, and the forests of the area are gradually regenerating.

It is possible to book a tour of Ream National Park at a number of places in Sihanoukville. The prices of tours vary according to the company you opt for, but all tours include meals as well as transportation and entrance into the park.

Narathiwat, Thailand

Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand
Narathiwat, Thailand

Situated on the banks of the Bang Nara River, this friendly province can be found approximately 1,149 kilometres south of Bangkok near the Malaysian border. Malaysia can be reached from Narathiwat though a ninety-minute bus trip, and this is a good place to rest for a day or two before making the crossing.

75 percent of this beautiful province consists of jungles and mountains, and there is a lot for the nature lover to explore. There are also pretty beaches on which to top up your tan and magnificent temples to discover.

The name Narathiwat literally means “the residence of good people” in the Thai language, and visitors will soon find that the area lives up to its name as hospitality is as warm as the weather. The city of Narathiwat has preserved its traditional culture and authenticity and has a feel of village-like tranquillity. The residents of Narathiwat are mainly farmers and fishermen and the majority are Muslim.

If you love nature, a visit to Hala-Bala Wildlife Reserve should be top of the list. Established in 1996, the reserve covers the Sankala Khiri mountain range, Hala forest and Bala forest and is a good place to see a large selection of wildlife. Lucky visitors have the chance to see hornbills, gibbons, the large Thut frogs, and rhinoceroses.

Another area of great natural beauty is the Sirindhorn Peat Swamp Forest Nature Reserve, and you can combine a visit with a trip to the Khao Kong Buddhist Park, which is situated about 9 kilometres from town. Here you will find Wat Khao Kong and the golden Phra Phuttha Thaksin Ming Mongkhon Buddha image sitting in the lotus position atop a mountain. And the park offers spectacular views over the province.

Other interesting temples to explore include Wat Chon Thara Singhe, Wat Choeng Khao, the Old Central Mosque and Taloh-manoh Mosque, while Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace is situated on Tanyongmat Mountain, and contains throne halls decorated with an assortment of trees.

Back to nature; don’t miss the stunning Ao Manao Park, which features a 4 kilometre sandy bay lined with pine forest to explore when you tire of soaking up the sun. Other beaches include Hat Narathat, Kubu Beach-Ban Khlong Tan and the small, peaceful island of Ko Yao.

Visitors arriving during one of the area’s lively festivals are treated to displays of traditional song and dance, combined with much laughter.

The Narathiwat Products Fair showcases the highlights of the province, such as special arts and crafts.

The Kolae-Long Boat Races are held on Bang Nara River opposite Sala Prachakhom (community pavilion). This is an annual event held when the Royal Family is in residence at Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace.

Krachut Sedge Day is held around the same time as the boat races in order to promote hemp products. Activities include an exhibition on production from the preparation of raw materials that are the Krachut sedge trees that grow in peat swamp forests or waterlogged areas of the province, to weaving the sedge into beautiful mats or transforming it into other unusual products such as hats, handbags, letter holders, food covers, and lamp shades. There are also Krachut contests and stalls selling Krachut sedge products.

Phetchaburi, Thailand

Phetchaburi, Thailand
Phetchaburi, Thailand
Phetchaburi, Thailand
Phetchaburi, Thailand

Located in the central region of Thailand, Phetchaburi Province can be found approximately 160 kilometers south of Bangkok. This is an area of rich historical and archeological interest as well as surrounding nature such as caves, waterfalls and beautiful sandy beaches. Phetchaburi, also known as Phetburi, is the capital of the Phetchaburi Province. This old royal city dates back to the Mon period of the 8th century. The style of the buildings in the city and surrounding area can be seen to reflect the style of the ancient Mon people, the Khmers and also the traditional Thai style. Phetchaburi province is well known for its large number of beautiful caves. Particularly of interest are the Khao Luang caves, which are located 5 kilometers north of the capital city. There are several Buddha statues inside the caves including a magnificent large reclining Buddha statue.

The area is also well known for the mysterious cave of Khao Wang and the Phra Nakhon Kriri Historical Park, which includes King Mongkut’s Palace. A great way to explore the Historical Park and to conserve energy is to make use of the quaint tram which circuits the large park area.

Phra Ratchawang Ban Peun is an interesting temple located 1 kilometre south of the city inside a military base, whilst the local night market is a great place to get a good meal and do some shopping.

Many people stop off in the province in order to visit the beautiful beach resort of Cha-am, with its sparkling sea and inviting golden sand, just a 40 minute bus ride from the city of Petchaburi. Cha-am is very popular on the weekends and during holidays, but visitors will find that it can be very peaceful during the week.

Another great day trip is the Kaeng Krachan National Park, which features the amazing Pa La-U waterfalls and with its lush jungles is a good place to go trekking and discover some of the area’s rich flora and fauna.

It is worth trying to time your trip to coincide with the Phra Nakhon Khiri Fair. This vibrant festival takes place in early February, lasts for eight days and includes a colourful sound and light show and displays of classical Thai dancing. During the fair the town takes on the feel of a fairy tale as the temples are decorated with lights and people dress in traditional costume to perform the unique dances.

If you are in Cha-am in late September, look out for the Feast-Fish-Flock Seafood Festival, when the seaside town celebrates the wealth brought to it from the fruits of the sea and displays all it has to offer

Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand

Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand

Nakhon Ratchasima Province was once part of the Khmer empire and was moved by King Narai between 1656-1688. Around 260 kilometres from Bangkok, travel to Nakhon Ratchasima is easy as it is connected with the northeastern railway line and the Nakhon Ratchasima Airport is 26km east of the city.

There are two main focal points for visitors to this province, the city of Nakhon Ratchasima and the picturesque town of Phimai.

The city of Nakhon Ratchasima is better known as Khorat or Korat. Korat is the capital of Nakhon Ratchasima Province, and there is a great deal to see and do and many opportunities to learn about the city’s interesting history.

A good place to start is the Maha Viravong National Museum, which contains good displays and countless well labeled artifacts. Another interesting site is the Thao Suranaree Monument, where you can see the revered Lady Mo statue.

A tour of the city will lead you to the city wall and unique Chumphon Gate, and don’t forget to look out for the l?k meuang (city pillar shrine).

Nakhon Ratchasima Province is famous for its pottery, and excellent examples of this can be seen decorating Wat Salaloi. Other interesting temples in this city include Wat Phra Narai Maharat and Wat Pa Salawan.

Nakhon Ratchasima is special in that it has two night bazaars, and both the Thanon Manat Night Bazaar and Wat Boon Night Bazaar and good places to do some shopping, have a cheap meal and do a little people watching.

One of the main attractions of this area is the magnificent Khao Yai National Park with its dense jungles, spectacular mountain views and famous waterfall.

Another great day trip is the Reclining Buddha Image at Wat Dhammachakra Sema Ram, just 40 kilometres south of Korat.

If you are in the area during March, make sure you time your trip to coincide with the Thao Suranari festival. Celebrated between March 22nd and April 3rd, the festival features parades, theatre and folk songs. 

Petchaboon, Thailand

Petchaboon, Thailand
Petchaboon, Thailand
Petchaboon, Thailand
Petchaboon, Thailand

Situated 346 kilometres from Bangkok, Petchaboon is a very pretty province in the northern region of Thailand. The name of the province actually means the land of crops and food in the Thai language and this is a very fertile area, largely due to its location on the Pa Sak river basin. With mountain ranges running along both the western and eastern parts, Petchaboon Province is the perfect place for nature lovers as it is full of well-known national parks, beautiful waterfalls and great lakes.

A great place to discover the abundant beauty of the area is at the Nam Nao National Park. This enormous conservation park is full of forests, grasslands and virgin jungles. Nam Nao Park offers visitors the opportunity to learn about plants, wild animals and outdoor activities through trekking and bird watching. More than 100 species of birds have made their home in Nam Nao Park, and it is also a good place to see the famous fog that gathers in the region during cool weather.

Other extremely beautiful areas are the Namtok Than Thip Forest Park and Thung Salaeng Luang National Park, whilst you can soak away your troubles after a hard day of trekking at the Ban Phu Toei Hot Spring Park.

The Khao Kho Wildlife Captive Breeding Centre is a great place to find out how to care for and protect animals. The centre can be found in Khao Kho National Park, which is located about 1 hour northwest of Petchaboon town and thought by many to be the most beautiful of all the area’s parks because of its stunning mountain views. Also in the park are the Khao Kho International Library, which is shaped like an upside down diamond, and the Khao Kho Sacrificial Monument.

There are a large number of sparkling waterfalls in the area, which make a good focus point for trekking and hiking. Of particular note are Namtok Si Dit and the large Than Thip Waterfall, located in the Than Thip Forest Park, whilst Tham Ruesi Sombat is a large and interesting cave.

If you are interested in temples, Petchaboon has many treats in store. Look out for the ancient Wat Si Mongkhon, Phra Borommathat Chedi Kanchanaphisek, Phra Tamnak Khao Kho and Chedi Phra Borommasaririkkathat Khao Kho, which contains relics of Lord Buddha brought to Thailand from Sri Lanka.

Petchaboon Province is the home of many exciting and vibrant festivals. The Um Pra Dam Nam festival is an unusual event held on the fifteenth day of the waning

moon in the 10th lunar month. The festival features a special ceremony, during which an image of Phra Buddha Maha Thammaracha is carried around the town so that people can pay respect to it and stick gold leaf onto its body. The Buddha image is then taken by the governor of Petchaboon to be immersed in the Pah Sak River. After the ceremony, the water in the river is regarded as sacred.
Another interesting and unique tradition is Seng Klong, when the villagers of Petchaboon ask god and the angels to come to make merit with them. The ceremony is held during the end of Buddhist Lent around the Por Kun Pah Maung Monument to promote the honor of Por Kun Pah. This celebration features many other activities, such as the drum contest, the beauty queen contest and colorful floating lanterns, which fill the sky.

KL’s Early Chinese Influence

KL's Early Chinese Influence
KL's Early Chinese Influence
KLs_early_chinese_influence_3

If early KL had a heart it was the Old Market Square. Here, on the east bank of the Klang River early traders set up shacks to cater to the pioneer Chinese miners who had been sent up river prospecting for tin in 1857. Tin soon became quite profitable so more miners were despatched to the jungles around the river. And as the miners moved in so did a variety of traders seeking to profit from this exciting new industry.
Supplies for the growing village took something like three days from the Klang estuary on the west coast of the peninsular thanks to the twists and turns of the serpentine like Klang River and when they did finally arrive they were off loaded just south of the current Masjid Jamed, the place where the traders had set up stall.

For the Chinese miners living and working upstream the Old Market Square was their R & R. it was where they came to gamble, take opium and enjoy the pleasures of the local hookers. And overseeing this burgeoning empire was the Captain China. Yap Ah Loy.

On the corner of Jalan Kasturni and Lebuh Pasar Besar today stands a credit card centre. In 1877 there was a ‘fairly loose board house’ from where Yap Ah Loy ruled his turf surrounded by attap roofed houses occupied by his coolies.

There was a gambling shed close to the river, roughly where the Sin Seng Nam coffee shop now stands while the clock tower that stands almost apologetically at the heart of the square stands on the ground that was once the heart of the market selling the food and materials the miners would need to take with them up river.
 
The Old Market Square was the centre of old KL and the arteries radiating out today follow the rough old tracks first developed over 120 years ago as people hacked their way through the jungle to create new settlements at places like Pudu. A map of the area today would be recognisable to Yap Ah Loy and his contemporaries but put him by the clock tower and ask him to show you where his house used to be and he may struggle to come to terms with the changes that have since his patch of land transformed from essentially a rural market garden into a buzzing commercial centre. Those three day boat rides to Klang, ‘poling and rowing’ have now been replaced by slick efficient one hour train rides.
 
In his own right Yap Ah Loy is an intriguing character. Part gangster, part warlord (he would pay for rivals heads to be decapitated and he would display them outside his house, near that credit card centre), part businessman. His importance to the growing community of KL was recognised by the English colonial overlords and it was through his determination that the new town overcame such teething problems as floods, fires and internecine warfare that pit rival Chinese and Malay groups against each other.
 
His memory lives on in a couple of places around his old stomping ground. Yap Ah Loy Road is possibly one of the shortest roads in all of Malaysia while the Sin Sze Si Ya teple, built by him back in 1864 is still active and his memory is revered by devotees lighting incense to his memory. Look carefully inside the temple for a photograph of the man himself at his own alter.
 
At first glance the temple seems to have an orientation all of its own, set as it is just back and off the main roads. But Yap Ah Loy would have followed traditional feng shui principles when he designed the place so an expert, applying those principles, could come up with a rough idea of how the area looked while it was being constructed.
 
Yap of course is long gone. As is his old gambling shed as well as the hookers in their tiny shack. The attap roofed homes of his coolies have also gone and in their place has come high rise concrete buildings dwarfing the square. There are no more floods and real roads now link the old heart with the expanded city and its suburban overspill. It’s a transport hub, a commercial centre and as such differs little from similar places around the world. Much of Yap’s world has gone but what remains is Malaysia’s vibrant capital city. Without his determination and steely resolve, and his profits from sex and drugs, perhaps KL would have disappeared in one of the many fires and floods that hit the small town.

One Week in Thailand?

One Week in Thailand
One Week in Thailand
one_week_in_thailand_3

Most people plan their trips to Thailand as part of a larger Southeast Asian travel circuit, visiting many countries in a limited period of time. Thailand’s diversity and beauty gives visitors plenty of travel options. You could spend years exploring its jungles, beaches, and urban temples. For the backpacker who wants to see it all, planning an itinerary might be stressful. Here, khaosanroad.com offers sample one-week routes in Thailand, to fit different traveller’s needs. Enjoy.
Jungle Immersion for the Nature Fan

From Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal, head to Khao Yai National Park for a few scenic days of jungle treks. Thailand’s oldest natural park boasts 2172 square kilometres of rainforest, evergreen forest, and countless wildlife. A few guesthouse spots make you safe from the park’s natural population, which includes elephants, deer, black bears, tigers, gibbons and macaques, and leopards.

Next on the list is historic Kanchanaburi. This town is an easy homebase for your daytrip to the Erawan Waterfall. This seven-tiered waterfall, located in nearby Erawan National Park, is considered one of the most beautiful in Thailand. Visitors can trek up the side of the falls, or like local people, hop right in to swim and climb at the same time.

An overnight bus to Chiang Mai may leave you worn out, so take some time to rejuvenate before bussing to Doi Inthanon National Park. The challenging treks around Thailand’s highest peak are rewarded with fresh mountain air and breathtaking scenery. The mountain boasts hundreds of bird species, and is one of the last remaining homes of the Asiatic black bear.

A History Tour for Temple-lovers

Start in Bangkok, which offers countless temples and wats to feed your curiosity. Take your time touring Wat Phra-Kaew and the Grand Palace, more commonly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This property contains hundreds of buildings and represents architecture and art from 18th and 19th century royalty. Have your camera ready for gilded chedis, mosaics, and murals. From here, stop at Wat Pho, Bangkok’s oldest wat, to see the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand.

A two-hour train ride to Ayutthaya drops you in the

middle of Thailand’s compact and walkable former capital. During the 14th-18th centuries, this city was the hub of the Siam empire, and the “Ayutthaya-style” architecture, made popular by the royals of the time, is still a prominent influence on Thai design. Rent a bike and circle the river for some temple-spotting, then head to the centre of the town to Ayutthaya Historical Park, where a small entrance fee lets you explore the expansive grounds of temples, gardens, and statues.

Go north to Sukhothai, Thailand’s first capital, for a glimpse of royal architecture in the 13th and 14th centuries. Sukhothai Historical Park boasts Khmer-style and early Thai architecture, with popular lotus-bud and bell-shaped stupas. This park offers 70 sites within the old city walls.

Scenic R&R for Beachgoers

Your trip starts in Phuket, the island nicknamed “pearl of the south” for its sparkling beaches and exotic beauty. Once you fly onto the island, you can settle in Phuket Town for some snorkeling and diving in popular nearby beaches, or spend a couple of days beach-hopping to the island’s more remote beaches in northwestern Mai Khao, Nai Yang, and Nai Thon.

From Phuket Town, hop a ferry to Ko Phi Phi Don, an island of long white beaches and pretty coral reefs. Ao Ton Sai is the tourist hub, while smaller beaches with modest bungalows dot the coastline southeast of the city. while pricier resorts occupy the beaches on the eastern coast.

Catch another boat to Ko Lanta for denser wildlife as pretty beaches neighbour mangroves and crops of wide umbrella trees. The island’s booming tourist economy means that diving, snorkelling, and boat tours are readily available to visitors. Take a day tour of Koh Lanta National Marine Park for easy island-hopping to the coral-filled beaches of Koh Ha and Koh Bida, or cliffy Koh Rok Nok. The latter beach allows camping.

From here, outdoor athletes can move on to Krabi to make use of its famous limestone cliffs and caves for rock-climbing. Slower-paced travelers can explore the pretty mainland beach of Ao Nang. Visitors can follow the main road to the waterfront, which is lined with bungalows and tourist-friendly restaurants and shops. The landscape is pretty and fairly unspoilt, despite the beach’s popularity. Those in search of peace and quiet can head a few hundred metres north along the coast to Hat Noppharat Thara, a 2-kilometre strip of shallow emerald waters and clean sand.

A Weeklong Crawl for the Life of the Party

Starting in Bangkok, you’ll have no shortage of nightlife options. Sukhumvit (around soi 20-26) and the head of Silom street are packed with bars. Go-go bars line the streets of Patpong. Silom soi 4 is considered the main artery of gay nightlife. Those in search of live music should try the concert venues around Siam Square. Those hoping to dance should go to the trendy strip of bars known as RCA.

Next to the city nightlife, popular beach parties are another popular way to let your hair down. Head south to the well-known islands of the Gulf of Thailand, starting with the popular Ko Samui. The island boasts beautiful mountainous landscapes, long beaches, and enough tourist amenities for many nights’ entertainment. Hat Chaweng, on the east coast, is the longest beach with the biggest concentration of accomodations. As a result, it offers the best nightlife on the island, with a main strip running parallel to the beach that stays lively well into the night. Hat Lamai, though smaller than Chaweng, has the same lively atmosphere and dance-til-dawn nightlife.

Hop a ferry to the infamous Koh Phagnan and you may be in time for one of the famous full-moon parties on popular Hat Rin. If the timing isn’t right, you may stumble across a half-moon, quarter-moon, or new moon party. Visitors to this island will cook up easy excuses for all-night festivities, where beachside bars spill onto the sand and partygoers dance, mingle, spin fire, drink potent cocktails from plastic beach buckets, and lose time until the sun rises.

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.