Though not as rich in attractions as its neighbouring provinces, barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks, and has a few worthy spots of its own too. CHRIS WOTTON gets under the skin of this undiscovered slice of Isaan.
Never heard of Chaiyaphum? That’s little surprise, as few people have. Tucked up in Thailand’s north-eastern Isaan region and bordered by Khorat and Khon Kaen, this largely untouristed province barely registers a foreign face. Still very Thai in appearance and character, the main industries here are rice and sugar production, while the province is also renowned as a silk centre. The capital city of an otherwise largely rural province shows the signs of some limited urban development, but venture here and you will still discover somewhere pleasingly quiet and low-key, the perfect antidote to the Bangkok lifestyle.
The primary attractions here, the Jao Pho Praya Lae monument and Prang Ku, are largely unimpressive and at most worth a passing glance. In fact, you will probably pass the former several times before even realising what it is. Jao Pho Phraya Lae was the eighteenth century Lao ruler of Chaiyaphum, and this statue in his name is the centrepiece of a roundabout in the centre of town on Bannakan Road. He switched sides to fight with Bangkok when Vientiane declared war on Siam at the start of the 1800s.
Jao Pho Phraya Lae lost his life in the ensuing battles, but was kept in high esteem in Chaiyaphum and today has two annual festivals celebrated in his name in January and May.
The Khmer Prang Ku further along Bannakan Road past the entrance to Siam River Resort, meanwhile, is really equally disappointing as a sight. Poorly preserved and not much to look at at all, in its heyday it was a temple on the route that connected Angkor Wat with the (far more impressive and better restored) Prasat Muang Singh just outside of Kanchanaburi.
Today, if nothing else it serves as a reminder of just how small Chaiyaphum proper really is – particularly at night, by the time you’ve walked just a short way east to this site, you feel like you’re well out of the city and into Isaan village life.
Tat Ton National Park makes for far more of a reason to visit Chaiyaphum. Twenty-three kilometres away and easily reached by 30 baht public songthaew share taxi from a stand at the north end of the city on Non Muang Road, it boasts amongst other sights an impressive waterfall that stretches to 50m wide in the rainy season – take care as it is easy to sip by the water’s edge. Group tours aside, you are likely to be almost alone in the park, and pretty much certainly the only foreigner. The 100 baht entrance fee gets you access to the whole park, which also includes the smaller Tat Fah waterfall.
The park as a whole is the perfect spot for a dose of back-to-nature relaxation sure to enliven the senses, and if you want to drag it out a little longer there are bungalows to rent too. The return journey to Chaiyaphum is a bit more of a pain than getting there, since songthaews don’t take this route after the morning - but you can hitch a ride back to Chaiyaphum quite easily. If all else fails, walk some way along the road you came down, make yourself look tired and wait for a few women to start shouting, asking if you need a lift back to Chaiyaphum (for a price). They came to our rescue, so they’re bound to for you as well.
Back in Chaiyaphum proper, picnics are the order of the day at a secluded, peaceful spot at the side of a small lake in the streets behind the Tesco Lotus supermarket on Sanambin Road. Roll up on a bike or on foot, having stopped at food stalls on the lanes nearby for giant Isaan-sized grilled chicken skewers and fresh pineapple with dried chilli and sugar, and soak up the goodness of some fresh Chaiyaphum air from the shade of the many trees lining the lake. As is the beauty with so much in this city, aside from the odd local fisherman you will likely have the place to yourself.
GET THERE: Buses run by at least three different companies connect Chaiyaphum with Bangkok’s northern Morchit bus terminal in about six hours. On the return leg, the three companies unhelpfully all have their own departure terminals dotted around town, but there are also local bus connections to Khon Kaen and Khorat, both linked to Bangkok by trains and planes.
WHERE TO STAY: Most western tourists stay at the five-star Siam River Resort, towards the far end of Bannakan Road, where 990 Baht will bag you a plush room with balcony and breakfast, and access to the pool. There’s free wi-fi and bike hire and staff are excellent. The Deeprom Hotel is also worth a look, with its pleasing pastel exterior, though staff speak little English. Expect to pay 800 Baht for a double air-con room.
MOVING ON: Khon Kaen is two and a half hours away by local bus – great for foodies, it also boasts the Bueng Kaen Nakhon lake which makes for a great walking spot. Buses to Khorat take two hours.
CHRIS WOTTON is a twenty-something crazy about Thailand. After a first visit in 2008, he fell in love with the country and has since travelled its length and breadth, searching out local life – and local food! – while writing and researching for SE Asia travel guides and magazines. When not discovering and writing about Thailand, Chris studies French and German in his native UK, and runs an online shop selling authentic Japanese and Thai cooking ingredients.
There are 19 provinces in Central Thailand, of which most are widely visited by tourists and international travelers. Perhaps the most well known province is Kanchanaburi, famous for the Bridge over the River Kwai, tiger temple and stunning natural scenery such as the Erawan National Park.
There are also several beautiful beaches in Central Thailand, and Hua Hin should not be missed, especially during the Jazz Festival, when thousands of people flock to the beaches to listen to some of the best jazz music from around the world.
Dotted around the region are some enchanting islands and especially worth visiting is the pleasant beach area of Cha-am, which is just a two hour bus journey from Bangkok. However, the island is very popular with Thai people and can become very crowded on the weekends and during major holidays.
whilst lovers of history will find their heart's desire amongst the interesting ruins of the Ayutthaya Historical Park and Nakhon Pathom, which is Thailand's oldest city and features the largest stupa in the world.
Generally speaking, travel within Central Thailand is undemanding as there is a good road and rail network. Catering to tourist tastes and taste buds, this is a good region in which to take it easy and acclimatize to Thailand.
Bangkok holds the record for the longest place name! In Thai, Bangkok is known as Krung Thep; and over time has been referred to as 'The City Of Angels' and enmasse Thailand as 'the Land of the Smiles' (as it's citizens have that famous enduring smile). Why not also head north-west to Kanchanaburi City - where Australian, British, Dutch and American soldiers endured years of torment and hardship building the Thai-Burma Railway for the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942-5. Whilst there visit the Tiger Temple, Sai Yok Waterfall or drive to Sangklaburi and visit the Mon people on the border of Thailand and Burma. There is so much to see and do.
The Grand Palace in Bangkok is pure opulence; Thai and western style buildings share the opulent rai's (acres) and are utilised for ceremonial and administrative purposes alike. The gold leaf tiles and attention to every minor detail in design is exceptional - the man hours that are invested here is incredible, something a westerner could not probably fully understand nor would our unions allow. Guards stand out the front and are not permitted to move - the heat and humidity must be so oppressive standing to attention in all their regalia. There is a lot to see at the Grand Palace for your 200 baht entry cost, the palace has an area of 218,400 square metres, the length of the four walls totals 1900 metres where construction began in 1782. There is a group of canons that is worth a look as well as swords and weapons of a bygone era. You can visit an active Wat (temple) inside one of the Thai style temples and see how the locals pray and are humbled by their god - Lord Buddha. It is interesting to note that even Thai teenagers and younger Thai adults also participate in the religious homage in all of these and many other Thai Wats.
Wat Phra Kaeo is situated within the grounds of the Palace; it is a two storey Wat with many antiques and valuables to see; including scale models of the Palace grounds today and of a century ago - you can see how it has progressed over the years by the many influences of the Kings.
Wat Phra Kaeo houses the most revered Buddha image in all of Thailand - the Emerald Buddha (known in Thai as Phra Kaeo Morakot) it is carved from a large piece of Jade. The Emerald Buddha is 48.3cm in width across the lap and 66cm in height, the three seasonal costumes for the Emerald Buddha consist of those for the hot and rainy seasons donated by King Rama I and one for the cold season donated by King Rama III.
Pra-Tu-Nam is an excellent market and one you can easily get lost in - but this is a good thing right? It is basically below the Bai Yoke Sky Hotel and the silk, clothing, watches, and all other nick nacks etc are very cheap compared with other more 'touristy' venues, a lot of locals shop here so you know it is good value. For a side trip whilst at Pra-Tu-Nam, visit the Bai Yoke Sky Hotel and their observation deck on level 78 (cost 120 baht), there is an inside and outside deck with one revolving - the cityscape continues up there as far as the eye can see.
Silk products, especially silk in rolls for dressmaking etc can be purchased cheaply at 'Porn Phaisal' 288/6 Rajprarop Road, Opposite Golden Gate Plaza, Pra-Tu-Nam. On the way to Pra-Tu-Nam is a shopping centre called Panthip Plaza - this is a popular multi level shopping centre for all your electronic and computer related needs, including software and accessories, digital camera memory is very cheap here. Remember to haggle prices and keep receipts. The big daddy of all the tourist markets is of course Patpong Night Market. The name Patpong comes from the family who owns it, a must visit in Bangkok and whilst it caters for the tourists who flock here some bargains can be found but generally it is way overpriced. There are two alleys known as Soi's dedicated for the market and it gets packed full of tourists on most nights especially weekends. Stop off at the Tip Top Restaurant (in the middle of Patpong 1) if the ambience of the market becomes too smothering, remember to haggle and offer a smile. Have a beer in a 'bar' there and you will see some interesting sites.
Allied Prisoners of War were utilised as forced labour by the Japanese Army and sent by ship, train and marched to Kanchanaburi and beyond to begin the Thai-Burma Railway in 1942, to create a rail link from occupied Thailand to current day Myanmar - to feed supplies to the Japanese fighting in Burma. As a consequence 2,710 Australians died all along the railway and as one writer has said - 'A Life for Every Sleeper.' If it wasn't for the Australian tenacity, mateship and medical legends such as Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop and Sir Albert Coates, many more of our soldiers would have perished. Kanchanaburi is two hours by bus from Bangkok (from the Southern Bus Terminal), there is the Don Rak War Cemetery to see - the southern cemetery for the railway with approximately 7,000 war dead including 1,362 Australians. Adjacent the cemetery is the Thai-Burma Railway Centre, a museum on the railway with many wall panels etc describing events on the railway plus a cafeteria overlooking the cemetery. Two kilometres north is the Bridge Over the River Kwai - built by POWs and destroyed in 1945 by United States Air Force B24's on a bombing mission. Next door to the bridge is a floating restaurant, spend a night having dinner here and have the famous bridge as a backdrop and toast the men who are still there. Another 80 kms north following the Kwai Noi River is the infamous Konyu Cutting or Hellfire Pass. It is said it got it's name from POW's standing at the top of the cutting looking down during the night with the bamboo bonfires and oil lamps burning with hundreds of men toiling in the balmy night and their captors ready to pounce with a bamboo stick at the ready - men likened this 'to the jaws of hell' where it subsequently became known as Hellfire Pass. It took three months to cut a way through this solid rock and it has been said cost some 700 lives. Without men of this calibre, tenacity and spirit we certainly could be speaking 'A Different Brand Of English'.
'Prik' and 'Phed' or hot and spicy, that's the way Bangkok food has been since the traders introduced chilli some centuries ago. One top restaurant among hundreds is the Nipa Thai Restaurant on level three inside the Landmark Hotel near Soi 5. Attention to detail at the Nipa Thai is to be commended; the Thai decorations down to the carpet make for a pleasant and classy surrounding. For AUD$50, two can dine until stuffed like a Christmas turkey, with several lagers to wash down the well presented and flavorsome Thai (aharn) food. This restaurant would make a small fortune if nestled in uptown Collins Place; this is one where any good Aussie Shiraz or Merlot would dazzle the palate against the spices of the Bangkok cooking. For starters try 'Toon Ngern Yuang' or Fried Minced Pork and Prawns wrapped in a Bean Curd Pastry', these little packets come with plum or sweet and sour sauce for dipping and tantalize the taste buds, they are certainly equal to South Melbourne Market's 'Cricket Ball Dimmy' only a smaller size but equal on taste. This restaurant out does itself with 'Kao Ob Sabprarod' or Fried Rice served in Pineapple, the half pineapple is finely cut by the chef and beautifully produced with other delicately sliced vegetables including carrots that resemble an award winning 'David Austin Rose' and finely shaped cucumber and tomato, perfectly laid out on a presentation Thai style plate with accompanying dipping sauces - perfect. These dishes alone would overprice such treats in Melbourne with all the time taken to present them with their intricately cut vegetables and service staff that hover like on-ballers at the centre bounce at the MCG. Don't forget Thailand's favourites like the Green Chicken Curry, the Panang and Musaman curries - delish.
If you enjoyed your dining experience and fell in love with the 'Prik' and 'Phed' of Thai aharn, then try the cooking course offered by this restaurant. You can choose the one day or full week of cooking all types of popular Thai cuisine, both fun and rewarding; where else could you cook, consume and learn without having to do the dishes? (Landmark Hotel at 138 Sukhumvit Road Bangkok, 10110, Thailand, Tel: (662) 254 0404).
The Montien Hotel Bangkok is a four star hotel and was opened in 1967 by Queen Sirikit, inside it has been lovingly renovated and cared for - the grand staircase is golden, long and made of marble, it sweeps up to the business floor area adjacent the bar where they serve expensive but delicious cocktails. The doorman wears a white military style suite and pith helmet and the majestic lobby borrows the stately name 'Montien' meaning Royal Residence. This hotel has everything from an inviting pool to a bakery, Chinese Restaurant, all you can eat buffet breakfast which has all types of dishes from salmon to fresh local fruits and bacon - lots of bacon, Club 54 to it's cigar bar and karaoke booths. It is a five minute walk to the Skytrain and is directly across the road from the market of Patpong - I mean you could throw a stone and hit a tout in the head (don't get any ideas!) Travel brochures all mention the real estate catch phrase for this hotel: 'location, location, location.' This is the hotel that you can spend time in, swimming, smoking a cigar, having a smooth 'Jack and Coke' at the lobby bar listening to the 'Tinglish' piano singer whilst the Pong people set up their wares ready for you to start with your bargaining skills. This is relaxing!
When on the expressway heading for the airport, don't look back; planning for your next Thailand adventure starts there - on that fast expressway home. Was it all an action packed dream? Mai Pen Rai (She'll be right).
Andrew Mason is author of a published travel guide for Thailand, titled, 'A Different Brand of English' and is available at: www.poseidonbooks.com/a_different_brand_of_english.htm.
Full of security tips, travel advice and staying safe in Thailand and Singapore. It has what the other travel guides miss - heart & history.
There are two main towns in Kanchanaburi Province that are popular with visitors; Kanchanaburi city, which is the capital of Kanchanaburi Province, and the picturesque border town of Sangkhlaburi.
Located on the banks of the Kwae Noi, or River Kwai as it is popularly know to travelers, Kanchanaburi city is the home of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, which is visited each year by thousands of tourists from every country.
Surrounded by beautiful mountains, lush paddy fields and farms, there is no limit to what can be seen and done in this interesting region. A great way to view the countryside is to ride the Death Railway to Nam Tok. Once there, make sure you visit the Sai Yok National Park with its two Sai Yok waterfalls, the perfect way to cool down on a hot sunny day. Whilst in Sai Yok, check out the Mueang Sing historical park, where you will discover the ruins of a Khmer town and temple.
The spectacular seven-tiered Erawan waterfall, situated in the Erawan National Park must not be missed, and climbing the 1,500 feet to the very top offers incredible views out over the top of the jungle. It is easy to combine a visit to Erawan National Park with a trip to the nearby tiger temple of Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, where many tame tigers reside and roam freely under the watchful eye of the gentle monks who also live there.
Of course, Kanchanaburi is famous for its World War II POW camps, and visits to the JEATH War Museum and the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum are good places to find out the facts behind this sad period of history, whilst people can pay their respects at the Kanchanaburi War Cemeteries.
There is plenty for the adventurous to do and activities such as trekking, cave exploration, elephant riding and canoeing are all popular. Kanchanaburi's roads are good and clearly sign posted, so a good way to spend a day or two is to hire a bicycle or a motorbike and drive off into the countryside.
It's worth trying to time your trip to coincide with the River Khwae Bridge week, which is celebrated around November with sound and light shows at the Death Railway Bridge.
My friends and I stayed at a resort of floating huts on the river about 40 kilometers from Kanchanaburi in a town called Sai Yok. We negotiated the price, which included all meals, but alcohol was extra. We were left alone all day to do our own thing, and at meal time the owner returned and prepared the food. The menu choice was good and we were able to have three different dishes all of course with rice.
The experience was without doubt the best that I have had in Thailand. We stayed for 5 nights, initially by ourselves but after the first day others arrived, we all sang and drank and had a great time checking out the local attractions and markets for souvenirs. Tourist operators from Bangkok have daily trips or you can have a few days with accommodation, its up to you.
The whole area is fantastic, ---- don't think that the bridge, and museums are the only things of interest. There are several waterfalls, golfcourses, caves, fishing, rafting, elephants, and wild life parks, all within a short distance.
Do yourself a favor and stay a while and feel the beauty of Thailand, you will never forget the experience.
There are many sides to Kanchanaburi, whether it is from the 24 hr techno raves on the infinite number of party river barges (locally known as "Bpear Tech" if you're up for hitching a ride), to swimming beneath beautiful waterfalls, white water rafting, nature treks, cave exploring, slow river cruises and even a treasure hunt! Yes, that's right, a hunt for the legendry missing Thai gold that was, as the local tale goes, stolen by the fleeing Japanese army and hidden somewhere deep among the many caverns of Kanchanaburi. Indiana Jones, eat your heart out!
But I've banged my head too many times on low caves (alcohol not required) and been kamikazed enough by spaced out radar deficient bats (yes be, warned) that this time I headed directly for some much needed R&R at Kasem Island Resort upon a small island in the centre of the River Kwai.
Kanchanaburi is 130 Km west of Bangkok and is very easy to get to. You'll find mini buses leaving from KSR daily (3.5 hrs journey-rates vary), there's a regular a/c bus service from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal (3.5 hrs journey-approx 65 baht one way) located not far from KSR just over the Pinklao Bridge or like me, you can catch the 7:30 am train from Bangkok Noi Station, Thonburi (4 hrs journey). I prefer any one of the 3 morning trains as there's plenty of room to chill, better scenery and the real reason... a regular supply of fresh Thai food sold by the train hopping vendors!
After a relaxed 4 hr journey of food, smiles and laughter (ice cold beer for sale makes a regular appearance between stations) I arrived in Kanchanaburi Town. Once you're outside the train station (and nearby bus station) if you haven't yet booked a place to stay, its ok, as there are plenty of small trucks and minivans that will take you directly to a number of small hotels/guest houses and resorts around town. I got me a local pick-up taxi down to the Chukadon Pier by the river with just one quick pit-stop along the way to stock up with supplies (laughing liquid and the usual munchies) as the resort has no worries about bringing your own! (Nice one).
Between the mainland and the island Kasem Resort runs its own ferry barge service every half hour back and forth for free, so don't worry you're never stranded. Accommodation ranges from cool twin fan huts with bathroom up to a/c suites. My hut, actually afloat, was 800 Baht per night including a great Thai/Western buffet dinner and breakfast. There are only about 25 rooms/suites or so in total, so there's no hustle or bustle day or night. The small pool's there for a quick dip (no gold medals to be won) and numerous tree shaded chill out areas in which to crack open a few as the sun sets with new friends (buckets of ice upon request) or simply to finally finish off that novel you've had since the airport!
For the adventurous among you, the resort can organize you a long tail speed boat (approx 600 baht-well worth it!) for you to zip up and down the River Kwai for hours avoiding or joining the party mad barge ravers, visiting the Buddhist caves, (hard work, trust me), the War Cemetery (somber), Bridge Over The River Kwai (always busy, but watch out for the Eastern Orient Express as the railway line is still active), War Museum, and back to the island. But, give the riverside restaurant by Chukadon Pier a go for lunch as the menu is excellent, the food is great and the price is spot on!
As for the waterfalls, kayaking, river rafting and walkabout with elephants, well as I said, I just came for one day of R&R, but if you've got time, then give yourself and Kanchanaburi a few well deserved days to either recharge your batteries like me or just party on down the river! Enjoy.
This 10 kilometer square island is a delight. There are no cars, and the roads are narrow concrete strips splayed out around the island. The only traffic is an occasional motorbike or bicycle. What bliss, a stone's thrown from Bangkok, a city that is being strangled by the motor vehicle!
As you step off the ferry that has brought you across the river from Pakkred in a brief minute or two, you step back into a Thailand of 50 years ago. This island is home to a community of Mon people who came here from their homeland in the river Kwai valley north of Kanchanaburi . The temples and Buddha shrines scattered around the island are visible evidence of this neo-Burmese heritage.
The island is the site of a pottery industry. The rich clay soil provides an ideal medium for the red terracotta earthenware pots and water containers that were the mainstay of this economy. Sadly, others elsewhere, produce alternatives at a cheaper price and brick kilns have outlived their usefulness. Now the potters have turned their attention to the tourists who visit the island, usually on a Sunday in one of the large tour boats that sail up river from Taksin Bridge. However, the rich soil also supports a verdant landscape of palms, and fruit trees giving the place a wonderfully tranquil and rural feel. As a visitor you can walk around the island, hire a bicycle or zip quickly by on one of several motor cycle taxis. It's quite a long walk, just over 5 kilometers, but a wonderful one at that! The path takes you under plantain tress with bunches of bananas overhanging the walk way and down below limes, papayas, pomeloes and all sorts of fruit I cannot identify grow in profusion.
For the really discerning travellers, there are rooms available to rent a very reasonable Bt 200 per night. The KoKred Restaurant has a verandah that juts out over the river. It is an ideal venue to eat or just sit, sip a drink and watch the sand barges and other water traffic as they glide by.
You don't need to take the big cruise boats, chock full of tourists. Instead make you way to Victory Monument on the BTS. This missile like structure, which commemorates the Indo-Chinese War of 1940-41, serves as transport hub for Bangkok. Walk along the arterial skyway, and below you will see a sea of bus stands. Go as far as you can, descend and then wait for a 166 Bus. This will take you to Pakkred by motorway, thus avoiding the worst of the traffic jams. On reaching Pakkred, which is the terminus. You alight obliquely opposite the TMB bank, walk straight ahead until you encounter the motorcycle taxi-rank situated at the rear entrance of Jusco. Mumble something about KoKred and the driver will take you to the ferry stage at Wat Sana Nua. Enjoy the trip!
About the author:
Alister Bredee is a freelance author specialising in articles on health related topics.
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.
This temple was converted into a tiger sanctuary in 1999, as a home for tigers who have been rescued from poachers in the jungles west of Kanchanaburi. Around the Thai-Burmese borders, these beautiful animals are coveted by hunters, which can leave orphaned cubs fending for themselves in the jungle. Managed by a team of monks and volunteers (both Thai and western), the Tiger temple provides a protected habitat for these coveted animals. The Abbot Pra Acharn Phusit Khantitharo, who founded the sanctuary, is in constant interaction with the tigers.
The grounds themselves are a dusty 30-minute drive from downtown Kanchanaburi. With the admission fee of 300 baht (and a waiver to be signed at the gate; a standard procedure when tiger-touching is involved) visitors are led through the wide, sparse grounds. While visitors may be stumped in a search for a real temple (the word seems to be synonymous with "sanctuary" in this case), there's no shortage of awe-inducing tigers.
The tigers are taken to a quarry each day to enjoy the sun, stretch their legs, and bathe in the small pool. It is here that tourists can watch the tigers interact with each other. Separated only by a thin rope, volunteer will guide visitors close to the tigers and invite them to pet the animals and pose for photos. The presence of the volunteers is valuable, as tourists can get nervous in such proximity to the tigers. The temple staff with explain that the tigers are raised from infancy by the monks, and so they adapt to the presence of humans and the daily routine of being approached by temple visitors. It is true that in this unique environment, the tigers seem genuinely unfazed by human company. These nocturnal animals are restful in the quarry, often sleepy or sleeping, while the head monk sits with them. The tigers will often be slow to acknowledge the people around them, even as they're being approached and touched.
Tourists are forever in dispute about the tigers' tame demeanor, which seems so contrary to their natural instincts. The temple staff will assure visitors over and over that the tigers are pacified by the calming influence of the Buddhist monks, instilled in them since they were cubs. Still, animal-conscious visitors will argue that the tigers must be sedated by more than just meditative power, and are in fact fed drugs which render them sluggish and passive.
Despite these speculations, it is clear from the temple environment that the animals are well-fed and healthy. Visitors to the temple receive a souvenir booklet which profiles each of the 17 tigers and cubs in the tiger temple family, explaining the animal's birthday, the origins of its name, and a lovingly-written description of its personality. The temple staff maintain the ultimate goal of expanding the temple grounds and facilities into a 12-acre area where tigers can live in a safe version of their own habitat, free from cages. Details of the "New Home for Tigers" project can be found on the temple's website, http://www.tigertemple.org/Eng/index.php, a site which also cites quotations from the Abbot on his compassion and respect for animals.
In addition to tigers, this temple hosts a family of boars, goats, birds and other creatures. The monks exercise a policy to feed all hungry beings who approach them, animal or human. Volunteering opportunities are available for English-speakers with a background in biology or animal care and a respect for the Buddhist ethics exercised at the temple. Please contact the temple for more information.
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.
The journey takes me just over an hour and is mostly flat, before leading me up a winding tree-lined hill. On the way up the hill I stop to buy petrol from a small stand and get talking to the owner, a friendly robust woman called Pim.
Pim laughs when she hears that I intend to climb to the top of Erawan Waterfall, the majestic seven-tiered fall that is about 1,500 meters high. "You cannot do it," Pim grins - "you are much too fat!"
I thank Pim for her kind words and continue my journey, noticing how empty the road is and how beautiful the scenery. Before long I have reached the park and leave my bike in the car park.
As I walk through the forest to the first level of the waterfall, I pass by a guide giving instructions to a group of brightly-clad tourists. "Remember, the monkeys like to bite. Last week a monkey bit of someone's hand!" the guide grinned at the look of alarm at the tourist's face. "No, I am joking. But take care."
I pass the group and reach the first level, which is stunningly beautiful. Although only a shallow fall, the water is clear and inviting and the forest backdrop is very pretty. Several people are already at this level, splashing in the water, balancing on logs or eating picnics.
I continue up a flight of steps to the second level, which features a deep pool filled with cool water. It is a long climb up to the third level, and I am hot and breathless by the end of it. I remember Pim's words and wonder if I will make it to the top.
The fall at level three is much larger and extremely pretty. This seems like a good place to swim and its not long before I'm splashing about in the crystal clear aquamarine water. But I am not alone. After a few seconds I am attacked by a school of fish, who are intent on eating my skin. Luckily, these fish are only about an inch long and simply want to feast on my dead skin cells, so I'm safe enough. Still, the fish are persistent ands swimming with them is like being struck by a series of minor electric shocks.
Erawan falls is situated in Erawan National Park, which covers 550 sq kms and receives around 60,000 visitors each year. The falls are named after Erawan, the three-headed elephant of Hindu faith as the falling water is said to resemble the mighty beast.
After sitting sunbathing on some rocks to dry off, I embark on the challenging climb up ton level five. Sweat is pouring off me as I struggle to climb the steep hill. Luckily, there is a lookout point halfway up and I take the opportunity to rest as I enjoy the spectacular view across the lush landscape.My spirits are lifted as I reach level five and am greeted by the sweet sounds of singing, music and laughter. A group of Thai teenagers have somehow carried their guitars up the mountain, and I rest for a while enjoying the way the light blends with the sounds of the birds and the breeze in the trees.
The climb to level six is equally challenging, but once there I am greeted by the sight of a large waterfall and deep pool. This level is completely deserted, and I welcome the opportunity to wade in the waters once more.
After I have rested, it is time to ascend to the seventh and final level. I search in vain for a pathway, finally realising that to reach the top I must climb the steep rock face to the left of the fall. Expecting to stumble at any moment I eventually make it to the top, cross a stream and somehow manage to climb the last 100 metres to the summit.
Hot, sweaty and breathless, I stand and look around. To my surprise I am actually above the level of the jungle and can see for miles in every direction, where varying shades of green mix with bursts of bright colour and the sparkling blue of distant rivers.
Finally, it is time to descend from my lofty perch. On the way back down I am surprised by a group of monkeys, who climb past me down the rocky path without even giving me a second glance. I look jealously at the effortless way they scamper down the mountainside, feeling slow and heavy in comparison.
Finally I am at the bottom and climb aboard my waiting motorbike. On the way back I stop to tell Pim about my adventure. The friendly woman looks at me in surprise. "Maybe you are like an elephant," she tells me. "They look slow but are very powerful." I grin at Pim, realising that this is as close to a compliment as I am ever going to get.
About the author:
Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!