Tag - khaosarn

Southern Laos

Southern LaosThis beautiful region of Laos is a great place to explore for those with a strong sense of adventure and eye for beauty. Although you won’t find tourist towns like those in the north of the country, those who take the time to explore southern Laos will find an impressive number of pretty islands, dense jungle and magnificent mountains. (more…)
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Lundu, Malaysia

Lundu, Malaysia
lundu_2
Most people visit this tranquil town on their way to visit Gunung Gading National Park. Although few people give the town more than a fleeting look, this is actually a good place to relax for a day or too and explore the area’s natural beauty.
Most of the town’s life is located along the pretty riverfront. Here you will find a fish market and a number of foods stalls, while there are traditional painted houses along the country lanes. A great way to explore is by hiring a bicycle, or you can simply wander around at your leisure.

There are two beaches located just outside Lundu. There are regular buses to the golden sands of Pandan beach, while Siar is also a pretty place to soak up the sun. There are a good number of seafood restaurants located near the palm fringed shore of both beaches as well as bars offering modest entertainment.

Lundu is famous for the Rafflesia flower, which grows up to a meter across and is extremely rare. This plant is very unusual as it has no roots and gives off a scent similar to rooting meat. A monument has been set up in the centre of town in tribute to this rare flower and makes for interesting photographs.

It is possible to visit the large and lovely Gunung Gading National Park on a day trip from Lundu. Wander through forest trails for a chance to glimpse the area’s flora and fauna before returning to Lundu in the evening to eat beside the river and soak up the town’s lay back atmosphere.
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Kuching, Malaysia

Kuching, MalaysiaThose who love cities won’t be disappointed by Kuching, which offers a wide range of amenities as well as plenty of interesting things to see and do.

One of the most enchanting activities here involves wandering along the banks of the gently flowing Sarawak River. A large number of interesting buildings can be found close to the river, including historical houses, shops and temples, and one of the highlights here is the large and lovely Fort Margherita, which was constructed by Charles Brooke in 1879 as a tribute to his beloved wife Rani Margaret. A number of ferries also offer to take visitors across the river for a few Ringgit, and this is a great way to view the area.

Those who want to relax and unwind for a while can spend time wandering in the picturesque gardens of Kuchin, which can be found in abundance. Those who enjoy temple hopping will also be in their element here, and one of the most enchanting places of worship here is the Hong Saan Temple, while culture vultures will want to make sure that they check out the Sarawak Museum and Islamic Museum.

Stargazers can pay a visit to Kuchin’s Planetarium, which was the first ever to be built in Malaysia, while those who like to shop until they drop will want to check out the wide range of goodies that can be found at the weekend market, which is known locally as Pasar Minggu.
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Bintulu, Malaysia

Bintulu, MalaysiaThe pretty coastal town of Bintulu is a good place to visit to witness the traditional Malay way of life. Although the town is only beginning to market itself as a tourist destination, it has plenty to offer tourists such as colourful Chinese temples, fishing villages and lively bars.

Most people simply pass through Bintulu’s bus station on the way to surrounding attractions such as Niah National Park and Miri. However, those who do decide to stop for a day or two will discover a warm and welcoming atmosphere and homely touches that make any visit to Bintulu memorable.

Bintulu originated as a fishing village with few old Chinese shop houses.  Head to the fishing village known as Jepak, which is situated on the banks of the Kemena River near Bintulu town centre. There are a number of good restaurants here serving fresh fish and traditional Malay dishes.

A great way to explore Bintulu is by taking the express boat to surrounding areas such as Sebauh, Tubau and Labang. Walking is also a good way to get around and see the sights. Visit the local markets of Pasar Utama and Pasar Tamu Bintulu to sample local delicacies such as shrimp paste known as belachan and cincaluk.

Pasar Malam is a good place to eat, and this daily market serves everything from burgers to fried bread and savoury pork buns. This is also a good place to pick up a bargain or two and particularly popular are handbags, jeans and alcohol.

There are a number of interesting temples to explore, such as the Muslim Masjid Assyakirin and Chinese Kuan Ying Yong Temple, which features an interesting rock garden and waterfall. Christianity is represented by the St. Thomas Anglican church, Methodist Church and St. Anthony Catholic church, which are all located near the Kuan Ying Yong Temple.

Head to Tanjung Batu beach to soak up the sun, while the Taman Tumbina zoo is a great place for jungle trekking. Climb to the top of the hill inside the zoo compound for spectacular views of the South China Sea.

The Similajau National Park features a pretty stretch of golden sand, and a great way to end the day is by taking a stroll along the Bintulu Prominade as the sun sets.
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Beaufort, Malaysia

Beaufort, MalaysiaA great place to spend the night while passing through Eastern Malaysia, the town of Beaufort is just waiting to be explored. This is a great destination to just wader through aimlessly, as pretty wooden shop houses and other buildings can be found at every twist and turn and the town’s sleepy atmosphere gives it a rather enchanting feel.

Those who enjoy taking place in adventure sports will be able to try their hands at white water rafting on the Pandas River, which is just a short trip away. This river is not for the faint of heart however, as it varies between Grade Three and Grade Four, and those who dare to paddle a kayak along the nine kilometre run will have seven rapids to negotiate.

Other good ways of seeing all that the area has to offer include taking a train ride through the countryside and a cruise on Klias River. Dinner cruises can also be arranged and this is the perfect way to see the area’s wildlife in style and comfort whilst dining on delicious Malaysian dishes.

Another popular attraction near Beaufort is Pulau Tiga Marine Park. Situated on one of Malaysia’s most picturesque and interesting islands, the first season of the reality-TV series Survivor was shot here. This area of diverse natural beauty features mud volcanoes and sea snakes.

The train ride that takes passengers along the Padas River Gorge to the traditional village of Tenom is particularly pretty, and this makes an excellent daytrip activity for those who have the time to spare, while visitors who travel here on Friday evening will be able to dine in style at the weekly night market.

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Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia

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

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

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

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

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

Eastern Malaysia
Eastern Malaysia
Eastern Malaysia is divided from Central and northern Malaysia by the South China Sea. East Malaysia consists of the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, which are located on the island of Borneo, as well as the Federal Territory of Labuan, which lies off coast of Sabah. Although less populated than Peninsular Malaysia or West Malaysia, East Malaysia is much larger and contains more of the country’s natural resources.

Most visitors to Malaysia tend to head straight to East Malaysia to enjoy adventure activities such as trekking, caving, white water rafting and camping. There are a number of spectacularly beautiful national parks in this region of Malaysia such as Kubah National Park and Bako National Park.

East Malaysia is home to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, and thousands of people come here each year to interact with the old men of the forest. There are a number of beautiful beaches and islands to discover in this region of Malaysia as well as pretty towns to explore.

The people of East Malaysia are warm and welcoming and visiting the region’s villages is a rewarding experience. This region is famous for its diverse cuisine, and top of the menu is fresh fish, which is especially delicious when eaten on the beach at sunset.
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Tha Khaek, Laos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sekong, Laos

Sekong, Laos
Sekong, Laos
Sekong, Laos
Sekong is the ideal place for those who really want to step off the well worn tourist trail and get to know the real Laos. This pretty area is situated in the southeast part of Laos in the Sekong River Valley, and the river is a good spot for fishing and swimming and perhaps even a boat trip down the river to one of the nearby villages.

This is a great place for hiking and trekking and as you walk through the countryside you will wander through lush rice paddies, fruit orchards and tropical forests which are home to a large number of unusual animals and pretty plants and flowers.

A number of different ethnic tribes live in the Sekong River Valley and the countryside is full of small villages belong to people such as the Lave, Lanam, Kaleum, Dakchung and Thateng. This is a good place to get to know the different tribes and discover their unique lifestyles.

A great way to pass the time is by getting up at around 5a.m to watch people fishing in the river and walking along the banks. The Buddhist monks wander through the villages early each morning to receive alms and you will see processions of orange robed monks carrying large metal bowls.

 Part of Sekong’s appeal for most people is its remoteness and the fact that not many travelers make it this far. Don’t expect to find a large number of fancy guesthouses or restaurants selling international food here. But for those who do decide to stay, the gentle pace of life and friendliness of the people can be very addictive. However, people who need their creature comforts will be able to find a hotel or two here and it is possible to hire a motorbike to explore.

Sekong is blessed with electricity around the clock, but if this seems a little too decadent pay a visit to the nearby village of Tha Teng, which is extremely picturesque and without electricity or running water offers a real insight into the traditional Lao way of life.

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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.

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Khong Island, Laos

Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island
Also known as Don Khong, Khong Island is located right in the south of Laos near the Cambodian border. Part of the 4000 islands that comprise the Sii Pan Don area, this is an area of intense natural beauty.

The pace of life is slow on Khong Island and this is a great place to relax and unwind. Although not a lot of travellers make it this far south there are still a good range of hotels and guesthouses here and many visitors are tempted to extend their stay as they become seduced by the gentle pace of life.

The 12 mile long island is home to a stunning collection of flora and fauna and for the patient it is possible to spot the rare Irrawaddy dolphins playing in the Mekong River. A good way to spend a day is trekking to the the Khonephapheng waterfall, which is one of the largest falls in Southeast Asia.

Another pleasant activity is to hire a boat and simply sail away. Many villages are located on the banks of the river such as Muang Saen village and this is a good way to visit these villages and meet the friendly people that live there.

There are a number of pretty temples and monasteries to explore on Khong Island, among them Wat Phu Khao Kaew, where the monks who stay there are welcoming and happy to answer questions.

Palm sugar production is big business on Khong Island due to the large number of palm trees. As you wander around the island you will be able to watch to sugar being harvested for the palm trees and women boiling it in huge metal pans. When the palm sugar is cool it hardens and tastes a lot like fudge. The palm sugar is delicious either eaten on its own or added to tea or coffee and makes a great souvenir.

The evenings are quiet on Khong Island. Sit by the river and watch the sun set through the palm trees. Many people gather at the night market, and this is a good place to swap gossip, do some shopping and find a good meal.

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Khammouane, Laos

Khammouane, Laos
Khammouane, Laos
Khammouane, Laos
This very pretty Lao province is surrounded by amazing limestone formations, caves, rivers and dense jungle. The population of the province is around 260,000, with people coming from several different tribes such as Phuan, Tahoy, Kri and Katang. Most of the settlements in Khammouane province are small villages with collections of houses built from wood in the traditional Lao style. Everywhere you turn in Khammouane you are surrounded by intense natural beauty. Rich dark soil is covered with colourful plantations of rice, cabbage, sugar cane and bananas, while the Annamite mountain range is to the east and sparkling rivers, forests and caves are just waiting to be explored.

Khammouane province is easy to reach by bus from Vientiane in just five or six hours. There are plenty for visitors to do here such as kayaking, rafting, and caving. There are a large number of caves to explore and some of the highlights include the Buddha cave and Tham Nang Aen cave, while the Tham Xieng Lap caves are so pretty that they are worthy of a day trip by themselves.

Another great day trip destination is That Skihotabang, which is a large and interesting stupa commissioned by King Nanthasen in the 10th century.  The stupa was carefully restored in the 1950s and is an impressive sight.

The province’s capital is Tha Kek and this is a good place to stay for a night or two while you explore this lush and leafy area of Laos. While in Tha Khek take the time to explore the striking French colonial architecture in the city and sample the delicious range of Lao dishes, which is slightly different to those found in the rest of the country.

Nature lovers will want to explore the Nakai-Nam Theun Biodiversity Conservation Area, where you can spot a wonderful range of animals such as elephant, tigers, lemur and turtles. For excellent views over the jungle climb the Khammouane Limestone, which is a maze of limestone karst peaks.

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Champassak, Laos

Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos
Situated in south-western Laos, The province of Champassak is stunningly beautiful and has a lot to offer visitors. The people who live here have a distinctly different language, culture and life style to people in the rest of Laos and this is an interesting place to explore.

Pakse is the capital of Champassak province and it is here you will find the enchanting irriwaddy dolphins. Take a boat trip on the Mekong River for a chance to spot these shy mammals as they play in the water and leap through the waves.

Situated on picturesque Done Khone Island, the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Centre is a good place to find out more about these interesting animals and how to protect them. Nearby you will find Wat Phou, which is located high atop a mountain and considered to be one of the most important sights in Laos. The temple dates back to the same period as Cambodia’s treasure Angkor Wat and offers spectacular views from the top.
Champassak is also home to the largest waterfalls in Southeast Asia. Known as Khone Pha Pheng, these pretty falls are easy to get to by boat or road and are a great place for a swim and a picnic, surrounded by dense jungle and a colourful array of wildlife.

Another great day trip is the Dong Hua Sao Forest reserve, which is a great place to spot a wide variety of wildlife. There are a large number of waterfalls to explore here such as the Li Phi falls and it is possible to spend the night.
The town of Champassak itself was home to the royal family until about 30 years ago and you will still find a large number of grand buildings here, including a collection from the French colonial-era, which make an interesting contract beside the traditional wooden Laotian houses and shining temples. The town has a sleepy feel to it these days and there are few vehicles to clog the streets.

There are plenty of things to do in Champassak such as elephant riding, trekking and boat rides. Champassak’s rich and fertile land is perfect for growing crops and you will find large coffee, cardamom and bananas plantations here, which make the perfect backdrop for a scenic country walk.
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Attapeu, Laos

Attapeu, Laos
Attapeu, Laos
Attapeu, Laos
Situated on the southeast tip of Laos, this small and sleepy town doesn’t receive much attention from travellers and is a great place to get a real feel for Laos. Attapeu’s relaxed pace of life is enchanting and urges visitors to slow down a little and enjoy the fresh mountain air.

Attapeu is seated in a large valley and surrounded by picturesque mountains. The town is brushed by the Sekong and Sekhamane Rivers, which provide a source of fresh fish and a pretty place to relax in the evening with a beer or two.

Several sites of stunning natural beauty are located just a short distance from Attapeu and both the Dong Ampham Forest and Xepiane Forest are worth the journey. Visitors can also trek along part of the Ho Chi Minh trail and discover the villages of the tribes who follow a traditional way of life that has changes very little over the years.

Attapeu is populated by nine different tribes, namely the Alak, Katang, Kaleum, Katou, Suay, Nge, Lave, Tahoy, Nyajeung. Each of these tribes has their own traditional style of dress and customs and staying a while in Attapeu provides the perfect opportunity to get to learn about these interesting people and their alternative life styles.

There is little traffic in Attapeu and a good way to see all that the area has to offer is simply to walk through the town and surrounding countryside, stopping to talk to the friendly people you pass on the way. There are also tour companies located in the town where you can hire a hire to show you around if you prefer.

The nearby village of Ban Sekhaman is a good place to explore and there is a regular ferry that runs from the pier to the south of Attapeu to take you there. Explore the crumbling wat in this picturesque village and picnic beside the river before heading back to Attapeu.

A good place to indulge in a little retail therapy and pick up a bargain is the traditional local market, and this is also a great place to find a tasty evening meal.

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Sayabouri, Laos

Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Also known as Sainyabuli, this pretty province is situated in the northwest of Laos, to the west of the Mekong River. Surrounded by limestone mountains, rice fields and forests, this is a great place to explore the countryside and experience the traditional Lao way of life.

Most travellers overlook Sayabouri on their way to nearby Luang Prabang and Vientiane, but peaceful Sayabouri is a great place to relax and discover the natural beauty of the areas such and waterfalls, caves and forests.

As you wander around Sayabouri you will discover a large number of pretty temples to explore, and Wat Ban Thin, Wat Ban Phapoun and Wat Ban Natonoy are probably the largest and most popular.

A great day trip destination is the Nam Phoun National Biodiversity Conservation Area. This enormous forest contains a large number of high peaks and climbing to the top provides excellent views of the region. The conservation area is also home to a large number of animals such as the Asiatic black bear, elephant, gibbon, Malayan sun bear and Sumatran rhino.

The people of Laos have been using elephants in the forestry industry for centuries and Sayabouri is one of the few places where you can still see this practice in action, which makes a refreshing change from viewing the mighty beast from behind bars.

A good time to visit Sayabouri is during the annual elephant festival, which is held over two or three days in the middle of February by the Lao PDR National Tourism Authority to encourage the use of elephants in tourism-related activities. There are around 200 elephants in Sayabouri and during  the festival more than fifty of them take part in a procession through the town. The festival is a vibrant affair with much drinking, dancing, fireworks and boat races.

More than 10,000 people travel from all over Laos to take part in the elephant festival and this is a great time to see Laos people at their best as they dress in traditional costumes, share food and drink.

Although Sayabouri is much quieter the rest of the year you will find a warm welcome whenever you arrive and there are some interesting places to sleep and eat.

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Xieng Khouang, Laos

Xieng Khouang, Laos
Xieng Khouang, Laos
Xieng Khouang, Laos
Situated in the northeast of Laos, the enchanting province of Xieng Khouang is a popular stop on the trail through Laos. This is a great place to go trekking as the landscape is infinitely interesting; with broad ochre hills, and the eucalypts and pine plantations, the mountains of Hua Phah and lush valleys. The climate is quite cool and this is also a good place to escape the heat of southern Laos.

Most people come to Xieng Khouang province to visit the Plain of Jars, where hundreds of stone jars are scattered across the landscape. Carved from solid rock, these enormous jars are more than 2500 years old, and are an impressive sight. Although legends tell that the jars were used to ferment wine in the sixth century, nobody is really certain of their origins and another theory is that they were tombs for the people who died in battle. The Plain of Jars is also known as Thong Hai Hin and one of the highlights of Laos as it is entirely unique.
After a hard day of exploring, soothe aching muscles with a dip in the hot springs. There are two hot springs in the area, Bo Noi and Bo Yai, which reach temperatures of around 60?C, are set in a beautiful forest and the perfect place to relax and unwind.

The capital of Xieng Khouang is Muang Khun, and this is a great place to spend the night and explore. Here you will find some interesting temple ruins as well as the complete Wat Pia Wat. As you wander around the city you will find a number of good restaurants and places to stay.

The town of Muang Khun features both night a day markets, which are large and lively. People travel to the market from all over the province to sell their wares, swap stories and do some shopping. This is a good place to buy a cheap meal and indulge in some people watching as you witness Lao life unfold around you.
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Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane feels more like a large village than a capital city. Pigs and cattle ramble aimlessly beside the slowly flowing river, watched over by women chatting and washing clothes. Pavements are a futuristic concept as are cinemas, shopping malls, fast food and most other types of entertainment.

Yet for many travellers this is the perfect Asian city; there is plenty to see and do here and yet the city has an approachable, unassuming feel.

Pha That Luang is the symbol of Laos and this huge, unusually shaped gold stupa is definitely worth a visit. In the Laotian language, Pha That Luang means Great Scared Stupa. The most prominent part of the temple is a 45 meter tall central tower, surrounded by 30 smaller stupas. The stupas are covered with gold leaf and shimmer brilliantly in the sunlight.

Nearby the temple is the Sok Pa Luang Forest Temple. Here you will find a sauna and massage room in a traditional wooden two-story house, where robed monks relieve your my weary muscles as you relax and listen to the gentle sounds of wind chimes, birds, cicada beetles and breath in the scent of jasmine and lemongrass.

On the way to Pha That Luang you will probably pass the Patuxai, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Climb to the top of this 7th century gateway for a great view of the city. 

Not to be missed is the very unusual Buddha Park or Xieng Khuan, which is situated on the outskirts of the city. Here you will find a large garden full of weird and wonderful Hindu and Buddhist sculptures which need to be seen to be believed.

Vientiane has a huge collection of interesting buildings and temples in a range of styles and a great way to explore is simply by walking. Take a stroll along the river and you will view a interesting collection of buildings from across the road, then simply follow the shining golden roves to find the elaborately decorated temples.

This is a great place to satisfy your craving for Western food as there are a large number of excellent restaurants offering a range of international food, especially in the area near the river. You will even find restaurants serving gourmet French food, and this is the perfect time to indulge. For those looking for cheap traditional food, a number of small carts set up trade on the bank of the river in the evening.

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Vang Vieng, Laos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oudomsay, Laos

Oudomsay, Laos
Oudomsay, Laos
Oudomsay, Laos
Also known as Oudomxay or Oudômxa, this pretty province in the northwest of Laos was created in 1976 and is a good place to stop for a break if you are travelling between the temple town of Luang Prabang and Phonsaly or Sayabouri.

This is an area of intense natural beauty and the ideal place for trekking and to explore the neighbouring ethnic villages. Adventure sports such as rock climbing and rafting are popular here, while this is also a good place for cycling and bird watching.

Oudomsay is located close to the Chinese border and you will find an interesting mix of cultures as you wander through the province. There are 23 different ethnic minority groups living within the province, all with their own unique belief systems, customs, food and styles of dress.

A great way to spend a day is by trekking the 8 miles to the very pretty waterfall of Tad Lak Sip Et. Explore the Muong La District of Oudomsay and you will find an interesting range of temples, villages and hot spring located deep in the jungle.

One of Oudomsay’s main attractions is the Saymoungkhoune Rattana Stupa. This towering white stupa is a sacred spot and a great place to visit if you’re walking through the surrounding countryside. For spectacular views of the countryside, climb to the top of Phouxay Mountain. Gaze out at a rich vista of paddy fields, jungle, farmland and tiny villages before exploring the rest of the area.

A great place to try traditional Lao food is the Muang Xai market. People travel from all over the province to this large and vibrant market to sell their wares and this is a good place to stop eat and pick up and bargain or two.

An interesting way to travel through this region of Laos is to trek to Muang Say, then take a short bus or pickup truck ride to the picturesque village of Pakbeng. The mighty Mekong River flows from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang and the journey by large, wooden boat takes around five hours. As you sail slowly down the river you will pass limestone cliffs, mangroves and fishing villages.

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Phongsaly, Laos

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

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Luang Namtha, Laos

Luang Namtha, Laos
Luang Namtha, Laos
Luang Namtha, Laos
Bordered by both China and Myanmar, Luang Namtha province is situated to the north of Laos and is home to 39 of the country’s ethnic groups. This is a good place to pause before making your way into China as the Chinese-Lao border crossing is located nearby at Boten and connects Laos with Mohan in China. Visitors to Luang Namtha will notice some similarities between the local culture and that of China, and those familiar with Laos will enjoy making comparisons between this province and the rest of the country.

This region is famous for its stunningly beautiful rainforest and unspoilt monsoon forest and no visit to Luang Namtha would be completed without a trip to the Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area. There are plenty of animals to spot here including tigers, bears, clouded leopard, and gibbons as well as a large collection of colourful birds and reptiles.

Luang Namtha is a good place to rest and relax and immerse yourself in the beauty of the area. Walking is a good way to explore and there are several villages where you can stay for a day or two and simply explore or relax by the river and listen to the wind in the trees.

The town of Luang Nam Tha is a good place to stay and you will find plenty of basic places to stay and evening entertainment at the night market. Surrounded by a pretty patchwork of rich rice paddy fields, this is a great place to stop for a day or two and get learn about the diversely different tribes that live in the villages nearby. The town sits on a hilly area and provides great views of the surrounding countryside.

A popular activity around Luang Namtha is trekking. There are a number of experienced guides available and embarking on a trek with a qualified guide can be a rewarding experience as they can provide an insight into the unique culture of the region and make can provide access to the many villages and villagers themselves.

Tranquil and picturesque, the town of Muang Xing has a great collection of friendly guesthouses where you are sure to receive a warm welcome and a good meal. This is a good place to arrange trekking and hiking trips and to meet fellow travellers to share a beer or two in the evening and swap stories with.

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Houa Phah, Laos

houa_phah_1
Houa Phah, Laos
Houa Phah, Laos
The former base for the Lao People's Revolutionary Army, Houa Phan province is located in the northeast of Laos. Now free from trouble, this pretty province is surrounded by natural beauty such as caves, waterfalls, mountains and rich rice fields.

Few tourists step off the tourist trail long enough to experience Houa Phah’s gentle charms, yet there are wonderful rewards in store for those who make the effort. Pristine emerald green forests and limestone mountains are just waiting to be explored and there is a good variety of wildlife to spot.

There are more than 100 caves located in Houa Phanh. Available in all shapes and sizes, visiting the caves is an interesting experience and also a good way to keep cool. Perhaps the most famous of all the caves is Tham Than Souphanouvong, which was once the home of Prince Souphanouvong when he was forced into hiding.

Other caves worth visiting in the area are Tham Than Kaysone and Tham Than Khamtay. Both of these caves were the residences of leading Lao political figures and are very grand in scale featuring meeting rooms and reception areas.

After a busy day of climbing through the caves, visitors to Houa Phah can soak away their aches and pains in the local hot spring in the Xam Tay district, where the waters reach temperatures of 40?C. Cool off afterwards in the pretty Xam Tay waterfall and explore the surrounding forest.

There are a large number of villages dotted around Houa Phah and the talented villages are well known for their craftwork skills. This is a good time to watch weaving, which is still done using traditional methods. The textiles made here are thought by many to be some of the finest in Asia and make great souvenirs.

Hintang Archeological Park is one of Laos’ more important prehistoric sites and a great place for a daytrip. Wander through the ruins and discover the foundations of this picturesque region and pay a visit to the large and inviting Keo Nong Vay temple.

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Borikhamsay, Laos

Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
If you want a place to relax and unwind surrounded by stunning natural scenery, Borikhamsay is the place to be. Borikhamsay province is located in central Laos, about a three hour drive from the capital city of Vientiane. Borikhamsay’s close proximity to Vientiane makes it a good destination for a day trip, although it is also a good place to pause for a day or two and discover the natural beauty of Laos.  

Also known as Bolikhamsai, Borikhamsay is an important pilgrimage site and people travel from all over the country to visit Wat Phra Baat, which contains a footprint believed to have been made by Lord Buddha as he travelled through the countryside. Laos was once home to a large collection of Buddhist monuments but sadly most have been decimated by war over the years, making this footprint all the more precious.

Another good day trip is the stone forest at Poupha Mane, where the large collection of rocky pinnacles are a striking sight. To the south it is possible to spot wildlife such as the hatinh langur, mable cat and the Asian forest tortoise in the pristine forests of Nam Thuen, while the National Biodiversity Conservation Area is Laos’ largest conservation area. Here you will find many endangered animals including the Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard, elephant, giant muntjac, guar, Malayan sun bear, and tiger. There are guides available to lead you through the forests and explain all about this amazing area.

The capital town of the province is Paksan, and here you will find plenty of places to stay as well as some good restaurants and of course the famous Laos hospitality. A good way to get around this area is by hiring a bicycle or simply walking, talking the time to share smiles and greetings with the people you pass along the way.

Paksan is also a good stopping off point for people travelling to Vietnam as it is situated close to the Vietnamese border. The majority of the region’s population is comprised by tribes such as the Thai, Phuan, Tri and Hmong. This is a good time to learn more about these interesting tribes and their alternative lifestyles.

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Bokeo, Laos

Bokeo, Laos
Bokeo, Laos
Bokeo, Laos
The name Bokeo means ‘gem mine’ in the Laos language, and this small province is famous for its sparkling sapphires. Situated to the northwest of Laos near Thailand and Myanmar, this is Laos’ smallest province.

Most people travel to Bokeo to visit the Bokeo Nature Reserve, which is managed by The Gibbon Experience. Visitors to the reserve have the unique opportunity to stay in tree-top accommodation and observe the beautiful black crested gibbons in one of their last remaining habitats in the world. Visitors can also trek through the forest along the picturesque Nam Nga River.

Bokeo is home to 34 of Laos’ ethnic groups, with the largest being the Akha. These ethnic groups each follow their own individual traditional cultural practices. There are more than 450 villages in Bokeo to explore and trekking through the countryside can be a very rewarding experience.

Take a walk to the Chomkao Manilat temple and climb the steep flight of steps to the very top witness stunning panoramic views over Houy Xay city, the Mekong River and surrounding mountains and countryside.

Also known as ‘the Land of Sapphires’, panning for gold and mining precious stones is still a profitable job in Bokeo and you can witness this and perhaps pick up a bargain or two in the picturesque village of Ban Nam Khok.

A boat trip is a very relaxing and pretty way to explore Bokeo and it easy to arrange trips upstream from Houixay, stopping off at traditional villages such as Ban Namkeung Kout, Ban Namkeung Mai and Ban Done Deng on the way through the province.

The people of Bokeo are warm and welcoming and you are sure to be well received wherever you go. In the evening, head to the local markets for a good meal and some light banter with the people who work there.

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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.

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Introduction to Thailand

thai_mapThailand, a country of interesting contradictions and rich diversity, where just about anything is possible and likely to happen.

Most visitors are instantly captivated by the famous Thai smile - Thailand is often referred to as 'The Land of Smiles' - and the sense of fun that runs through every situation and even the most mundane task.

Although exotic and mysterious, Thailand is a lot more accessible than many other Asian countries. There are many familiar features, such as the 7/11 shops that grace every corner in cities and large towns and many people choose to wear western clothing such as jeans and t-shirts or brightly-coloured shorts.

The role of women is noticeably more equal than in many other countries, with female family members often inheriting property and controlling the finances. Women comprise roughly 50% of the workforce and there are a large number of female professionals in occupations such as doctors and dentists.

Thailand draws more visitors each year than any other country in Southeast Asia, and with its combination of stunning scenery, rich culture and history it is easy why many find it difficult to leave. Whether you want to go trekking in the jungle, climb rocks, become a dive master, party hard in trendy clubs, explore the countryside or simply soak up the sun on a beautiful sandy beach, Thailand is the perfect destination.

Situated in the tropical region of the northern hemisphere, Thailand was previously known as 'Siam'. In 1939 the name officially changed to Thailand or prathet Thai or Ratcha Anachak Thai in the Thai language.

Thailand consists of a total of 514,000 square kilometres, which is roughly the same size as France or about the twice the size of Wyoming in the USA. Located in Southeast Asia and bordering Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Malaysia, Thailand has a population of more than 65 million.

Thailand is a tropical country and the weather is typically hot and humid, with periodic rain during the monsoon season. Thailand has a variety of geographic regions - varying from mountainous regions, jungles, plains and plateaus, as well as a number of stunning beach areas and numerous islands.

There are 76 provinces in Thailand with Bangkok (krungthep) forming the capital. More than 10% of Thailand's population live in Bangkok and around 60% of the country's wealth is concentrated there.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a long and interesting political history. The current monarch is His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who celebrated his 60th year on the throne in 2006, making him the world's longest reigning monarch. The King is highly revered within Thailand and respected throughout the world.

Thailand's political history has proved rather turbulent, with an impressive total of 18 coups d'etat since 1932. However, not a single shot was fired during the last coup on September 19th 2006, and Thailand is generally a safe and friendly place for visitors.

Despite the economic crash in 1997, which severely affected the country's prosperity, Thailand now enjoys a booming economy once more. Thailand's strong export growth allowed the economy to expand by 4.5% in 2007.

Exports include computer technology, office machine parts, transistors, rubber, motor vehicles, plastic, seafood and rice.

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Religion in Thailand

Religion in Thailand
Religion in Thailand
Religion in Thailand
Religion in Thailand
Most Thai people (around 95%) are Buddhist, whilst 4.6% are Muslim, and Christianity comprises 0.7%. Most of Thailand's Muslims live in the south of Thailand. There are also a significant number of Hindus and Sikhs. Thailand also has a history of animism - which generally means the belief in souls and spirits - and this is still practiced by some of the people of the hill tribes in the north of Thailand.

Although Buddhism is by far the main belief, Thailand prides itself on religious freedom and welcomes the emergence of newer religions and beliefs.

The strain of Buddhism worshipped in Thailand is Thai Theravada Buddhism, which is supported and overseen by the government. Most men are expected to become a monk at some point in their life, and this is often undertaken during the three monk Khao Phansa period, which begins in July.

Monks can be easily recognised by their saffron coloured robed and shaved heads. Monks cannot carry money and so can be seen early in the morning collecting their daily food. Monks also receive a number of government benefits, such as free use of public transport.

Religion forms a cornerstone of most Thai people's lives, entwined with daily activities and special events. Most people will worship at the temple (known as a wat) during festivals and monks and spirits are consulted when important decisions need to be made such as weddings and starting a business.















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