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An Introduction to Cambodia

Introduction to Cambodia

Introduction to Cambodia

Introduction to Cambodia
In spite of decades of suffering, persecution and poverty, the people of Cambodia love to laugh and you are sure to receive a warm welcome wherever you wander through this charming country. The Kingdom of Cambodia covers 181,035 square kilometres and bordered by Thailand to the west, Laos in the north, Vietnam in the east and the Gulf of Thailand in the south.

Most people travel to Cambodia to visit the magnificent Angkor Wat, located near the bustling town of Siem Reap. One of the seven wonders of the world, Angkor Wat is just one in a number of enchanting ancient temples in this area, while the capital city of Phnom Penh also has plenty to offer visitors.

Although this richly diverse nation is bordered on virtually all sides, there are still some pretty islands and beaches to explore in Cambodia, such as the beach resort of Sihanoukville and the nearby islands in Ream National Park. The mighty Mekong River flows through Cambodia from Laos to Vietnam and is a great way to travel through the country.

Cambodia’s natural beauty makes it a great place for trekking and there are plenty of dense jungles, unspoilt forests and paddy fields to explore, while the Cardamom and Elephant Mountain Ranges provide a spectacular backdrop.

Subsistence farming is the main occupation of this impoverished nation, and most people live in stilted huts in small village communities. Although the majority of people (about 95%) are Khmer, there are also about twenty different hill tribes, each with their own unique culture, believes and style of dress.

The official language of Cambodia is Khmer and it is spoken by most people, while some people also speak French, Laos and Vietnamese, especially near the country borders. Although many people speak English in tourist areas and you will often be approached by people who want to practice their English, it is a good idea to learn a few basic phrases in Khmer.

Buddhism is the main religion in Cambodia, with about 90% of the population following either Therevada or Hinayana Buddhism. Worship is an important part of Khmer life and you will find a large number of temples scattered around Cambodia, although a large percentage were destroyed during the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia really comes alive during the numerous festivals and public holidays, and it is idea to time your trip to coincide with one of these festivals as the streets are filled with singing and dancing and people put on their best clothes and biggest smiles.
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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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Ban Lung, Cambodia

Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia
Known by the local people as ‘dey krahorm’, which means red earth in Khmer, Ban Lung is a modest town where you will find genuine people and friendly faces. This is a great place to use as a base while you explore the surrounding countryside and there are a number interesting attractions nearby.

Most people travel to Ban Lung to visit the nearly Boeng Yeak Lom. Also known as Yak Lom Lake, this is an impressive volcanic crater filled with freshwater. There is a well worn train leading from the town to the volcano and the trek takes about an hour each way. Take the time to fully explore the volcano and have a swim in the cool waters. Watch out for the legendary Yak Lom monster as you swim and visit the nearby culture centre, which contains some interesting information about the volcano and items made by the tribes people who live in the area.  

This is a great place for trekking and you can wander through the countryside, with its rich red earth and pretty villages. The scenery here is simply spectacular and there is plenty to hold the attention.

Scattered around Ban Lung are a number of small villagers where tribes people live, following the same cultural styles and general life styles that they have practiced for hundreds of years. Most of the tribes people gather at Ban Lung market to buy and sell goods, and this is a great place for people watching and to also pick up a bargain or two.

The market is also a good place to pick up a cheap, tasty meal. There are a number of food stalls scattered around the town as well as restaurants and hotels, making this a good place to stay for a day or two.

Around the market place you will find a large number of small shops selling colourful precious stone. The gems come from the surrounding hills and also more distant places such as Sri Lanka. Although you should be careful about buying, browsing through the multi-hued stones can be a good way to spend an hour two.
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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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Udong, Cambodia

Udong, Cambodia
Udong, Cambodia
Udong, Cambodia
Udong, Cambodia
Also sometimes written as Oudong, Udong was Cambodia’s royal capital from 1618 to 1866 and is situated 40 kilometres northwest of Phnom Pehn. The name Udong means the victorious in the Khmer language and a number of kings have lived here during the city’s heyday.
Although often overlooked by visitors to Western Cambodia, the small city of Udong has a lot to offer travellers. This is a good place to take a break from the road for a day or two and relax and unwind in comfort, as there are some excellent hotels to choose from here.

Udong is surrounded by intense natural beauty, which can be seen by climbing to the top of one of the two ridges that overlook the city. visitors who stand here will be able to see all the way across Udong to the surrounding countryside, which is scattered with a number of interesting temples and shrines.

Those who enjoy temple hopping will want to start their trip at the small yet perfectly formed Arey Kaa Sap pagoda. Also of interest nearby are Phnom Vihear Leu and the commanding Ta San Mosque, which is one of the few Muslim structures that can be found in this part of the world and faces westwards towards Mecca.

Visitors who want to climb the 509 steps that lead the way to the very top of Phnom Udong will need to complete the task either early in the morning or towards the end of the afternoon, as attempting this in the full heat of the day can be a hot and sticky affair, although climbers will be rewarded for their trouble by the unparalleled views that await them at the summit of the hill.

Make sure you take the time to fully appreciate Udong’s stunning sunsets, which are among the most colourful in the whole of Western Cambodia. A number of the city’s leading restaurants are strategically placed to offer visitors enchanting views while they dine in style on local cuisine, while those who are looking for something cheap and tasty to sink their teeth into will find an excellent selection of light meals and snacks at the local night market.
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Chi Phat, Cambodia

Chi Phat, Cambodia
Chi Phat, Cambodia
Chi Phat, Cambodia
A popular destination with nature lovers who want to wander off of the beaten track, the charming village of Chi Pat can be found in the centre of the Cardamom Protected Forest. Chi Pat offers visitors a wide range of amenities such as accommodation and excellent restaurants, making this a great place to use as a base while exploring the area.

This is also a good place to get back to basics and retreat from the modern world for a while, as there is currently no running water here and electricity is often only available for a few hours a day. Nature lovers are sure to be in their element here, as they sit on the porch of their guesthouse and gaze at the freely wandering wildlife and listen to the sounds of the birds in the trees.

A large number of the local people here double as tour guides, and visitors to Chi Pat can take a walk through the Cardamom Protected Forest to discover a wide range of flora and fauna. Those with a little patience and good eyesight will be able to watch monkeys swinging through the trees and may also spot flying squirrels, lizards and hornbills.

Travellers who have a strong sense of adventure will want to take their turn at riding along one of the aerial ziplines, while canopy walks offer visitors the chance to take in the Cardamom Protected Forest from a bird’s perspective.

Or why not ride the rapids along the Stung Proat River for the ultimate thrilling experience. Those who prefer to explore independently can also hire a bicycle and cycle through the forest to destinations such as the local elephant rescue centre and waterfall.

Khmer people love to eat and despite the village’s remoteness there are a number of places where you can find a good meal. There are plenty of cheap food stalls in the covered market, while beside the river are a couple of restaurants beside a pool hall.

Getting to Chi Pat is simple and adventurous, as buses regularly complete the four-hour road journey from Phnom Penh. Travellers will be deposited at the side of the road, where they then take a three-hour boat ride up the river, which is the perfect way to see the surrounding countryside.
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Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
The second largest city in Cambodia, Battambang makes the idea base to explore the surrounding attractions. Situated to the northwest of Cambodia, Battambang is full of interesting buildings left over from the French colonial era and has a pleasantly relaxed feeling that entices many travellers to extend their stay for a day or two.

Battambang takes its name from the legend of an ancient Khmer king, who is said to have calmed the city’s rebellions with his battambang staff. As you wander through the city streets you will see a statue representing this event as well as a number of interesting statues depicting mythical animals and religious characters.

There is plenty to see and do in Battambang. Start by climbing the hill of Phnom Sampeu to enjoy spectacular views of the city and explore the hill’s caves, stupas and monastery. Near the hill is Wat Banan, which is dubbed a mini Angkor Wat and contains a large Buddhist shrine. Just to the west of the city, Wat Ek Phnom has also been constructed in Angkorian style, while Wat Baydamran is home to hundreds of fruit bats.

Situated 70 kilometers north of the city of Battambang in northeastern Cambodia, Bantaey Chhmar is a pretty temple complex built by Jayavarman VII as a tribute to the death of his son Indravarman and four generals in battle. Dating back to the 9th century, this is a great place to explore on a day trip. A mighty battle took place on this site in 1177 when it was invaded by the Cham people. Those interested in the areas unusual history can find the story engraved on the stone ways that surround Bantaey Chhmar. The complex has been overgrown by forest, giving it a mystical quality and it features large Avalokiteshvara faces which are reminiscent of the Bayon temple near Siem Reap.

Head out of Battambang to discover the ancient wooden houses of Watkor, which is a very pretty village. Other nearby villages worth exploring include Kompong Seyma, and Ksach Puoy. These villages offer a real insight into traditional Khmer life and you will still find people engrossed in skills such as weaving and basket making.

An interesting way to explore this area is by riding the bamboo train known as the norry. The Wat Poveal Museums is a good place to learn more about the Khmer arts, while just 44 kilometres from the city is Pich Chenda, a very pretty nature and wildlife preserve.

Walk along the bank of the Sangker River in the evening and you will discover a large number of small food stalls selling traditional Khmer food and also delicious French bread. This is a great place to get a cheap meal and perhaps wash it down with a beer or two.

A great way to travel to Battambang is by boat from Siem Reap. This scenic journey takes you slowly through the countryside, past floating villages and fishermen along narrow canals and waterways.
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Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia

Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia
Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia
Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia
Situated in south-western Cambodia, many people pass through the town of Krong Koh Kong on the way to or from Thailand. This is a good place to stop for a while and explore the surrounding countryside.
Krong Koh Kong can be found close to the mouth of the mighty Kah Bpow River and this entire area is famed for its intense natural beauty. One of the best known and loved natural features here is Koh Kong, which is a tiny tropical island that features pristine sandy waters lapped by cool, clear waters. Naturally, this is a popular spot to stretch out and soak up the sun for a while, and it is easy to simply stay here and drift away for a day or two.

The Thai border is located just a few kilometres away from Krong Koh Kong, and this makes the perfect place to take a break from the rigors of travel and gather your strength before hitting the road once more. Another popular spot in this part of the world is Bak Khlong Beach, which is famous for its sandy beaches and restaurants that serve freshly caught seafood prepared to local and Western tastes.

If you’re looking for entertainment, Koh Kong Safari World has a good collection of animals and has regular live shows, although it’s doubtful whether the interests on the animals on display are the primary concern here and animal lovers may want to stay away.

Real nature lovers should head instead to Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary, where you will see an impressive collection of wildlife such as sun bears, leopards, elephants, gaur, banteng and sambar. Another area of great natural beauty is the Botum Sakor National Park, where you will find a number of pretty waterfalls.

Other interesting diversions in the area include a small ice rink and some quaint Cham Muslim villages, where you can learn more about the traditional Khmer way of life.
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Kep, Cambodia

Kep, Cambodia
Kep, Cambodia
Often overlooked by visitors to southern Cambodia, the sleepy town of Kep is a great place to spend a little time. The town is surrounded by the intense natural beauty of dense jungle, rolling hills and stretches of golden sand, and nature lovers are sure to be in their element here.
Known as the ‘Riviera of Asia’ when it was established at the turn of the 20th century by French colonists, Kep served as a vibrant beach destination for several decades, before the Khmer Rouge arrived in the area and turned things on their head. However, Kep is slowly and surely being restored, and this is the perfect time to visit the area.

Those who can bear to tear themselves away from the beach for an hour or two will want to take in the stunning views from the summit of Kep Hill. To get there, visitors simply need to wander along a gently looping trail through the jungle, perhaps pausing to gaze at wildlife such as playful monkeys along the way.

The pretty tropical Rabbit Island is situated five kilometres off the coast of Kep, and can be reached by hiring a boat. Those who want to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life can spend the night in a tiny wooden hut on the island before returning to Kep the next day.

Water sports such as snorkelling and scuba diving are popular activities among those who visit Kep, and a large number of companies offer to rent out equipment, while those who like messing about on the water should rent a speedboat or a catamaran from the Sailing Club.  

Kep is a great place to eat, with fresh seafood being top of the menu. Fresh crab is particularly popular here and Kep to offer to tastiest crab in Cambodia. There are a good number of restaurants and bars here, most offering a variety of international dishes as well as traditional Khmer cuisine. Grab and good meal and a drink or two and watch as the sun slowly slips behind the horizon. Pure perfection.
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Kampot, Cambodia

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

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

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

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

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

Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Situated in the south of Cambodia, Sihanoukville is one of Cambodia’s most popular seaside towns. Visitors to this pretty beach area will find plenty of bars, restaurants and cheap guesthouses, while there are plenty of places to stretch out on the pure white powdery sand and work on your tan.
Formerly known as Kompong Som, Sihanoukville takes its name from the famous prince Sihanouk. A great way to reach this resort is by boat from the Koh Kong / Hat Lek border crossing that connects Cambodia with Thailand. This is a good place to relax for a day or two before travelling through the rest of Cambodia.

Sihanoukville’s main attraction is its beautiful sandy beaches, which are some of the best in the whole of Cambodia. While each of the beaches here feature their own distinct charms, the most popular tend to be Sokha Beach, Victory Beach, Ochheuteal Beach, Independence Beach, Otres Beach and Serendipity Beach. Those who are on a tight budget will find plenty of cheap accommodation around Victory Beach, while party people will want to gravitate towards the bars and restaurants that can be found around Ochheuteal Beach.

Water sports are popular in Sihanoukville, and this is a great place to try snorkelling and scuba diving. A large number of islands can be found just off the coast, surrounded by cool, clear waters. A number of local companies offer boast trips to explore the area, which also allow visitors to check out snorkelling and scuba diving around Bamboo Island, which is known locally as Koh Russei. Visitors who are enchanted by the tranquillity and natural beauty of this island also have the chance to spend the night on Bamboo Island.

One of the most popular attractions that can be found in this part of the world is the large and lovely Ream National Park, and a wide range of local companies offer daytrips here. Public transportation in this part of Cambodia can be a little thin on the ground, and those who want to really get to know the area will want to hire a motorbike.

Make sure you surrender a photocopy of your passport rather than the actual document itself in order to secure bike hire. After all the arrangements have been made it is now time to drive to the temples of Wat Krom and Wat Leu before soaking up the scenery at Kampong Pier Nup Lok.
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Southern Cambodia

Southern Cambodia
Southern Cambodia
Most travelers head to southern Cambodia to hang out on the beautiful beaches at Sihanoukville. There are a number of picturesque sandy islands to explore such as Bamboo Island, while Ream National Park makes the perfect day trip destination.

Although travelling through this region of Cambodia was once difficult and time consuming due to the poor condition of the roads, it is now a lot easier and getting around is fairly straight forward. There are a number of interesting towns to explore in southern Cambodia such as Kampot and Kep, while the Bokor National Park is an area of intense natural beauty with waterfalls, limestone caves and dense jungle.

Those who travel to Cambodia during the scorchingly hot summer months can retreat from the heat at Bokor Hill Station, which is situated at a high elevation and tends to be cooler than the rest of the country.

Southern Cambodia serves as a great introduction to the country. Spread out for a while and soak up the sun, swim and snorkel in the cool, clear waters and enjoy fresh barbequed fish at sunset. Explore the picturesque national parks and discover the diverse wildlife and unique Khmer style. 
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Phnom Bayong, Cambodia

Phnom Bayong, Cambodia
Situated in the heart of the countryside, this spectacular ancient temple is more than worth the journey, which takes you away from the usual tourist trail and offers an insight into traditional Khmer life.

A large number of people here travel to Phnom Bayong via the border crossing of Phnom Den–Tinh Bien, which is situated some eight kilometres north of the temple. Phnom Bayong measures a mighty 313 metres and those who want to climb to the very top will need to allow around three hours to complete the return journey. While this can be rather challenging for those who are not used to the heat and humidity of Cambodia, the stunning views across to Vietnam are more than worth the effort.

The best time to complete the climb is either just before dawn or at the end of the day. Those who time their trip carefully should arrive at the top just in time to see the glorious sunrise or watch the sun slowly sink behind the horizon at the end of the day. However, the climb is far from easy at any time of day and it is best to wear comfortable shoes and bring along plenty of water.

While in the area, visitors should take the time to check out Phnom Tchea Tapech, which is another ancient temple that is topped by a standing Buddha image. The temple is adorned with intricate stone carvings and also offers enchanting views from the summit.

Phnom Bayong is located 50 kilometres south of Takeo and it is possible to visit the site on a day trip. However, the pretty town of Kirivong is just 3 kilometres west and there are a few places to stay here as well as restaurants offering traditional Khmer food and a number of backpacker favourites such as sandwiches and French fries.

Within easy driving distance of Takeo and Phnom Bayong is the Kirivong waterfall, which is a great place to relax for a while or wander along the surrounding pathways.

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Eastern Cambodia

Eastern Cambodia
Eastern Cambodia
Eastern Cambodia
Bordered by Vietnam, the eastern region of Cambodia is scattered with picturesque hill tribe villages. This is a good place for hiking and there is plenty of natural beauty to discover such as waterfalls, caves and forests.

Many people head straight to the town of Kratie to watch the Irrawaddy dolphins swimming in the river, while the town of Stung Treng is also a good place to relax for a while.

The mighty Mekong River runs through this region and travelling by boat is a great way to reach many of the area’s towns and cities. Fish is plentiful here and the local market is a great place to find freshly cooked fish dishes.

The region’s proximity to Vietnam means that visitors will discover an interesting blend of Khmer and Vietnamese styles in many of the border towns, which is particularly apparent in the designs of the temples, clothes and food. Spend some time in eastern Cambodia before hopping across the border to discover an entirely different side of life.

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Pursat, Cambodia

Pursat, Cambodia
Pursat, Cambodia
Pursat, Cambodia
This picturesque and peaceful town is a great place to unwind for a while and it serves as a base for those wishing to explore the stunningly beautiful Central Cardamoms Protected Forest. Pursat is also a transit point Battambang and Phnom Penh and this is a pretty place to pause and slow the pace a little as you travel between the two cities.

One of Pursat’s most famous features is its marble carvers, and visitors will have the chance to watch local craftsmen honing their skills in various workshops as they explore and it is even possible to purchase finished pieces to take home as gifts and souvenirs.

The floating village of Kompong Luong is a great place for a day trip. Situated on the mighty Tonle Sap Lake, this is a pretty place to explore and watch the fishermen at work. There are also a number of good restaurants here serving fresh fish and traditional Khmer dishes.
 
Another good day trip destination is Nhek Ta Khleang Moeung, where people travel to of worship the spirit of Nhek Ta and ask for his assistance. The site is situated 3 miles from Pursat and is a particularly pleasant walk.

Slightly further away, the sacred site of Baktra is also worth visiting. Climb the high hill for spectacular views of the area and see the pretty forest stream and natural wells. For an alternative way to see the countryside, take a trip on the traditional bamboo railway before returning to Pursat for a good meal in one of the local restaurants.

As you explore the area you will discover a number of pretty waterfalls, which are the perfect place to cool down after hiking in the heat of the day. In the evening, join the local people who gather in the small park near the bridge to enjoy the cool river breeze and relaxed atmosphere.
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Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Cambodia

Northern Cambodia
Most of Cambodia’s tourist attractions are located in the north of the country. Not only is the national monument of Angkor Wat located here, but also the nearby vibrant town of Siem Reap. Just a short distance away is the capital city of Phnom Penh, which contains a wide range of attractions as well as good restaurants and places to stay.

Visitors to the northern region of Cambodia will find plenty to see and do. There are two major border crossings in the area, allowing visitors to cross travel into Cambodia from the neighbouring country of Laos or from Thailand via the notorious casino town of Poipet.

Before you visit Angkor Wat, take the time to travel through the countryside and visit some of the other ancient temples, many of which predate the magnificent temple complex. Climb to the top of Sambor Prei Kuk and hike through the dense forest surrounding Pursat

Located in amongst the Damrek Mountains, Anlong Veng is the home town of a number of Khmer Rouge leaders such as Pol Pet and Nuon Chea. Explore this town to discover the houses of the two men and wander through the picturesque landscape.
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Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran


bokator_muay_thai_boran_1
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
bokator_muay_thai_boran_11
What is Bokator: Bokator is the ancient Cambodian martial art, which was nearly wiped out during the Khmer Rouge genocide. Through the sacrifices of Grand Master San Kim Saen, the art was reborn. After surviving the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime, he returned to Cambodia in the late 1990s. Scouring the country, he found less than ten Bokator masters who had survived. He later opened his school in Phnom Penh, where he teaches Bokator to about three hundred students. Several have been promoted to black karma (belt). Derek Morris and I are the only foreigners to have earned a black karma. Mine is in fighting only, Derek's belt and certificate make him an instructor. The Grand Master hopes that a foreigner will open a Bokator school outside of Cambodia, so that the art will spread and survive. Unfortunately, I don't accept students. After training in Muay Thai Sangha, with Kru Pedor Villalobos, Derek went to China to learn San Da (Chinese Kickboxing).

What is Muay Thai Boran: Boran means ancient. It is actually a Khmer word which was absorbed into the Thai language. Long ago, Thailand raided Cambodia, capturing masters of various arts, from religion, to dance, to martial arts. Khmer words and culture were adopted into Thai culture. Today, in Thai language, all words associated with religion, royalty, martial arts, science, and government come from Khmer. The Khmer claim that they invented kickboxing. The original Khmer kickboxing art is called Bradal Serey (Pradal Serey).

Today, Muay Lao, Muay Thai, Bradal Serey, and Burmese boxing (Lethwei or Lethawae) are quite similar. The cultures of these countries are also quite similar, with the people following Theravada Buddhism, which originated in India and then Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

Neighboring Vietnam is always the odd-man-out. The culture is Chinese. The written language was Chinese, until the French forced them to use the Latin alphabet. And the predominant ancient martial art, Tieu Lam, is a form of Chinese Kung Fu. There are rumors that Vietnam once had a kickboxing art similar to Cambodia. Today, this art seems to have disappeared, but even in Tieu Lam, we see some elements taken from kick boxing, such as shin kicks and elbow strikes.

The point here is that the fighting arts of all of the Indochina countries are quite similar, and clearly come from the same origin. In Thailand, however, martial art developed into a massive professional sport. Kickboxing is also the national sport of Cambodia, but there are less than 400 registered boxers. In Thailand there are close to 100,000.

Muay Thai Boran is a word which is often given to the original, military fighting art, which was later watered down into a sport art, used in a kickboxing ring.

What is the difference between Bokator and Muay Thai Boran?

Muay Thai Boran ad Bokator clearly share a lot of similarities, but one primary difference is that Bokator is a system. Muay Thai Boran is not. You study Muay Thai, and if your teacher knows Boran, he teaches you some movements in isolation. For example, he advocates kicking with the bottom or side of your foot, instead of just shin kicks. Or, he teaches you spinning back kicks or heal kicks, instead of just roundhouse.

Muay Thai Boran and Krabi Krabong get lumped together. Karbi Krabong is the weapons training:just staff and doubles swords. If you see Thai practitioners using double sticks, the sticks represent swords. There is, to my knowledge, no Thai double stick art like Arnis in the Philippines.

Bokator, on the other hand, is a complete system, like a traditional martial arts. There are belts, and you learn movements, forms, and techniques in order. The weapons include the double stick, double swords, long staff and scarf.

While Muay Thai Boran includes a bit more grappling than sport Muay Thai, it is still stand up grappling from the head. And you are wearing gloves.

Bokator includes Khmer traditional wrestling (jap bap boran khmer), kick boxing (bradal serey or pradal serey), and weapons. In true Bokator fights, you don't wear gloves and you can fight on the ground, with bouts ending in submissions or chokes.

The ground fighting is not nearly as effective as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or western wrestling, but it is arguably the only ground fighting art in Southeast Asia. I have trained in nearly every country in southeast Asia (except Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunai) and there doesn't seem to be any ground fighting at all.

At this point, a reader asked me how ground fighting changes the landscape of fighting, both in Muay Thai Boran vs. Bokator and in MMA.

This is my take on the dominance of ground fighting. A good street fighter, a tough biker dude like Tank Abbot or Sony Barger, could probably hold his own against most strikers. If you see the youtube clips of the bare knuckles pro fighter named Kimbo (I think that is his name). He is a huge, strong, American guy who makes his living knocking guys out in parking lots. He probably never had any training. And if he went in UFC and got matched with a striker, he could hold his own and might win on a KO because in professional street fighting the goal is to keep the fight short and get a KO.

I've done only one of these fights. Coming into it, the mistake I made was in trying to box and move, and win in a later round. I got hit once in the eye, it opened me up, and I realized there is no later. You have to win NOW. I did win. And the fight probably only lasted about twenty-five seconds, but it was too long.

So, the answer is a tough street fighter, big and strong, used to going for the knock out would be hard to beat in a ring. The best strategy would be to drag the fight on as long as possible to make him tired. But he would be landing bombs on you the whole time, and that wouldn't be a very pleasant experience.

With grappling, the rules change. An untrained grappler stands zero chance against a trained grappler. It's that simple. I pound a bag every day in the gym, but I know if I come against the right street fighter, he could knock me out. But a guy who trains grappling every day would instantly take down an untrained grappler or a street fighter and that would be the end of the fight.

The smartest strikers, like Mirco, have learned to escape. He was smart enough to just ignore the grappling and hope to win on a kick KO. And he was smart enough not to try and win on submissions. He learned to avoid the take down and to escape back to his feet. But he had to learn that. You have to train specifically to avoid the grappler. If you look at early UFCs the grappler nearly always won because they always got the take down and then once on the ground, there was no escape for the striker.

So, comparing Muay Thai Boran with Bokator, because Bokator has the ground fighting, it is the better fighting art. The issue in Thailand vs. Cambodia right this minute, however, would be that the Bokator school has only been reopened for about five years. So, the guys don't have a lot of fighting experience. When I prepared for my black belt I went out to the village and learned Khmer wrestling with the farmers. I was the first one to do this. The team isn't ready yet to fight all comers.

In Thailand there is a lot of interest in MMA now. When I am training there, they all tell me how they would just it for the shoot and then take the grappler out with a knee to the face. This is ludicrous because their entire game plan rests on a single technique. Yes, if you shoot and run head first into a knee thrown by a pro Muay Thai fighter you will get knocked out. But what if the Muay Thai guy misses? Or what if the grappler deflects the knee with his hand? Or what if he just absorbs the knee? Or, what if he shoots and executes the throw from the waist or the hip?
We have played around with this scenario in the gym quite a bit in Bangkok. And anyone who has seen my youtube knows I am no grappler. My shoot looks like an old man bending over to pickup his change. Even with that, I am able to take them down. And of course, once I get on top, I am so much bigger, that is the end of the fight.

The throw I usually use to take down a Muay Thai fighter is actually a technique from Muay Thai Boran. You shoot in with your forearm in front of your face. Instead of hitting the hips or thighs, you hit the opponent's shin with the forearm and then scoop his heal with the other hand.

To sum up: Bokator is a complete art which, if learned would be a better fighting art than Muay Thai Boran. But at the moment, there are no battle-hardened Bokator guys to fight. And in grappling vs. striking. I believe an untrained striker may stand a chance against a trained striker. But an untrained grappler stands no chance against a real grappler. Grappling would be one of the biggest determinant in who would win between a Bokator guy and a Muay Thai Boran guy. Since Bokator has ground-fighting and Muay Thai Boran doesn't, Bokator would win.

About the author:

Antonio Graceffo holds a black karma in Bokator. He lives in Thailand and has practiced Muay Thai for a number of years. He trained in Cambodia for several years in boxing, Bradal Serey, and Bokator. In Philippines he has studied Kuntaw and Yaw Yan. IN Lao he studied Muay Lao. He has also trained at the Shaolin Temple, in China, and in schools and gyms in Vietnam and Korea. He is a frequent contributor for both Black Belt and Kung Fu magazines. His book, The Monk from Brooklyn, available on amazon.com tells about his experiences at the Shaolin Temple.

He is a qualified Emergency Medical Technician, as well as an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the Host of the web TV show, "Martial Arts Odyssey," Currently he is working inside of Shan State, documenting human rights abuses, doing a film and print project to raise awareness of the Shan people. To see all of his videos about martial arts, Burma and other countries: http://youtube.com/results?search_query=antonio+graceffo&search=SearchAntonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com. Contact him - see his website. Antonio is self-funded and seeking sponsors.

Antonio

"If you wish to contribute to the "In Shanland" film project, you can donate through paypal, through the Burma page of my website."

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Lopburi, Thailand

Lopburi, Thailand
Lopburi, Thailand
Lopburi, Thailand
Lopburi, Thailand
Dubbed "Monkey City" because of the thousands of monkeys that are allowed to reside in peace, Lopburi is the capital city of Lopburi Province. The city is located 150 km north-east of Bangkok and draws thousands of tourists each year, who flock to the city to see the Crab-Eating Macaques as well as the elegant Khmer temples.

If you are interested in the cheeky monkeys, who scamper around stealing food from tourists and causing general mischief, particularly good spots to see them are around the Khmer temple, Prang Sam Yot, and Sarn Phra Karn. All these temples are also interesting in their own right, as are Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat and the former royal palace of Phra Narai Ratchaiwet, which also houses the Lopburi Museum, a great place to cool down and learn more about the local history.

The people of Lopburi take good care of the city's monkeys as they believe them to be descendants of the monkey lord Hanuman. According to the holy book the Ramayana, Hanuman was a great hero who rescued Sita from her imprisonment in Sri Lanka and built Lopburi as his kingdom.

To the north of Lopburi, the famous and beautiful Saplangka Wildlife Sanctuary provides the perfect day trip for nature lovers. Also worth visiting is the nearby European Palace of Chao Phraya Wichayan, which has many interesting design and style features and some beautiful gardens in which to relax for a while.

Steeped in interesting history, Lopburi is full of temple ruins, which mainly date from the Ayutthaya period. Particularly of note are Wat Nakhon Kosa, Wat San Paolo, Wat Sao Thong and Wat Indra.

A great time to visit Lopburi is during the Monkey festival at the end of November, when the furry inhabitants are treated to a huge feast at the expense of their human neighbours, who take good care of them throughout the year.

Also look out for the King Narai Festival, which occurs in the middle of February and lasts for three days. The festival is marked which displays of local food and textiles, singing and the much anticipated traditional lakhon ling drama which, believe it or not, is performed by monkeys!

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Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Kanchanaburi is the largest of Thailand's central provinces. Just two hours from Bangkok by bus or train, Kanchanaburi makes a great place for a day trip, although the stunning natural beauty of the area, combined with its intriguing turbulent history often entices people to stay for several days or even a few weeks.

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.

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Buriram, Thailand

Buriram, Thailand
buriram_4
Buriram, Thailand
Many places in Thailand are given poetic names and Buriram, which means City of Happiness, is no exception. The town of Buriram is the capital of Buriram Province in Isan and is located roughly 410 kilometers northeast of Bangkok.

Located on the northeastern railway line and with a regional airport; Buriram Airport, Buriram is easily assessable. Buriram Province is steeped in history and the beautiful backdrop makes this a good place in which to chill out for a few days and to get to know Thailand.

The Phanom Rung Historical Park, 40 kilometres south of Buriram town is situated on the summit of an erupted volcano and has spectacular views of the surrounding paddy fields. This thousand-year-old site contains one of the most important Khmer sites outside Cambodia, the magnificent Phanom Rung temple, which is also the largest Khmer monument in Thailand.

The Khmer temple at nearby Prasat Meung Tam is also well worth a visit, and there are dozens of other interesting Khmer ruins in the area such as Kuti Reusi Nong Bua Rai, Kuti Reusi Khok Meuang and Prasat Khao Praibat.

Bird enthusiasts should check out the Buriram Bird Park, and the ancient kilns at Tao Sawai ancient kilns offer an insight into the craft of pottery.

The Lower Isan Cultural Centre is a good place to visit to learn more about the rich and interesting history and people of this unique area, and the beautiful Khao Kradong Forest Park, with its enormous Buddha image crowning a hill offers spectacular views over the lush green countryside.

Buriram Province is some what cooler than most of Thailand and a great way to explore the region and pass a few days is to hire a bicycle and explore.

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Phimai, Thailand

Phimai, Thailand
Phimai, Thailand
Phimai, Thailand
Phimai, Thailand
Part of Nakhon Ratchasima Province to the north of Thailand, Phimai is a great place to visit for those with a keen interest in history and culture, and the small town also has some beautiful nature spots in which to enjoy a picnic and relax for a while away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Most visitors are draw to Phimai by the Phimai Historical Park, which contains a large number of temples and ruins to explore including the beautiful Khmer temple of Prasat Phimai. Don't forget to check out to informative Phimai National Museum in order to learn more about the temples and to discover some rare temple artefacts.

Nearby, the brick chedi of Meru Boromathat and the Pratu Chai - victory gate - are just waiting to be discovered, whilst on an island in the middle of a large reservoir the Sai Ngam (Beautiful Banyan) draws Buddhists from all over the world. You can take a rowing boat out onto the reservoir for a closer look at the sacred tree. Whilst there, don't forget to pay a visit to the interesting Tha Nang Sa Phom - which is an ancient and intricately decorated landing platform.

Nakhon Ratchasima Province is famous for its unique and beautiful pottery, and a good place to see it is at the Dan Kwian pottery village, where you can still see craftsmen creating the Thai ceramics.

Another famous skill from the north of Thailand is silk weaving, and visitors can go to the Pak Thong Chai silk weaving village, which is very close to Phimai. Here, the weaving looms are still being put to good use today, creating beautifully shimmering Thai silk, which is then dyed in a dazzling array of colours and made into a wide range of products for people to buy as souvenirs.

In November, Phimai celebrates with the Phimai Festival. This is a good opportunity to experience the traditional folk songs, dancing and theatre of the region as well as sample the many delicious dishes and sweets.

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Phichit, Thailand

Phichit, Thailand
Phichit, Thailand
Phichit, Thailand
Phichit, Thailand
Located roughly 345 kilometres north of Bangkok, Phichit is known as the land of the crocodiles. In the past, this area was home to a large number of ferocious land crocodiles and now contains several fresh-water crocodile farms.

There are many interesting sites to explore in Phichit and many visitors find it necessary to extend their stay by several days in order to see everything. A great way to explore is to hire a motorbike or bicycle and cycle through the province at your own pace, noting the scenery and interesting architecture.

If you are interested in history, pay a visit to Utthayan Mueang Kao Pichit, which is a large park with an ancient town dating back more than 900 years. Most of the structures were built during the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods and the old town is surrounded by city walls and moats. In the town centre is Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat with its large bell-shaped chedi, containing numerous votive tablets.

Another site of historical and cultural interest is Ku Mahathat, where you can see ancient Khmer ruins, whilst Bung Si Fai is a large fresh-water lake to the south of town. There is a pretty landscaped park along the banks of the lake, which is a good place for a picnic. There is an aquarium on the other side of the park, which contains species of native fish and local fishing equipment.

There are a large number of interesting temples in Phichit. Among the best are Wat Pho Prathap Chang with its bronze Buddha statue, Wat Tha Luang and the extremely beautiful Wat Nakhon Chum.

Wat Bang Khlan was once the resident temple of the highly revered monk Luang Pho Ngoen and many people visit the temple in order to pay homage to a statue of Luang Pho Ngoen. Worth visiting is the Chai Bowon Museum inside the temple, which displays ancient items such as votive tablets, Buddha statues and earthenware. It is open every Saturday and Sunday.

Another interesting temple is Wat Khao Rup Chang, which is located along the Phichit-Taphan Hin road, 15 kilometres from town. On the hilltop is an old, Ayutthaya-style Chedi built from bricks. There is also a Mondop featuring interesting if slightly faded wall murals. The main purpose of the Mondop is that it houses a bronze Holy Relic.

The long awaited boat racing festival is usually held after the homage-paying rites to the province's principal Buddha statue during September of each year and takes place on the Nan River in front of Wat Tha Luang. The entire area comes alive during the boat races, when teams of up to 50 men compete to be the first to row their enormous boat to the finish line. The festival is celebrated with displays of traditional singing and dancing and there is much merry making.

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Lamphun, Thailand

Lamphun, Thailand
Lamphun, Thailand
Lamphun, Thailand
lamphun_4
Situated to the south east of Chiang Mai, Lamphun Province is steeped in history and culture. The province capital is the quiet town of Lamphun, which can be found 670 kilometres from Bangkok. The town is located on the bank of the Kuang River and contains many interesting attractions including ancient sites and relics, forests, mountains and pretty lakes. Lamphun is also well known as a producer of longans, the extremely sweet and delicious Thai fruit with its hard, yellow shell.

Lamphun is an area of great natural beauty. Particularly picturesque is the Mae Ping National Park, with its lush forests and the Ping River running through it. The park is also home to the seven-tiered Namtok Ko Luang and a limestone cave full of stalactites and stalagmites.

Another area of intense natural beauty is the Doi Khun Tan National Park, with its pretty orchids and lilies as well as impressive bamboo and pine forests. Namtok Tat Moei is an imposing waterfall in this park and an interesting feature is that it can be reached directly by train from Chiang Mai.

Lamphun is blessed with a large number of sites of highly respected historical and cultural importance. Wat Phra That Hariphunchai was built during the reign of King Arthitayarat, a descendant of Queen Chamthewi, around 800 years ago. Principal features of this temple include the 46-metre tall golden chedi and the Khmer-style Buddha statue. Other interesting temples in this area include Wat Phra Yuen, Wat Mahawan, Wat Chamthewi and the highly revered Wat Phra Phutthabat Tak Pha, where according to legend the Lord Buddha once stayed, leaving a likeness of monk's saffron robe and his footprint imprinted in the stone ground.

The impressive Hariphunchai National Museum is a good place to discover the area's rich and interesting history. The museum features displays of prehistoric human skeletons and objects of arts from the Dvaravati, Hariphunchai, Lanna and Rattanakosin periods. There also some interesting displays of temple art, which has been carefully collected and displayed over a period of several years.

Another way to get an idea of the area's history and culture is by visiting Ban Hong, which is the site of a warm and welcoming 1,400-year-old community dating back to the Hariphunchai Kingdom.

If you are interested in handicrafts, the cotton weaving village of Pasong makes a good day trip. Whilst there, pay a visit to Wat Chang Khao No and the bustling market places, where you can buy a wide range of cotton products.

There are a large number of interesting celebrations in Lamphun Province. Particularly vibrant is the Lam Yai Festival, which takes place in the second week of August. Also known as the Longan Fair, the objective is to promote the area's sweet and succulent the fruit. The festival features a parade of floats made from longan fruit and the Miss Lam Yai contest.

Another popular event is the Song Nam Phra That Hariphunchai which is held to celebrate the province's principal religious site and takes place in May.

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