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Phrae, Thailand

Phrae, Thailand
Phrae, Thailand

Welcome to Phrae, an old and important community in Northern Thailand. Phrae was founded shortly after Chiang Mai had been established as the capital of the Lanna Thai kingdom. The province has one of the largest reserves of teak forests in the country and is located on the banks of the Yom River, 555 kilometres from Bangkok.

Phrae has a slightly sleepy feel and is a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of life for a day or two and simply relax. This is an area of intense natural beauty and there is plenty to explore if you’re feeling active.

Wiang Kosai National Park is a great showcase for the area’s nature. Another immense area of natural beauty is the Mae Yom National Park, which is situated around 48 kilometres from the town of Phrae. A popular feature of the park are the Kaeng Sua Ten rapids, a two-kilometre-long stretch of rock formations which is best visited during November-February when the weather is cool and scenery at its prettiest. Visitors are permitted to camp along the river banks, making this a great place to simply relax for a day or two.

Scattered around the province are some pretty sparkling waterfalls and haunting caves to explore. Take a trip to Tham Pha Nang Khoi 40 kilometres north of town, Namtok Huai Rong and Namtok Tat Mok.

The area’s temples offer an interesting insight into the traditional culture and style. Wat Luang is the oldest temple in Phrae and includes an interesting museum. Also look out for the 400-year-old chedi of Phra That Phra Lo, Wat Sa Bo Kaeo, Wat Phra That Chom Chaeng, Wat Phra That Cho Hae and Wat Phra Non, located near the old city wall.

An interesting day trip is Phae Muang Phi, which is located about 12 kilometres out of town. This is an unusual natural feature which subsidence and erosion of the soil has created rocks in the shapes of exotic-looking mushrooms.

Another interesting local feature is Vongburi House, which is a private museum. This teak house was the residence of the last Prince of Phrae. Another interesting old teak house can be found in the village of Ban Prathap Jai.

A good place to get a feel for the local culture is at the Folklore Museum, which is located three kilometres from town. Here you will see different types of wooden houses, which demonstrate the different status of the local people. There is also market and shop houses of the ancient traditional style.

When it comes to eating, a great place to get a good, cheap meal is at the town’s large night market.

Phrae province is well known for its lively and interesting festivals. The Phra that Cho Hae Fair is held around March and involves a procession to carry robes to cover the local chedi. The procession follows the Lanna style and all participants are decked out in traditional Lanna attire.

The Kin Salak Fair is an old Buddhist merit-making event. Villagers prepare offerings and carry them in a procession to present to the monks. The fair is held around September each year.

Isaan by Motorbike – Day 5

motorbike_travels_1DAY 5
This was to be the last day of riding. I got out of town by 9.30 am so that I would have enough time to relax in Nong Khai. I thought there would only be 1 temple stop today, nice and easy. The stop was at Wat Ar Hong Silawas. A small temple, that was simple in design, on the Thailand bank of the Mae Khong.

The temple is in grounds that are scattered with huge boulders. The house of the Buddha images was constructed with a boulder as one of the walls. A wall is really a poor description; the boulder occupies the space where the wall should be.

Back on the road for the final stretch of the journey. Onto Nong Khai. Only about 130 km, completed in less than 3 hours all good. My first stop was the massage. A very good massage too, away from any tourist places; wish I could remember the name of the street.

Next on the to do list for the day was to book the tickets for the train, booking early to make sure I have a ticket and there is space for the bike. I found the train station a few kilometres out of town. It is in a direct line with the friendship bridge between Laos and Thailand.

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandNext on the ‘to do’ list for the day was to book the tickets for the train, booking early to make sure I have a ticket and there is space for the bike. I found the train station a few kilometres out of town. It is in a direct line with the friendship bridge between Laos and Thailand.

I booked the ticket for me but had to wait until an hour before the train left to be able to book the bike on board. Cool as, but the bike cost around 400 baht more than me to ride in the freight car, glad I didn’t ride in the freight car.

Then back in to town for a spot of lunch. Whilst having a lazy look for a guest house I spotted a small vegetarian restaurant on the road. I stopped for some chick pea madras, awesome flavour. I sat for a while and looked at the travel book to find some possible locations to stay then finished up the coke and got on my way.

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandI was looking for a guesthouse when I happened upon a guy driving the same model bike as me. He showed me a nice place to stay. On the waterfront with a restaurant that overlooked the river. Into the room I watched a bit of “Snakes on the Plane” before I went out for a drink and to take some photos of the area and to wait for the sunset on the penultimate day of my travels.

This was probably the first time I had actually taken time out to sit and do nothing in the evening sun. Not the first time I had to reflect, riding the bike is good for that, but the first time to reflect without having to think about what is coming next.

Travelling with the loosest of plans is definitely for me. Not having to be fixed by the times of public transport has been amazing. Just thinking moments before then doing it has been the tops.

I have been waiting to see a sunset since the day I left, a different sunset from the ones in Bangkok. In Bangkok the sunset is clouded by the pollution that engulfs the metropolis. Here the sun is free to shine through the atmosphere right onto my already tanned skin and into my wide open eyes.

Here the position of the river, the sun, the hills and the trees seems to be perfect. As if it had all been waiting for me to be in the right place at the right time. I don’t know what the reason for waiting was, don’t understand why I didn’t do it before. Waiting for it to come along my way instead of always chasing it. The dreams will come to those who invest. Invest your time, invest yourself and the dreams will land at your feet. I don’t see a point in chasing and chasing and getting to the same point as the investor of time that puts into the system then waits. No need to be rushed to be first through the gate. The best things come to those who wait.

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandThe river walkway at Nong Khai seems to be an exercise haven. In the early evening a lot of people appear to start their exercise regimes. Big/small, all are here. Some seem quite serious; some have a more relaxed approach.

OK, time for dinner and some writing time. I find a bar called Brendan and Noi. I had some food and settled down to write up my journal. It was nice to just sit and think about the things I had done this week. So much roasting hot sun, a lot of friendly people, solitude and maybe the best thing of all – fresh air!!!!

I had a few welcome beers whilst I was writing. I opted to eat ferringue food again, chicken breast chips and gravy. VERY filling. The bar filled up a little bit, I finished my writing around 9pm then went back to my room to get rid of my writing book and pens.

Being early and the last night of my vacation I went out for a drink. Well I wanted to go out for a drink. By 9.30pm most of the bars had closed. I ended up back in the same bar as earlier in the evening. I had not noticed before that the bar owner was a not as inviting as he could be. I walked back in and said hello to him, he blanked me completely. Ok no worries, I stood aside and slowly drank my beer.

Shortly after a couple of German guys came into the bar. One guy asked for a beer and was heckled by the owner, who then asked the visitors name. “Hans” “And what’s your friend’s name?” “He’s called Hans too” “Two hands are better than one, eh lads, gfaw gfaw. Funny that eh? I good aint I?”

I took this as my opportunity to leave, go back to my room and get an early night.

Final day of exploration coming up.

Note: Story author is Steven Noake.

One Week in Thailand?

One Week in Thailand
One Week in Thailand
one_week_in_thailand_3

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

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

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

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

A History Tour for Temple-lovers

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

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

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

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

Scenic R&R for Beachgoers

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

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

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

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

A Weeklong Crawl for the Life of the Party

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

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

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

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

The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park

The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park
The Beauty of Big Mountain: Khao Yai National Park

“I think I’ve spotted one!” Mr C gives an ecstatic gasp, before plunging into the undergrowth, leaving my new friends and I feeling confused and bemused. Suddenly, we hear hooting and whooping noises as our guide trying to communicate with a white handed gibbon. Next thing we now, Mr C appears, beaming broadly. “I’ve found a gibbon,” he announces in awe. “Come and see, quick!” We quietly follow Mr C into the undergrowth, where he has set up his tripod and binoculars. Sure enough, through the binoculars we can clearly see a group of gibbons playing in the treetops. I have traveled to Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park for some relaxation and a much-needed break from the city.

Khao Yai is Thailand’s most popular nature reserve, and it is easy to see why. With 2168 square kilometres of lush forest, the park is a real Eden for the 300 bird species and 20 species of big mammals which shelter within its boundaries. Khao Yai means Big Mountain and the name refers to the Phanom Dongrek Mountains that make the park so special.

I had left the neighbouring town of Pak Chong early that morning, expecting to explore Khao Yai on foot. Catching a songthaew from the center of town, I arrive at the park just before 8 am. I am dropped at the park checkpoint, where I pay my 200 baht entrance fee and wait for a lift to the visitor’s centre.

After a couple of minutes, a jeep rolls down the road towards me. The driver greets me warmly and agrees to take me to the visitor’s centre. The two passengers, Fiona and Henry, also greet me warmly.

Along the way, the driver stops several times to point out macaques, kingfishers and other interesting wildlife. He introduces himself as Mr C, but it is not long before I have dubbed him ‘Mr Crazy’. Mr C is like the Thai version of Steve Irwin; he is incredibly passionate about wildlife and sometimes his enthusiasm seems a little goofy. Still, you couldn’t hope for a more knowledgeable guide.

It takes nearly an hour to reach the visitor’s centre. Once there, Mr C offers to take me along on the tour for just 400 bhat for the entire day. He explains that many of the park’s features are as much as 20 kilmetres apart, making it impossible to cover them on foot. As I am already captivated with Mr C and Fiona and Henry seem happy to have company, I gratefully agree.

After a short break, Mr C Provides long, white canvass socks, which we put on over our trousers, feeling rather silly. They are to protect against leeches, and I notice most of the other visitors are also wearing these latest fashion accessories.

Back in the jeep, Mr C takes us on a short ride along beautifully forested roads. Suddenly, he pulls to a halt. “Did you see that?” he asks, before plunging into the undergrowth once more. This time he has spotted a hornbill. “Khao Yai is one of the best places in South East Asia to observe these golden-beaked beauties,” Mr C tells us proudly, before demonstrating their call.

There are four species of hornbill at Khao Yai. On a neighbouring tree we spot a pied hornbill. Fiona suddenly notices we are standing near a ‘Tiger Zone’ sign and expresses her concern. Mr C simply laughs; “I have been visiting the park for seven years and I have never seen a tiger,” he confesses.

After a few minutes, Mr C drops us at the edge of the forest where we are to begin our trek. We walk for three hours, but the pace is fairly gentle. Mr C stops every few minutes to point out woodpeckers, yellow-browed warblers and an extremely beautiful red-breasted flycatcher.

Just as my energy is beginning to fade, we reach the edge of the forest. It takes a minute for my eyes to adjust to the sunlight as we walk across a grassy plain. After a few minutes, we pass a small lake, which is a watering hole for many of Khao Yai’s birds and animals.

A short distance away is Nong Pak Chee observation tower, and we are all quite relieved when Mr C announces we will stop here for lunch. We climb a wooden ladder up into the observation tower. Already inside are two Thai men who are camping out, hoping that their patience will be rewarded with some animal sightings.

After lunch, Mr C directs us along a neat path leading away from the observation tower. Suddenly, he orders us to crouch down to the ground. Just in time; a swarm or big black bees cross our path, hovering above our heads for a moment before passing on.

Once we reach the waiting jeep, Mr C drives us to a caf?, where he buys us drinks to cool off. The four of us sit relaxing and talking for awhile. When we have rested, Mr C leads us down a short path, at the end of which lies the Haew Suwat Falls. This 25 metres high waterfall starred in the film The Beach. There is currently not much water flowing down the vast rock face as it is the dry season, but during the wet season many travelers take the plunge, fancying themselves, perhaps, as the next Lionardo Di Caprio.

When we have admired the waterfall from all angles, Mr C drives us to Khao Lem hill, where there are spectacular views over the park. Another short drive and a wander through the jungle, and we find ourselves perched at the very top of Khao Luuk Chang (Baby Elephant Mountain). As we sit on a rocky perch, we are actually above the highest treetops of the surrounding jungle, and the view is breathtaking.

Finally, it is time to leave Khao Yai, although I find that I am very reluctant. Mr C has one more surprise for us. On the drive back, he suddenly pulls to a halt. His sharp eyes have spotted a large scorpion sunbathing at the edge of the road; another trophy for our photo albums.

Getting There:

Khao Yai is 120 kilometres north east of Bangkok. It is best to make the journey to nearby Pak Chong first as the town can be reached by bus or train.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!