Tag - landscape

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.

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.

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.

On the Road in Vietnam: Da Lat’s Easy Riders take KSR for a the Ride of a Lifetime

de_lat_vietnam_1For the Vietnamese, Da Lat’s cool altitude makes it an agricultural hotspot, while the pretty vistas and mountain landscapes makes it a honeymoon capital as well. The temperatures, which can dip down to freezing in the coldest months, has attracted overheated expats since the French colonial days. This quirky town boasts layers of personality, and the best way to see it all is with Vietnam’s quirkiest tour group, the Da Lat Easy Riders.
 
First of all, let it be known that you don’t need to go to a tourist office to find the Easy Riders. Odds are excellent that one of the group’s 75 members will find you, spotting your rucksack a mile off and wheeling up with directions to hotels, tips on local food to try, and of course, promotion of their services. Though their touting may seem assertive, especially if you’re just stepping off a long bus ride, these guides are some of the friendliest people you’ll meet in Vietnam.
 
Even tourists who normally drive their own bikes will benefit from the guides’ witty understanding of the city and its surroundings. Whether your passion is rural temples, exotic farms, or waterfalls, the Easy Riders will tell you the most popular sights in the area and help you tailor your itinerary to fit your tastes. Don’t shrug off the odder-sounding sights, like persimmon storehouses or coffee plantations. The spots are likely run by friends of your guide, and they will give you demonstrations and offerings that no museum could.
 
On the morning of my tour, when the rain drizzled down on Da Lat, my guide showed up at the guesthouse with raincoats to spare. Throughout the day, he answered every question under the sun, from “who was Le Loi and why are so many streets named after him?” to “how do Vietnamese people feel about tourism?” with an impressive command of the English language. At the end of the day, with a head full of facts and a camera full of photos, I was all too pleased to sign my guide’s comment book, which was dense with pictures and kind notes of other customers.
 
The Easy Riders will give you a heap of options for how to fill your day. Below are some of Da Lat’s most popular destinations:
 
Crazy House
The daughter of a Vietnam’s second communist president studied architecture in Russia before building this elaborate guesthouse, which looks like the psychedelic set of a children’s show. It’s worth exploring for the Smurf-village-like designs, and the ensuing discussion of “…but is it art?”
 
Lake of Sorrow
For a dose of local folklore, ask your guide to share the legend behind this popular honeymoon spot, where two young lovers met a Shakespearean fate.
 
Prenn Falls
Though waterfall enthusiasts may want to head further out of town for the bigger falls, this spot, a scenic 10km-ride out of town, is surrounded by pretty hiking paths.
 
Silk Worm Breeder
For any traveller who’s dropped a few dong on silk souvenirs, it’s interesting to see the rustic beginnings of this elegant fabric. Here, you can watch silkworm cocoons being boiled to unravel the threads, and ask questions to the patient staff (here, the Easy Riders will serve as interpreters).
 
Persimmon/Coffee/Strawberry Farms
Not only are the farmlands beautiful on the outskirts of Da Lat, it’s interesting to watch the leafy green origins of the coffee plant, or the persimmon’s lyme-curing process. More interesting is the insight you’ll get into Vietnamese agriculture, and how its economics changed after the Soviet Union’s collapse.
 
Old Train Station
If Da Lat’s faux-Eiffel tower has you contemplating French colonialism, don’t miss this French-built train station, which looks more suited for Lyons than Southeast Asia. While the museum-like station is a bit lacking in displays, the old-model locomotives and grand architecture are telling of France’s high hopes for Vietnam as a colony.
 
While Easy Riders tours can vary in price, depending on whether you book several days with your driver. The 20$ I paid for a full day (and raincoat) was well worth it.

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.

Pai – Northern Thailand’s Sweetest Find

Pai – Northern Thailand's Sweetest Find
Pai – Northern Thailand's Sweetest Find
Pai – Northern Thailand's Sweetest Find
Pai – Northern Thailand's Sweetest Find
Pai – Northern Thailand's Sweetest Find

It’s possible you’ve never heard of Pai. This small town lies tucked away in the Thai landscape, a stomach-churning bus ride through the mountains west of Chiang Mai. While those who have passed through become fierce fans, it’s a town left off most travel routes. If you do make the journey and want to draw smiles here, tell fellow travelers that you only plan to stay a night or two. Every response is the same, a friendly caution. “You say that now, but wait…”

But no one in Pai is doing much waiting. Instead, they occupy their days bathing in nearby hotsprings and waterfalls, or eating and drinking in offbeat cafes. Visitors will find themselves getting Thai cooking classes, massage lessons, bamboo tattoos, and chatting the hours away with Pai’s eclectic population of passing backpackers and fun, friendly locals. After one or two nights, most travelers will gladly postpone their outbound tickets another few days, weeks, or indefinitely.

So what makes this town so exceptional? It doesn’t hurt to point out that Pai is undeniably beautiful, situated in the northern mountainscape. An easy motorbike rental allows access to the town’s nearby sites; waterfalls, hotsprings, elephant camps and explorer-friendly caves. Intrepid backpackers can use Pai as the base for jungle treks, hill tribe tours, and rafting trips.

But beyond the landscape, Pai’s charming small-town friendliness seems to be infectious, as strangers smile and say hello to one another on the street. It’s the town’s warm and relaxed atmosphere which makes it feel more homey than transient. Any traveler who has tired of busting cities and long tuk-tuk rides will delight in Pai’s walkable downtown. Here, travelers have drinks and chat leisurely at streetside cafes. On the main street, by the bus station, movie booths and art galleries line the road, among Khmer handicrafts and homemade jewelry stalls.

To a visitor, it feels that Pai has reached a happy medium of offering traveler-friendliness without being suffocated by tourism. Schoolchildren bustle home along the main streets, local artists sell their wares, a nightmarket on the eastern side of the town comes alive in the late afternoon. Though small in size, Pai’s active daily culture keeps it vibrant for local and tourist alike.

At the end of a long day, the town doesn’t quiet down. Fubar, a hilltop bar just across the bridge from the centre of town, is arguably the best nightspot in Pai. Here, you can catch the spectacular mountain sunset, as well as delicious local food. Even at nightfall, the town remains laid-back and social. After dark, Pai ignites as one traveler community, with people chatting and strolling around the foodstalls of the main street, off to sample the local Burmese-influenced cuisine, then to catch the live music at nearby BeBop. Not a bad way to spend a night, or two, or most likely more.

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.

Saraburi Sunflower Fields


Saraburi Sunflower Fields
Saraburi Sunflower Fields

If you pass through Saraburi province at this time of year (around December), you will notice something beautifully unusual in the scenery. Blurs of yellow and orange, bright colours popping out of the green farming countryside, will entice the curious traveller to stop and take a closer look – and believe me, this rural attraction is well worth stopping for.

Starting in November of each year, the province of Saraburi, as well as surrounding central provinces, hit a sunflower high season. The rural landscape fills with vibrant yellow flowers, 72 square kilometres of them, to be exact. As the fields blossom, the province takes measures to ensure that tourists who come to experience this sight will be pleased. In addition to the flowers, there are markets and activities set up on the roadside to offer more entertainment after the fields have been explored. This makes Saraburi a popular destination for Thais on car trips, and a fantastic surprise for the traveller who stumbles upon it.

Being a city girl by nature, the last sunflowers I saw were in a Van Gogh print in a guesthouse bathroom. And so, the sight of man-sized sunflowers, big and blossoming and tall enough to make me feel comparatively short for the first time since arriving in Asia, was surreal; stunning in a giddy, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” kind of way.

The sunflowers are more than picturesque, though you will easily fill rolls of film while walking through the fields. The scene of vibrant yellow blossoms, with lush palm trees and cool granite mountains in the backdrop, is downright beautiful. Also, the fields are large and uncrowded enough to explore in peace, with the opportunity to study the flowers up-close.

The busier fields offer booths of local wares at the entrance, perfect for souvenir-hunters. I would recommend bypassing the sunflower-print blouses and umbrellas and going straight to the roasting sunflower seeds. Here you can sample the freshest of sweet and salted varieties, still warm from the cooking pan (20 baht per bag).

Some fields also offer elephant rides, a highly recommended experience, where sightseers can perch in a basic wooden seat and enjoy the bumpy ride through the fields, led by friendly guides on small but healthy-looking elephants (100 baht for 2-3 people). 

Saraburi province is north of Bangkok, an easy 2.5 hour drive on Highway 1. While the sunflowers aren’t located in the city of Saraburi itself, the province has placed sunflower posters and signs on the major roads, offering directions. The people of the region are friendly and more than willing to offer their personal tips for the best sunflower fields. Just be sure to bring plenty of film!

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.