Tag - markets

Ipoh, Malaysia

IpohPerhaps most famous for its rich and varied traditional cuisine, Ipoh is one of the largest cities in the whole of Malaysia and can be reached easily by taking the train from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Situated on the banks of the mighty Kinta River, Ipoh is also known for its picturesque gardens and charming buildings, earning it the nickname of Bougainvillea City.

The Old Town district is the perfect place to explore on foot, and there are also plenty of pavement cafes and restaurants in this part of the city where visitors can simply sit and soak up the atmosphere for a while.

Ipoh is famous for its food, and there are a wide variety of dishes to try. People travel from as far away as Singapore to dine on delicious curries, noodle dishes and a huge range of local specialities. A good place to find cheap and tasty food is at the hawkers stalls that line the road and gather by busy markets, especially in the evening.

Those who have got plenty of time to spare in Ipoh will want to take a trip to the cave temples of Perak Tong. This area was established as a place of worship by a devout Buddhist priest back in q926, and a large number of caves and grottos can be found here, many of which have been decorated with murals, which some of the chambers feature Buddha images and are used as places of worship to this day.

The cave of Sam Poh Tong is located to the south of Ipoh and contains a turtle pond. Another interesting day trip is the temple of Kek Look Tong, which also features a cool cavern. Climb into the cave and walk through to the back, where you will discover the Chinese Buddha of Future Happiness. There is also an ornamental garden with ponds and pagodas behind the cave.

North Eastern Thailand

North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand

North Eastern Thailand is better known as Isan – also written as Isaan, Isarn, Issan, or Esarn. There are 19 provinces in Isan, but only a few receive interest from tourists, which is a shame as this is a great part of Thailand to relax, wander in nature and get to know the friendly and welcoming people.

Isan covers an area of 160,000 km and much of the land is given over the farms and paddy fields as agriculture is the main economic activity. The region of Isan has a strong, rich and individual culture. Examples of this can be found in the folk music, called mor lam, festivals, dress, temple architecture and general way of life.

The main regional dialect is Isan, which is actually much more similar to Lao than central Thai. Unfortunately, because the rainfall is often insufficient for crops to grow properly, Isan is the poorest region of Thailand, and many people leave the province to seek their fortunes in the bustling metropolis of Bangkok.

The average temperature range is from 30.2 C to 19.6 C. The highest temperature recorded was a sweltering 43.9 C, whilst the lowest was a freezing -1.4 C. Unlike most of Thailand, rainfall is unpredictable, but it mainly occurs during the rainy season, which takes place from May to October.

Although completely unique, Isan food has adopted elements of both Thai and Lao cuisines. Sticky rice is served with every meal and the food is much spicier than that of most of Thailand.

Popular dishes include:

som tam – extremely spicy and sour papaya salad
larb – fiery meat salad liberally laced with chilies
gai yang – grilled chicken
moo ping – pork satay sticks

Isan people are famous for their ability to eat whatever happens to be around, and lizards, snakes, frogs and fried insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, silkworms and dung beetles often form a part of their diet.

Both men and women traditionally wear sarongs; women’s sarong often have an embroidered border at the hem, whilst those of the men are chequered. Much of Thailand’s silk is produced in Isan, and the night markets at many of the small towns and villages are good places to find a bargain.

There is no major airport in Isan, but the State Railway of Thailand has two lines and both connect the region to Bangkok. This is also a good place to enter Laos via the Thanon Mitraphap (“Friendship Highway”), which was built by the United States to supply its military bases in the 1960s and 1970s. The Friendship Bridge – Saphan Mitraphap – forms the border crossing over the Mekong River on the outskirts of Nong Khai to the Laos capital of Vientiane.

Kota Bharu, Malaysia

Kota Bharu, Malaysia
Kota Bharu, Malaysia

Although the city of Kota Bahru is often overlooked by visitors to the north of Malaysia, those who take the time to explore will find that there is plenty to see and do here. Kota Bahru is often referred to as the Islamic City, and this is the perfect place to get a feel for the rich history and culture of this part of the world.
Kota Bahru boasts a number of vibrant markets, which are ideal places to indulge in a spot of people watching, while those who are in search of something cheap and tasty will also find some of the best selections of eateries scattered in and around the city’s markets.

Wander around Independence Square – Padang Merdek – and you will find a large number of museums and the Balai Besar or Royal Palace. This elegant building is a great place to explore, while nearby is the interesting octagonal building of the Pesar Besar central market.

When it comes to seeing the sights, Kota Bahru features a number of interesting places of worship, and while most are devoted to the Muslim faith, there are also a few Buddhist temples to explore here. Sun worshippers will also be in their element, as a few pristine stretches of sand can be found on the outskirts of the city.

A great way to see the area around Kota Bharu is to embark on a two hour river cruise along Sungai Galas down to Dabong. Rafting along the river is also popular and trips can easily be arranged.

Another good excursion is the Stong Waterfall, which about 900 metres high and is said to be the highest waterfall in Southeast Asia. Combine a trip to the waterfall with a visit to the impressive collection of caves at Gua Ikan, before finishing the day with a delicious, cheap evening meal at the night market, known as Pasar Malam in the Malay language.

While the people of this conservative city are welcoming towards visitors, it is best to follow the example set by those who live here and cover up. Women in particular are advised to dress conservatively, and it is also best to avoid making public displays of affection, as this is likely to cause offense.

Bintulu, Malaysia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Bagan, Burma

Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos

Also sometimes spelt Pagan, the Bagan plain contains a collection of more than 4,000 ancient temples and is an impressive sight, even if you’re not particularly interested in old buildings or have already feeling ‘templed out’. One of Myanmar’s most significant historical sites, the best time to visit Bagan is around sunrise or sunset.

Although the collection of pagodas and temples at Bagan is still very impressive, their number once totaled around 13,000, and they were built in the years between 1044-1287 before finally being abandoned when Kublai Khan invaded the area from China and people literally ran to the hills.

Although the detailed carvings on each pagoda and temple make them all special in their own way, the most highly revered temple is considered to be Ananda, which was built by King Kyan-zit-tha in 1091. The main feature of the temple is the four large Buddhas, which represent the first four holy men to have achieved enlightenment.

Another great temple to visit is the Thatbyinnyu Temple, which is Bagan’s highest point and provides spectacular views of the entire area, while the Shwegugyi Temple was built in 1311 and is decorated with especially attractive carvings. Also worth looking out for is the Gawdawpalin Temple, which despite some damage during the 1975 earthquake is still very impressive.

There are quite a few decent places to stay in Bagan as well as restaurants, markets and surrounding beauty, making this a great place to spend a day or two while you explore slowly. While you’re here, check out Bagan’s interesting museum and lacquerware workshops.

For a fresh perspective and excellent views, take a hot air balloon ride over the Bagan Plain at sunset. This is a truly memorable experience and provides the opportunity to take some fantastic photographs.

Bagan is situated on the banks of the Ayerwaddy River, and sunset cruise on the river is a relaxing experience, while you can also be driven around the area in a horse cart or hire a bicycle and peddle around.

Krabi, Thailand

  • Krabi, Thailand
Krabi, Thailand
Krabi, Thailand
Krabi, Thailand

Welcome to Krabi, said by many to be the ‘most beautiful province in Thailand’. Located approximately 814 kilometres from Bangkok, Krabi Province can be found in the south of Thailand and consists of more than 150 attractive islands and beaches.

There is plenty to see and do in this province, and it is easy to lose yourself here for more than a month as you hop from island to island and beach to beach. Popular activities are sea kayaking and canoeing, whilst diving and snorkelling are always popular in Thailand’s crystal clear waters.

Ao Nang is the closest beach to Krabi Town. This area is mainly occupied by large, upmarket beach resorts. You can hire a sea kayak or long-tail boat and explore the uninhabited island of Koh Hong.

Just 6 kilometres away from Ao Nang is the well loved are much talked about Hat Noppharat Thara, which is a famous 3 kilometer long white sandy beach, perfect for taking it easy and soaking up some rays. Elephant trekking is popular in this area, while the hot springs at Khlong Thom are a good place to ease aching muscles. Whilst there, check out the informative Wat Khlong Thom museum.

Railay is perhaps the prettiest beach in this area. This is a great place for rock climbing, and the sunsets at Hat Rai Leh West are spectacular.

There are some interesting limestone cliffs to explore. Tham Phra Nang is named Princess Cave after a local legend. The cave is hidden in the lagoon of Sa Phra Nang (Holy Princess Pool). Climb the cliff top for spectacular views.

Nearby, Tham Phra Nang Nai (Inner Princess Cave) is a series of illuminated caverns of high beauty. A feature point is the unusual ‘stone waterfall’, which is made of sparkling golden quartz.

Khao Phanom Bencha National Park consists of 50 square kilometres of virgin rainforest and a whole host of pretty waterfalls including Nam Tok Huay To, Nam Tok Huay Sadeh and Nam Tok Khlong Haeng and it is possible to swim in most of the waterfalls. The park is also home to the cave of Tham Khao Pheung, which contains stunning shimmering mineral stalactites and stalagmites.

Another area of natural beauty is the large Than Bok Khorani National Park, where caving is the main activity. Caves of interest here include Tham Hua Kalok, Tham Lawt and Tham Sa Yuan Thong. If you need a break from the beach, there are many interesting temples in the area to explore. Look out for the monastery of Wat Sai Thai, which is a particularly auspicious place and very interesting around Buddhist holidays.

There are many places to get a good meal, and of course seafood is top of the menu. Barbecues can be found all along the beach and western food is widely available. If you are looking to save a few baht, the night markets are generally the cheapest places to eat and these are the best places to find tasty, authentic Thai food.

What to do in Thailand

What to do in Thailand
What to do in Thailand
What to do in Thailand
What to do in Thailand

In this exotically inviting land where the weather is usually hot and sunny, travel is easy and the food is delicious and plentiful, there isn’t really much that you can’t do. No matter what you are into, whether it be extreme sports, sunbathing, exploring, discovering a new culture or pure hedonism, Thailand is the perfect place to do it, whilst getting a tan at the same time.

Thailand’s temples – known as wats – are big, richly decorated and contain an interesting assortment of treasures. Every town has a large assortment of temples, with perhaps the highest concentrations in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya. Some temples not to be missed are Wat Arun on the Chaopraya river in Bangkok, Wat Po, also in Bangkok and Chiang Mai’s Wat Benchamabophit. Whilst in Chiang Mai, climb Doi Suthet to see Wat Doi Suthep, which offers stunning views over the area.

As well as spectacular scenery, Thailand’s islands and beaches offer a good opportunity to take part in diving and snorkeling, the clear blue water offering glimpses of colourful coral and fish. Koh Tao is rapidly becoming the most popular island for diving and snorkelling, whilst Koh Phi Phi and Phuket are also popular. Other water ports available include sailing and windsurfing. At many places, bungee jumping and rock climbing are the order of the day, whilst paintballing offers a good opportunity to let of some steam.

Thailand has some beautiful golf courses, some designed by skilled international golfers. Muay Thai is the national sport and no trip is complete without watching a match or even training and competing yourself.

The amazing landscape makes Thailand a great place for walking and trekking, the hill tribe villages to the north making a great stop over or a three or four day trek.

Many come to this deeply spiritual country to learn about meditation, and there are numerous meditation courses available. Whilst here, you can also learn the ancient art of massage or join yoga classes on the beach.

Thai food is some of the best in the world, and you will find some outstanding restaurants, offering everything from international style dining, dining aboard river cruises or simply eating at a tiny table on the street.

The spas and saunas are also a great place to unwind and be pampered; whilst for many cosmetic surgery and cosmetic dentistry provide the opportunity for self improvement. Also, there are plenty of chances to indulge in a little retail therapy.

Thailand has a great selection of outdoor markets, floating markets, stores and shopping centres. Do not miss Bangkok’s Chatuchak market, MBK, Paragon or the night bazaar at Suan Lum, whilst Chiang Mai’s Night Market draws visitors from all over the world.

For people wishing to take in some culture there are some interesting museums, art galleries, exhibitions and displays of Thai dancing. Thailand also has some interesting theme parks, shows and zoos such as Sri Racha Tiger Zoo.

There is always something to see and do in Thailand, and the numerous festivals can add colour and life to your holiday, especially if you are lucky enough to be in the country during Songran or Loi Krathong.

There are plenty of opportunities to get in touch with nature in the national parks, such as Khao Yai where parts of the movie The Beach was filmed or Koh Samet, where the outstanding natural beauty has led to its being preserved as a national park.

Whatever you decide to do, there never seems to be quite enough time, and it is almost certain that Thailand’s charms will draw you back time and again.

Shopping in Thailand

Shopping in Thailand
Shopping in Thailand
Shopping in Thailand
Shopping in Thailand

Many items can be purchased inexpensively in Thailand, as long as you know where to look. Reasonable copies of Billabong shorts, Nike trainers and hundreds of other products can be bought for surprisingly low prices. However, quality varies widely, so have a close look before you buy.

Thailand operates under a bartering system, which means that goods sold by street vendors in markets or in some shops are flexibly priced and you can get a very good deal if you know how to haggle powerfully and politely. Like many aspects of Thai culture, bartering is an intricate system that is easy to underestimate. The trick is to let the vendor make the first offer then ask ‘Can you make a discount?’ A good benchmark is to offer half the quoted price. Be firm, but make sure that you smile and possibly make a joke – if you are seen as too pushy or aggressive you will not be taken seriously and many traders will refuse to deal with you. Remember not to start to bargain unless you’re serious about buying. Also remember that a difference of a few baht may not really make much difference to you, but it may be a big deal to the vendor.

The best bargains can usually be found at large markets. Chatuchak Market in Bangkok is a great place for bargain hunting, as is the night market in Chiang Mai.

Most towns have at least one large local market, where you can find everything from kitchen utensils, cheap clothes, bags and baubles at incredibly cheap prices.

Night markets are also a great place to shop. Usually opening around 5 pm and often packing up as late as 11 or 12 pm, these are also a great place to find a cheap meal, buy fruit and people watch.

Thailand’s Floating Markets are much photographed and provide an interesting appeal for tourists. The most visited floating market is Damnoen Saduak, which is also the largest. Most tour operators in and around Khaosan Road offer tours to Damnoen Saduak. However, these days the market is very crowded and sells mainly souvenirs and other tourist items. For a more authentic experience, head to the Bang Khu Wiang Floating Market, which is open daily from 04:00 and 07:00, or the Taling Chan Floating Market, which is open on weekends until around 2 pm.

If you’re looking for cheap technology, Panthip Plaza in Bangkok has it all. With 5 floors filled of every type of technological gadget and gismo you could possibly dream of, it is easy to spend half a day here. Remember to barter as most prices are negotiable and seem to be cheaper on the upper floors.

Siam Square in Bangkok is the place to go if you like large shopping centres. There are a wide range to choose from, including MBK, Paragon and Siam Discovery.

Big C is another shopping center chain and can be found all over Thailand in towns, cities and even quite small villages. As well as having its own store, which usually spans several floors, you can usually find dozens of other stores, including international stores such as Boots and The Body Shop.

Mahachai Station


Mahachai Station
Mahachai Station
Mahachai Station

This will never appear on any list of great railway journeys in the world which is a shame as it certainly offers a step back in time to when Bangkok and it’s environs was more aquatic than today. It’s a lovely old line with some wonderful scenery and a comic book feel that starts when you try and find the station in Bangkok. Wong Wien Yai is a big traffic circle with a statue of King Taksin in the middle. You have to scout around to find the station and be careful who you ask because many people are unaware of it’s existence. Basically the station is hidden down a narrow soi not far from a 7/11.

Trains are regular, approximately every hour and the tickets for the one hour run are 10 baht. The single track rattles through some of Thonburi’s western suburbs hemmed in by markets and houses. Past Wat Singh and we get more greenery. Ramshackle huts hug the klongs that criss cross the flat terrain while young kids fish and play around. Sam Yaek looks great, a wonderful place to get off and wander around and take the opportunity of recording this photogenic landscape. It’s a junction of 2 klongs with many bright flowers and brighter birds flashing by the rapidly moving train.

With Swiss style punctuality we arrive at a spot where double tracking allows the trains to pass and we are soon proceeding on our way. It’s a Saturday and I’m a little hung-over and appreciate the cool air through the open window. We pull into Mahachai station and come to a halt in a dark market that doubles as the railway station. Outside in the bright sunshine it’s a sea food lover’s delight as stalls sell all sort of stuff that had been happily minding their own business and few yards away the night before. Rickshaws and songthaew remind you that while Bangkok may only be an hour away your are pretty much up country here.

There is a river crossing where you can join the Mae Klang line but this is a less frequent run, four times a day and I had little time to wander the market and surrounding streets before heading back to the big city.

I’ve done the journey a couple of times now and enjoy it. You do feel you are being taken to another world yet one so close to Bangkok. The journey back is as uneventful as the outbound and I took the opportunity to look at my pictures. Each time I’ve done the trip I have never been the only farang (foreigner) on board so obviously people are hearing about this quaint little line.