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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.

The History of Khao San Road

The History of Khao San RoadWhen Bangkok was established in 1782, the center of the town was the Grand Palace area. For two centuries Khao San Road, which is 20 minutes’ walk from the Palace, remained a quiet residential area for the locals. Thailand’s most prominent lawyer/senator, Mr. Marute Bunnag and a billionaire medicine doctor/member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Decha Sukharom, started their careers in this prestigious area decades ago with small offices near the Police Station on Khao San Road.

How did the tranquil road turn out to be a Mecca for travelers? On the brink of Thailand’s economic boom in 1982, the Thai Government issued its policy to commemorate Bangkok’s bicentennial anniversary and celebrate the Buddhist calendar’s lucky year “2525”, by launching festive ceremonies in Bangkok to bring in tourist dollars. Tourists poured in from around the world, causing Bangkok’s hotels to overflow with bookings. The most spectacular festivities were performed in the Grand Palace.

Some backpackers, unable to get an overpriced room, successfully convinced local residents on Khao San Road to rent out vacant rooms in their houses, reasoning that, in return, the guest house owners could earn some extra income and it was convenient for them to travel to their destinations. The guest house business generated more profits than any amateur entrepreneur ever expected. Before long, more guesthouses, restaurants and souvenir shops sprouted along the road in full bloom.

Koh Tao: Island Travel at a Turtle’s Pace

Koh Tao: Island Travel at a Turtle's Pace
Koh Tao: Island Travel at a Turtle's Pace
Koh Tao: Island Travel at a Turtle's Pace
Koh Tao: Island Travel at a Turtle's Pace
Koh Tao: Island Travel at a Turtle's Pace

On a holiday to Koh Tao, the scubadiver’s equivalent to Mecca, I made the disheartening discovery that I couldn’t dive. Blame nerves, claustrophobia, or downright wimpiness; the thought of being deep underwater filled me with panic. And so, while my friends and travelmates had a ball on the sea floor, I sought out other activities to keep busy. Lucky for me, and any other island-bound traveller, Thailand’s diving capital is amok with back-up options.

Koh Tao (“turtle island,” though I didn’t spot any) is the smallest and most northern in a cluster of traveller-friendly islands in the Gulf of Thailand, along with Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. But unlike the hard-partying Phangan, and the touristy-picturesque Samui, Koh Tao is often left off the backpacker itinerary. The bulk of Koh Tao’s visitors are scubadiving enthusiasts or curious amateurs, ready to dive and then leave for the hotspots further south. Here, khaosanroad.com shows why Koh Tao merits a visit, even if you never venture past shallow waters.

In the water or on dry land, your itinerary will overflow with things to do. Sairee Beach, Koh Tao’s largest and busiest stretch of sand, teems with life and energy at all hours of the day or night. It boasts many options for the curious traveller, with guesthouses, restuaurants and stores as well as many dive and rental shops to choose from. Those looking to escape the hustle of Sairee beach should head to the southern point of the island, where Ao Chalok Baan Kao, Koh Tao’s second most famous beach, where a dense row of guesthouses, mellow bars, restaurants and dive shops overlook one of the cleanest beaches around.

The small island is relatively easy to explore, and motorbike rentals and taxis are abundant. While the uneven roads might ensure a white-knuckled journey, the quiet, rocky Laem Nam Tok (at the north end of the island) and the picturesque snorkeler-haven of Ao Leuk (on the eastern side) are well worth the bumpy rides motorbike or taxi. Alternatively, a day of exploring the parameter of Koh Tao by kayak gives an up-close look at the small scenic beaches which are difficult to access by road, but are easy to dock at for some sunbathing or swimming on sparkling clean shores.

Venturing around the island by kayak, swimming in the clear turquoise waters, or snorkelling past the bright green reefs and tropical fish; there are many aquatic pastimes close to land. Meanwhile, in deeper waters, divers from around the world converge to explore the intricate coral, bright and exotic fish, and beautifully unsual plantlife that thrive underwater. Many dive shops on the island offer a full range of dive experiences, PADI courses ranging from beginner to professional, as well as fundives at any of the 30+ dive sites surrounding Koh Tao. My travelmates sung the praises of Carabao Diving School (at Ao Chalok) for their scenic diving experiences with friendly multilingual instructors.

In terms of island dining, you won’t fall short of options on Koh Tao, where local fish is served up beside more tourist-friendly fare. The island boasts an oddly high number of Mexican restaurants (music to this North American’s ears), bakeries with coffee and pastries, and 24-hour pizza. I would recommend the reasonably-priced barbecue stalls of freshly-caught fish, served with buttery baked potatoes and corn on the cob.

On the western side of Ao Chalok, the View Point restaurant, which you might mistake for the German embassy on account of all the expat divers, has the best food I’ve tasted on the island. At the end of a late night, Sairee beach is prepared with all-night food options. The old tourist standby of foodstall phad thai and banana pancakes is sold on most corners to keep the hungry partiers happy.

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.