Melaka is famed for its rich and varied cuisine, and excellent restaurants can be found all over the city. Taking a cooking class here is also a good way to find out what Melaka is all about while gaining a skill that you can use to impress friends and family members with when you get back home.
While the city can be rather busy during the daytime, it is surrounding by intense natural beauty, and sun worshippers will want to spend time soaking up the sun on Melaka’s pristine sandy beaches. There are also large forests and parks to explore here, which are simply teeming with a diverse range of flora and fauna.
Local legend explains that the city of Melaka was founded by Parameswara, who is believed to have been related to a Hindi prince and possibly even Alexander the Great. The story goes that Parameswara was hunting and stopped to rest near the Malacca River. He was standing next to an Indian gooseberry tree known as a melaka when one of his hunting dogs was startled by a mouse deer and fell into the river. Parameswara took this incident as an auspicious sign and decided to build the capital of his new kingdom where he stood, naming it after the tree under which he had been resting.
Visitors will want to spend at least three days exploring Melaka, as there are numerous unmissable attractions to discover here. The city can also be used as a convenient base to explore a whole host of surrounding attractions, while this is the perfect place to arrange for tour guides, change money and make use of endless other amenities.
This is also evident in the picturesque island of Penang, where each ethnic group has its own area situated alongside the other. Loud Bollywood music and the rich smells of curry drifts from shop fronts in the Indian section, while a few streets away the roads are strung with colourful Chinese lanterns and a number of large Chinese temples sit at the side of the street.
Northern Malaysia is a good place to fall in love with the culture and history of Malaysia before heading to other regions to discover its natural beauty. However, there are also a number of pretty beaches to soak up the sun in northern Malaysia such as the modest stretch of sand on Penang and the popular beach resort of Langkawi, which is referred to as the land where one’s dreams come true.
Most visitors to Labuan simply stake out a place on the sand and lay back to catch the sun’s rays. However, there are plenty of things to see and do for those who can be bothered to tear themselves away from the golden sand and cool, clear waters.
Labuan Bird Park is located towards the island’s northern tip. Here you will discover a colourful collection of our feathered friends as you wander through the tunnels that connect the large aviaries. Another popular attraction is the Labuan Marine Park, where visitors are encouraged to take aboat tour to see the picturesque deserted islands known as Pulau Kuraman, Pulau Rusukan Kecil and Pulau Rusukan Besar.
The Labuan Museum is a good place to find out about the island’s interesting history and culture. Full of artifacts and colourful displays, the museum attempts to bring Labuan’s history to life. A great way to explore Labuan is to hire a bicycle and simple cycle around, pausing to take in the spectacular views of the South China Sea.
Returning to the beach, Labuan is a great place for those who enjoy water sports. Diving is popular as there are a number of wreck sites to explore and some stunning coral. Many people come to Labuan to enjoy the world class deep sea fishing opportunities, while swimming and snorkelling are always rewarding.
Evenings are pleasant on Labuan. Stroll along the shore as the sun sets and enjoy fresh barbecued fish, perhaps washed down with a beer or two.
Getting to Labuan is relatively easy as there are regular ferries from Brunei, Kota Kinabalu, Limbang, Spitang and Lawas. There are also daily flights from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, making this the perfect place to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
A number of well-worn walking trails led the way through Kubah National Park, and visitors who follow these will be able to reach stunning natural features such as caves and sparkling waterfalls, while the rainforest is full of plants such as colourful orchids. The trails that lead the way through the park are easy to navigate for those who like to explore independently, while visitors who want to learn more about the park can hire a guide for a small fee.
One of the most enchanting natural features here is Gunug Serapi, which is the highest mountain in this part of the world. Visitors can follow a trail that leads to the very summit of this mighty mountain, which offers simply stunning views of the entire park from is lofty vantage point. Walking through the rainforest can be rather humid at times, and it is also possible to follow the Waterfall Trail to a sparkling cascade of water where visitors are invited to take a dip to cool off.
Follow the Ulu Rayu Trail to the Matang Wildlife Centre. This area of the park features a number of pretty rock pools and waterfalls as well as animals such as crocodiles and hornbills. This is the perfect spot for a picnic, and visitors can also make use of the barbecue pits located at Matang Wildlife Centre.
It is impossible to see everything that Kubah National Park offers in one day. Luckily, it is possible to sleep over in one of the self-catering forest lodges and a hostel. There is also plenty of comfortable accommodation in nearby Kuching, and this is a good option for those who don’t fancy fending for themselves.
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.
One of the best things about Bokor National Park, which was established in 1993, is that it is possible to travel here on a daytrip from the popular destinations of Kampot and Sihanoukville. The park covers an area of just over 1,500 square kilometres and is officially known as Preah Monivong National Park. This area of protected land is covered with dense forest and is particularly popular with birdwatchers, who come for the chance to spot a wide variety of our fine feathered friends.
In addition to birds such as the green peafowl, hornbills and the rare chestnut-headed partridge, the park is also home to animals such as red muntjac deer, sun bears, leopards and the pretty pileated gibbon. Other highlights of the park include the French hill station, an enchanting jungle church and the simply stunning Popokvil Falls.
As with most areas of Cambodia that are located outside of towns and cities, it is best to hire a guide when exploring Bokor National Park, as there is a chance that unexploded landmines could be hidden beneath the overgrowth. Local guides know the area well as will be able to ensure that their charges stick to areas that have been thoroughly swept for landmines.
Nothing can compete with the magic of spending the night in Bokor National Park and waking at dawn to the sound of the birds in the trees and the call of other animals as they awaken. Located within the park is the Bokor Palace Hotel, which offers clean and comfortable rooms as well as amenities such as a good restaurant and casino. However, rooms here tend to be a little pricy, and those who are on a tight budget may prefer to spend the night in the Ranger’s Station instead.
75 percent of this beautiful province consists of jungles and mountains, and there is a lot for the nature lover to explore. There are also pretty beaches on which to top up your tan and magnificent temples to discover.
The name Narathiwat literally means "the residence of good people" in the Thai language, and visitors will soon find that the area lives up to its name as hospitality is as warm as the weather. The city of Narathiwat has preserved its traditional culture and authenticity and has a feel of village-like tranquillity. The residents of Narathiwat are mainly farmers and fishermen and the majority are Muslim.
If you love nature, a visit to Hala-Bala Wildlife Reserve should be top of the list. Established in 1996, the reserve covers the Sankala Khiri mountain range, Hala forest and Bala forest and is a good place to see a large selection of wildlife. Lucky visitors have the chance to see hornbills, gibbons, the large Thut frogs, and rhinoceroses.
Another area of great natural beauty is the Sirindhorn Peat Swamp Forest Nature Reserve, and you can combine a visit with a trip to the Khao Kong Buddhist Park, which is situated about 9 kilometres from town. Here you will find Wat Khao Kong and the golden Phra Phuttha Thaksin Ming Mongkhon Buddha image sitting in the lotus position atop a mountain. And the park offers spectacular views over the province.
Other interesting temples to explore include Wat Chon Thara Singhe, Wat Choeng Khao, the Old Central Mosque and Taloh-manoh Mosque, while Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace is situated on Tanyongmat Mountain, and contains throne halls decorated with an assortment of trees.
Back to nature; don't miss the stunning Ao Manao Park, which features a 4 kilometre sandy bay lined with pine forest to explore when you tire of soaking up the sun. Other beaches include Hat Narathat, Kubu Beach-Ban Khlong Tan and the small, peaceful island of Ko Yao.
Visitors arriving during one of the area's lively festivals are treated to displays of traditional song and dance, combined with much laughter.
The Narathiwat Products Fair showcases the highlights of the province, such as special arts and crafts.
The Kolae-Long Boat Races are held on Bang Nara River opposite Sala Prachakhom (community pavilion). This is an annual event held when the Royal Family is in residence at Thaksin Ratchaniwet Palace.
Krachut Sedge Day is held around the same time as the boat races in order to promote hemp products. Activities include an exhibition on production from the preparation of raw materials that are the Krachut sedge trees that grow in peat swamp forests or waterlogged areas of the province, to weaving the sedge into beautiful mats or transforming it into other unusual products such as hats, handbags, letter holders, food covers, and lamp shades. There are also Krachut contests and stalls selling Krachut sedge products.
Pattaya is probably best known for its night life. For the curious, this is a good place to see a "Tiffany Show", where stunningly attractive transsexuals dress in incredibly elaborate costumes and perform gracefully choreographed song and dance numbers on stage. There are also a wide range of go-go bars and discotheques to explore on Walking Street, which is the center of Pattaya's nightlife.
By day, Pattaya offers a large number of intriguing diversions that are hard to find in most other parts of Thailand. A great entertainment option is the Million Years Stone Park and Pattaya Crocodile Farm, whilst visitors can ride the mighty beasts at the Elephant Village. The world class aquarium at Underwater World Pattaya has beautiful displays of local sea life and you can see scale replicas of Thailand's key attractions in Mini Siam. Also popular with visitors to Pattaya is Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, and the sign for this can clearly be seen for the beach front.
Pattaya is a great place to let off some steam, and the go cart course and shooting range and good places to do just that, whilst the many spas and massage parlours offer a different way to unwind.
But Pattaya isn't all neon lights and lipstick, there are also some very beautiful nature spots waiting to be discovered. Pattaya Beach is situated alongside the city centre and is a popular spot for jet-skis and speed boats. Just south of the city is the pretty stretch of sand known as Jomtien Beach, which is much quieter than Pattaya Beach and a good place to chill out for a few hours.
Another great day trip is the large and interesting Sri Racha Tiger Zoo, which features several hundred tigers and thousands of alligators. The tiger zoo offers the opportunity to view and interact with animals in exciting new ways, such as cuddling tiger cubs and helping hatch baby crocodiles from their eggs.
If you need a break from the beach, pay a visit to the Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden, which is located 15 kilometers east of Pattaya and has lively cultural shows.
It is absolutely impossible to be bored in Pattaya, and no matter what you are looking for you are sure to find it here.
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.
For many, top of the list is Chiang Dao National Park, which covers over 1000 square kilometres and features bamboo forests, sparkling mountain streams and waterfalls. Also in the park is the mighty mountain of Doi Chiang Dao, which is a colossal 2225 metres high and is said to be Thailand's highest mountain and offers incredible views over the area from the top. Scattered around the park are a large number of many Lisu and Karen hill tribe villages, and a good way to see them and to really appreciate the lush nature of the park is to go trekking and stay overnight.
Another popular attraction is Tham Chiang Dao - Chiang Dao Cave. The extremely beautiful cave complex is cool and inviting and stretches for an impressive 12 kilometres, filled with sparkling stalactites. It is a good idea to hire a guide with a lantern for the chance to explore the caves fully.
Experienced hikers can embark on a two day mountain trip up Doi Luang Chiang Dao, which is a great way to see the area. Another good way to explore is to visit the Elephant Training Centre Chiang Dao and go on an elephant trek through the forest. The treks can last from between 30 minutes to half a day an offer an interesting view point of the beautiful scenery, seen at a leisurely pace.
Chiang Dao is also popular for river rafting, and many people chose to visit the area in order to shoot the rapids, whilst others choose to hire a motorbike and discover all that the area has to offer by themselves.
If you are looking to get in touch with your spiritual side, visit Samnak Song Tham Pha Plong, which is also known as the Tham Pha Plong Monastic Centre. Many monks travel to this very special area to meditate, and visitors can climb a long flight of steps, which lead up the mountain past limestone cliffs and forest to a large chedi. The view from the top of the steps and the general vibe of the area more than makes up for any hardship encountered on the climb.
The extremely vibrant Tuesday morning market is a good place to buy local produce and see the hilltribe people, who come to the market in order to trade their wares. The
market is open each week between 7 a.m. and 12 a.m. and is a great place to get a good, cheap meal. Don't forget to use the bartering system to get the most for your money.
A great place to discover the abundant beauty of the area is at the Nam Nao National Park. This enormous conservation park is full of forests, grasslands and virgin jungles. Nam Nao Park offers visitors the opportunity to learn about plants, wild animals and outdoor activities through trekking and bird watching. More than 100 species of birds have made their home in Nam Nao Park, and it is also a good place to see the famous fog that gathers in the region during cool weather.
Other extremely beautiful areas are the Namtok Than Thip Forest Park and Thung Salaeng Luang National Park, whilst you can soak away your troubles after a hard day of trekking at the Ban Phu Toei Hot Spring Park.
The Khao Kho Wildlife Captive Breeding Centre is a great place to find out how to care for and protect animals. The centre can be found in Khao Kho National Park, which is located about 1 hour northwest of Petchaboon town and thought by many to be the most beautiful of all the area's parks because of its stunning mountain views. Also in the park are the Khao Kho International Library, which is shaped like an upside down diamond, and the Khao Kho Sacrificial Monument.
There are a large number of sparkling waterfalls in the area, which make a good focus point for trekking and hiking. Of particular note are Namtok Si Dit and the large Than Thip Waterfall, located in the Than Thip Forest Park, whilst Tham Ruesi Sombat is a large and interesting cave.
If you are interested in temples, Petchaboon has many treats in store. Look out for the ancient Wat Si Mongkhon, Phra Borommathat Chedi Kanchanaphisek, Phra Tamnak Khao Kho and Chedi Phra Borommasaririkkathat Khao Kho, which contains relics of Lord Buddha brought to Thailand from Sri Lanka.
Petchaboon Province is the home of many exciting and vibrant festivals. The Um Pra Dam Nam festival is an unusual event held on the fifteenth day of the waning
moon in the 10th lunar month. The festival features a special ceremony, during which an image of Phra Buddha Maha Thammaracha is carried around the town so that people can pay respect to it and stick gold leaf onto its body. The Buddha image is then taken by the governor of Petchaboon to be immersed in the Pah Sak River. After the ceremony, the water in the river is regarded as sacred.
Another interesting and unique tradition is Seng Klong, when the villagers of Petchaboon ask god and the angels to come to make merit with them. The ceremony is held during the end of Buddhist Lent around the Por Kun Pah Maung Monument to promote the honor of Por Kun Pah. This celebration features many other activities, such as the drum contest, the beauty queen contest and colorful floating lanterns, which fill the sky.
Bael tree is indigenous to Indochina and South East Asia. The fruits have a firm outer surface that turns yellow when ripe. The inside of the fruit has a hard central core and triangular segments, filled with a pale orange, sweet pulp. Seeds enclosed in a mucoid sac are lodged in the pulp.
Ask for ma-tuum or matoom which is the local name of the fruit. The Bael fruit drink is an effective thirst quencher. It tastes rather bland, with sugar added to taste. It created no remarkable impression when I first tasted it.
I would not suggest having the drink together with food because by nature of its very bland taste, drinking it after a mouthful of curry or any other spicy morsel can actually overpower its taste so much that the bael fruit juice can be rendered tasteless.
The very helpful waiter brought me a little sachet of brown Matoom powder from which the drink was prepared. Just the addition of water and ice! I learnt that it was available at herbal and medicinal shops, since bael fruit, considered as having health giving properties, is used variously for digestive, laxative and tonic properties. Quite useful if you are a backpacker!
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.
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!