Tag - palace

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang was formerly the capital of Laos and is situated at the meeting point of the Mekong and Mae Kok rivers in northern Laos. Most travellers in Laos make it to this large and inviting city at some point during their journey and this is a great place to spend a few days.

Luang Prabang Province is considered by many to be Laos’ cultural and heritage centre and here you will find a large collection of Buddhist monasteries, temples and monuments. The town itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers some stunning examples of French architecture and traditional temple art.

Surrounded by dense jungle and sparkling rivers, Luang Prabang Province is extremely beautiful. The earth is a rich brown colour and to the north rocky mountains make an impressive backdrop. Trekking is popular here and there are a good range of activities available such as rock climbing and boat trips.

Among the largest and most impressive of Luang Prabang’s temples are Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Visoun and Wat Ou Tay, while the 24-metre high stupa of That Chomsi is an impressive sight. For spectacular views over the city climb to the top of Phu Si, which is also one of the best places to watch the sun set over the city.

There are plenty to see and do around the province. 30 miles north of Luang Prabang city is the cave of Tham Ting, which is filled with large Buddha images and is a prominent place of worship for the local people. The cave is situated right on the river and combined with the two hour boat trip to get there this is a great way to spend a day.

Another good day trip destination pretty the Tad Sae waterfall and Kuang Si waterfall, while the National Museum is a good place to learn more about the local culture and history. Topped by an impressive golden-spired stupa, Luang Prabang’s former royal palace has been transformed into the Palace Museum, and here you will find an impressive collection of regal artefacts and royal portraits

There are a large number of cheap guesthouses available in Luang Prabang and plenty of restaurants serving international food. A great time to visit is during one of the country’s festivals, when the streets are filled with colourful and noisy processions.   

Getting around Luang Prabang is easy and this is a great place to take it easy before venturing into the more remote areas of Laos.

Bokor National Park, Cambodia

Bokor National Park, Cambodia
Bokor National Park, Cambodia
Bokor National Park, Cambodia

One of the most enchanting destinations in the whole of Cambodia, Bokor National Park is a great place to explore. A large number of well-worn trails lead through the jungle here, and those who book a guided tour will have the chance to spy a wide range of wildlife including tigers and elephants, while swimming in the cool, clear water provided by the park’s waterfalls is the perfect way to cool down.
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.

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

The small city of Siem Reap is the best place to stay if you intend to visit the Angkor Wat complex. There are a number of good places to stay, restaurants offering a wide variety of international cuisine and bars to hang out in the evening.

Before you visit Angkor, stop by Miniature Replicas, where you will see sculptures of all the temples situated in a lovely garden. This is a good way to get an idea of how much there is to see and plan your time accordingly. There are also a number of modern temples situated around Siem Reap, such as Wat Bo with its beautiful paintings and former royal palace Wat Dam Nak, which provide an interesting contrast to the wonders of Angkor.

Angkor Wat is a major symbol in Cambodia; it appears on the flag, on coins, posters and just about anything else you can name. The site was reopened in 1991 after nearly two decades of closure due to civil unrest. The best way to start a tour of Angkor is to visit Phnom Bakheng in time for sunset. Not only is admission free, but you can get your pass made, avoiding the crowds the next day.

Get up early the following day and hire a moto with a driver for the day so that you can travel in style. Head straight to Angkor Thom, which is surrounded by a vast moat, before moving on to the Terrace of the Elephants, which is over 300 metres long.

The next temple to visit is the enchanting jungle temple of Preah Khan, while the nearby Neak Pean is a symbol of the lake that lies at the top of the universe.

It is best to allow around four hours to see Angkor Wat properly, so perhaps devote the following day to exploring this magnificent temple. According to records, it took around 30 years to complete Angkor Wat, which measures an impressive 65 metres and covers some 500 acres.

The mighty Wat is built on several levels. The Gallery features 1,000 Buddhas where Buddha effigies of all descriptions line the corridors, while the temples picture galleries display scenes from Hindu epic texts the Ramayana, the Battle of Kurukshetra, and other epic scenes such as the Judgement of Heaven and Hell. 1,500 apsaras or ‘heavenly dancing girls’ wonderfully decorate the second level interior.

Now it is time to screw up you courage and climb to the very summit of the top level, which is a privilege that was originally reserved for the High Priest and the King. 480 steep steps lead up to the five towers, which lie waiting like the Holy Grail at the end of a virtuous quest. Ascend the 70 degree angled steps carefully and walk around the outer gallery, enjoying the magnificent view, which is incredible from all angles. Watch the sun set before slowly descending once more.

Most people find it difficult to leave Siem Reap and you need to allow at least through days to explore thoroughly.

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Cambodia’s capital city is loud, dirty and rather violent on first glance, earning it the reputation as a ‘rough city’. However, scratch the surface and you will find plenty of pretty places to walk, good restaurants and interesting buildings. Although the residents are not as warm and welcoming as in the countryside, many people are willing to provide much needed advice and a friendly face.

Phnom Penh was largely destroyed during the time of the Khmer Rouge and is slowly being restored to its former glory. Also known as Riverside, Sisowath Quay is a pretty avenue running along the banks of the Mekong River and is an interesting place to walk in the evening when dozens of stalls set up selling everything from good meals to cheap souvenirs.

According to popular legend, the city was founded in the 14th century by an old woman named Penh who discovered a tree with a handful of Buddha images wedged in a niche. She recovered the images and had a hill – phnom in the Khmer language – built to contain them. The city grew from there into the sprawling metropolis it is today.  

A tour of Phnom Penh should lead you straight to the Royal palace with its Silver Pagoda and temple of the Emerald Buddha. Also known as Wat Preah Keo Morokat, the entire floor of the Silver pagoda is covered with over 5,000 silver tiles, each weighing 1 kilo. Inside is the Emerald Buddha, which was crafted from baccorant crystal and is one of Cambodia’s most famous images.

Opposite, the National Museum is home to some impressive Khmer sculptures, including many pieces previously at Angkor. This is a good place to get a feel for the ancient art work and various styles. Climb a hill at the centre of a small park near Sisowath Quay for spectacular views and to visit Wat Phnom with its resident monkeys.

To get an idea for the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, many people take a day trip to the Killing Fields, which are located at Cheoung Ek, about 17 kilometres south of Phnom Penh. Now peaceful, this is the place where the Khmer Rouge killed several thousands of their victims and visitors can explore the Buddhist stupa which is filled with human skulls.  

Another gruesome reminder is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which is the actual school building that the Khmer Rouge leaders converted to a prison. The museum contains a number of graphic photographs detailing the brutality and handwritten accounts by a few of the survivors.

On a lighter note, taking a cruise on the Mekong River is a great way to see the area, and many tour companies offer sunset dinner cruises. Before you leave Phnom Pehn visit Mekong Island and watch the traditional weaving.

In additional to the city’s many bars and nightclubs, evening entertainment is provided by the French Cultural Centre, who show regular movies.

Lopburi, Thailand

Lopburi, Thailand
Lopburi, Thailand
Lopburi, Thailand
Lopburi, Thailand

Dubbed “Monkey City” because of the thousands of monkeys that are allowed to reside in peace, Lopburi is the capital city of Lopburi Province. The city is located 150 km north-east of Bangkok and draws thousands of tourists each year, who flock to the city to see the Crab-Eating Macaques as well as the elegant Khmer temples.

If you are interested in the cheeky monkeys, who scamper around stealing food from tourists and causing general mischief, particularly good spots to see them are around the Khmer temple, Prang Sam Yot, and Sarn Phra Karn. All these temples are also interesting in their own right, as are Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat and the former royal palace of Phra Narai Ratchaiwet, which also houses the Lopburi Museum, a great place to cool down and learn more about the local history.

The people of Lopburi take good care of the city’s monkeys as they believe them to be descendants of the monkey lord Hanuman. According to the holy book the Ramayana, Hanuman was a great hero who rescued Sita from her imprisonment in Sri Lanka and built Lopburi as his kingdom.

To the north of Lopburi, the famous and beautiful Saplangka Wildlife Sanctuary provides the perfect day trip for nature lovers. Also worth visiting is the nearby European Palace of Chao Phraya Wichayan, which has many interesting design and style features and some beautiful gardens in which to relax for a while.

Steeped in interesting history, Lopburi is full of temple ruins, which mainly date from the Ayutthaya period. Particularly of note are Wat Nakhon Kosa, Wat San Paolo, Wat Sao Thong and Wat Indra.

A great time to visit Lopburi is during the Monkey festival at the end of November, when the furry inhabitants are treated to a huge feast at the expense of their human neighbours, who take good care of them throughout the year.

Also look out for the King Narai Festival, which occurs in the middle of February and lasts for three days. The festival is marked which displays of local food and textiles, singing and the much anticipated traditional lakhon ling drama which, believe it or not, is performed by monkeys!

Phetchaburi, Thailand

Phetchaburi, Thailand
Phetchaburi, Thailand
Phetchaburi, Thailand
Phetchaburi, Thailand

Located in the central region of Thailand, Phetchaburi Province can be found approximately 160 kilometers south of Bangkok. This is an area of rich historical and archeological interest as well as surrounding nature such as caves, waterfalls and beautiful sandy beaches. Phetchaburi, also known as Phetburi, is the capital of the Phetchaburi Province. This old royal city dates back to the Mon period of the 8th century. The style of the buildings in the city and surrounding area can be seen to reflect the style of the ancient Mon people, the Khmers and also the traditional Thai style. Phetchaburi province is well known for its large number of beautiful caves. Particularly of interest are the Khao Luang caves, which are located 5 kilometers north of the capital city. There are several Buddha statues inside the caves including a magnificent large reclining Buddha statue.

The area is also well known for the mysterious cave of Khao Wang and the Phra Nakhon Kriri Historical Park, which includes King Mongkut’s Palace. A great way to explore the Historical Park and to conserve energy is to make use of the quaint tram which circuits the large park area.

Phra Ratchawang Ban Peun is an interesting temple located 1 kilometre south of the city inside a military base, whilst the local night market is a great place to get a good meal and do some shopping.

Many people stop off in the province in order to visit the beautiful beach resort of Cha-am, with its sparkling sea and inviting golden sand, just a 40 minute bus ride from the city of Petchaburi. Cha-am is very popular on the weekends and during holidays, but visitors will find that it can be very peaceful during the week.

Another great day trip is the Kaeng Krachan National Park, which features the amazing Pa La-U waterfalls and with its lush jungles is a good place to go trekking and discover some of the area’s rich flora and fauna.

It is worth trying to time your trip to coincide with the Phra Nakhon Khiri Fair. This vibrant festival takes place in early February, lasts for eight days and includes a colourful sound and light show and displays of classical Thai dancing. During the fair the town takes on the feel of a fairy tale as the temples are decorated with lights and people dress in traditional costume to perform the unique dances.

If you are in Cha-am in late September, look out for the Feast-Fish-Flock Seafood Festival, when the seaside town celebrates the wealth brought to it from the fruits of the sea and displays all it has to offer

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand

Just one hour from Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya is a key destination for anyone interested in history, culture and architecture. This former capital of Thailand is steeped in history and is a great place to spend a couple of days.

Formerly known as Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, the city was founded by King U-Thong in 1350 and kept its status as the nation’s capital until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767. Ayutthaya was once one of the richest cities in Asia by the 1600s, as its vast array of temples still testifies.

Most visitors come to explore The Ayutthaya historical park, which contains most of the magnificent ruins of the ancient city and was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1981. Over 400 hundred temples were originally built in Ayutthaya, and the fact that they were built by various rules means that they comprise an interesting range of designs and styles.

Many of the temples from Ayutthaya’s glory period still exist today, although in various states of preservation. Wat Mahathat is by far Ayutthaya’s most photographed temple, made famous by the head of a large Buddha statue which has become entangled in the roots of a giant banyan tree.

Other temples of note include Wat Lokayasutharam (also known as the temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Mongkhon Bophit and Wat Naphrameru.

Ayutthaya’s temples cover an area of several kilometres, and many people choose to explore the area by hiring a bicycle or a tuk-tuk for the day. You can learn more about Ayutthaya’s rich and interesting history at the Chantharakasem National Museum.

But there is much more to Ayutthaya than simply temples. The Ayutthaya Elephant Camp provides visitors with the perfect opportunity to find out more about these mighty beasts and rides can be arranged around the scenic area.

The nearby town of Bang Pa In, with its glorious Summer Palace provides an excellent site for a day trip. Another great day trip is the Bang Sai Royal Arts and Crafts Center, which aims is to train people with poor backgrounds and to try provide them with the skills to earn a descent income. The arts and crafts here are of a very high quality and make excellent souvenirs.

Chonburi, Thailand

Chonburi, Thailand
Chonburi, Thailand
Chonburi, Thailand
Chonburi, Thailand

Chonburi is a province full of beautiful sandy beaches, enchanting tropical islands, abundant natural resources and delicious fresh seafood. This is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city for a while and relax on the beach. The capital town of Chonburi is the nearest seaside town to Bangkok. Located on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Thailand, Chonburi is just 80 kilometres from Bangkok and very popular with residents of Bangkok on weekends and holidays.

Chonburi province contains many places of interest for visitors. Particularly well known throughout the world is the seaside town of Pattaya, while the town Si Racha is famous throughout Thailand for its spicy chilli sauce.

Particularly of interest in the area is the picturesque island of Ko Si Chang, which was made popular when King Rama IV, Rama V and Rama VI visited the island for some much deserved rest and relaxation. King Rama V initiated the construction the first palace for royal home-stay in the summer, and the idea proved popular with subsequent rulers and people of note.

There are many beautiful beaches and other places of interest on Ko Si Chang. The meditation caves at the Tham Yai Phrik Vipassana Monastery are a good place to get in touch with nature while learning the art of meditation.

There are plenty of great places on the island to swim, such as the picturesque Hat Tham Phang (Fallen Cave Beach), Hat Sai Kaew and Hat Tha Wang Palace, which is a great picnic spot.

The San Jao Phaw Khao Yai Chinese Temple is located high on a cliff top overlooking the sea and offers spectacular views over the ocean, and the limestone cave of Tham Saowapha is definitely worth a visit, although don’t forget to take a torch.

There are a number of small islands located around Ko Si Chang such as Ko Khaam Noi, Ko Ran Dok Mai and Koh Prong. A good way to explore them is to rent a sea kayak, go scuba diving or go on a snorkeling trip to the nearby Ko Khaang Khaow (Bat Island).

Koh Si Chang is a great place to sample the abundant local seafood, and what could be better than eating fresh barbecued seafood on the beach whilst you drink and cold beer and watch the sun slowly set.