Tag - plants

Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia

Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia
Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia

Covering an area of more than 500 square kilometres, Gunug Mulu National Park is one of the most picturesque spots in the whole of eastern Malaysia. People travel here from all over the world in order to explore the cool caves that can be found here, while the national park is also famous for its impress sandstone and limestone mountains.

Those who enjoy exploring independently will have no trouble finding their way around, as the Hunter’s Trail is clearly marked and leads visitors for some 300 kilometres past a whole host of interesting flora and fauna. The trail also leads to the network of caves that can be found in the very heart of Gunung Mulu National Park.

Visitors who are unable to complete the 300-kilomtre circuit will find a number of pretty trails leading off of Hunter’s Trail, which offer access to other natural beauty spots. It is also possible to arrange for a guide, who will take intrepid travellers off of the beaten path to discover a whole host of hidden treasures.

One of the most popular caves is known as Clearwater Cave. This is believed to be the longest cave in Southeast Asia and the trip includes a boat ride up the Melinau River to the mouth of the cave.

Dee Cave is also popular as it contains the world’s largest cave passage and visitors to this interesting cave must first embark on a three kilometre walk through the jungle.

Bako National Park, Malaysia

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Bako National Park, Malaysia

Situated in Sarawak in East Malaysia, the large and lively Bako National Park is a great place to spend a day or two. With 27 square kilometres of dense rainforest and a number of beautiful beaches, this is one of the real highlights of Malaysia. Bako National Park officially opened in 1957 and is home to a diverse range of animals such as monitor lizards, long-tailed macaques, plantain squirrels and silver leaf monkeys. Visitors who are blessed with keen eyesight and a little luck may be able to catch a glimpse of the rare and weird looking proboscis monkey, which features a bulbous nose and can sometimes be spotted up in the treetops. Well-worn jungle trails also lead visitors past a diverse range of flora and fauna, while those who want to view the park from a different perspective can wander along the elevated wooden walkway.

As you explore the national park you will have the opportunity to discover a number of different habitats. The park is comprised of vegetation from seven complete eco-systems, namely beach vegetation, cliff vegetation, kerangas, mangrove forest, mixed dipterocarp forest, grasslands vegetation and peat swamp forest.

Visitors can stay at Bako National Park overnight in one of the bungalows or dorm rooms. Spending the night is a good option for those who want to go on a guided night hike, while waking up in the wilderness is an awe-inspiring experience. The best times to spot wildlife are just before dusk and dawn, so staying the night is the best option to get the most out of this unique experience.

While you’re in the area, take a boat trip to the nearby island of Palau Lakai for fantastic views. This tiny island is unpopulated and offers the perfect deserted island experience.

To get to Bako National Park you will need to take a boat ride from the nearby village of Kampung, which serves as an interesting introduction to the area. Although you are free to explore alone, it is a good idea to hire a guide to make sure you catch all the highlights of the park.

Sekong, Laos

Sekong, Laos
Sekong, Laos
Sekong, Laos

Sekong is the ideal place for those who really want to step off the well worn tourist trail and get to know the real Laos. This pretty area is situated in the southeast part of Laos in the Sekong River Valley, and the river is a good spot for fishing and swimming and perhaps even a boat trip down the river to one of the nearby villages.

This is a great place for hiking and trekking and as you walk through the countryside you will wander through lush rice paddies, fruit orchards and tropical forests which are home to a large number of unusual animals and pretty plants and flowers.

A number of different ethnic tribes live in the Sekong River Valley and the countryside is full of small villages belong to people such as the Lave, Lanam, Kaleum, Dakchung and Thateng. This is a good place to get to know the different tribes and discover their unique lifestyles.

A great way to pass the time is by getting up at around 5a.m to watch people fishing in the river and walking along the banks. The Buddhist monks wander through the villages early each morning to receive alms and you will see processions of orange robed monks carrying large metal bowls.

 Part of Sekong’s appeal for most people is its remoteness and the fact that not many travelers make it this far. Don’t expect to find a large number of fancy guesthouses or restaurants selling international food here. But for those who do decide to stay, the gentle pace of life and friendliness of the people can be very addictive. However, people who need their creature comforts will be able to find a hotel or two here and it is possible to hire a motorbike to explore.

Sekong is blessed with electricity around the clock, but if this seems a little too decadent pay a visit to the nearby village of Tha Teng, which is extremely picturesque and without electricity or running water offers a real insight into the traditional Lao way of life.

Petchaboon, Thailand

Petchaboon, Thailand
Petchaboon, Thailand
Petchaboon, Thailand
Petchaboon, Thailand

Situated 346 kilometres from Bangkok, Petchaboon is a very pretty province in the northern region of Thailand. The name of the province actually means the land of crops and food in the Thai language and this is a very fertile area, largely due to its location on the Pa Sak river basin. With mountain ranges running along both the western and eastern parts, Petchaboon Province is the perfect place for nature lovers as it is full of well-known national parks, beautiful waterfalls and great lakes.

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.

Isaan Life – Harvesting Rice

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Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand

BAN KU MUANG, UBON RATCHATHANI: Last week I found myself hip-deep in the sun-drenched rice paddies of northeast Thailand, 13,000 kilometers from the snow-covered fields of my home in Vermont in the northeastern United States. Overcome with curiosity about the labor-intensive, harvesting process that produces one of the world’s most plentiful crops, I decided to see how it’s done first hand. Well let me tell you, it’s back breaking work! I have a new found respect for everyone that works in those rice paddies. It was two of the more uncomfortable, difficult, backbreaking days of work I have every experienced in my life.

Aidan Curley an English teacher here in Isaan, contacted a family and asked if I could work for a couple of days in Ban Ku Muang, a small farming village encapsulated by rice fields. They were more than happy to have an extra pair of hands, even if they were unskilled. I had no idea what I was getting into. Waking up before seven a.m. for school back home had always been a struggle, but waking up at five a.m. to harvest rice seemed like a suicide wish. Bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, I trudged off to work at dawn and soon found myself surrounded and submerged in a sea of tan rice plants sticking up from the soggy earth. I wore a pair of mud boots, unfortunately too small for my feet, a hat to shelter my pale face from being burnt to a crisp, wool gloves to provide small protection from the razor sharp sickle used to cut the crop and a jacket to keep the sun off my arms.
 
My co-workers, all dressed the same, were part of an extended family including the mother, Youanji; father, Naiton; son, Naicheng and a daughter, Nangdam. They had twice the energy and resolve that I had that morning even though they had been working the fields for almost four months straight, every single day!
 
For the first hour of ‘Gee Ow Cow’, as the rice harvest is known, Naicheng guided me through the painstaking cutting ritual that is repeated a thousand times each workday. He spoke no English, but my Thai is good as I spent a high school semester in Ubon Ratchathani and studied the language intensively back home as well. As a first-time harvester my job was simply to cut the stalks and leave them on the ground for others to process. Using my sickle I would gather the rice plants into my hand and then slash the stalks just centimeters away from my fingers. I would repeat the process until my hands were full. Twice in the first hour I cut clean through my glove taking skin off of my hand. My co-workers were amused but encouraged me in my effort.
 
By the eight a.m. breakfast break I was fully awake and beginning to work into a rhythm. I was also exhausted. Breakfast was enjoyable, it included a dish called ‘Sok Lek’ which is raw meat soaked in blood, and ‘Lao Cow’ a white whiskey. Naiton explained: “The Sok Lek will make you strong, and the whiskey will make you forget about how hot it’s going to get.” This sent the other three into a fit of laughter causing me to feel nervous.
 
Sure enough the blistering heat came and so did a killing back pain. Bending down for hours each day for months, I wondered why my co-workers weren’t all hunchbacks. After only half a day I was beginning to feel ancient myself. Naicheng and his family had beautiful spirits; he turned to me after a while and asked, “Does your back hurt?” I returned his question with a smile: “A little bit.” He smiled back and asked: “Are you hot from the sun?” I laughed through the sweat pouring down my face: “A little bit.” Naicheng looked at me knowingly and said: “That’s why we must talk to each other because talking will make you forget about the pain in your back and the heat from the sun.” It was a very sweet thing to say and he was a right. After talking about my country and his, his life and mine, I began to forget the pain and heat. I was into the rhythm of the harvest. The back pain was unbearable however when we quit for the day at five p.m. I dragged myself onto Aidan’s motorcycle and collapsed exhausted in my bed. I was fast asleep by eight thirty.
 
The following day was much like the first however I moved a little faster. I was confident but still a novice. I was also foolish. I wore a short-sleeved shirt and by mid morning I had a horrid, painful sunburn. The conversation turned to food. Youanji was very interested in the foods I had eaten in Thailand. I love Thai food and back home am considered an expert by my friends. Even my brother, a professional chef asks me questions about Thai spices and cuisine. Youanji asked me: “Have you ever eaten field mouse before?” Thinking that she was joking I replied, “No, but I’d love to try it.” She seemed excited and invited me to dinner the next night. I was skeptical thinking perhaps she was teasing me.
 
To be polite I accepted but sure enough as soon as I arrived to her home a glass of whiskey and a big platter of roasted meat was placed in front of me. I could see it was a mouse or at least a rodent; it had a long tail that Naiton snatched and crunched into his mouth. My image of a field mouse was the tiny creature that hides in the lush green grass back home. This mouse was more like an oversized rat; it was the size of my forearm. Not knowing what to expect I picked up a meaty looking piece and slowly put it into my mouth. Bam! Steak, chicken, beef all thrown together into one delicious bite! I couldn’t believe I was eating mouse. I was converted from a doubter to an addict in one bite.
 
Harvesting rice is something I will not choose as my life’s work. I probably wouldn’t ever want to do it again; the long hours are too much for too little. However, the people that do this everyday, some seven days a week, are generous, hard working and fun loving and I respect them deeply.

Eli Sherman is a graduate of Montpelier High School in Montpelier, the capital of the state of Vermont, USA, and a “young blood writer” living in Ubon Ratchathani, Isaan – Northeastern Thailand. He’s been to Isaan four times in his short life. Once on a cross cultural exchange with Montpelier to Thailand Project; once coming for five months as an exchange student at Benchama Maharat school in Ubon; and again coming as a guide for Montpelier to Thailand Project. He now works as a volunteer at the Institute of Nutrition Research Field Station, Mahidol University in Ubon Ratchathani and is writing to present Isaan Life to the world, and especially KhaoSanRoad.com visitors.