This beautiful region of Laos is a great place to explore for those with a strong sense of adventure and eye for beauty. Although you won’t find tourist towns like those in the north of the country, those who take the time to explore southern Laos will find an impressive number of pretty islands, dense jungle and magnificent mountains. (more…)
Southern Thailand is large and inviting, featuring dozens of beautiful islands and a whole host of pristine beaches on which to top up your tan or enjoy water sports. The most famous resorts are on the west-facing Andaman Sea coastline, and the east-facing Gulf of Thailand coast.
Many people head straight to the South of Thailand and spend the rest of their stay enjoying all that this beautiful region has to offer. There are 14 provinces in all and each offers something different, to the highly popular and crowded areas in Phuket and Krabi to the much quieter, less visited areas of Songkla and Yala near the border with Malaysia.
Although areas of the west coast of Thailand were badly affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, all infrastructure has long since been repaired thanks to the hard work of local and international volunteers. Perhaps the most effected area was Koh Phi Phi, and people still wanting to make a contribution can do so through the Children of Phi Phi Island foundation www.childrenofphiphi.com.
Many people tend to avoid the very south of Thailand, scared off by the stories of bombing and murders. The trouble started in 2004, when a long resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. However, this all took place well off the beaten tourist trail, and few visitors were affected.
The Songkla Province town of Hat Yai has also been hit by a series of related bombings, although none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.
In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in Hat Yai bomb blasts. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but no westerners have been directly singled out for attacks and generally the south of Thailand is still a safe place to travel.
Sometimes, it’s a nice to get away from the pace of it all. And as far as Bangkok is concerned, an early morning start and 3.5 hrs to spare will get you away to one of my favourite chill out provinces, Kanchanaburi. If the name rings a bell, then yes you’re right, it is the place where that “old bridge” was built over the River Kwai, but that’s another story.
There are many sides to Kanchanaburi, whether it is from the 24 hr techno raves on the infinite number of party river barges (locally known as “Bpear Tech” if you’re up for hitching a ride), to swimming beneath beautiful waterfalls, white water rafting, nature treks, cave exploring, slow river cruises and even a treasure hunt! Yes, that’s right, a hunt for the legendry missing Thai gold that was, as the local tale goes, stolen by the fleeing Japanese army and hidden somewhere deep among the many caverns of Kanchanaburi. Indiana Jones, eat your heart out!
But I’ve banged my head too many times on low caves (alcohol not required) and been kamikazed enough by spaced out radar deficient bats (yes be, warned) that this time I headed directly for some much needed R&R at Kasem Island Resort upon a small island in the centre of the River Kwai.
Kanchanaburi is 130 Km west of Bangkok and is very easy to get to. You’ll find mini buses leaving from KSR daily (3.5 hrs journey-rates vary), there’s a regular a/c bus service from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal (3.5 hrs journey-approx 65 baht one way) located not far from KSR just over the Pinklao Bridge or like me, you can catch the 7:30 am train from Bangkok Noi Station, Thonburi (4 hrs journey). I prefer any one of the 3 morning trains as there’s plenty of room to chill, better scenery and the real reason… a regular supply of fresh Thai food sold by the train hopping vendors!
After a relaxed 4 hr journey of food, smiles and laughter (ice cold beer for sale makes a regular appearance between stations) I arrived in Kanchanaburi Town. Once you’re outside the train station (and nearby bus station) if you haven’t yet booked a place to stay, its ok, as there are plenty of small trucks and minivans that will take you directly to a number of small hotels/guest houses and resorts around town. I got me a local pick-up taxi down to the Chukadon Pier by the river with just one quick pit-stop along the way to stock up with supplies (laughing liquid and the usual munchies) as the resort has no worries about bringing your own! (Nice one).
Between the mainland and the island Kasem Resort runs its own ferry barge service every half hour back and forth for free, so don’t worry you’re never stranded. Accommodation ranges from cool twin fan huts with bathroom up to a/c suites. My hut, actually afloat, was 800 Baht per night including a great Thai/Western buffet dinner and breakfast. There are only about 25 rooms/suites or so in total, so there’s no hustle or bustle day or night. The small pool’s there for a quick dip (no gold medals to be won) and numerous tree shaded chill out areas in which to crack open a few as the sun sets with new friends (buckets of ice upon request) or simply to finally finish off that novel you’ve had since the airport!
For the adventurous among you, the resort can organize you a long tail speed boat (approx 600 baht-well worth it!) for you to zip up and down the River Kwai for hours avoiding or joining the party mad barge ravers, visiting the Buddhist caves, (hard work, trust me), the War Cemetery (somber), Bridge Over The River Kwai (always busy, but watch out for the Eastern Orient Express as the railway line is still active), War Museum, and back to the island. But, give the riverside restaurant by Chukadon Pier a go for lunch as the menu is excellent, the food is great and the price is spot on!
As for the waterfalls, kayaking, river rafting and walkabout with elephants, well as I said, I just came for one day of R&R, but if you’ve got time, then give yourself and Kanchanaburi a few well deserved days to either recharge your batteries like me or just party on down the river! Enjoy.