Tag - railway

Central Malaysia

Central MalaysiaThe central region of Malaysia is a great place to visit to escape the scorching Malay weather as temperatures are significantly cooler here, especially in the stunningly beautiful region known as the Cameron Highlands.
Central Malaysia is also home to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, which contains all the interesting attractions and facilities you would expect from a modern Asian city. This is a good place to use as a base as you explore the beauty that surrounds Kuala Lumpur.

Another interesting metropolis is Melaka, which is renowned as the center of the Muslim faith in Malaysia. This is a good place to learn about the Muslim faith and traditions, as well as sampling a range of traditional Malay dishes.

One of the great things about central Malaysia is that it is particularly easy to get around, with bus and rail networks linking the major towns and cities. The railway network starts in Thailand and continues south into Singapore, meaning that both countries are easily accessible.

Malaysia’s many festivals are particularly vibrant in central Malaysia, with much of the attention focused on Kuala Lumpur. Many visitors try to arrange their trip so that they will be in Malaysia capital city during at least one of the major festivals or holidays.


North Eastern Thailand

North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand

North Eastern Thailand is better known as Isan – also written as Isaan, Isarn, Issan, or Esarn. There are 19 provinces in Isan, but only a few receive interest from tourists, which is a shame as this is a great part of Thailand to relax, wander in nature and get to know the friendly and welcoming people.

Isan covers an area of 160,000 km and much of the land is given over the farms and paddy fields as agriculture is the main economic activity. The region of Isan has a strong, rich and individual culture. Examples of this can be found in the folk music, called mor lam, festivals, dress, temple architecture and general way of life.

The main regional dialect is Isan, which is actually much more similar to Lao than central Thai. Unfortunately, because the rainfall is often insufficient for crops to grow properly, Isan is the poorest region of Thailand, and many people leave the province to seek their fortunes in the bustling metropolis of Bangkok.

The average temperature range is from 30.2 C to 19.6 C. The highest temperature recorded was a sweltering 43.9 C, whilst the lowest was a freezing -1.4 C. Unlike most of Thailand, rainfall is unpredictable, but it mainly occurs during the rainy season, which takes place from May to October.

Although completely unique, Isan food has adopted elements of both Thai and Lao cuisines. Sticky rice is served with every meal and the food is much spicier than that of most of Thailand.

Popular dishes include:

som tam – extremely spicy and sour papaya salad
larb – fiery meat salad liberally laced with chilies
gai yang – grilled chicken
moo ping – pork satay sticks

Isan people are famous for their ability to eat whatever happens to be around, and lizards, snakes, frogs and fried insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, silkworms and dung beetles often form a part of their diet.

Both men and women traditionally wear sarongs; women’s sarong often have an embroidered border at the hem, whilst those of the men are chequered. Much of Thailand’s silk is produced in Isan, and the night markets at many of the small towns and villages are good places to find a bargain.

There is no major airport in Isan, but the State Railway of Thailand has two lines and both connect the region to Bangkok. This is also a good place to enter Laos via the Thanon Mitraphap (“Friendship Highway”), which was built by the United States to supply its military bases in the 1960s and 1970s. The Friendship Bridge – Saphan Mitraphap – forms the border crossing over the Mekong River on the outskirts of Nong Khai to the Laos capital of Vientiane.

Pursat, Cambodia

Pursat, Cambodia
Pursat, Cambodia
Pursat, Cambodia

This picturesque and peaceful town is a great place to unwind for a while and it serves as a base for those wishing to explore the stunningly beautiful Central Cardamoms Protected Forest. Pursat is also a transit point Battambang and Phnom Penh and this is a pretty place to pause and slow the pace a little as you travel between the two cities.

One of Pursat’s most famous features is its marble carvers, and visitors will have the chance to watch local craftsmen honing their skills in various workshops as they explore and it is even possible to purchase finished pieces to take home as gifts and souvenirs.

The floating village of Kompong Luong is a great place for a day trip. Situated on the mighty Tonle Sap Lake, this is a pretty place to explore and watch the fishermen at work. There are also a number of good restaurants here serving fresh fish and traditional Khmer dishes.
 
Another good day trip destination is Nhek Ta Khleang Moeung, where people travel to of worship the spirit of Nhek Ta and ask for his assistance. The site is situated 3 miles from Pursat and is a particularly pleasant walk.

Slightly further away, the sacred site of Baktra is also worth visiting. Climb the high hill for spectacular views of the area and see the pretty forest stream and natural wells. For an alternative way to see the countryside, take a trip on the traditional bamboo railway before returning to Pursat for a good meal in one of the local restaurants.

As you explore the area you will discover a number of pretty waterfalls, which are the perfect place to cool down after hiking in the heat of the day. In the evening, join the local people who gather in the small park near the bridge to enjoy the cool river breeze and relaxed atmosphere.

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Kanchanaburi is the largest of Thailand’s central provinces. Just two hours from Bangkok by bus or train, Kanchanaburi makes a great place for a day trip, although the stunning natural beauty of the area, combined with its intriguing turbulent history often entices people to stay for several days or even a few weeks.

There are two main towns in Kanchanaburi Province that are popular with visitors; Kanchanaburi city, which is the capital of Kanchanaburi Province, and the picturesque border town of Sangkhlaburi.

Located on the banks of the Kwae Noi, or River Kwai as it is popularly know to travelers, Kanchanaburi city is the home of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, which is visited each year by thousands of tourists from every country.

Surrounded by beautiful mountains, lush paddy fields and farms, there is no limit to what can be seen and done in this interesting region. A great way to view the countryside is to ride the Death Railway to Nam Tok. Once there, make sure you visit the Sai Yok National Park with its two Sai Yok waterfalls, the perfect way to cool down on a hot sunny day. Whilst in Sai Yok, check out the Mueang Sing historical park, where you will discover the ruins of a Khmer town and temple.

The spectacular seven-tiered Erawan waterfall, situated in the Erawan National Park must not be missed, and climbing the 1,500 feet to the very top offers incredible views out over the top of the jungle. It is easy to combine a visit to Erawan National Park with a trip to the nearby tiger temple of Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, where many tame tigers reside and roam freely under the watchful eye of the gentle monks who also live there.

Of course, Kanchanaburi is famous for its World War II POW camps, and visits to the JEATH War Museum and the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum are good places to find out the facts behind this sad period of history, whilst people can pay their respects at the Kanchanaburi War Cemeteries.

There is plenty for the adventurous to do and activities such as trekking, cave exploration, elephant riding and canoeing are all popular. Kanchanaburi’s roads are good and clearly sign posted, so a good way to spend a day or two is to hire a bicycle or a motorbike and drive off into the countryside.

It’s worth trying to time your trip to coincide with the River Khwae Bridge week, which is celebrated around November with sound and light shows at the Death Railway Bridge.

Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand

Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand
Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand

Nakhon Ratchasima Province was once part of the Khmer empire and was moved by King Narai between 1656-1688. Around 260 kilometres from Bangkok, travel to Nakhon Ratchasima is easy as it is connected with the northeastern railway line and the Nakhon Ratchasima Airport is 26km east of the city.

There are two main focal points for visitors to this province, the city of Nakhon Ratchasima and the picturesque town of Phimai.

The city of Nakhon Ratchasima is better known as Khorat or Korat. Korat is the capital of Nakhon Ratchasima Province, and there is a great deal to see and do and many opportunities to learn about the city’s interesting history.

A good place to start is the Maha Viravong National Museum, which contains good displays and countless well labeled artifacts. Another interesting site is the Thao Suranaree Monument, where you can see the revered Lady Mo statue.

A tour of the city will lead you to the city wall and unique Chumphon Gate, and don’t forget to look out for the l?k meuang (city pillar shrine).

Nakhon Ratchasima Province is famous for its pottery, and excellent examples of this can be seen decorating Wat Salaloi. Other interesting temples in this city include Wat Phra Narai Maharat and Wat Pa Salawan.

Nakhon Ratchasima is special in that it has two night bazaars, and both the Thanon Manat Night Bazaar and Wat Boon Night Bazaar and good places to do some shopping, have a cheap meal and do a little people watching.

One of the main attractions of this area is the magnificent Khao Yai National Park with its dense jungles, spectacular mountain views and famous waterfall.

Another great day trip is the Reclining Buddha Image at Wat Dhammachakra Sema Ram, just 40 kilometres south of Korat.

If you are in the area during March, make sure you time your trip to coincide with the Thao Suranari festival. Celebrated between March 22nd and April 3rd, the festival features parades, theatre and folk songs. 

Crosstown Traffic

Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic, BTS in Bangkok, Thailands
Cross Town Traffic, BTS in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic, MRT in Bangkok, Thailand
Cross Town Traffic, MRT in Bangkok, Thailand

“Don’t s**t yourself that’s the secret,” I’d never been on a motorbike taxi before and they were the words of advice my mate Chris had given me about riding on one. He said, “Most accidents happen when farangs get on the back and don’t know what’s going on. They panic and try to jump off when it gets a bit scary.”

At the time I was trying my best not to s**t myself. We were going the wrong way down a one way lane and a bus was coming towards us. The sheer terror was incalculable, I’m struggling for metaphors, it was like being on a motorbike heading straight for an oncoming bus. I covered my face with my hands, a few seconds later I uncovered my eyes and saw that we were ten feet (that’s about 3 meters for those of you from mainland Europe) away from colliding head on with the bus.
 
I made the sign of the cross and wondered weather to jump or not but the driver glided deftly to his left and slid through a gap about two feet wide (that’s about an inch and a half wider than your humble narrator for those of you from mainland Europe). The slipstream of the bus to my right and of the taxi to my left made the hairs on my arms face the wrong way.
 
When we got to my destination I paid the driver the prearranged sum of sixty baht although I genuinely felt like “tolchocking the brazny vesch in the litso real horrorshow for making me kaki my breshies which at the time were the heigth of fashion” (if you don’t understand that last little phrase try reading A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess although the diction gets the general sentiment across).
 
I’d always sworn never to get on a motorbike taxi, but that day matters were quite urgent, I had 20 minutes to get from Sukumvit to Thai Air’s offices on Silom to get my flight changed or loose it altogether. Once the panic was over and everything was sorted out I heaved a sigh of relief, reflected on the journey and thought how convenient that particular option had actually been.
 
The return journey to my hotel wasn’t that urgent, but I weighed up the other modes of transport available and actually opted for a motorbike again. This time, as I was relieved and happy to be staying in the kingdom for another week and not so petrified of the consequences having managed a successful maiden voyage, I actually enjoyed it. I sat back on the seat, lit a cigarette at some traffic lights, waved flirtatiously at a young lady in a taxi and regretted not having brought anything to read with me.
 
When I got back to base camp I pondered for a while over another facet of Bangkok that makes it so enchanting, there are just so many ways to get around in this great city. Here’s an outline of some of the different options available.
 
Walking

Pros

If you smell some nice food being cooked you can stop and try some.

Cons

Within a hundred yards you’ll have sweat accumulating in every nook and cranny of your body and within two or three you’ll need a change of clothes.

Dos

Wear something light and loose fitting.

Don’ts

Bother unless it’s journeys of less than a couple hundred yards or so.

Motorbike Taxi

Pros

They’re a very quick efficient way of getting from A to B, especially in heavy traffic. Can be exhilarating. Cons You may need a change of underwear. If you have back problems repeated motorbike journeys can aggravate them.

Do’s

Agree on a price before setting off, and get the driver to come down 10 to 20% on his opening price. Insist on wearing a helmet. Keep your knees tucked in.

Don’ts

Panic or wobble about.

Tuk Tuk

Pros

They’re a quaint entertaining way of travelling. They can cut through traffic, but not as well as motorbikes. They carry more than one passenger.

Cons

The drivers tend to have commission deals set up with tailors shops, bars, massage parlours, jewellery stores etc. and will constantly bother you to take a visit at no extra charge.

Do’s

Knock them down on their asking price.

Don’ts

Believe they can take everywhere in Bangkok for only 20 Baht!

Taxi

Pros

Taxi’s can be a nice comfortable way of getting around town. They’ve got aircon, are amply protected from the rain and have plenty of storage space for luggage and shopping. If three or four of you share the fare it can actually work out cheaper than the other modes of transport.

Cons

They sometimes have the aircon on too high and aren’t too good at cutting through traffic. The drivers have a habit of talking complete nonsense about how bad the traffic is, how little money they earn. If they hear you mention an English Premiership Football team they will furnish you with their intimate knowledge of the side ad nauseum. If they hear you speak even a single word of Thai they assume that you’re fluent and will speak freely and openly to you in their dialect despite your protestations that you only speak a little bit.

Do’s

Wear a seatbelt. Insist on them using the meter instead of letting them quote you a price.

Don’ts

Mention a Premiership Football team, especially one that’s doing well, or they will bore your socks off.

Bus

Pros

I’ll put my hand on my heart and admit to it I know next to nothing about the buses in Bangkok, so if you don’t like me personally their main “pro” is that you can be 100 % certain never to run into me on one of them, although apparently they’re very cheap. From what I can work out they are either air conditioned or non air conditioned and those who use them tell me they’re a good way of getting about and cover virtually the entire city. Cons They go head on at you when you’re on to the Thai airways office on Silom on a motorbike in an emergency and make you soil your breeches.

Do’s

Expect to be one of too many people jammed onto them and have to listen to very disconcerting engine noises. Find out from somebody how to go about using them.

Don’ts

Expect any help from me!

River Boats

Pros

Bangkok’s River Boats or River Taxis a very very cool way of getting about. They’re fast, cheap, exciting and offer some outstanding views of the city. Bangkok was known as the “Venice of Asia” because as recently as the 1980’s the best way to commute was by canal although recently most of them have been closed off because they became polluted although a couple of the main routes (Chao Prahaya and Klong Saem (sic)) are still used. A lot of people visiting Thailand form the west want to see the old Thai culture and travelling my river boat will give you that on old charming creaky timbered boats. The Chao Prahaya boat is pretty easy to use and is quite tourist friendly and there’s a pier at Banglampu near Khao Sarn Road and near Wat Po, Wat Arun and the Grand Palace.

Cons

The routes they travel are a bit limited and there is little tourist information on them, so unless you’re on the Cha Prahaya one ask somebody who knows, if you use them it may take a while before you know your way around. You might get a bit of water splashed on your face and have a bit of a nerve jangle getting on and off them but it’s part of the fun. If you don’t like me you’ve got the chance of running into me on one of them.

Do’s

Give them a whirl. Don’ts Fall into the river, or expect it to go without hitch, but you’re on holiday so what does it matter ?

SkyTrain

Pro’s

The Skytrain or BTS was opened on the Kings Birthday on December 1999 and was a real milestone in the development of Bangkok as a modern city. There are two lines which cross the majority of the city and intersect near Siam Square. It’s a fast, safe efficient way of crossing the city and can offer some pretty good cityscapes from above ground level. If you’re in a hurry through the business districts of town it can be the best way to travel.

Cons

It can be a bit overcrowded at time so expect the odd game of sardines and it can be a bit disorientating at times, a lot of people when they first start to use it have to ponder about which exit they take so expect a few wrong turns during your visit but it’s still a good way of getting about, oh and I got my pocket picked on there once but don’t let that put you off, everybody who knows me will tell you how unlucky I am.

Do’s

Give it a try, enjoy the views and zip through the congestion.

Don’ts

Get aggravated like I sometimes do at the dumb visitors who can’t work the ticket machines or the barriers.

Subway (MRT)

Pros

The Subway/MRT or “Mass Rapid Transport” system is the latest weapon in Bangkok’s artillery as it prepares to do battle for the title of number one 21st Century city. It opened in around 2003 and after a couple of false starts and hiccups it now runs quickly and efficiently across the city from Hua Lamphong (the Central Railway Station) to Chatuchak Market in the North and intersects at two or three places with the Skytrain.

Cons

The aircon is sometimes set a little bit too high so when it isn’t rush hour you can feel the cold and a lot of its stops are non tourist destinations. The map and ticketing systems at the stations are a little bit on the vague side if you don’t know your way round Bangkok.

Do’s

Give it a try.

Don’ts

Worry about it if you don’t give it a whirl, the views aren’t that spectacular with it being underground and anyway it’ll still be there when you come back.

Don’t fotget there’s no a Railway Link (Airport Link or SRT) that’s a good way to get around Bangkok.

CHEERS !

Chill Out in Cha-am

Cha-amIf its time to re-charge your batteries before the high season mayhem begins, then look no further than the all year round chilled out seaside resort town of Cha-am.

A favourite weekend destination for many Thai families, water sport enthusiasts, and myself, Cha-am, the No.1 beach resort of Pecthaburi province, is located 163km south of Bangkok. Getting there is as simple as a 113 Baht, 2hr bus ride from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal which will drop you beside the 6 km beach at Soi 1, Ruamchit Road, the heart of the town or if you’ve 4 hrs to spare and prefer the railway, then 40 Baht will find you a seat on the direct train to Cha-am which leaves from Bangkok’s Hua Lampong Railway Station daily at 09:25am; however, if you take the train, once arrived at Cha-am Railway Station, you’ll have to hop on a 20 Baht motorcycle taxi to ferry you down to the beach area located 2km away.

cha-am_1Dotted along the 6km Ruamchit Road running parallel to Cha-am Beach, visitors can find a variety of new and old accommodation to meet any budget ranging from guest houses and villas (Approx. 400-600Baht /per night depending upon facilities) to hotels and resorts (Approx. 1,500-upwards Baht per night).  Nevertheless, as Cha-am is one of the most popular weekend destinations for Thai’s, take note that availability becomes scarce and that prices are variable and do increase to quite high levels over the weekends and during Thai holidays, so to avoid disappointment, book or call in advance if visiting on a non-week day/Thai Holiday.

For the adventurous among you, besides the beach area Cha-am has several sights to see such as Muruk Khatayawan Palace (King Vajiravudh’s golden teak summer residence), Kaeng Krachan National Park & Dam (Thailand’s largest national park at 2,915sq.km), Khao Luang Cave (home to many Buddha images very strangely showered in sunlight from 2pm-3pm), Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace & Park ( King Mongkut’s summer palace), Phraram Rachanivet Palace (King Chulalongkorn’s rainy season palace) and Springfield Village Golf Spa.

At the beach, the usual array of water sports are available, with all vendors offering the same hire prices; Jet skiing 700 Bht/30mins, Banana Boat 200 Bht/per person and so on., but note that rates can change whether the beach is crowded or not, depending upon the day of the week. If you’re tired of lazing by the sea and prefer something a little less energetic than water sports, then hire a bicycle (seating 1, 2,3 even 4 people!) or a motorcycle and tour along the beach road and beyond or even take an idyllic pony trip along the beach as the sun sets. But before you leave the beach area, don’t miss out on tasting some of Cha-am’s fabulous seafood snacks served by wandering vendors.

Back along the main road, Cha-am is now home to a mix of Thai and European (particularly Scandinavian) restaurateurs and guesthouse owners.

However, unlike in other nearby popular areas such as Hua Hin, prices of food and drink are still great value. Delicious seafood, classic Thai and familiar western dishes are available to suit all tastes and large ice cold Heineken, Singha, and Chang.

My guests and diners usually tell me that Cha-am becomes like a home away from home for them, told me Jarle who together with his Thai wife Tukta and family run the perfectly located, sea facing Baan Thai Restaurant & Guesthouse. With 6 clean, well priced & furnished, self contained a/c rooms, a great Euro-Asian menu and never ending stock of ice cold beer, I was not surprised when Jarle told me that Baan Thai (www.ban-Thai.net) has been mentioned in LP.

So for those looking for a break from city life or beach loving brethren, this chilled out and peaceful home away from home is a great nearby seaside destination at which you can re-charge your batteries, hit the seafood and down a few cold ones without blowing a hole in you wallet. Enjoy.

And remember?

Keepitreal

Mahachai Station


Mahachai Station
Mahachai Station
Mahachai Station

This will never appear on any list of great railway journeys in the world which is a shame as it certainly offers a step back in time to when Bangkok and it’s environs was more aquatic than today. It’s a lovely old line with some wonderful scenery and a comic book feel that starts when you try and find the station in Bangkok. Wong Wien Yai is a big traffic circle with a statue of King Taksin in the middle. You have to scout around to find the station and be careful who you ask because many people are unaware of it’s existence. Basically the station is hidden down a narrow soi not far from a 7/11.

Trains are regular, approximately every hour and the tickets for the one hour run are 10 baht. The single track rattles through some of Thonburi’s western suburbs hemmed in by markets and houses. Past Wat Singh and we get more greenery. Ramshackle huts hug the klongs that criss cross the flat terrain while young kids fish and play around. Sam Yaek looks great, a wonderful place to get off and wander around and take the opportunity of recording this photogenic landscape. It’s a junction of 2 klongs with many bright flowers and brighter birds flashing by the rapidly moving train.

With Swiss style punctuality we arrive at a spot where double tracking allows the trains to pass and we are soon proceeding on our way. It’s a Saturday and I’m a little hung-over and appreciate the cool air through the open window. We pull into Mahachai station and come to a halt in a dark market that doubles as the railway station. Outside in the bright sunshine it’s a sea food lover’s delight as stalls sell all sort of stuff that had been happily minding their own business and few yards away the night before. Rickshaws and songthaew remind you that while Bangkok may only be an hour away your are pretty much up country here.

There is a river crossing where you can join the Mae Klang line but this is a less frequent run, four times a day and I had little time to wander the market and surrounding streets before heading back to the big city.

I’ve done the journey a couple of times now and enjoy it. You do feel you are being taken to another world yet one so close to Bangkok. The journey back is as uneventful as the outbound and I took the opportunity to look at my pictures. Each time I’ve done the trip I have never been the only farang (foreigner) on board so obviously people are hearing about this quaint little line.