Tag - river

A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 7

The return - (23/11/11)

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

When I arrived at Bang Sue station to take the train back to Salaya, it was a much livelier place than it had been two-weeks previously.  The ticket seller sold me a ticket for the 4.08 pm train without a moment’s hesitation.  As we reached the flood-zone on the western side of the Chao Phraya river, the water seemed to have receded slightly in places and the speed of the journey took me by surprise as I suddenly saw the Salaya sign and quickly scrambled off the train less than an hour after departing.  The water appeared slightly lower but the platform community seemed to have grown.  There were also a lot of people waiting for a train to Bangkok.  I was ushered into a wooden boat paddled by a young bare-chested man.  He negotiated the flood waters expertly with his single oar.

I paid him 20 baht and stepped onto the road at the bottom of the bridge.  There was a fleet of motor-bike taxis waiting at the bottom of the bridge in the shade of a tarpaulin roof on a metal frame.   I walked with my bag to Pitchaya Apartments and found Tu and Ter, Ter’s mother, brother and a friend.  They offered me some dinner and I gave Tu the cigarettes she’d ordered from Bangkok. 

I popped in to see U and Pui at the coffee shop.  Their plank walkway was well above the water and I was offered a tot of whiskey. U informed me that my soi was dry.  Their latest estimate was that the water would be down to near-normal levels in about seven days.  As I walked home, I noticed that the roadside dwellers had a few smoky fires lit on the grass verge and guessed they were to fend off the invasive mosquitoes.  As I continued down the traffic-free road followed by some curious dogs, I passed two or three small snakes, their light-coloured bellies squashed on the tarmac.  A man with a torch was cruising the edges of the flood water with a trident-spear.

I arrived at my soi and was relieved to see that U was right and that my soi was dry and dusty with the sediment of the vanished waters.  My front yard was a mess with the debris of the receded water.  My bin on the wall was still full, my plants sat up there too, looking like I’d abandoned them during a drought and  when I opened my fridge it gave off a nauseous odour.  But all-in-all, I could only reflect that I had got off very very lightly .. this year.

Paul Wilson is a some time actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist.

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Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 6

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya
Salaya to Bangkok by train (10/11/11)


When I checked the water level at my doorstep, it had receded another centimeter.  I packed my bag for a trip to Bangkok by train.  As I splashed up the soi, one of my neighbour’s, Yui, informed me that she and a couple of other residents were also going to Bangkok by train and that a train was due to leave Salaya station at 2pm.  I thanked her for the information and said I would see her on the platform. 

The 20-baht boat ride from the bridge over khlong Maha Sawat was paddled by an out-of-work office worker.  As we made our way slowly past flooded houses and store-fronts and through trees to the station, she told me that a large crocodile had been spotted further down the flooded railway track.  When I arrived at the station, only the two platforms were above the floodwater. The right hand side platform was a bustling community with the flooded market as a backdrop. There were food sellers, the odd pick-up, tents and tarpaulins accommodating families and dogs as well as a few would-be passengers all sheltering from the afternoon sun.  I was greeted by my neighbours from the soi and was offered a place in the shade.  I was informed that the train was not due to arrive until about 4pm so I had plenty of time to wander up and down the platforms.  I bought some food and drink though there was no drinking water to be found.  I was generously offered whisky as well as a ‘boxing’ by some of the men.  
The train finally arrived making its way slowly through the water covering the track.  People loaded their bags and there was plenty of available space on the wooden bench seats.  I found a spot next to a window facing the front of the train.  We pulled out of the station and were on our way to Bangkok, normally an hour’s journey.
The spray from the wheels of the train gave the impression of being on a boat.  The train made its way gingerly along the submerged tracks.  Birds with striking white V’s swooped down low over the water.  The train slowed to go through slightly deeper water.  A man, chest deep, was coaxing some hens out of a tree.  Some washing was strung on a pole, but the bottoms of the garments were dangling in the water. Two telephone boxes stood three-quarters full.  At the next station, a couple of dozen cars were lined up on the platform, two or three of them having been converted into not-so-temporary homes.  On the opposite platform there was a row of motorbikes.  Some small boats were waiting for passengers from the train.  We passed a big walled estate with nobody home.  At a raised level-crossing, there were stacks of garbage accumulating.  Two majestic herons flapped low against the setting sun, inspecting the damage done.    A shouted salutation from the train startled a man in the water.  Over a dozen people were perched on a stack of girders and scaffolding eating dinner.  Two men on an ice-berg of foam were doing the same as the sun sank lower.  A shouted “Su su” from the train directed at no one in particular was followed by the creepy sound of rattling corrugated iron walls protesting against each other as the wave from the train swept through long-abandoned workers’ hovels.  On an unused siding, a community of tents and wigwams had developed.  A little further, a family was cooking dinner under a canvas awning outside a big house.
Some people were gathered on the steps of an empty up-market condo.  The doors were locked and there was washing hanging from the ground floor window bars.  A small bamboo raft loaded with two big bottles of water and some other provisions was being pushed along.  A woman, being rowed in a small boat, filmed the passing nine-carriage train.  An ‘Everglades’ boat manned by the army was waiting for the train to pass, the officer in charge sitting contentedly up high.  A teenager belly-flopped into the green water as the train floated past a dead-end bridge loaded with bull-dozers and other heavy works vehicles.  We passed a a solitary sentinel spirit house standing defiantly atop its shortened pole.  The full moon low in the east watched malignantly as a man almost up to his neck made his way trying to keep a small plastic bag and bottle of M150 valiantly above water.  The train slowed down as we approached Taling Chan junction, which was under renovation and home to many.  The floodwaters were pink and black in the sunset as we passed homes of blue and white plastic tarpaulin.
The glow of a charcoal burner under a canvas roof silhouetted a group of children with their sparklers.  There was a startling bang from the train as someone let off a firework, joining in the Loy Kratong celebrations.  Suddenly there was a new sound; the clack clack of the train as it found dry tracks.  Crickets joined in as we approached the overflowed Chao Phraya.  There was a welcoming fire-works display, red and yellow, above some buildings not too far away.  The train swayed as it passed a dry level-crossing and dry roads.  The mosquitoes were out in force as we arrived at Bang Sue, where an hour and a half after leaving Salaya I alighted the train.

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Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 5

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Bangkok – Salaya by lorry (7/11/11)

After three days in a mainly dry Bangkok, I went to Bang Sue train station to find out about trains to Salaya.  The train station was so deserted I was slightly surprised to see two ticket sellers at the ticket counter.  I asked about trains to Salaya, but was informed that there were floods there and therefore no trains.  As I had previously been told that it was possible to go to Salaya by train I decided to persist and told the man at the counter that I knew that Salaya was flooded but that I wanted to go there anyway.  He curtly informed me that there would be a train leaving at 9 o’clock the following morning.

About an hour later, I received a call from Chai.  He told me that a lorry would be leaving Bangkok at 3pm for Salaya.

There were only about a half-dozen of us waiting for the flat-bed truck to depart.  There were boxes of provisions such as soft-drinks already on board. At the last moment, two boats were loaded, taking up nearly half the available space.  However, there was still enough room for everyone to have their own white, plastic chair to sit on.  We left Bangkok on the lorry at just after 5pm.  When we reached the floods it was already dark and the flood waters had a more sinister veneer.  We picked up and dropped off several small groups of waders, laden with bags of groceries, who loomed into view on their way back to their homes. On this return journey in the dark, I did not feel any of the excitement or euphoria I’d felt three days previously going the opposite way.  Perhaps this was partly because I was voluntarily going back to a flood zone and felt a little trepidation and foolhardiness. The other passengers also seemed subdued and there was not much chatter as everyone tried to make themselves comfortable in the limited space.  We arrived in Salaya after about three hours.

I found Tu and gave her the cigarettes she’d ordered.  M was there and informed me that at the Royal Gems Resort and Golf Club, not two kilometers away, a 2.5 metre crocodile had been found in a flooded building.  I popped in to see U and Pui.  U offered me a whisky and then showed me his infected foot.  It was an ugly sight; most of the sole of his foot was covered in angry red spots. He said he’d got the infection from the flood water and the day before he’d been unable to walk.  Today was his second day of anti-biotics and he was feeling a lot better.  The water level had gone down slightly.  They told me that on the TV they said the water would go down in two weeks, but that that really means a month. 

I cycled home and found the flood water at my doorstep had dropped by one or two centimeters.

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Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 4

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Lorry trip from Salaya to Bangkok (4/11/11)

I popped in to the coffee shop on my way to the pickup place for the lorry to Bangkok.  I asked what ‘ROFE’ written in ink on the cling film of one of the loaves meant.  It quickly became clear that it meant ‘loaf’.  On another was written ‘Made by Italian chef’. While I was drinking my coffee, a customer came in and remarked on the ‘bang mii’ on sale.  She bought a couple of the small buns.  I arrived at the pickup place by 8 am, the agreed time.  Five hours later, it arrived stacked full of stuff and not a few people.  I climbed up and made a place for myself amongst the people, bags and other paraphernalia being transported to Bangkok. 

We turned left in front of Mahidol University and passed the flooded market and a boarded up 7-11 with a broken window.  A dog stood forlorn on a dry patio.  We went over a bridge, part of a network of circular flyovers which was full of cars and red and yellow municipal trucks, ranging from dustcarts to fire engines patiently waiting.  People were being picked up in ones and twos until I was perched on the top of the stack of bags.  We made our way slowly through the floodwaters in the scorching dry heat. 

There was a man sleeping on a foam mat on the roof of a car, itself perched on tyres in a so far successful attempt to keep the engine above water in the limited shade of a roadside tree.  A lone person with a plastic bag sat on a bus stop bench, feet above water.  A trials biker valiantly negotiated the flood, his bike fully loaded.  There were trucks full of people going the opposite way.  At one point I saw a modern townhouse estate partly underwater with workers still building though it was unclear if they were building the complex or flood barriers.

It was starting to get uncomfortably hot on the top of the lorry with no hope of finding any shade.  Everyone wrapped themselves up in long clothes, hats and scarves.  On the right, three young guys were spotted on a float hitching a ride behind a lorry.  We overtook a man wading through the water pulling a cockerel along perched on a black inflated ring.  Seven young men casually pushed a car on a wooden raft.  On the opposite side of the road a boat with a huge fan motor on the back like in the Everglades droned past.  “Bao bao!” shouted a man from the side of the street for the lorry to slow down as it passed his ‘riverside’ dwelling.  Some people filmed us on their phones as we passed by.  There was some friendly banter from sellers in their flooded shop houses and we were even serenaded by a man sitting on his pickup tail gate.   At one point I saw a man casting his fishing net in the middle of a three-lane highway.  A lorry going in the other direction was stacked high with three or four different types of boat.  Cars were triple parked on both sides of a flyover bridge and then I saw my first moving public bus in while; a red 189 ploughing its route through the flood. There were occasionally lots of shouted instructions to the driver as passengers were picked up or dropped off.

All of a sudden, there was a pleasant breeze as we picked up speed on a dry patch.  I saw sand bags being filled but also people picking vegetables in a roadside field.  It was an unexpected relief not to be able to see water for the first time in weeks.  We started dropping off more people than we picked up.  Now we had to hold onto our hats as we were going fast for the first time since leaving two hours before.  There was quite a lot of traffic and when we came up to a traffic light that was working it seemed strange to think how quickly normal things can become quite alien. 

When we arrived in Bangkok, the remaining passengers and I got off.  I asked what time the lorry would be going back to Salaya the next day.  This was met with some derision as the ‘pilot’, who had been directing operations from the top of the lorry just behind the cab, while shaking my hand, asked me where I was from and reminded me that they had just brought me from Salaya where there was flooding.  When they realized I was being serious, they explained that they were in fact headed to Uttaradit and wouldn’t be going back to Salaya until Monday.  Chai, who seemed to be officially in charge, and I swapped phone numbers and it looked like I would have to extend my stay in Bangkok by a couple of days.

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Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 3

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Bread Day – (3/11/11)

Today was the day I decided not to watch any more news on TV.   After a banana breakfast, I attempted to clean my front yard as there was a worrying amount of small flies accumulating.  I didn’t have any water proof boots so decided to use black plastic bin liners instead.  I put my plants that were on my doorstep, or still in water in the yard, onto the chest-high walls on either side of the yard.  I also put the black bin there too.  So my front step, which is the width of the house, was now empty except for one-storey of sand bags.  I got a hard-brush with a long handle and started to push the dark green sediment slowly out into the soi.  I swept and mopped the front step.  When I took the plastic bin liners off I discovered that they were not as water-proof as I had thought.  After showering, I received a call from Paolo.  He called to say he had successfully baked 11 loaves and some rolls.  I decided to have a second, more substantial breakfast in preparation for the day ahead.  I heated some baked beans and threw in some leftover rice, my anemic pet gecko giving disapproving looks.  While my food was digesting, I jotted down the sounds I could hear from my kitchen.

A passing helicopter
The splutter of a boat’s engine
Distant voices
The boat revs up then fades
As it passes down the klong
Relative peace now
Birds chirruping
The hum of a water pump
The voices and birds barely distinguishable
A scratching on the roof
A bird or a squirrel
A water bird trilling
I made it through my gate without having to put my foot down.  I decided not to stop at U and Pui’s semi-submerged coffee shop as I felt time was pressing.  I left the bike at Pitchaya apartments and saw Tu and a guy at the entrance to the apartment complex selling bottles of water, coke and ice under a big umbrella.  I went to have a chat.  Tu suggested I wait with them in the shade for a lorry.  I suggested we swapped flip-flops as mine rubbed my feet.  She kindly obliged.  I got bored of waiting for a truck and decided to head off on foot.  After five minutes, I arrived at the bridge over klong Maha Sawat.  I arrived at the top of the bridge in time to see a fisherman fire his catapult spear down into the klong below.  His line being pulled in different directions as the fish tried desperately to get away; there was little chance.  As the fish was pulled up from the water, the 10 inch spear dangled on the end of the line having cleanly gone through its body just below its head.  A friend of the fisherman threaded the spear back through the fish and the fish was dropped onto the hot tarmac of the road to flap about in desperation.  I crossed the bridge to the awaiting flood water.  I was hailed by a gaggle of people with boats.  They were offering me a ride through the flood water over the railway to Mahidol University, about 500 metres away.  The price was 10 baht; someone suggested 100.  I got in the designated boat and was pulled along by Ming, a 13-year old school girl who wasn’t at school because it was closed.  I felt a bit uncomfortable sitting in the boat like a mandarin and urged Ming to get in so that we could paddle.  She refused as it was easier to pull the boat than to row it.  In no time, I was at some metal steps up the sandbag wall outside the Mahidol entrance.  I took the dry long-cut through the Mahidol campus.  I rejoined the flooded road in front of the university further up but used the sand bag wall alongside the flooded road as a footpath and made it nearly all the way to Big C without having to go in the water.  I passed the Tesco Lotus, closed because of staff shortages.  I went into Big C but discovered that they’d obviously not had a delivery since I was last there two days ago.  I bought some cream.

I went into the water and got my shorts wet for the first time that day.  I waded towards Poalo’s, passing the Mahidol Arts Faculty on my left, and a bit further up the Royal Thai Navy School with the guard in full uniform inside his sandbagged kiosk.  Four navy cadets were playing in the water, showing off to four girls who were sitting in the floodwater.  “Pai nai?”  I am asked a bit further along the Salaya – Nakhon Chai Si road.  “Durn len” I reply, using one of my stock responses, which hit the target.  On the right was an outside depot of flood goods.  I popped in to see if the price of a boat had come down.  5,500 baht, so the price hadn’t changed.  As I turned to leave I heard ‘4,000 baht’ and was informed that another type of boat was 4,000 baht.  Unfortunately, it was made of metal and weighed 30 kilos which would be too heavy to carry over dry patches alone.

I passed the Ministry of Culture on the left.  The last two hundred metres of the trip were the deepest at chest-level and I was glad to get to Paolo’s restaurant at Rangsee Place without being attacked again.

Paolo poured me a glass of beer while I had a quick shower and put on some dry clothes.  I took my beer into the kitchen of the restaurant and Paolo proudly showed me his bread. It smelt and tasted delicious.  He explained that it had cost him about 300 baht (not including his time) to bake the 7 kilosish of bread.  There were 11 huge loaves weighing almost 700 grammes each as well as eight small buns.  He reckoned the big loaves would cost about 100 baht at a supermarket.  I paid him 500 baht for the lot, though we both agreed we weren’t in it for the money.  Paolo cut one of the loaves in half and then cling filmed all the loaves. I had another beer but said I’d better not stay too long as I didn’t want to get too drunk.  Paolo informed me that it was the last of the beer anyway.  I insisted he keep one of the loaves and we packed some of the bread into my bag and the rest I had to carry in a black plastic bag.

I retreated into the water very carefully as I didn’t want to slip and waterlog the bread and started my journey back home.  Paolo had revised up my previous estimate of the distance and I now realized that I had to cradle the bread above the water line for seven kilometres and not the five I had previously guesstimated.
I hoisted my two bags of precious cargo above the water and felt relieved to get through the initial part of the journey without slipping and the bread still dry. 

I passed the Navy College on the right and then the Faculty of Arts.  I negotiated a couple of fast flowing tributaries and was happy to reach the sandbag wall just after Big C on the right with the bread still safe.  This was the half-way point, or at least psychologically, as I knew that there was a real possibility of not having to go into the water again until I reached my flooded soi. At a bus stop I encountered a couple of women eating.  I offered them one of the two half-loaves.  They were appreciative though one of them did ask if there was anything inside it.  They offered me a couple of bottles of water which I declined.  A hundred metres later, I was at the gas bottle shop and dug out the other half loaf to give to the woman there.  I stepped down into the Mahidol University campus and started along the long-cut.  Immediately, a young guy on a motorbike offered me a lift.  This was much appreciated as it was hot and the bags were getting heavier.  When we got to the exit with the sandbag wall truck pick-up/drop-off point, I delved into my bag looking for a roll to give him.  He waved me away saying he had plenty to eat and then he was off.

I felt greatly encouraged when I realized there was a fire engine about to depart that was going to turn right.  So, without having to wait on the grassy knoll, I was transferred to the fire-engine and clambered up the ladder on the side of the truck.  I got off at the bridge-cum-car park and walked towards Pitchaya Apartments where the school is.  I passed the boat-makers on the left side of the road welding metal panels to the boat frames.  Just ahead on the same side of the road was the closed post-office whose grounds were now home to some families.  When I arrived at the Pitchaya complex, I encountered one of the municipal workers who was camping out in front of the school and gave him a loaf.  He suggested to the security guard that they could share it.  I popped in to see if Tu or any of the gang was about.  I gave a loaf to Ter’s mother. Ter, Ter’s mother, M and one of the cleaners all immediately tasted it and agreed it was delicious.

I retrieved my bike and pedaled to the coffee shop down the road.  I gave U a loaf of bread and then suggested he might like to buy some of the remaining loaves to sell in his coffee shop.  He asked how much I was selling them for.  I told him 70 baht a loaf.  He immediately agreed to buy the remaining five loaves that he could see in the black plastic bag.  I fished around for the buns and pulled out five which I sold to him for ten baht each.  He telephoned Pui who came along and paid me the 400 baht.  I had a can of Leo and after the mandatory tot of whisky I was on my way.  I arrived at my soi and bumped into Thip and her housemate who were out for a stroll in their wellies.  I showed off the bread and told them I’d leave them some on their gate.  I stopped at Oum’s and gave her a loaf.  She gave me a lime that she explained I should use to ward off snakes from my house.  Safely home, I checked the contents of my bags.  There were three small rolls left.  I put two in a small bag and paddled opposite to hang them on their gate.

I came back home and went upstairs to fetch the peanut butter.

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Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 2

A month in the floods of Salaya
A month in the floods of Salaya

Notes from the Flood Zone – (1/11/11)

“One month we’ve been waiting for the water” Thip, a neighbor, said as she stood at my gate in her short black wellies in three inches of water.  I was on my doorstep not venturing to put my feet into the perturbingly murky water stagnating in my yard.  Thip then informed me in her near perfect English that there was a possibility they might cut the electricity and water.  We agreed that that would probably be the time to evacuate.  “Anyway,” she said “they will give us two days’ notice.”  My next-door neighbor came out and started sweeping out the floating muck from her front yard which then flowed into mine.  Thip pointed out that I had some mushrooms, indicating a floating stick with some fungus growing on it.  I thought that sweeping the muck out of my front yard could be a sensible thing to do, but maybe not today.

That morning, I had woken up at 7 am in my friend Paolo’s Italian restaurant, Mamma Mia at Rangsee Place on Nakorn Chaisi Road about five kilometers or so from my house.  I felt a bit rough because Paolo had insisted the night before that I drink as much of his keg of beer as possible as it wouldn’t keep much longer.  As soon as I opened my eyes, I inspected my feet which to my relief were not swollen as I had been convinced they were before falling asleep a few hours previously.  This paranoia had been mostly due to the sting or bite I had received from an unidentified water creature while I was wading to the restaurant the previous day but also possibly partly fuelled by the beer.  Mario was already up too, and Paolo made the three of us coffee.  We surveyed the water level around the restaurant and apartment complex island. The level, although high, was not as high as I’d feared it might have been.  Two of the three pumps were working to get rid of the shallow water in the car park and out into the street-cum-canal on the other side of the wall of sandbags.  It was a beautiful morning and it was clear that it was going to be another hot day with clear blue skies.  The usual circular discussion ensued about water levels and whether they would rise or not and for how much longer the water would stay.  As Paolo needed a new gas bottle for the restaurant the plan was that Mario, who was staying at Rangsee Place, and I would leave together with the empty gas bottle by boat.  I was hoping we would take the biggest boat so that we could sit in it and not have to wade through the chest high water on the road in front of the restaurant, especially after my incident the previous afternoon.   My hopes rose as we were allotted the biggest of the three boats, well two really, because the wooden one had obviously seen better days and did not look ‘road’-worthy.  However, my hopes of a dry trip were dashed as the bottle, the size of a small man, took up nearly all the place in the boat, meaning Mario and I had no option but to wade through the water guiding the boat along.

There was little traffic, by which I mean boats and waders.   The going was quite smooth and the bottle reclined magisterially in the bottom of the boat with its neck propped up on the back seat as if to better admire the view. The water became less-deep after a short-while.  We had some bemused looks and some lovely smiles too as we pushed the boat along. A bit further, the canal became very shallow and the road re-emerged for a couple of hundred metres. 

We parked the boat at high and dry Sabai Boutique Apartments where I was relieved to find an ATM that wasn’t flooded and was still working.  We met a guy who lived nearby.  He said he was living on the second floor as his ground floor was flooded.  He also casually mentioned that he’d seen a crocodile that morning and hunters had shot it, which perhaps explained the loud bangs we’d heard earlier at breakfast.  It wasn’t really what we had wanted to hear, though the man explained that there was no danger of there being any crocodiles where we were going and reassured us that any snakes would only be small ones and not big.  When he enquired about a meal at Mamma Mia’s, I generously agreed that he could eat for free, but then forgot his name and didn’t inform Paolo of his unwitting generosity.  We left the boat and bottle attached to a lamppost and continued unencumbered towards the gas-bottle shop.  We thought that perhaps they might have a car or truck big enough to come through the flood waters to pick up the empty gas bottle.  After 200 metres, the road dived back into the flood waters again and we continued through water up to our thighs.  There was a Big C so I went in to see what, if any, food they had left. 

There was lots of instant coffee, whitening cream and shampoo, but nothing that could sustain anyone for very long.  I rang Oum, a neighbor, anyway to see if she might like some sauce or such like: “Mii kanom bang mai?” she enquired. “Mai mii.” was pretty much the extent of our conversation.  I thought I should pass her over to the lecturer of criminology who I’d just met wandering between the bare shelves, but apparently their conversation was as equally straightforward.  I bought some nuts, a chocolate bar and some instant coffee as well as some shampoo, and though my skin was turning an alarming shade of red, forwent the whitening cream.  Mario and I carried on through the flow. 

There were people paddling small boats, sometimes metal, sometimes plastic.  Some boats were being pulled and some had engines though these were rare.  People were being pulled on rafts made from bottles, big black inflatable rings, or even tubs.  Some people were evidently on their way out of the flood zone as they were carrying their most precious or essential belongings; clothes, dogs and the ubiquitous electric fans.  People were floating their dogs along in plastic containers. 

Plastic boats were being sold for 5,500 baht or more.  People hitched rides on the big trucks which came past occasionally trying not to send tidal waves over the sandbag flood barriers on the right-hand side of the road.  Some people were playing in the water.  Sometimes, at a junction or soi entrance on the left, the water flowed quite strongly into the main thoroughfare.  A few men were fishing with trident-like spears at one point where the flow of water cascaded down a short waterfall.  We watched for a while and though we spied a couple of fish, we didn’t see a catch.

We finally found the relatively dry gas-bottle shop on the right-hand side behind the sandbag wall which doubled as a pathway for people who preferred to try and stay out of the water.  The woman who ran the place with her husband said that it would be impossible for them to collect the bottle as the water was too high.  Her eyes lit up as I handed her my shopping.  As Mario pointed out, she had evidently misunderstood my explanation; I was handing her my stuff to look after while we went back to fetch the boat and bottle.  After clearing up the misunderstanding,
Mario and I started to make our way back to Sabai Boutique Apartments.

We soon stopped at a street restaurant and had a quick meal sat at a table in ankle-deep water.  We then continued along and then happened upon a higher som tum restaurant with healthy looking vegetables on display.  We quickly agreed to stop and have some more food.  We asked to use the toilet but ended up washing our hands in the kitchen instead. 

We stopped to watch the trident-fishermen again, and this time we witnessed a catch.  The fish looked like it came from the sea; it was by Mario’s estimation about 5 kilos which he later upgraded to possibly 10.  (It was later explained to me that this fish had probably escaped from a local temple). By now, the sun had reached its zenith and I was worried about getting too sun burnt.  We got back to the boat and took out the gas bottle, rolled it down the dry part of the road to the wet, then went back to fetch the boat.  We carried the boat over the dry stretch of road, put the bottle back in the boat and carried on to the gas-bottle shop. 

The empty bottle was exchanged for a full one and Mario paid the woman the 940 baht Paolo had given him.  I think she was impressed with our efforts as she gave him a discount.  The new bottle loaded into the boat, we turned around and went back the way we had come.  The current was in our favour.  A few people seemed slightly amused to see us passing by for a fourth time.

When we got to the dry part, we stopped and decided to wait for a big orange lorry that was coming our way.  The lorry had a huge winch which the driver expertly manouevred and with the help of a rope hauled the bottle upright and onto the back of the truck.  Mario and I passed the boat up to the people on the back of the lorry and Mario climbed in the cab.  As my help was no longer needed, I bid Mario farewell, thanked the lorry people, turned around and started off in the opposite direction home.

I stopped off at Tesco Lotus as it was open.  It had slightly more food options than Big C.  A bit further along, I took a long-cut through Mahidol University which had been kept dry by a huge wall of sandbags and came out at the exit opposite the Salaya – Bang Len road, the road to my soi.  On the sandbag wall some people had organized an official looking pick-up/drop-off point for people.  I was kindly offered a boat to sit in for the three metres to the waiting truck.  As soon as I had climbed aboard, the lorry pulled away and we passed the flooded police station on the right.  We made our way slowly down to the railway crossing, which although raised, was under shin deep water.  After the lorry had climbed like an amphibian up onto the bridge over the flooded khlong Maha Sawat, everyone disembarked onto the dry road.  I crossed the bridge and made my way on foot.  At Pitchaya apartments, I saw Tu, the manager, outside her office with a couple of guys hauling packs of bottled water.  I told her that I’d slept at Mamma Mia’s and she urged me to go and check my house as she thought it would be flooded after the previous night’s surge.  I picked up my bike and then stopped off a hundred metres down the road to have a coffee at my usual place.  They filled me in on the latest news.  There was another customer in the shop who summed things up by saying nobody knew what was really going to happen because they never tell the truth on TV.  I suggested that it was sometimes stressful, sometimes boring and sometimes sanook.  They agreed that it was sanook.

I rode the short distance to my soi wondering how much worse the flooding in my soi was going to be compared to 24 hours before.  To my relief, the water level had not risen too much and was now about 3 cms deep at my doorstep.

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Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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A Month in the Floods of Salaya – Part 1


A month in the floods of Salaya

A month in the floods of Salaya
Sand bags - (end Oct ‘11)


There had been a continuous crawl of traffic along the Salaya to Bang Len main road for about a week.  Pickups packed with families, their possessions and pets, the usual volume of 10-wheel trucks but also trucks carrying cars out of the flood zone from further up north. 

I walked home past the traffic jam going the other way and as I entered my soi I could sense an atmosphere I’d never felt before.  There were more people out in the street than usual and it was clear something was afoot.  A neighbour came over and explained that they had had an hour’s warning from the police that the flooding was coming.  Before long, a lorry delivered a huge pile of sand.  There was a frenzy of activity as everyone helped fill sandbags and cart them off to their front steps.  A car’s headlights were used to light up the scene as the sun had already gone down.  The mosquitoes were voracious, relentlessly attacking our legs.  After the pile of sand had been devoured, inspecting my now blistered hands and rubbing my sore back, I watched a police car approach slowly.  I did not know the hierarchy of the soi, and perhaps neither did they, but they pointed out that some people had higher levels of sand bags than others.  What is more, some houses, whose owners had the misfortune of not being present, had none. 


An hour later, there was no sign of water coming up through the drains as had been feared.

A few days later, though, water appeared at the bottom of the soi nearest the klong, which is just the other side of the wall at the end of the soi.  Each day, a nervous eye was kept on the size of this puddle.  Some neighbours built knee-high walls in front of their homes. The water, silently, slowly, almost imperceptibly, spread up the sides of the soi, obeying the camber of the road.  I had images of the future, when I would be looking at higher and higher reference points to judge how much the water had risen.

As the days progressed, the traffic jam on the main road became more desperate with more and more families and lorries crawling along.  Some families decided to go no further and simply stopped and set up camp on the grass by the side of the road creating ‘Grapes of Wrath’ type images with homes made from corrugated iron, pieces of tarpaulin or advertising banners, albeit with an opposite foe. 

Back in my soi, the water had crept into my front yard.  To gauge the pace of its advance, I decided to retreat my potted plants away from the water, nearer my doorstep a tile at a time.  Alarmingly, I found myself moving the line of plants more and more frequently until after just a few hours they were sitting on my front step, a penultimate line of resistance in front of the sandbags.  As the water then continued to rise up the step, I thought I’d better take some hitherto neglected emergency measures.  I started boiling water and filling buckets and moved some of my remaining stuff upstairs.   I stocked up on black bin liners as possible substitutes for the toilet. 

My neighbouring sois were not so lucky; they already had substantially more flooding.  To get to my local grocery store two sois away, for example, I had to wade through knee deep water.  The shop was slightly elevated and they had built a low wall, so for the moment they could still operate in relative dryness.  Lots of the residents from canal-side homes were evacuating to higher ground, pushing boats laden with their possessions and children.
I decided to offer space in my dry house to people less fortunate.  I offered a place to stay to some people sitting despondently on the side of the road.  My offer was declined as they said they were waiting to get picked up.  I tried down by the klong, where the exodus of people had gathered together and were already forming systems for food and sleeping.  A lot of families had chosen a huge metal platform with a roof but no walls which sat just above the canal.  Others had occupied an unfinished, two-storey indoor market also without walls adjacent to the canal.  I offered my house to different old couples or people with young children.  They all politely declined my offer explaining that they preferred to stay with their community and that they had free food and toilet facilities.
The next day, a neighbor came to my gate in her black rubber boots shouting frantically.  By the tone of her voice, I imagined we were on a two-minute warning to get out.  I grabbed a bag and shoved in some things.  I rushed out of the house as her shouts seemed to be becoming more agitated.

We got to the end of the soi nearest the main road when I realized I hadn’t needed to bring my bag.  My help was required to help unload a delivery of sandbags to build a wall at a part of the soi which had no wall to stop over-flowing water from the huge pond behind the houses opposite mine coming into the soi.

A short time later, I noticed that there was a buzz of activity at the other end of the dead-end soi by the 6 foot wall.  One or two teenagers had climbed over and were in the waist deep water on the other side.  As the plan became apparent, I volunteered to join them, thinking that being in the water might be a good option in the intense heat.  We started feeling around in the unclear water for submerged sandbags, which had evidently been overwhelmed in their previous job of protecting a wooden canal-side home half under water.  When we had retrieved a couple of sandbags each and hauled them up to people on the wall, a big plastic boat was passed over the wall from the soi.  Thus, we were able to load the sandbags, made heavier by the water, into the boat and then when the boat was full pull it to the wall.  The hardest part was then to pass these sodden, dripping weights up a small ladder and onto the top of the wall where people passed them down onto the bed of a pickup.  It was back-breaking work, but at least we could take pauses lounging in the cool murky water. 

After unloading each boatful, we had to turn the boat over to empty it of water and sand. Underfoot, one’s feet first felt the vegetation and squidgy mud of the small bank from the wall to a small canal side lane, then the comforting feel of tarmac.  We then used our feet to feel for sandbags.  When a sandbag was located, you then felt down with your hand to locate the open end of the sandbag to pull on.  As the locals seemed at ease in the dubiously coloured water and even sometimes dived under, I tried not to think of snakes, crocodiles or water-borne diseases, and tried to keep my head above water.  When, finally, it was deemed that enough bags had been pulled out of the water, we climbed back over the wall. 

It was not until later that evening when us ‘sandbag divers’ were being treated to a meal in one of the neighbour’s houses that I learned that a one and a half metre crocodile had in fact been spotted in the floodwaters on the other side of the canal earlier that day.

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Paul Wilson is a sometime actor, stand-up comedian and cartoonist. Visit Paul's Top Man Tone Facebook Page...

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Melaka, Malaysia

Melaka, MalaysiaThe city of Melaka is a great place to pause for a while on the trip through Central Malaysia, and this traditional city is often referred to as the ‘soul of the nation’, as many people see it as summing up exactly what Malaysia is all about. Of course, there are a large number of large and impressive mosques here, while visiting the vibrant local market places is the perfect way to gain an insight into local life as well as doing a spot of shopping along the way.

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.

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An Introduction to Cambodia

Introduction to Cambodia

Introduction to Cambodia

Introduction to Cambodia
In spite of decades of suffering, persecution and poverty, the people of Cambodia love to laugh and you are sure to receive a warm welcome wherever you wander through this charming country. The Kingdom of Cambodia covers 181,035 square kilometres and bordered by Thailand to the west, Laos in the north, Vietnam in the east and the Gulf of Thailand in the south.

Most people travel to Cambodia to visit the magnificent Angkor Wat, located near the bustling town of Siem Reap. One of the seven wonders of the world, Angkor Wat is just one in a number of enchanting ancient temples in this area, while the capital city of Phnom Penh also has plenty to offer visitors.

Although this richly diverse nation is bordered on virtually all sides, there are still some pretty islands and beaches to explore in Cambodia, such as the beach resort of Sihanoukville and the nearby islands in Ream National Park. The mighty Mekong River flows through Cambodia from Laos to Vietnam and is a great way to travel through the country.

Cambodia’s natural beauty makes it a great place for trekking and there are plenty of dense jungles, unspoilt forests and paddy fields to explore, while the Cardamom and Elephant Mountain Ranges provide a spectacular backdrop.

Subsistence farming is the main occupation of this impoverished nation, and most people live in stilted huts in small village communities. Although the majority of people (about 95%) are Khmer, there are also about twenty different hill tribes, each with their own unique culture, believes and style of dress.

The official language of Cambodia is Khmer and it is spoken by most people, while some people also speak French, Laos and Vietnamese, especially near the country borders. Although many people speak English in tourist areas and you will often be approached by people who want to practice their English, it is a good idea to learn a few basic phrases in Khmer.

Buddhism is the main religion in Cambodia, with about 90% of the population following either Therevada or Hinayana Buddhism. Worship is an important part of Khmer life and you will find a large number of temples scattered around Cambodia, although a large percentage were destroyed during the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia really comes alive during the numerous festivals and public holidays, and it is idea to time your trip to coincide with one of these festivals as the streets are filled with singing and dancing and people put on their best clothes and biggest smiles.
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Southern Laos

Southern LaosThis 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…)
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Northern Laos

Northern Laos

Northern Laos
With lush forests, high plateaus, sparkling waterfalls, caves, mountains and rice fields, northern Laos is intensely beautiful. This area of Laos is very diverse and offers travellers a range of different experiences. Although travelling through this region is challenging, the rewards are significant and a warm welcome awaits those who venture off the tourist trail to explore the villages and small towns scattered throughout northern Laos.

This is where you will find the mysterious Plain of Jars, the enormous stone containers that cover the landscape. This is the perfect place to go trekking, especially around Luang Namtha and Phongsaly, while the Gibbon Experience offers visitors a rare opportunity to view these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.
This region of Laos is home to many of the hilltop tribes, each with their own unique styles of dress, culture and belief systems. Exploring northern Laos provides to opportunity to get to know a little about this interesting people and discover traditional village life.

Although this area has only been open to tourist for around 10 years, there are already a number of vibrant tourist hangouts in northern Laos. Top of the list is Vang Vieng, where travellers can indulge on Western food, explore the caves and float down the river in a large rubber tube. The nearby temple town of Luang Prabang is also particularly tourist friendly and there is plenty to see and do here.

Adventure sports are popular in northern Laos and this is a good place for white water rafting, hiking, cycling, rock climbing and a number of other activities. Simply walking through the countryside is a great way to spend a day or two as the scenery is always striking and many surprises await the adventurous.

The mighty Mekong River flows through northern Laos and into Thailand. A good way to continue exploring is to take a slow boat from Luang Prabang along the river into Thailand. The journey offers spectacular views of Laos and the chance to stay in the pretty village of Pakbeng along the way.

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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.

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Kuching, Malaysia

Kuching, MalaysiaThose who love cities won’t be disappointed by Kuching, which offers a wide range of amenities as well as plenty of interesting things to see and do.

One of the most enchanting activities here involves wandering along the banks of the gently flowing Sarawak River. A large number of interesting buildings can be found close to the river, including historical houses, shops and temples, and one of the highlights here is the large and lovely Fort Margherita, which was constructed by Charles Brooke in 1879 as a tribute to his beloved wife Rani Margaret. A number of ferries also offer to take visitors across the river for a few Ringgit, and this is a great way to view the area.

Those who want to relax and unwind for a while can spend time wandering in the picturesque gardens of Kuchin, which can be found in abundance. Those who enjoy temple hopping will also be in their element here, and one of the most enchanting places of worship here is the Hong Saan Temple, while culture vultures will want to make sure that they check out the Sarawak Museum and Islamic Museum.

Stargazers can pay a visit to Kuchin’s Planetarium, which was the first ever to be built in Malaysia, while those who like to shop until they drop will want to check out the wide range of goodies that can be found at the weekend market, which is known locally as Pasar Minggu.
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Bintulu, Malaysia

Bintulu, MalaysiaThe pretty coastal town of Bintulu is a good place to visit to witness the traditional Malay way of life. Although the town is only beginning to market itself as a tourist destination, it has plenty to offer tourists such as colourful Chinese temples, fishing villages and lively bars.

Most people simply pass through Bintulu’s bus station on the way to surrounding attractions such as Niah National Park and Miri. However, those who do decide to stop for a day or two will discover a warm and welcoming atmosphere and homely touches that make any visit to Bintulu memorable.

Bintulu originated as a fishing village with few old Chinese shop houses.  Head to the fishing village known as Jepak, which is situated on the banks of the Kemena River near Bintulu town centre. There are a number of good restaurants here serving fresh fish and traditional Malay dishes.

A great way to explore Bintulu is by taking the express boat to surrounding areas such as Sebauh, Tubau and Labang. Walking is also a good way to get around and see the sights. Visit the local markets of Pasar Utama and Pasar Tamu Bintulu to sample local delicacies such as shrimp paste known as belachan and cincaluk.

Pasar Malam is a good place to eat, and this daily market serves everything from burgers to fried bread and savoury pork buns. This is also a good place to pick up a bargain or two and particularly popular are handbags, jeans and alcohol.

There are a number of interesting temples to explore, such as the Muslim Masjid Assyakirin and Chinese Kuan Ying Yong Temple, which features an interesting rock garden and waterfall. Christianity is represented by the St. Thomas Anglican church, Methodist Church and St. Anthony Catholic church, which are all located near the Kuan Ying Yong Temple.

Head to Tanjung Batu beach to soak up the sun, while the Taman Tumbina zoo is a great place for jungle trekking. Climb to the top of the hill inside the zoo compound for spectacular views of the South China Sea.

The Similajau National Park features a pretty stretch of golden sand, and a great way to end the day is by taking a stroll along the Bintulu Prominade as the sun sets.
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Beaufort, Malaysia

Beaufort, MalaysiaA great place to spend the night while passing through Eastern Malaysia, the town of Beaufort is just waiting to be explored. This is a great destination to just wader through aimlessly, as pretty wooden shop houses and other buildings can be found at every twist and turn and the town’s sleepy atmosphere gives it a rather enchanting feel.

Those who enjoy taking place in adventure sports will be able to try their hands at white water rafting on the Pandas River, which is just a short trip away. This river is not for the faint of heart however, as it varies between Grade Three and Grade Four, and those who dare to paddle a kayak along the nine kilometre run will have seven rapids to negotiate.

Other good ways of seeing all that the area has to offer include taking a train ride through the countryside and a cruise on Klias River. Dinner cruises can also be arranged and this is the perfect way to see the area’s wildlife in style and comfort whilst dining on delicious Malaysian dishes.

Another popular attraction near Beaufort is Pulau Tiga Marine Park. Situated on one of Malaysia’s most picturesque and interesting islands, the first season of the reality-TV series Survivor was shot here. This area of diverse natural beauty features mud volcanoes and sea snakes.

The train ride that takes passengers along the Padas River Gorge to the traditional village of Tenom is particularly pretty, and this makes an excellent daytrip activity for those who have the time to spare, while visitors who travel here on Friday evening will be able to dine in style at the weekly night market.

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Tha Khaek, Laos

Tha Khaek, Laos
Tha Khaek, Laos
Tha Khaek, Laos
Tha Khaek, Laos
With a name that means "Guest landing" in the Lao language, visitors to Tha Khaek can be sure of receiving a warm welcome. This pretty town has managed to retain its unique feel and identity, making it a great place to visit to discover more about the traditional Lao spirit and way of life.

The village can be reached easily by crossing the Mekong by boat from the town of Nakhon Phanom in Thailand and the village receives a large number of travelers making their way across the border. Many people gather on the banks of the river to eat and drink and for the good views of Thailand that can be seen.

Walking around Tha Kaek is a rewarding experience as surprises wait around every corner. Explore the network of narrow lanes and you will soon come across the large open market, where it is literally eat or be eaten. Almost every type of animal seems to be on the menu here including snakes, squirrels, bats and frogs.

A good way to explore this interesting area is to hire a bicycle or moped and simply cycle away. The roads are not too bad around Tha Khaek and you can follow route 13 to the east and then cycle back up and around, returning to Tha Kheak on route 12.

There are many things to see and do along the way. One good stopping point is the Tham Nong Pafa cave, also known as Buddha cave, or you can continue further along the trail and you will come to Aen Cave.Many people visit this are in order to explore Konglor Cave, where you can take a boat ride along the 5 mile river that flows through the cave. 

Lush scenery surrounds Tha Khaek and as you cycle you will pass by paddy fields, dense jungle and fields full of rich brown or dark red earth.

If you need to cool down, pay a visit to Tha Falang, which is a swimming area in the river. Splash around here for a while before following the river to the small cave known as a Tham Xiengliab. 

There are a good variety of restaurants located along the river when it’s time to eat. Another lively eating spot is at the market, and amongst the assortment of crispy fried wildlife you will also find more familiar treats such as pancakes and stuffed French baguettes.

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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.

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Savannakhet, Laos

Savannakhet, Laos
Savannakhet, Laos
Savannakhet, Laos
Located in the southern section of Laos, Savannakhet province is bordered by both Thailand in the west and Vietnam in the east. Many travellers pass this way on their way in or out of Thailand as the Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge spans the mighty Mekong River, connecting Savannakhet with Mukdahan in Thailand.

Another way to reach the town is by boat from northern Lao areas such as Vientiane and Tha Khaek or from Pakse in the south. Travelling through Laos by boat can be very relaxing and a great way to see the countryside at a leisurely pace.

The name Savannakhet means ‘city of paradise’ in the Laos language and this is Laos’ second-largest city. This is a good place to pause for a while as the town has a lot to offer tourists and there are a good number of guesthouses, hotels and restaurants serving international food. You will also find plenty of Asian delights such as curries and spicy salads from Thailand and Vietnamese noodles.

Savannakhet’s close proximity to Thailand and Vietnam means that you will discover a number of different styles as you explore. Take a look around the city’s old Vietnamese temples, French colonial quarters and Buddhists temples. Among the most popular temples are Wat Inghang and Wat Xayaphoum, while the large Catholic church provides an interesting contrast.

If you are interested in the history of this unique area, take a day trip to Heuanehine or Stone House. This rocky house was designed by the Kham people and is thought by many to be one of the most important and interesting sites in the province. The house was built somewhere between 553 and 700 AD and contains a collection of Khmer artwork.er important site is the That Phon stupa, which was built around the same time as the Stone House. Unlike most of the religious shrines and temples in Laos, this stupa is Hindu in origin and dedicated to Phra Shiva and other Hindu deities.

Before you leave Savannakhet, drop by the Dinosaur Exhibition Hall in the town of Khanthabouly at the heart of the province. Here you will find a collection of dinosaur remains that were discovered by an intrepid French scientist in the 1930s. This is one of the few collections of dinosaur remains in Laos and they make an interesting break from exploring the country’s temples and jungles.

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Khong Island, Laos

Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island
Also known as Don Khong, Khong Island is located right in the south of Laos near the Cambodian border. Part of the 4000 islands that comprise the Sii Pan Don area, this is an area of intense natural beauty.

The pace of life is slow on Khong Island and this is a great place to relax and unwind. Although not a lot of travellers make it this far south there are still a good range of hotels and guesthouses here and many visitors are tempted to extend their stay as they become seduced by the gentle pace of life.

The 12 mile long island is home to a stunning collection of flora and fauna and for the patient it is possible to spot the rare Irrawaddy dolphins playing in the Mekong River. A good way to spend a day is trekking to the the Khonephapheng waterfall, which is one of the largest falls in Southeast Asia.

Another pleasant activity is to hire a boat and simply sail away. Many villages are located on the banks of the river such as Muang Saen village and this is a good way to visit these villages and meet the friendly people that live there.

There are a number of pretty temples and monasteries to explore on Khong Island, among them Wat Phu Khao Kaew, where the monks who stay there are welcoming and happy to answer questions.

Palm sugar production is big business on Khong Island due to the large number of palm trees. As you wander around the island you will be able to watch to sugar being harvested for the palm trees and women boiling it in huge metal pans. When the palm sugar is cool it hardens and tastes a lot like fudge. The palm sugar is delicious either eaten on its own or added to tea or coffee and makes a great souvenir.

The evenings are quiet on Khong Island. Sit by the river and watch the sun set through the palm trees. Many people gather at the night market, and this is a good place to swap gossip, do some shopping and find a good meal.

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Sayabouri, Laos

Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Also known as Sainyabuli, this pretty province is situated in the northwest of Laos, to the west of the Mekong River. Surrounded by limestone mountains, rice fields and forests, this is a great place to explore the countryside and experience the traditional Lao way of life.

Most travellers overlook Sayabouri on their way to nearby Luang Prabang and Vientiane, but peaceful Sayabouri is a great place to relax and discover the natural beauty of the areas such and waterfalls, caves and forests.

As you wander around Sayabouri you will discover a large number of pretty temples to explore, and Wat Ban Thin, Wat Ban Phapoun and Wat Ban Natonoy are probably the largest and most popular.

A great day trip destination is the Nam Phoun National Biodiversity Conservation Area. This enormous forest contains a large number of high peaks and climbing to the top provides excellent views of the region. The conservation area is also home to a large number of animals such as the Asiatic black bear, elephant, gibbon, Malayan sun bear and Sumatran rhino.

The people of Laos have been using elephants in the forestry industry for centuries and Sayabouri is one of the few places where you can still see this practice in action, which makes a refreshing change from viewing the mighty beast from behind bars.

A good time to visit Sayabouri is during the annual elephant festival, which is held over two or three days in the middle of February by the Lao PDR National Tourism Authority to encourage the use of elephants in tourism-related activities. There are around 200 elephants in Sayabouri and during  the festival more than fifty of them take part in a procession through the town. The festival is a vibrant affair with much drinking, dancing, fireworks and boat races.

More than 10,000 people travel from all over Laos to take part in the elephant festival and this is a great time to see Laos people at their best as they dress in traditional costumes, share food and drink.

Although Sayabouri is much quieter the rest of the year you will find a warm welcome whenever you arrive and there are some interesting places to sleep and eat.

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Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane, Laos
Vientiane feels more like a large village than a capital city. Pigs and cattle ramble aimlessly beside the slowly flowing river, watched over by women chatting and washing clothes. Pavements are a futuristic concept as are cinemas, shopping malls, fast food and most other types of entertainment.

Yet for many travellers this is the perfect Asian city; there is plenty to see and do here and yet the city has an approachable, unassuming feel.

Pha That Luang is the symbol of Laos and this huge, unusually shaped gold stupa is definitely worth a visit. In the Laotian language, Pha That Luang means Great Scared Stupa. The most prominent part of the temple is a 45 meter tall central tower, surrounded by 30 smaller stupas. The stupas are covered with gold leaf and shimmer brilliantly in the sunlight.

Nearby the temple is the Sok Pa Luang Forest Temple. Here you will find a sauna and massage room in a traditional wooden two-story house, where robed monks relieve your my weary muscles as you relax and listen to the gentle sounds of wind chimes, birds, cicada beetles and breath in the scent of jasmine and lemongrass.

On the way to Pha That Luang you will probably pass the Patuxai, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Climb to the top of this 7th century gateway for a great view of the city. 

Not to be missed is the very unusual Buddha Park or Xieng Khuan, which is situated on the outskirts of the city. Here you will find a large garden full of weird and wonderful Hindu and Buddhist sculptures which need to be seen to be believed.

Vientiane has a huge collection of interesting buildings and temples in a range of styles and a great way to explore is simply by walking. Take a stroll along the river and you will view a interesting collection of buildings from across the road, then simply follow the shining golden roves to find the elaborately decorated temples.

This is a great place to satisfy your craving for Western food as there are a large number of excellent restaurants offering a range of international food, especially in the area near the river. You will even find restaurants serving gourmet French food, and this is the perfect time to indulge. For those looking for cheap traditional food, a number of small carts set up trade on the bank of the river in the evening.

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Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng, Laos
Vang Vieng, Laos
Vang Vieng, Laos
The chilled out traveller’s hot spot of Vang Vieng is situated 120 miles from Vientiane. The journey takes just three of four hours by bus, while it is 150 miles to Luang Prabang. The best way to get around this picturesque village is to walk or hire a bicycle, but mopeds are also available for rent.

The tranquil atmosphere of Vang Vieng is very addictive. The landscape is incredibly serene and picturesque; beyond the sparkling river sheer limestone cliffs rise from a plateau of paddy fields. The river is spanned by a number of wooden bridges, which despite their flimsy appearance compliment the scenery perfectly.

Vang Vieng is a real haven for travellers and you will find a great assortment of cheap guesthouses dotted around the village. Many westerners arrive here and never leave, setting up their own bars and guesthouses alongside the many others owned by Lao people.

Chilling out is the main activity in Vang Vieng. Restaurants show Friends reruns throughout the day and night and there is plenty of good food and drink to go with it. International food is popular here and most restaurants offer a selection of backpack favourites such as pizza, pasta and spicy curry.

Walking through the scenic landscape is also popular and there are some other beautiful caves to explore on the far side of the river. Alternatively, if you fancy something a bit more energetic, why not hire an inner tube and float away down the river? Other popular activities in and around 
Vang Vieng include rafting, trekking and bicycle and motorbike trips.

Many of the families that live in Vang Vieng are self-sufficient and have chickens clucking in the garden in front of the house. As you explore the picturesque dusty lanes you will find puppies running around and fluffy yellow chicks cheep in the long grass, watched over by their clucking mother.

If you are feeling adventurous, take a walk through the village to the Vang Vieng Resort which is a large, picturesque garden with a large cable bridge spanning the river. At the far end of the park is the impressive cave of Tham Jang. Climb the 147 steps for enchanting views of the surrounding countryside and sparkling rocks inside. In the evening, sit beside the river and watch the sun slip behind the horizon with a beer or two.

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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.

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Luang Namtha, Laos

Luang Namtha, Laos
Luang Namtha, Laos
Luang Namtha, Laos
Bordered by both China and Myanmar, Luang Namtha province is situated to the north of Laos and is home to 39 of the country’s ethnic groups. This is a good place to pause before making your way into China as the Chinese-Lao border crossing is located nearby at Boten and connects Laos with Mohan in China. Visitors to Luang Namtha will notice some similarities between the local culture and that of China, and those familiar with Laos will enjoy making comparisons between this province and the rest of the country.

This region is famous for its stunningly beautiful rainforest and unspoilt monsoon forest and no visit to Luang Namtha would be completed without a trip to the Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area. There are plenty of animals to spot here including tigers, bears, clouded leopard, and gibbons as well as a large collection of colourful birds and reptiles.

Luang Namtha is a good place to rest and relax and immerse yourself in the beauty of the area. Walking is a good way to explore and there are several villages where you can stay for a day or two and simply explore or relax by the river and listen to the wind in the trees.

The town of Luang Nam Tha is a good place to stay and you will find plenty of basic places to stay and evening entertainment at the night market. Surrounded by a pretty patchwork of rich rice paddy fields, this is a great place to stop for a day or two and get learn about the diversely different tribes that live in the villages nearby. The town sits on a hilly area and provides great views of the surrounding countryside.

A popular activity around Luang Namtha is trekking. There are a number of experienced guides available and embarking on a trek with a qualified guide can be a rewarding experience as they can provide an insight into the unique culture of the region and make can provide access to the many villages and villagers themselves.

Tranquil and picturesque, the town of Muang Xing has a great collection of friendly guesthouses where you are sure to receive a warm welcome and a good meal. This is a good place to arrange trekking and hiking trips and to meet fellow travellers to share a beer or two in the evening and swap stories with.

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Bokeo, Laos

Bokeo, Laos
Bokeo, Laos
Bokeo, Laos
The name Bokeo means ‘gem mine’ in the Laos language, and this small province is famous for its sparkling sapphires. Situated to the northwest of Laos near Thailand and Myanmar, this is Laos’ smallest province.

Most people travel to Bokeo to visit the Bokeo Nature Reserve, which is managed by The Gibbon Experience. Visitors to the reserve have the unique opportunity to stay in tree-top accommodation and observe the beautiful black crested gibbons in one of their last remaining habitats in the world. Visitors can also trek through the forest along the picturesque Nam Nga River.

Bokeo is home to 34 of Laos’ ethnic groups, with the largest being the Akha. These ethnic groups each follow their own individual traditional cultural practices. There are more than 450 villages in Bokeo to explore and trekking through the countryside can be a very rewarding experience.

Take a walk to the Chomkao Manilat temple and climb the steep flight of steps to the very top witness stunning panoramic views over Houy Xay city, the Mekong River and surrounding mountains and countryside.

Also known as ‘the Land of Sapphires’, panning for gold and mining precious stones is still a profitable job in Bokeo and you can witness this and perhaps pick up a bargain or two in the picturesque village of Ban Nam Khok.

A boat trip is a very relaxing and pretty way to explore Bokeo and it easy to arrange trips upstream from Houixay, stopping off at traditional villages such as Ban Namkeung Kout, Ban Namkeung Mai and Ban Done Deng on the way through the province.

The people of Bokeo are warm and welcoming and you are sure to be well received wherever you go. In the evening, head to the local markets for a good meal and some light banter with the people who work there.

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Sittwe, Burma

Sittwe, Burma
Sittwe, Burma
Sittwe, Burma
This pretty port in Rakhine State is located at the mouth of the Kaladan River. Those who have already spent some time travelling through Myanmar will notice that clothes tend to be brighter and food spicier here.

One of the focal points of Sittwe is the Atulamarazein Pyilonechanthar Payagyi, which is a large pagoda with a decorated Buddha statue inside. For those interested in Buddhism, the town’s Buddhist Museum is worth visiting.

There are some pretty places to visit around Sittwe. Take a boat trip and explore the three islands located nearby such as Bayonga Island where you will find a community of fishermen and coconut farmers.

Most people travel to Sittwe in order to visit the ancient temples at Mrauk-U. Take a boat trip about 50 miles along the Kaladan River and you will discover an impressive collection of more than 150 antique places of worship. Mrauk-U was a very affluent city between1430 to 1784 and the area was home to a number of kings, Japanese samurai and a fleet of 10,000 ships.

Mrauk-U’s riches were based on the fact that it was a successful trade city, with a large canal network running through it. The people of Mrauk-U traded with a number of nations including Holland, Portugal, Spain and the Middle East.

One of the charms of Mrauk-U is that despite being famous for its history the area is still a focal point for daily life. As you explore you will see shepherds leading their flocks and people cooking by camp fire. There are a number of interesting temples to explore such as the Shittthaung Pagodas, Ananda Sandra Pillar, Andaw Thein temple, Yadanarpon temple, Dukkanthein, Koe Thaung Pagodas, Pitakataik, and the Five Victory Pagodas.

Many people start their tour of Mrauk-U with a visit to the Royal Palace, which was built in 1430 and has largely been destroyed by the ravishes of time. Better preserved is the Shitthaung Pagoda, which was commissioned by King Minbin in 1535 and is intricately designed.

The best time to visit this area is in the middle of May when the pagoda festival is held. This area really comes alive during this festival, with traditional song and dance performances and the retelling of ancient legends.

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Bago, Burma

Bago, Burma
Bago, Burma
Bago, Burma
Situated some 50 miles to the north of Yangon, the pretty town of Bago is one of Myanmar’s leading attractions and a great place to spend a little time. Also known as Pegu, the town is home to a large collection of sacred Buddha images, making it one of the country’s holiest sites.

Many people simply pass by Bago on their way to Mandalay, but those who take the time to stop and look around will come across many unique features. Here you will find literally thousands of Buddha images in carved niches in a rocky cavern and an interesting array of pagodas, temples and other buildings.

The site of Bago was founded in 573 AD by two Mon princes and paid an important role in the history of both Mon land and Myanmar before being destroyed by the Burmese King Alaungpaya in 1757. Although only a few buildings remain as testimony to this interesting period of history, those that do are worth taking the time to investigate.

Bago has a number of large pagodas, of which the Shwemawdaw or Golden Shrine is the most sacred as it is believed to contain a couple of hairs belonging to the Gautama Buddha. As you explore the town you will discover the Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha statue and the impressive Kalyani Sima or Hall of Ordination.

There are a number of interesting places to explore on the outskirts of Bago. Just 40 miles to the east is one of Myanmar’s most prominent landmarks. Also know as Golden Rock, the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is a 5.5 meter high pagoda atop a large bolder covered with gold leaf. What makes this site so unusual is that the bolder is balanced on the very edge of a precipice and looks as though it will topple over the edge at any moment.

Bago is situated between the forested Pegu Mountains to the west and the Sittang River to the east. Surrounded by picturesque paddy fields, this is a good area to explore to get a real feel for Myanmar. There are number of places to get a bite to eat around Bagan and a couple of cosy places to stay.

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Bagan, Burma

Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Also sometimes spelt Pagan, the Bagan plain contains a collection of more than 4,000 ancient temples and is an impressive sight, even if you’re not particularly interested in old buildings or have already feeling ‘templed out’. One of Myanmar’s most significant historical sites, the best time to visit Bagan is around sunrise or sunset.

Although the collection of pagodas and temples at Bagan is still very impressive, their number once totaled around 13,000, and they were built in the years between 1044-1287 before finally being abandoned when Kublai Khan invaded the area from China and people literally ran to the hills.

Although the detailed carvings on each pagoda and temple make them all special in their own way, the most highly revered temple is considered to be Ananda, which was built by King Kyan-zit-tha in 1091. The main feature of the temple is the four large Buddhas, which represent the first four holy men to have achieved enlightenment.

Another great temple to visit is the Thatbyinnyu Temple, which is Bagan’s highest point and provides spectacular views of the entire area, while the Shwegugyi Temple was built in 1311 and is decorated with especially attractive carvings. Also worth looking out for is the Gawdawpalin Temple, which despite some damage during the 1975 earthquake is still very impressive.

There are quite a few decent places to stay in Bagan as well as restaurants, markets and surrounding beauty, making this a great place to spend a day or two while you explore slowly. While you’re here, check out Bagan’s interesting museum and lacquerware workshops.

For a fresh perspective and excellent views, take a hot air balloon ride over the Bagan Plain at sunset. This is a truly memorable experience and provides the opportunity to take some fantastic photographs.

Bagan is situated on the banks of the Ayerwaddy River, and sunset cruise on the river is a relaxing experience, while you can also be driven around the area in a horse cart or hire a bicycle and peddle around.

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Types of Transport in Burma

Types of Transport in Burma
Types of Transport in Burma
Types of Transport in Burma
Although a lot of Myanmar is off limits to foreigners, there are still plenty of areas to visit and you are free to explore the towns and villages within these areas.

Plane
There are more than sixty airstrips located within Myanmar and this is by far the easiest way to travel. There are four domestic airlines, although many people prefer to avoid Myanma Airlines as it is run by the government. The three private airlines are Air Bagan, Air Mandalay and Yangon Airways. One-way tickets need to be bought at least a day in advance and are cheaper at travel agencies than airline offices. Unfortunately, flights tend to be irregular and the safety record is not the best, so it might be better to consider other options.

Boat
There is an extensive river network running through Myanmar and travelling by boat is by far the best way to see the country. The service between Mandalay and Bagan is particularly popular with travellers and you can choose between the ferry or speedboat service. Boats can sail along the Irrawaddy River even in the dry season and places such as Bhamo and Myitkyina are easy to get to, while Yangon can be reached via the Twante Canal. However, boat trips can only be arranged as part of an organized tour group, which limits your options and the journey takes a lot longer than by road or air. 

Bus
Bus travel is cheap and the buses run regularly, making this a convenient form of transport. While it is better to avoid the old, crowded buses, the newer long distance buses are quite comfortable. The older buses break down frequently and are often delayed by several hours. Try to buy you ticket in advance to snag a good seat. Bus fares are priced in Kyat and can sometimes be bought from guesthouses as well as the chaotic bus station. The front of the bus is always the best as the back is usually crowded and uncomfortable.

Train
Myanmar Railways is owned by the government and it is best to avoid travelling by train. In addition, foreigners are forced to pay at least six times the standard fare, and train travel is slow and quite dangerous as the trains regularly derail.

Car and Motorcycle
Although it is possible to hire a car or motorbike in places such as Mandalay, International Driving Licences and British licences are not accepted and you must apply for a Myanmar licence at the Department for Road Transport and Administration in Yangon first. 

Around Town
Local transport options include bicycle rickshaws or trishaws known as sai-kaa, horse carts -myint hlei - ancient taxis and modern Japanese pick-up trucks. Fares are negotiable and it is essential to agree on the fee before getting in. 

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Pailin, Cambodia

Pailin, Cambodia
pailin_4
A good place to stop off on the way into Thailand, Pailin is a pretty town famous for its precious gems. Although most people simply pass through this dusty town on their way to Cambodia’s larger towns and cities, those who do take the time to stop for a while will find cool waters, picturesque villages and a warm welcome.

There are a number of interesting temples to explore in and around Pailin. Wat Phnom Yat was built in 1922 from Sham migrants travelling from Myanmar and has a unique style. Climb to the top of this temple for excellent views over the town and surrounding countryside. Nearby is Wat Rattanak Sopoan, which is intricately decorated with the legend of the churning of the ocean of milk from Hindu mythology.

Pailin is a great place to explore. However, there are a number of unexploded landmines in the area and it is best to hire a guide, especially if you plan to head into the nature and wildlife preserves of Kbal O Chra and Steng Kuy. Just outside Pailin is the spectacular Phnom Kiev Waterfall, which is a great place to swim and relax.

The houses in Pailin are made of wooden and set atop wooden stilts to protect them in case the river should flood. They are mostly inhabited by the Kola people, who originate from Myanmar. Most people still follow their traditional cultural practices and beliefs and can be seen wearing colourful traditional clothes. This is a good time to discover this unique culture and witness local weaving and woodwork skills.

For those who know a lot about gems, this is a good place to pick up a bargain, although make sure you take the time to sort through the gems carefully to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

Despite its slightly sleepy feel, there is plenty to do in Pailin in the evening. Regular movies are show at the open air cinema, and many people gather to try their luck in the town’s casino. There are also a number of places to eat and it is possible to find a selection of international dishes, although local cuisine is cheap and very tasty.
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