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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.

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.

Kubah National Park, Malaysia

Kubah National Park, Malaysia
Kubah National Park, Malaysia

Situated just on the outskirts of Kuching, Kubah National Park is the perfect daytrip destinations and not to be missed by nature lovers. The park covers an area of 22 square kilometres and is covered by pretty sandstone hills and lush forests.

A number of well-worn walking trails led the way through Kubah National Park, and visitors who follow these will be able to reach stunning natural features such as caves and sparkling waterfalls, while the rainforest is full of plants such as colourful orchids. The trails that lead the way through the park are easy to navigate for those who like to explore independently, while visitors who want to learn more about the park can hire a guide for a small fee.

One of the most enchanting natural features here is Gunug Serapi, which is the highest mountain in this part of the world. Visitors can follow a trail that leads to the very summit of this mighty mountain, which offers simply stunning views of the entire park from is lofty vantage point. Walking through the rainforest can be rather humid at times, and it is also possible to follow the Waterfall Trail to a sparkling cascade of water where visitors are invited to take a dip to cool off.

Follow the Ulu Rayu Trail to the Matang Wildlife Centre. This area of the park features a number of pretty rock pools and waterfalls as well as animals such as crocodiles and hornbills. This is the perfect spot for a picnic, and visitors can also make use of the barbecue pits located at Matang Wildlife Centre.

It is impossible to see everything that Kubah National Park offers in one day. Luckily, it is possible to sleep over in one of the self-catering forest lodges and a hostel. There is also plenty of comfortable accommodation in nearby Kuching, and this is a good option for those who don’t fancy fending for themselves.

Xieng Khouang, Laos

Xieng Khouang, Laos
Xieng Khouang, Laos
Xieng Khouang, Laos

Situated in the northeast of Laos, the enchanting province of Xieng Khouang is a popular stop on the trail through Laos. This is a great place to go trekking as the landscape is infinitely interesting; with broad ochre hills, and the eucalypts and pine plantations, the mountains of Hua Phah and lush valleys. The climate is quite cool and this is also a good place to escape the heat of southern Laos.

Most people come to Xieng Khouang province to visit the Plain of Jars, where hundreds of stone jars are scattered across the landscape. Carved from solid rock, these enormous jars are more than 2500 years old, and are an impressive sight. Although legends tell that the jars were used to ferment wine in the sixth century, nobody is really certain of their origins and another theory is that they were tombs for the people who died in battle. The Plain of Jars is also known as Thong Hai Hin and one of the highlights of Laos as it is entirely unique.
After a hard day of exploring, soothe aching muscles with a dip in the hot springs. There are two hot springs in the area, Bo Noi and Bo Yai, which reach temperatures of around 60?C, are set in a beautiful forest and the perfect place to relax and unwind.

The capital of Xieng Khouang is Muang Khun, and this is a great place to spend the night and explore. Here you will find some interesting temple ruins as well as the complete Wat Pia Wat. As you wander around the city you will find a number of good restaurants and places to stay.

The town of Muang Khun features both night a day markets, which are large and lively. People travel to the market from all over the province to sell their wares, swap stories and do some shopping. This is a good place to buy a cheap meal and indulge in some people watching as you witness Lao life unfold around you.

Oudomsay, Laos

Oudomsay, Laos
Oudomsay, Laos
Oudomsay, Laos

Also known as Oudomxay or Oudômxa, this pretty province in the northwest of Laos was created in 1976 and is a good place to stop for a break if you are travelling between the temple town of Luang Prabang and Phonsaly or Sayabouri.

This is an area of intense natural beauty and the ideal place for trekking and to explore the neighbouring ethnic villages. Adventure sports such as rock climbing and rafting are popular here, while this is also a good place for cycling and bird watching.

Oudomsay is located close to the Chinese border and you will find an interesting mix of cultures as you wander through the province. There are 23 different ethnic minority groups living within the province, all with their own unique belief systems, customs, food and styles of dress.

A great way to spend a day is by trekking the 8 miles to the very pretty waterfall of Tad Lak Sip Et. Explore the Muong La District of Oudomsay and you will find an interesting range of temples, villages and hot spring located deep in the jungle.

One of Oudomsay’s main attractions is the Saymoungkhoune Rattana Stupa. This towering white stupa is a sacred spot and a great place to visit if you’re walking through the surrounding countryside. For spectacular views of the countryside, climb to the top of Phouxay Mountain. Gaze out at a rich vista of paddy fields, jungle, farmland and tiny villages before exploring the rest of the area.

A great place to try traditional Lao food is the Muang Xai market. People travel from all over the province to this large and vibrant market to sell their wares and this is a good place to stop eat and pick up and bargain or two.

An interesting way to travel through this region of Laos is to trek to Muang Say, then take a short bus or pickup truck ride to the picturesque village of Pakbeng. The mighty Mekong River flows from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang and the journey by large, wooden boat takes around five hours. As you sail slowly down the river you will pass limestone cliffs, mangroves and fishing villages.

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.

Phang-Nga, Thailand

Phang-Nga, Thailand
Phang-Nga, Thailand
Phang-Nga, Thailand
phang_nga_4

Welcome to an area of intense and unforgettable natural beauty; Phang-nga Province, which is located roughly 788 kilometres from Bangkok in the south of Thailand. Full of spectacular national parks, pretty beaches and islands, it is easy to see why this is a popular destination for both international travellers and Thai holiday makers.

The most famous attraction is perhaps Ao Phang-nga National Park, which is a geological wonderland filled with islets, sunken caverns and astonishing rock formations rising out of the sea. The bay is ideal for expeditions of sea canoes to explore the many fascinating caverns, all of which have their own interesting eco-systems.

Also extremely beautiful is the Surin Islands Marine National Park, which is a great place to go diving and snorkelling. Between March and April whale sharks can be spotted in the park, while people can stay overnight in a bungalow in Morken Village. There is also an interesting Walking Trail around the bay of Ao Mai and into the jungle.

There are a large number of pretty islands around Phang Nga Bay just waiting to be explored. The most famous is the island of Ko Phing Kan, popularly known as James Bond Island. In 1974, the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed around this needle formed limestone rock, which juts out of the sea. A good way to see the island is by taking a boat tour.

Other areas of intense natural beauty include the Similan Islands Marine National Park, the Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park, Ton Pariwat Wildlife Conservation Area and Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Park, which is a public park located opposite the interesting building of the former City Hall.

Phan-nga is a great place for trekking through the jungle and exploring. There are a large number of spectacular waterfalls to discover, all of which make great trekking destinations. Of particular interest are Namtok Saeng Thong, Namtok Hin Lat, Namtok Tao Thong, Namtok Raman and the stunning five-tiered Namtok Lamru.

The Ban Bo Dan Hot Springs are a great place to soak away your aches and pains after a busy day of exploring. Not to be missed is the enchanting Wat Tham Suwannakhuha, which means Heaven Grotto Temple in English and is a cave full of Buddha images including a 15 meter reclining Buddha.

Said to resemble an elephant, Khao Chang is a huge mountain which offers spectacular views of the area from the top. Whilst there, check out the interesting Phang-nga Wildlife Nursery Station, which is located nearby.

Phrae, Thailand

Phrae, Thailand
Phrae, Thailand

Welcome to Phrae, an old and important community in Northern Thailand. Phrae was founded shortly after Chiang Mai had been established as the capital of the Lanna Thai kingdom. The province has one of the largest reserves of teak forests in the country and is located on the banks of the Yom River, 555 kilometres from Bangkok.

Phrae has a slightly sleepy feel and is a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of life for a day or two and simply relax. This is an area of intense natural beauty and there is plenty to explore if you’re feeling active.

Wiang Kosai National Park is a great showcase for the area’s nature. Another immense area of natural beauty is the Mae Yom National Park, which is situated around 48 kilometres from the town of Phrae. A popular feature of the park are the Kaeng Sua Ten rapids, a two-kilometre-long stretch of rock formations which is best visited during November-February when the weather is cool and scenery at its prettiest. Visitors are permitted to camp along the river banks, making this a great place to simply relax for a day or two.

Scattered around the province are some pretty sparkling waterfalls and haunting caves to explore. Take a trip to Tham Pha Nang Khoi 40 kilometres north of town, Namtok Huai Rong and Namtok Tat Mok.

The area’s temples offer an interesting insight into the traditional culture and style. Wat Luang is the oldest temple in Phrae and includes an interesting museum. Also look out for the 400-year-old chedi of Phra That Phra Lo, Wat Sa Bo Kaeo, Wat Phra That Chom Chaeng, Wat Phra That Cho Hae and Wat Phra Non, located near the old city wall.

An interesting day trip is Phae Muang Phi, which is located about 12 kilometres out of town. This is an unusual natural feature which subsidence and erosion of the soil has created rocks in the shapes of exotic-looking mushrooms.

Another interesting local feature is Vongburi House, which is a private museum. This teak house was the residence of the last Prince of Phrae. Another interesting old teak house can be found in the village of Ban Prathap Jai.

A good place to get a feel for the local culture is at the Folklore Museum, which is located three kilometres from town. Here you will see different types of wooden houses, which demonstrate the different status of the local people. There is also market and shop houses of the ancient traditional style.

When it comes to eating, a great place to get a good, cheap meal is at the town’s large night market.

Phrae province is well known for its lively and interesting festivals. The Phra that Cho Hae Fair is held around March and involves a procession to carry robes to cover the local chedi. The procession follows the Lanna style and all participants are decked out in traditional Lanna attire.

The Kin Salak Fair is an old Buddhist merit-making event. Villagers prepare offerings and carry them in a procession to present to the monks. The fair is held around September each year.