Tag - royal

Champassak, Laos

Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos

Situated in south-western Laos, The province of Champassak is stunningly beautiful and has a lot to offer visitors. The people who live here have a distinctly different language, culture and life style to people in the rest of Laos and this is an interesting place to explore.

Pakse is the capital of Champassak province and it is here you will find the enchanting irriwaddy dolphins. Take a boat trip on the Mekong River for a chance to spot these shy mammals as they play in the water and leap through the waves.

Situated on picturesque Done Khone Island, the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Centre is a good place to find out more about these interesting animals and how to protect them. Nearby you will find Wat Phou, which is located high atop a mountain and considered to be one of the most important sights in Laos. The temple dates back to the same period as Cambodia’s treasure Angkor Wat and offers spectacular views from the top.
Champassak is also home to the largest waterfalls in Southeast Asia. Known as Khone Pha Pheng, these pretty falls are easy to get to by boat or road and are a great place for a swim and a picnic, surrounded by dense jungle and a colourful array of wildlife.

Another great day trip is the Dong Hua Sao Forest reserve, which is a great place to spot a wide variety of wildlife. There are a large number of waterfalls to explore here such as the Li Phi falls and it is possible to spend the night.
The town of Champassak itself was home to the royal family until about 30 years ago and you will still find a large number of grand buildings here, including a collection from the French colonial-era, which make an interesting contract beside the traditional wooden Laotian houses and shining temples. The town has a sleepy feel to it these days and there are few vehicles to clog the streets.

There are plenty of things to do in Champassak such as elephant riding, trekking and boat rides. Champassak’s rich and fertile land is perfect for growing crops and you will find large coffee, cardamom and bananas plantations here, which make the perfect backdrop for a scenic country walk.

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.

Udong, Cambodia

Udong, Cambodia
Udong, Cambodia
Udong, Cambodia
Udong, Cambodia

Also sometimes written as Oudong, Udong was Cambodia’s royal capital from 1618 to 1866 and is situated 40 kilometres northwest of Phnom Pehn. The name Udong means the victorious in the Khmer language and a number of kings have lived here during the city’s heyday.
Although often overlooked by visitors to Western Cambodia, the small city of Udong has a lot to offer travellers. This is a good place to take a break from the road for a day or two and relax and unwind in comfort, as there are some excellent hotels to choose from here.

Udong is surrounded by intense natural beauty, which can be seen by climbing to the top of one of the two ridges that overlook the city. visitors who stand here will be able to see all the way across Udong to the surrounding countryside, which is scattered with a number of interesting temples and shrines.

Those who enjoy temple hopping will want to start their trip at the small yet perfectly formed Arey Kaa Sap pagoda. Also of interest nearby are Phnom Vihear Leu and the commanding Ta San Mosque, which is one of the few Muslim structures that can be found in this part of the world and faces westwards towards Mecca.

Visitors who want to climb the 509 steps that lead the way to the very top of Phnom Udong will need to complete the task either early in the morning or towards the end of the afternoon, as attempting this in the full heat of the day can be a hot and sticky affair, although climbers will be rewarded for their trouble by the unparalleled views that await them at the summit of the hill.

Make sure you take the time to fully appreciate Udong’s stunning sunsets, which are among the most colourful in the whole of Western Cambodia. A number of the city’s leading restaurants are strategically placed to offer visitors enchanting views while they dine in style on local cuisine, while those who are looking for something cheap and tasty to sink their teeth into will find an excellent selection of light meals and snacks at the local night market.

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

The small city of Siem Reap is the best place to stay if you intend to visit the Angkor Wat complex. There are a number of good places to stay, restaurants offering a wide variety of international cuisine and bars to hang out in the evening.

Before you visit Angkor, stop by Miniature Replicas, where you will see sculptures of all the temples situated in a lovely garden. This is a good way to get an idea of how much there is to see and plan your time accordingly. There are also a number of modern temples situated around Siem Reap, such as Wat Bo with its beautiful paintings and former royal palace Wat Dam Nak, which provide an interesting contrast to the wonders of Angkor.

Angkor Wat is a major symbol in Cambodia; it appears on the flag, on coins, posters and just about anything else you can name. The site was reopened in 1991 after nearly two decades of closure due to civil unrest. The best way to start a tour of Angkor is to visit Phnom Bakheng in time for sunset. Not only is admission free, but you can get your pass made, avoiding the crowds the next day.

Get up early the following day and hire a moto with a driver for the day so that you can travel in style. Head straight to Angkor Thom, which is surrounded by a vast moat, before moving on to the Terrace of the Elephants, which is over 300 metres long.

The next temple to visit is the enchanting jungle temple of Preah Khan, while the nearby Neak Pean is a symbol of the lake that lies at the top of the universe.

It is best to allow around four hours to see Angkor Wat properly, so perhaps devote the following day to exploring this magnificent temple. According to records, it took around 30 years to complete Angkor Wat, which measures an impressive 65 metres and covers some 500 acres.

The mighty Wat is built on several levels. The Gallery features 1,000 Buddhas where Buddha effigies of all descriptions line the corridors, while the temples picture galleries display scenes from Hindu epic texts the Ramayana, the Battle of Kurukshetra, and other epic scenes such as the Judgement of Heaven and Hell. 1,500 apsaras or ‘heavenly dancing girls’ wonderfully decorate the second level interior.

Now it is time to screw up you courage and climb to the very summit of the top level, which is a privilege that was originally reserved for the High Priest and the King. 480 steep steps lead up to the five towers, which lie waiting like the Holy Grail at the end of a virtuous quest. Ascend the 70 degree angled steps carefully and walk around the outer gallery, enjoying the magnificent view, which is incredible from all angles. Watch the sun set before slowly descending once more.

Most people find it difficult to leave Siem Reap and you need to allow at least through days to explore thoroughly.

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Cambodia’s capital city is loud, dirty and rather violent on first glance, earning it the reputation as a ‘rough city’. However, scratch the surface and you will find plenty of pretty places to walk, good restaurants and interesting buildings. Although the residents are not as warm and welcoming as in the countryside, many people are willing to provide much needed advice and a friendly face.

Phnom Penh was largely destroyed during the time of the Khmer Rouge and is slowly being restored to its former glory. Also known as Riverside, Sisowath Quay is a pretty avenue running along the banks of the Mekong River and is an interesting place to walk in the evening when dozens of stalls set up selling everything from good meals to cheap souvenirs.

According to popular legend, the city was founded in the 14th century by an old woman named Penh who discovered a tree with a handful of Buddha images wedged in a niche. She recovered the images and had a hill – phnom in the Khmer language – built to contain them. The city grew from there into the sprawling metropolis it is today.  

A tour of Phnom Penh should lead you straight to the Royal palace with its Silver Pagoda and temple of the Emerald Buddha. Also known as Wat Preah Keo Morokat, the entire floor of the Silver pagoda is covered with over 5,000 silver tiles, each weighing 1 kilo. Inside is the Emerald Buddha, which was crafted from baccorant crystal and is one of Cambodia’s most famous images.

Opposite, the National Museum is home to some impressive Khmer sculptures, including many pieces previously at Angkor. This is a good place to get a feel for the ancient art work and various styles. Climb a hill at the centre of a small park near Sisowath Quay for spectacular views and to visit Wat Phnom with its resident monkeys.

To get an idea for the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, many people take a day trip to the Killing Fields, which are located at Cheoung Ek, about 17 kilometres south of Phnom Penh. Now peaceful, this is the place where the Khmer Rouge killed several thousands of their victims and visitors can explore the Buddhist stupa which is filled with human skulls.  

Another gruesome reminder is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which is the actual school building that the Khmer Rouge leaders converted to a prison. The museum contains a number of graphic photographs detailing the brutality and handwritten accounts by a few of the survivors.

On a lighter note, taking a cruise on the Mekong River is a great way to see the area, and many tour companies offer sunset dinner cruises. Before you leave Phnom Pehn visit Mekong Island and watch the traditional weaving.

In additional to the city’s many bars and nightclubs, evening entertainment is provided by the French Cultural Centre, who show regular movies.

Lopburi, Thailand

Lopburi, Thailand
Lopburi, Thailand
Lopburi, Thailand
Lopburi, Thailand

Dubbed “Monkey City” because of the thousands of monkeys that are allowed to reside in peace, Lopburi is the capital city of Lopburi Province. The city is located 150 km north-east of Bangkok and draws thousands of tourists each year, who flock to the city to see the Crab-Eating Macaques as well as the elegant Khmer temples.

If you are interested in the cheeky monkeys, who scamper around stealing food from tourists and causing general mischief, particularly good spots to see them are around the Khmer temple, Prang Sam Yot, and Sarn Phra Karn. All these temples are also interesting in their own right, as are Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat and the former royal palace of Phra Narai Ratchaiwet, which also houses the Lopburi Museum, a great place to cool down and learn more about the local history.

The people of Lopburi take good care of the city’s monkeys as they believe them to be descendants of the monkey lord Hanuman. According to the holy book the Ramayana, Hanuman was a great hero who rescued Sita from her imprisonment in Sri Lanka and built Lopburi as his kingdom.

To the north of Lopburi, the famous and beautiful Saplangka Wildlife Sanctuary provides the perfect day trip for nature lovers. Also worth visiting is the nearby European Palace of Chao Phraya Wichayan, which has many interesting design and style features and some beautiful gardens in which to relax for a while.

Steeped in interesting history, Lopburi is full of temple ruins, which mainly date from the Ayutthaya period. Particularly of note are Wat Nakhon Kosa, Wat San Paolo, Wat Sao Thong and Wat Indra.

A great time to visit Lopburi is during the Monkey festival at the end of November, when the furry inhabitants are treated to a huge feast at the expense of their human neighbours, who take good care of them throughout the year.

Also look out for the King Narai Festival, which occurs in the middle of February and lasts for three days. The festival is marked which displays of local food and textiles, singing and the much anticipated traditional lakhon ling drama which, believe it or not, is performed by monkeys!

Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand

Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand
Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand
Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand
Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand

Located roughly 280 kilometres south of Bangkok, Prachuap Khiri Khan was established during the reign of King Rama IV in 1845. The province is well known because of its beautiful natural scenery, which includes stunning sandy beaches, cool caves, limestone cliffs and mountains.

Most visitors are draw to the province by the pretty town of Hua Hin, which was previously a royal resort, and is an excellent seaside location with an incredible beach. There are many large designer shops in Hua Hin as well as seaside souvenir stalls, making this a good place to indulge in a little retail therapy.

The Hua Hin Jazz Festival takes place around the first week in June and usually lasts two or three days. With well known bands and solo artists from all over the world, this is an event not to be missed.

Another great seaside town is the capital, also called Prachuap Khiri Khan. Here you will find Wat Thammikaram, which is a temple set atop a steep hill. Although climbing to the top of this hill is a bit of an effort, the spectacular views of the bay and surrounding countryside more than make up for it. There are a large troop of monkeys living in the temple grounds, which has earnt the temple the nickname of ‘Monkey Temple’. The temple is located at the top of Khao Chong Krajok (Mirror Tunnel Mountain).

Another area of great natural beauty is the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, which was established in 1966 to protect Thailand’s largest freshwater marshes and contains pretty limestone cliffs and beaches.

Other beaches in the area include Ao Bang Nam Lom, Ao Noi and Ao Manao. Hat Ha Kaw is another lovely beach, whilst next to it is the King Mongkut Memorial Park of Science & Technology, which commemorates the 1868 solar eclipse that the great king witnessed from this spot with his son.

Nature lovers can pay a visit to the Wildlife Friends of Thailand Rescue Centre, which has committed itself to looking after animals of every species and another good way to spend an afternoon is to visit Wat Khao Tham Khan Kradai, which is a small cave temple situated at the end of a long, beautiful bay.

Like in most of Thailand’s beach resorts, snorkeling and scuba diving trips are readily available, and another good way to get an idea of the true beauty of this area is to go on a boat trip around the coast.

Phetchaburi, Thailand

Phetchaburi, Thailand
Phetchaburi, Thailand
Phetchaburi, Thailand
Phetchaburi, Thailand

Located in the central region of Thailand, Phetchaburi Province can be found approximately 160 kilometers south of Bangkok. This is an area of rich historical and archeological interest as well as surrounding nature such as caves, waterfalls and beautiful sandy beaches. Phetchaburi, also known as Phetburi, is the capital of the Phetchaburi Province. This old royal city dates back to the Mon period of the 8th century. The style of the buildings in the city and surrounding area can be seen to reflect the style of the ancient Mon people, the Khmers and also the traditional Thai style. Phetchaburi province is well known for its large number of beautiful caves. Particularly of interest are the Khao Luang caves, which are located 5 kilometers north of the capital city. There are several Buddha statues inside the caves including a magnificent large reclining Buddha statue.

The area is also well known for the mysterious cave of Khao Wang and the Phra Nakhon Kriri Historical Park, which includes King Mongkut’s Palace. A great way to explore the Historical Park and to conserve energy is to make use of the quaint tram which circuits the large park area.

Phra Ratchawang Ban Peun is an interesting temple located 1 kilometre south of the city inside a military base, whilst the local night market is a great place to get a good meal and do some shopping.

Many people stop off in the province in order to visit the beautiful beach resort of Cha-am, with its sparkling sea and inviting golden sand, just a 40 minute bus ride from the city of Petchaburi. Cha-am is very popular on the weekends and during holidays, but visitors will find that it can be very peaceful during the week.

Another great day trip is the Kaeng Krachan National Park, which features the amazing Pa La-U waterfalls and with its lush jungles is a good place to go trekking and discover some of the area’s rich flora and fauna.

It is worth trying to time your trip to coincide with the Phra Nakhon Khiri Fair. This vibrant festival takes place in early February, lasts for eight days and includes a colourful sound and light show and displays of classical Thai dancing. During the fair the town takes on the feel of a fairy tale as the temples are decorated with lights and people dress in traditional costume to perform the unique dances.

If you are in Cha-am in late September, look out for the Feast-Fish-Flock Seafood Festival, when the seaside town celebrates the wealth brought to it from the fruits of the sea and displays all it has to offer

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand

Just one hour from Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya is a key destination for anyone interested in history, culture and architecture. This former capital of Thailand is steeped in history and is a great place to spend a couple of days.

Formerly known as Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, the city was founded by King U-Thong in 1350 and kept its status as the nation’s capital until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767. Ayutthaya was once one of the richest cities in Asia by the 1600s, as its vast array of temples still testifies.

Most visitors come to explore The Ayutthaya historical park, which contains most of the magnificent ruins of the ancient city and was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1981. Over 400 hundred temples were originally built in Ayutthaya, and the fact that they were built by various rules means that they comprise an interesting range of designs and styles.

Many of the temples from Ayutthaya’s glory period still exist today, although in various states of preservation. Wat Mahathat is by far Ayutthaya’s most photographed temple, made famous by the head of a large Buddha statue which has become entangled in the roots of a giant banyan tree.

Other temples of note include Wat Lokayasutharam (also known as the temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Mongkhon Bophit and Wat Naphrameru.

Ayutthaya’s temples cover an area of several kilometres, and many people choose to explore the area by hiring a bicycle or a tuk-tuk for the day. You can learn more about Ayutthaya’s rich and interesting history at the Chantharakasem National Museum.

But there is much more to Ayutthaya than simply temples. The Ayutthaya Elephant Camp provides visitors with the perfect opportunity to find out more about these mighty beasts and rides can be arranged around the scenic area.

The nearby town of Bang Pa In, with its glorious Summer Palace provides an excellent site for a day trip. Another great day trip is the Bang Sai Royal Arts and Crafts Center, which aims is to train people with poor backgrounds and to try provide them with the skills to earn a descent income. The arts and crafts here are of a very high quality and make excellent souvenirs.

Ubon, Thailand

Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand

Ubon Ratchathani Province is located in the southeast of the Isan region of Thailand. The capital city bears the same name, but is more commonly known as Ubon. The name means Royal Land Lotus Blossom in the Thai language and refers to the exceptional natural beauty of the area.

The city, which sits on the northern bank of the Mun River, was originally founded in the late 18th century by Lao immigrants and still retains many aspects of Lao style and culture. For an insight into the rich and interesting history of this area, pay a visit to the Ubon National Museum.

Ubon Ratchathani is best loved for its stunning national parks. No visit is complete without seeing the spectacular Phu Chong Na Yoi National Park, which covers an area of 687 square kilometers, featuring stunning views from the cliffs at Pha Pheung and the huge Bak Tew Yai Waterfall.

Another area of great beauty is the Kaeng Tana National Park and don’t miss the Pha Taem National Park with its pre-historic cliff paintings showing scenes of fishing, rice farming, figures of people and animals.

There are many beautiful waterfalls in the area, and it is possible to swim in the clear waters of most. Some of the best include Nam Tok Saeng Chan, Nam Tok Thung Na Muang and the magnificent Nam Tok Soi Sawan.

It goes without saying that there are many interesting temples to explore, embodying design features of both Lao and Thai temple art. Look out for Wat Tung Si Muang, Wat Supattanaram, the rectangular chedi of Wat Phra That Nong Bua, Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram and many others.

Koh Hat Wat Tai is a small island in the Mae Nam Mun which is great for swimming and sunbathing. Another attraction in the area are the Warin Chamrap District Temples. These are two temples where people from all over the world gather to study meditation. Wat Nong Pa Phung is reserved for Thai people, while Wat Pa Nanachat is for non-Thais.

The silk weaving village of Wat Nong Bua is located 18 kilometers from the city and makes a great day trip, while many people travel to ride the Kaeng Saphue rapids or take a boat trip on the turbulent white waters.

Ubon has a large night market, which is a great place to get a cheap meal and buy some local produce.

If you are in the area during the festival of awk hansaa in July, make sure you stay for the Candle Festival, when processions of wax religious images are carried through the city on floats.