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Taman Negara, Malaysia

taman_negaraThe large and lovely Taman Negara is one of the most interesting national parks in the whole of Malaysia, which is no mean feat considering the amount of areas that compete for this title. This is a great place for independent travellers to explore, while those who book a guided tour of Taman Negara will be taken to many of the park’s most enchanting spots by a local guide, who will also be able to reveal hidden gems.

The jungle here dates back some 130 million years and has managed to withstand the tests of time remarkably well. Those who have sharp eyesight and a good guide will have the chance to spot a wide range of animals as they make their way through the undergrowth, including monkeys swinging through the trees, a whole host of different species of snakes, tigers, elephants, rhinos, shy deer and the unusual looking tapir.

Those who have a strong sense of adventure will find plenty to do in Taman Negara, and among the most popular activities here are river rafting and cave exploration. Special treks are held in the evening, which gives visitors the opportunity to spot some of the park’s most active nocturnal creatures.

The majority of people come here in order to go trekking through the rain forest, and Taman Negara offers visitors a wide range of different types of trekking experiences. One of the most popular lasts for half a day and takes trekkers to the top of Teresek Hill, which is famed for its stunning panoramic views. The Canopy Walks offers visitors the chance to view Taman Negara from a different perspective, while others lead the way to stunning natural features such as waterfalls and caves.

Those who want to really get to know Taman Negara will want to spend the night here, and a wide range of different accommodation options are available. Camping out offers visitor the chance to really get back to nature and it is possible to hire camping equipment as well as fishing rods and other gear from the Mutiara Taman Negara resort shop.

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.

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.

Miri, Malaysia

Miri, Malaysia
Miri, Malaysia

The city of Miri is a good place to spend a few days. Surrounded by a number of large national parks and beaches, this is a good place to use as a base while you explore the surrounding area, while the city itself offers vibrant nightlife and a whole host of good places to stay, shop and eat. Miri is a very multicultural city, with Chinese, Malay, Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and a number of other ethnic groups living side by side. Most people speak English and are friendly, making this a great place to spend some time and discover Malaysia’s diversity.

A good way to get a feel for Miri is to hire a bicycle and explore. Climbing to the top of Canada Hill offers stunning views of Miri and the surrounding area, and this is the perfect place from which to watch the sunset. Malaysia’s first oil well was established on this very spot several decades ago, and those who are interested in the history and culture of the area can also take the time to check out the Petroleum Museum, which can be found near the summit of the hill.

Not to be missed is the City Fan, which consists of a number of themed gardens located around the biggest open-air theatre in the whole of Malaysia. Other amenities that can be found here include an indoor stadium, a public swimming pool and the impressive San Ching Tian Temple, which has the distinction of being is the biggest Taoist temple in the whole of Southeast Asia

One of the best times to travel to Miri is in the third week of May, as this is when the city’s annual festival is held. Featuring vibrant street parades as well as plenty of singing, drinking and dancing, this is a great time to see the people of Miri at their best.

A large number of interesting attractions can also be found just outside the city, and sun worshippers will want to spend time soaking up the sun on the beautiful Hawaii Beach. Also nearby is Taman Selera Beach, which is the perfect place to relax and unwind for a while.

Pathein, Burma

Pathein, Burma
Pathein, Burma
Pathein, Burma

Myanmar’s fourth largest city, Pathein is a great place to stop for a day or two on the way to the beaches of Chaungtha or Ngwe Saung. The city is located in the Ayeyarwady delta and the centre of the prosperous parasol industry.

Follow the flow of the Pathein River to explore this scenic area. There are a number of pretty Buddhist temples to walk around and umbrella shops where you can watch the colourful umbrellas being made.

Pathein was once part of the Mon Kingdom and this region is still very multi-cultural, with a blend of Muslim, Mon, Karen and Rakhine people, all bringing their own unique sense of style, food and customs to the mix.

One of the most prominent sites in Pathein is the Shwemokhtaw Paya, which is a Buddhist temple founded by the Indian King Asoka in 305 BC. The stupa was raised to a height of 11 meters in 1115 AD and then to 40 meters in 1263 AD by King Samodogossa. Decorated with a top layer of solid gold, a middle tier of silver and the third of bronze, the stupa is an unmissable and unforgettable sight.

Another great place to get a feel for the devotion of the people of Pathein is the Yekyi Yenauk Lake. The name means clear and turbid water in English and a large number of legends surround the lake, drawing people here to worship from all over Myanmar.

For those with a sweet tooth, the area is also famous for Har-la-war, which is a traditional sweet dessert. A good place to pick it up is at the bustling Pathein Myoma Market, or the night market situated along Strand Road.

A great way to reach Pathein is by overnight ferry from Yangon. The journey is about 120 miles and is a relaxing way to see the countryside as you sail under a blanket of stars. 

Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia

Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia
Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia

The ancient temple complex of Sambor Prei Kuk predates those at Angkor and this is a good place to visit before heading to see Cambodia’s national monument. Originally known as Isanapura, Sambor Prei Kuk was the capital of Chenla during the reign King Isanavarman in the early 7th century.

Sambor Prei Kuk contains more than one hundred red brick temples scattered through a pretty forest. Cool shade is provided by the thick vegetation, making this a pleasant place to explore slowly. Follow the sandy paths through the forest, which lead to ponds and shrines as well as quietly crumbling temples.

Visitors will discovere that all of the temples of Sambor Prei Kuk fall into three main groups. While the first and most popular group is known as Prasat Sambor, is dedicated to the Shiva incarnation known to the Khmer people as Gambhireshvara.

Situated in the heart of the forest, the Prasat Yeay Peau group is extremely peaceful, while Prasat Tao – also known as Lion Temple – is one of the largest temples in Sambor Prei Kuk and features two large lions carved by the Chenla people.

There is a craft shop near the entrance to Sambor Prei Kuk where you can pick up a souvenir or two and learn more about this interesting site. There are also a number of food stalls where you can buy a basic meal and a cold drink.

The main part of this interesting complex can be explored in two or three hours, although it is worth taking the time to soak up Sambor Prei Kuk’s uniwque atmosphere and explore each temple in detail.

Sambor Prei Kuk is located about 20 miles to the north of the town of Kompong Thom. This is a good place to spend the night and get a decent meal before heading off to Siem Reap to explore the mighty Angkor temple complex.

Khao San Road Tattoo and Makeovers

Khao San Road Makeovers and Tattoos, Bangkok, Thailand
Khao San Road Makeovers and Tattoos, Bangkok, Thailand
Khao San Road Makeovers and Tattoos, Bangkok, Thailand
khao_san_road_makeovers_8

When you see a traveller wandering around Thailand sporting a new tattoo, piercing or hair extensions, the chances are that they got them in Khao San Road. A number of talented tattoo artists and piercers have set up shop in this area of Bangkok and there are plenty of places to choose from.

Many modern travellers decide to get a tattoo in Thailand as it serves as a permanent reminder of their visit to the Land of Smiles. Customers can choose from either the traditional bamboo tattoo technique known as sak yant or the more common modern method. All tattoo artists provide a large catalogue of images for customers to choose from, and some even offer to create special unique images for a small extra fee.

Khao San Road is a safe place to get a tattoo, as the tattoo artists here have to have certificates and awards for their work, which are checked regularly by the authorities. A large number of famous people have chosen to get their tattoos done in this area, including the actress Angelina Jolie.

Many of the tattoo parlours located on and around Khao San Road also offer body piercing. Quality jewellery tends to be much cheaper in Thailand than in many parts of the world and this is a good time to bite the bullet and get whatever piercing has been on your mind. Again, when it comes to qualifications and cleanliness customers will find that the piercing studios in this part of Bangkok pride themselves on their high standards. Many of the piercers here design and create their own jewellery, while others are willing to use pieces that the customer brings to them from elsewhere.

Some people find that taking care of their hair while travelling is too much of an ordeal. However, Khao San Road has the perfect solution for these people as well as stalls offering hair braiding line the sides of the street. It is possible to relax with a beer and watch the world go by while the hairdressers here add colourful hair extensions or tease and tweak your hair into a range of different styles. If you’ve ever fancied dreadlocks but don’t want the hassle of letting them happen naturally, the women here can work their magic and achieve the classic hairstyle in a matter of minutes.

If all else fails, there are also professional hair salons located in this area, which offer a range of services including shampoos, perms and even head shaving.

For the final step in you Khao San Road makeover, visit one of the massage parlours and choose between traditional Thai, Swedish or oil massages. These establishments also offer services such as manicures, pedicures and waxing to leave you looking and feeling fantastic.