Situated in north Laos, not too many people venture into the town of Phonsaly. However, those who do take the time and trouble will find an area rich in traditional culture and natural beauty. With more than twenty ethnic tribes living in the area, this is a good place to discover the diverse life styles, dress styles and religious practices that make these tribes unique. (more…)
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.
Located 315 kilometres from Bangkok, Trat is a small province to the very east of Thailand near the Cambodian border. Many travellers stop in the province capital town of Trat on their way to one of the surrounding islands and beaches. Indeed, Trat Province contains over fifty islands of various sizes and popularity, all of them featuring long, white sandy beaches and amazingly colourful coral.
There are regular buses to Trat from many parts of Thailand, and a direct journey from Bangkok should take 5-6 hours.
Particularly of interest to visitors is the immensely beautiful island of Koh Chang, part of the Mu Chang Marine National Park and the smaller but no less attractive Koh Kood. There are both regular ferry and speedboat services to the surrounding islands, and both Koh Chang and Koh Kood can be reached in an hour or less.
The smaller and less visited islands of Koh Kham, Koh Mak and Koh Phi can also be found in Trat Province. These islands are all exceptionally beautiful, although somewhat less developed, and make a good option for those who want to slow down a pace or two and simply relax on the beach.
But the town of Trat itself, although often neglected by travellers, has many interesting features and is definitely worth a second look. Trat is most famous for its gemstone mining and trading, and many a good bargain can be picked up at one of the town’s gem stores. There are also some excellent restaurants in the town, serving fresh seafood expertly cooked in a range of Thai and Western styles.
Trat’s vibrant night market is a good place to pick up a bargain and get a good, cheap meal cooked in the local style, and whilst in the town you can pay a visit to the pretty temple of Wat Plai Khlong.
In addition to the islands, there are a multitude of beaches with pristine stretches of sand just a stone’s throw away from the town. Amongst the best are Hat Sai Si Ngoen (Silver Sand Beach), Hat Sai Kaew (Crystal Sand Beach), Hat Thap Thim and Hat Ban Cheun, while Hat Ban Cheun is located at the southernmost part of Trat.
A good way to pass a day or two is to hire a motorcycle and visit each of the beaches in turn. Of course, snorkeling and scuba diving are readily available at all the area’s islands and beaches. Another good way to get an idea of the vastness and beauty of the area is to go on a boat trip.
Rayong is a pretty province which contains a whole host of interesting islands and beaches where you can escape the frantic pace of the city and unwind while catching the sun and dining on delicious seafood as you watch the sun set. The province contains over 100 kilometres of coastline to explore and is easily reachable in just a few hours by bus from Bangkok’s Ekkamai bus terminal.
There are many popular tourist destinations in the province, including Koh Samet, Koh Mun and Koh Kodi. All of these islands feature stretches of golden sand, beach bars and a variety of western and Thai food.
Naturally, snorkeling and scuba diving are major activities in this province, whilst many people like to go on a boat tour of the islands. Other smaller sun kissed islands which are just waiting to be explored include Koh Man Klang, Koh Man Nok and the often overlooked Koh Man Nai.
While in the area, pay a visit to the Khao Chamao/Khao Wong National Park. Here you will find several pretty waterfalls where you can swim amongst the fish, as well as seeing tigers, wild elephants and bears.
Nearby is the Rayong Turtle Conservation Centre, which cares for the area’s endangered sea turtles with a view to releasing them back into the wild. You can learn more about the now rare and beautiful turtles at the visitors’ centre, which contains pictures of the turtles and shells from their eggs.
Suan Son ‘Pine Park’ is situated just 5 kilometers from the pretty port of Ban Phe. This is a great place to spend a couple of hours walking when you need a break from the beach. Incidentally, Ban Phe is the port from which to catch the ferry to the large and beautiful island of Koh Samet.
11 kilometers east at Suan Wang Keaw you will find yet more sandy beaches and the island of Koh Thalu, which is particularly good for diving as the waters are home to some pretty colourful coral and shoals of exotic fish. This is also a great place to hang out if you happen to arrive on the weekend and want to avoid the crowds that tend to congregate on many of the other islands and beaches at the end of the working week
The province’s main industry is fishing, and a good way to start the day is to get up early and walk along the beach, where you will see the fishermen spreading their freshly caught fish, sparkling and shimmering on the sand.