Tag - southeast

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.

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.

Water Water Everywhere – the Songkran Festival Explained

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Songkran Festival Thailand
Songkran Festival Thailand

If you’re traveling in Thailand during April, brace yourself for one of Southeast Asia’s most raucous holidays. For one joyful week, Thai people take to the streets for the Songkran festival, a waterlogged celebration of the Thai new year.

In the midst of parades and street parties, people customarily douse each other with buckets of water and handfuls of baby powder. In Thailand, this is the festival that people spends months looking forward to, and it’s a celebration that visitors are lucky to witness. Social decorum is thrown to the wayside, public revelry/drunkenness becomes a norm, and those conspicuous sweat stains on your T-shirts will no longer be a cause for embarrassment once the water start flying.

Celebrants take no exception, whether you’re a businessman or backpacker, every person on the street is a target for buckets of water or high-tech waterguns wielded by children. In most of Thailand, this holiday lasts for three or four days, but Chiang Mai becomes the Bourbon Street of the country, with festivities lasting up to nine days.

The custom of throwing water originated as a sign of respect. Traditionally, communities would pay respect to elders and children to parents by sprinkling water on their hands as a cleansing of bad fortune and gesture of good luck. However, people may sometimes bypass the traditions of the ritual as they get caught up in the fun. After all, Songkran takes place during the peak of Thailand’s dry season; the hottest time of the year. Though Songkran has fast become a nonstop party of Animal House proportion, the origins of the festival are rooted in the home. Traditionally, the holiday was about honouring parents and elders, with children coming home to see their families and offer gifts to them.

People also go to temples on this holiday, often bringing handfuls of sand to compensate for the dirt they carried away on their feet throughout the year. Visitors pray, offer food to monks, and help clean Buddha images in the wats. If you’re in a city like Chiang Mai for Songktran, don’t be surprised to see Buddha statues paraded through the streets. This allows people to throw water on the statues as they pass by, cleaning them in the middle of the festivities.

Despite the debaucherous atmosphere, one should bear in mind that as a visitor to Thailand, enthusiasm for local festivals is widely appreciated. Friendly, festive Thai people will encourage you to take part in the revelry, but remember that despite the free-flowing water (and whiskey), Songkran is still a family event, and the street parties should remain PG, at least during the daytime. Among Thai people, it goes without saying that daily drenchings are to be expected.

Tourists, however, may need reminding, and should take care to protect cameras, ipods, important tickets, and other non-soakables.
 
While the whole country participates in Songkran, you might find that the most active celebrations take place inland, where Thai people endure the most heat. Cities like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Bangkok will all offer good parties day and night. Tourists should be extra-cautious on the roads at this time, as many whiskey-loving celebrants might be driving trucks or motorbikes.
 
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.