Tag - souvenirs

Cherating, Malaysia

CheratingMost people travel to the coastal city of Cherating to soak up the sun on the beautiful beaches, and Cherating is acclaimed by many people to offer some of the most stunning stretches of sand in the whole of Malaysia. Lined with swaying palm trees and lapped by cool, clear water, it is true that the beaches here look like something off of an idyllic tropical postcard.

Cherating started life as a traditional fishing village, and fishing is still one of the most popular forms of livelihood head. Those who like to dine on freshly caught seafood will find a large number of restaurants that serve up the catch of the day and the restaurants that line the beach offer visitors the chance to soak up the atmosphere while eating their fill. Simply choosing a spot on the sand and sunbathing for a while. Water sports are also popular, especially yachting, surfing and swimming.

Although this is the perfect place for doing nothing all day, there are plenty of things to do if you have extra energy to spare. Bicycles can be hired from most guesthouses and cycling is a great way to explore the village and surrounding area. People wave as you cycle past and beckon you to stop and shop for locally made souvenirs.

Visit the turtle sanctuary and you may be lucky enough to arrive when the turtles make their way to the shore, which takes place between June and August. The Green turtles emerge from the sea late at night during these months to lay as many as 100 eggs at a time and visitors have the chance to watch the event.

Cherating is also famed for its arts and crafts, and this is the perfect place to purchase gifts and souvenirs to take back home. Items such as pandanus leaf hats, bags and mats are all popular purchases here and make for unique reminders of your trip to Cherating.

Poipet, Cambodia

Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia

The dusty border town of Poipet is largely ignored by the people who pass through it on their way from Thailand to Cambodia. For many this is simply a place to get their passport stamped and perhaps wait for the bus to whisk them away to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.
However, if you do need to spend the night here you will find the town is not quite as rough as it appears at first glance and there are a few things to amuse and entertain. Gambling is illegal in Thailand and so large numbers of people cross the border to try their luck at one of the town’s many flashy casinos.

Theft is quite high in Poipet, so if you do decide to spend some time here make sure you keep your wits about you and don’t give money to beggars as the young girl staring at you with pleading eyes quickly multiplies into dozens of demanding beggars once some slight generosity is shown.

There are a number of places to eat in Poipet, many serving western snacks such as sandwiches and French fries. There is also a large bustling marketplace selling clothes and souvenirs, although this is a popular spot for pickpockets, so keep a careful eye on your belongings.

The border crossing is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is a good idea to arrive early to beat the crowds and try to avoid arriving on the weekend. Queues can last for several hours, although the longest queues are usually for those heading into Thailand from Cambodia. Don’t trust anyone offering to make your visa for you, even if they are wearing official looking laminated badges. Instead, head to the Cambodian Consulate or get your visa made on arrival. The cheapest and easiest way to get a visit for Cambodia is to go online and get a e-Visa, which costs USD $25.

Once you have your visa you can travel by bus or pickup truck to a number of places such as Siem Reap, Sisophon and Battambang. You may have to wait a few hours for the bus to fill up, but once it starts moving simply sit back and relax as the worst part of the journey through Cambodia is now behind you.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysia

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysia
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysia
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysia

For many, the Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre is the highlight of their visit to Malaysia. Situated on the edge of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, the centre was established in 1964 in order to rescue orphaned and abandoned young orangutans and to teach them how to look after themselves, with the aim of one day releasing them back into the wild.

Visitors are given the rare opportunity to explore the world of the orangutan and see them in a semi-natural environment. Follow trails through the jungle and creep along boarded canopy bridges to spot some of the other animals that live in the forest reserve such as long-tailed macaques.

There are only four orangutan sanctuaries in the entire world and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is probably the best known, with up to 700 visitors each day. So far the centre has rescued more than a hundred orangutans, 20 of which have successfully returned to the wild.

The best time to visit the rehabilitation centre is during feeding times, which take place at 10am and 3pm. The orangutans are vegetarian and are especially fond of bananas and sugar cane, sharing their meal with the long-tailed macaques.

It often rains in the forest reserve, so it is a good idea to wear a poncho. Pack plenty of insect repellant to ward off the unwelcome attention of mosquitoes and other insects and take a bottle or two of water as it can be rather hot and humid.

The Rainforest Discovery Centre is a good place to find out more about the lovable orangutans. Souvenirs such as postcards, soft toys and hats are available in the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre. It is possible to spend the night at the centre and accommodation ranges from cheap and cheerful dorm rooms to large suites with spectacular views.

The easiest way to see Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre is to book a tour. Tours often include a visit to the Proboscis Monkey Reserve and nearby Taman Hiburan Jalil ALip, which is a recreation park where visitors can see crocodiles and deer.  

Houa Phah, Laos

houa_phah_1
Houa Phah, Laos
Houa Phah, Laos

The former base for the Lao People’s Revolutionary Army, Houa Phan province is located in the northeast of Laos. Now free from trouble, this pretty province is surrounded by natural beauty such as caves, waterfalls, mountains and rich rice fields.

Few tourists step off the tourist trail long enough to experience Houa Phah’s gentle charms, yet there are wonderful rewards in store for those who make the effort. Pristine emerald green forests and limestone mountains are just waiting to be explored and there is a good variety of wildlife to spot.

There are more than 100 caves located in Houa Phanh. Available in all shapes and sizes, visiting the caves is an interesting experience and also a good way to keep cool. Perhaps the most famous of all the caves is Tham Than Souphanouvong, which was once the home of Prince Souphanouvong when he was forced into hiding.

Other caves worth visiting in the area are Tham Than Kaysone and Tham Than Khamtay. Both of these caves were the residences of leading Lao political figures and are very grand in scale featuring meeting rooms and reception areas.

After a busy day of climbing through the caves, visitors to Houa Phah can soak away their aches and pains in the local hot spring in the Xam Tay district, where the waters reach temperatures of 40?C. Cool off afterwards in the pretty Xam Tay waterfall and explore the surrounding forest.

There are a large number of villages dotted around Houa Phah and the talented villages are well known for their craftwork skills. This is a good time to watch weaving, which is still done using traditional methods. The textiles made here are thought by many to be some of the finest in Asia and make great souvenirs.

Hintang Archeological Park is one of Laos’ more important prehistoric sites and a great place for a daytrip. Wander through the ruins and discover the foundations of this picturesque region and pay a visit to the large and inviting Keo Nong Vay temple.

Borikhamsay, Laos

Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos

If you want a place to relax and unwind surrounded by stunning natural scenery, Borikhamsay is the place to be. Borikhamsay province is located in central Laos, about a three hour drive from the capital city of Vientiane. Borikhamsay’s close proximity to Vientiane makes it a good destination for a day trip, although it is also a good place to pause for a day or two and discover the natural beauty of Laos.  

Also known as Bolikhamsai, Borikhamsay is an important pilgrimage site and people travel from all over the country to visit Wat Phra Baat, which contains a footprint believed to have been made by Lord Buddha as he travelled through the countryside. Laos was once home to a large collection of Buddhist monuments but sadly most have been decimated by war over the years, making this footprint all the more precious.

Another good day trip is the stone forest at Poupha Mane, where the large collection of rocky pinnacles are a striking sight. To the south it is possible to spot wildlife such as the hatinh langur, mable cat and the Asian forest tortoise in the pristine forests of Nam Thuen, while the National Biodiversity Conservation Area is Laos’ largest conservation area. Here you will find many endangered animals including the Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard, elephant, giant muntjac, guar, Malayan sun bear, and tiger. There are guides available to lead you through the forests and explain all about this amazing area.

The capital town of the province is Paksan, and here you will find plenty of places to stay as well as some good restaurants and of course the famous Laos hospitality. A good way to get around this area is by hiring a bicycle or simply walking, talking the time to share smiles and greetings with the people you pass along the way.

Paksan is also a good stopping off point for people travelling to Vietnam as it is situated close to the Vietnamese border. The majority of the region’s population is comprised by tribes such as the Thai, Phuan, Tri and Hmong. This is a good time to learn more about these interesting tribes and their alternative lifestyles.

Hsipaw, Burma

Hsipaw, Burma
Hsipaw, Burma
Hsipaw, Burma

Also known as Thibaw, this tranquil town in the Northern Shan State is a great place to relax and unwind for awhile. Surrounded by natural beauty, many people travel to Hsipaw for trekking, and there are a number of well trodden trails leading through Shan villages to picturesque spots such as hot springs, water caves, waterfalls and forests.

There are a number of interesting places to visit in and around Hsipaw. Top of the list should be the Shan Palace, which is located to the north of town and was the former residence of the Sawbwas of Hsipaw, who lived here for many generations until the last one was forced to flee during the military coup of 1962.

Another interesting place to visit is the Bawgyo Paya, a large Shan Pagoda about 5 miles out of town. Here you will find not only Buddha statues but also Hindu statues outside the temple and the journey to and from the town is very scenic.

Just before sunset climb to the top of Sunset watching at Five Buddha Hill or Nine Buddha Hill, both of which are located just over a mile outside Hsipaw. Hire a bicycle and reach the top of the hill for spectacular views over the town and surrounding countryside.

A massage is a great way to soothe aching muscles after a day of hiking and there are a number of massage parlours and basic spas scattered around Hsipaw. The city is located near the banks of the Dokhtawaddi River, and it is possible to take a short boat trip here to see the countryside.

The morning riverside market is a great place to get a bite to eat and sample some of the region’s delicious fruit and handmade sweets. A large percentage of the population here are Chinese and there are a good variety of Chinese dishes to try. You can also shop for souvenirs here and exchange friendly banter with the stall holders.

The Bawgyo Paya Pwe festival is held in Hsipaw in late February or early March and the somewhat sleepy town really comes alive during this time, celebrating with traditional songs, dancing and storytelling.

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.

Phimai, Thailand

Phimai, Thailand
Phimai, Thailand
Phimai, Thailand
Phimai, Thailand

Part of Nakhon Ratchasima Province to the north of Thailand, Phimai is a great place to visit for those with a keen interest in history and culture, and the small town also has some beautiful nature spots in which to enjoy a picnic and relax for a while away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Most visitors are draw to Phimai by the Phimai Historical Park, which contains a large number of temples and ruins to explore including the beautiful Khmer temple of Prasat Phimai. Don’t forget to check out to informative Phimai National Museum in order to learn more about the temples and to discover some rare temple artefacts.

Nearby, the brick chedi of Meru Boromathat and the Pratu Chai – victory gate – are just waiting to be discovered, whilst on an island in the middle of a large reservoir the Sai Ngam (Beautiful Banyan) draws Buddhists from all over the world. You can take a rowing boat out onto the reservoir for a closer look at the sacred tree. Whilst there, don’t forget to pay a visit to the interesting Tha Nang Sa Phom – which is an ancient and intricately decorated landing platform.

Nakhon Ratchasima Province is famous for its unique and beautiful pottery, and a good place to see it is at the Dan Kwian pottery village, where you can still see craftsmen creating the Thai ceramics.

Another famous skill from the north of Thailand is silk weaving, and visitors can go to the Pak Thong Chai silk weaving village, which is very close to Phimai. Here, the weaving looms are still being put to good use today, creating beautifully shimmering Thai silk, which is then dyed in a dazzling array of colours and made into a wide range of products for people to buy as souvenirs.

In November, Phimai celebrates with the Phimai Festival. This is a good opportunity to experience the traditional folk songs, dancing and theatre of the region as well as sample the many delicious dishes and sweets.

Why the River Kwai?

Why the River Kwai. A sense of joy filled my head as we neared Kanchanaburi some three hours from Bangkok. As a young boy I viewed a movie and the memory has never left. While I was excited to see the famous bridge and associated attractions there was a small let down, as the bridge of my childhood resembled little to the real thing, however I was soon overwhelmed by the beauty and tranquility of the area.

My friends and I stayed at a resort of floating huts on the river about 40 kilometers from Kanchanaburi in a town called Sai Yok. We negotiated the price, which included all meals, but alcohol was extra. We were left alone all day to do our own thing, and at meal time the owner returned and prepared the food. The menu choice was good and we were able to have three different dishes all of course with rice.

The experience was without doubt the best that I have had in Thailand. We stayed for 5 nights, initially by ourselves but after the first day others arrived, we all sang and drank and had a great time checking out the local attractions and markets for souvenirs. Tourist operators from Bangkok have daily trips or you can have a few days with accommodation, its up to you.

The whole area is fantastic, —- don’t think that the bridge, and museums are the only things of interest. There are several waterfalls, golfcourses, caves, fishing, rafting, elephants, and wild life parks, all within a short distance.

Do yourself a favor and stay a while and feel the beauty of Thailand, you will never forget the experience.

Cheers

Garry

Hoi An – Strolling Through Vietnam’s Prettiest Colonial Town

Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An is the type of place that, on paper, sounds like an ideal overnight stopover for travelers journeying down the long spine of Vietnam. It’s small, forever labelled “charming,” and the famed tourist sites of traditional houses and bridges are all located in a tight, walkable circuit. Ask any traveler, however, and they will tell you differently. “Hoi An,” they will inevitably say, “is a town you won’t want to leave.”
Located between the once-empirical Hue and breezy, beachy Nha Trang, this town’s multicultural architecture offers a glimpse into the foreign influences that have shaped Vietnam. In the 16th century, this town was a shipping powerhouse, attracting overseas merchants who would sometimes settle wealthily in the town. These foreign influences are still resonant in the town’s architecture, with centuries-old Chinese and Japanese buildings blending with French-style colonial structures. One of the biggest draws of this city is its historical feel, the fantastic absence of neon signs and skyscrapers. While the shops and restaurants are mostly tourist-oriented, the architecture and layout of the city remains beautifully uncompromised.

There’s no shortage of hotels in this vibrant tourist city. Hoi An, famous for its dime-a-dozen tailoring shops, is a popular stopover with bus tours and travel groups looking to score some cheap Vietnamese souvenirs. As a result, hotels and guesthouses vary from the uber-elegant to the bare-bones minimum. If you’re going to splurge, this is one of the best places to do it, with breezy, luxurious hotels like the Green Field Hotel (20$-35$/night for a double, www.hoiangreenfieldhotel.com). Budget travelers can take their pick from dozens of tiny guesthouses in the centre of the city. The popular Dai Long Hotel on Hai Ba Trung street, or the cosy Hop Yen Hotel on A Nhi Trung, offer rooms from 6$-10$ per night. These multi-purpose guesthouses will also help you with bus tickets, tourist maps, bike rentals, and even discounts on local tailors.

For sightseers, the heart of Hoi An lies over the Japanese bridge in the Old Town, where old Chinese shopfronts now boast tourist galleries and shops. For about 5$, visitors can buy a multipurpose ticket for five attractions. These tickets are available at most guesthouses. Some favourites of the tour include the Cantonese Assembly Hall (176 Tran Phu Street), whose cool chambers and ornate dragons are a photographer’s paradise. Hoi An’s three traditional old houses are a cross between museum and residences, where descendants of the founding families will show you around. The most attractive of the three is the Phung Hung house, also west of the Japanese bridge.

Hungry visitors will delight in Hoi An’s mix of tourist friendly international cuisine, along with mouthwatering local dishes made with the freshest fish and vegetables. Prices tend to be inflated in the tourist areas, but some of the best (and most scenic) spots are down by the river, either at the Blue Dragon (who also sponsor a local children’s charity), or across the water on Cam Nam island. Also on the island, the slightly-pricey Lighthouse Restaurant

offers unbeatable views along with its delicious food. Come sunset, many restuarants transform into lounges with dim lights and crowded patios. King Kong Bar on Cam Nam island is a friendly, funky nightspot. Backpackers also flock to the classy Tam Tam cafe on Nguyen Thai street, for drinks, snacks, and pool. Across the street from Tam Tam is a French-style bakery whose mouthwatering breakfasts will have you humming “La Vie En Rose.”

For souvenir-hunters, Hoi An is most famous for its 400+ made-to-measure tailor shops, who can stitch up anything from suits to dresses to robes in a few days’ time. There’s no shortage of tailors in central Hoi An, and the best way to scout the good shops is by word of mouth from fellow tourists. If you want to keep shopping, a dense cluster of galleries sits just east of the Japanese Bridge. The Central market, by Cam Nam bridge, boasts all the souvenir kitsch you’ll ever need, along with tasty local produce.

If you’re seeking a glimpse of a more authentic Vietnam, head to Cam Nam island, across Cam Nam bridge. Here, there are still hotels and cafes with all the usual amenities. But the beauty of this island comes in the winding alleys where you can stroll for hours, catching glimpses of real Vietnamese life though doorways and windows. The area around the shipyard is dotted with artisan workshops, where you can watch craftsmen make traditional Vietnamese wares.

If you’re keen to see some countryside, rent a bike from your guesthouse and head to Cua Dai beach, located a few kilometres outside of Hoi An. It’s a scenic ride, past green rice fields and winding roads, and the beach is a great spot to relax. Here, the water is clean and local vendors will keep your belly filled with fresh fruits and cold beers.

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.