This beautiful region of Laos is a great place to explore for those with a strong sense of adventure and eye for beauty. Although you won’t find tourist towns like those in the north of the country, those who take the time to explore southern Laos will find an impressive number of pretty islands, dense jungle and magnificent mountains. (more…)
The town of Pyin U Lwin is distinctly different from much of Myanmar. A step away from the ancient temples and shining stupas in many of the surrounding towns and cities, here you will find colonial style buildings, stately homes and cool weather. The coolness of this area makes it a good place to visit if you happen to be in Myanmar during the hot months of March, April and May.
Pyin U Lwin is situated in the northern foot hills of Shan State and was formerly known as Maymyo during the time when many British governors lived here. There are many interesting ways to get around the town, and one of the most pleasant is by stately Victorian horse drawn carriage known as a gharry.
For the ultimate luxurious feel, take a gharry to the National Kandawgyi Gardens for a stroll in the shade and breathe in the fresh, pine scented air. Established in 1915 by Alex Rodger, the gardens are a great place to explore the area’s flora and fauna, while the pond with its central stupa makes an excellent photograph.
A tour of the town will take you to the Purcell Tower and on to the English Cemetery before stopping to allow you to inspect the pretty Shiva Temple and Chinese Temple. To the south of the town you will find the Candacraig, which is a colonial mansion built as a guesthouse and offers an interesting insight into colonial life.
Venture out of the town and you will discover a couple of pretty waterfalls. Anisakan Falls is a great place to visit for those who enjoy hiking, and you can trek for half a day through jungle to get witness the inviting cascade of water and nearby temple. Pwe Kauk Falls are a popular picnic spot and you can simply hire a taxi to get there before relaxing or hiking to the nearby caves of U Naung Gu.
There are a number of great restaurants in this area and Western food is quite easy to find, while traditional cooking is hot and spicy, moderated with flavours of Chinese and Indian cuisine.
Mandalay was the former capital of Burma and home to a number of Burmese kings. This is the country’s second largest city and is very modern compared to much of Myanmar. The city is rich with culture and history and here you will find large palaces, stupas, temples and pretty pagodas interlaced with vibrant market places, dusty streets and stunning views.
Mandalay was founded in 1857 by King Mindon and there are still plenty of examples of architecture from this period such as the golden Eindawya Pagoda, collections of old wooden buildings originally from Amarapura and the the Shwekyimyint Pagoda, which houses the original Buddha image sanctified by Prince Minshinzaw.
Near Mandalay Hill you will find the enormous Shweyattaw Buddha and the Royal Palace, which is situated in the middle of a large moat at the foot of Mandalay Hill. Climb to the top of Mandalay Hill for magnificent views across the city. As you climb you will come across a number of monasteries and temples, while there are a collection of pretty pagodas and temples at the very top.
Venture just outside Mandalay and you will discover a number of former capital cities, each with their own unique character. A short trip to Sagaing is rewarded with views of the pretty Tupayon, Aungmyelawka and Kaunghmudaw pagodas, while a trip along the river to Mingun gives visitors the chance to see the Mingun Bell, which is believed to be the world’s largest uncracked hung bell. The bell was cast in 1790 to be hung in the giant pagoda of King Bodawpaya and is an impressive sight.
Mandalay is certainly a record-breaking city and in addition to the world’s largest uncracked bell you will find the world’s largest book in the Kuthodaw Paya at the foot of Mandalay Hill. The Kuthodaw Paya comprises more than 700 white stupas and the complete text of the Tripitaka, which is the most sacred text of Theravada Buddhism.
Mandalay is a good place to pick up a souvenir or two as the large markets are full of local produce and handicrafts. Alternatively, a short trip south of Mandalay will take you to the city of Amarapura, which is famous for cotton and silk weaving and you can watch the traditional skills being practiced here.
The vibrant city of Mandalay is a good place to get a bite to eat and there are a number of food stalls and restaurants offering Shan, Myanmar and Muslin food. While you’re here, try htou moun, which is a traditional dessert only found in Mandalay. Very sweet and oily, people travel from all over the country to sample the gelatinous dessert.
Without doubt one of the most beautiful spots in Myanmar, Inle Lake is a large water wonderland filled with floating gardens, ancient stupas and pretty villages with a backdrop of mountains, valleys and lush forests. Bird watchers in particular will want to spend some time here as Inle Lake is home to a huge variety of species of birds.
Inle Lake is a great place to relax for a few days. There is so much to do here and there are a wide range of water sports to try such as canoeing, sailing and windsailing, while swimming is a great way to keep cool on a hot day. Fishing is also a popular pastime and you can easily hire a rod and join the locals as they try to land the catch of the day.
Hiring a bicycle is a great way to explore the surrounding countryside. Make sure you stop in at the Nanthe monastery, where the meditating monks have taught their cats to jump. The area is also famous for the Intha people’s unusual leg rowing skills, and you might be lucky enough to witness this as you cycle along the banks of the lake.
There are many interesting and unusual things to discover in this charming area such as the 300 year old Banyan tree with its aerial roots and wide canopy. Walk through the paddy fields and perhaps ride a water buffalo and watch the sun set over the lake.
The nearby floating market is a great place to witness traditional life and shop bargains as well as getting a tasty meal. Fresh fish is top of the menu and there are a large number of fish curries and other dishes to try. Most people tend to stay in the nearby village of Nyaugshwe, where there is a good variety of cheap guesthouses and restaurants catering to backpackers.
A great time to visit Inle Lake is between September and October when you will have the chance to witness and perhaps take part in the Phaung Daw U festival and also the Thadingyut festival. These festivals are very lively and feature much singing and dancing as well as performances of traditional folk tales.
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.
The second largest city in Cambodia, Battambang makes the idea base to explore the surrounding attractions. Situated to the northwest of Cambodia, Battambang is full of interesting buildings left over from the French colonial era and has a pleasantly relaxed feeling that entices many travellers to extend their stay for a day or two.
Battambang takes its name from the legend of an ancient Khmer king, who is said to have calmed the city’s rebellions with his battambang staff. As you wander through the city streets you will see a statue representing this event as well as a number of interesting statues depicting mythical animals and religious characters.
There is plenty to see and do in Battambang. Start by climbing the hill of Phnom Sampeu to enjoy spectacular views of the city and explore the hill’s caves, stupas and monastery. Near the hill is Wat Banan, which is dubbed a mini Angkor Wat and contains a large Buddhist shrine. Just to the west of the city, Wat Ek Phnom has also been constructed in Angkorian style, while Wat Baydamran is home to hundreds of fruit bats.
Situated 70 kilometers north of the city of Battambang in northeastern Cambodia, Bantaey Chhmar is a pretty temple complex built by Jayavarman VII as a tribute to the death of his son Indravarman and four generals in battle. Dating back to the 9th century, this is a great place to explore on a day trip. A mighty battle took place on this site in 1177 when it was invaded by the Cham people. Those interested in the areas unusual history can find the story engraved on the stone ways that surround Bantaey Chhmar. The complex has been overgrown by forest, giving it a mystical quality and it features large Avalokiteshvara faces which are reminiscent of the Bayon temple near Siem Reap.
Head out of Battambang to discover the ancient wooden houses of Watkor, which is a very pretty village. Other nearby villages worth exploring include Kompong Seyma, and Ksach Puoy. These villages offer a real insight into traditional Khmer life and you will still find people engrossed in skills such as weaving and basket making.
An interesting way to explore this area is by riding the bamboo train known as the norry. The Wat Poveal Museums is a good place to learn more about the Khmer arts, while just 44 kilometres from the city is Pich Chenda, a very pretty nature and wildlife preserve.
Walk along the bank of the Sangker River in the evening and you will discover a large number of small food stalls selling traditional Khmer food and also delicious French bread. This is a great place to get a cheap meal and perhaps wash it down with a beer or two.
A great way to travel to Battambang is by boat from Siem Reap. This scenic journey takes you slowly through the countryside, past floating villages and fishermen along narrow canals and waterways.
Songkhla can be found in the very south of Thailand, near the Malaysian border. Located 950 kilometres from Bangkok, Songkhla is known as ‘the great city on two seas’. Songkhla’s history and culture is quite different to much of Thailand, making this an interesting place to get to know. About a third of the population is Muslim, and most are of Malay ancestry, which means that they speak the Patani Malay language.
Songkhla has a lot to offer, whether you are interested in history and culture, appreciate stunning scenery or simply want to chill on the beach and swim in the sea. The town is endowed with ancient ruins, arts, and places of cultural importance. Songkhla is a melting pot of Thais, Chinese and Malays and charms visitors with its unique traditions, dialect, and folk entertainment.
To discover the area’s history, the first stop should be The Songkhla National Museum, while the Phathammarong Museum is also a great source of local knowledge. The Bronze Mermaid Statue usually appears on postcards of Songkhla and represents the Hindu-Buddhist earth goddess Mae Thorani.
Songkhla is well known for its interesting architectural styles, which can best be seen in its temples and chedis. Some good examples are Wat Cha Thing Phra, Wat Pha Kho, Wat Chai Mongkhon and Wat Matchimawat. The city’s black and white stupas – known as Chedi Ong Dam and Chedi Ong Khao – should not be missed and Sating Phra Ancient Community is well worth a visit.
Songkhla also contains some areas of stunning natural beauty. Top of the list are the Khao Nam Khang National Park with its jungle, caves and waterfalls and Khu Khut Waterfowl Park. As its name suggests, Namtok Boriphat Forestry Park features a large number of waterfalls and beautiful forest, while Wat Tham Khao Rup Chang is an interesting cave temple.
Songkhla is blessed with a large number of caves to explore and mountain tops offering spectacular views over the area. A good place to start is Khao Nam Khang Historic Tunnel, while other mountains include Khao Tang Kuan, Khao Kao Seng and Khao Noi.
There are some very pretty beaches to soak up the sun on including Hat Samila and Hat Sakom, while Hat Yai is the liveliest town and famous for fresh seafood and Muay
Thai boxing matches. Whilst in Hat Yai, pay a visit to Wat Hat Yai Nai, which features a 35 meter reclining Buddha known as Phra Phut Mahatamongkon and the very pretty and peaceful Hat Yai Municipal Park.
Amongst the area’s small and somewhat secluded islands are Koh Maeo and Koh Nu (cat and mouse islands) and Koh Yo, which is a very pretty island famous for its cotton weaving community.
Of course, when it comes to eating, seafood dominates the menu. The best place to find a good selection of reasonably priced seafood is at the local night markets, where you can relax for a while at one of the small tables and watch the dramas of this charismatic area unfold around you.