Tag - sun

An Introduction to Malaysia

Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia
Location and History of Malaysia

Situated in Southeast Asia, Malaysia’s tropical climate makes it the perfect place to visit in the winter when the chilly weather in other countries makes people want to head for the sun. Blessed with a number of beautiful beaches, sun-kissed islands and pristine rainforest, many people travel to Malaysia to enjoy the good weather and natural beauty.
A good way to reach Malaysia is by train from Thailand, which borders Malaysia to the north. First stop should be the pretty island of Penang, where you will find clean beaches, hilltop temples, large gardens and colonial buildings. To the south is the capital city of Kuala Lumpur with its famous Petronas Towers and great shopping and dining options.

Head to the Cameron Highlands to wander through lush tea plantations in the cool air and snorkel in amongst colourful coral on the Seribuat Archipelago before stretching out on one of the picture perfect beaches. There are a good number of national parks to explore, all offering stunning natural beauty such as sparkling waterfalls and caves as well as interesting wildlife. Soak away aches and pains in the Poring Hot Springs and head to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre for an unforgettable experience.  

One of Malaysia’s big attractions is its cultural diversity. Malays, Chinese and Indians all live side by side here, adding their own individual style to the mix. This is a good place to experience festivals and particularly vibrant are the Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas celebrations.

Food lovers will never be bored in Malaysia as the blend of cultures means that there are a wide range of dishes to try. As well as traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine, fusion food is also popular and western fast food restaurants are easy to find.

Malaysia is a country that truly offers something for everyone. Explore magnificent mosques and glittering temples in the country’s bustling cities before heading to the beach to soak up the sun or take part in a range of adventure activities such as diving, rock climbing, windsurfing and snorkelling.

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary

The name of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary is a little misleading, as rather than a wide open space where animals are permitted to roam freely, this is little more than a large zoo. All of the animals at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary are cages, and as is often the way in Asia, the cages seem to be rather cramped.

However, those who are travelling with children may want to take the kids here as a break from visiting the area’s temples and other historical sites. All of the animals that can be found at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary have been recued from the clutches of traffickers and the traps of poachers, however, and the sanctuary does give visitors the chance to view a number of rare species.

Those who want the chance to get up close and personal with the animals of Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary have the chance to be a bear keeper for a day, which involves feeding and taking care of one of the cute infant Malaysian sun bears, an offer almost too good to be true.

Many of the animals are also trained to perform tricks to capture the attention and admiration of visitors, an it is possible to take in the unusual sight of elephants playing football or creating works of art, while nearby colourful birds walk on tightropes and solve maths problems.

It is possible to visit Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary on a daytrip from the capital city of Phnom Penh, as it is located just 40kms from the city centre. Most of the local drivers know the way here, and also offer to chauffer visitors around the sanctuary itself, which is ideal for those who are suffering from the heat and humidity.

Sayabouri, Laos

Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos

Also known as Sainyabuli, this pretty province is situated in the northwest of Laos, to the west of the Mekong River. Surrounded by limestone mountains, rice fields and forests, this is a great place to explore the countryside and experience the traditional Lao way of life.

Most travellers overlook Sayabouri on their way to nearby Luang Prabang and Vientiane, but peaceful Sayabouri is a great place to relax and discover the natural beauty of the areas such and waterfalls, caves and forests.

As you wander around Sayabouri you will discover a large number of pretty temples to explore, and Wat Ban Thin, Wat Ban Phapoun and Wat Ban Natonoy are probably the largest and most popular.

A great day trip destination is the Nam Phoun National Biodiversity Conservation Area. This enormous forest contains a large number of high peaks and climbing to the top provides excellent views of the region. The conservation area is also home to a large number of animals such as the Asiatic black bear, elephant, gibbon, Malayan sun bear and Sumatran rhino.

The people of Laos have been using elephants in the forestry industry for centuries and Sayabouri is one of the few places where you can still see this practice in action, which makes a refreshing change from viewing the mighty beast from behind bars.

A good time to visit Sayabouri is during the annual elephant festival, which is held over two or three days in the middle of February by the Lao PDR National Tourism Authority to encourage the use of elephants in tourism-related activities. There are around 200 elephants in Sayabouri and during  the festival more than fifty of them take part in a procession through the town. The festival is a vibrant affair with much drinking, dancing, fireworks and boat races.

More than 10,000 people travel from all over Laos to take part in the elephant festival and this is a great time to see Laos people at their best as they dress in traditional costumes, share food and drink.

Although Sayabouri is much quieter the rest of the year you will find a warm welcome whenever you arrive and there are some interesting places to sleep and eat.

Ream National Park, Cambodia

Ream National Park, Cambodia
Ream National Park, Cambodia
Ream National Park, Cambodia
ream_national_park_4

Ream National Park is Cambodia’s most diverse national park. Located about 12 miles from Sihanoukville, the park has been open since 1993. Ream covers 21,000 hectares; 15,000 hectares of land and 6,000 hectares of river and sea. Here you will find secluded beaches, tropical jungles and wide rivers. Over 155 species of bird call Ream home, as well as Sun Bears, the endangered elongated tortoise, eagles and even dolphins.
A boat trip through the national park is the perfect way to see the natural beauty of this charming area. Sail away down the Prek Tuk Sap River in a small motorboat, sheltered from the hot sun by a canvass roof. The scenery is spectacular and the banks of the river are lined with mangrove forests. There is plenty of wildlife to see such as beautiful green kingfishers, monkeys hooting in the trees and purple jellyfish.

As you glide slowly along the river, you will pass people digging in the river bed for shellfish and fishing from small boats. After a couple of hours, you will arrive at Koh Som Poch Beach, where you can swim or sunbathe while lunch is prepared.

Walk for about an hour through tropical jungle rich with plant life and you will come to the Thmor Thom fishing village. The buzz of cicada beetles is loud and exoticly beautiful butterflies flutter through the forest.

Ream’s intense natural beauty leads many people to set up home here and the population has doubled in the last eight years. This means that resources such as wood, herbs, fish and fruit are seriously over-used. There is also the problem of illegal logging and poaching to deal with. Luckily, this situation is slowly but steadily changing thanks to the injection of cash that the tourism industry is providing. Illegal fishing and logging are being stamped out, and the forests of the area are gradually regenerating.

It is possible to book a tour of Ream National Park at a number of places in Sihanoukville. The prices of tours vary according to the company you opt for, but all tours include meals as well as transportation and entrance into the park.

Isaan Life – Harvesting Rice

isaan_life_1
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand

BAN KU MUANG, UBON RATCHATHANI: Last week I found myself hip-deep in the sun-drenched rice paddies of northeast Thailand, 13,000 kilometers from the snow-covered fields of my home in Vermont in the northeastern United States. Overcome with curiosity about the labor-intensive, harvesting process that produces one of the world’s most plentiful crops, I decided to see how it’s done first hand. Well let me tell you, it’s back breaking work! I have a new found respect for everyone that works in those rice paddies. It was two of the more uncomfortable, difficult, backbreaking days of work I have every experienced in my life.

Aidan Curley an English teacher here in Isaan, contacted a family and asked if I could work for a couple of days in Ban Ku Muang, a small farming village encapsulated by rice fields. They were more than happy to have an extra pair of hands, even if they were unskilled. I had no idea what I was getting into. Waking up before seven a.m. for school back home had always been a struggle, but waking up at five a.m. to harvest rice seemed like a suicide wish. Bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, I trudged off to work at dawn and soon found myself surrounded and submerged in a sea of tan rice plants sticking up from the soggy earth. I wore a pair of mud boots, unfortunately too small for my feet, a hat to shelter my pale face from being burnt to a crisp, wool gloves to provide small protection from the razor sharp sickle used to cut the crop and a jacket to keep the sun off my arms.
 
My co-workers, all dressed the same, were part of an extended family including the mother, Youanji; father, Naiton; son, Naicheng and a daughter, Nangdam. They had twice the energy and resolve that I had that morning even though they had been working the fields for almost four months straight, every single day!
 
For the first hour of ‘Gee Ow Cow’, as the rice harvest is known, Naicheng guided me through the painstaking cutting ritual that is repeated a thousand times each workday. He spoke no English, but my Thai is good as I spent a high school semester in Ubon Ratchathani and studied the language intensively back home as well. As a first-time harvester my job was simply to cut the stalks and leave them on the ground for others to process. Using my sickle I would gather the rice plants into my hand and then slash the stalks just centimeters away from my fingers. I would repeat the process until my hands were full. Twice in the first hour I cut clean through my glove taking skin off of my hand. My co-workers were amused but encouraged me in my effort.
 
By the eight a.m. breakfast break I was fully awake and beginning to work into a rhythm. I was also exhausted. Breakfast was enjoyable, it included a dish called ‘Sok Lek’ which is raw meat soaked in blood, and ‘Lao Cow’ a white whiskey. Naiton explained: “The Sok Lek will make you strong, and the whiskey will make you forget about how hot it’s going to get.” This sent the other three into a fit of laughter causing me to feel nervous.
 
Sure enough the blistering heat came and so did a killing back pain. Bending down for hours each day for months, I wondered why my co-workers weren’t all hunchbacks. After only half a day I was beginning to feel ancient myself. Naicheng and his family had beautiful spirits; he turned to me after a while and asked, “Does your back hurt?” I returned his question with a smile: “A little bit.” He smiled back and asked: “Are you hot from the sun?” I laughed through the sweat pouring down my face: “A little bit.” Naicheng looked at me knowingly and said: “That’s why we must talk to each other because talking will make you forget about the pain in your back and the heat from the sun.” It was a very sweet thing to say and he was a right. After talking about my country and his, his life and mine, I began to forget the pain and heat. I was into the rhythm of the harvest. The back pain was unbearable however when we quit for the day at five p.m. I dragged myself onto Aidan’s motorcycle and collapsed exhausted in my bed. I was fast asleep by eight thirty.
 
The following day was much like the first however I moved a little faster. I was confident but still a novice. I was also foolish. I wore a short-sleeved shirt and by mid morning I had a horrid, painful sunburn. The conversation turned to food. Youanji was very interested in the foods I had eaten in Thailand. I love Thai food and back home am considered an expert by my friends. Even my brother, a professional chef asks me questions about Thai spices and cuisine. Youanji asked me: “Have you ever eaten field mouse before?” Thinking that she was joking I replied, “No, but I’d love to try it.” She seemed excited and invited me to dinner the next night. I was skeptical thinking perhaps she was teasing me.
 
To be polite I accepted but sure enough as soon as I arrived to her home a glass of whiskey and a big platter of roasted meat was placed in front of me. I could see it was a mouse or at least a rodent; it had a long tail that Naiton snatched and crunched into his mouth. My image of a field mouse was the tiny creature that hides in the lush green grass back home. This mouse was more like an oversized rat; it was the size of my forearm. Not knowing what to expect I picked up a meaty looking piece and slowly put it into my mouth. Bam! Steak, chicken, beef all thrown together into one delicious bite! I couldn’t believe I was eating mouse. I was converted from a doubter to an addict in one bite.
 
Harvesting rice is something I will not choose as my life’s work. I probably wouldn’t ever want to do it again; the long hours are too much for too little. However, the people that do this everyday, some seven days a week, are generous, hard working and fun loving and I respect them deeply.

Eli Sherman is a graduate of Montpelier High School in Montpelier, the capital of the state of Vermont, USA, and a “young blood writer” living in Ubon Ratchathani, Isaan – Northeastern Thailand. He’s been to Isaan four times in his short life. Once on a cross cultural exchange with Montpelier to Thailand Project; once coming for five months as an exchange student at Benchama Maharat school in Ubon; and again coming as a guide for Montpelier to Thailand Project. He now works as a volunteer at the Institute of Nutrition Research Field Station, Mahidol University in Ubon Ratchathani and is writing to present Isaan Life to the world, and especially KhaoSanRoad.com visitors.