Tag - temple

Bokeo, Laos

Bokeo, Laos
Bokeo, Laos
Bokeo, Laos

The name Bokeo means ‘gem mine’ in the Laos language, and this small province is famous for its sparkling sapphires. Situated to the northwest of Laos near Thailand and Myanmar, this is Laos’ smallest province.

Most people travel to Bokeo to visit the Bokeo Nature Reserve, which is managed by The Gibbon Experience. Visitors to the reserve have the unique opportunity to stay in tree-top accommodation and observe the beautiful black crested gibbons in one of their last remaining habitats in the world. Visitors can also trek through the forest along the picturesque Nam Nga River.

Bokeo is home to 34 of Laos’ ethnic groups, with the largest being the Akha. These ethnic groups each follow their own individual traditional cultural practices. There are more than 450 villages in Bokeo to explore and trekking through the countryside can be a very rewarding experience.

Take a walk to the Chomkao Manilat temple and climb the steep flight of steps to the very top witness stunning panoramic views over Houy Xay city, the Mekong River and surrounding mountains and countryside.

Also known as ‘the Land of Sapphires’, panning for gold and mining precious stones is still a profitable job in Bokeo and you can witness this and perhaps pick up a bargain or two in the picturesque village of Ban Nam Khok.

A boat trip is a very relaxing and pretty way to explore Bokeo and it easy to arrange trips upstream from Houixay, stopping off at traditional villages such as Ban Namkeung Kout, Ban Namkeung Mai and Ban Done Deng on the way through the province.

The people of Bokeo are warm and welcoming and you are sure to be well received wherever you go. In the evening, head to the local markets for a good meal and some light banter with the people who work there.

Chaungtha Beach, Burma

Chaungtha Beach, Burma
Chaungtha Beach, Burma
Chaungtha Beach, Burma
Chaungtha Beach, Burma

Although the rewards are many and varied, exploring Myanmar in the heat can be draining and sometimes all you really want to do is relax somewhere pretty. Luckily, the country has a number of such spots, with Chaungtha Beach being one of the most picturesque and tranquil places to stay.

Chaungtha Beach is particularly popular on weekends and holidays, so for those who want to recreate that desert island feel it is best to visit during the week when there are few visitors to share the pure white sands and clear waters with.

Once you have found your place in the sun, there is plenty to see and do in the area. Take a boat trip to some of the pretty islands to explore. Among the best are White Sand Island and Pho Kalar Island, both of which are great places for swimming and snorkelling.

Chaungtha Beach is an area of great natural beauty that has been hardly touched by the ravishes of tourism. Accommodation is constructed to fir with the natural feel of the place and there are no bright neon signs and drunken beach discos like in many other beach resorts around the world. This is a great place for families to visit and for those who want to experience true tropical life.

Instead of the usual Bob Marley tracks and 80s pop classics, natural music is provided by the wind in the trees and the gentle whisper of the waves on the shore. Simply place your beach mat on the sand and drift away for awhile.

If you feel like exploring, hire a bicycle and cycle to Kyaut Maung Nhama, which is about two hours away, or three if you prefer to walk. Here you will find beautiful rocky shores and a temple balanced on a large boulder. 

This is a great place to dine on fresh seafood and crab is particularly popular here. Wash it down with a glass of coconut juice or something a little stronger if you prefer while you sit on the beach gazing at the stars.

Bagan, Burma

Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos
Bagan, Laos

Also sometimes spelt Pagan, the Bagan plain contains a collection of more than 4,000 ancient temples and is an impressive sight, even if you’re not particularly interested in old buildings or have already feeling ‘templed out’. One of Myanmar’s most significant historical sites, the best time to visit Bagan is around sunrise or sunset.

Although the collection of pagodas and temples at Bagan is still very impressive, their number once totaled around 13,000, and they were built in the years between 1044-1287 before finally being abandoned when Kublai Khan invaded the area from China and people literally ran to the hills.

Although the detailed carvings on each pagoda and temple make them all special in their own way, the most highly revered temple is considered to be Ananda, which was built by King Kyan-zit-tha in 1091. The main feature of the temple is the four large Buddhas, which represent the first four holy men to have achieved enlightenment.

Another great temple to visit is the Thatbyinnyu Temple, which is Bagan’s highest point and provides spectacular views of the entire area, while the Shwegugyi Temple was built in 1311 and is decorated with especially attractive carvings. Also worth looking out for is the Gawdawpalin Temple, which despite some damage during the 1975 earthquake is still very impressive.

There are quite a few decent places to stay in Bagan as well as restaurants, markets and surrounding beauty, making this a great place to spend a day or two while you explore slowly. While you’re here, check out Bagan’s interesting museum and lacquerware workshops.

For a fresh perspective and excellent views, take a hot air balloon ride over the Bagan Plain at sunset. This is a truly memorable experience and provides the opportunity to take some fantastic photographs.

Bagan is situated on the banks of the Ayerwaddy River, and sunset cruise on the river is a relaxing experience, while you can also be driven around the area in a horse cart or hire a bicycle and peddle around.

Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia

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.

Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Cambodia

Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Cambodia
Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Cambodia
Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, Cambodia

Located in the southern province of Takeo, Angkor Borei is one of the oldest sites in Cambodia, started in the 5th century and predating the famous Angkor complex. Angkor Borei was originally named Vyadhapura, and this picturesque town is divided into two halves by a gently flowing river and encircled by an ancient and gently crumbling wall.

Those who have a love for history and culture are sure to get a lot out of their visit to Angkor Borei, which was established more than 2,500 years ago. However, archaeological findings suggest that the town was established much earlier than this, as artefacts have been discovered here that date all the way back to the Neolithic period. To view these and a whole host of other interesting findings, visitors should check out the displays that can be found in the local museum.

Head 20 kilometres out of town and you will come to the hill of Phnom Da. Climb the hill of spectacular views of the area and to explore an 11th century brick temple commissioned by King Rudravarman as a tribute to the Hindu deity Shiva. Make sure you also check out the gently crumbling temple of Ashram Maha Rosei, which features unique decorations and intricate carvings.

A series of five manmade caves can be found around Phnom Da, which were originally created to serve as Buddhist shrines and were once the hideouts of the Viet Cong. One of the most striking and mysterious sites in this part of the world is the so-called floating bounder, which balances on three points so that seen from the right angle it appears to float in the air. This is also a good place to take in stunning views of the area all the way across the Vietnam.

An interesting way to get to Angkor Borei is by travelling by bus from Phnom Pehn to the city of Takeo and then taking a boat along the Prek Angkor River. The boat will stop for a while to allow enough time to explore Angkor Borei and then continue to Phnom Da.

Phnom Bayong, Cambodia

Phnom Bayong, Cambodia

Situated in the heart of the countryside, this spectacular ancient temple is more than worth the journey, which takes you away from the usual tourist trail and offers an insight into traditional Khmer life.

A large number of people here travel to Phnom Bayong via the border crossing of Phnom Den–Tinh Bien, which is situated some eight kilometres north of the temple. Phnom Bayong measures a mighty 313 metres and those who want to climb to the very top will need to allow around three hours to complete the return journey. While this can be rather challenging for those who are not used to the heat and humidity of Cambodia, the stunning views across to Vietnam are more than worth the effort.

The best time to complete the climb is either just before dawn or at the end of the day. Those who time their trip carefully should arrive at the top just in time to see the glorious sunrise or watch the sun slowly sink behind the horizon at the end of the day. However, the climb is far from easy at any time of day and it is best to wear comfortable shoes and bring along plenty of water.

While in the area, visitors should take the time to check out Phnom Tchea Tapech, which is another ancient temple that is topped by a standing Buddha image. The temple is adorned with intricate stone carvings and also offers enchanting views from the summit.

Phnom Bayong is located 50 kilometres south of Takeo and it is possible to visit the site on a day trip. However, the pretty town of Kirivong is just 3 kilometres west and there are a few places to stay here as well as restaurants offering traditional Khmer food and a number of backpacker favourites such as sandwiches and French fries.

Within easy driving distance of Takeo and Phnom Bayong is the Kirivong waterfall, which is a great place to relax for a while or wander along the surrounding pathways.

Kratie, Cambodia

Kratie, Cambodia
kratie_4

Situated on the banks of the Mekong River in eastern Cambodia, Kratie is a pretty colonial town surrounded by natural beauty. Although not a major tourist attraction in itself, large numbers of people flock here for the chance to spot the beautiful Irrawaddy Dolphins.

It is possible to visit Kratie on a day trip from Stung Treng, which is three hours away. However, Kratie’s quiet charm and the warmth of the local people coaxes many people to extend their stay for several days in order to explore fully and enjoy the tranquillity.

Kratie was developed by French colonialists towards the end of the 19th century and as you explore you will discover a number of French colonial buildings nestled alongside traditional wooden Cambodian houses.

Tragically, there are less than a hundred Irrawaddy Dolphins play in the waters of the mighty Mekong. A good time to spot them is at sunset and you can hire a boat and driver to take you out onto the river.

Perhaps the best way to fully explore Kratie is by hiring a bicycle from one of the many guesthouses. Cycle to the pretty pagoda of Sasar Moy Roy with its 100 pillars. According to legend this pagoda holds the ashes of a princess who was killed by a crocodile more than 500 years ago.

 Climb the steps to the top of Phnom Sambok for fantastic views of the river and surrounding countryside and visit the traditional Cambodian temple of Wat Roka Kandal. Forget about noisy motos, horse and cart is the main form of transport in Kratie and this is an interesting way to get around and see the sights.

There are a number of pretty islands close to Kratie such as Koh Trong and Kho Pdao. As you explore you will also discover a number of floating villages, where you can watch fish being caught in the traditional way and perhaps buy the catch of the day to be cooked at one of the local restaurants.

The sunsets over Kratie are simply spectacular and many people gather in the evening to watch the dying of the day. Enjoy freshly caught river fish at one of the many riverside restaurants and wash it down with a beer or two for the perfect end to a relaxing day.  

Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia

Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia
Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia

The ancient temple complex of Sambor Prei Kuk predates those at Angkor and this is a good place to visit before heading to see Cambodia’s national monument. Originally known as Isanapura, Sambor Prei Kuk was the capital of Chenla during the reign King Isanavarman in the early 7th century.

Sambor Prei Kuk contains more than one hundred red brick temples scattered through a pretty forest. Cool shade is provided by the thick vegetation, making this a pleasant place to explore slowly. Follow the sandy paths through the forest, which lead to ponds and shrines as well as quietly crumbling temples.

Visitors will discovere that all of the temples of Sambor Prei Kuk fall into three main groups. While the first and most popular group is known as Prasat Sambor, is dedicated to the Shiva incarnation known to the Khmer people as Gambhireshvara.

Situated in the heart of the forest, the Prasat Yeay Peau group is extremely peaceful, while Prasat Tao – also known as Lion Temple – is one of the largest temples in Sambor Prei Kuk and features two large lions carved by the Chenla people.

There is a craft shop near the entrance to Sambor Prei Kuk where you can pick up a souvenir or two and learn more about this interesting site. There are also a number of food stalls where you can buy a basic meal and a cold drink.

The main part of this interesting complex can be explored in two or three hours, although it is worth taking the time to soak up Sambor Prei Kuk’s uniwque atmosphere and explore each temple in detail.

Sambor Prei Kuk is located about 20 miles to the north of the town of Kompong Thom. This is a good place to spend the night and get a decent meal before heading off to Siem Reap to explore the mighty Angkor temple complex.

Prasat Preah Vihear, Cambodia

Prasat Preah Vihear, Cambodia

Prasat Preah Vihear, Cambodia

Also known as Khao Phra Wiharn or Sacred Monastery, Prasat Preah Vihear is one of Cambodia’s most striking monuments from the Angkorian period. This 800 meter temple is situated at an elevation of 730 meters and offers spectacular views across Cambodia to the scared mountain of Phnom Kulen.

Prasat Preah Vihear is an important pilgrimage site and was build to represent Mount Meru where many important deities are believed to reside. Climb the monumental stairway and pause to appreciate the detailed carvings that adorn the temple.

Look out for the Gopura on the third level, which displays an early rendition of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. The temple sits atop Pey Tadi, which is a rocky cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, providing interesting views into both countries.

Many people take a picnic with them so that they can enjoy the stunning views from the top while they eat. The large market place at the foot of Prasat Preah Vihear is a good place to buy freshly cooked food and snacks.

Prasat Preah Vihear is a great place to visit on the way into Cambodia from Thailand or just before you leave the country. For a really memorable adventure, travel to Prasat Preah Vihear by helicopter from Siem Reap.

The sunset is spectacular from the top of the temple and it is worth sticking around at the end of the day to see it. The nearest town to Prasat Preah Vihear is Kantharalak. Here you will find a number of basic guesthouses, restaurants and pretty places to explore, making this a good place to spend the night.

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

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.