Tag - travelers

Khao San Road Transport

Khao San Road Transportm Bangkok, Thailand
Khao San Road Transportm Bangkok, Thailand
Khao San Road Transportm Bangkok, Thailand
Khao San Road Transportm Bangkok, Thailand
Khao San Road Transportm Bangkok, Thailand
Khao San Road Transportm Bangkok, Thailand

Getting to and from Khao San Road is easy as this area is well connected to the rest of Bangkok by bus and ferry. Most taxi and tuk-tuk drivers also know this area well, so visitors should have no trouble getting here from any part of Bangkok or the surrounding area.

There is a direct bus to Khao San Road from the airport, and the journey takes around an hour. The air-conditioned AE2 bus takes passengers to the top of Khao San Road for 150 baht, while there are also small local buses that complete the journey for just 35 baht. Those who are travelling in a group may find it more economical and convenient to catch a taxi from the booth outside the main entrance. The fare should cost around 350 in total, including a small charge to cover the toll way tax.

Khao San Road isn’t located near either the underground or sky rail system. However, the Chao Phraya River is just a ten-minute walk away and pier 13 is located at the end of Phra Athit Road. Taking the ferry along the river is a great way to see the sights and it stops at a number of different districts such as Chinatown and Thonburi. There is a Skytrain station at Central Pier, which whisks visitors into the heart of Bangkok in a matter of minutes.

Buses pass by Khao San Road on their way to most parts of Bangkok and those in the know will be able to get around fairly easily by bus. The travel agencies on Khao San Road are a good source of information and most are happy to give advice about which bus to take.

All air-conditioned taxis in Bangkok are supposed to use the meter, which starts at 35 baht. However, most of the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers that par at either end of Khao San Road have to pay a fee to stay there are unwilling to use the meter. The fee they charge for trips is often quite high and it is better to walk a few meters from Khao San Road and flag one of the passing taxis, insisting that they use the meter.

The three-wheeled vehicles known as tuk-tuks are good at nipping through the Bangkok traffic, which can save time in the rush hours. It is important to negotiate the price before getting into the tuk-tuk as fare prices are not fixed. The quoted fare will usually be high to start with, but with a little gentle persuasion it is possible to end up paying around half the starting price.

There are a number of tuk-tuk drivers on Khao San Road who offer to take tourists on a trip around the city for just 20 baht. While this may seem like a cheap way to see the sights, visitors should know that these drivers make their money by taking tourists to a number of different jewellery shops on the way. They make a commission for anything you buy and if you plan to make a purchase anyway this could still be a good deal, but unsuspecting travellers could end up with more than they bargained for.

Phitsanulok, Thailand

Phitsanulok, Thailand
Phitsanulok, Thailand
Phitsanulok, Thailand
Phitsanulok, Thailand

Phitsanulok Province is situated 377 kilometres north of Bangkok and is an important centre for travellers wishing to explore the lower North and western Northeast regions of Thailand. The city of offers many interesting sites for visitors and a range of activities.

Phitsanulok is relatively easy for the independent traveller as most of the residents speak central Thai, whilst many speak English. The weather tends to be a little more moderate than much of the region and transportation is easy to find.

This is a great place for exploring the surrounding countryside, and the nearby Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park contains many beautiful waterfalls as well as a White Hmong Village. Another area of natural beauty just waiting to be discovered is the Tung Salaeng Luang National Park, with its stunning mountains, caves and waterfalls.

Phitsanulok was the birthplace of King Naresuan the Great, who reigned from 1590-1605. This is the legendary King who declared Ayutthaya’s independence from Burma in 1584 and is celebrated for his victorious and admirable single handed combat on elephant back against the Burmese Crown Prince.

There are many interesting temples to explore in and around the city of Phitsanulok including Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Nang Phaya and Wat Chedi Yod Thong. If you are interested in temple art, make sure you pay a visit to The Buranathai Buddha Foundry, which specializes in casting bronze Buddha images and is unique in the province

The Sergeant-Major Dr. Thawee Buranakhet Folklore Museum is an interesting place to spend an hour or two as it contains a collection of folk arts, crafts, pottery and ancient kitchen utensils.

Many visitors come to Phitsanulok to experience the challenging and exciting rapids nearby white water rafting, whilst others find inner peace at the Dharma Abha Vipassana Meditation Center.

The daily night market is a great place to shop for souvenirs, buy local fabrics and have a cheap meal, whilst others choose to splash out on a romantic evening meal at one of the city’s floating restaurants.

The people of Phitsanulok love to celebrate, and it is worth trying to time your trip to coincide with one of the festivals and local fairs. Each January, Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahatat Woramahawihan plays host to the Phra Buddha Chinnarat Fair, whilst the The Suan Chom Nan Park festival is held twice yearly along the Nan River. Also interesting are the Dragon Boat Races, which take place on the first weekend of each October. People crowd on the edge of the river banks to cheer for the huge, elaborately decorated boats, which are painstakingly created and have a crew of about 30 oarsmen.

The History of Khao San Road

The History of Khao San RoadWhen Bangkok was established in 1782, the center of the town was the Grand Palace area. For two centuries Khao San Road, which is 20 minutes’ walk from the Palace, remained a quiet residential area for the locals. Thailand’s most prominent lawyer/senator, Mr. Marute Bunnag and a billionaire medicine doctor/member of the House of Representatives, Dr. Decha Sukharom, started their careers in this prestigious area decades ago with small offices near the Police Station on Khao San Road.

How did the tranquil road turn out to be a Mecca for travelers? On the brink of Thailand’s economic boom in 1982, the Thai Government issued its policy to commemorate Bangkok’s bicentennial anniversary and celebrate the Buddhist calendar’s lucky year “2525”, by launching festive ceremonies in Bangkok to bring in tourist dollars. Tourists poured in from around the world, causing Bangkok’s hotels to overflow with bookings. The most spectacular festivities were performed in the Grand Palace.

Some backpackers, unable to get an overpriced room, successfully convinced local residents on Khao San Road to rent out vacant rooms in their houses, reasoning that, in return, the guest house owners could earn some extra income and it was convenient for them to travel to their destinations. The guest house business generated more profits than any amateur entrepreneur ever expected. Before long, more guesthouses, restaurants and souvenir shops sprouted along the road in full bloom.

Koh Chang Notes


Koh Chang, Thailand
koh_chang_notes_2
Koh Chang, Thailand
Koh Chang, Thailand

Koh Chang?

Yes, you know you’ve heard the name before, most travellers to Thailand have.  It’s that big island near the Cambodian border, about 300 km from beautiful downtown Bangkok.

So it’s busy then, loads of tourists?

No, although the name is now well-known most people seem to follow the herd to Koh Tao or Koh Phi-phi  – the backpackers’ Costa del Sol.  Even in high season Koh Chang rarely appears busy.

Why?

No idea. I’m the wrong side of thirty-five (just) so relating to the minds of youthful backpackers who’s idea of a goodtime is to blow their wads of eurodollars on buckets of vodka + Redbull and then boogie the night away to underground dance noise is beyond me. A small Heineken, ‘Sex in the City – series two’ DVD and I’m all set for the evening.   But, to hazard a guess at answering your question,  I’d blame a combination of Leonardo Di Caprio; a love of small, dark bungalows and the allure of well-chiselled Scandinavian scuba instructors of both sexes.

That sounds enticing, I mean the booze, tunes & Scandiavians rather than a sad evening in. . but why should I go to Koh Chang instead? 

For a start you wont be subjected to a screening of the ‘The Beach’ every evening during which the hippy next to you will claim loudly to a) have been paid $100 a day as an extra and b) that Leo is an OK guy for a movie star.  the other islands: decent fruit shakes, ticket agencies, Thai food made for farang palates, real coffee, a wide choice of new accommodation, ATMs, dive schools, a private clinic and the chance to hear the latest Coldplay album in every restaurant on the island.

Plus you will find that all your traveller requirements are catered for on Koh Chang as on You can also purchase souvenirs e.g. t-shirts bearing the still hilarious ‘McShit’ slogan or with the name of your favourite Thai beverage emblazoned in Thai script on them.

The difference is that Koh Chang is a ‘real’ island not just a dot on the map, therefore you won’t be walking around the island or even walking from beach to beach as on the smaller islands.  This means that the scenery is big: big hills, big jungle, big waterfalls.  This also means you can’t see all the island in a day.  Rent a motorbike, you will be able to find a beach, waterfall or fishing village to yourself simply by getting off your arse and doing a bit of exploring. You won’t get lost as there’s only one road. 

That doesn’t sound too bad . . . how serious is that big badly written roadside warning sign on way into Whitesands beach?

When not to go? The ‘Oriental Eden of the East’ welcomes visitors to paradise 365 days a year!  More realistically, high season is from December – April.  But you’ll find that you’ll almost certainly have good weather and no crowds at all in October, November and May.  Unless you have a backpack full of paperbacks; enjoy spending every other day feeling warm and wet; or can find ways to amuse yourself within the confines of your 6 square metre hut, it might be better to stay away during the rainy season which runs from June to September.
 
I’ve heard ‘The Treehouse’ is the place to stay, is that true?

Seemingly for most travellers the choice of accommodation is a toss up between The Treehouse on Lonely Beach and The Treehouse on Lonely Beach – so it was a pity it closed in Aug 2004.  Yes, it was a nice place to stay and five years ago it was a very nice place to stay but there are now plenty of alternatives for anyone wanting to sleep before 4am or who would rather not have to endure their fellow guests, overloud retelling of their riveting traveller’s tales during breakfast.  It’s extremely rare that you can’t find a room on Koh Chang, so take a look around before checking into the first cheap hovel you come across. Unless you’re on a really tight budget, why not choose a bungalow with glass in the windows, a bathroom and walls which aren’t paper thin?  It’ll only cost you 100 -200 baht / night more than a mini version of the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Briefly . . .

On Whitesands beach, cheap beachfront bungalows, 150-200 baht/night, a stone’s throw from a 7-11, are available at ‘KC Grande Resort’ as are aircon bungalows for around 600 baht/night.

The long and almost always deserted Klong Prao beach is home to ‘KP Huts’, an ever expanding assortment of over 30 huts of varying styles, sizes and prices right in the centre of the empty beach. 

Moving on Kai Bae offers a mix of tourist & backpacker accommodation, you wont find too many flophouses but there’s plenty of nice beachfront bungalows to choose from although the price is at the top end of a traveller’s budget (400 baht/night & up) ‘KB Bungalows’ is convenient, friendly, clean and affordable.

If it has to be Lonely Beach you’ll find that you can find a place to lay your head for 100 baht or less/night but you get what you pay for i.e. f&%k all in terms of decor, ambience, location and service.  A couple of decent places to stay are ‘Nature Beach’ has a wide expanse of beach on its doorstep and the clean, airy, cheap and new ‘Paradise Cottages’.

Bailan Bay is the quietest stretch on the west coast and is a good bet if budget peace and quiet are what you’re looking for.  New resorts are springing up here all the time, all within 10 minutes walk of each other and all after your custom as comparatively few visitors stay in this area.

At the very south of the island there are a few hut complexes near Bangbao, but as the ‘songtaews’ (converted pick-up truck taxis) rarely venture as far south as Bangbao you’re forced to hire a motorbike if you don’t want to be confined to your immediate surroundings.

And would it be correct to assume that there’s a veritable host of mid-price accommodation, including some very nicely designed boutique hotels and resorts, for anyone not into skimping and saving in order to stretch out their meagre savings for as near to eternity as possible?

Not surprisingly, it would.  ‘The Mangrove’ on Bailan Bay, ‘Saffron on the Sea’, ‘Keereeta’ & ‘Remark Cottages’ on Hat Kai Mook beach,  ‘Bhumiyama Resort’ on Lonely Beach, ‘Tropicana’ on Klong Prao beach and Bang Bao Sea Huts, beautiful but pricey wooden huts built, as the name suggests in the sea at Bang Bao, to name but a few.

OK, so ‘beaches’, ‘accommodation’, ‘beer’, ‘stuff to do’ . . . I’ve just got ‘culture’ and ‘food’ to tick off my checklist.  Can you help?

Sure.  There are a few temples on the island, none of which merit a visit unless you plan on cremating a close relative.  So culture wise we’re left with modern Thai culture in the form of the karaoke lounge.  The flyers, in Thai, for the ‘Milky Way’ karaoke pub on the outskirts of Whitesands promise visitors footie on a 150″ TV screen.

Being an island, seafood features almost as prominently as banana pancakes on restaurant menus but it’s worth remembering that a seafood meal for two will probably cost the same as a three nights accommodation in a moderate backpacker bungalow.  ‘Cookie’ restaurant on Whitesands beach is deservedly popular as it serves decent sized portions at decent prices.  Down in Bangbao, ‘The Bay’ restaurant is my favourite place for a 40 baht lunch in laid back surroundings.  Wherever you are staying it’s worth venturing further than your resort restaurant to eat as you’ll always be able to find a good local eaterie where you can get a meal for 20-25 baht.  If my missus doesn’t feel like cooking then we always get food from a no-name restaurant in Kai Bae.

As you head into Kai Bae from the north, go past the 7-11, on the opposite side of the road you’ll then pass ‘Oxygen bar & restaurant’ (itself a nice place for an evening meal), ‘Bee’s Coffee’, a tailors shop, a hairdresser’s and then a small open sided restaurant on a corner plot.  Try it, you won’t be disappointed, the menu’s in English too.  Also located in Kai Bae is ‘Papa’s Deli’ – the only place on the island you can get a baguette that not only looks, but also tastes like a baguette, a not inconsiderable feat.

Well, you’ve convinced me.  How do I get there?

Depending on how much of an independent traveller you really are you can either:

Pop down to any travel agent’s office on Khao San Road, say the magic words ‘Koh Chang’, point at the photo of a minivan designed to comfortably seat six but refitted to seat ten, hand over around 250 baht and then return at the day and time stated on the ticket to board the van.  The drive to the ferry pier will take around 5 hours by which time you’ll have probably lost all feeling in your legs.

Or

Find your own way to either Ekkamai or Morchit bus stations, buy a ticket to Trat, it’ll be about 170 – 190 baht.  The bus takes around 6 hours to get to Trat, depending on the number of toilet stops the driver requires.  From Trat, the passenger ferry pier at Laem Ngop is a 20 baht, 20 minute songtaew ride away.  Bus company staff will point you in the direction of the songtaews.

The ferries to the island takes around 40 minutes and once on the island you’ll see the white pick-up songtaews which are the island’s poor attempt at providing public transport.

Thanks for the info.  Can I buy you a beer?

Of course you can, I live on the island.  If you need more comprehensive info on Koh Chang please visit www.iamkohchang.com , or, if spending some of your time clad in a skintight rubber outfit is a prerequisite of your travel plans, you’ll find all you need to know about scuba diving off Koh Chang at www.divekohchang.com.

Santa Comes to Thailand

Unfortunately tourists, backpackers and travelers never get the real spirit of Thailand because they are not in country long enough. For those who stay or have relationships with families, you may relate to the following event.

When my wife and I decided to return to Thailand for Christmas, we decided to give the kids of the village something that they never had before — Santa Clause. Most nationals in Thailand are Buddhist and don’t celebrate Christmas, but they certainly have heard of Christmas. But do they understand its meaning? No not really.

In preparation, we purchased a Santa suit in Australia, together with Santa sack, beard and many presents. We arrived in my wife’s village [sub village of Nakhon Sawan] and were greeted by the family. It was nice to see them and they were all keen to receive gifts. We had to explain that the gifts were not going to be given out until Christmas Morning. It was also decided to have an Aussie barbeque for lunch on Christmas Day.

My wife organized all the food and we prepared it for our family and friends. This was my Christmas gift to everyone, as they would never have had anything like it before. We borrowed a barbeque from a local restaurant and purchased the refreshments. My mate and his wife joined us from Korat and we commenced the activities.

I had brought music tapes from Australia and everyone was amused to see two farang’s singing and dancing to tunes that they had never heard before. The most rewarding thing was when a local restaurant owner kept on repeating ‘aroy, aroy’ – she certainly loved the marinade pork steaks, and chicken salad.

Christmas day fell during the week and all the kids were at school, so naturally Santa had to visit the school. He arrived bells ringing on the back of a shiny new red motorcycle. Santa explained through the teachers about Christmas and the birth of Jesus in the Christian Faith, and the belief in Santa Clause and its origins, then he gave lollies to every child in the school. The children then responded by giving Santa a truly fine dancing and drum exhibition. The experience was great for everyone and Santa was asked to return next year. Who knows!

Later in the day Santa went through the village and gave lollies to all the kids that he saw. All-in-all a very satisfying day.

Cheers,

Garry

Bangkok or bust – a further episode from down under!

OK fellow travelers, you have decided on a holiday to Thailand. You have prepared yourself by buying books and looking at travel brochures. Spoken to your friends who have been there before, and you are ready to experience all that is on offer. Well now I will let you know the things that you don’t know.

This report is generalities because your age, sex, budget, mode of transport and destination are unknown. Therefore for this episode we will concentrate on Bangkok and feature other destinations later. Is that OK? We also assume that you are flying in to Bangkok.

As you approach and prepare for touch down, you can see the size of Bangkok from the window. But only night flights can heighten the sense of excitement as you stare at the fairy lights of the city, which disappear into the distance. Bangkok is immense and not to be taken as a sleepy backwater. After you disembark it is easy to follow the directions or just follow the other passengers to the immigration area where they check your passports, visas etc.

Depending on the time of arrival the duty free shops may be open as well as cafes and retail shops. Toilet and shower facilities are available for your convenience, and very important, there are Automatic Teller Machines located in the walkways. You should use these machines to obtain Thai currency. These machines are connected to the banking system and you will get the best possible rate of exchange without any additional fees.

Once you have passed through immigration descend the stairs and collect your luggage. Now you are required to pass through customs, and lets hope you are not the one with contraband and get caught. Every thing is going good right? As you exit the door to the public area persons offering taxis or cars will swoop you on. If at this stage you have not changed money at an ATM then there is a moneychanger near the door. They don’t give a good rate and charge a fee. Try to avoid this situation.

Now proceed outside and you will see the ‘taxi meter’ stand with lots of cabs. You go to a booth to organize the ride to your destination and there is a surcharge. You [the customer] also have to pay the toll. Now if you arrive on a Sunday tell the driver not to take the toll way, as the traffic is light and no quicker. The shuttle bus is also located in this area and around 70 baht for a ride into town. The train station is across the road, and once again depending on time of your arrival dictates what mode of travel you should take.

For those who are traveling on organized tours someone may pick you up and spirit you away to your hotel. But for the budget or backpacker where every dollar counts, it should be made aware to you that there are thousands of rooms available?everywhere. After check in, it may be time to explore or snore. Factors of age, time and jet lag will determine your activities on arrival. However lets say after 2-4 hours you are ready to explore. Armed with your translator or dictionary or what ever, out you go full of confidence. Use your brains ask the management of the hotel about the immediate area and a few places to see. Perhaps they will suggest a private car or tour. It is not a bad idea for the first day until you get your bearings.

Remember there are some unhappy experiences to be had as well if you fall into the wrong company. But you are an adult now and can handle anything, right? Wrong? Not in a country that speaks a tongue other than your own. Bangkok is not a city for the faint hearted but its vibrancy and love for fun is hard to be beaten. Many beautiful sights can be seen in this city devoted to ‘Sanuk’.

Good Luck and I hope this story adds a little to your life.

Garry

Slowly Down the Mekong

Slowly down the Mekong
Slowly down the Mekong
Slowly down the Mekong
Slowly down the Mekong

In Southeast Asia, smug backpackers parade their Laotian transport horror stories like war medals. Mention Laos to a group of travelers and you will no doubt be entertained by a playful one-upmanship, with stories of buses catching on fire, boats capsizing, innocent tourists becoming unwitting drug mules. Each survivor’s tale is a testimony to their own fearlessness. Now I’m no backpacker princess, I’ve endured my share of spiders in the bed and pickpockets in the markets. But even in the adventurous travel game, the risk of injury sends me clutching my first aid kid like a baby blanket. This cautiousness was tested when I crossed the Thai-Laotian border into Huay Xai, a tiny border town that people enter in order to leave again. Here, the travel options were a spine-rattling bus, a deafening speedboat, or 2 full days on a longtail slowboat. And so I signed on for a two-day slowboat down the Mekong, from Huay Xai to the reputedly charming Luang Prabang. For better or worse, it would provide an up-close introduction to Laos.
Day One

My fellow boaters and I have stuffed the vessel with enough baguette sandwiches, Pringles, and water bottles to last us days. Also aboard are every model of ipod, ipod nano, and mp3 player possible, six copies of The DaVinci Code (in six different languages), and two dozen Lonely Planet books. Armed and ready, we set off down the river.

The land around the Mekong is mostly unspoilt, with a few sparse hilltops that are clear-cut for local farming. It’s a peaceful change from the hustle of Thailand, seeing the countryside unfold at each bend in the lazy river. With an economy dependent on agriculture and a topography where arable land is sparse, the land surrounding the Mekong accounts for a good portion of Laos’ rice production. This is a staple of the Laotian diet as well as its economy, and in a country with limited roads and no railways, the river is a hub of transport. And yet, while the Mekong is a hub of sustenance for the country, today the waters are calm and the scenery is tranquil.

The boat stops on a sandy bank and local children bustle on board, their arms full and voices loud. Cold soft drinks, Beerlao and water; cigarettes, cookies, and potato chips, and the odd bag of pineapple, are all for sale by the quick and persistent children, whose fearless vending tactics make them tiny, pushy adults. I start to wonder what poor impressions the Laotians have of a Western diet. Apparently, they have been led to believe none of us.

Biscuits and snacks are passed around as we sail on. I barely notice the darkening sky as we dock in Pakbeng, a tiny riverside town ripe with English-speaking vendors and foodstalls stocked with more Western goods. At the rickety wooden dock, the whole street seems uniquely catered to

slowboating tourists on their evening stopover. The slow parade of backpack-laden figures spills into town, everyone happy to be up and moving after a long day of sitting on wooden benches. Back at my hotel, other slowboaters sit drinking beers at the open-air restaurant. The hustling noise of the town, vendors yelling, dogs barking, old cars coughing, makes me eager to be back on the calm river again.
 
Day Two
 
In the morning, there’s camaraderie on the boat as cheerful but weary travelers compare guesthouse notes (mine had Indiana Jones bedsheets, but only a trickle of cold water in the shower) . My hunch to arrive early proved correct – there are limited cushions on the seats today, but my boatmates are getting creative with sleeping bags, towels, and sweaters. No one comes onto the boat today to sell snacks. Instead, we are all are quietly occupied with books, diaries, and card games. Some people are at the back, cold bottles of Beerlao in hand, chattering in that good-humoured way that large beers allow.
 
Two days on the Mekong is a vivid introduction to Laos, in terms of scenery but also character. Here, the pace is steady but relaxed, the breeze cooling, the landscape fantastically unspoilt. Apart from the splash of the boat’s wake, and the occasional tinny Jack Johnson tune from a backpacker’s ipod, the only noise comes from the odd roaring speedboat, splitting the calm. Their racket confirms our thoughts: to roar speeding through Laos would be all wrong. Go crashing through a country and you’ll miss the fine details; the mountain goats on clifftop, the thatched huts dotting mountain peaks, the clusters of children splashing and waving on the riverbank.
 
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.

Taking it Easy in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos

Tourists arriving off a 2-day slowboat bustle around the town, eager to stretch their stiff legs. Trekking enthusiasts use the town as a base point for their ventures north into the dense jungles and tribal villages. Buddhists and curious scholars flock to Phou Si, a sacred hilltop site where Buddha’s footprint is still pressed into the side of the mountain. Luang Prabang may be a mere stopover point on your trip through Laos, but this town merits a few days for exploring. Veteran travellers praise it as a place they’d visit again and again, UNESCO named it a heritage site, and KhaoSanRoad.com applauds it as one of Southeast Asia’s most charming sites.

The remnants of French colonization are still visible on Luang Prabang’s main streets, where colonial architecture coexists with the gilded or teak points of traditional Laotian buildings. Old churches stand beside older wats, and the result is a picturesque mix of architectural styles. While the city is in rapid development thanks to tourist exposure and foreign business, it still maintains a picturesque, European feeling. On a clear day, the city’s winding streets and pretty rivers make it a photographer’s dream.
 
For accommodation, Luang Prabang has a competitive guesthouse market, and touts will greet you no matter where your arrival point may be. The Merry Guesthouses (1 and 2), on the northern end of the downtown, are fantastically clean, spacious and quiet, with kind and helpful staff. Those looking for a view of the Mekong should try Vong Champa Guesthouse, which is clean, cosy, and impressively cheap.
 
By day, the Phou Si mountain offers beautiful views of the surrounding landscape, as well as ornate Buddha statues, a Buddha footprint, and a solemn cave shrine. Near the main street, the former royal palace of Haw Kham is the stuff of postcards; opulent shrines, murals and furnishings, showing many different traditional styles of Laotian art and decoration.
 
For a bit of downtime, L’Etranger is a two-storey gem with a used bookshop/book exchange on the bottom floor and a comfortable teahouse on the top, which plays smart artsy films on weeknights at 7pm. Located on the north side of Phou Si mountain, the great selection of books, teas and snacks make it well worth a visit.
 
Those looking to get out of the city should book a taxi or rent bikes to get to Kuang Si Falls, 30km outside the city. These perfectly blue, multi-layered falls are set amidst lush jungle, and tourists may find themselves lounging all day in these pools. At the entrance, by the odd yet heartwarming bear zoo, stalls of food and drinks ensure that visitors will not go hungry.
 
Come nightfall, restaurants illuminate their patios, inviting travellers to eat and drink while people watching on Xiang Thong, the main street which hosts a vibrant night market. Here, tourists stock up on anything from handmade quilts to ubiquitous Beerlao T-shirts. Foodwise, baguette is a local specialty, and many restaurants go the mile in western offerings by boasting full French menus, with wine and cheeses among its fare. While the food is indulgently delicious, cheaper and fresher fare is available at the many night markets in alleys branching off Xiang Thong. Here, a vegetarian buffet of fresh produce from the Laotian countryside will cost a mere 5000 kip. These markets host a more local nightlife, where Laotian families gather to eat at tiny plastic tables.
 
Though the city is relatively quiet at night, there are still a handful of good bars. Young and thirsty tourists flock to the funky Hive Bar, beside L’Etranger, or the breezier Laos Beer Garden. When the bars close at midnight, tuk-tuk drivers are ever-available to take tourists to Vietnam Bar, an after-hours speakeasy of sorts with good music, plenty of seating, and the liveliest crowd in town.
 
Though Luang Prabang serves as a stopover point for many, its languid pace and compact downtown make it an easy spot to relax. In the midst of the eco-tourism that makes Laos so famous, this city is a great place to spend a few days sipping good coffee, exploring old buildings, and feeling immediately at home in Laos’ most welcoming town.

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.

Pai – Northern Thailand’s Sweetest Find

Pai – Northern Thailand's Sweetest Find
Pai – Northern Thailand's Sweetest Find
Pai – Northern Thailand's Sweetest Find
Pai – Northern Thailand's Sweetest Find
Pai – Northern Thailand's Sweetest Find

It’s possible you’ve never heard of Pai. This small town lies tucked away in the Thai landscape, a stomach-churning bus ride through the mountains west of Chiang Mai. While those who have passed through become fierce fans, it’s a town left off most travel routes. If you do make the journey and want to draw smiles here, tell fellow travelers that you only plan to stay a night or two. Every response is the same, a friendly caution. “You say that now, but wait…”

But no one in Pai is doing much waiting. Instead, they occupy their days bathing in nearby hotsprings and waterfalls, or eating and drinking in offbeat cafes. Visitors will find themselves getting Thai cooking classes, massage lessons, bamboo tattoos, and chatting the hours away with Pai’s eclectic population of passing backpackers and fun, friendly locals. After one or two nights, most travelers will gladly postpone their outbound tickets another few days, weeks, or indefinitely.

So what makes this town so exceptional? It doesn’t hurt to point out that Pai is undeniably beautiful, situated in the northern mountainscape. An easy motorbike rental allows access to the town’s nearby sites; waterfalls, hotsprings, elephant camps and explorer-friendly caves. Intrepid backpackers can use Pai as the base for jungle treks, hill tribe tours, and rafting trips.

But beyond the landscape, Pai’s charming small-town friendliness seems to be infectious, as strangers smile and say hello to one another on the street. It’s the town’s warm and relaxed atmosphere which makes it feel more homey than transient. Any traveler who has tired of busting cities and long tuk-tuk rides will delight in Pai’s walkable downtown. Here, travelers have drinks and chat leisurely at streetside cafes. On the main street, by the bus station, movie booths and art galleries line the road, among Khmer handicrafts and homemade jewelry stalls.

To a visitor, it feels that Pai has reached a happy medium of offering traveler-friendliness without being suffocated by tourism. Schoolchildren bustle home along the main streets, local artists sell their wares, a nightmarket on the eastern side of the town comes alive in the late afternoon. Though small in size, Pai’s active daily culture keeps it vibrant for local and tourist alike.

At the end of a long day, the town doesn’t quiet down. Fubar, a hilltop bar just across the bridge from the centre of town, is arguably the best nightspot in Pai. Here, you can catch the spectacular mountain sunset, as well as delicious local food. Even at nightfall, the town remains laid-back and social. After dark, Pai ignites as one traveler community, with people chatting and strolling around the foodstalls of the main street, off to sample the local Burmese-influenced cuisine, then to catch the live music at nearby BeBop. Not a bad way to spend a night, or two, or most likely more.

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.