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Koh Ker, Cambodia

Koh Ker, Cambodia
Koh Ker, Cambodia
Koh Ker, Cambodia

Situated to the north of Siem Reap, Koh Ker was formerly a capital of the Khmer empire and consequently contains a large number of ancient temples and other buildings. Now little more than a village in the middle of the jungle, Koh Ker’s remoteness is part of its charm and those who venture this far will be rewarded with the area’s intense natural beauty.
There are nearly a hundred crumbling temples hidden amongst the lush jungle. Prasat Thom is perhaps the best known and easily recognized by its towering pyramid shape and moat running around the base. At 40 meters high this is also the largest temple in the area and climbing to the top offers spectacular views across the jungle.

Many of these 10th century temples have been built from brick and mortar made from tree sap and have been very well preserved. Other temples of interest include Preah Vihear and Preah Kahn and a great way to explore is by taking a guided tour in an ox cart.

You can also hire a motorbike and zoom through the jungle. Take care if you choose this option as although the area has extensively been cleared of landmines there may still be some around. Stick to the well-worn paths at all times to avoid trouble.

Koh Ker is close enough to Siem Reap to visit on a day trip, or you can stay overnight at the little village of Sra Yong, where you are sure to receive a warm welcome along with basic accommodation and traditional home cooking. It is also possible to camp in this area, and the picturesque jungle is a great place to wake up in the morning.

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.

Chiang Khan, Thailand

Chiang Khan, Thailand
Chiang Khan, Thailand
Chiang Khan, Thailand

Situated in the northern part of Loei Province, Chiang Khan is the perfect postcard destination. This quaint little town is full of traditional timber houses and boasts a beautiful riverside location. This is natural location is a great place to unwind for a while or prepare to take a meditation course.

The village is easy to walk around and the many temples make good places to stop and explore. Wat Pa Klang is interesting as it is more than 100 years old, whilst Wat Mahathat is the village’s oldest temple. Also worth visiting are Wat Santi, Wat Thatkhok, Wat Si Khun Meuang and Wat Tha Khaek.

12 kilometers to the east of Chiang Khan, the monastic centre of Samnak Song Phu Pha Baen is a great place for a day trip. Here you will witness the rare and unforgettable sight of monks meditating in caves and on tree platforms.

Another great day trip is the Tai Dam village of Ban Napanard, where you can interact with the Tai Dam people and learn all about them at the Tai Dam Cultural Centre. You can even choose to stay on in one of the home-stay rooms to get a real feel of the culture and general way of life of these people, who originally migrated from Laos more than 100 years ago to live peacefully in Thailand.

For the adventurous, the opportunity to ride the rapids at Kaeng Khut Khu might prove irresistible. The rapids are located 6 kilometers from Chiang Khan. It is easy to hire a bicycle and cycle to Kaeng Khut Khu, or you can easily arrange a boat trip from Chiang Khan and enjoy a relaxing boat trip along the Mekong River.

Although valued for its peace and quiet, this little village definitely knows how to party. Those arriving during wan awk phansaa at Buddhist Rains Retreat in late October will experience an entirely different atmosphere. Chiang Khan marks the end of Buddhist lent with a week of celebrations. The boat races can get especially wild, and the giant carved wax candles are extremely beautiful. Definitely an event not to be missed.

Park Life

Bangkok Parks
Bangkok Parks
Bangkok Parks

I’ve often heard visitors to Khaosan Road complain that it is too developed, there are too many tuk-tuks and taxis and nowhere for them to relax and collect their thoughts in peace.

These people are obviously unaware of one of Banglamphu’s most beautiful and natural areas. For me, Santichaiprakan Park is a piece of Eden, a place to sit and read under the shade of a tree, watch the sun set or look on as groups of Thai teenagers and brightly-dressed backpackers do their thing.

As I wander through the park, I never know what sights await me. The park is situated on bank of the Chao Phraya River, and as I follow the zigzagging pathway a cool breeze blows across the river, welcome in the heat of the day. All around the park are benches so that people can sit and gaze out over the river. Many couples are doing just that, the natural setting acting as an enhancement for romantic feelings.

I pause for awhile under a huge tree tied with coloured scarves. This is the ancient Lam Phu tee, from which Banglamphu takes its name. The tree is believed to be more than 100 years old and is the last of its kind in the area. Nearby is another sacred tree – the Pho Si Maha Pho. The fruit, flowers and bark of this tree all have special medicinal properties.

The park was originally dominated by a sugar factory. 3.3 acres of this land were cleared and relandscaped as a public park to commemorate the 6th cycle of King Rama IX on December 5th, 1999.

Although often referred to as Phra Sumen Park, the official name is Suan Santichaiprakan. The name was provided by H.M King Rama IX and means: The Park with a Fort that Symbolised the Victory of Peacefulness.

It’s true that the fort has seen better days, but it is still an impressive structure. Situated at one end of the park, the octagonal brick and stucco bunker is 45 meters wide and a towering 18.50 metres tall.

Phra Sumen Fort, or Phra Sumeru Fortress as it is also known, was one of 14 forts built to defend against potential naval invasions. Now only two of these forts exist – the other being Mahakan Fortress, situated at Democracy Monument, near The Golden Mount. The fort is encircled by large cannons and has 38 rooms for ammunition and weaponry in its center.

As I wander around the fort, I come across a group of young Thai men playing Takraw, a special Thai game
similar to volleyball. Players cannot touch the ball with their hands but can use any other part of their body. Each team consists of three players and three contacts are allowed before throwing back the ball to the other side. I stand and watch for a few minutes as the players jump and twist their bodies into the air to smash the ball back at their opponents.

Around the other side of the fort near the river, an interesting event has just begun. People of all ages meet here at 6 pm each day to join this open air aerobics class. The class also draws a large number of spectators too as people of all nationalities gather to take in the site of dozens of lycra-clad bodies bending and stretching in the twilight.

The sun is nearly ready to set now. I walk through the park once more, past the dreadlocked backpackers playing bongos and wooden flutes under the trees. Their music makes an interesting accompaniment to the electronic beat of the aerobic class’ dance music.

I pause and watch a small group of jugglers practicing on a patch of grass. They skillfully twirl batons and throw balls into the air, twisting their bodies to catch the equipment with fluid grace. Nearby, a group of Thai teenagers are break-dancing, taking it in turns to impress each other with the latest moves.

The sun has begun to set now and I sit on a bench watching as it slips down the horizon.

Then it is back to Khaosan Road for a night of drinking, dancing and debauchery.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!