Tag - trees

Khong Island, Laos

Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island

Also known as Don Khong, Khong Island is located right in the south of Laos near the Cambodian border. Part of the 4000 islands that comprise the Sii Pan Don area, this is an area of intense natural beauty.

The pace of life is slow on Khong Island and this is a great place to relax and unwind. Although not a lot of travellers make it this far south there are still a good range of hotels and guesthouses here and many visitors are tempted to extend their stay as they become seduced by the gentle pace of life.

The 12 mile long island is home to a stunning collection of flora and fauna and for the patient it is possible to spot the rare Irrawaddy dolphins playing in the Mekong River. A good way to spend a day is trekking to the the Khonephapheng waterfall, which is one of the largest falls in Southeast Asia.

Another pleasant activity is to hire a boat and simply sail away. Many villages are located on the banks of the river such as Muang Saen village and this is a good way to visit these villages and meet the friendly people that live there.

There are a number of pretty temples and monasteries to explore on Khong Island, among them Wat Phu Khao Kaew, where the monks who stay there are welcoming and happy to answer questions.

Palm sugar production is big business on Khong Island due to the large number of palm trees. As you wander around the island you will be able to watch to sugar being harvested for the palm trees and women boiling it in huge metal pans. When the palm sugar is cool it hardens and tastes a lot like fudge. The palm sugar is delicious either eaten on its own or added to tea or coffee and makes a great souvenir.

The evenings are quiet on Khong Island. Sit by the river and watch the sun set through the palm trees. Many people gather at the night market, and this is a good place to swap gossip, do some shopping and find a good meal.

Luang Namtha, Laos

Luang Namtha, Laos
Luang Namtha, Laos
Luang Namtha, Laos

Bordered by both China and Myanmar, Luang Namtha province is situated to the north of Laos and is home to 39 of the country’s ethnic groups. This is a good place to pause before making your way into China as the Chinese-Lao border crossing is located nearby at Boten and connects Laos with Mohan in China. Visitors to Luang Namtha will notice some similarities between the local culture and that of China, and those familiar with Laos will enjoy making comparisons between this province and the rest of the country.

This region is famous for its stunningly beautiful rainforest and unspoilt monsoon forest and no visit to Luang Namtha would be completed without a trip to the Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area. There are plenty of animals to spot here including tigers, bears, clouded leopard, and gibbons as well as a large collection of colourful birds and reptiles.

Luang Namtha is a good place to rest and relax and immerse yourself in the beauty of the area. Walking is a good way to explore and there are several villages where you can stay for a day or two and simply explore or relax by the river and listen to the wind in the trees.

The town of Luang Nam Tha is a good place to stay and you will find plenty of basic places to stay and evening entertainment at the night market. Surrounded by a pretty patchwork of rich rice paddy fields, this is a great place to stop for a day or two and get learn about the diversely different tribes that live in the villages nearby. The town sits on a hilly area and provides great views of the surrounding countryside.

A popular activity around Luang Namtha is trekking. There are a number of experienced guides available and embarking on a trek with a qualified guide can be a rewarding experience as they can provide an insight into the unique culture of the region and make can provide access to the many villages and villagers themselves.

Tranquil and picturesque, the town of Muang Xing has a great collection of friendly guesthouses where you are sure to receive a warm welcome and a good meal. This is a good place to arrange trekking and hiking trips and to meet fellow travellers to share a beer or two in the evening and swap stories with.

Kalaw, Burma

Kalaw, Burma

Kalaw, Burma
Kalaw, Burma

Surrounded by dramatic mountains, flowing rivers, colourful villages and bamboo groves, the pretty hill station of Kalaw is the perfect place for trekking. Many people take advantage of the cool climate to visit during the summer months, when the rest of Myanmar is significantly hotter and more humid.

Inle Lake is located around 30 miles to the west of Kalaw and this is a popular place for hiking to. As you hike through to countryside you will discover a number of small Shan villages, where the people are warm and welcoming and you can witness the gentle nuances of traditional life. Watch as the people weave their colourful clothing and roll cigars from the leaves of the Thanatphet trees.

This is a great place to relax for a while and enjoy the slow pace of life. Kalaw was a former British colonial town and you will find a number of churches such as Christ the King church and other British style buildings. Tudor-style houses sit amongst English rose gardens, making an interesting contrast to the traditional Burmese villages that surround the town.

There are still plenty of examples of Asian architecture in and around Kalaw however. An interesting example is the Hnee Phaya, which is an old and highly revered pagoda featuring a Buddha image made from woven strips of bamboo. Also worth visiting is the Shweumin Pagoda, which is built inside a natural limestone cave. There are a number of Buddha images inside the cave that were commissioned by King Narapataesithu.

Climbing one of the surrounding hills provides a fantastic view of Kalaw. As you explore you will see spectacular scenery such as elephants working in the pine forests, sweeping tea and coffee plantations and women plucking tea leaves from the low bushes.

The vibrant Kalaw market is held every five days and is a great place to stock up on supplies for your trek. People travel from all over the areas to sell their wares and the market is a very lively affair. This is a great place to pick up a bargain or two and sample a delicious variety of local food and drink.

Koh Chang, Thailand

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

The name Koh Chang means Elephant Island in Thai and people interested in the island’s elephants should visit the Ban Kwan Elephant Camp or Ban Khlong Son Elephant Camp, where you can interact with the animals and go elephant trekking through the jungle. Animal lovers can also volunteer at the Koh Chang Animal Foundation.

With its many mountains, sparkling waterfalls and rainforest, Koh Chang is an island of intense natural beauty and is part of the Mu Koh Chang Marine National Park, which comprises a total of 52 islands.

There are many beautiful beaches where visitors can chill out and catch some rays or play in the water. Most of the beaches are located along the west cost of the island. Check out Lonely Beach, Hat Kaibae, Hat Klong MaKohk and Hat Kai Mook for beautiful stretches of sun lined with palm trees and beach bars. Generally, the further south you head the more secluded the beach, and there are some virtually untouched beaches at the very bottom of the island. A good example is Hat Wai Chek, which is unreachable by road, making this the perfect trekking destination.

This is a great area for snorkeling and scuba diving as the coral is beautiful and the water clear. There are lots of small islands to explore such as Koh Kut, Koh Mak, Koh Wai and Koh Kham and basic accommodation is available on most if you decide to stay for a day or two.

Koh Chang also offers plenty of opportunities for self improvement. The Koh Chang Cookery School is a good place to learn to create all the delicious food you’ll have been sampling. You can study the Japanese art of reiki healing at Jungle Way, whilst yoga and healing classes are available at Baan Zen.

But Koh Chang is also the perfect place to be lazy for a few days. There are excellent bars, restaurants and spas all around the island, so just put up your feet and relax for a while.

Dusit Zoo

Dusit Zoo
Dusit Zoo
Dusit Zoo
Dusit Zoo
Dusit Zoo
Dusit Zoo

I am not usually a fan of zoos. The though of powerful and beautiful wild creatures confined to cramped, macabre-looking cages gives me the urge to storm into the nearest zoo and release the mighty beasts. However, for a long time my Thai friends had been singing the praises of Dusit Zoo. “You must go,” they would enthuse. “It is so wonderful.” Finally, my curiosity got the better of me. And so, feeling extremely skeptical and a little guilty, I found myself at the zoo entrance one Friday afternoon.      

As soon as I enter, I am greeted by the arresting natural beauty of the lake. Dozens of ducks and geese waddle on the grassy shore and float freely in the cool water. Over-hung with lush trees, the lake is a piece of Eden in Bangkok’s bustling metropolis.

Following the signs, I make my way over a bridge and find Bird Island. I push through the mesh-covered door and simply stare in amazement. I seem to be in the middle of a dense jungle! Overhead, birds and butterflies flutter and flap freely. In amongst the rich exotic plants, peacocks and other brightly-hued birds wander.

This is so far from the image in my mind that I feel my heart soar. As I explore, I find a few beautiful hornbills in cages. However, these cages are large and full of vegetation. As the graceful birds demonstrate, there is plenty of room for them to shake a tail feather.

Feeling elated, I leave Bird Island and find the gorgeous big black bears. They reside in a large, grassy compound. I am delighted to see that there are no cages in use here. Instead, the bears are surrounded by a moat filled with live fish; lunch on demand. The bears are enjoying a midday snooze, lazily stretching and wiggling their noses.

Next door, the mole-like sun bears are showing off their bellies by standing on their hind legs. They stay on a similar island, this time with a waterfall providing a natural shower.

Taking a left, I discover the impressive white Siberian tigers. They too live on a natural grassy island, sheltering from the heat in the shade of a natural rock cave.

So far I have been impressed by the zoo’s natural approach to animal captivity. However, when I wander through the tiger tunnel I am met by the more traditional zoo scenes; tigers, leopards and lions confined to somewhat small, metal cages. In one, a lioness is lovingly licking the back of her mate. She seems unaware of her cramped conditions, but my heart goes out to her nonetheless.

Feeling rather irate, I find one of the zoo workers and question him about the animals’ conditions. “Why are some of the animals in such natural-looking enclosures, whilst others are cruelly confined?” I demand angrily. “It is a shame, I know,” the friendly Thai man calmly replies. “But we are trying to change the cages. We must wait for more money, you understand?” The man points to the gorillas, who also relax on their own natural island. “In many zoos, these beautiful animals would have cages too, but not here. Here they are freer.” As I watch the gorillas swinging through the trees, I cannot help but agree.

Dusit Zoo covers an area of more than 47 acres and is home to over 300 mammals, 1,300 birds and 190 reptiles. It was formerly part of the Royal Dusit Garden Palace, or “Khao Din Wana” in Thai. Established by King Rama V, this was his private botanical garden.

In 1938, the Prime Minister of Thailand asked King Rama VIII to grant him the land so that he could open the zoo to the public. The king consented and, once it had been established by the Bangkok Municipality, the zoo was opened. It was turned over to the Zoological park Organization in February 1954.

The zoo has employed many field-trained zoologists, who have helped design the enclosures. The idea was to ensure that the instincts and behaviours of the wild animals were preserved as much as possible.

Wandering around the grounds, I come across the lemurs. These too are housed in mesh cages, although rather larger with tree trunks to climb and rope to swing from.

As I watch, a cheekily confident ring-tailed lemur springs onto the mesh right in front of my nose, making me jump!

A little further into the park, I come across a family of happy hippos wallowing in a large muddy pool. I watch transfixed as the male and female play with the tiny – well, tiny for a hippo – baby. The way their ears swivel is enchanting in way a way I could never explain.

After a lot of searching, I finally track down the elephants. Their enclosure is currently being transformed, although the keeper doesn’t know the plans.

Finally, it is time for me to leave. I cannot resist visiting the sun bears once more before I leave. One stands on his hind legs and wriggles his nose in farewell.

Information:

Entrance to Dusit Zoo costs just 100 Baht. It is open 9 am – 6 pm daily.

Getting There:

The main entrance is off Ratwithi Road. You can take many buses, including 70 from Chosen Road, 18, 28 or air-con bus number 10.   

About the author:

Kirsty Turner This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (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!