Tag - trek

Johor Bahru, Malaysia

johor_bahruThe bustling city of Johor Bahru is the capital of Johor state and was once named Tanjung Puteri. The city can be found on the very southernmost tip of Southeast Asia and is famed for its intense natural beauty. Travellers come here from all over the world to explore the tropical rainforests, climb the mighty mountains and swim in the waters of the sparkling waterfalls that surround the city of Johor Bahru.

There is a large causeway linking Malaysia to Singapore and many people pass through Johor Bahru on the way to ‘the garden city’. However, for those who take the time to explore, Johor Bahru is full of natural and cultural delights.

A great way to get an idea of the natural beauty of this area is by climbing Mount Ophir. At 1,276 meters this is the highest point in the area and provides fantastic views across the city and the Straits of Johor.

There are a large number of interesting buildings to explore and top of the list should be the ornate Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque and the Royal Palace Museum. The nearby communities of Kukup village and Muar town are good places to visit to gain an insight into traditional Malay life.

Those who want to soak up the sun for a while should take time to visit the enchanting Desaru beaches as well as the tropical island that are situated just to the south of Johor Bahru. Featuring cool, clear waters, Pulau Dayang is perhaps the most popular of these islands and is an excellent place to practice water sports such as scuba diving and snorkelling.

A great day trip destination is the Endau Rompin National Park, where you will have the chance to wander through pristine tropical rainforest and perhaps spot the Sumatran rhinoceros. You will also find the pretty Kota Tinggi waterfall, which is a good place to cool down after trekking through the forest.

Other local attractions include Johor Zoo, Saleng Zoo, Orchid Valley and Istana Garden, which is a great place for jogging or simply a walk in the park.

Ban Lung, Cambodia

Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia

Known by the local people as ‘dey krahorm’, which means red earth in Khmer, Ban Lung is a modest town where you will find genuine people and friendly faces. This is a great place to use as a base while you explore the surrounding countryside and there are a number interesting attractions nearby.

Most people travel to Ban Lung to visit the nearly Boeng Yeak Lom. Also known as Yak Lom Lake, this is an impressive volcanic crater filled with freshwater. There is a well worn train leading from the town to the volcano and the trek takes about an hour each way. Take the time to fully explore the volcano and have a swim in the cool waters. Watch out for the legendary Yak Lom monster as you swim and visit the nearby culture centre, which contains some interesting information about the volcano and items made by the tribes people who live in the area.  

This is a great place for trekking and you can wander through the countryside, with its rich red earth and pretty villages. The scenery here is simply spectacular and there is plenty to hold the attention.

Scattered around Ban Lung are a number of small villagers where tribes people live, following the same cultural styles and general life styles that they have practiced for hundreds of years. Most of the tribes people gather at Ban Lung market to buy and sell goods, and this is a great place for people watching and to also pick up a bargain or two.

The market is also a good place to pick up a cheap, tasty meal. There are a number of food stalls scattered around the town as well as restaurants and hotels, making this a good place to stay for a day or two.

Around the market place you will find a large number of small shops selling colourful precious stone. The gems come from the surrounding hills and also more distant places such as Sri Lanka. Although you should be careful about buying, browsing through the multi-hued stones can be a good way to spend an hour two.

Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia

Kinabalu National Park, MalaysiaHome to the area’s highest mountain and some spectacular forest, Kinabulu National Park is a great place to explore. Climbing to the summit of the impressive Mount Kinabalu is the most popular activity here, while there are also a large number of enchanting forest trails for visitors to follow.

Covering 754 square kilometers, Kinabalu National Park features a large number of natural attractions such as waterfalls, gardens and the Poring Hot Springs, where the warm mineral waters are the perfect place to soak away aches and pains after a hard day of mountain climbing or trekking through the forest.

Mount Kinabalu towers 4,095 meters above northern Borneo. Climb to the top for spectacular views and for the unparalleled sense of achievement that conquering this mighty mountain brings. It is possible to climb to the summit and back in about four hours, although it is better to allow a couple of days and take an overnight break at Laban Rata as the best views come in the early morning.

Unlike many other mountains of its loftiness, there are no special mountain climbing skills needed to scale Mount Kinabalu, although potential climbers should be reasonably fit. However, the park staff recommend that those planning to climb the mountain hire a guide as the mountain can be rather dangerous.

Kinabalu National Park has its own museum, where visitors can learn about the area’s flora and fauna before climbing the mountain or taking one of the marked trails through the forest. There are also a number of places to spend the night within the park, with options ranging from dorm beds to pretty chalets.

Attapeu, Laos

Attapeu, Laos
Attapeu, Laos
Attapeu, Laos

Situated on the southeast tip of Laos, this small and sleepy town doesn’t receive much attention from travellers and is a great place to get a real feel for Laos. Attapeu’s relaxed pace of life is enchanting and urges visitors to slow down a little and enjoy the fresh mountain air.

Attapeu is seated in a large valley and surrounded by picturesque mountains. The town is brushed by the Sekong and Sekhamane Rivers, which provide a source of fresh fish and a pretty place to relax in the evening with a beer or two.

Several sites of stunning natural beauty are located just a short distance from Attapeu and both the Dong Ampham Forest and Xepiane Forest are worth the journey. Visitors can also trek along part of the Ho Chi Minh trail and discover the villages of the tribes who follow a traditional way of life that has changes very little over the years.

Attapeu is populated by nine different tribes, namely the Alak, Katang, Kaleum, Katou, Suay, Nge, Lave, Tahoy, Nyajeung. Each of these tribes has their own traditional style of dress and customs and staying a while in Attapeu provides the perfect opportunity to get to learn about these interesting people and their alternative life styles.

There is little traffic in Attapeu and a good way to see all that the area has to offer is simply to walk through the town and surrounding countryside, stopping to talk to the friendly people you pass on the way. There are also tour companies located in the town where you can hire a hire to show you around if you prefer.

The nearby village of Ban Sekhaman is a good place to explore and there is a regular ferry that runs from the pier to the south of Attapeu to take you there. Explore the crumbling wat in this picturesque village and picnic beside the river before heading back to Attapeu.

A good place to indulge in a little retail therapy and pick up a bargain is the traditional local market, and this is also a great place to find a tasty evening meal.

Phongsaly, Laos

Phongsaly, LaosSituated in north Laos, not too many people venture into the town of Phonsaly. However, those who do take the time and trouble will find an area rich in traditional culture and natural beauty. With more than twenty ethnic tribes living in the area, this is a good place to discover the diverse life styles, dress styles and religious practices that make these tribes unique. (more…)

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.

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.

Chiang Rai, Thailand

Chiang Rai, Thailand
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Chiang Rai, Thailand

This picturesque northern province is situated 785 kilometres from Bangkok and shares borders with Myanmar in the north and Laos in the east. The city of Chiang Rai was founded by King Mengrai in 1262 and the centrally located King Mengrai the Great Memorial depicts the king in all his former glory.

This is a great place to visit if you appreciate cool weather, walking amongst attractive natural scenery, good food and chilling out in a city that has all the charm and atmosphere of a small village.

The city of Chiang Rai has a rather sleepy, relaxed feel to it, and exploring the streets can yield some interesting sights. The pure white temple of Wat Rong Khum has to be seen to be believed, whilst Wat Phra Kaeo is the original home of the Emerald Buddha, now located in the temple of the same name in Bangkok. Also worth exploring are Wat Pa Sak and Wat Phra That Doi Tung.

Although not as large as its neighbour in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai’s Night Bazaar is a great place to pick up a bargain or two, whilst the sleepy village of Chiang Saen with its interesting history, warm welcome and architecture is a great place for a day trip.

But it is Chiang Rai’s natural beauty that draws most visitors to the area. As well as enchanting jungle waterfalls such as Khun Korn Waterfall and Pong Phra Bat waterfall, there are also dozens of hot springs scattered around the area, where you can soak up the goodness of meltingly hot water and natural minerals either in public pools or secluded in your own private tub. Look out for the Pha Soet Hot Springs and Huai Hin Fon Hot Springs and Waterfall with its stunning jungle backdrop. What could be better than listening to the insects and wind in the trees as you enjoy a good soak?

The Hilltribe Museum and Education Centre is a great place to learn about the local people before going on a trek, and The Hall of Opium museum also provides a lot of interesting information about life in the area, both past and present.

No visit to the area would be complete without a trip to the absolutely stunning Phu Chi Fa Forest Park, and animal lovers can get up close and personal with the elephants at the Mae Sa Elephant Training Center.

What to do in Thailand

What to do in Thailand
What to do in Thailand
What to do in Thailand
What to do in Thailand

In this exotically inviting land where the weather is usually hot and sunny, travel is easy and the food is delicious and plentiful, there isn’t really much that you can’t do. No matter what you are into, whether it be extreme sports, sunbathing, exploring, discovering a new culture or pure hedonism, Thailand is the perfect place to do it, whilst getting a tan at the same time.

Thailand’s temples – known as wats – are big, richly decorated and contain an interesting assortment of treasures. Every town has a large assortment of temples, with perhaps the highest concentrations in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya. Some temples not to be missed are Wat Arun on the Chaopraya river in Bangkok, Wat Po, also in Bangkok and Chiang Mai’s Wat Benchamabophit. Whilst in Chiang Mai, climb Doi Suthet to see Wat Doi Suthep, which offers stunning views over the area.

As well as spectacular scenery, Thailand’s islands and beaches offer a good opportunity to take part in diving and snorkeling, the clear blue water offering glimpses of colourful coral and fish. Koh Tao is rapidly becoming the most popular island for diving and snorkelling, whilst Koh Phi Phi and Phuket are also popular. Other water ports available include sailing and windsurfing. At many places, bungee jumping and rock climbing are the order of the day, whilst paintballing offers a good opportunity to let of some steam.

Thailand has some beautiful golf courses, some designed by skilled international golfers. Muay Thai is the national sport and no trip is complete without watching a match or even training and competing yourself.

The amazing landscape makes Thailand a great place for walking and trekking, the hill tribe villages to the north making a great stop over or a three or four day trek.

Many come to this deeply spiritual country to learn about meditation, and there are numerous meditation courses available. Whilst here, you can also learn the ancient art of massage or join yoga classes on the beach.

Thai food is some of the best in the world, and you will find some outstanding restaurants, offering everything from international style dining, dining aboard river cruises or simply eating at a tiny table on the street.

The spas and saunas are also a great place to unwind and be pampered; whilst for many cosmetic surgery and cosmetic dentistry provide the opportunity for self improvement. Also, there are plenty of chances to indulge in a little retail therapy.

Thailand has a great selection of outdoor markets, floating markets, stores and shopping centres. Do not miss Bangkok’s Chatuchak market, MBK, Paragon or the night bazaar at Suan Lum, whilst Chiang Mai’s Night Market draws visitors from all over the world.

For people wishing to take in some culture there are some interesting museums, art galleries, exhibitions and displays of Thai dancing. Thailand also has some interesting theme parks, shows and zoos such as Sri Racha Tiger Zoo.

There is always something to see and do in Thailand, and the numerous festivals can add colour and life to your holiday, especially if you are lucky enough to be in the country during Songran or Loi Krathong.

There are plenty of opportunities to get in touch with nature in the national parks, such as Khao Yai where parts of the movie The Beach was filmed or Koh Samet, where the outstanding natural beauty has led to its being preserved as a national park.

Whatever you decide to do, there never seems to be quite enough time, and it is almost certain that Thailand’s charms will draw you back time and again.

The Disappearance of Jim Thompson

cameron_highlands
The Disappearance of Jim Thompson
The Disappearance of Jim Thompson
The Disappearance of Jim Thompson

jim_thompson_1He set off for an early evening pre-dinner stroll, but it was an act that was to spark off one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of all time. When Jim Thompson left his guesthouse in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands on March 26 1967 to walk Jungle Trek number 4, surely no one could have imagined he would never be seen again. But the American-born silk manufacturer, who moved to Thailand in the 1940s, vanished without a trace on that fateful day.

Local guides with extensive knowledge of the area searched for the 61-year-old but to no avail. His body has never been found. It wasn’t long before the conspiracy theories began to circulate – among the most popular that he was eaten by a tiger or, being a former OSS agent, was part of some elaborate kidnap plot.

The 30-year-old mystery surrounding Jim Thompson’s disappearance has not dampened people’s enthusiasm for the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia’s premier hill station. The area, about three hours north of Kuala Lumpur, is a cool retreat from the excessive heat at lower levels. Thanks to the presence of the British during Malaysia’s colonial days, it still retains an “olde-English” feel – cream teas are widespread and it rains constantly. During a recent visit to the region, I decided to follow in the footsteps of Jim Thompson – hopefully with not quite as disastrous results.

Trail number 4 starts close to Tanah Rata, the main town of the Cameron Highlands. It is paved and takes about 40 minutes to reach the watchtower lookout point. On the way, I passed Parit Falls – not the biggest waterfall you will ever see and certainly not the cleanest. The muddy brown stream is, sadly, littered with rubbish. The walk is fairly easy, although you should be prepared to walk a little uphill towards the end.

Monkeys can often be seen hanging in the trees – I didn’t see any on my visit but friends who did the walk the day after spotted the creatures swinging through the branches. A short climb to the top of the watchtower will allow you sweeping views over the town and into the hills beyond. On my descent, it started to rain so it’s definitely a good idea to takes waterproofs with you. Perhaps because of Jim Thompson’s experience, locals recommend never setting off on this or any walk in the late afternoon.

Guesthouses and tourist information offices in Tanah Rata can provide plenty of details and maps about this and all the other walks in the Highlands. It’s not just walks that are popular with visitors. The area is famed for its tea plantations and it is possible to visit them – and enjoy a sip of the local brew. Without your own transport it’s not that easy to get around so if you want to visit a plantation, your best bet is to do a half-day tour. For just 20 ringgit (187 baht), not only do you get to see the Sungai Palas Tea Plantation, you also get to see a Chinese temple, rose centre, strawberry farm, butterfly sanctuary, honey farm and local produce market. Yes, plenty of getting on and off the bus, but if you like eating, this could just be the trip for you. Maybe I was feeling homesick, but I couldn’t come to the Cameron Highlands without having a proper cream tea. There’s nowhere better to do this than the atmospheric Ye Olde Smokehouse Hotel, which is like something out of deepest Devon. The English-style pub even has its own red telephone box outside – something you can’t even find in England anymore. The pub is a popular tourist draw. As I sat in the peaceful gardens, I lost count of the number of Malay families taking photos. The cream tea itself is to die for. The scones are fresh and warm. But you must expect to pay for them – a cream tea will set you back 30 ringgit (281 baht). With prices like those, I really did feel like I was back in England!

For all the lowdown on the Cameron Highlands – including how to get there, accommodation, walks and other activities, go to www.cameronhighlands.com