Tag - villages

Southern Laos

Southern LaosThis beautiful region of Laos is a great place to explore for those with a strong sense of adventure and eye for beauty. Although you won’t find tourist towns like those in the north of the country, those who take the time to explore southern Laos will find an impressive number of pretty islands, dense jungle and magnificent mountains. (more…)
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Northern Laos

Northern Laos

Northern Laos
With lush forests, high plateaus, sparkling waterfalls, caves, mountains and rice fields, northern Laos is intensely beautiful. This area of Laos is very diverse and offers travellers a range of different experiences. Although travelling through this region is challenging, the rewards are significant and a warm welcome awaits those who venture off the tourist trail to explore the villages and small towns scattered throughout northern Laos.

This is where you will find the mysterious Plain of Jars, the enormous stone containers that cover the landscape. This is the perfect place to go trekking, especially around Luang Namtha and Phongsaly, while the Gibbon Experience offers visitors a rare opportunity to view these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.
This region of Laos is home to many of the hilltop tribes, each with their own unique styles of dress, culture and belief systems. Exploring northern Laos provides to opportunity to get to know a little about this interesting people and discover traditional village life.

Although this area has only been open to tourist for around 10 years, there are already a number of vibrant tourist hangouts in northern Laos. Top of the list is Vang Vieng, where travellers can indulge on Western food, explore the caves and float down the river in a large rubber tube. The nearby temple town of Luang Prabang is also particularly tourist friendly and there is plenty to see and do here.

Adventure sports are popular in northern Laos and this is a good place for white water rafting, hiking, cycling, rock climbing and a number of other activities. Simply walking through the countryside is a great way to spend a day or two as the scenery is always striking and many surprises await the adventurous.

The mighty Mekong River flows through northern Laos and into Thailand. A good way to continue exploring is to take a slow boat from Luang Prabang along the river into Thailand. The journey offers spectacular views of Laos and the chance to stay in the pretty village of Pakbeng along the way.

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North Eastern Thailand

North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand
North Eastern Thailand is better known as Isan - also written as Isaan, Isarn, Issan, or Esarn. There are 19 provinces in Isan, but only a few receive interest from tourists, which is a shame as this is a great part of Thailand to relax, wander in nature and get to know the friendly and welcoming people.

Isan covers an area of 160,000 km and much of the land is given over the farms and paddy fields as agriculture is the main economic activity. The region of Isan has a strong, rich and individual culture. Examples of this can be found in the folk music, called mor lam, festivals, dress, temple architecture and general way of life.

The main regional dialect is Isan, which is actually much more similar to Lao than central Thai. Unfortunately, because the rainfall is often insufficient for crops to grow properly, Isan is the poorest region of Thailand, and many people leave the province to seek their fortunes in the bustling metropolis of Bangkok.

The average temperature range is from 30.2 C to 19.6 C. The highest temperature recorded was a sweltering 43.9 C, whilst the lowest was a freezing -1.4 C. Unlike most of Thailand, rainfall is unpredictable, but it mainly occurs during the rainy season, which takes place from May to October.

Although completely unique, Isan food has adopted elements of both Thai and Lao cuisines. Sticky rice is served with every meal and the food is much spicier than that of most of Thailand.

Popular dishes include:

som tam - extremely spicy and sour papaya salad
larb - fiery meat salad liberally laced with chilies
gai yang - grilled chicken
moo ping - pork satay sticks

Isan people are famous for their ability to eat whatever happens to be around, and lizards, snakes, frogs and fried insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, silkworms and dung beetles often form a part of their diet.

Both men and women traditionally wear sarongs; women's sarong often have an embroidered border at the hem, whilst those of the men are chequered. Much of Thailand's silk is produced in Isan, and the night markets at many of the small towns and villages are good places to find a bargain.

There is no major airport in Isan, but the State Railway of Thailand has two lines and both connect the region to Bangkok. This is also a good place to enter Laos via the Thanon Mitraphap ("Friendship Highway"), which was built by the United States to supply its military bases in the 1960s and 1970s. The Friendship Bridge - Saphan Mitraphap - forms the border crossing over the Mekong River on the outskirts of Nong Khai to the Laos capital of Vientiane.

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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.
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Alor Setar, Malaysia

Alor Setar, MalaysiaThe vibrant city of Alor Setar is also referred to as Alor Star, and this is the capital of Kedah state, situated on the west coast of Malaysia. This is a great place to get a real feel for Malaysian culture. The city is also surrounded by natural beauty such as rich paddy fields, forests and fishing villages, all of which make good day trip destinations.

Alor Setar is a great place to discover Malaysian art as there are a number of galleries situated in the city. Balai Seni Negeri is also known as The Kedah State Art Gallery and contains an interesting collection of paintings, photographs, musical instruments and handicrafts, while Balai Nobat is used to protect the instruments of the Royal orchestra.

Visitors to the city will find an impressive collection of buildings in various styles. A good example of Malaysian architecture is the Royal Hall, which was commissioned in 1735 by Sultan Muhammad Jiwa Zainal Adilin Muazzam Shah, the 19th Sultan of Kedah. Another interesting building is the Mahathir Birthplace, which was home to the fourth Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad.

Malaysia is well known for its impressive mosques, and a good example is the Zahir State Mosque, which covers 124,412 square feet and is one of the grandest mosques in the country. Alor Star Tower is located in the centre of the city and this magnificent 165 meter tall tower offers spectacular views of the city from the top.

This loud and lively city can become overwhelming at times, but there are plenty of great day trips nearby where you can escape the hustle and bustle. Drive to the town of Merbok to see archaeology museum and explore the Tanjong Dawai fishing village, where you are sure to receive a warm welcome.

Another popular place to hang out is the Kuala Kedah Fort, which can be found at the edge of the Kedah River. A charming little fishing village can also be found nearby, and the restaurants that can be found here serve up some of the best cuisine in the whole area, while the restaurants of Alor Setar are famed for their rich and lightly spiced curry dishes.

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Bintulu, Malaysia

Bintulu, MalaysiaThe pretty coastal town of Bintulu is a good place to visit to witness the traditional Malay way of life. Although the town is only beginning to market itself as a tourist destination, it has plenty to offer tourists such as colourful Chinese temples, fishing villages and lively bars.

Most people simply pass through Bintulu’s bus station on the way to surrounding attractions such as Niah National Park and Miri. However, those who do decide to stop for a day or two will discover a warm and welcoming atmosphere and homely touches that make any visit to Bintulu memorable.

Bintulu originated as a fishing village with few old Chinese shop houses.  Head to the fishing village known as Jepak, which is situated on the banks of the Kemena River near Bintulu town centre. There are a number of good restaurants here serving fresh fish and traditional Malay dishes.

A great way to explore Bintulu is by taking the express boat to surrounding areas such as Sebauh, Tubau and Labang. Walking is also a good way to get around and see the sights. Visit the local markets of Pasar Utama and Pasar Tamu Bintulu to sample local delicacies such as shrimp paste known as belachan and cincaluk.

Pasar Malam is a good place to eat, and this daily market serves everything from burgers to fried bread and savoury pork buns. This is also a good place to pick up a bargain or two and particularly popular are handbags, jeans and alcohol.

There are a number of interesting temples to explore, such as the Muslim Masjid Assyakirin and Chinese Kuan Ying Yong Temple, which features an interesting rock garden and waterfall. Christianity is represented by the St. Thomas Anglican church, Methodist Church and St. Anthony Catholic church, which are all located near the Kuan Ying Yong Temple.

Head to Tanjung Batu beach to soak up the sun, while the Taman Tumbina zoo is a great place for jungle trekking. Climb to the top of the hill inside the zoo compound for spectacular views of the South China Sea.

The Similajau National Park features a pretty stretch of golden sand, and a great way to end the day is by taking a stroll along the Bintulu Prominade as the sun sets.
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Beaufort, Malaysia

Beaufort, MalaysiaA great place to spend the night while passing through Eastern Malaysia, the town of Beaufort is just waiting to be explored. This is a great destination to just wader through aimlessly, as pretty wooden shop houses and other buildings can be found at every twist and turn and the town’s sleepy atmosphere gives it a rather enchanting feel.

Those who enjoy taking place in adventure sports will be able to try their hands at white water rafting on the Pandas River, which is just a short trip away. This river is not for the faint of heart however, as it varies between Grade Three and Grade Four, and those who dare to paddle a kayak along the nine kilometre run will have seven rapids to negotiate.

Other good ways of seeing all that the area has to offer include taking a train ride through the countryside and a cruise on Klias River. Dinner cruises can also be arranged and this is the perfect way to see the area’s wildlife in style and comfort whilst dining on delicious Malaysian dishes.

Another popular attraction near Beaufort is Pulau Tiga Marine Park. Situated on one of Malaysia’s most picturesque and interesting islands, the first season of the reality-TV series Survivor was shot here. This area of diverse natural beauty features mud volcanoes and sea snakes.

The train ride that takes passengers along the Padas River Gorge to the traditional village of Tenom is particularly pretty, and this makes an excellent daytrip activity for those who have the time to spare, while visitors who travel here on Friday evening will be able to dine in style at the weekly night market.

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Eastern Malaysia

Eastern Malaysia
Eastern Malaysia
Eastern Malaysia is divided from Central and northern Malaysia by the South China Sea. East Malaysia consists of the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, which are located on the island of Borneo, as well as the Federal Territory of Labuan, which lies off coast of Sabah. Although less populated than Peninsular Malaysia or West Malaysia, East Malaysia is much larger and contains more of the country’s natural resources.

Most visitors to Malaysia tend to head straight to East Malaysia to enjoy adventure activities such as trekking, caving, white water rafting and camping. There are a number of spectacularly beautiful national parks in this region of Malaysia such as Kubah National Park and Bako National Park.

East Malaysia is home to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, and thousands of people come here each year to interact with the old men of the forest. There are a number of beautiful beaches and islands to discover in this region of Malaysia as well as pretty towns to explore.

The people of East Malaysia are warm and welcoming and visiting the region’s villages is a rewarding experience. This region is famous for its diverse cuisine, and top of the menu is fresh fish, which is especially delicious when eaten on the beach at sunset.
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Money Matters in Laos

Money Matters in Laos
Money Matters in Laos
Money Matters in Laos
The official currency of Laos is the Laos kip (LAK), which comes in 100, 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 kip notes. Although this is the country’s only official currency, Thai Baht and US Dollars are also accepted in many places, especially tourist areas, which can make life easier if you are travelling to Laos from Thailand. You will need a ready supply of kip notes for use in smaller towns and villages as well as for small purchases.

Because it is such a poor country, the cost of visiting Laos is low, even compared to other Asian countries. Accommodation and transport are cheap and most people should be able to get by comfortably on $15 USD per day, although you can spend a lot more if you choose to eat and sleep in exclusive hotels. If you need to save money, it is possible to spend as little as $10 USD per day by eating at the local markets and staying in the cheapest hotels or guesthouses.

Make sure you bring a good supply of cash and traveller’s cheques with you as most places don’t accept credit cards and finding a cash machine can be difficult.

Changing your Money
There are banks located in all main towns and these can exchange all major currencies. The best rates can be found in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, where competition is higher than the rest of the country.

Traveller’s cheques can be cashed in exchange bureaus and banks, which can be found all over Laos and traveller’s cheques in US Dollars, are preferred.

You cannot exchange kip outside of Laos, so make sure you convert your cash before leaving the country.


ATMs
Cash machines have only recently made their way into Laos, and even now they can only really be found in Vientiane. Unfortunately, even in Vientiane the number to ATM machines are limited and they often break down. Also be aware that there is a limit to how much you can draw out at a time and there are quite hefty charges for doing so. To avoid potential problems it is best to make sure you draw enough money for your trip before entering Laos or take traveller’s cheques as these can be cashed in most of the tourist areas.

Tipping
Tipping is not common practice is Laos and will not be expected of you. However, generosity will always be appreciated, especially as the average salary is very low.

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Sekong, Laos

Sekong, Laos
Sekong, Laos
Sekong, Laos
Sekong is the ideal place for those who really want to step off the well worn tourist trail and get to know the real Laos. This pretty area is situated in the southeast part of Laos in the Sekong River Valley, and the river is a good spot for fishing and swimming and perhaps even a boat trip down the river to one of the nearby villages.

This is a great place for hiking and trekking and as you walk through the countryside you will wander through lush rice paddies, fruit orchards and tropical forests which are home to a large number of unusual animals and pretty plants and flowers.

A number of different ethnic tribes live in the Sekong River Valley and the countryside is full of small villages belong to people such as the Lave, Lanam, Kaleum, Dakchung and Thateng. This is a good place to get to know the different tribes and discover their unique lifestyles.

A great way to pass the time is by getting up at around 5a.m to watch people fishing in the river and walking along the banks. The Buddhist monks wander through the villages early each morning to receive alms and you will see processions of orange robed monks carrying large metal bowls.

 Part of Sekong’s appeal for most people is its remoteness and the fact that not many travelers make it this far. Don’t expect to find a large number of fancy guesthouses or restaurants selling international food here. But for those who do decide to stay, the gentle pace of life and friendliness of the people can be very addictive. However, people who need their creature comforts will be able to find a hotel or two here and it is possible to hire a motorbike to explore.

Sekong is blessed with electricity around the clock, but if this seems a little too decadent pay a visit to the nearby village of Tha Teng, which is extremely picturesque and without electricity or running water offers a real insight into the traditional Lao way of life.

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Saravane, Laos

northern_laos_1
northern_laos_2
Not many travellers make it to Saravane, which is located on the Bolaven Plateau in south eastern Laos. Although they are certainly missing out, this perhaps makes the experience even more exceptional for those who do take the trouble to step off the tourist trail and explore this striking region.

Also known as Salavan, this pretty province is full of sparkling waterfalls, dense jungle, tiny tribe villages and caves to explore. This is also home to one of Lao’s best preserved prehistoric sites, and trekking to this area is rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding countryside and a nearby waterfall.

Those who do venture this far usually come to experience the stunning beauty of the Phu Xieng Thong National Biodiversity Conservation Area. This immense area of pristine jungle is home to a diverse collection of animals such as the Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard, Douc langur, elephant, gibbon, banteng, Siamese crocodile and even a tiger or two. It is a good idea to take a guide with you as the sheer size of the area makes it easy to get lost.

Another interesting feature of this province is a cave containing a number of huge stone caskets. These caskets are all piled on top of each other and although there are many theories about the reasons behind it, nobody really has the answers about how and why they got there.

Saravane’s large market is a great place to sample the region’s food and watch local life unfold. Local life revolves around the market as people turn up to sell produce, swap gossip and shop for goods. Take a break beside the river and watch this colourful street drama.

Despite its remoteness, there are a few good places to stay around Saravane. The people who live here are warm and welcoming and it is not unusual to be invited to share a meal with one of the families or even spend the night in their home.

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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.

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Khammouane, Laos

Khammouane, Laos
Khammouane, Laos
Khammouane, Laos
This very pretty Lao province is surrounded by amazing limestone formations, caves, rivers and dense jungle. The population of the province is around 260,000, with people coming from several different tribes such as Phuan, Tahoy, Kri and Katang. Most of the settlements in Khammouane province are small villages with collections of houses built from wood in the traditional Lao style. Everywhere you turn in Khammouane you are surrounded by intense natural beauty. Rich dark soil is covered with colourful plantations of rice, cabbage, sugar cane and bananas, while the Annamite mountain range is to the east and sparkling rivers, forests and caves are just waiting to be explored.

Khammouane province is easy to reach by bus from Vientiane in just five or six hours. There are plenty for visitors to do here such as kayaking, rafting, and caving. There are a large number of caves to explore and some of the highlights include the Buddha cave and Tham Nang Aen cave, while the Tham Xieng Lap caves are so pretty that they are worthy of a day trip by themselves.

Another great day trip destination is That Skihotabang, which is a large and interesting stupa commissioned by King Nanthasen in the 10th century.  The stupa was carefully restored in the 1950s and is an impressive sight.

The province’s capital is Tha Kek and this is a good place to stay for a night or two while you explore this lush and leafy area of Laos. While in Tha Khek take the time to explore the striking French colonial architecture in the city and sample the delicious range of Lao dishes, which is slightly different to those found in the rest of the country.

Nature lovers will want to explore the Nakai-Nam Theun Biodiversity Conservation Area, where you can spot a wonderful range of animals such as elephant, tigers, lemur and turtles. For excellent views over the jungle climb the Khammouane Limestone, which is a maze of limestone karst peaks.

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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.

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Oudomsay, Laos

Oudomsay, Laos
Oudomsay, Laos
Oudomsay, Laos
Also known as Oudomxay or Oudômxa, this pretty province in the northwest of Laos was created in 1976 and is a good place to stop for a break if you are travelling between the temple town of Luang Prabang and Phonsaly or Sayabouri.

This is an area of intense natural beauty and the ideal place for trekking and to explore the neighbouring ethnic villages. Adventure sports such as rock climbing and rafting are popular here, while this is also a good place for cycling and bird watching.

Oudomsay is located close to the Chinese border and you will find an interesting mix of cultures as you wander through the province. There are 23 different ethnic minority groups living within the province, all with their own unique belief systems, customs, food and styles of dress.

A great way to spend a day is by trekking the 8 miles to the very pretty waterfall of Tad Lak Sip Et. Explore the Muong La District of Oudomsay and you will find an interesting range of temples, villages and hot spring located deep in the jungle.

One of Oudomsay’s main attractions is the Saymoungkhoune Rattana Stupa. This towering white stupa is a sacred spot and a great place to visit if you’re walking through the surrounding countryside. For spectacular views of the countryside, climb to the top of Phouxay Mountain. Gaze out at a rich vista of paddy fields, jungle, farmland and tiny villages before exploring the rest of the area.

A great place to try traditional Lao food is the Muang Xai market. People travel from all over the province to this large and vibrant market to sell their wares and this is a good place to stop eat and pick up and bargain or two.

An interesting way to travel through this region of Laos is to trek to Muang Say, then take a short bus or pickup truck ride to the picturesque village of Pakbeng. The mighty Mekong River flows from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang and the journey by large, wooden boat takes around five hours. As you sail slowly down the river you will pass limestone cliffs, mangroves and fishing villages.

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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…)
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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.

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Houa Phah, Laos

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Houa Phah, Laos
Houa Phah, Laos
The former base for the Lao People's Revolutionary Army, Houa Phan province is located in the northeast of Laos. Now free from trouble, this pretty province is surrounded by natural beauty such as caves, waterfalls, mountains and rich rice fields.

Few tourists step off the tourist trail long enough to experience Houa Phah’s gentle charms, yet there are wonderful rewards in store for those who make the effort. Pristine emerald green forests and limestone mountains are just waiting to be explored and there is a good variety of wildlife to spot.

There are more than 100 caves located in Houa Phanh. Available in all shapes and sizes, visiting the caves is an interesting experience and also a good way to keep cool. Perhaps the most famous of all the caves is Tham Than Souphanouvong, which was once the home of Prince Souphanouvong when he was forced into hiding.

Other caves worth visiting in the area are Tham Than Kaysone and Tham Than Khamtay. Both of these caves were the residences of leading Lao political figures and are very grand in scale featuring meeting rooms and reception areas.

After a busy day of climbing through the caves, visitors to Houa Phah can soak away their aches and pains in the local hot spring in the Xam Tay district, where the waters reach temperatures of 40?C. Cool off afterwards in the pretty Xam Tay waterfall and explore the surrounding forest.

There are a large number of villages dotted around Houa Phah and the talented villages are well known for their craftwork skills. This is a good time to watch weaving, which is still done using traditional methods. The textiles made here are thought by many to be some of the finest in Asia and make great souvenirs.

Hintang Archeological Park is one of Laos’ more important prehistoric sites and a great place for a daytrip. Wander through the ruins and discover the foundations of this picturesque region and pay a visit to the large and inviting Keo Nong Vay temple.

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Borikhamsay, Laos

Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
If you want a place to relax and unwind surrounded by stunning natural scenery, Borikhamsay is the place to be. Borikhamsay province is located in central Laos, about a three hour drive from the capital city of Vientiane. Borikhamsay’s close proximity to Vientiane makes it a good destination for a day trip, although it is also a good place to pause for a day or two and discover the natural beauty of Laos.  

Also known as Bolikhamsai, Borikhamsay is an important pilgrimage site and people travel from all over the country to visit Wat Phra Baat, which contains a footprint believed to have been made by Lord Buddha as he travelled through the countryside. Laos was once home to a large collection of Buddhist monuments but sadly most have been decimated by war over the years, making this footprint all the more precious.

Another good day trip is the stone forest at Poupha Mane, where the large collection of rocky pinnacles are a striking sight. To the south it is possible to spot wildlife such as the hatinh langur, mable cat and the Asian forest tortoise in the pristine forests of Nam Thuen, while the National Biodiversity Conservation Area is Laos’ largest conservation area. Here you will find many endangered animals including the Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard, elephant, giant muntjac, guar, Malayan sun bear, and tiger. There are guides available to lead you through the forests and explain all about this amazing area.

The capital town of the province is Paksan, and here you will find plenty of places to stay as well as some good restaurants and of course the famous Laos hospitality. A good way to get around this area is by hiring a bicycle or simply walking, talking the time to share smiles and greetings with the people you pass along the way.

Paksan is also a good stopping off point for people travelling to Vietnam as it is situated close to the Vietnamese border. The majority of the region’s population is comprised by tribes such as the Thai, Phuan, Tri and Hmong. This is a good time to learn more about these interesting tribes and their alternative lifestyles.

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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.

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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.

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Inle Lake, Burma

Inle Lake, Burma
Inle Lake, Burma
Inle Lake, Burma
Without doubt one of the most beautiful spots in Myanmar, Inle Lake is a large water wonderland filled with floating gardens, ancient stupas and pretty villages with a backdrop of mountains, valleys and lush forests. Bird watchers in particular will want to spend some time here as Inle Lake is home to a huge variety of species of birds.

Inle Lake is a great place to relax for a few days. There is so much to do here and there are a wide range of water sports to try such as canoeing, sailing and windsailing, while swimming is a great way to keep cool on a hot day. Fishing is also a popular pastime and you can easily hire a rod and join the locals as they try to land the catch of the day.

Hiring a bicycle is a great way to explore the surrounding countryside. Make sure you stop in at the Nanthe monastery, where the meditating monks have taught their cats to jump. The area is also famous for the Intha people’s unusual leg rowing skills, and you might be lucky enough to witness this as you cycle along the banks of the lake.

There are many interesting and unusual things to discover in this charming area such as the 300 year old Banyan tree with its aerial roots and wide canopy. Walk through the paddy fields and perhaps ride a water buffalo and watch the sun set over the lake.

The nearby floating market is a great place to witness traditional life and shop bargains as well as getting a tasty meal. Fresh fish is top of the menu and there are a large number of fish curries and other dishes to try. Most people tend to stay in the nearby village of Nyaugshwe, where there is a good variety of cheap guesthouses and restaurants catering to backpackers.

A great time to visit Inle Lake is between September and October when you will have the chance to witness and perhaps take part in the Phaung Daw U festival and also the Thadingyut festival. These festivals are very lively and feature much singing and dancing as well as performances of traditional folk tales.

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Pailin, Cambodia

Pailin, Cambodia
pailin_4
A good place to stop off on the way into Thailand, Pailin is a pretty town famous for its precious gems. Although most people simply pass through this dusty town on their way to Cambodia’s larger towns and cities, those who do take the time to stop for a while will find cool waters, picturesque villages and a warm welcome.

There are a number of interesting temples to explore in and around Pailin. Wat Phnom Yat was built in 1922 from Sham migrants travelling from Myanmar and has a unique style. Climb to the top of this temple for excellent views over the town and surrounding countryside. Nearby is Wat Rattanak Sopoan, which is intricately decorated with the legend of the churning of the ocean of milk from Hindu mythology.

Pailin is a great place to explore. However, there are a number of unexploded landmines in the area and it is best to hire a guide, especially if you plan to head into the nature and wildlife preserves of Kbal O Chra and Steng Kuy. Just outside Pailin is the spectacular Phnom Kiev Waterfall, which is a great place to swim and relax.

The houses in Pailin are made of wooden and set atop wooden stilts to protect them in case the river should flood. They are mostly inhabited by the Kola people, who originate from Myanmar. Most people still follow their traditional cultural practices and beliefs and can be seen wearing colourful traditional clothes. This is a good time to discover this unique culture and witness local weaving and woodwork skills.

For those who know a lot about gems, this is a good place to pick up a bargain, although make sure you take the time to sort through the gems carefully to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

Despite its slightly sleepy feel, there is plenty to do in Pailin in the evening. Regular movies are show at the open air cinema, and many people gather to try their luck in the town’s casino. There are also a number of places to eat and it is possible to find a selection of international dishes, although local cuisine is cheap and very tasty.
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Western Cambodia

Western Cambodia
Western Cambodia
This picturesque region of Cambodia stretches from the capital city of Phnom Pehn to the Thai border. The area is marked by two dramatic mountain ranges, namely the Cardamom Mountains located in the southwestern corner and the Dangrek Range to the north.

There are a number of picturesque villages located in this region of Cambodia, especially in amongst the Cardamom Mountains. Although not many travellers visit western Cambodia, those that do will find waterfalls, caves and traditional villages, where the way of life has stayed more or less the same for centuries.

This is a great place to rest and unwind away from the tourist scene. Although you won’t find many bars or beaches in this area, there is still plenty to do. Hike through the forest, discover traditional craft skills at tribal villages and take a boat trip from Battambang to Siem Reap.
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Kampot, Cambodia

Kampot, Cambodia
Kampot, Cambodia
Kampot, Cambodia
Kampot, Cambodia
The enchanting colonial town of Kampot is the perfect place to spend a little time for those who want to unwind for a while. Famed for its intense natural beauty and featuring natural attractions such as cool caves, tropical islands complete with pristine sandy beaches and waterfalls, this is a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life for a while.
Most people travel to Kampot in order to visit the stunningly beautiful Bokor National Park. With 1,581 square kilometres of forest to explore, the national park is certainly the highlight of the region, but there are plenty of other things to see and do here.

Visitors will want to allow at least two days to explore Kampot, and wandering through the streets past pretty colonial French buildings is a popular pastime with visitors. Many of the main bars and guesthouses can be found along the banks of the Tuk Chou River, which is the perfect place to simply sit and soak up the atmosphere for a while as you gaze at the backdrop of Elephant and Bokor mountains.

There are also plenty of things to see and do just on the outskirts of the town, and those who are interested in culture will want to explore the Cham fishing villages, while riding the Teuk Chrreu rapids is sure to appeal to thrill seekers. Those who prefer to slow the pace a little can also opt to take a cruise on the Tuk Chou River to see the surrounding scenery and perhaps explore the caves and waterfalls that can be found near the edge of the water.

A large number of companies in Kampot offer to hire out bicycles to visitors, and cycling through the countryside is a popular activity with independent travellers. Cyclists can pause at the local pepper plantations to receive a guided tour before hopping back on their bikes to explore once more.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you return to the restaurants that can be found on the banks Tuk Chou River in the evening to dine in style on freshly caught seafood and perhaps enjoy a glass or two of beer or the local moonshine.
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Eastern Cambodia

Eastern Cambodia
Eastern Cambodia
Eastern Cambodia
Bordered by Vietnam, the eastern region of Cambodia is scattered with picturesque hill tribe villages. This is a good place for hiking and there is plenty of natural beauty to discover such as waterfalls, caves and forests.

Many people head straight to the town of Kratie to watch the Irrawaddy dolphins swimming in the river, while the town of Stung Treng is also a good place to relax for a while.

The mighty Mekong River runs through this region and travelling by boat is a great way to reach many of the area’s towns and cities. Fish is plentiful here and the local market is a great place to find freshly cooked fish dishes.

The region’s proximity to Vietnam means that visitors will discover an interesting blend of Khmer and Vietnamese styles in many of the border towns, which is particularly apparent in the designs of the temples, clothes and food. Spend some time in eastern Cambodia before hopping across the border to discover an entirely different side of life.

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Chanthaburi, Thailand

Chanthaburi, Thailand
Chanthaburi, Thailand
Chanthaburi, Thailand
Chanthaburi, Thailand
Popularly known as the 'city of the moon', Chanthaburi is famous for its large quantity of tropical fruits and also as a centre for beautiful gem stones. This interesting province is blessed with lush forests featuring sparkling waterfalls, fishing villages and tranquil beaches on which to relax and soak up the sun.

A great place to get an idea of the natural beauty of this province is to visit the Khao Laem Sing Forest Park, whilst Khao Khitchakut National Park contains a breathtaking waterfall and is a good place to spot wild elephants. Another great reserve is the Namtok Phliu National Park which, as its name suggests, contains a large number of enchanting waterfalls to splash about in.

If you are interested in water sports, Khlong Pong Nam Ron is a great place to go white water rafting, the best time being between July and January. Another breathtaking experience is the view from the top of Khao Phloi Waen, which means Sapphire-Ring Mountain in the Thai language. The mountain is an impressive 150 metres high and has a Sri-Lankan style chedi on the top. Many visitors to Chanthaburi Province go there in order to pay their respects at Wat Khao Sukim, which has a famous meditation centre. Other interesting temples in the area include Wat Phlup, Wat Hai Lom and the very pretty Wat Mangkon Buppharam, which has been built in the Chinese style.

The Chanthaburi Cultural Centre is a great place to go to get an idea of the area's diverse history and culture. The ancient city of Khai Noen Wong also makes an interesting day trip and you can combine your visit with a trip to the Underwater Archaeological Office, which is a kind of maritime museum.

The province is home to some extremely pretty beaches and the quiet, shaded beach of Hat Ao Yang is great for relaxing on, while the larger stretch of sand at Hat Laem Sing is also a good place to hang out.

There are plenty other interesting attractions in and around Chanthaburi. The Chamsom Crocodile Farm and Zoo offers visitors the opportunity to see different crocodile species and a range of other animals. Another good way to see Thailand's wildlife is to pay a visit to Oasis Sea World, while the King Taksin Park is a great place for a picnic.

When it comes to food, there is plenty to be found, especially if you enjoy fresh seafood. A good place to find a cheap meal is at the local night market, and there are plenty of restaurants around catering to every taste and budget.

Chanthaburi Province is well known for some special festivals, and a good time to visit is during the Gem Festival, which takes place in early December and features jewellery shows and a gem design competition Another interesting festival is the annual fruit festival in the first week of June.

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Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand
Pai, Thailand
Pai, Thailand

Pai, Thailand

Located halfway between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, Pai is an intimate little village which draws visitors from all over the world with its cool climate, friendly locals and stunning scenery, which includes mountains and waterfalls.

As soon as you arrive in Pai, the fresh mountain air and warm smiles make you feel at home and slow your pace a little. The absolutely stunning scenery is just waiting to be explored, and many people hire bicycles or motorbikes and ride out to the nearby hill tribe villages. The village of Ban Piang Luang makes a good day trip, and the local people are welcoming. Pai has a total population of less than 3,000 people, which gives a real feeling of community, a nice contrast after spending some time in one of Thailand's bustling cities or busy beach areas.

There are many tiny hill tribe villages located around Pai and hill tribes include Karen, Hmong, Lisu and Lahu. Although usually quite used to tourists by now, many of the hill tribe villagers are shy and should be approached respectfully.

The village of Pai takes its name from the river that runs through the lush valley. There are a few local temples to explore, including the very pretty Wat Luang and Wat Klang and the beautiful forests make a great setting for a soak in the Tha Pai Hot Springs, where you can choose to bath in the incredibly hot water (which can reach scorching temperatures of 200 degrees Celsius) with friends, or treat yourself to a private pool.

Originally a quiet market village inhabited by Shan people, Pai has adapted to provide a haven for the road weary traveler.

The water in Pai is cool and clear, and the waters at Mo Paeng Waterfall are a good place to cool down after a walk through the countryside or a visit at one of the nearby elephant camps.

For shopping, check out the Wednesday Market, when colorful crowds of local villagers and tribal people from all around the Pai Valley gather to trade their wares.

But the main past time in Pai is simply chilling out. With a large variety of guest houses, restaurants, bars and cinema rooms, this is a perfect place to learn the art of relaxation.

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Chiang Dao, Thailand

Chiang Dao, Thailand
Chiang Dao, Thailand
Chiang Dao, Thailand
Chiang Dao, Thailand
Chiang Dao means "City of Stars" in the Thai language, and this very pretty small city is located in Chiang Mai Province, Northern Thailand. Surrounded by intense natural beauty, this is a good area to go trekking and bird watching.

For many, top of the list is Chiang Dao National Park, which covers over 1000 square kilometres and features bamboo forests, sparkling mountain streams and waterfalls. Also in the park is the mighty mountain of Doi Chiang Dao, which is a colossal 2225 metres high and is said to be Thailand's highest mountain and offers incredible views over the area from the top. Scattered around the park are a large number of many Lisu and Karen hill tribe villages, and a good way to see them and to really appreciate the lush nature of the park is to go trekking and stay overnight.

Another popular attraction is Tham Chiang Dao - Chiang Dao Cave. The extremely beautiful cave complex is cool and inviting and stretches for an impressive 12 kilometres, filled with sparkling stalactites. It is a good idea to hire a guide with a lantern for the chance to explore the caves fully.

Experienced hikers can embark on a two day mountain trip up Doi Luang Chiang Dao, which is a great way to see the area. Another good way to explore is to visit the Elephant Training Centre Chiang Dao and go on an elephant trek through the forest. The treks can last from between 30 minutes to half a day an offer an interesting view point of the beautiful scenery, seen at a leisurely pace.

Chiang Dao is also popular for river rafting, and many people chose to visit the area in order to shoot the rapids, whilst others choose to hire a motorbike and discover all that the area has to offer by themselves.

If you are looking to get in touch with your spiritual side, visit Samnak Song Tham Pha Plong, which is also known as the Tham Pha Plong Monastic Centre. Many monks travel to this very special area to meditate, and visitors can climb a long flight of steps, which lead up the mountain past limestone cliffs and forest to a large chedi. The view from the top of the steps and the general vibe of the area more than makes up for any hardship encountered on the climb.

The extremely vibrant Tuesday morning market is a good place to buy local produce and see the hilltribe people, who come to the market in order to trade their wares. The

market is open each week between 7 a.m. and 12 a.m. and is a great place to get a good, cheap meal. Don't forget to use the bartering system to get the most for your money.

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