Tag - walk

Kuantan, Malaysia

Kuantan, Malaysia

Visitors who are exploring Eastern Malaysia will want to take the time to spend a few days in Kuantan, as this large coastal city is famed for its picturesque sandy beach and surrounding natural beauty. Cool caves, sparkling waterfalls, large and lovely national parks and a whole host of other attractions are just waiting to be discovered here, and the city also offers travellers an excellent range of amenities to make use of.

Kuantan’s main attraction has to be its beaches and there are a number of beaches in this area. Situated just two miles north of Kuantan, Teluk Chempedak is a great place for kayaking and boating, while windsurfers should head to Balok. Lovers of fresh fish will find a great selection at the fishing village near Beserah beach and beautiful Taman Teruntum also has a mini zoo and golf course.

A great day trip destination is the island of Pulau Ular, which means Snake Island in Malay. Legend tells how the snakes that live here helped to scare away pirates during the 11th century and there is a pretty village named Snake River after the event.

Another good way to spend a day is by visiting the town of Sungai Lembing, where you will find one of the largest underground tin mines in the world as well as an interesting Tin Museum and the spookily named ‘hanging bridge’. It is worth getting up early to trek up Bukit Panorama to see the sunrise and spectacular views of the surrounding area.

Just two miles along the coast from Kuantan is the picturesque Gelora Park, which is the perfect place to wander on a sunny day. There is also a pretty beach to soak up the sun on nearby, which is lined with restaurants that serve up delicious seafood dishes.

Another place of intense natural beauty is the Panching Caves, which are situated in a limestone mountain near the picturesque Panching village. Also known as the Ninth Mile Waterfall, Berkelah Falls is located nine miles from the town of Kuantan and is well worth the journey.

Kuantan is famed for its cuisine, and one of the most popular local dishes is known as sata. Consisting of grated coconut and fish paste that is wrapped in coconut leaves before being barbecued, this dish is often served with rice, while chicken and beef satay sticks make a great snack to enjoy at any time or as the accompaniment to a main meal.

Champassak, Laos

Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos

Situated in south-western Laos, The province of Champassak is stunningly beautiful and has a lot to offer visitors. The people who live here have a distinctly different language, culture and life style to people in the rest of Laos and this is an interesting place to explore.

Pakse is the capital of Champassak province and it is here you will find the enchanting irriwaddy dolphins. Take a boat trip on the Mekong River for a chance to spot these shy mammals as they play in the water and leap through the waves.

Situated on picturesque Done Khone Island, the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Centre is a good place to find out more about these interesting animals and how to protect them. Nearby you will find Wat Phou, which is located high atop a mountain and considered to be one of the most important sights in Laos. The temple dates back to the same period as Cambodia’s treasure Angkor Wat and offers spectacular views from the top.
Champassak is also home to the largest waterfalls in Southeast Asia. Known as Khone Pha Pheng, these pretty falls are easy to get to by boat or road and are a great place for a swim and a picnic, surrounded by dense jungle and a colourful array of wildlife.

Another great day trip is the Dong Hua Sao Forest reserve, which is a great place to spot a wide variety of wildlife. There are a large number of waterfalls to explore here such as the Li Phi falls and it is possible to spend the night.
The town of Champassak itself was home to the royal family until about 30 years ago and you will still find a large number of grand buildings here, including a collection from the French colonial-era, which make an interesting contract beside the traditional wooden Laotian houses and shining temples. The town has a sleepy feel to it these days and there are few vehicles to clog the streets.

There are plenty of things to do in Champassak such as elephant riding, trekking and boat rides. Champassak’s rich and fertile land is perfect for growing crops and you will find large coffee, cardamom and bananas plantations here, which make the perfect backdrop for a scenic country walk.

Vang Vieng, Laos

Vang Vieng, Laos
Vang Vieng, Laos
Vang Vieng, Laos

The chilled out traveller’s hot spot of Vang Vieng is situated 120 miles from Vientiane. The journey takes just three of four hours by bus, while it is 150 miles to Luang Prabang. The best way to get around this picturesque village is to walk or hire a bicycle, but mopeds are also available for rent.

The tranquil atmosphere of Vang Vieng is very addictive. The landscape is incredibly serene and picturesque; beyond the sparkling river sheer limestone cliffs rise from a plateau of paddy fields. The river is spanned by a number of wooden bridges, which despite their flimsy appearance compliment the scenery perfectly.

Vang Vieng is a real haven for travellers and you will find a great assortment of cheap guesthouses dotted around the village. Many westerners arrive here and never leave, setting up their own bars and guesthouses alongside the many others owned by Lao people.

Chilling out is the main activity in Vang Vieng. Restaurants show Friends reruns throughout the day and night and there is plenty of good food and drink to go with it. International food is popular here and most restaurants offer a selection of backpack favourites such as pizza, pasta and spicy curry.

Walking through the scenic landscape is also popular and there are some other beautiful caves to explore on the far side of the river. Alternatively, if you fancy something a bit more energetic, why not hire an inner tube and float away down the river? Other popular activities in and around 
Vang Vieng include rafting, trekking and bicycle and motorbike trips.

Many of the families that live in Vang Vieng are self-sufficient and have chickens clucking in the garden in front of the house. As you explore the picturesque dusty lanes you will find puppies running around and fluffy yellow chicks cheep in the long grass, watched over by their clucking mother.

If you are feeling adventurous, take a walk through the village to the Vang Vieng Resort which is a large, picturesque garden with a large cable bridge spanning the river. At the far end of the park is the impressive cave of Tham Jang. Climb the 147 steps for enchanting views of the surrounding countryside and sparkling rocks inside. In the evening, sit beside the river and watch the sun slip behind the horizon with a beer or two.

Why Thailand?

To the readers of this piece: I am sure that you all went through a similar experience when considering the destination of your holiday. You decided in one manner or another that a trip overseas was for you.

After speaking to all your friends especially those who had traveled before, a short list of destinations was considered. At some stage over a month or so you decided on the destination and the method of travel. For the young it nearly is always backpack, because a greater experience can be had on a smaller budget, and lets face it you are fit and can more easily cope with sleepng on the floor, and as statistics show you stay longer on holiday.

For those who are in the 35-50 age group other priorities are clearly defined, with other interests other than rafting or elephant trekking. Suitable literature should be obtained on the country of destination, to prepare you for differences in cultures, language, and day to day existence. As a seasoned traveler I cannot stress this ‘preparation’ highly enough. Especially in a country that speaks a tongue that is not your own.

If you think that it is going to be easy ‘just a walk in the park’ — think again. Every country has its wise guys and they seek out vulnerable persons and take advantage of them. So being armed against that type of situation by reading books will help you understand. I am not going to promote any books but there are many around that shed light on to every subject.

Anyway… Why did you select Thailand?– Was it the history, food, nightlife, the beach? Whatver the reason, it was the right reason. Remember tourists descend on Thailand from all over the world, most with a good deal of money. The Thai government welcomes you to swell their coffers with your foreign currency, and hope you have a great time and return soon. The Thais only see a walking money bag. They do not resent you, but your presence only reinforces their position, that they are not as well off as you. So, in their attempt to raise their standard of living sometimes surharges are applied to foreigners, and in many instances quite a lot.

It is often said ‘you farang, you have money too much’ They only see the holiday aspect of your life and can’t understand that you have saved money for a long time to travel. This is their pleight, most cannot save money. Now that we understand that you are a “rich farang” and nothing will ever dissuade them from their belief you can get on with your holiday, remembering always that you have the money and the Thais will do their best to separate you from it.

I am writing this from serious experience, having fallen into every trap that was about. A few simple rules will help enormously- never bullshit about your wealth or status, try not to overdress. Neat casual, but not dinner suite with all the trimmings. Dont try to impress by offering to buy drinks for everyone.

Cheers,

Garry

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