Tag - wat

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.

Nima Chandler of Nancy Chandler Maps

Nima Chandler of Nancy Chandler Maps: Khao San Road Map
Nima Chandler of Nancy Chandler Maps: Khao San Road Map

One thing there is no shortage of in Thailand is maps… Big ones, small ones, pocket sized ones. You know the sort of thing… They are often a pointless exercise that contribute nothing to the quality of your visit… The immediately disposable giveaways probably most functional in the rainy season as an alternative to the umbrella you didn’t think you’d need to bring. Usually found at your guesthouse reception, these maps feature places you already know about or wouldn’t really want to visit. Invariably, they carry countless adverts for “Rahiv’s and Sanjay’s Bespoke Tailoring Shop”, restaurants offering the best Pork Knuckle this side of Baden-Werttemberg (or even Lower Saxony), and diving lessons from the local Swedish diving school (why are there so many in Thailand?). They contribute nothing to the quality of your visit… unless of course you are talking about Nancy Chandler Maps.

Created by Nancy Chandler Graphics, and turning the genre on its head, Nancy Chandler Maps are no throw away irrelevancies, but items visitors to Thailand cherish and actively seek out to purchase. Advert free and uninfluenced by ‘tea money’, they act as a surrogate guidebook, which they often rival for pertinent information. Nancy Chandler Maps are not only useful, but they are the sort of thing people take home as souvenirs. This month saw the organization cross into KhaoSanRoad.com territory with a detailed map of “Khao San Road & Old Bangkok”. Before the Bloods and Crips kicked off a turf war, we sat down for a powwow with Nima Chandler, who researched the map.

Here’s the result:

KSR: Nima – thanks for meeting us like this. First of all, why don’t you give us an overview of Nancy Chandler Graphics and its history?

Nima Chandler: My mother Nancy Chandler founded the company in 1974 when she produced the first detailed map of Bangkok, initially meant to be for expatriates. Handrawn and handletttered, it included special little craft outlets, the only western supermarket, English langauge bookshops and the like about town, while also trying to make some sense of the chaos that were the Sunday Market (then at Sanam Luang near Khao San) and Chinatown. All much the same as was what we do today, although Bangkok has grown immensely since then.
 
KSR: So, you’ve lived in Thailand all your life?
 
Nima Chandler: It has been home since I was one, the chaos of the city something I thrive on. Visiting the US, I am always amazed at the lack of street food vendors, loud music, mega malls around every corner… It’s much too quiet and sane for me there.
 
KSR: And you have maps for Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Suan Lum Night Bazaar… how do you research your maps?
 
Nima Chandler: We clip and file anything we read or see of interest year round. Come update time, we collate all notes before setting out to research specific areas, then either walking or driving up and down streets, keeping one eye open for things on the list, another eye open for things not on the list. One thing you’d never want to do is walk behind me in the Night Bazaar or Chatuchak Weekend Market as every stall gets a once-over before I head home with my notes to pick and choose what might be of interest to the visitor or expatriate.
 
KSR: It must be an ongoing task updating them?
 
Nima Chandler: In a city like Bangkok, it’s exciting. There’s always new places to visit, old places to toast for surviving, and closed places to keep an eye on to see what comes next. Each city map does take about 6 months to properly update, which is why we only do so every year and a half normally. Luckily I have help now, with my assistant Manapiti Ramasoot, who calls around to confirm hours and the like, while also taking on some of the on foot and road research as well.
 
KSR: …and now Khao San Road… what drew you to Khao San?
 
Nima Chandler: We added an inset map of Khao San to our Map of Bangkok back in 2003. I personally loved the color of the area, its vibrancy and energy, not to mention all the great bars, shopping and attractions of the area. (As my mother jokes, there weren’t many bars on her map at all until I joined her in the business. When I did, Khao San was not an area to be overlooked for all it had to offer nightlife lovers.) Since then, we’ve held several fun scavenger hunts in the area and I’ve co-hosted several wild hen’s nights and Khao San pub crawls for expatriates that rarely tour this part of town. Pictures would be provided, but my friends would not speak to me if I shared, sorry.
 
KSR: We have to say it’s a totally detailed little map – everything you need is there and it’s going to be really useful for people visiting the area. How long did it take to research?
 
Nima Chandler: Approximately 6 weeks. We had just updated our Map of Bangkok so our notes were pretty up to date before we focused on the area in more detail. We then spent 2 weeks of researching on foot in the area – I actually moved to a hotel on Phra Athit for the week – hunting down places we’d heard about but had yet to pinpoint for the map, after which it took another 2-3 weeks to map, index and double-check. Nancy meanwhile was working on all sorts of sketches to go with the map – of backpackers looking for hotels, shopping, drinking, etc – which sadly never made it onto the map for lack of space! Hopefully, we’ll be able to use them in another format in the future.
 
KSR: Most people who come to KSR leave and come back again after a couple of weeks and say “I hardly recognized the place”! Isn’t keeping your map of Khao San and the area relevant going to be a particular challenge given how quickly things change here?
 
Nima Chandler: Our website offers free updates online, something we started years ago with our other titles. Updated at least once a month, we highlight great new additions, mention places that have closed and things to keep an eye out for, as well as list upcoming events people might be interested in. In short, if we’ve heard about or seen any changes, they’ll be noted online at www.nancychandler.net.
 
KSR: Give yourself a plug – where can people buy your maps on KSR? What’s the current price?
 
Nima Chandler: Nancy Chandler’s Map of Khao San & Old Bangkok is available online at www.nancychandler.net and at bookshops in the Khao San Rd area (including Shaman, Sara Ban, Bookazine, Aporia, Moonlight and others). Our suggested retail price is B 125* in Thailand. For those overseas, our website offers the map at US$ 7.95* including delivery by airmail (we don’t believe in quoting one price then adding on huge delivery charges without notice when people go to check out).
 
KSR: Most of the maps you find around Thailand are merely excuses for advertising. But of course, you don’t accept advertising. So this means you recommend everywhere you mention?
 
Nima Chandler: No, we don’t recommend everything on the map – there’s too much on the map to do that. On our Bangkok and Chiang Mai maps, recommended places are highlighted in the directories that accompany the maps if not on the maps themselves. On the map of Khao San & Old Bangkok, our favorites are generally given a special mention on the map itself and within the directory. For our nightlife listings, however, we provide short descriptions, leaving the user to decide what kind of scene they are into. For example, we’re not particularly keen on hip hop ourselves, but if you are, you’ll find a place you’ll like on the map. You can read between the lines too, as in the case of one pub where we note “mind the drunken yobos” and another we describe as with “loud live band 9pm on, chill earlier”.
 
KSR: And you don’t take ‘tea money’?
 
Nima Chandler: No ‘tea money’, no free rooms, no free meals, no discounted drinks. We usually don’t mention who we are or what we’re doing either, unless contacting people by email.
 
KSR: So what are the ‘must do’ places on KSR right now?
 
Nima Chandler: Hmmm. What’s ‘in’ changes regularly and really depends on what kind of crowd you’re into – I love the streetside cocktail bars which are located in front of what will be a big new mall and hotel, in other words, a remnant of the past likely to disappear soon. Thais meanwhile are currently flocking to the streetside cafes and clubs on Rambuttri just north of Khao San which has a flavor all its own after dark. If I had to list five places that would ‘surprise’ the visitor to Khao San, they would include a visit to the restored mansion that houses Starbucks for a coffee, a browse for the most unusual title you can find at Shaman Books (there are some truly bizarre ones), a pre-party drink anytime from 6-8 pm at the rooftop Gazebo, dinner anywhere on the street, and then a few more drinks at the Roof Pub on Khao San (great oldies music and a buzzing crowd), the Old Phra Athit Pier on Phra Athit (a much quieter, almost refined ambience for the area) and/or the Ad Here blues bar on Samsen (for the non-claustrophobic).
 
KSR: And if you were writing a back of an envelope itinerary for someone staying on KSR, where are the key places they should visit in the area? I am sure Wat Phra Kaew must be on the list?
 
Nima Chandler: The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Po and Wat Arun are on everyone’s itineraries. Special suggestions we would make would include: Sunset drinks and/or dinner at The Deck of the Arun Residence, a wander down the back alleyways to the simple shack-like riverside cafes near Tha Phra Chan, maybe a wander through the crowds at the market in front of Siriraj Hospital on the other side of the river, for sure dinner in the Phraeng Phuton area at Chotechitr. If you’re vegetarian, we’d recommend May Kaidee’s and Rub Ar Roon. If you’re a student, we’d recommend a visit to Thammasat University’s bookshop and uni market. I could go on and on. In short, we recommend personalizing your visit, something we believe our detailed map enables people to do.
 
KSR: What about little novelties – markets, oddities… places people might not necessarily read about in a guide book but should visit while they are on KSR… got any suggestions?
 
Nima Chandler: Besides the many mentioned above, wander by the Sor Vorapin boxing gym when classes are in session – who knows, you might find yourself signing up for a few hours of training. The Lofty Bamboo crafts shop is our favorite relatively new outlet, with great little hill tribe textile baby shoes that jump off the shelves among other items. Sticking your head in Nittaya Curry’s shops for Thai kanom (sweets) and snacks can also be a unique experience…
 
KSR: So, what projects are coming up… what new maps can we look forward to?
 
Nima Chandler: Let’s see. I am supposed to be on holiday, resting up after updating the Bangkok map and releasing the Khao San & Old Bangkok map, but someone who shall not be named has us now toiling away on a map for this very website… As for other projects on the table, we’ll let you know when we’re ready to announce!
 
KSR: OK – well… good luck with all of that and let us know how things work out.
 
Nima Chandler: Will do.
 
*Prices June 2008
 
See the map of Khao San Road provided by Nancy Chandler Maps.

Temple Trekkin

Temples in BangkokOf all the unforgettable images left in the mind of a visitor to the Kingdom, the truly majestic, shimmering and almost mystical looking Thai temple, or “wat” in Thai, has surely got to be way up there among the best.

It is said that there are around 32,000 monasteries dotted all over the country, and that Bangkok is home to about 400. Aside from Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho, Wat Benchama Bophit, and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) which charge a small fee for on going restoration, admission to all other temples in Bangkok is free, so put down your novel, dress appropriately, pack a little respect, and get out there with your camera to experience some of the city’s most significant and beautiful temples..

1. Wat Phra Kaeo.  – Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

Officially named Wat Phra Si Rattanasatsadaram; generally known to all as Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and located in the grounds of the Grand Palace, was completed in 1784 during the reign of King Rama I. Regarded as the most significant of all Thai temples and home to the most sacred of Buddha images, the green jade statute of Buddha, the large compound of over 100 beautifully architectured buildings represents 200 years of royal history.

2. Wat Pho or Wat Phra Chetuphon.

The oldest and largest temple in Bangkok, Wat Po was first built in the 16th century during the Ayutthaya period and then almost completely rebuilt in 1781 by King Rama I. It is famed for being home to the largest reclining Buddha, has the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, and was the earliest centre for public education.

3. Wat Arun – Temple of Dawn.

Named after the India god of dawn, Aruna, Wat Arun is perfectly located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River to catch the morning light, and was chosen by King Tak Sin to be his royal temple in the 17th century. The Emerald Buddha was once housed here before being moved to Wat Phra Kaeo.

4. Wat Saket – Golden Mountain.
The “Golden Mountain” or Phu Khao Thong in Thai on the west side of the temple grounds offers stunning views over Rattanakosin Island. Construction began in the reign of King Rama III, was added to during the reign of King Rama IV, and finally King Rama V added to the structure and housed a Buddha relic from India.

5. Wat Ratchanatda

Built under the reign of King Rama III, this unusual 19th century temple’s architecture may have seen influence from Burma. The Loha Prasit (Metal Palace) surrounded by 37 metal spires and a total height of 36 metres is the only one of its kind in the world. It is also famed for its market which sells amulets or magic charms featuring images of Buddha, monks and Indian deities.

6. Wat Benchamabophit – Marble Temple

Made of white marble, hence the nickname, this most recent royal temple was built at the turn of the century by King Rama V. The main building is an excellent example of modern Thai architecture.

7. Wat Suthat

This temple is home to a 14th century Buddha statue from the Sukothai period which is surrounded by some rather surreal depictions of Buddha’s last 24 lives. King Rama II carved the great doors and up until World War II, the Giant Swing Ceremony to celebrate the rice harvest was held in front of the temple grounds.

8. Wat Bowonniwet

Founded in 1826, when it was known as Wat Mai, this temple is home to Bangkok’s second Buddhist University, Maha-makut University. King Mongkut began a royal tradition by residing here as a monk. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) and several other members of the royal family have ordained here.

9. Wat Mahathat

Home to Bangkok’s other Buddhist University; Maha That Rat-chawitthayalai, this temple was founded in 1700’s and has a Thai herbal medicine market and meditation centre on the grounds.

10. Wat Rachapradit

This small temple was constructed under the reign of King Rama IV for the purpose of becoming one of the required 3 eminent temples in the city. Noted for its abbey’s mural paintings, they depict all the annual royal ceremonies undertaken, including the legend of the eclipse of the sun during the reign of King Rama IV.

11. Wat Thepthidaram

Erected by King Rama III between 1836 and 1839 this temple was exquisitely design by court artisans as can be seen by the presiding Buddha image which is beautifully enshrined by mural paintings. Once home to a famous Thai poet, Sunthon Phu, the monks living quarters are now known as “ban kawi” or Poet’s House Museum.

12. Wat Kanlayanamit Woramahawihan

Founded by Chao Phraya Nikornbordin in 1825, the temple was added to by King Rama III when he built the Phra Wihan Luang in which the principle Buddha image is enshrined. Predominantly Chinese style brick work, stucco, tiles and motifs, the mural painting depicting the Buddha’s life story is now almost completely faded.

13. Wat Suwannaram Ratchaworawihan.

Founded during the Ayutthaya period, not only has this temple been dismantled, rebuilt and restored again and again between the reigns of King Rama I to King Rama V, it has also seen a variety of uses such as a place of execution for Burmese prisoners of war during the reign of King Taksin and later it became the site for royal cremations up until the reign of King Rama V. 

14. Wat Trimitwitthayaram

Built around 150 years ago and restored in 1937, the main attraction of this temple is the five ton, three metre tall Sukhothai style solid gold Buddha image known as the Golden Buddha.

15. Wat Ratchaorasarm

Built on the bank of Sanamchai Canal in the Ayutthaya period and later appointed a royal temple by King Rama III, its distinguishable Chinese style make it historically important as it is the first temple to have no traditional Thai decorations.

16. Wat Rachapradit Sathitmahasimaram

Built by King Rama IV as one of the three required temples for royal ceremonies, this temple was founded on what was originally a coffee plantation before the land was purchased by the King and given to the Thammayut sect to build the temple.

17. Wat Sommanatwihan

In 1853, King Rama IV built this Dhammayut sect royal temple as a memorial to Queen Sommanat Vadhannawadi. Placed on the surrounding wall facing eight directions are stones indicating the boundary of the chapel.

18. Wat Indravihan

The temple is famed for its gigantic standing Buddha image. Built during the reign of King IV, the image of the Buddha stands 32 metres tall, is just over 10 metres wide, and contains the Lord Buddha’s relic brought from the island nation of Sri-Lanka. 

19. Wat Ratchabophit

The first temple built under his reign, King Rama V ordered its construction to commemorate the queen. It later became the temple of King Rama VII. Although the exterior of the main chapel is typically Thai, its interior is quite European in style.

20. Wat Ratchatiwat

The temple was re-established from the former Wat Samor-rai by Somdej Chao Phraya Maha Surasinghanat and then later renovated and renamed Ratchatiwatwihan; meaning temple where the King resides, by King Rama IV. The large teak Ayutthaya style building, redesigned by HRH Naris, is reputed as the biggest and most beautiful wooden structure in the Far East.

21. Wat Thepsirintharawat

Ordered built by King Rama V, the king dedicated this temple to his mother, the late Queen Thepsirindhra, and named it in her memory. As one would expect, this chapel is one of the most outstanding architectural treasures of the Rama V period and has many famous Buddha images enshrined in it.

22. Wat Rakhangkositaram

Built in the Ayutthaya period, this temple was later restored and named a royal temple by King Taksin. During the reign of King Rama I a melodious “rakhang” or bell was found in the temple compound. The King ordered it sent to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and had five new bells sent back in exchange. The belfry, built in the style of the late Ayutthaya and early Rattanakosin periods, is the symbol of this temple and its three tier roof is decorated with beautiful murals by Phra Wanwadwichit, the famous artist of the King Rama VI era. This former residence of King Rama I is one of the most outstanding examples of Thai architecture.

23. Wat Bhoman-Khunaram

This Chinese-Tibetan style temple was built in 1959 by a Chinese spiritual master who later became the temples’ first abbot. The main Buddha image was named Phra Phutthawatcharaphothikhun by King Rama IX and is enshrined in the chapel with 500 other Buddha images. The pavilion houses 7,240 texts of the Mahayanist version of the Tripitaka.

24. Wat  Munkorn Kamalawat

Built in 1871 by Phra Ajarn Wangsamathiwat and Phra Chokikaratsetthi to disseminate Buddhism, the temple, formerly named Wat Leng Nei Yee, was later renamed Wat  Munkorn Kamalawat by King Rama V. The temple is decorated in Chinese architecture and the main Buddha image in the hall is also in a Chinese style. Images of the world’s four keepers are found can be found in font of the hall’s shrine.

25. Sri Mahamariamman Temple

This Brahman (Hindu) temple of the Shakti sect, which reveres this mother of the gods, was built in 1879 by Indians from Tamil Nadu in Southern Indian who came to Thailand and established a community of traders on Silom Canal. Inside the temple the main image, the Umi Devi, is surrounded by Indian deities Ganesh, Khandakumara, Krishna, Rasmi, and Kali.

Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled

Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
Vietnam: The Road Less Travelled
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vietnam_the_road_less_travelled_7

I only had a few days in Vietnam and, as enamoured with Hanoi as I was, I wanted to catch a glimpse of rural Vietnam. So, leaving behind Hanoi’s cafes, lakes, tree-lined streets and deliciously smooth and hideously cheap draft beer I headed out west.
With a natural aversion to buses and not enough time for a trip on one of the painfully slow trains the only option seemed to be two wheels. Throwing common sense aside I opted for Russian over Japanese.

The Russian Minsk is more commonly known as the ‘mule of the mountains’ and favoured by the locals for its basic approach to transport and its ability to tackle the rugged highland terrain. Added to that it is cheap and there are spare parts readily available everywhere from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi and beyond.

Feeling oddly proud of my US$10 a day museum piece I secured backpack to seat and kicked the decades old two-stroke into action. Navigating through the mayhem and chaos of Hanoi’s streets is an adventure in itself. Officially Vietnamese drive on the right but anywhere between, and including, the paths on either side will do. Street lights and road markings are purely decorative.

Once out of Hanoi the scenery is quick to change. Retail becomes heavy industry which in turn becomes agriculture. Houses become fewer, smaller and with greater distance between them. Eventually the flat rice fields around Hanoi start to incline towards the mountainous region of the west on route 6, where rice is grown in terraces.

The Minsk copes admirably with the hills and trundles along at a steady pace. With no electrics or battery on-board judging speed and fuel consumption is down to guesswork.

The road is generally single lane and of poor quality. Drivers are surprisingly polite even in the very rural areas and as you go further from Hanoi the bounds of what passes as a vehicle get stretched to the limit. Any motorised farm implement with wheels is quickly decked out with a seat and attached to a trailer. Instant tractor!

In Hanoi Minsks are thin on the ground but in the mountains their popularity is clear. Every well dressed Vietnamese owns one. Struggling up a steep mountain road I passed a farmer on a Minsk with a young buffalo trussed up like a chicken and strapped to a board, broadside across the back of the bike. Blue smoke belched from the exhaust just inches from the buffalo’s nose as the two-stroke screamed its way up the mountain.

High in the mountains at around 1000m the temperature dropped and I regretted heading out in only a t-shirt. Stopping to pull another shirt from my backpack I was invited to drink tea with a man sat outside his house. Soon we were joined by two others, one holding a baby. None of them could speak English and I can’t speak Vietnamese but we somehow managed to communicate with a few words from my Lonely Planet guide and sign language.

With an hour to spare before sunset I reached Mai Chau, a village-sized town set in a flat valley base of rice fields surrounded by steep mountains on all sides. Hidden off the main road down a long and bumpy lane Mai Chau leads me to Ban Lac, a small hamlet of traditional ‘hill tribe style’ stilted wooden houses.

The people of this region are said to ancient relatives of the Thais in Thailand and known as White Thai. The houses here are very similar to the traditional stilted houses found in the northern region of Thailand.

For about US$6 I got a room for the night, and dinner and breakfast. The room was devoid of windows or furniture and had an old, thin, fold-up mattress thrown down under a mosquito net as a bed. A ceiling fan hung from the rafters and one bulb gave just enough light to read by.

A delicious dinner was served alfresco beneath the house, overlooking the rice fields. Having managed to get the message across that I am vegetarian I was served home grown vegetables, tofu, rice and deep fried homemade crisps, all washed down with a few bottles of the excellent Halich beer.

After dinner I chatted with the lady of the house. Being a Thai speaker, well sort of, I was amazed to discover that distant as the White Thai are to modern Thais there are still some similarities in the language. We managed to have quite a conversation using common Thai words and English.

The view from my bed was a magnificent panorama of rice fields and the steep, rugged mountains beyond. I went to bed with the sounds of rice paddies in my head; lizards, frogs and crickets chirruping contentedly in the darkness. By 2am the local dogs burst into song as a response to several over zealous cockerels and at 5.45am I was roused from my slumber by the sound of cow bells down in the lane. The cool mountain air, dull dong of the cow bells and gentle plodding of the cattle on the dirt road gave the whole thing an air of the Alps.

After an icy cold shower and breakfast of crusty bread, cheese, jam and local coffee I walked through the network of lanes, dodging small herds of cattle ambling slowly in front of their herders. Thick cloud had descended and the mountains were completely shrouded, leaving only the valley floor visible.

The lanes were alive with the gentle hum of conversation and the tapping of hammers. In several locations new wooden houses were being erected. Craftsmen and women were busy shaping wooden beams and carving out ornate mouldings for doors and stairs. Women and children were weaving traditional hill tribe clothing and wicker baskets.

Later on the journey back to Hanoi was cold, wet and with poor visibility. Going over the mountains surrounding the valley in which I’d spent the night the traffic was reduced to nothing more than a crawl with visibility down to about two metres.

The Weekender

One Week in Thailand?

One Week in Thailand
One Week in Thailand
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Most people plan their trips to Thailand as part of a larger Southeast Asian travel circuit, visiting many countries in a limited period of time. Thailand’s diversity and beauty gives visitors plenty of travel options. You could spend years exploring its jungles, beaches, and urban temples. For the backpacker who wants to see it all, planning an itinerary might be stressful. Here, khaosanroad.com offers sample one-week routes in Thailand, to fit different traveller’s needs. Enjoy.
Jungle Immersion for the Nature Fan

From Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal, head to Khao Yai National Park for a few scenic days of jungle treks. Thailand’s oldest natural park boasts 2172 square kilometres of rainforest, evergreen forest, and countless wildlife. A few guesthouse spots make you safe from the park’s natural population, which includes elephants, deer, black bears, tigers, gibbons and macaques, and leopards.

Next on the list is historic Kanchanaburi. This town is an easy homebase for your daytrip to the Erawan Waterfall. This seven-tiered waterfall, located in nearby Erawan National Park, is considered one of the most beautiful in Thailand. Visitors can trek up the side of the falls, or like local people, hop right in to swim and climb at the same time.

An overnight bus to Chiang Mai may leave you worn out, so take some time to rejuvenate before bussing to Doi Inthanon National Park. The challenging treks around Thailand’s highest peak are rewarded with fresh mountain air and breathtaking scenery. The mountain boasts hundreds of bird species, and is one of the last remaining homes of the Asiatic black bear.

A History Tour for Temple-lovers

Start in Bangkok, which offers countless temples and wats to feed your curiosity. Take your time touring Wat Phra-Kaew and the Grand Palace, more commonly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This property contains hundreds of buildings and represents architecture and art from 18th and 19th century royalty. Have your camera ready for gilded chedis, mosaics, and murals. From here, stop at Wat Pho, Bangkok’s oldest wat, to see the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand.

A two-hour train ride to Ayutthaya drops you in the

middle of Thailand’s compact and walkable former capital. During the 14th-18th centuries, this city was the hub of the Siam empire, and the “Ayutthaya-style” architecture, made popular by the royals of the time, is still a prominent influence on Thai design. Rent a bike and circle the river for some temple-spotting, then head to the centre of the town to Ayutthaya Historical Park, where a small entrance fee lets you explore the expansive grounds of temples, gardens, and statues.

Go north to Sukhothai, Thailand’s first capital, for a glimpse of royal architecture in the 13th and 14th centuries. Sukhothai Historical Park boasts Khmer-style and early Thai architecture, with popular lotus-bud and bell-shaped stupas. This park offers 70 sites within the old city walls.

Scenic R&R for Beachgoers

Your trip starts in Phuket, the island nicknamed “pearl of the south” for its sparkling beaches and exotic beauty. Once you fly onto the island, you can settle in Phuket Town for some snorkeling and diving in popular nearby beaches, or spend a couple of days beach-hopping to the island’s more remote beaches in northwestern Mai Khao, Nai Yang, and Nai Thon.

From Phuket Town, hop a ferry to Ko Phi Phi Don, an island of long white beaches and pretty coral reefs. Ao Ton Sai is the tourist hub, while smaller beaches with modest bungalows dot the coastline southeast of the city. while pricier resorts occupy the beaches on the eastern coast.

Catch another boat to Ko Lanta for denser wildlife as pretty beaches neighbour mangroves and crops of wide umbrella trees. The island’s booming tourist economy means that diving, snorkelling, and boat tours are readily available to visitors. Take a day tour of Koh Lanta National Marine Park for easy island-hopping to the coral-filled beaches of Koh Ha and Koh Bida, or cliffy Koh Rok Nok. The latter beach allows camping.

From here, outdoor athletes can move on to Krabi to make use of its famous limestone cliffs and caves for rock-climbing. Slower-paced travelers can explore the pretty mainland beach of Ao Nang. Visitors can follow the main road to the waterfront, which is lined with bungalows and tourist-friendly restaurants and shops. The landscape is pretty and fairly unspoilt, despite the beach’s popularity. Those in search of peace and quiet can head a few hundred metres north along the coast to Hat Noppharat Thara, a 2-kilometre strip of shallow emerald waters and clean sand.

A Weeklong Crawl for the Life of the Party

Starting in Bangkok, you’ll have no shortage of nightlife options. Sukhumvit (around soi 20-26) and the head of Silom street are packed with bars. Go-go bars line the streets of Patpong. Silom soi 4 is considered the main artery of gay nightlife. Those in search of live music should try the concert venues around Siam Square. Those hoping to dance should go to the trendy strip of bars known as RCA.

Next to the city nightlife, popular beach parties are another popular way to let your hair down. Head south to the well-known islands of the Gulf of Thailand, starting with the popular Ko Samui. The island boasts beautiful mountainous landscapes, long beaches, and enough tourist amenities for many nights’ entertainment. Hat Chaweng, on the east coast, is the longest beach with the biggest concentration of accomodations. As a result, it offers the best nightlife on the island, with a main strip running parallel to the beach that stays lively well into the night. Hat Lamai, though smaller than Chaweng, has the same lively atmosphere and dance-til-dawn nightlife.

Hop a ferry to the infamous Koh Phagnan and you may be in time for one of the famous full-moon parties on popular Hat Rin. If the timing isn’t right, you may stumble across a half-moon, quarter-moon, or new moon party. Visitors to this island will cook up easy excuses for all-night festivities, where beachside bars spill onto the sand and partygoers dance, mingle, spin fire, drink potent cocktails from plastic beach buckets, and lose time until the sun rises.

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun
Wat Arun
Wat Arun
Wat Arun
Wat Arun

For me, the Temple of Dawn always triggers images of adventure, heroism and, unfortunately, Indiana Jones. Even now, as I sail down Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River to visit the magnificent temple, the Indiana Jones theme tune is stuck in my head on repeat, an annoying side effect.

As the ferry rounds a bend in the river I am treated to my first glimpse of the Temple of Dawn, which is officially named Wat Arun after Aruna, the Indian god of the dawn.

Viewed from the river, Wat Arun is a stirring sight. Situated on the far side of the river it towers above the other buildings around it and looks very different to other Thai temples. Whilst the surrounding wats are short with shining gold roofs, Wat Arun looks greenish-grey from a distance and has an enormous bell-shaped tower, known as a prang, which stretches heavenwards.

I carefully step off the ferry at the Tha Tien pier and take another, much smaller boat across the flowing river to where Wat Arun waits. It costs just 4 baht to cross the river and the journey takes a couple of minutes.

I step gingerly from the bobbing boat onto a gently creaking and swaying metal pier and walk through a corridor into a large open garden.

I wander through the garden to the Ordination Hall, which contains the golden Niramir Buddha image said to have been designed by King Rama II. The way into the Ordination Hall is guarded be two gigantic demons, called yaksha in Thai. These demons stand either side of the entranceway and look very intimidating with their toothy scowls and huge swords. The white demon is named Sahassa Deja, while the green one is known as Thotsakan, who also appears in the Ramayana as Ravana.

I tentatively pass by the two demons and find myself in a courtyard of sorts, watched over on all sides by shining Buddha images. I wander through a doorway and into another, much larger courtyard, where many people are eating simple meals together at large tables.

I make my way through the courtyards around a small prang and through the garden to the main part of Wat Arun; the enormous 80 meter high central prang. I am surprised to see that this towering totem is covered with colourful pieces of porcelain, shaped into flowers and other geometrical shapes. In the past, this pottery was used as ballast by trading ships coming from China. The ballast was dumped when the boats filled up with goods in Thailand, so the porcelain is both a unique form of temple art and an ancient form of recycling.

The central prang is surrounded by four smaller prangs, marking the four main compass points. Around the base of these prangs are stone figures of ancient Chinese soldiers and animals as well as ornate bonsai plants.

One of the things that makes Wat Arun so interesting is the many styles it incorporates in its design. As well as the blending of Thai and Khmer styles in the central prang, there are also elements of Chinese, Japanese and Indian influences.

There are steep stone steps leading up each of the four sides of the central prang, which is divided into sections with platforms leading around each section. It is possible to climb up the first section, and those who make the effort will be treated with an interesting view across the river and surrounding area.

The temple dates back to the 16th century, when it was known as Wat Makok – the Olive temple. A highly revered temple, it had the honour of playing host to the mighty Emerald Buddha for a short time.

King Rama II started work on the central prang in the early 1800s. he also changed the temple’s name, which carries the full title of Wat Arunratchawararam Ratchaworamahavihara, a bit of a mouthful, to say the least!

The central prang was built to symbolise Mount Meru, where the gods reside in Hindu mythology. The four smaller prangs represent the four winds and are devoted to the wind god Phra Phai, who can be seen riding his horse atop each of the four towers.

Walking back down the stone steps is quite tricky as they are very steep and several are broken. Around the temple are several souvenir stalls, and I browse for a bargain before taking the ferry back across the river.

Within walking distance are the Grand Palace with Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Po, home to the Reclining Buddha and visiting these magnificent places of worship can make a good inclusion to a day of temple hopping.

The best time to see Wat Arun is at sunset, when the sky behind the temple comes alive with colour. The riverside restaurants just opposite make a good viewing spot. As the sky darkens, Wat Arun is illuminated by spotlights and the scene is very romantic, making this a great place from a date.

Information:

Wat Arun is open daily from 8:30 – 5:30.admission is just 50 baht for foreigners.

About the author:

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

Religion in Thailand


Religion in Thailand
Religion in Thailand
Religion in Thailand
Religion in Thailand

Most Thai people (around 95%) are Buddhist, whilst 4.6% are Muslim, and Christianity comprises 0.7%. Most of Thailand’s Muslims live in the south of Thailand. There are also a significant number of Hindus and Sikhs. Thailand also has a history of animism – which generally means the belief in souls and spirits – and this is still practiced by some of the people of the hill tribes in the north of Thailand.

Although Buddhism is by far the main belief, Thailand prides itself on religious freedom and welcomes the emergence of newer religions and beliefs.

The strain of Buddhism worshipped in Thailand is Thai Theravada Buddhism, which is supported and overseen by the government. Most men are expected to become a monk at some point in their life, and this is often undertaken during the three monk Khao Phansa period, which begins in July.

Monks can be easily recognised by their saffron coloured robed and shaved heads. Monks cannot carry money and so can be seen early in the morning collecting their daily food. Monks also receive a number of government benefits, such as free use of public transport.

Religion forms a cornerstone of most Thai people’s lives, entwined with daily activities and special events. Most people will worship at the temple (known as a wat) during festivals and monks and spirits are consulted when important decisions need to be made such as weddings and starting a business.