Tag - water

Cherating, Malaysia

CheratingMost people travel to the coastal city of Cherating to soak up the sun on the beautiful beaches, and Cherating is acclaimed by many people to offer some of the most stunning stretches of sand in the whole of Malaysia. Lined with swaying palm trees and lapped by cool, clear water, it is true that the beaches here look like something off of an idyllic tropical postcard.

Cherating started life as a traditional fishing village, and fishing is still one of the most popular forms of livelihood head. Those who like to dine on freshly caught seafood will find a large number of restaurants that serve up the catch of the day and the restaurants that line the beach offer visitors the chance to soak up the atmosphere while eating their fill. Simply choosing a spot on the sand and sunbathing for a while. Water sports are also popular, especially yachting, surfing and swimming.

Although this is the perfect place for doing nothing all day, there are plenty of things to do if you have extra energy to spare. Bicycles can be hired from most guesthouses and cycling is a great way to explore the village and surrounding area. People wave as you cycle past and beckon you to stop and shop for locally made souvenirs.

Visit the turtle sanctuary and you may be lucky enough to arrive when the turtles make their way to the shore, which takes place between June and August. The Green turtles emerge from the sea late at night during these months to lay as many as 100 eggs at a time and visitors have the chance to watch the event.

Cherating is also famed for its arts and crafts, and this is the perfect place to purchase gifts and souvenirs to take back home. Items such as pandanus leaf hats, bags and mats are all popular purchases here and make for unique reminders of your trip to Cherating.

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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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Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand
Southern Thailand is large and inviting, featuring dozens of beautiful islands and a whole host of pristine beaches on which to top up your tan or enjoy water sports. The most famous resorts are on the west-facing Andaman Sea coastline, and the east-facing Gulf of Thailand coast.

Many people head straight to the South of Thailand and spend the rest of their stay enjoying all that this beautiful region has to offer. There are 14 provinces in all and each offers something different, to the highly popular and crowded areas in Phuket and Krabi to the much quieter, less visited areas of Songkla and Yala near the border with Malaysia.

Although areas of the west coast of Thailand were badly affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, all infrastructure has long since been repaired thanks to the hard work of local and international volunteers. Perhaps the most effected area was Koh Phi Phi, and people still wanting to make a contribution can do so through the Children of Phi Phi Island foundation www.childrenofphiphi.com.

Many people tend to avoid the very south of Thailand, scared off by the stories of bombing and murders. The trouble started in 2004, when a long resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. However, this all took place well off the beaten tourist trail, and few visitors were affected.

The Songkla Province town of Hat Yai has also been hit by a series of related bombings, although none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.

In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in Hat Yai bomb blasts. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but no westerners have been directly singled out for attacks and generally the south of Thailand is still a safe place to travel.

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Kota Bharu, Malaysia

Kota Bharu, Malaysia
Kota Bharu, Malaysia
Although the city of Kota Bahru is often overlooked by visitors to the north of Malaysia, those who take the time to explore will find that there is plenty to see and do here. Kota Bahru is often referred to as the Islamic City, and this is the perfect place to get a feel for the rich history and culture of this part of the world.
Kota Bahru boasts a number of vibrant markets, which are ideal places to indulge in a spot of people watching, while those who are in search of something cheap and tasty will also find some of the best selections of eateries scattered in and around the city’s markets.

Wander around Independence Square - Padang Merdek – and you will find a large number of museums and the Balai Besar or Royal Palace. This elegant building is a great place to explore, while nearby is the interesting octagonal building of the Pesar Besar central market.

When it comes to seeing the sights, Kota Bahru features a number of interesting places of worship, and while most are devoted to the Muslim faith, there are also a few Buddhist temples to explore here. Sun worshippers will also be in their element, as a few pristine stretches of sand can be found on the outskirts of the city.

A great way to see the area around Kota Bharu is to embark on a two hour river cruise along Sungai Galas down to Dabong. Rafting along the river is also popular and trips can easily be arranged.

Another good excursion is the Stong Waterfall, which about 900 metres high and is said to be the highest waterfall in Southeast Asia. Combine a trip to the waterfall with a visit to the impressive collection of caves at Gua Ikan, before finishing the day with a delicious, cheap evening meal at the night market, known as Pasar Malam in the Malay language.

While the people of this conservative city are welcoming towards visitors, it is best to follow the example set by those who live here and cover up. Women in particular are advised to dress conservatively, and it is also best to avoid making public displays of affection, as this is likely to cause offense.
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Labuan, Malaysia

Labuan, MalaysiaThe serene island of Labuan may not be the liveliest place in Malaysia, but for those who crave peace and quiet surrounded by natural beauty this is a great place to relax for a day or two.

Most visitors to Labuan simply stake out a place on the sand and lay back to catch the sun’s rays. However, there are plenty of things to see and do for those who can be bothered to tear themselves away from the golden sand and cool, clear waters.

Labuan Bird Park is located towards the island’s northern tip. Here you will discover a colourful collection of our feathered friends as you wander through the tunnels that connect the large aviaries. Another popular attraction is the Labuan Marine Park, where visitors are encouraged to take aboat tour to see the picturesque deserted islands known as Pulau Kuraman, Pulau Rusukan Kecil and Pulau Rusukan Besar.

The Labuan Museum is a good place to find out about the island’s interesting history and culture. Full of artifacts and colourful displays, the museum attempts to bring Labuan’s history to life. A great way to explore Labuan is to hire a bicycle and simple cycle around, pausing to take in the spectacular views of the South China Sea.

Returning to the beach, Labuan is a great place for those who enjoy water sports. Diving is popular as there are a number of wreck sites to explore and some stunning coral. Many people come to Labuan to enjoy the world class deep sea fishing opportunities, while swimming and snorkelling are always rewarding.

Evenings are pleasant on Labuan. Stroll along the shore as the sun sets and enjoy fresh barbecued fish, perhaps washed down with a beer or two.

Getting to Labuan is relatively easy as there are regular ferries from Brunei, Kota Kinabalu, Limbang, Spitang and Lawas. There are also daily flights from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, making this the perfect place to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
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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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Hsipaw, Burma

Hsipaw, Burma
Hsipaw, Burma
Hsipaw, Burma
Also known as Thibaw, this tranquil town in the Northern Shan State is a great place to relax and unwind for awhile. Surrounded by natural beauty, many people travel to Hsipaw for trekking, and there are a number of well trodden trails leading through Shan villages to picturesque spots such as hot springs, water caves, waterfalls and forests.

There are a number of interesting places to visit in and around Hsipaw. Top of the list should be the Shan Palace, which is located to the north of town and was the former residence of the Sawbwas of Hsipaw, who lived here for many generations until the last one was forced to flee during the military coup of 1962.

Another interesting place to visit is the Bawgyo Paya, a large Shan Pagoda about 5 miles out of town. Here you will find not only Buddha statues but also Hindu statues outside the temple and the journey to and from the town is very scenic.

Just before sunset climb to the top of Sunset watching at Five Buddha Hill or Nine Buddha Hill, both of which are located just over a mile outside Hsipaw. Hire a bicycle and reach the top of the hill for spectacular views over the town and surrounding countryside.

A massage is a great way to soothe aching muscles after a day of hiking and there are a number of massage parlours and basic spas scattered around Hsipaw. The city is located near the banks of the Dokhtawaddi River, and it is possible to take a short boat trip here to see the countryside.

The morning riverside market is a great place to get a bite to eat and sample some of the region’s delicious fruit and handmade sweets. A large percentage of the population here are Chinese and there are a good variety of Chinese dishes to try. You can also shop for souvenirs here and exchange friendly banter with the stall holders.

The Bawgyo Paya Pwe festival is held in Hsipaw in late February or early March and the somewhat sleepy town really comes alive during this time, celebrating with traditional songs, dancing and storytelling.

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Chi Phat, Cambodia

Chi Phat, Cambodia
Chi Phat, Cambodia
Chi Phat, Cambodia
A popular destination with nature lovers who want to wander off of the beaten track, the charming village of Chi Pat can be found in the centre of the Cardamom Protected Forest. Chi Pat offers visitors a wide range of amenities such as accommodation and excellent restaurants, making this a great place to use as a base while exploring the area.

This is also a good place to get back to basics and retreat from the modern world for a while, as there is currently no running water here and electricity is often only available for a few hours a day. Nature lovers are sure to be in their element here, as they sit on the porch of their guesthouse and gaze at the freely wandering wildlife and listen to the sounds of the birds in the trees.

A large number of the local people here double as tour guides, and visitors to Chi Pat can take a walk through the Cardamom Protected Forest to discover a wide range of flora and fauna. Those with a little patience and good eyesight will be able to watch monkeys swinging through the trees and may also spot flying squirrels, lizards and hornbills.

Travellers who have a strong sense of adventure will want to take their turn at riding along one of the aerial ziplines, while canopy walks offer visitors the chance to take in the Cardamom Protected Forest from a bird’s perspective.

Or why not ride the rapids along the Stung Proat River for the ultimate thrilling experience. Those who prefer to explore independently can also hire a bicycle and cycle through the forest to destinations such as the local elephant rescue centre and waterfall.

Khmer people love to eat and despite the village’s remoteness there are a number of places where you can find a good meal. There are plenty of cheap food stalls in the covered market, while beside the river are a couple of restaurants beside a pool hall.

Getting to Chi Pat is simple and adventurous, as buses regularly complete the four-hour road journey from Phnom Penh. Travellers will be deposited at the side of the road, where they then take a three-hour boat ride up the river, which is the perfect way to see the surrounding countryside.
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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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Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Situated in the south of Cambodia, Sihanoukville is one of Cambodia’s most popular seaside towns. Visitors to this pretty beach area will find plenty of bars, restaurants and cheap guesthouses, while there are plenty of places to stretch out on the pure white powdery sand and work on your tan.
Formerly known as Kompong Som, Sihanoukville takes its name from the famous prince Sihanouk. A great way to reach this resort is by boat from the Koh Kong / Hat Lek border crossing that connects Cambodia with Thailand. This is a good place to relax for a day or two before travelling through the rest of Cambodia.

Sihanoukville’s main attraction is its beautiful sandy beaches, which are some of the best in the whole of Cambodia. While each of the beaches here feature their own distinct charms, the most popular tend to be Sokha Beach, Victory Beach, Ochheuteal Beach, Independence Beach, Otres Beach and Serendipity Beach. Those who are on a tight budget will find plenty of cheap accommodation around Victory Beach, while party people will want to gravitate towards the bars and restaurants that can be found around Ochheuteal Beach.

Water sports are popular in Sihanoukville, and this is a great place to try snorkelling and scuba diving. A large number of islands can be found just off the coast, surrounded by cool, clear waters. A number of local companies offer boast trips to explore the area, which also allow visitors to check out snorkelling and scuba diving around Bamboo Island, which is known locally as Koh Russei. Visitors who are enchanted by the tranquillity and natural beauty of this island also have the chance to spend the night on Bamboo Island.

One of the most popular attractions that can be found in this part of the world is the large and lovely Ream National Park, and a wide range of local companies offer daytrips here. Public transportation in this part of Cambodia can be a little thin on the ground, and those who want to really get to know the area will want to hire a motorbike.

Make sure you surrender a photocopy of your passport rather than the actual document itself in order to secure bike hire. After all the arrangements have been made it is now time to drive to the temples of Wat Krom and Wat Leu before soaking up the scenery at Kampong Pier Nup Lok.
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Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand


Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Famous for its lively full moon parties at Haad Rin Beach, Koh Pha-ngan has a chilled-out hippy atmosphere that combines nightly hedonism with day time water sports and lazing on the beach. Situated in the south of Thailand 20 kilometres north of Koh Samui in Surat Thani Province, this is an ideal destination for travellers who enjoy less crowded, more private beaches. The best way to reach Koh Pha-ngan is from Koh Samui and the boat trip takes about an hour.

Haad Rin is Koh Pha-ngan's most popular beach. Lined with beach bars playing a wide assortment of music, the white sands can get pretty crowded. Luckily, Koh Pha-ngan offers many more secluded stretches of white sand for those who prefer a little privacy. Ao Thong Nai Pan is perhaps the second most beautiful beach on Koh Pha-ngan reachable by boat or songthaew from Thong Sala Pier.

Another extremely beautiful and tranquil beach is Ao Si Thanu, whilst the nearby tiny island of Koh Tae Nai can be reached just 5 minutes by chartered boat. This island offers jungle-covered hills, a long stretch of golden sandy beach and colourful coral reefs, perfect for diving or scuba diving.

Koh Pha-ngan has some extremely pretty jungle waterfalls waiting to be discovered including Than Sadet Falls, Phaeng Falls, Than Prapat Falls and Than Prawet Falls. A great way to see the falls and the rest of the island is to take a guided boat tour. Boat trips usually take around 10 people, last all day and include snorkelling and lunch. The boat trips are also a great way to meet fellow travellers and exchange tall tales and travelling tips.

Wat Khao Tham is a cave temple located on the hilltop of Khao Kao Haeng. There is a monastery here that is ideal for meditation amidst the well-preserved nature. The monastery offers 10 days meditation retreats and can be found near the pretty village of Ban Tai.

Another interesting temple is Wat Madio Wan, where a replica of Lord Buddha's Footprint is enshrined on the hilltop Mondop, whilst jungle trekking up to the island's largest mountain of Khao Ra is a great way to see the island.

Many people stop at Koh Pha-ngan for a day or two before heading on to Koh Tao, which lies 45 kilometres north of Koh Pha-ngan and is known as the best diving site in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Tao, which means Turtle Island in the Thai language, is very small and covered with palm trees and pristine white sand, the perfect exotic island.

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Samut Prakarn, Thailand

Samut Prakarn, Thailand
Samut Prakarn, Thailand
Samut Prakarn, Thailand
Samut Prakarn, Thailand
Located 29 kilometres south of Bangkok, Samut Prakan is easy to get to and has many interesting tourist activities on offer for those who are willing to take a small step off the usual tourist trail. Built during the Ayutthaya period, Samut Prakan is home to numerous historical and cultural sites.

A great way to get an overview of all that Thailand has to offer is by visiting The Ancient City, which is also known by its Thai name of Muang Boran. This huge park contains large scale models of all Thailand's major tourist attractions. Visitors can hire a bicycle or a small electrical cart and spend a few hours discovering sites such as the temples of Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Surat Thani.

Many visitors combine a trip to The Ancient City with the nearby Crocodile Farm, while the Erawan Museum was constructed by the creator of The Ancient City and is the world's first free-standing metal sculpture to use a hand-shaped technique. This mighty sculpture has to be seen to be believed as it measures 43.60 metres in height and contains hundreds of thousands of pieces of copper meticulously hammered together to form the shape of the beloved mythological elephant.

An alternative to the popular tourist spot of Damnoen Saduak, the Bang Namphueng Floating Market is newly opened. Unlike other floating markets, this is the real deal, created to help local farmers sell their produce and create employment for the community. The floating market is open Saturdays and Sundays 8.00 a.m. - 2.00 p.m.

Samut Prakarn is home to some interesting temples, including Wat Klang Worawihan, Wat Asokaram, Wat Phaichayonphonsep Ratchaworawihan and Wat Prot Ket Chettharam, which contains revered Buddha images and the Buddha's footprint complete with valuable mother-of-pearl inlays.

Samut Prakarn is home to many unique and interesting festivals, which bring people from all over Thailand. Beginning the 5th day of the waning moon of the 11th lunar month, the Phra Samut Chedi Fair is a lively annual affair. Many people flock to the province for the nine day ceremony where they pay homage to the Phra Samut Chedi. The festival features a float contest and a colourful boat procession along the Chao Phraya River to Phra Pradaeng District Office and back to the Phra Samut Chedi. Other activities include a candle light procession around the Phra Samut Chedi, boat races on the Chao Phraya River, singing and dancing.

The Yon Bua Festival is held each year on the 13th day of the waxing moon of the 11th lunar month. The main feature is the respect paying and procession of the Luangpho To image both by land and water. The event also features competitions of folk activities such as lotus arrangement, boat contests and folk entertainment such as Phleng Ruea or boat songs.

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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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Isaan by Motorbike – Day 4 (Part 2)

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandAfter the temple I wanted to make up for some lost time. Also my ass was still hurting from the punishment I had been giving it. The bike seat, nothing else. I was on a huge open road. So I slowly took the speed up to 140km/h +. Breaking the speed limit for sure but heh, no police, no cameras and most of all there was no traffic on the road. In the distance someone came into view. I caught up with them very quickly, then with no signals or checking in their non-existent mirrors they pulled over to the right hand side of the road, right in front of me. Like a slow motion sequence. I was trying to work out where on the road the space for me would be when I caught up with them. Not easy with only about 2 seconds thinking and reaction time. I slammed on the breaks - enough to slow but not enough to skid. I daren't sound the horn for fear of them changing their course. Heavy braking and a bank to the left pulled me out of their way with maybe 6 inches to spare. NOTE TO SELF, SLOW THE F*** DOWN. motorbike_travels_day_four_14A SIGNPOST FOR A WATERFALL On to the next waterfall!!! It would be so nice , once again a chance to swim in the refreshing water and bask in the baking sun. I drove away from the main highway. Through open fields on dirt tracks, searching for the waterfall. After leaving the main highway the road signs were all in Thai. I had to somehow work out by radar where the water was. These open fields all had some large golden leaved plants, I was not sure what they were, maybe some sort of cabbage. Then I saw the open barns drying the leaves. When I got close to one of the barns I smelled a wonderful aroma. The smell of fresh tobacco. This was obviously a tobacco farming area. The smell was amazing. I tried to buy some tobacco from one of the farmers, just a little bit to go with the meat I had bought in Tae Rae. This was where the language barrier got the better of me. I could not understand a bloody word they were saying. Everything I said received blank looks. I tried for a few minutes including hand-signals and the like but to no avail. I carried on to the waterfall. It was a great drive through increasingly dusty tracks. I found my goal. I parked up the motorbike and went for a walk. motorbike_travels_day_four_16Guess what. Yes, another water not fall. This place was still beautiful, even with no water. Phulangka national park is the location of this water not fall. I rested in the shade of the trees for a while and took a few photos before making my way back to the main highway. I drove onto Bueang Kan. I easily found and checked into the Samar Guest house. A really smart place. It looked brand new and at 300 baht per night it is amazing. It was ultra clean, amazingly clean; it was so clean that I might have been the first person to stay in this room. I went for my daily massage. OK I have had some strange massages in my time but this one pretty much took the biscuit. I got the usual banter - you speak Thai? - velly gooood, have girlfriend, how long in Thailand - blah blah blah. OK. Then the second masseur started to touch my tattoos. "Ooh very sexy" I smiled. Then they started to talk about me not having a girlfriend, suggesting that when I travel I do not have a girlfriend. DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER. motorbike_travels_day_four_17After she finished playing with my nipple and me telling them that I do have a girlfriend I arranged to meet them at eight o'clock (whilst planning my escape route. Over the razor wire, through the muddy tunnel and out across the tobacco fields till I reach the Mae Khong to swim to Loas for freedom form the evil twins. Oh yes accompanied by a bottle of wine. After the massage I drove around the town to have a look around. I found a wine shop there, it was amazing. A really nice owner who I spoke with for a while. He was talking mainly that it was nice to have someone come in and choose a bottle of wine by the label and not the price; saying that there were not many wine drinkers in the area. The locals mainly being made up of whisky drinkers. He had a full range of wines, all stored well and from good vintners. I took my time choosing my bottle then found a restaurant. The restaurant I chose was on the river front. The head waiter spoke very good English. I took a low seat and asked them for a glass for my ready opened bottle of nine year old cabernet sauvignon. Tasty food and a bottle of wine. The placement of the restaurant was great , with low tables for the more traditional manner of sitting down to eat. Then it was back to the guesthouse, avoiding the massage house that was less than 200 metres from the guest house. Ninja style!!! A perfect end to a crazy day. Note: Story author is Steven Noake.
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Water Water Everywhere – the Songkran Festival Explained

thailand_festivals_1
Songkran Festival Thailand
Songkran Festival Thailand
If you're traveling in Thailand during April, brace yourself for one of Southeast Asia's most raucous holidays. For one joyful week, Thai people take to the streets for the Songkran festival, a waterlogged celebration of the Thai new year.

In the midst of parades and street parties, people customarily douse each other with buckets of water and handfuls of baby powder. In Thailand, this is the festival that people spends months looking forward to, and it's a celebration that visitors are lucky to witness. Social decorum is thrown to the wayside, public revelry/drunkenness becomes a norm, and those conspicuous sweat stains on your T-shirts will no longer be a cause for embarrassment once the water start flying.

Celebrants take no exception, whether you're a businessman or backpacker, every person on the street is a target for buckets of water or high-tech waterguns wielded by children. In most of Thailand, this holiday lasts for three or four days, but Chiang Mai becomes the Bourbon Street of the country, with festivities lasting up to nine days.

The custom of throwing water originated as a sign of respect. Traditionally, communities would pay respect to elders and children to parents by sprinkling water on their hands as a cleansing of bad fortune and gesture of good luck. However, people may sometimes bypass the traditions of the ritual as they get caught up in the fun. After all, Songkran takes place during the peak of Thailand's dry season; the hottest time of the year. Though Songkran has fast become a nonstop party of Animal House proportion, the origins of the festival are rooted in the home. Traditionally, the holiday was about honouring parents and elders, with children coming home to see their families and offer gifts to them.

People also go to temples on this holiday, often bringing handfuls of sand to compensate for the dirt they carried away on their feet throughout the year. Visitors pray, offer food to monks, and help clean Buddha images in the wats. If you're in a city like Chiang Mai for Songktran, don't be surprised to see Buddha statues paraded through the streets. This allows people to throw water on the statues as they pass by, cleaning them in the middle of the festivities.

Despite the debaucherous atmosphere, one should bear in mind that as a visitor to Thailand, enthusiasm for local festivals is widely appreciated. Friendly, festive Thai people will encourage you to take part in the revelry, but remember that despite the free-flowing water (and whiskey), Songkran is still a family event, and the street parties should remain PG, at least during the daytime. Among Thai people, it goes without saying that daily drenchings are to be expected.

Tourists, however, may need reminding, and should take care to protect cameras, ipods, important tickets, and other non-soakables.
 
While the whole country participates in Songkran, you might find that the most active celebrations take place inland, where Thai people endure the most heat. Cities like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Bangkok will all offer good parties day and night. Tourists should be extra-cautious on the roads at this time, as many whiskey-loving celebrants might be driving trucks or motorbikes.
 
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.

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Koh Phangan – a Magical Mystery Tour

Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Koh Phangan - a Magical Mystery Tour
Another lazy day on holiday and I am sitting at a bar on the beautiful Koh Phangan, waiting for the guide of the Reggae Magic Boat Trip to arrive. As I wait I watch in wonder as a Thai man tries to sell his tiny exotically coloured 'pet' bird. "Ha roi" (tasty) he announces to my indignation. "No! Mai arroy!" I cry, thinking the man has just told his friends that the bird would be delicious. "No, no," the man laughs. "I say I will sell bird for 500 Baht, ha roi!" Just then the bird escapes from the man's grip and flies out of reach onto a rooftop.

Just then, the enigmatic Thai man who calls himself Peter Pan strides around the corner. Dressed in yellow shorts, a patch work shirt streaked with gold and a brightly-coloured scarf, the man's colourful costume matches his personality perfectly. "It's OK, I am here now," he chirps. "We can go!"

The relieved Israelis, who have been impatiently waiting, and I follow Peter Pan to a large wooden boat with a large group of relieved Israelis. There are 22 of us in all, including Peter and his two helpers, but there is plenty of room for us all.

Like a genial genie, Peter Pan sits cross-legged on the cool box, smiling down on us. "Now, we must balance the boat, otherwise we will flip over," he tells us once we are all aboard. "I not care if you drown, but I love my boat, you know?"

It takes about an hour for us to reach our first destination. I lounge in the boat, lazily watching the scenery and the sun sparkle on the idyllically blue water.

Finally, we reach the beautiful beach of Haad Sadet and the boat shudders to a halt. The boat rocks violently as all the passengers race for the shore, eager to explore.

Once on terra firma, we pile into a waiting truck and are transported along a steep, treacherous road. Then, on foot, we follow a winding jungle path.

Suddenly, I emerge from the trees to find myself at the foot of the enchanting Than Sadet waterfall. Carefully climbing over huge granite boulders and navigating pools of fresh water, I make my way to where the others are waiting.

Than Sadet is Koh Phangan's most famous waterfall. This 3km fall has had its share of royal attention. It was first visited by King Rama V in 1888. The magnificent waterfall clearly crept into his heart, for King Rama V visited the fall more than 10 times. The current monarch, King Bhumibol, has also visited Than Sadet and its waters are used for royal ceremonies.

After about half an hour, we begin to make our way back to the beach. Back in the boat, we sail for another 30 minutes or so. I sprawl on the deck, basking in the sun's rays.

Soon enough, we reach Haad Khuat, also known as Bottle Beach. "You know why we call it Bottle Beach?" Peter Pan asks from his perch on the cool box. "Because that's its name?" I chime in before I can stop myself. "No," peter Pan grins. "Because it is shaped like a bottle."

We climb out of the boat once more and onto the deserted golden beach. The only sign of civilization is a small restaurant, where we are scheduled to eat lunch. After perusing the extensive menu, I decide on vegetable pad Thai, as I don't want to be too full for swimming.

After eating, I have half an hour to entertain myself and immediately head for the warm, clear water. Peter pan and his colleagues, I notice, are already snoozing in the shade.

When it is time to leave, I dry myself in the sun and join the rest of the group in the boat. Peter Pan is continuing his rest, softly snoring under a blanket.

This time, we are treated to a short ride around the coast to Mae Haad. Peter Pan's colleague, who I am told is called Wendy, explains that this area has very beautiful tropical fish and coral. He hands out the snorkels and one by one we plunge into the waiting waters.

As I lower my face into the sea, my gaze is instantly met by several dozen fish. Striped black and white with yellow fins, these are known as Sweet lips. Deeper down, close to the beautiful soft coral, I spot the odd Hexagonal Grouper and exquisite exotically coloured Blue Ringed Angel Fish.

When I eventually surface, the other assistant - Tinker Bell, presumably - hands me some bread. As soon as I bring the bread beneath the water, dozens of fish surge towards me and begin to nibble the bread right from my hand.

After an amazingly timeless period, I pull myself back into the boat. Peter Pan is finally awake and is handing out chunks of pineapple for us to munch on. The fruit tastes wonderful after the saltiness of the sea.

The boat hand starts the engine once more and begins the journey back to Haad Rin, completing a circuit of the entire island. By the time we arrive, I am glad to be getting out of the hot sun.

At 7:30 pm, I return to a bar for a feast. My companions and I hungrily devour a delicious dinner of rice and vegetables with chicken curry for the meat eaters. Once the meal is finished, Peter Pan gives someone a guitar to play. With a happy belly, I sit back in my chair and sleepily listen as Israeli music floats out on the night air.

Information:

Tours start from 12 pm and cost 500 baht for six hours. The bar is situated on Haad Rin Noi (Sunrise Beach) just around the corner from Same Same Lodge.

Getting There:

The nearest international airport to Koh Phangan is at Koh Samui. From here the island is an hour ferry ride away. Joint bus and ferry packages are available from all of the travel agencies on Khaosan Road and take 12-15 hours.

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!

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