Tag - western

Poipet, Cambodia

Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia
The dusty border town of Poipet is largely ignored by the people who pass through it on their way from Thailand to Cambodia. For many this is simply a place to get their passport stamped and perhaps wait for the bus to whisk them away to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.
However, if you do need to spend the night here you will find the town is not quite as rough as it appears at first glance and there are a few things to amuse and entertain. Gambling is illegal in Thailand and so large numbers of people cross the border to try their luck at one of the town’s many flashy casinos.

Theft is quite high in Poipet, so if you do decide to spend some time here make sure you keep your wits about you and don’t give money to beggars as the young girl staring at you with pleading eyes quickly multiplies into dozens of demanding beggars once some slight generosity is shown.

There are a number of places to eat in Poipet, many serving western snacks such as sandwiches and French fries. There is also a large bustling marketplace selling clothes and souvenirs, although this is a popular spot for pickpockets, so keep a careful eye on your belongings.

The border crossing is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is a good idea to arrive early to beat the crowds and try to avoid arriving on the weekend. Queues can last for several hours, although the longest queues are usually for those heading into Thailand from Cambodia. Don’t trust anyone offering to make your visa for you, even if they are wearing official looking laminated badges. Instead, head to the Cambodian Consulate or get your visa made on arrival. The cheapest and easiest way to get a visit for Cambodia is to go online and get a e-Visa, which costs USD $25.

Once you have your visa you can travel by bus or pickup truck to a number of places such as Siem Reap, Sisophon and Battambang. You may have to wait a few hours for the bus to fill up, but once it starts moving simply sit back and relax as the worst part of the journey through Cambodia is now behind you.
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Food and Drink in Malaysia

Food and Drink in Malaysia
Food and Drink in Malaysia
Food and Drink in Malaysia
Malaysia is a great place for people who love to eat and experiment with food. There are a wide range of Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes available through the country and some interesting mixtures of culinary styles. As you travel through Malaysia, look out for regional specialities and try to experience the full range of Malay cuisine.
Hawker stalls and coffee shops are good places to find a cheap and tasty meal. Hawker stalls tend to be very clean and open until late in the evening. Curry dishes and other meals in western style restaurants, while seafood restaurants serve fresh fish prepared in the Chinese style. For western food, head to the shopping malls, where you will usually find a large food court with a number of well known fast food restaurants.

Here is a selection of the numerous dishes you will find on your travels in Malaysia:

Nasi lemak – the most common Malaysian breakfast dish consists rice cooked in light coconut milk with anchovies, peanuts, a slice of cucumber and a little chilli.

Rendang – usually made with beef, this dry curry dish consists of stewed meat in a spicy curry paste.  

Chilli crab – a whole crab is covered with a generous amount of sticky, strong chilli sauce.

Laksa – this dish varies from place to place but is basically a coconut both with seafood or chicken.  

Bak chor mee – this noodle dish is cooked in a chilli-based sauce with minced pork, fried anchovies, vegetables and mushrooms.

Popiah - these delicious spring rolls can be either fried or raw. Filled with boiled turnips, fried tofu, fried shallots and garlic, chopped omelette, chopped stir fried long beans, there is usually a sweet chilli sauce to dip them in.  

Hainanese chicken rice - usually found on street stalls, this steamed chicken dish is served with special gently spiced rice and tasty ginger.

Bubur cha-cha – a traditional Malay desert with cubed yam, sweet potato and sago added to coconut milk soup.

Kuih – this sweet desert is made with coconut milk, coconut flesh and either glutinous rice or tapioca. It is often made into cute and colourful designs.

Avoid drinking tap water and drinks with ice in Malaysia. Bottled water is cheap and easy to find.  

Coffee – known as kopi – and tea – teh – are both popular and tasty drinks in Malaysia as well as a local variation known as teh tarik. Tea and coffee usually comes hot, with condensed milk to sweeten it. If you don’t want milk ask for teh o, while teh ais will get you iced milky tea.
Also popular is a drink known as kopi tongkat ali ginseng, which is a mixture of coffee, a local aphrodisiacal root and ginseng served with condensed milk.

Despite being a predominately Muslim country, alcohol is widely available throughout Malaysia. Beer and other alcohol can be bought in bars, restaurants and 7-11 shops. The local brew is tuak, which fermented rice wine that comes in many forms. Usually served lukewarm, tuak is often flavoured with sugar or honey.
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Ngapali Beach, Burma

Ngapali Beach, Burma
Ngapali Beach, Burma
Ngapali Beach, Burma
Myanmar’s first and foremost beach destination, Ngapali Beach is the perfect seaside paradise with white sandy beaches and clear blue waters. The restaurants that line Ngapali Beach offer some of the best food in Myanmar, and this is a great place to dine on deliciously fresh sea food as well as a range of traditional dishes and Western fare.

Although there are plenty of places to stay, don’t expect to find cheap and cheerful beach huts like in many other tropical countries. However, Ngapali Beach is perfect for those with a slightly larger budget who want to stay somewhere truly unique and make some memories.

The activities are endless here and many people come to play water sports such as kayaking, sailing and snorkelling, while others simply relax on the beach and work on their tans. Pony rides along the beach are an interesting option for those who want to do something a bit different, and the beach stretches for two miles along the coast.

This is the perfect play for simply relaxing as the loud beach bars and vendors that plague so many of Asia’s most beautiful beaches are absent and there is little to spoil the tranquillity. The beach is spotlessly clean and sun worshipers can stretch out without having to worry.

Those with a strong sense of adventure and extra energy can go on a boat trip and explore the collection of nearby islands such as Pearl Island, the intriguing black sands of Zalat Htone Island and visit a nearby fishing village.

A good way to see the area is by hiring a bike, and as you peddle along the narrow sandy lanes you will discover a number of interesting villages such as Kinmaw village with its clay pottery works and the hand weaving village of Thandwe.

If you can bear to tear yourself away from the beach for an hour or two, explore the range of small hills, where you will find a peaceful lake, which is a good place for fishing or simply sit and watch the birds messing about in the water. 

Ngapali is undoubtedly one of Myanmar’s most romantic destinations. Couples can walk along the palm lined beach as the sun slowly sets into the Indian Ocean before enjoying a candlelit meal of lobster and prawns on the beach by candlelit. Pure heaven. 

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Udong, Cambodia

Udong, Cambodia
Udong, Cambodia
Udong, Cambodia
Udong, Cambodia
Also sometimes written as Oudong, Udong was Cambodia’s royal capital from 1618 to 1866 and is situated 40 kilometres northwest of Phnom Pehn. The name Udong means the victorious in the Khmer language and a number of kings have lived here during the city’s heyday.
Although often overlooked by visitors to Western Cambodia, the small city of Udong has a lot to offer travellers. This is a good place to take a break from the road for a day or two and relax and unwind in comfort, as there are some excellent hotels to choose from here.

Udong is surrounded by intense natural beauty, which can be seen by climbing to the top of one of the two ridges that overlook the city. visitors who stand here will be able to see all the way across Udong to the surrounding countryside, which is scattered with a number of interesting temples and shrines.

Those who enjoy temple hopping will want to start their trip at the small yet perfectly formed Arey Kaa Sap pagoda. Also of interest nearby are Phnom Vihear Leu and the commanding Ta San Mosque, which is one of the few Muslim structures that can be found in this part of the world and faces westwards towards Mecca.

Visitors who want to climb the 509 steps that lead the way to the very top of Phnom Udong will need to complete the task either early in the morning or towards the end of the afternoon, as attempting this in the full heat of the day can be a hot and sticky affair, although climbers will be rewarded for their trouble by the unparalleled views that await them at the summit of the hill.

Make sure you take the time to fully appreciate Udong’s stunning sunsets, which are among the most colourful in the whole of Western Cambodia. A number of the city’s leading restaurants are strategically placed to offer visitors enchanting views while they dine in style on local cuisine, while those who are looking for something cheap and tasty to sink their teeth into will find an excellent selection of light meals and snacks at the local night market.
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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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Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
The second largest city in Cambodia, Battambang makes the idea base to explore the surrounding attractions. Situated to the northwest of Cambodia, Battambang is full of interesting buildings left over from the French colonial era and has a pleasantly relaxed feeling that entices many travellers to extend their stay for a day or two.

Battambang takes its name from the legend of an ancient Khmer king, who is said to have calmed the city’s rebellions with his battambang staff. As you wander through the city streets you will see a statue representing this event as well as a number of interesting statues depicting mythical animals and religious characters.

There is plenty to see and do in Battambang. Start by climbing the hill of Phnom Sampeu to enjoy spectacular views of the city and explore the hill’s caves, stupas and monastery. Near the hill is Wat Banan, which is dubbed a mini Angkor Wat and contains a large Buddhist shrine. Just to the west of the city, Wat Ek Phnom has also been constructed in Angkorian style, while Wat Baydamran is home to hundreds of fruit bats.

Situated 70 kilometers north of the city of Battambang in northeastern Cambodia, Bantaey Chhmar is a pretty temple complex built by Jayavarman VII as a tribute to the death of his son Indravarman and four generals in battle. Dating back to the 9th century, this is a great place to explore on a day trip. A mighty battle took place on this site in 1177 when it was invaded by the Cham people. Those interested in the areas unusual history can find the story engraved on the stone ways that surround Bantaey Chhmar. The complex has been overgrown by forest, giving it a mystical quality and it features large Avalokiteshvara faces which are reminiscent of the Bayon temple near Siem Reap.

Head out of Battambang to discover the ancient wooden houses of Watkor, which is a very pretty village. Other nearby villages worth exploring include Kompong Seyma, and Ksach Puoy. These villages offer a real insight into traditional Khmer life and you will still find people engrossed in skills such as weaving and basket making.

An interesting way to explore this area is by riding the bamboo train known as the norry. The Wat Poveal Museums is a good place to learn more about the Khmer arts, while just 44 kilometres from the city is Pich Chenda, a very pretty nature and wildlife preserve.

Walk along the bank of the Sangker River in the evening and you will discover a large number of small food stalls selling traditional Khmer food and also delicious French bread. This is a great place to get a cheap meal and perhaps wash it down with a beer or two.

A great way to travel to Battambang is by boat from Siem Reap. This scenic journey takes you slowly through the countryside, past floating villages and fishermen along narrow canals and waterways.
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Western Cambodia

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

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

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

Ranong, Thailand
Ranong, Thailand
Ranong, Thailand
Ranong, Thailand
Ranong is a province located on the western coast of south Thailand. Located 568 kilometres from Bangkok, is next to the Myanmar border, and many people cross from Ranong into Myanmar. However, Ranong is an area of intense natural beauty, and there are many reasons to pause here for awhile. Indeed, many visitors plan to stop over for the night and extend their stay for several days.

Ranong Province is known for having the highest rainfall of all Thailand and its rainy season lasts for about 8 months, as apposed to three or four months of relatively light rainfall in much of the rest of the country. This means that the rest of the year Ranong is particularly beautiful, blessed with waterfalls, sun kissed islands, pristine national parks and unspoiled mangrove forests.

Affirmed as a national park in 1983, Laem Son National Park should be top of the list for visitors to Ranong Province as it contains more than 20 pretty islands, mangrove swamps, birds, fish, deer and monkeys. Key attractions in the park are Hat Bang Ben, which is particularly good for swimming, the friendly island of Koh Phayam and Koh Kam Yai, where you can camp or stay in a beach bungalow. Koh Kam Yai is a great place to stay if you like snorkelling, while you can watch sea turtles lay their eggs on the beautiful beach of Hat Praphat.

Another area of natural beauty is the Khlong Phrao National Park, which is near the pretty waterfall known as Namtok Ngao and the Ngao Mangrove Forest Research Centre. Also worth exploring are the Punyaban Falls, which are a good place to swim after trekking through the forest.

With only 18 homes on the entire island, Koh Chang is a very peaceful island just waiting to be explored, while the Ranong Mineral Hot Springs are revered for their sacred water, which is believed to have healing powers and is certainly a great place to ease aching muscles after a day or two of exploring.

The live-aboard diving trips offered in this area offer a new type of experience to people who love diving and snorkelling, while you can climb to the top of Khao Fa Chi for an excellent view of the area.

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Trat, Thailand

Trat, Thailand
Trat, Thailand
Trat, Thailand
Trat, Thailand
Located 315 kilometres from Bangkok, Trat is a small province to the very east of Thailand near the Cambodian border. Many travellers stop in the province capital town of Trat on their way to one of the surrounding islands and beaches. Indeed, Trat Province contains over fifty islands of various sizes and popularity, all of them featuring long, white sandy beaches and amazingly colourful coral.

There are regular buses to Trat from many parts of Thailand, and a direct journey from Bangkok should take 5-6 hours.

Particularly of interest to visitors is the immensely beautiful island of Koh Chang, part of the Mu Chang Marine National Park and the smaller but no less attractive Koh Kood. There are both regular ferry and speedboat services to the surrounding islands, and both Koh Chang and Koh Kood can be reached in an hour or less.

The smaller and less visited islands of Koh Kham, Koh Mak and Koh Phi can also be found in Trat Province. These islands are all exceptionally beautiful, although somewhat less developed, and make a good option for those who want to slow down a pace or two and simply relax on the beach.

But the town of Trat itself, although often neglected by travellers, has many interesting features and is definitely worth a second look. Trat is most famous for its gemstone mining and trading, and many a good bargain can be picked up at one of the town's gem stores. There are also some excellent restaurants in the town, serving fresh seafood expertly cooked in a range of Thai and Western styles.

Trat's vibrant night market is a good place to pick up a bargain and get a good, cheap meal cooked in the local style, and whilst in the town you can pay a visit to the pretty temple of Wat Plai Khlong.

In addition to the islands, there are a multitude of beaches with pristine stretches of sand just a stone's throw away from the town. Amongst the best are Hat Sai Si Ngoen (Silver Sand Beach), Hat Sai Kaew (Crystal Sand Beach), Hat Thap Thim and Hat Ban Cheun, while Hat Ban Cheun is located at the southernmost part of Trat.

A good way to pass a day or two is to hire a motorcycle and visit each of the beaches in turn. Of course, snorkeling and scuba diving are readily available at all the area's islands and beaches. Another good way to get an idea of the vastness and beauty of the area is to go on a boat trip.

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Rayong, Thailand

Rayong, Thailand
Rayong, Thailand
Rayong, Thailand
Rayong, Thailand
Rayong is a pretty province which contains a whole host of interesting islands and beaches where you can escape the frantic pace of the city and unwind while catching the sun and dining on delicious seafood as you watch the sun set. The province contains over 100 kilometres of coastline to explore and is easily reachable in just a few hours by bus from Bangkok's Ekkamai bus terminal.

There are many popular tourist destinations in the province, including Koh Samet, Koh Mun and Koh Kodi. All of these islands feature stretches of golden sand, beach bars and a variety of western and Thai food.

Naturally, snorkeling and scuba diving are major activities in this province, whilst many people like to go on a boat tour of the islands. Other smaller sun kissed islands which are just waiting to be explored include Koh Man Klang, Koh Man Nok and the often overlooked Koh Man Nai.

While in the area, pay a visit to the Khao Chamao/Khao Wong National Park. Here you will find several pretty waterfalls where you can swim amongst the fish, as well as seeing tigers, wild elephants and bears.

Nearby is the Rayong Turtle Conservation Centre, which cares for the area's endangered sea turtles with a view to releasing them back into the wild. You can learn more about the now rare and beautiful turtles at the visitors' centre, which contains pictures of the turtles and shells from their eggs.

Suan Son 'Pine Park' is situated just 5 kilometers from the pretty port of Ban Phe. This is a great place to spend a couple of hours walking when you need a break from the beach. Incidentally, Ban Phe is the port from which to catch the ferry to the large and beautiful island of Koh Samet.

11 kilometers east at Suan Wang Keaw you will find yet more sandy beaches and the island of Koh Thalu, which is particularly good for diving as the waters are home to some pretty colourful coral and shoals of exotic fish. This is also a great place to hang out if you happen to arrive on the weekend and want to avoid the crowds that tend to congregate on many of the other islands and beaches at the end of the working week

The province's main industry is fishing, and a good way to start the day is to get up early and walk along the beach, where you will see the fishermen spreading their freshly caught fish, sparkling and shimmering on the sand.

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Phitsanulok, Thailand

Phitsanulok, Thailand
Phitsanulok, Thailand
Phitsanulok, Thailand
Phitsanulok, Thailand
Phitsanulok Province is situated 377 kilometres north of Bangkok and is an important centre for travellers wishing to explore the lower North and western Northeast regions of Thailand. The city of offers many interesting sites for visitors and a range of activities.

Phitsanulok is relatively easy for the independent traveller as most of the residents speak central Thai, whilst many speak English. The weather tends to be a little more moderate than much of the region and transportation is easy to find.

This is a great place for exploring the surrounding countryside, and the nearby Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park contains many beautiful waterfalls as well as a White Hmong Village. Another area of natural beauty just waiting to be discovered is the Tung Salaeng Luang National Park, with its stunning mountains, caves and waterfalls.

Phitsanulok was the birthplace of King Naresuan the Great, who reigned from 1590-1605. This is the legendary King who declared Ayutthaya's independence from Burma in 1584 and is celebrated for his victorious and admirable single handed combat on elephant back against the Burmese Crown Prince.

There are many interesting temples to explore in and around the city of Phitsanulok including Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Nang Phaya and Wat Chedi Yod Thong. If you are interested in temple art, make sure you pay a visit to The Buranathai Buddha Foundry, which specializes in casting bronze Buddha images and is unique in the province

The Sergeant-Major Dr. Thawee Buranakhet Folklore Museum is an interesting place to spend an hour or two as it contains a collection of folk arts, crafts, pottery and ancient kitchen utensils.

Many visitors come to Phitsanulok to experience the challenging and exciting rapids nearby white water rafting, whilst others find inner peace at the Dharma Abha Vipassana Meditation Center.

The daily night market is a great place to shop for souvenirs, buy local fabrics and have a cheap meal, whilst others choose to splash out on a romantic evening meal at one of the city's floating restaurants.

The people of Phitsanulok love to celebrate, and it is worth trying to time your trip to coincide with one of the festivals and local fairs. Each January, Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahatat Woramahawihan plays host to the Phra Buddha Chinnarat Fair, whilst the The Suan Chom Nan Park festival is held twice yearly along the Nan River. Also interesting are the Dragon Boat Races, which take place on the first weekend of each October. People crowd on the edge of the river banks to cheer for the huge, elaborately decorated boats, which are painstakingly created and have a crew of about 30 oarsmen.

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Mahachai Station

Mahachai Station
Mahachai Station
Mahachai Station
This will never appear on any list of great railway journeys in the world which is a shame as it certainly offers a step back in time to when Bangkok and it's environs was more aquatic than today. It's a lovely old line with some wonderful scenery and a comic book feel that starts when you try and find the station in Bangkok. Wong Wien Yai is a big traffic circle with a statue of King Taksin in the middle. You have to scout around to find the station and be careful who you ask because many people are unaware of it's existence. Basically the station is hidden down a narrow soi not far from a 7/11.


Trains are regular, approximately every hour and the tickets for the one hour run are 10 baht. The single track rattles through some of Thonburi's western suburbs hemmed in by markets and houses. Past Wat Singh and we get more greenery. Ramshackle huts hug the klongs that criss cross the flat terrain while young kids fish and play around. Sam Yaek looks great, a wonderful place to get off and wander around and take the opportunity of recording this photogenic landscape. It's a junction of 2 klongs with many bright flowers and brighter birds flashing by the rapidly moving train.

With Swiss style punctuality we arrive at a spot where double tracking allows the trains to pass and we are soon proceeding on our way. It's a Saturday and I'm a little hung-over and appreciate the cool air through the open window. We pull into Mahachai station and come to a halt in a dark market that doubles as the railway station. Outside in the bright sunshine it's a sea food lover's delight as stalls sell all sort of stuff that had been happily minding their own business and few yards away the night before. Rickshaws and songthaew remind you that while Bangkok may only be an hour away your are pretty much up country here.

There is a river crossing where you can join the Mae Klang line but this is a less frequent run, four times a day and I had little time to wander the market and surrounding streets before heading back to the big city.

I've done the journey a couple of times now and enjoy it. You do feel you are being taken to another world yet one so close to Bangkok. The journey back is as uneventful as the outbound and I took the opportunity to look at my pictures. Each time I've done the trip I have never been the only farang (foreigner) on board so obviously people are hearing about this quaint little line.

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Incense

Incense
Incense
Incense
Incense
In many parts of the world incense is an important part of daily life, associated with religion, ritual and health. As you wind your way through narrow streets in bazaars and market places stalls are crammed with colourful boxes of incense with exotic and evocative names and the air is filled with rich incense smoke as you wander past temples and shrines. But what exactly is incense and why does it play such a prominent role in society, especially in temples?

Incense traditionally comes from tree resins, but can also be produced from certain bark, flowers, seeds and roots. There are two main types of incense; Eastern and Western.

Western incense comes from the gum resins of tree bark such as the sticky gum found on fir trees. The gum hardens to become resin, which is collected by cutting it from the tree with a knife. The pieces of resin are called grains and are sprinkled on burning coal to release their fragrance.

Eastern incense is produced from plants such as sandalwood, patchouli, agar wood and vetiver. These ingredients are ground using a pestle and mortar. Water is then added to make a paste along with saltpetre – potassium nitrate – to help the mixture burn evenly. The mixture is then processed in various ways.

In India, the mixture is spread on a stick of bamboo to make agarbatti, or an incense stick, whilst the Chinese sieve the mixture to form strands. In some cases, incense cones are also formed and incense paste can be formed into Chinese characters, which bring good fortune when burned.

Throughout history, incense has been used by many different cultures and religious faiths to produce a wide range of results. In ancient times it was believed that plants were scared and closely associated with the gods. The burning of certain plants was believed to drive away demons and encourage the gods to appear on earth.

In Hinduism, incense made from sacred wood and flowers is burnt to purify the atmosphere and provide worshippers with a clear frame of mind to perform ritualistic worship or meditation.

Egyptians associate incense with the dead. Incense is specially blended with each ingredient selected for its unique magical properties, which carry the soul of the dead to heaven along with the prayers and good wishes of the mourners.

The Native Americans are also known to have burned mixtures of herbal smoke in ceremonial cleansing and healing rituals. These rituals date back thousands of years and are believed to drive away negative energies and restore balance. Herbs and plants such as cedar, sweetgrass, sage and tobacco were tied into bunches and fanned through the energy field to attract positive forces.

Incense is widely used throughout Buddhism for a number of purposes. It is burned in large quantities at all religious ceremonies and in daily worship. In Tibetan Buddhism, incense is also used in healing and can be used to treat a wide range of symptoms including skin diseases and fatigue.

It has long been thought that the burning of certain fragrances can heighten the senses of sight and smell and in today's society incense is playing a prominent role in aromatherapy.

Many aromatherapy specialists promote the extensive use of incense, attributing it with a wide range of beneficial properties. Certain types in incense are used to reduce anxiety, stress and fear, alleviate insomnia, accelerate healing, revitalise and renew energy.

It is believed that each fragrance has its own vibration and can be carefully selected to aid mood enhancement and assist personal development.

To produce the most beneficial effects for your personality, many aromatherapists recommend blending your own incense. This is a lot simpler than in sounds and can also be a lot of fun.

To start, choose a selection of wood and spices that you feel positive towards. You should use at least one resin or wood as a base, which should be frozen for at least 15 minutes before use. The ingredients must be in the form of a fine powder; you can use either a pestle and mortar or a coffee grinder to produce the powder.

Although there is no limit to the ingredients you can use, it is easiest to start with just three, such as one wood and two herbs. Mix all the dry ingredients together and then add the resins. Place the mixture in a ceramic dish or a large seashell and set light to it to release the calming aroma.

Most incense sticks for sale in shops or on street stalls are produced in factories in China or India. Production is simple and economic. Large bundles of wooden sticks – known as ‘punk’ sticks – are bought from a specialist supplier in bundles of 100 sticks.

The ends of the sticks are cleaned and the bundles selected for a particular fragrance with the ends painted the colour relating to that fragrance. The bundles are then left to dry overnight.

The fragrance oils are mixed the next day and the punk-covered ends of the bundles are dipped into the fragrance and left to dry overnight once more.

Once dry, bundles are individually wrapped in wax paper, sealed in plastic bags and placed in bins to await orders for sale.

So there you have it. From cleaning the mind to honouring the spirits and mourning the dead, incense is used in numerous ways by many different cultures and religions. However, all seem to agree that these small scented sticks have the power to release human spirit and potential.
 
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Kirsty Turner This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it (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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