Tag - where to stay

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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Taman Negara, Malaysia

taman_negaraThe large and lovely Taman Negara is one of the most interesting national parks in the whole of Malaysia, which is no mean feat considering the amount of areas that compete for this title. This is a great place for independent travellers to explore, while those who book a guided tour of Taman Negara will be taken to many of the park’s most enchanting spots by a local guide, who will also be able to reveal hidden gems.

The jungle here dates back some 130 million years and has managed to withstand the tests of time remarkably well. Those who have sharp eyesight and a good guide will have the chance to spot a wide range of animals as they make their way through the undergrowth, including monkeys swinging through the trees, a whole host of different species of snakes, tigers, elephants, rhinos, shy deer and the unusual looking tapir.

Those who have a strong sense of adventure will find plenty to do in Taman Negara, and among the most popular activities here are river rafting and cave exploration. Special treks are held in the evening, which gives visitors the opportunity to spot some of the park’s most active nocturnal creatures.

The majority of people come here in order to go trekking through the rain forest, and Taman Negara offers visitors a wide range of different types of trekking experiences. One of the most popular lasts for half a day and takes trekkers to the top of Teresek Hill, which is famed for its stunning panoramic views. The Canopy Walks offers visitors the chance to view Taman Negara from a different perspective, while others lead the way to stunning natural features such as waterfalls and caves.

Those who want to really get to know Taman Negara will want to spend the night here, and a wide range of different accommodation options are available. Camping out offers visitor the chance to really get back to nature and it is possible to hire camping equipment as well as fishing rods and other gear from the Mutiara Taman Negara resort shop.

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Ipoh, Malaysia

IpohPerhaps most famous for its rich and varied traditional cuisine, Ipoh is one of the largest cities in the whole of Malaysia and can be reached easily by taking the train from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Situated on the banks of the mighty Kinta River, Ipoh is also known for its picturesque gardens and charming buildings, earning it the nickname of Bougainvillea City.

The Old Town district is the perfect place to explore on foot, and there are also plenty of pavement cafes and restaurants in this part of the city where visitors can simply sit and soak up the atmosphere for a while.

Ipoh is famous for its food, and there are a wide variety of dishes to try. People travel from as far away as Singapore to dine on delicious curries, noodle dishes and a huge range of local specialities. A good place to find cheap and tasty food is at the hawkers stalls that line the road and gather by busy markets, especially in the evening.

Those who have got plenty of time to spare in Ipoh will want to take a trip to the cave temples of Perak Tong. This area was established as a place of worship by a devout Buddhist priest back in q926, and a large number of caves and grottos can be found here, many of which have been decorated with murals, which some of the chambers feature Buddha images and are used as places of worship to this day.

The cave of Sam Poh Tong is located to the south of Ipoh and contains a turtle pond. Another interesting day trip is the temple of Kek Look Tong, which also features a cool cavern. Climb into the cave and walk through to the back, where you will discover the Chinese Buddha of Future Happiness. There is also an ornamental garden with ponds and pagodas behind the cave.

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Johor Bahru, Malaysia

johor_bahruThe bustling city of Johor Bahru is the capital of Johor state and was once named Tanjung Puteri. The city can be found on the very southernmost tip of Southeast Asia and is famed for its intense natural beauty. Travellers come here from all over the world to explore the tropical rainforests, climb the mighty mountains and swim in the waters of the sparkling waterfalls that surround the city of Johor Bahru.

There is a large causeway linking Malaysia to Singapore and many people pass through Johor Bahru on the way to ‘the garden city’. However, for those who take the time to explore, Johor Bahru is full of natural and cultural delights.

A great way to get an idea of the natural beauty of this area is by climbing Mount Ophir. At 1,276 meters this is the highest point in the area and provides fantastic views across the city and the Straits of Johor.

There are a large number of interesting buildings to explore and top of the list should be the ornate Sultan Abu Bakar State Mosque and the Royal Palace Museum. The nearby communities of Kukup village and Muar town are good places to visit to gain an insight into traditional Malay life.

Those who want to soak up the sun for a while should take time to visit the enchanting Desaru beaches as well as the tropical island that are situated just to the south of Johor Bahru. Featuring cool, clear waters, Pulau Dayang is perhaps the most popular of these islands and is an excellent place to practice water sports such as scuba diving and snorkelling.

A great day trip destination is the Endau Rompin National Park, where you will have the chance to wander through pristine tropical rainforest and perhaps spot the Sumatran rhinoceros. You will also find the pretty Kota Tinggi waterfall, which is a good place to cool down after trekking through the forest.

Other local attractions include Johor Zoo, Saleng Zoo, Orchid Valley and Istana Garden, which is a great place for jogging or simply a walk in the park.

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Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Cameron Highlands, MalaysiaThis beautiful hill station is the perfect place to visit when you’re feeling the heat in Malaysia. Situated at an elevation of between 1300 and 1829 meters, the Cameron Highlands are significantly cooler than much of Malaysia, making it a good area to visit during the scorchingly hot summer season.

With its cool climate and lush natural beauty, the Cameron Highlands feel like they should be located somewhere in Europe rather than in Malaysia, and this is the perfect place to retreat from the heat and take part in natural activities such as hiking and trekking.

A large number of guided tours are offered by local companies and take visitors to surrounding places of interest such as the BOH tea factory, where visitors can learn all about the art of tea manufacture, right from the time the tender tealeaves are first picked to the drying and packing processes.

Other interesting attractions that can be found in the area include strawberry fields, bee gardens and insectariums. Most daytrips through the area also include trekking through the forest, and knowledgeable local guides will be able to tell visitors all about the flora and fauna that can be found along the way.

The Cameron Highlands has long been receiving visitors from all over the globe, and there are plenty of amenities for travellers to make use of here. In addition to stunning accommodation options visitors will also find an excellent selection of restaurants here, which serve up everything from authentic Indian curries to Chinese fare, while there are also a number of bars and shops to be found along the main drag.

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Melaka, Malaysia

Melaka, MalaysiaThe city of Melaka is a great place to pause for a while on the trip through Central Malaysia, and this traditional city is often referred to as the ‘soul of the nation’, as many people see it as summing up exactly what Malaysia is all about. Of course, there are a large number of large and impressive mosques here, while visiting the vibrant local market places is the perfect way to gain an insight into local life as well as doing a spot of shopping along the way.

Melaka is famed for its rich and varied cuisine, and excellent restaurants can be found all over the city. Taking a cooking class here is also a good way to find out what Melaka is all about while gaining a skill that you can use to impress friends and family members with when you get back home.

While the city can be rather busy during the daytime, it is surrounding by intense natural beauty, and sun worshippers will want to spend time soaking up the sun on Melaka’s pristine sandy beaches. There are also large forests and parks to explore here, which are simply teeming with a diverse range of flora and fauna.

Local legend explains that the city of Melaka was founded by Parameswara, who is believed to have been related to a Hindi prince and possibly even Alexander the Great. The story goes that Parameswara was hunting and stopped to rest near the Malacca River. He was standing next to an Indian gooseberry tree known as a melaka when one of his hunting dogs was startled by a mouse deer and fell into the river. Parameswara took this incident as an auspicious sign and decided to build the capital of his new kingdom where he stood, naming it after the tree under which he had been resting.

Visitors will want to spend at least three days exploring Melaka, as there are numerous unmissable attractions to discover here. The city can also be used as a convenient base to explore a whole host of surrounding attractions, while this is the perfect place to arrange for tour guides, change money and make use of endless other amenities.

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Seremban, Malaysia

SerembanThe city of Seremban is the capital of the Negeri Sembilan district and can be found just 50kms from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Although this is a popular place to visit on a daytrip from Kuala Lumpur, those who decide to spend a little extra time here will find that Seremban has a lot to offer visitors and is steeped in natural charm.
Nature lovers will want to spend time strolling around the banks of the city’s large and lovely parks, while there are also plenty of pretty parks to relax and unwind in. the city is also famed as a centre for traditional Minangkabau art and handicrafts, which make excellent gifts to take back home to friends and loved ones.

A great place to see traditional Minangkabau architecture is the Rumah Minangkabau, which is located right next to the State Museum on Jalan Labu. This ornate wooden building was constructed in 1898 and is engraved with verses from the Holy Koran. Not for the faint of heart, the Rumah Minangkabau is believed by locals to be haunted and definitely has a spooky feel.

One of the great things about Sremban is its diversity and you will find a wide range of temples here. A particularly decorative example is the Sri Bala T. Temple, which is dedicated to Hindu deities. Built in 1970, the State Mosque can be found on a small hill top overlooking the picturesque Lake Gardens, while nearby is the Catholic Church of the Visitation. Large fast food chain McDonalds may not seem like the holist of places, but you will even find a small, colourful Chinese shrine situated here.

If you’re looking for something a little bit different, visit the Jelita Ostrich farm, which is Malaysia’s first Ostrich Show Farm. Learn more about our fine feathered friends and breath in the fresh country air.

Another great day trip destination is Jeram Toi, which is a small, yet vey pretty waterfall. This is the perfect place for swimming, trekking and picnicking, and visitors can even camp at the falls overnight.

Seremban Parade is an interesting place to hang out, and this is a good place to pick up a bargain, find a good meal and shop for local arts and crafts. Another good place to people watch is the Seremban Lake Garden, which are large and beautiful. Here you will see people jogging, families picnicking and amorous couples sneaking looking at each other and perhaps even holding hands.
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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala LumpurOften simply referred to as KL, Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s capital city. The name means muddy estuary in the Malay language and it should be clear to visitors that the city has come a long way since it was first named. (more…)
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Central Malaysia

Central MalaysiaThe central region of Malaysia is a great place to visit to escape the scorching Malay weather as temperatures are significantly cooler here, especially in the stunningly beautiful region known as the Cameron Highlands.
Central Malaysia is also home to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, which contains all the interesting attractions and facilities you would expect from a modern Asian city. This is a good place to use as a base as you explore the beauty that surrounds Kuala Lumpur.

Another interesting metropolis is Melaka, which is renowned as the center of the Muslim faith in Malaysia. This is a good place to learn about the Muslim faith and traditions, as well as sampling a range of traditional Malay dishes.

One of the great things about central Malaysia is that it is particularly easy to get around, with bus and rail networks linking the major towns and cities. The railway network starts in Thailand and continues south into Singapore, meaning that both countries are easily accessible.

Malaysia’s many festivals are particularly vibrant in central Malaysia, with much of the attention focused on Kuala Lumpur. Many visitors try to arrange their trip so that they will be in Malaysia capital city during at least one of the major festivals or holidays.


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Khao San Road in Spanish

Khaosan Road, una pequena calle donde se juntan todos los caminos. Dicen que todos los caminos van a Roma, pero en el siglo XXI, se podrna decir que todos los caminos van a Khaosan. Este pequeno callejnn situado el la parte Oeste de Bangkok, Tailandia, se ha convertido en el cruce por excelencia de los viajeros de Asia y del mundo entero.

Hace 20 anos era solo un albergue que brindaba alojamiento barato para los primeros mochileros. Y a travns de los anos ha evolucionado hasta llegar a convertirse en una de las calles mas frecuentadas de todo el mundo. Y ha crecido hasta propagarse a las calles y barrios adyacentes. Se puede decir, sin temor a equivocarse, que es el Estado Mayor de los viajeros.

Khaosan Rd. es indudablemente el mejor lugar en Bangkok para descansar despuns de un largo viaje por Viet Nam, Laos o Cambodia. Desde aqun, uno puede prepararse para el prnximo destino. Sea cual fuere, en la misma calle se pueden encontrar todas las opciones de viaje (desde las mas baratas), no importa si Ud. quiere ir a Malasia, Filipinas, la India, Espana o Argentina. O si quiere viajar a una de las maravillosas islas de Tailandia, sea Ko Samui o Ko Chang, para bucear entre los arrecifes coralinos. Pero no olvide pasarse unos dnas en Khaosan Rd. En pocos lugares podrn encontrar tal afluencia de culturas y viajeros de todo el mundo. Durante el dna puede ir de compras por Khaosan Rd y los alrededores, y de seguro encontrara lo que esta buscando (y a buen precio).

Souvenirs tailandeses manufacturados y todo tipo de productos tradicionales, joyerna, tiendas de mnsica, ropa y calzado de cualquier tamano y para toda estacinn, tatuajes, peinados, masaje, etc., etc... Tambinn puede encontrar a minutos de distancia a pie muchas de las principales atracciones culturales de Bangkok. Como el Museo Nacional (The National Museum), el Gran Palacio (The Grand Palace), la Galerna Nacional de Arte (The National Art Gallery), la Montana de Oro (The Golden Mountain), asn como innumerables templos budistas celebres por su arquitectura. Asimismo, es muy sencillo trasladarse desde Khaosan Rd en bus hasta cualquier parte de Bangkok. Igual puede utilizar los numerosos botes que circulan a travns del rno Chao Phraya, que se encuentra a solo 10 minutos de Khaosan.

nTiene hambren Solo tiene que caminar dos pasos. En el nrea puede encontrar literalmente cientos de opciones para satisfacer su apetito y bolsillo. Desde, por supuesto,todo tipo de delicias tailandesas, pasando por la comida china, hindn, malaya, vietnamita, coreana hasta los platos nrabes, mejicanos y europeos y bueno, los consabidos McDonalds, Subway y Pizza Hut.

Pero la vida nunca se detiene en Khaosan. El lugar esta lleno de bares, restaurantes y clubes donde por la noche puede encontrar todo lo que necesite. Lo mismo puede bailar una salsa o un reggae, que tomarse una cerveza bien frna mientras conversa con nuevos amigos de todo el mundo, e intercambiar historias y experiencias de viaje. La juventud tailandesa tampoco falta en Khaosan, muchos prefieren pasar su tiempo libre acn. Podrn estar al tanto de la vida cultural moderna de Tailandia tambinn y sumergirse en la diversidad repleta de nuevas experiencias, emociones y amistades.

Y si pasa en abril por acn, le tocara mojarse si sale a las calles durante la celebracinn del Festival de Songkran. En esos dnas Khaosan Rd. se convierte en un campo de batalla con todo el mundo tirnndose agua mutuamente, celebrando el Nuevo Ano tailandns. Asn que traiga un impermeable. Y la gente regresa siempre a Khaosan Rd. Ano tras ano. Por que no hay otro lugar como este. Es unico e irrepetible. Un destino obligado para todos.

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Guiding Jumbo

“You’ll have to jump, she won’t listen to me,” came the inspired words of the mahout. I was somewhat dubious of clearing the space between the rickety platform and the leathery back. The giant eye looked me up and down, and then gave me a mischievous wink. I figured it was only a matter of time before the platform would collapse, so I took my chances. This was my first experience with elephant rides, over a decade ago. Today, visitors to Thailand are no longer required to content themselves as pachyderm passengers with no control.

Beyond those flirty eyelashes are intelligent creatures with their own thoughts, memories and even a sense of humour. These old souls form a unique bond with the mahouts that guide them – and this world is now accessible to visitors of the National Elephant Institute (formerly known as the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre), a division of the Forestry Industry Organization, in Lampang. Working with these clever creatures is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most tourists.

Homestays and mahout training courses help people to get closer to elephants and learn more about the mahouts’ way of life. The homestay programme has been going for approximately five years and has become especially popular with foreign visitors. “There are about 100 participants each month coming from the UK, Australia, America and other far away destinations,” says Wilawan Intawong, Homestay Coordinator. Visitors can choose to stay from just one day, up to three days and two nights.

The institute tries to provide each customer with their own elephant for the duration of the programme, however, sometimes guests must share if there is a large group. “There are only 10 elephants in the homestay programme at this time,” says Intawong. “We only use the best trained elephants to ensure the safety of our customers.” The 50 or so elephants at the institute are raised ‘semi-wild’: they work at the centre during the day and are returned to sleep and feed in the jungle at night.

Homestay guests sleep in one of three rustic homestay bungalows, each with three bedrooms – one for the mahout and two for guests to share. The open-air common area and kitchen come together to form an ideal space where the group can cook with the mahout and everyone can get to know each other in the evenings. “We have many guests who say the accommodation is too comfortable,” chuckles Intawong. “They are looking for a rougher experience – but they all have a good time anyway.” Other activities include: watching the mahouts as they make woodcarvings of elephants, visiting the Elephant Hospital, learning how to make elephant dung paper, and participating in the elephant show. “Many homestay participants become repeat customers in following years,” says Intawong, testifying to the quality of the programme.

A slightly different, but equally exciting programme is provided by the Mahout Training School, which was established to train real mahouts – not just tourists. Today, the centre receives significant interest in mahout training from visitors, who can take part in programmes lasting from one day to one month. Mahout trainees sleep at the school and in the jungle with their elephants. The school allows those interested in experiencing the life of mahouts and elephants firsthand to do so in a natural but relatively safe environment. Guests not only learn how to ride an elephant but also how to care for it. One of the most important aspects of the course is learning elephant behaviours and commands used by the mahouts. Mahout trainees learn actual commands in Thai so they can communicate with their charges. Intawong says “It takes about three days to learn all the commands, but putting them into practice might take longer.”

“There are typically two mahouts to each elephant,” says Intawong. The word for ‘mahout’ in Thai is kwaan, and there is a kwaan kaaw (neck mahout) and kwaan theen (foot mahout). She explains, “This dates back from the logging days, when there was one mahout on the elephant’s neck to guide it and another by its feet to coordinate the movement of the timber.”

There are no women mahouts at TECC, and in fact, Intawong has never seen a female mahout at all. She says, “Being a mahout is like being married to the elephant, and this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to have a [human] family.” Mahouts form a deep bond with their elephants, spending the majority of their lives with them. When the elephants are chained in the jungle at night and one of them cries out, that elephant’s mahout can distinguish its voice from all the others and will go to its aid.

A mahout at the centre for 20 years, 55-year-old Pbun is now working with his third elephant since the age of 15, when he first started training to be a mahout at another village. He says, “I wake up at 5am every day to collect my elephant Tantawan (‘Sunflower’ in Thai) from the jungle and then bathe her.” Tantawan, along with many other elephants at the centre, has the important task of giving rides to tourists and other visitors. She works a few times a day, taking turns with the other elephants and finishing at 3.30pm to head back to the jungle. Mahouts at the centre only get four days off per month to go back to their hometowns. “Being a mahout is fun, but it takes a lot of dedication and true love of your elephant,” says Pbun.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center
KM 28-29 Lampang-Chiang Mai Highway
Hangchat District, Lampang 52190

Tel. 054-247-875

Email

By Chantana Jasper

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Khao San Road in Italian

Certo, leggendo semplicemente il nome potrebbe sembrare una via o una strada come tante altre: potrebbe essere adornata da eleganti vetrine, ingiallita dallo scorrere del tempo o allietata da viali alberati. Potrebbe trovarsi ad Hong Kong, Londra o Berlino, forse in una tranquilla provincia del sud dell’Inghilterra. Ma non è così.

Khao San Road è una strada con una propria identità ed una propria storia che la rendono diversa da qualsiasi altra via. Anzi, definirla strada è certamente riduttivo, perché in fondo Khao San è un piccolo mondo con i propri attori, è la terra delle mille culture e delle molteplici nazionalità, dove tutti sono benvenuti.

Khao San Road è unica e si trova nel cuore di Bangkok.

Alex Garland la definisce come il passaggio obbligato per tutti coloro che sono appena giunti in Thailandia o che si apprestano a lasciare la terra del sorriso: per molti, in fondo, è davvero così, perché a Khao San non si vive, si transita.

Può affascinarti, puoi detestarla o esserne infastidito, ma non puoi ignorarla.

Al primo impatto Khao San Road ti stordisce: le mille luci, gli odori forti, la moltitudine di persone attraverso cui riesci a stento a muoverti, le bancarelle stracolme di ogni bene, i soldi che passano veloci di mano in mano, le guesthouse e i locali che ti invitano ad ogni passo. Si stabilisce un rapporto, non necessariamente dagli aspetti positivi od esaltanti, perché le contraddizioni sono parte di Khao San.

Poi inizi ad avere confidenza con quell’ambiente così particolare e forse inizi anche a sentirti a tuo agio, quasi fossi a casa tua o comunque in un luogo amico.

Ma come nasce questa Mecca dei viaggiatori? Nel 1982, nel bicentenario della fondazione ufficiale di Bangkok, il governo Thai lanciò una serie di iniziative per festeggiare la ricorrenza, attirando nella capitale migliaia di turisti stranieri.

Molti viaggiatori, che non potevano permettersi il lusso di una stanza d’albergo, convinsero gli abitanti di Khao San Road ad affittare le proprie stanze, tanto per avere un piccolo guadagno extra. Il business delle guesthouse generò in brevissimo tempo dei profitti impensabili fino a poco prima. Nel girò di pochi anni fiorirono centinaia di guesthouse, ristoranti e negozietti di souvenir.

Dal lento brulicare delle prime ore del mattino fino al rapido e vorticoso crescendo che porta in strada migliaia di viaggiatori, Khao San rimane immobile eppure sempre in movimento. Tutti se andranno, l’abbandoneranno carichi di sacchetti di plastica ricolmi di magliette e costumi, uno zaino sulle spalle e pochi soldi, ma altri giungeranno e molti torneranno, perché Khao San, come la Thailandia, non si dimentica, rimane con noi come una sensazione o un ricordo vago che ogni tanto riaffora e, solo per un istante, ci fa viaggiare nel tempo.

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Meditation in Bangkok

Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
There's no doubt about it, Thailand is a genuine draw for the spiritually inclined. Every year, thousands of people visit the kingdom to step away from the material and gain an insight into themselves and the world around them. While many "spiritual tourists" might envisage gaining enlightenment through fasting and sitting cross-legged under the torrents of one of Thailand's many crystal-clear waterfalls, few might consider a trip to Bangkok's main business/entertainment area a step down a spiritual path. And that just might be a shame… because it just might be what they are looking for.

Sukhumvit Road in the center of Bangkok is more recognized as street of excess than a place of retreat. It's where people work hard, play hard and enjoy the bounty of riding the back of one of Asia's more successful tigers. Yet, like elsewhere in the capital, pockets of spiritual resistance exist providing a ongoing reminder of just what is important in life. Fortunately, for visitors and expats wishing to learn more about the spiritual elements that forge this kingdom's unique identity, there are people around that are willing and able to offer tutelage and guidance in a language many foreigners understand - plain English.

I recently visited a one-day meditation workshop held at Ariyasom Villa Boutique Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 1 in Bangkok. Unlike many of the hotels in the area, Ariyasom is genuinely fetching - built in 1942 as a family home it is still owned by the family that built it, and they really have made the most out of everything they've got. The hotel grounds are not huge, yet their design gives the impression of a vast area that you can wonder through and get lost in. Ariyasom's gardens offer various nooks and crannies that you can walk around and find yourself a bit of personal space - probably one of the reasons this is an ideal location for a mediation workshop.

As a Brit, and a northerner at that, I haven't made too many sorties into the world of the spiritual. Although it's got a few Thai restaurants and Chinese takeaways, there aren't that many temples or the like in mid-Cheshire. So, although I didn't know what to expect from this workshop, I did, to some extent, expect to be a fish out of water. It was then very reassuring then to find out that Pandit Bhikkhu, owner of Littlebang and one of the organizers of the workshop, was in fact not Thai like I thought, but from Altrincham, a small town only a few miles from my home. In addition, David Lees, the broadminded owner of Ariyasom, proved to be a foreigner from Mere, which is even closer to my home than Altrincham! At that point in time, the three of us standing there was probably the only incidence of three Cheshire Cats being in the same room at the same time in the whole of Southeast Asia… well, at least I thought so.

Aside from its splendor, Ariyasom has even more surprises. Whereas most hotels in the area push restaurants and "discos" into every spare inch available, Ariyasom offers a spacious, dedicated meditation area replete with a bedroom for visiting monks... That certainly is a first for me.

"My wife is Thai and has been involved in meditation for a number of years," suggested David Lees. "In fact she runs a blog about meditation. We rebuilt Ariyasom with meditation in mind. With a dedicated facility it's easy for us to run events on a regular basis. There's a decent-sized community of English-speaking Buddhists in Bangkok, and we help cater for them. Our events also extend to visitors to Thailand looking to learn more about Thai-style meditation. We get a good mix of people and I think people enjoy our workshops and benefit from them."

David and his wife obviously talk the talk and walk the walk. While other hotels in the area might squeeze every cent out of their visitors, arriving at 08:30 before the start of the meditation workshop, I was greeted by hot coffee, Pa Thong Ko (the deep fried doughnuts that are a traditional Thai breakfast) and juice - all free of charge. As the day progressed, hot coffee was on tap and a vegetarian lunch was provided, again, free of charge. At the end of the day a variety of Thai fruit was on offer. Alongside offering a huge air-conditioned room for the comfort of meditators, catering for around 30 people in this way was not likely to be a cheap affair.

The workshop itself was also free of charge, and like David said, attracted a mix of backpackers, tourists and well-healed expats, although as the bulk of people seem to know each other, the latter did appear to dominate. The workshop was, not surprisingly, insightful - the Vipassana meditation being taught is better known as "Insight Meditation". The instruction was provided by Aussie Mike Sansom and German Helge Sansom. Both are trainers at Wat Kow Tahm (Mountain Cave Monastery) International Meditation Center on Koh Phangan in southern Thailand. Mike and Helge walked beginners and veterans alike through the techniques and methodology of Vipassana meditation and the instruction proved both accessible and pragmatic.

Basically, mediation offers the opportunity to reflect. We were told to sit, eyes closed and consider the in and out of our breathing. Directing my awareness towards my breathing proved both easy and difficult at the same time. Becoming aware of my breathing generated a stillness that was immediately accessible, but it was also very easy to drift off into a reverie of thought without really noticing where my mind was going. It's was sometimes very hard to pull myself away from thoughts of bills, work, commitments, family, and curiously, the theme music to 1980's British TV program, "Black Beauty" - quite where that came from I dread to think. Obviously some deep and dark place. However, as Mike pointed out, any awareness was beneficial, and as Helge suggested, making a mental note of the mental distractions put them in their place and allowed you to revert to concentrating on breathing. In fact, this for me was the most valuable thing I took away from the day… Just sitting quietly like this, acknowledging the thoughts that entered my head allowed me to really understand exactly what was on my mind. 
    
Later, we were introduced to walking meditation. Although I followed the instruction and understood the technique, the sight of people walking around and meditating at the same time was a little spooky I thought. The technique is intended to be used while you are in motion and with your eyes open. It requires full awareness of your body, its movement, and even the ground beneath your feet and the feeling pressure stepping on the ground creates. I honestly couldn't do it in front of people, not for fear how I looked, but genuine fear of how others looked. To practice this I needed to find a bit of space well away from others, and fortunately this was possible at Ariyasom.

We were also introduced to guided meditation leading to compassion and understanding. Helge introduced the meditation using an everyday scenario: You are in a shop; the check out desk is slow and you are being inconvenienced. This causes anxiety and perhaps even rage. You might even be moved to complain. However, although these emotions appear to be driven by external events, they are, in fact, only your reaction to external events. Changing your perception, through an injection of compassion, will help alleviate YOUR anxiety. Perhaps the checkout girl is having a bad day; perhaps she has financial problems or other problems at home; perhaps even she has just found out she has lost her job and today is her last day. Each of these possible scenarios would account for today, and each, with compassion, would be fully understandable.

At the end of the day's workshop, I can honestly say I felt very refreshed - a similar feeling to that you get after having a weekend away, and yet it was really only a few hours. I really did feel I had been given some tools that would help and enrich my daily life. I felt better for the workshop. Our introduction to compassion and understanding was though immediately put to the test. During the latter stages of the workshop, a freak thunderstorm dumped what appeared to be thousands of tons of water into Soi 1. Not surprisingly, given the downfall, the Soi was completely flooded… and just to be fair - this really is the exception rather than the rule in Bangkok these days.

Even if you are only Bangkok for a couple of days, likelihood is there will be something happening that will provide you with the type of experience I had on Sukhumvit Road. Key places at look for events have already been mentioned - the Littlebang website gives broad details on what's happening in Bangkok while mind.matters.at.ariyasom will provide you with specific details of what's happening at Ariyasom.

I really recommend that you get involved in something while you are here. At the very least, you'll take home with you a greater understanding into what Thais find commonplace, and that in itself, will be much more of an understanding of Thailand than some take home with them.

Staff Writer

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Cafe Democ – Back to the Source

Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Khao San Road is renowned as one of the best places for nightlife both in the Bangkok capital and elsewhere in the Kingdom of Thailand. Sitting alongside excellent restaurants and pubs, KSR's clubs now rank parallel with Sukhumvit 11 haunts as some of THE places to visit when in town. Given the importance of the strip's role in catering to global club officiados, the fact that Cafe Democ is seldom included in any foreign clubber's itinerary remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

For those in the know, a trip to Cafe Democ is very much a trip to the source - to where it all began. Despite its unimposing architecture and presence (by Bangkok club standards anyway), Cafe Democ is the spiritual home of Bangkok's club scene. Opened in 1999 and located on a corner of Democracy Monument (hence its name), Cafe Democ is no more than a 10-minute walk from Khao San Road and is where the seed of local DJ talent was nurtured into the vibrant scene that exists today.

As I sit outside the club with owner Mr. Apichart - or Tui to his friends - we talk against a backdrop of some killer homegrown Drums and Bass. "This is not really a club to me," suggests Tui wistfully. "I also own club Culture, a big club in the center of town. That to me is a club - this (Cafe Democ) is my home! This is where I was brought up," he enthuses.

Now in his 40s, Tui started life as a DJ at Diana's in 1984, one of Bangkok's leading clubs back in the day. There he pumped out Madonna, Michael Jackson, and any other commercial sound his undiscerning audience fancied. At the time the local talent for even this was limited, and UK companies would send DJs out to Thai venues to entertain the masses.

The DJs brought a smattering of club sounds that although established in the west, represented something of a revolution in Thailand. Rubbing shoulders with these DJs, Tui's tastes changed, as did that of his audience. Slowly, seamlessly, pockets of resistance to commercial music emerged and along with it local DJs experimented. Thailand's first real underground music scene was born.

"15 years ago Bangkok was the leading place for club music in Southeast Asia," adds Tui. "DJs from places like Singapore and Hong Kong came over here to sample the scene. Unfortunately, as with other places in the world, in 90s the club scene became synonymous with drug culture. Drugs pretty much killed the underground. The police closed venues, and Bangkok became a bit of a wilderness. Hip Hop changed that."

"Local artists like Joey Boy made Hip Hop respectable and brought it into the mainstream," he continued. "Once there, the scene emerged again - it was a safe environment where people could experiment with sounds. Clubs and DJs started to flourish again, and Cafe Democ was there to help things along. Local DJs came here to play exactly what they wanted, with no commercial pressure. We brought over the occasional international act, but primarily, Cafe Democ was for local DJs".

The scene grew to the extent that Cafe Democ DJs turned professional and a number of venues emerged to cater for the increased demand for club music. RCA flourished and places like Astra (now Club 808) went from strength to strength. Many of those venues though stuck to a more traditional format, catering for Bangkok's party scene.

"Cafe Democ is no Route 66,"suggested Tui, talking about a famous RCA club where patrons dance around small tables to top 30 US tunes alongside more commercial local sounds. "There's a genuine sub-culture around these days. This sub-culture has had to be resilient. It's faced 'Social Order' issues that placed curfews on clubbers, political uncertainty, and of course bouts of economic downturn. Despite all of this, the scene remains healthy and you can experience it at Cafe Democ."

These days Cafe De Moc serves up an eclectic assortment of sounds - Electro, Mash Up, Drums and Bass, and despite its proximity to KSR, caters to a predominantly Thai crowd (often based out of Thammasat University) and a few expats who speak a smattering of Thai. Things warm up around 23:30, but before that people sit around and enjoy the great local food Cafe De Moc offers its punters.

"We don't have the marketing budget," suggested Tui when asked why Cafe De Moc doesn't compete with some of the brasher places on KSR. "Nowadays foreigners only stay on Khao San for a couple of days and then they are off. It's not like before when they used to stay up to a couple of months and really get to know the area, including this place (Cafe De Moc)."

Cafe De Moc does though have a small but loyal foreign clientele. DJ Curmi (?) from Brighton, UK was there the night we visited. He wasn't playing; he was just hanging out. "I love this place," he confided. "This is where it all started and it's still going strong. I come here every time I am in Thailand. It's not like one of the big Sukhimvit clubs - it's very intimate".

Cafe De Moc opens nightly until about 1:30 in the morning. If you are looking for a slice of the local scene, it's well worthy of a visit. It's usually free to get in and there's a solid line up of acts.

Check out the much less than pretentious Cafe De Moc website to see what's on offer.

Check out the toilets for excellent graffiti!

cafe-democ_map

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Look Daddy – a Shopping Mall!

Although Buddy Lodge is certainly not a shopping mall, with local building restrictions, it's as close as you will get on Khao San. Venturing into the building, there's a general sense of this being a world within a world. Everything you can find on Khao San is there - the silver shops, accommodation, the bar - but it's all a notch up market and there's a very distinct feel of smooth professionalism about the place. There seems to be a problem with parking though - there's a number of classic motorcycles abandoned throughout the building. (more…)
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British Prisoners in Thailand

British Prisoners in ThailandWe contacted the British Embassy in Bangkok to find out more for people looking for relatives and loved ones who they think might be in prison in Thailand and asked them for information for people who are interested in visiting British prisoners while they are visiting Thailand.

Here is our email: 





Mr. James

I am the founder of www.khaosanroad.com - a website dedicated to budget travel in Thailand and the Khao San Road area of Bangkok. We regularly receive emails from people with queries regarding foreign prisoners in Bangkok and Thailand, especially British prisoners. The queries are varied but often follow one of a couple of themes:

1)  People looking for information on how they can visit foreign prisoners when they are in Thailand, and
2)  People looking for relatives who they believe might actually be in prison in Thailand.

For the former point, we have some information gathered from visitors who have been through the process of visiting prisoners, but the information always leads to the same point - people must get a list of current prisoners from the relevant embassy. In addition, the information we provide is far from comprehensive.

For the latter point, very little seems to be available on the Internet about how people can go about finding out if one of their relatives is in prison in Thailand, and again, the trial leads to the British and other embassies.

I was therefore wondering to what extent the British Embassy in Thailand might be able to officially comment in these two issues in a fashion that might be published on www.khaosanroad.com.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Very best regards

John Hughes

Here is the British Embassy's reply:

Dear John,

Many thanks for your e-mail. There are a number of the British nationals who are in prison in Thailand, who have indicated that they are willing to receive visitors. The major difficulty is that the visiting times in the prisons vary according to which room number the prisoner is in. It is best for anyone who wishes to go on a visit, and is serious about their visit, to contact us for more detailed information. When can they tell them who they can visit and exactly what the visiting days and times are. But what I am keen to avoid are frivolous enquiries from people who do not follow through with the visit.

The Royal Thai Police are required to notify the Embassy of the arrest of any British national in Thailand. Anyone who believes that a relative has been arrested or is in prison should contact us, unless they are in the UK. In the UK they contact the Thailand Desk of the Consular Directorate in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Telephone 0207 008 0105. But, for data protection reasons, we can only confirm the details of anyone who has been arrested or is in prison if they consent.

I hope that this information helps.

Yours sincerely,

Neill James
Vice-Consul British Embassy, Bangkok 1031
Wireless Road
Lumpini
Pathumwan
Bangkok
10330

So, there you have it - contact the British Embassy in Bangkok if you are looking for someone who might be in prison AND if you want to visit British prisoners. However, in the latter case, make sure you are serious about the visit.

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Animal Rescue – THE BEACH DOGS

Animal Rescue the Beach DogsKoh Tao is a small island surrounded by the calm expanse of the Gulf of Thailand. This may be a tropical paradise for visitors but for the many ownerless dogs that live there it is far from paradise. Ravaged by mange, hungry and often frightened, they parade the beach in packs each tribe fiercely protecting their self-designated territory. This is a place where the law of the jungle pervades, survival of the fittest. But the only food source is that provided by humans - the scraps from the restaurants. The dominant male pecking order often means that the weakest get no food at all. In fact these dogs at the lower end of the scale are often cast out from the tribe.


Noi's story

In April of this year myself, my friend Miranda and her eight year old son Jordan visited Koh Tao. On our second day we met a small black mongrel that we later called Noi - which is Thai for little one. She had been rejected by the pack because she had weak back legs and a clubfoot, she was starving and infected by maggots. We fed her up and managed to enlist the help of the pharmacist to procure some anti-biotics from the nearby Koh Samui island. After I jabbed her she ran off and we didn't see her for three days. We thought she was dead. Then one evening when we were walking along the beach in the sunset she appeared from nowhere. At first we weren't sure if it was the same dog because she looked so much better. She followed us around faithfully from then on and spent the nights on our balcony. By now we were completely hooked and wanted to take her home with us but it seemed impossible. We would have to leave her behind.

When we came back to the UK we couldn't stop thinking about Noi. I discovered that there was a Dog Rescue Centre on the nearby Koh Samui island and we made contact with Bridget and her husband Hans who run the centre. After another month of deliberation we decided that the only thing to do was to go back and get Noi. Bridget put us in contact with another Brit who had done the same thing - Roger Cooper. Roger had had a similar experience with his dog Gypsy. He had become attached to her during a holiday and when he and his family returned thirteen months later the dog recognised them instantly. The clincher was when they got into a taxi for a sight seeing trip and the dog ran after the taxi for a mile and a half and then sat in the road howling.

Miranda can speak fleunt Thai which was to be a great help. When we arrived there we took the photo we had taken of Jordan and Noi around to the different restaurants but no one had seen her. There were a few heart stopping days when we thought she was dead. Then she suddenly turned up but she was in a pretty bad state. She was sicker than before and was covered in mange and wouldn't eat. Over the next few days we fed her up and gave her some anti bioitics and Vitamin C. But now there was another problem. Whilst they were looking for Noi another outcast had attached himself to us another black mongrel who we called Star. Since we'd first met Star someone had thrown stones at him and he was now hobbling on three legs. We decided that we would take him with us to the vet at the dog's home in Koh Samui, fix him up and return him to the island.

The only way from Koh Toa to Koh Samui is by speedboat and it's a pretty rocky journey. The journey by jeep to the jetty and then the crossing to Koh Samui with two dogs, a kid and luggage was a challenge particularly as the dogs wouldn't walk on leads and had to be carried. But probably most challenging of all was the continual vomiting of little Star on the speed boat that reached such a pitch that we wanted to throw him overboard!

Arriving at Koh Samui we were met by the motorbike and sidecar from the dogs home. The dogs were loaded up and Star howled all the way the rescue centre. We had to go between two different vets to get the dogs injected, get their vaccinations and get Star's leg fixed and then take them back to the rescue centre. By the time we arrived our hotel we were exhausted. We stayed on Koh Samui for the next few days visiting Noi and Star and generally helping out at the rescue centre. By now we had another dilemma. Star was really attached to us how could we take him back to the life of a beach dog where anything might happen? After much soul searching we decided to bring Star home.

To prepare for the next leg of the journey - the flight from Koh Samui to Bangkok, the airline had insisted that the dogs be sedated until they were asleep. The quarantine kennel here in the UK had expressly said not to sedate them because of the danger of hypothermia. A double dose of tranquilliser was administered to Noi because the first one didn't seem to work.

When we arrived at Bangkok the dogs were actually sent out on the conveyor belt with the luggage!!! Miranda and I went off to sort out some documentation and whilst we were away Jordan, thinking that Noi didn't look too good, put his hand into the cage and in her drugged state Noi bit him and wouldn't let go. He started screaming. It took a security guard to prise her off. We came back to find Jordan in tears and blood all over the floor. We had to bundle the two dogs, still in their cages, Jordan and the luggage off to the nearby private hospital where Jordan had to have rabies and a tetanus injection and get his wound cleaned and his arm bandaged. We dropped the dogs off with Tai - the contact in Bangkok that Bridget from the rescue centre had arranged and dragged ourselves off to the hotel.

At nine o'clock the next morning Tai rang the hotel. There was a problem. The excessive dose of the tranquilliser may have caused Noi to go blind. We rushed to Tai's. Things didn't look good. Noi's eyes were completely blue. Thankfully over the next few days her sight returned.

Noi and Star came out of quarantine in February and there were quite a handful - to say the least! But now they are house trained and understand basic commands. Star is very nervous of other dogs and this makes him quite aggressive to them but both of the dogs are great with humans. Soon they are going off for an intensive four week live in training course with Brian from Just For Dogs. He has a fantastic reputation for non aggressive training methods with amazing results.

This experience has led me to start a charity the Noistar Thai Dog Rescue to help the hundred of dogs still on the island. The Noistar Thai Dog Rescue intends to introduce a neutering and education programme to bring the dog population under control and thereby improve the quality of life for both the humans and the canines who inhabit the island. We will involve local people directly in this programme as well as targeting tourists to act more responsibly.

There will be a clinic on the island, which is already running with a bare staff of volunteers, this will be the focus for the medical and educational activities.

Koh Tao should be a refuge for the beach dogs that live there. With help they would be able to exist in harmony with the islanders and the many thousands of visitors that go there each year. We may not be able to change the world but we can change an island.

If you are interested in helping out contact Laura at laura@hummingbird-films.co.uk

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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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Sungai Petani, Malaysia

sungai_petani_1Welcome to Sungai Petani, a friendly town in the northern state of Kedah. Farming is very much the lifeline of this region and even the name Sungai Petani means ‘Farmer's River’ in the Malay language.

This interesting town has plenty to entertain tourists and is a great place to take a break before exploring the rest of the country. There are a number of lush green parks to explore as well as interesting buildings, dense jungle and sandy beaches where you can soak up the sun or swim in the cool waters.

To get an idea of the size and beauty of this area, climb to the top of Gunung Jerai, which is the tallest mountain. There is a 15 mile trekking route which winds its way to the top of the mountain and the somewhat challenging climb to the top is rewarded by spectacular views of the Straits of Malacca and the surrounding jungle.

Heading back to the town, pay a visit to the Jalan Ibrahim, which is a large clock tower located on Sungai Petani’s main street. Built in 1936, the clock tower measures a little over 12 meters and was given to George V and Queen Mary to commemorate their Silver Jubilee.

As you wander through the centre of town you will come to Jubli Perak or Silver Jubilee public park, which is a great place to take a break and sit in the shade for a while. Another great recreational area is Bird Park, where you will see a large collection of our feathered friends roaming in a large leafy area.

Travellers who want to relax and unwind for a while can go fishing in many of the rivers, lakes and streams that can be found in this part of the world, while those who want to get back into the swing of things can do so with a round or two of golf.

The Carnivall is Kedah’s first water park and attracts people from all over the state. Situated in the grounds of Cinta Sayang Golf and Country Resort, the Carnivall has been open for less than two years and is a great place to cool off.

Pantai Merdeka is a popular beach destination and features a large number of seafood restaurants and closest point to the nearby islands of Pulau Bidan and Pulau Telor.

Those who are searching for local flavour will want to head on over to the farmer’s Market, which is held in the very heart of the town on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the year.
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Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi, MalaysiaLangkawi is the number one Malaysian holiday destination for many tourists, featuring a number of tropical palm fringed beaches with clear sea and sandy beaches as well as jungle and forests to walk through. With a name that translates roughly as the land of all one's wishes, many people come to Langkawi to live out their tropical island fantasies.

Many people intend to visit Langkawi for a day or two and end up extending their stay, seduced by the natural beauty of this large and lovely island. This is a great time to visit Langkawi as it has been recently been given a face lift, with the addition of the Telaga Harbour Park.

The highlight of Langkawi has to be its beautiful beaches. There are a number to choose from, and the most popular include Pantai Cenang, Burau Bay, Pantai Kok and Pantai Datai. Water sports such as snorkeling, sailing and kayaking are popular here, while many people are content to simply lay to the sand.

If you are feeling adventurous, take a tour through the islands lush mangroves. There many tours to choose from including cruises, kayaking and nature walks. There is also an island hopping tour which gives visitors the chance to explore some of the hundreds of uninhabited islands in the area.

A fantastic way to see Langkawi is by taking the cable car to the very top of Gunung Mat Cincang. Walk across the sky bridge for spectacular views of the numerous surrounding islands. Hiring a bike and cycling through the countryside is a good way to enjoy the scenery and provides the opportunity to spot some of Langkawi’s colourful birds.

A great time to visit Langkawi is in April to take part in the wild and wet Langkawi International Water Festival. Other interesting festivals include the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition in November, December’s Langkawi Arts and Crafts Festival and the Langkawi International Festival of Arts.

There are many ways to reach Langkawi, and particularly popular is the ferry from the nearby island of Penang, which is located to the very north of Malaysia. There are also regular ferries from southern parts of Thailand such as Saturn and Ko Lipe.

Click on a picture to see more images by the photographer. (Some pictures do not have links.)
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Alor Setar, Malaysia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on a picture to see more images by the photographer. (Some pictures do not have links.)
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Penang, Malaysia

penang_malaysia_1
penang_malaysia_2
penang_malaysia_3
penang_malaysia_5
Situated just off the mainland of Malaysia to the very north, the pretty island of Penang – known as Pulau Pinang in Malay – is a great place to spend a few days. Bordered by Thailand to the north, many people head straight to Penang after taking the train through Thailand and across the border.

There are many reasons to visit Penang. With its beautiful beaches, Kek Lok Si – perhaps the largest and finest Buddhist temple in Asia – and spectacular scenery, it is easy to see why the island has earnt the nickname Pearl of the Orient.

Don’t miss Kek Lok Si, the terrific pagoda-style temple situated atop Penang Hill. Not only is this a great place to relax and meditate, but the views from the top are spectacular as well. Another good place to visit is the Botanical Garden. This 30-hectare garden was created in 1884 and features a sparkling waterfall as well as beautiful wild Rhesus monkeys.

Also known as Foreigner’s Rock, Batu Ferringhi is a picturesque beach resort. Take a break from temple hopping and trekking through the jungle to simply lie back on the sand a soak up the sun for a while. The Penang Butterfly Farm is located nearby at Teluk Bahang. The butterfly farm is set in picturesque tropical gardens and has thousands of species of butterflies and insects.

In 2004 Time Magazine announced that Penang had the ‘Best Street Food in Asia’, a fact that many dedicated gastronomes have known for some time. People flock from all over Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to sample the wide range of cuisines available, which include Malay, Chinese, Indian, Nyonya, Thai and a sprinkling of Western dishes such as pasta and hamburgers.

As you walk through Penang’s Indian area, you are greeted by the scent of dozens of stalls and small shops cooking up spicy biriyanis, masalas, daal and dosas whilst meat marinated in tandori spices roasts on spits and in ovens.

If you fancy a treat, take a spin in the Revolving Restaurant on 25A Lebuh Farquhar. It takes an hour for the restaurant to make a complete revolution, allowing you to enjoy spectacular views of Penang.

Some of the best and cheapest accommodation can be found in Georgetown, especially on Lebuh Chulia, where there are several guesthouses offering rooms from RM 200 per night.

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Butterworth, Malaysia

penang_malaysia_3The town of Butterworth is a main stopping off point for people travelling from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur. There is a sleeper train that runs all the way from Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok to Butterworth. Passengers can then change trains at Butterworth station and continue their journey to Kuala Lumpur.

The pretty island of Penang is also located just across the water from Butterworth station and there are regular ferries running between the two ports from 5:30 in the morning until just after midnight.

Although few people give Butterworth more than a fleeting glance, the town does have a few attractions to explore and there are some good places to stay if you arrive too late to catch the train or ferry.

If you do find yourself with a little time to kill in Butterworth, head to the Bird Park, which is just a short bus ride away from the Butterworth Ferry Terminal. Here you will find Malaysia’s largest bird park, which contains a collection of more than 300 species of birds, including the colourful hornbill.

As you wander around Butterworth you will be sure to spot the elaborately decorated Temple of the Ninth Emperor God, situated on Jalan Raja Ud. There is also a lush golf course known as Teluk Air Tawar, where golfers can play a round or two and stop off for refreshments at the bar.

Butterworth even has its own small stretch of sand, and this is a good place to relax for a while, dine on deliciously fresh seafood and perhaps indulge in a cocktail or two. 
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Northern Malaysia

Northern Malaysia
Northern Malaysia
For many visitors, northern Malaysia will provide their first glimpses of the country as they arrive by train in Butterworth station from Thailand, perhaps on their way to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Although the jungles of eastern Malaysia beckon, it is worth taking the time to explore this interesting region. Malaysia is a real melting pot of cultures and this is especially apparent in the regions large and bustling cities. Wander through the streets of Alor Setar and you will notice an interesting blend of Malay, Chinese and Indian styles, with a hint of British Colonial style thrown into the mix for good measure.

This is also evident in the picturesque island of Penang, where each ethnic group has its own area situated alongside the other. Loud Bollywood music and the rich smells of curry drifts from shop fronts in the Indian section, while a few streets away the roads are strung with colourful Chinese lanterns and a number of large Chinese temples sit at the side of the street.

Northern Malaysia is a good place to fall in love with the culture and history of Malaysia before heading to other regions to discover its natural beauty. However, there are also a number of pretty beaches to soak up the sun in northern Malaysia such as the modest stretch of sand on Penang and the popular beach resort of Langkawi, which is referred to as the land where one’s dreams come true.
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Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia

Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia
Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia
Covering an area of more than 500 square kilometres, Gunug Mulu National Park is one of the most picturesque spots in the whole of eastern Malaysia. People travel here from all over the world in order to explore the cool caves that can be found here, while the national park is also famous for its impress sandstone and limestone mountains.

Those who enjoy exploring independently will have no trouble finding their way around, as the Hunter’s Trail is clearly marked and leads visitors for some 300 kilometres past a whole host of interesting flora and fauna. The trail also leads to the network of caves that can be found in the very heart of Gunung Mulu National Park.

Visitors who are unable to complete the 300-kilomtre circuit will find a number of pretty trails leading off of Hunter’s Trail, which offer access to other natural beauty spots. It is also possible to arrange for a guide, who will take intrepid travellers off of the beaten path to discover a whole host of hidden treasures.

One of the most popular caves is known as Clearwater Cave. This is believed to be the longest cave in Southeast Asia and the trip includes a boat ride up the Melinau River to the mouth of the cave.

Dee Cave is also popular as it contains the world’s largest cave passage and visitors to this interesting cave must first embark on a three kilometre walk through the jungle.
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Kubah National Park, Malaysia

Kubah National Park, Malaysia
Kubah National Park, Malaysia
Situated just on the outskirts of Kuching, Kubah National Park is the perfect daytrip destinations and not to be missed by nature lovers. The park covers an area of 22 square kilometres and is covered by pretty sandstone hills and lush forests.

A number of well-worn walking trails led the way through Kubah National Park, and visitors who follow these will be able to reach stunning natural features such as caves and sparkling waterfalls, while the rainforest is full of plants such as colourful orchids. The trails that lead the way through the park are easy to navigate for those who like to explore independently, while visitors who want to learn more about the park can hire a guide for a small fee.

One of the most enchanting natural features here is Gunug Serapi, which is the highest mountain in this part of the world. Visitors can follow a trail that leads to the very summit of this mighty mountain, which offers simply stunning views of the entire park from is lofty vantage point. Walking through the rainforest can be rather humid at times, and it is also possible to follow the Waterfall Trail to a sparkling cascade of water where visitors are invited to take a dip to cool off.

Follow the Ulu Rayu Trail to the Matang Wildlife Centre. This area of the park features a number of pretty rock pools and waterfalls as well as animals such as crocodiles and hornbills. This is the perfect spot for a picnic, and visitors can also make use of the barbecue pits located at Matang Wildlife Centre.

It is impossible to see everything that Kubah National Park offers in one day. Luckily, it is possible to sleep over in one of the self-catering forest lodges and a hostel. There is also plenty of comfortable accommodation in nearby Kuching, and this is a good option for those who don’t fancy fending for themselves.
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Kuantan, Malaysia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miri, Malaysia
Miri, Malaysia
The city of Miri is a good place to spend a few days. Surrounded by a number of large national parks and beaches, this is a good place to use as a base while you explore the surrounding area, while the city itself offers vibrant nightlife and a whole host of good places to stay, shop and eat. Miri is a very multicultural city, with Chinese, Malay, Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau, Kelabit, Lun Bawang and a number of other ethnic groups living side by side. Most people speak English and are friendly, making this a great place to spend some time and discover Malaysia’s diversity.

A good way to get a feel for Miri is to hire a bicycle and explore. Climbing to the top of Canada Hill offers stunning views of Miri and the surrounding area, and this is the perfect place from which to watch the sunset. Malaysia’s first oil well was established on this very spot several decades ago, and those who are interested in the history and culture of the area can also take the time to check out the Petroleum Museum, which can be found near the summit of the hill.

Not to be missed is the City Fan, which consists of a number of themed gardens located around the biggest open-air theatre in the whole of Malaysia. Other amenities that can be found here include an indoor stadium, a public swimming pool and the impressive San Ching Tian Temple, which has the distinction of being is the biggest Taoist temple in the whole of Southeast Asia

One of the best times to travel to Miri is in the third week of May, as this is when the city’s annual festival is held. Featuring vibrant street parades as well as plenty of singing, drinking and dancing, this is a great time to see the people of Miri at their best.

A large number of interesting attractions can also be found just outside the city, and sun worshippers will want to spend time soaking up the sun on the beautiful Hawaii Beach. Also nearby is Taman Selera Beach, which is the perfect place to relax and unwind for a while.
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Bako National Park, Malaysia

bako_national_park_1
Bako National Park, Malaysia
Situated in Sarawak in East Malaysia, the large and lively Bako National Park is a great place to spend a day or two. With 27 square kilometres of dense rainforest and a number of beautiful beaches, this is one of the real highlights of Malaysia. Bako National Park officially opened in 1957 and is home to a diverse range of animals such as monitor lizards, long-tailed macaques, plantain squirrels and silver leaf monkeys. Visitors who are blessed with keen eyesight and a little luck may be able to catch a glimpse of the rare and weird looking proboscis monkey, which features a bulbous nose and can sometimes be spotted up in the treetops. Well-worn jungle trails also lead visitors past a diverse range of flora and fauna, while those who want to view the park from a different perspective can wander along the elevated wooden walkway.

As you explore the national park you will have the opportunity to discover a number of different habitats. The park is comprised of vegetation from seven complete eco-systems, namely beach vegetation, cliff vegetation, kerangas, mangrove forest, mixed dipterocarp forest, grasslands vegetation and peat swamp forest.

Visitors can stay at Bako National Park overnight in one of the bungalows or dorm rooms. Spending the night is a good option for those who want to go on a guided night hike, while waking up in the wilderness is an awe-inspiring experience. The best times to spot wildlife are just before dusk and dawn, so staying the night is the best option to get the most out of this unique experience.

While you’re in the area, take a boat trip to the nearby island of Palau Lakai for fantastic views. This tiny island is unpopulated and offers the perfect deserted island experience.

To get to Bako National Park you will need to take a boat ride from the nearby village of Kampung, which serves as an interesting introduction to the area. Although you are free to explore alone, it is a good idea to hire a guide to make sure you catch all the highlights of the park.
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Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysia

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysia
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysia
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Malaysia
For many, the Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre is the highlight of their visit to Malaysia. Situated on the edge of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, the centre was established in 1964 in order to rescue orphaned and abandoned young orangutans and to teach them how to look after themselves, with the aim of one day releasing them back into the wild.

Visitors are given the rare opportunity to explore the world of the orangutan and see them in a semi-natural environment. Follow trails through the jungle and creep along boarded canopy bridges to spot some of the other animals that live in the forest reserve such as long-tailed macaques.

There are only four orangutan sanctuaries in the entire world and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is probably the best known, with up to 700 visitors each day. So far the centre has rescued more than a hundred orangutans, 20 of which have successfully returned to the wild.

The best time to visit the rehabilitation centre is during feeding times, which take place at 10am and 3pm. The orangutans are vegetarian and are especially fond of bananas and sugar cane, sharing their meal with the long-tailed macaques.

It often rains in the forest reserve, so it is a good idea to wear a poncho. Pack plenty of insect repellant to ward off the unwelcome attention of mosquitoes and other insects and take a bottle or two of water as it can be rather hot and humid.

The Rainforest Discovery Centre is a good place to find out more about the lovable orangutans. Souvenirs such as postcards, soft toys and hats are available in the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre. It is possible to spend the night at the centre and accommodation ranges from cheap and cheerful dorm rooms to large suites with spectacular views.

The easiest way to see Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre is to book a tour. Tours often include a visit to the Proboscis Monkey Reserve and nearby Taman Hiburan Jalil ALip, which is a recreation park where visitors can see crocodiles and deer.  
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