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Kuching, Malaysia

Kuching, MalaysiaThose who love cities won’t be disappointed by Kuching, which offers a wide range of amenities as well as plenty of interesting things to see and do.

One of the most enchanting activities here involves wandering along the banks of the gently flowing Sarawak River. A large number of interesting buildings can be found close to the river, including historical houses, shops and temples, and one of the highlights here is the large and lovely Fort Margherita, which was constructed by Charles Brooke in 1879 as a tribute to his beloved wife Rani Margaret. A number of ferries also offer to take visitors across the river for a few Ringgit, and this is a great way to view the area.

Those who want to relax and unwind for a while can spend time wandering in the picturesque gardens of Kuchin, which can be found in abundance. Those who enjoy temple hopping will also be in their element here, and one of the most enchanting places of worship here is the Hong Saan Temple, while culture vultures will want to make sure that they check out the Sarawak Museum and Islamic Museum.

Stargazers can pay a visit to Kuchin’s Planetarium, which was the first ever to be built in Malaysia, while those who like to shop until they drop will want to check out the wide range of goodies that can be found at the weekend market, which is known locally as Pasar Minggu.

Eastern Malaysia

Eastern Malaysia
Eastern Malaysia

Eastern Malaysia is divided from Central and northern Malaysia by the South China Sea. East Malaysia consists of the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, which are located on the island of Borneo, as well as the Federal Territory of Labuan, which lies off coast of Sabah. Although less populated than Peninsular Malaysia or West Malaysia, East Malaysia is much larger and contains more of the country’s natural resources.

Most visitors to Malaysia tend to head straight to East Malaysia to enjoy adventure activities such as trekking, caving, white water rafting and camping. There are a number of spectacularly beautiful national parks in this region of Malaysia such as Kubah National Park and Bako National Park.

East Malaysia is home to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, and thousands of people come here each year to interact with the old men of the forest. There are a number of beautiful beaches and islands to discover in this region of Malaysia as well as pretty towns to explore.

The people of East Malaysia are warm and welcoming and visiting the region’s villages is a rewarding experience. This region is famous for its diverse cuisine, and top of the menu is fresh fish, which is especially delicious when eaten on the beach at sunset.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia

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

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

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

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

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

Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand

Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand

Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand
Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand
Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand
Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand

Nakhon Si Thammarat is the second largest province of the south of Thailand, located 780 kilometres from Bangkok. This pretty province consists of high plateaus and mountains, lush mangosteen forests, picturesque beaches and beautiful waterfalls.

A great way to see the area’s stunning scenery is to visit one of the impressive parks such as the Namtok Yong National Park, the Khao Nan National Park and the Khao Luang National Park. The area is well known for its many sparkling g waterfalls. Some of the best include Namtok Phrom Lok, Namtok Ai Khiao, Namtok Ranae and the very pretty Karom waterfall.

Nakhon Si Thammarat is blessed with a large number of powdery white sand beaches to soak up the sun on. Sun worshipers should check out Ao Karom, Hua Hin Sichon, Hat Kho Khao and Hat Hin Ngam among many others.

Many people travel to Nakhon Si Thammarat especially to visit the shadow play house of Suchat Sapsin, where there are regular performances and work shops. Other popular attractions are the Fan Making Village, the Pottery Village and the interesting Wat Mokhlan Archaeological Site.

Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan is the largest temple in South East Asia, and no visit to Nakhon Si Thammarat is complete without paying respects at the magnificent temple. Other interesting temples in the area include Wat Nantharam, the Wat Chai Na Meditation Centre and Wat Khao Khun Phanom, which is also home to the Khao Khun Phanom Scientific Study Centre.

When it comes to eating, the area’s large Muslim population means that there is a lot of cheap and tasty Muslim food to be food at night from small stalls and carts. A great way to dine in style is to buy a selection of Muslim treats and eat them at one of the folding tables whilst you watch the world go by.

Nakhon Si Thammarat Province likes to celebrate, and a good way to get an idea of the area’s culture is to time your trip to coincide with one of the vibrant festivals. Chak Phra Pak Tai is an interesting festival which involves the parading of Buddha images through the town, accompanied by chanting and singing.

Hae Phaa Kun That is held in the third lunar month. Most of the town turns out to see a cloth jataka painting, which is wrapped around the main chedi of Wat Phra Mahathat.

The ceremony is followed by displays of traditional singing and dancing and hundreds of small stalls selling local products such as fans, pottery, food and cloth.

Krabi, Thailand

  • Krabi, Thailand
Krabi, Thailand
Krabi, Thailand
Krabi, Thailand

Welcome to Krabi, said by many to be the ‘most beautiful province in Thailand’. Located approximately 814 kilometres from Bangkok, Krabi Province can be found in the south of Thailand and consists of more than 150 attractive islands and beaches.

There is plenty to see and do in this province, and it is easy to lose yourself here for more than a month as you hop from island to island and beach to beach. Popular activities are sea kayaking and canoeing, whilst diving and snorkelling are always popular in Thailand’s crystal clear waters.

Ao Nang is the closest beach to Krabi Town. This area is mainly occupied by large, upmarket beach resorts. You can hire a sea kayak or long-tail boat and explore the uninhabited island of Koh Hong.

Just 6 kilometres away from Ao Nang is the well loved are much talked about Hat Noppharat Thara, which is a famous 3 kilometer long white sandy beach, perfect for taking it easy and soaking up some rays. Elephant trekking is popular in this area, while the hot springs at Khlong Thom are a good place to ease aching muscles. Whilst there, check out the informative Wat Khlong Thom museum.

Railay is perhaps the prettiest beach in this area. This is a great place for rock climbing, and the sunsets at Hat Rai Leh West are spectacular.

There are some interesting limestone cliffs to explore. Tham Phra Nang is named Princess Cave after a local legend. The cave is hidden in the lagoon of Sa Phra Nang (Holy Princess Pool). Climb the cliff top for spectacular views.

Nearby, Tham Phra Nang Nai (Inner Princess Cave) is a series of illuminated caverns of high beauty. A feature point is the unusual ‘stone waterfall’, which is made of sparkling golden quartz.

Khao Phanom Bencha National Park consists of 50 square kilometres of virgin rainforest and a whole host of pretty waterfalls including Nam Tok Huay To, Nam Tok Huay Sadeh and Nam Tok Khlong Haeng and it is possible to swim in most of the waterfalls. The park is also home to the cave of Tham Khao Pheung, which contains stunning shimmering mineral stalactites and stalagmites.

Another area of natural beauty is the large Than Bok Khorani National Park, where caving is the main activity. Caves of interest here include Tham Hua Kalok, Tham Lawt and Tham Sa Yuan Thong. If you need a break from the beach, there are many interesting temples in the area to explore. Look out for the monastery of Wat Sai Thai, which is a particularly auspicious place and very interesting around Buddhist holidays.

There are many places to get a good meal, and of course seafood is top of the menu. Barbecues can be found all along the beach and western food is widely available. If you are looking to save a few baht, the night markets are generally the cheapest places to eat and these are the best places to find tasty, authentic Thai food.

Phuket, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand

Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, located approximately 862 kilometres south of Bangkok. Often referred to as the pearl of the Andaman, or the pearl of the south, Phuket is an island of limestone cliffs, white beaches, tranquil broad bays and tropical in-land forests, which make it one of Thailand’s most popular islands and provinces.

Phuket is easy to get to as there are frequent flights to and from Bangkok airport as well as direct flights to many other Asia and European airports. There are also regular buses and trains from around the country and Phuket can be reached by boat from many of the surrounding islands.

As well an the enormous main island, Phuket Province contains 39 other small islands, all perfect for exploring, whether via a snorkelling or scuba diving trip or a boat tour. Located just 25 kilometres from Phuket City, Ko Nakha Noi is a popular destination for a boat trip, as are Ko Si-re, Ko Lon, Ko Bon, Ko He and Ko Mai Thon, which is famous for its unique and very beautiful colourful coral.

Also known as Coral Island, Kho Hae is located to the Southeast of Phuket Island. Reachable in just 15 minutes by speedboat from Chalong Bay, this beautiful island is a great destination for a day trip, or visitors can choose to stay overnight at the resort.

Another popular day trip is the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, which is located near the beautiful Bang Pae waterfall. This is an amazing opportunity to meet the Gibbons in their natural environment and there is a visitor centre manned by Western volunteers and English speaking Thai staff who will tell you all about the project.

If you are interested in the island’s wildlife, elephant trekking is a good way to support the remaining domesticated elephants of Thailand and offers a new way to explore the jungle. The Phuket Zoo has an interesting collection of animals, whilst Phuket Submarine takes visitors on daily tours of the underwater world.

Both Khao Rang (Phuket Hill) and Laem Promthep are great places to see the sunset and get an idea of the island’s size and beauty. Whilst in Phuket, pay a visit to the Khao Phra Thaew Forest Reserve, which protects a stunning area of lush rainforest.

Many visitors to Phuket like to plan their trip to coincide with one of the area’s vibrant festivals. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is held for 10 days during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which usually occurs in October. This is the time when local residents, especially those of Chinese ancestry, follow a vegetarian or vegan diet in order to cleanse their spirit and make merit. The festival features self-mortification rituals such as walking barefooted over hot coals and ascending ladders with bladed rungs, as well as much singing and dancing and of course delicious vegetarian food.Another long awaited festival is the Phuket Gay Pride Festival, which takes place in February and the Siam World Cup Windsurfing Championships on Ao Bang Thao are held in January.

If you are in the area between November and February, head to the pretty beach of Hat Mai Khao on the northwest coast. Here you will discover sea turtles laying their eggs, but be careful not to disturb them as the turtles are now quite rare.

Koh Samet, Thailand

Koh Samet, Thailand
Koh Samet, Thailand
Koh Samet, Thailand
Koh Samet, Thailand

Koh Samet is an extremely pretty island situated in Rayong Province, which is within easy reach of Bangkok. The island features 14 beautiful white sand beaches. Although a popular tourist destination and a major destination for Thai families on weekends, Koh Samet somehow manages to maintain the feel of a quiet remote tropical hideaway, especially during the week.

Although seemingly sleepy, there is still plenty to do on Koh Samet, especially in the evening when the beach bars come alive and there is loud music, drinking and dancing on the beach, especially on weekends or around the full moon.

Located in Rayong Province, the island is reached by a short ferry ride from the pretty port town of Bang Phe. Bang Phe itself can be reached in 2-3 hours from Bangkok’s Ekkamai bus terminal.

A good way to see all of the island’s pristine beaches is to hire a motorbike, whilst songthaews will take you just about anywhere you want to go. Another great option is to take a boat tour around the island. Boat tours can usually be combined with snorkelling or scuba diving trips.

The island largely consists of jungle in the center, and another great way to explore is to go hiking, while you can watch the sunset from dramatic cliff side locations along the south-west coastline.

There are evening fire shows at a few of the islands beach bars. They are usually held after 8 pm and act as a showcase for some of the talented locals. While on Koh Samet you can learn a new skill and show off to people back home by taking fire juggling lessons from one of the experienced fire jugglers.

Yoga classes are held daily at Ao Pay beach and the yoga teacher has been practicing yoga for more than thirty years. You can also ease aching muscles with one of many types of massages on offer.

Food wise, the island is famous for seafood, and some of the best barbeques are found along Ao Phai and Haat Sai Kaew beaches. However, you can also find just about any style of food that takes your fancy, from curries to pizza.

Many of the bars show movies and football in the evening and a good way to escape the heat in the middle of the day and chill out is to order a coconut shake and tune in to a cheesy western movie.

Welcome to Pattaya/Jomtien

This well-known beach resort area is only 145 kilometers from Bangkok and would compliment anyone’s holiday to Thailand. The delightful area is nothing less than a tourist’s playground, and for that reason it should not be missed. The beaches are vastly improved and all sorts of attractions are in the area for your interest and pleasure.

The economy is strong because of tourism, which allows the provincial government to continually upgrade facilities and the city has grown steadily over the past 30 years. Pattaya residents are well adjusted to the ‘farang’ behavioral habits, yet they have genuine regard for tourists, and make them welcome wherever they go. The whole area is mushrooming at an alarming rate, and it seems to be a city of hotels, bars and restaurants; indeed from one visit to another, you can see many developments from entrepreneurs and Government recourses.

Pattaya is an exciting place for the visitor, some going there for ‘action’ and others wishing only to relax on the beach. The clean, white sand, warm water, tropical palms, and shore lined umbrellas all add to the attraction. While you are resting on the beach why not partake in refreshments and possibly a massage or manicure or just a stroll along the waters edge. Water activities are always popular which include skiing and swimming, banana rides, snorkeling, and paragliding.

All the beaches have a number of professional attendants that provide an excellent variety of services and ensure you do not want for anything. From time to time beach peddlers, ice cream and food vendors sometimes interrupt this tranquility, but at least these services are made available to everyone.

Shopping is for everyone and is highly diversified by the different types of markets, bazaar’s, shopping malls and department stores. Many concentrate on the ‘farang’ influx and prices can be pricey, however if you search around, then you will discover other outdoor markets that are very cheap [at least to western standards]. Pattaya has a huge variety of excursions and attractions to keep the tourist happy and interested. Temples and gardens, extreme sport activities, boat cruise, hang gliding, golf, cooking classes, museums, wild life parks, small islet excursions, which are all priced very well.

Evening entertainment is electrifying– restaurants, disco’s, karaoke bars, clubs, massage, all offering the best of times. And for something different why not try those in the outer roads that the Thai’s usually frequent, they are delightful, cheaper and less pressure than the ones in the tourist belt and best of all– welcome ‘out of Towner’s — In fact there is everything that you would expect to be available in a city devoted to tourism.

Jomtien beach is only 4 kilometers south and is a lot quieter and not the pressure of Pattaya, but it certainly does not suffer in the service stakes. Great hotels, guest houses, bars, clubs, parlors, vehicle rentals, restaurants, and of course wonderful beaches, equal to, if not better than other areas.

From time to time, the police in Pattaya and Jomtien crack down on motorcycle riders. All riders that do not wear their helmet are fined, even if you are the pillion passenger. The bike is impounded until you pay the fine. Strange thing is that after you have paid the fine they don’t care if you put your helmet on. This crack down only applies to ‘farangs’ and you will see thousands of Thais without a helmet, and they don’t get fined – funny that!

I have visited Pattaya /Jomtien more than 30 times and always find something new and interesting to keep me occupied.

Cheers from Down Under, Garry

Koh Samui, a Tropical Paradise

Koh Samui
Koh Samui
Koh Samui
Koh Samui

Picture an island nestling in the calm, azure blue waters of the Gulf of Thailand fringed by coral reefs with beaches of powder soft white sand framed by a backdrop of coconut trees, their fronds dancing in the gentle breeze. The palms stretch upward to the central uplands, thick with lush tropical vegetation. The coast and lower slopes are awash with coconut palms making Koh Samui the ‘Coconut Capital of Thailand’. It is said the island sends 2,000.000 coconuts per month to Bangkok. This green vista is interspersed occasionally by black granite boulders. Some of these rock formations appear to defy gravity by hanging dramatically against the hillside. This tropical paradise is called Koh Samui. A 250 square kilometre rounded island, which is about the same size as Penang.

 
Koh Samui translates from Koh, the Thai word for island, and Samui, which is probably derived from the Chinese “saboey” meaning safe harbour. The magic island first came to the attention of world travellers when it started to crop up in conversation in many of the cheap hotels that then clustered around Bangkok’s Hualamphong Railway station some 45 years ago. It was difficult to get to, requiring special negotiation with fishermen in Suratthani lying 80 kilometres across the sea on the mainland. When you reached the island, there was no road and so those intrepid voyagers hopped from beach to beach by boat. In the past forty plus years things have changed hugely.
 
The island is now served by an international airport that looks more like a botanical garden than the accepted tradition of functional ‘air station’. Flights leave hourly for the new Suvarnbhumi Airport in Bangkok and link the island to additional destinations such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Pattaya and Phuket. A 52-kilometre road rings Samui and links all the major towns. Nathon the capital plays host to government buildings and banks and serves as one of the ferry ports serving the Thai mainland. The road skirts the 635-metre mountain that sits centrally astride the landmass and takes in the main resorts of Lamai and Chaweng. Lamai is the smaller of the two and offers a quieter and perhaps cleaner beach. The latter caters for, perhaps, a younger and more energetic visitor. Further on lies Bangrak is better known as “Big Buddha Beach” as it takes its name from the huge Buddha statue at the eastern end of the bay. Borphut boasts a trendy fisherman’s village, much favoured by French tourists and Maenam to the north offers spectacular views across to Koh Phangan and the Ang Thong Natural Marine Park. This area is much less crowded than the bustling Chaweng and the marginally quieter Lamai. It still retains its original Thai flavour. However, to get to grips with authentic ‘Samui’ you need to rent a car or motorbike and take one of the many roads that lead up away from the coast and into the mountain. As you climb higher you come to rubber plantations and hidden away villages clustering around paddy fields, still hanging onto a traditional way of life that is far removed from the tourist dominated hotels, resorts, restaurants and bars that cluster around the coast.

Samui has over the years developed a reputation as centre of complementary medicine offering spas designed to detox inhabitants of an overstressed globe. Sit in the authentic vegetarian restaurant after six p.m. and turn your head to the west you will witness spectacular sunsets over the islands that comprise the Ang Thong National Park. Health Oasis is unique in that the Thai Department of Health lists it as a traditional medicine hospital. It specialises in supervised detox and fasting treatments. ‘

Be sure of this, whatever your tastes Koh Samui will be able to provide a venue for a holiday that will linger long in your memory. So if you are planning a trip of a lifetime whether it be for tourism or health this magical island is a venue well worth considering.

About the author:
Alister Bredee is a freelance author specialising in articles on health related topics.