A Travellerspoint blog

Banlung to Pleiku overland

sunny

Finally, all the doubts that I had in Phnom Penh had been answerd as I reached Vietnam from Cambodia through the Oyadaw International Border Checkpoint, Rattanakiri province in Cambodia. The immigration office on the Vietnamese side is the Le Thanh Border Checkpoint in the Gia Lai province. I should have probably spend more time to exlore Banlung's stunning waterfalls, lake and villages but time is running against me. I hope that I would be able to return to Banlung given the opportunity to go out and see what Banlung has to offer, which I believe there are lots of them. The has been a major different between the immigration office of Oyadaw in Cambodia and that of Le Thanh in Vietnam. Oyadaw Border Checkpoint is surrounded by lush trees and bushes with thick surrounding forrest, which actually made this immigration border crossing unique by itself due to the untouch nature around the border area. The main immigration checkpoint office is a mid-sized wooden red hut with a worn-out mobile steel gate. A big rope is tied in between the 2 mobile gates stop vehicles and for checking purpose. The road after the Oyadaw checkpoint in Cambodia prior to arrival at the Le Thanh border checkpoint is untarred with red laterite road all the way to the control post on the vietnamese side, which has an arch to signals the vietnamese border. From this arch, it is about 100m of walk to the huge concrete building of the Le Thanh Immigration Border Checkpoint. The building looked contemporary and much to the suprise of the surrounding area at this Cambodia/Vietnam border as most of the area are massively covered with trees and bushes. Over at the Vietnamese border, an immigration officer would be guarding the post at the border arch to check the passport before allowing to proceed to the main building. The crowds seemed to be less crowded during the early morning crossings with most of them consists of vietnamese who returned to their home country from business or work in Cambodia. Take note that at such border crossings, you may be subjected to very stringent luggage check by the immigration authorities over at the vietnamese side despite the availability of scanners. But the officers here can also be distinctively friendly from their airport's counterpart. This is where I encountered a very courteous officer who had been going to the extent of putting on his head cap noticing there was foreigner other than vietnamese. He even gave a very warm welcome smile and extend well wishes as he returned the passport having get it stamped. Such good example is what can be isolated among immigration officers these days not only Vietnam but also elsewhere out of Vietnam which should be given credit. After the immigration clearance, the minivan that I board from Banlung in Cambodia waited to continue the journey from the immigration checkpoint. As the ticket mentioned Pleiku, I had thought that this minivan would be going directly to the latter but instead, after driving out from the immigration office area for about 800m to 1 km, I was told that I need to change to the vietnamese minivan destined for Pleiku city. The vietnamese taxi would have a signboard Gia Lai at the front dashboard, where Pleiku is the city located in Gia Lai province. However, no additional fees to be paid for the border of Le Thanh to Pleiku city route. So, I was glad that despite the communication issues, both the Cambodian and the Vietnamese taximen have been very honest and truthful. However, the Gia Lai minivan would not be departing right away from Le Thanh border as it would wait until all the seats are filled up before it departs for Pleiku city. Apart from passengers, it also transport goods from various shops around this border town to Pleiku city. While waited for passengers, the driver was kind enough to offer drinks as probably it would need to wait for about 30 minutes or more to get the van full.

IMG_1684

IMG_1684

IMG_1688

IMG_1688

IMG_1689

IMG_1689

IMG_1690

IMG_1690

IMG_1696

IMG_1696

IMG_1694

IMG_1694

IMG_2226

IMG_2226

IMG_1701

IMG_1701

IMG_1704

IMG_1704

After having filled up his vehicle with good number of passengers as well as had some goods being loaded into the van, the driver left for Pleiku city after a wait of about an hour. As he drives through a narrow 2 laned road, he honk his vehicle as if to signals there is a van taxi service to the city. Just as in any parts of Vietnam, the attitude of honking horns is a norm and without exceptions here in Gia Lai, Vietnam. Though the road from Le Thanh border to Pleiku city is not busy, where most of the users are individual motorbikes travelling from one village to another or to Pleiku city, drivers still honk their vehicles just as they were to passed through the motorbikes or vehicles in front of them. The scenes along the Le Thanh to Pleiku city is just as awesome as the one from Banlung to Oyadaw border, with much of the landscape being massive highlands as well as green valleys. Being in the region of the Central Highland, it is not a surprise that Gia Lai province is surrounded by lush green valleys and massive mountains. The road condition between Le Thanh border and Pleiku city has been good with all the road section being tarred, not bumpy nor dusty though some sections are undergoing construction. The government of Vietnam or perhaps the local government should be commended for their great effort to ensure the safety of the people of Vietnam in general and travellers by providing a good road infrastructure despite this being a remote part of Vietnam. In some developed country neighboring Indochina region, even such basic infrastructure cannot be provided. This is how I was humbled by the political will of the local or Vietnamese government. Getting out from the village road, on reaching the city of Pleiku, the road infrastruture gets even better and in good shape. In my opinion, the city of Pleiku is being planned in such a great detail just as other cities in Vietnam I had been to in particular Hue, Danang, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh city and even Hanoi. The city's infrastructure indeed is surprisingly contemporary and the size of it match that of a city status and not just by name seriously.Over at Pleiku, massive buildings such as the Hoang An Gia Lai Hotel (HAGL), Vietcom Bank building, shops and other office structures can bee seen around the city and the road and traffic system in place are stunningly organised. Streets are also clean and there has been no issue of double parking or even road side parking that would distort the smooth traffic condition of the road. In some parts of developed South East Asia country, neighbouring Indochina countries, bad traffic management and poor enforcement has led to massive traffic congestions on the road but not at a city such as Pleiku. Again, credit must be given to the Vietnamese government for good governance.

IMG_1712

IMG_1712

IMG_1713

IMG_1713

IMG_1711

IMG_1711

IMG_1714

IMG_1714

IMG_1717

IMG_1717

IMG_1721

IMG_1721

IMG_1720

IMG_1720

I was dropped off at the Duc Long Bus station on reaching Pleiku city from Le Thanh border. Duc Long Bus Station is not a small bus station as the station could accomodate a good number of tour bus sized vehicles. Over at this bus station, there are motorbike taxi service to downtown as well as the Mai Linh taxi, which you would not missed with the green corporate colour of this huge transport company in Vietnam. Tickets from elsewhere can be purchased from this massive bus station and the Mai Linh Express serve destinations within the cental of Vietnam including Quy Nhon, Buon Ma Thout, Danang, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh city and to Pakse, Lao PDR. There are also other bus company that offer other destinations within Veitnam. Arriving at this bus station, the very 1st problem that I encountered was language issue. Never did I anticipate that english is never a language used in Pleiku. I was first approached by one of the motorbike drivers, where I told him that I need to go to downtown to look for guesthouse and I asked him how much. Despite repeating my times of "how much dong?", he still couldn't understand me. Another fellow driver then came, and I asked again how much dong, yet he couldn't read what I said neither could I read on what he said. So, he has to show me the dong notes in his wallet before I agreed to go with him. I thought VND50,000 (USD1 = VND20,850)should not be expensive for a ride to the city and to move around looking for accomodations. Later, I found out that motorbike taxi should not costs anything more than VND20,000 for a town ride. Anyhow, I have no qualms about the fare as I thought it is fair anough to pay a little bit extra for the service provided to move from one place to another looking for right place to stay. As we move around city of Pleiku to search for the right guesthouse, I stumped across a travel company, by the name of Pleiku Tourist. I aksed for the motorbike taxi to stop for me to get some tour informations to Kontum. There were no one at the shop but perhaps the owner came out from behind the shop upon noticing That I came and she was a middle age woman who has been pleasant extending her smiles. She couldn not converse in english when I spoke to her so she called out for her daughter who then came out obliging her mother's call for help. This young girl could speak slight english and asked for assistance to give a call to one Mr Nguyen Minh Dinh Tuan, which appears as the director of Pleiku Tourist on the business cards. She offers her kind help by calling Mr Nguyen and I spoke to Mr Nguyen to enquire about the village and Rong House tour as well as the wooden church tour. Mr Nguyen needs to know where I stay for pick up purpose and I told him I was still looking for one and will get in touch with him onece I found a place to stay. I thanked the lady and her daughter for their kind assistance and then we head out to look for a right guesthouse. After some brief search, I finally put up at Vinh Hoi Hotel located in the city area of Pleiku and the room with air-cond and window costs VND280,000 a night, which considered reasonable. After settling down at the hotel, I aksed for the hotel staff at the reception to get in touch with Mr Nguyen of Pleiku Tourist and without reservations, he extend his assistance immediately without any question. Such is the great attitude of the people of Pleiku I came across not only at Vinh Hoi Hotel but also over at The Pleiku Tourist office. Again, I spoke to Mr Nguyen and told him where I stayed. After agreeing to a fees of USD35 which include the motorbike from Pleiku to Kontum, a guide and a permit to visit the villages in Kontum, My Nguyen confirmed that he would be at the hotel for pick up at 8am the next day.

IMG_1723

IMG_1723

IMG_1727

IMG_1727

IMG_1729

IMG_1729

IMG_1731

IMG_1731

IMG_1737

IMG_1737

Things looked to have settled down with the arrangement of the tour to Kontum, so I set on foot to explore Pleiku city. The city as mentioned earlier is not a small one and its not just a city by name. It is indeed an organised and well structured cith with public infrastructures being well in place. The traffic system is indeed well managed with good road conditions and systematic traffic lights. No any signs of traffic congestions as compared to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city and in general the traffic volume is much lighter over here in Pleiku. The weather is also plesant with cool winds blowing in the early morning as well as late afternoons making the walking tour being very pleasant. There is a wet market within the city and even massive building such as Hoang An Gia Lai Hotel is seen standing proudly in this city of Vietnam central highland region. The city is also filled up with my shophouses where businesses cater mostly on bulk or wholesale basis. The fact that Pleiku city is located startegically in Vietnam between Cambodia and Lao PDR, this city plays a very important role when it comes to inter trade between the 3 countries. With the readily available road transport from Cambodia to Vietnam to Laos and onwards to Thailand, Pleiku city is the major transport hub for the Indochina commerce activity. Another great activity over at Pleiku city is sit back and relax while having a good cup of traditionally brewed Vietnamese coffee over at a street cafe. Coffee is yet another very crucial trade in Pleiku city as major coffee production in Vietnam originated from the Central Highland in Buon Ma Thout, where this is closely located to Pleiku city. Other than coffee, because of its close proximity to Hue, Pleiku city has several Hue specialties available around the streets including the Bun Bo Hue, a noodle soup served in spicy and sour soup as well as slices of good taste beef meat. Across from the road on the right side of Vinh Hoi Hotel, Pleiku city, there is a side stall that serve very great taste of Bun Bo Hue. There is also a kiosk in from of this makeshift stall that sells the Bun Mi or vietnamese french bread sandwhich which is the similar version of the one available in Cambodia as well as Lao PDR. Costs of a bowl of Bun Bo Hue is VND25,000 while a small size Bun Mi is VND14,000.

IMG_1740

IMG_1740

IMG_1748

IMG_1748

IMG_1747

IMG_1747

IMG_1772

IMG_1772

IMG_1777

IMG_1777

The next morning, I was ready for the Kontum village, traditional Rong House and wooden church tour with Mr Nguyen. Mr Nguyen arrived at Vinh Hoi Hotel 15 minutes prior to 8am. He had promised to meet at 8am but instead arrived early to ensure that things are on the right track. Yet another great example that I noticed on the people of Pleiku. Mr Nguyen is an average built man with an all time smile on his face making him a very easy going person and easy to talk to. The fact that he speaks good level of english also help to keep the conversation going. The fact is, Pleiku receives very few foreign tourists or travellers apart from those who arrived here and Kontum from different major tourist cities within Vietnam such as Hue, Danang, Hoi An and Nha Trang. Those who are here in Pleiku mainly Vietnamese who are on a stopover for trade or business purpose and the hotels or guesthouses cater mostly to business travellers such as these. So, the hospitality industry still plays a crucial role in a city such as Pleiku though it is out of the tourist circles. I later found out that Mr Nguyen would not be my tour guide for the day to Kontum. Instead, he has got a staff to bring me to Kontum on a motorbike tour. Mr Nguyen formerly was with Gia Lai Tourist under a partnership business venture but he has since withdrawn himself from this tour business and set up his own tour company under Pleiku Tourist. After a brief conversation with Mr Nguyen, his staff finally arrived at 8am. I was introduced to this bespectacled man of 32 years old, whom Mr Nguyen said he could speak dual language of english and french. After introducing each other, its time to start the journey to Kontum and I thanked Mr Nguyen for the arrangements that he had managed for me. A fee of USD20 was paid to him as a deposit. While travelling on the motobike, the driver said that he was actually not too well versed in english but instead he is more fluent in french. Anyhow, since he could understand some english, I hope that the entire tour will be fine. For as long as he undertood what I said, then I believe that should get things move on. The 1st stop, we went to this beautiful, awesome and stunning massive lake which is situated not far from Pleiku city. The entrace to this lake is marked with a chinese style white arch and while entering the lake boundary, the small road leading to the lake is marvelously lined with pine trees surrounded with lush greeneries. Most of the area within the boundary of the lake are covered with massive number of pine trees. And the road leading to the lake is not to distance away from the entrance point. Reaching the end of the road, there is a watching tower for visitors to have a strategic view on the lake as well as its surrounding landscape. Not many locals were seen there though it was a Sunday morning. Probably, it still early in the morning. Most of them were there to have a good photograph sessions due to the great view of the lake and its lanscape around was marvelous. Going up to the lake, I could witness how beautiful nature could be as it really brought one so close to it with such a wonderful gift from God. Being here is also akin to being in heaven and one would thought that setting up a home and having a farm would be provide such a perfect living in a great combination of life and nature. I had the opportunity to enjoy such a fresh nature, breathing clean and cool air, calm lake water, beautiful mountains and awesome pine trees surrounded the lake. This is the most superb lake view that I had witnessed apart from those in New Zealand.

IMG_1786

IMG_1786

IMG_1788

IMG_1788

IMG_1797

IMG_1797

IMG_1811

IMG_1811

IMG_1822

IMG_1822

From the lake tour, we moved on for about 50km distance bike drive to Kontum from Pleiku city. The road to Kontum from Pleiku is a village road and some parts of the road were not in good condition, making it bumpy, some parts were damaged while some are undergoing construction. The road consist of 2 laned narrow road and many houses can be seen dotting along the road. The views on the way from Pleiku to Kontum is just as great with massive mountains, green valleys and trees landscape view. There are also coffee plantations seen along the way and it is to be noted that coffee is one of the major trade over at this central highland of Vietnam, which consist of Buon Ma Thout, Pleiku, Kontum and Quy Nhon. One of the biggest coffee producer, Trung Nguyen, has its coffee sourced from Buon Ma Thout. And at Pleiku, coffee also plays its importance as a source of income for the villagers. As we moved on the road, I could see that many village homes have the coffee beans being placed right in front of their home courtyard to let these coffee beans dry up. Some also would have coffee farm next to their home. We stopped by briefly at the shoulder of the road to take a close look at the coffee berries, which had yet to dry up completely. As we continue our journey, I believe that the central region of Vietnam such as Pleiku, Kontum, Buon Ma Thout amd Quy Nhon would be the most blessed area with beautiful mountain lanscapes. The photos that I managed to take would have easily mistakenly this place in perhaps New Zealand. But this is Pleiku.

IMG_1825

IMG_1825

IMG_1874

IMG_1874

IMG_1855

IMG_1855

IMG_1893

IMG_1893

IMG_1908

IMG_1908

IMG_1922

IMG_1922

As we leave the village area and reached the city of Kontum, the road condition gets much better and more concrete buildings can be seen as we enter the city. Kontum is a much quieter city in comparison to Pleiku city and being here on a very 1st time, I was caught by surprise that the traffic situation here is distinctively different from other cities of towns of Vietnam that I had been to. The city is overwhelmingly peaceful with no heavy traffics noticed on the road due to the fact that more people seen walking and cycling around the city than motorbikes and cars or other vehicles plying the road of Kontum. This is so much different for country like Vietnam! And I thought, how could this be possible? The fact is, there is some form of restrictions imposed over here at Kontum, where due to some kind of uprising movement by the villagers of Kontum in the early 90's, foreigners visiting Kontum would require a permit or permission to roam around Kontum or the villages around this city. According to Mr Nguyen, this permit is in the form of informing the nearest police station, possibly he arranged that in Pleiku, that some one who is not a Vietnamese is coming for a tour or visit around town. I don't really know how this works but that was what Mr Nguyen said and the permit fee that he mentioned is for such arrangement. The city infrastructure of Kontum look to be organised and in a very systematic condition and most parts of the city looks clean as well. The road is basically flat which makes its very perfect for cycling. The 1st stop over at Kontum is the wooden church. There are in fact many churches around Kontum. Do not be surprise that Kontum city could have been the city with most church than anywhere else in Vietnam. I was really caught off guard by that, seriously and as I move around the city, I believe that such is the fact. What makes that wooden church unique and distinctive are the fact that the structure of the church building is made from wood. When I arrived at the church, I was stunned by how beautiful the church could be. It stands over at where it is in so elegantly awesome with a front building architecture resembled a traditional old castle. Inside the church, the area is wide and I felt the peacefulness once I stepped my foot there. There are multiple windows on the left and right side of the chruch building, some with decorative paintings. Right at the front end of the church near the stage, a large photo of Jesus hangs on top of the wall with a smaller photograph of Father Stephano who started the spread of christianity faith in Kontum on the lower part. Outside the church, it has a big garden surrounded by lush trees.Across this wooden church, is yet another church which offer place of stay for those whom are homeless and senior folks. At the rear of this church, it has a 3 storey red-coloured building which is a hostel that accomodates these less fortunate folks and those senior citizens who have no homes or anyone to take care of. There is also a 2 storey L shape red building that operates as a factory for those who stay at the home of the church to sew silk items for purpose of producing them as souveniers for sale to support their living.

IMG_1963

IMG_1963

From here, we moved on to the Rong House exhibition centre, where a sole Rong House is on display for purpose of tourist visit as well as cultural show. The Rong House is actually a traditional house of the villagers in Kontum, where most of them are farmers who work on rice fields, vegetable farms, rear pigs and cows as well as farming in the sugar cane and banana plantations. These are some of the traditional trade in Kontum apart from the coffee plantation. Many bananas can be seen sold in most part of the Kontum city and the market. Sugar cane is also another major production in Kontum and there are quite a number of the sugar cane juice trader seen on the street of Kontum which used the traditional machine to squeeze out the juice out from the cane. The Rong House is a gigantic traditional house with the structure of the house built mainly from wood. This house is a tall house where there is a few metres of gap between the base of the and the ground supported with several huge rounded wood pillars. To get up to the main area of the house, usually, there would be 2 staircase, made from a huge rounded log wood and carved to transformed into multiple steps for easy climbing. The wall of the house is made from the screw-pine leaves. The log wood staircase would leads up to a small courtyard where there would be a sliding entry door which is also made from screw-pine leaves. Inside the house is a wide space and supported by several pillars of huge log wood. The roof structure is supported by many of mid-size long wood sticks. The roof of the house if made from the dry paddy leaves. Over at this exhibition Rong House, a photo of Ho Chi Minh is being placed right at the front of the entry to this traditional house. As we moved on from here, I could see schoolchildren in their traditional village style uniform roaming the streets, where most of them can been seen walking home from schools. Vast changes had taken place over the years with many houses within the villages now transformed into concrete houses instead of the traditional houses. I had the opportunity to had traditional coffee at one of the most unique coffee house cum bar in Kontum. The name of this place is Eva Coffee. This is a very unique coffee house as the owner according to my guide is a trained graphic designer. As such, he had transformed his facility into a very interesting and artistic coffee house. This is not a big or contemporary coffee house and the atmosphere inside the coffee house is more of a theme that gets patron close to nature as most of the items and accessories including the furnitures are made from wood. The entrance to the coffee house itself is a triangle shape arch with leaves covered the roof of the arch. Inside the coffee house area, there are few of the huts where patrons could occupy to enjoy their cup of coffee. The cashier area is the frontage of the owner's house. On the right hand from the entrance there is a 2 storey building where there are some tables and chairs made from wood and patrons could also sit on to have chat over great coffee. Each level has its own balcony where patrons could sit out to enjoy their brew. As I walked further in from this 2 storey building, there is a bar behind this buiding and the structure of the bar including the walls and the long bar tables are all made in wood. The furnitures over here are also made from wood. There are also few swings at the rear of the coffee house near the bar area. The boundary of the coffee house is lush surrounded with trees and plants, which indeed made this place so special in Kontum. From the coffee house, my guide then brought me to 2 other villages to take a look at their daily life and the traditional Rong House which is being placed on display at the entrance area to each of these villages. Basically, the structure and the design and materials used to built the Rong House do not differ between each villages. The major industry among the villagers in Kontum basically revolves around agriculture which include rice cultivation, banana and sugar cane plantation, vegetable farming as well as pig and cow trade. I had the opportunity with see how the villagers hackle a stubborn hog into the lorry, how they used natural water to wash clothes, vegetable farming and women taking care of children at home while children playing around with friends and siblings as I toured the villages. Some of the nice views from these villages include mountains, rivers and rice fields. All the roads inside the villages in laterite condition which makes it very dusty and would also filled with cow dungs almost everywhere. So one need to exercise caution while talking a walk on these villages. The weather was extremely hot in Kontum during mid-day so different from Pleiku and a cup of ice cold sugar cane juice with lime on the street of Kontum would help to quench thirst. An of course a bowl of Pho Ga or chicken rice noodle soup should be included during lunch here in Kontum.

IMG_1952

IMG_1952

The very last place that I visited in Kontum is the Seminary Museum. The museum building is another unique building that can be found in Kontum with a chapel located on the ground floor. Parts of the structure of this museum is made from wood including the doors, window panels and the walkways. The chapel has a very large wooden doors but the entrace is through the side door as I found the main door was locked during my visit. It is a mid-size chapel with a sculpture of Lord Jesus on top of the front end of the chapel. The on the 1st floor display many items including the coffin made from wood, drums, gongs, bible collections, replicas of Kontum city and the churches around it, replicas of Rong House and Kontum map, the photos of the fathers since the beginning of the spread of christianity in Kontum until present day. There are also some classrooms available for children for education purpose. There are 2 large gardens in these museum area seperated by a small road in the middle from the entrance gate which is line with trees, making this place yet another beautiful facility that can be seen in Kontum. At the end of it, I was more than satisfied and happy with the whole trip to Kontum. What I could summed up here is, this is a place which would be very good for peaceful and relaxing life. We then set to leave for Pleiku after a day tour over in Kontum and as the sun sets down, the weather seemed to turned cooler as we head back to Pleiku city. My guide told me he had a restaurant business in downtown Pleiku city and asked if I was interested to have dinner there. Since he has been such a nice guide, I told him I wouldn't mind, so we went to his shop and had 3 dishes comprising of spicy small fish, deep fried springrolls and a vegetable soup with rice. That was a great dinner treat and I thanked him for being such a great guide. So many great people and the trip over in Pleiku and Kontum had been so great and unforgettable and I must give my salutation to all those people that I had encountered and offered their unreserved assistance during my Pleiku and Kontum travel. Thank you to the people such as Mr Nguyen and the hotel staffs in Vinh Hoi hotel who had set a very distinctive service to help the development of tourism industry in Pleiku and Kontum.

IMG_2015

IMG_2015

IMG_2138

IMG_2138

Posted by kidd27 22:29 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Chiang Rai

The Garden City

sunny 25 °C
View Phnom Penh on kidd27's travel map.

Chiang Rai, the northern province of Thailand has always been overlooked in comparison to its close neighbour Chiang Mai, which is a very popular destination among the mix of travellers and tourists from western, europe or other asian nations. This could be well understood because of the vast difference between these 2 provinces in terms of its development of tourist attractions as well as the nightlife entertainment establishments by the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) or the Thai government. In Chiang Rai, if one was to look for a good night out for couple of beers or to party with fellow travellers or tourists, you would find that this is not the best place for such fun activities. As of now, I have not been to Chiang Mai, so I am not in a position to comment much further about this northern city. Nevertheless, much had been said about Chiang Mai's notorious nightlife just as with its central counterpart of Bangkok and southern counterpart of Phuket. Chiang Rai is the place to be if you are into nature and seeking for calm, peaceful and quiet holiday. The best time to visit Chiang Rai should be between November till early March where the weather would be cool with moderate to low temperature. I recently travelled to Chiang Rai province, visited several of the great and interesting places within the province including Mai Sai, which I wrote of earlier. Mae Sai is located at the north most of Chiang Rai province and neighbouring Mynmar, where the border town, just few hundred metres walk away from Mae Sai is Tachilek.

Chiang Rai offers some of the best tourist attractions in Thailand including Doi Mae Salong, a hilly, calm & peaceful tea plantation township while Doi Tung is a former royal hill retreat with beautiful flower gardens and a former royal villa for visitors to have a closer look. I travelled in a minivan to Doi Mae Salong from Mae Sai town, which is about 40kms or 1 and half hours drive. Just after leaving Mae Sai town, there many roadside stalls that sell strawberry fruits as well as varieties of strawberry wines. The fruits were freshly plucked from the farms and packed into small boxes for sale. Strawberry wines were also on display at racks on the makeshift stalls while some traders have strawberries planted just next to their stalls. I had a try on these strawberries and though they weren't sweet, these fruits were definitely fresh. You can also get a try on the varieties of wines and if you like you can purchase them right away from the rack. Continuing the journey to Doi Mae Salong, the scenery were pleasant with views filled with open land as well as hills and mountains that dotted the road up to Doi Mae Salong. Some of the sceneries were so great that one would want to stay for as long as he or she wants to enjoy the wonderful atmosphere. The road up to Doi Mae Salong was winding at certain stretch but most of the journey, the road was in good condition, weather was fine though slightly cloudy and whole journey can be summed up as pleasant. The first stop at Doi Mae Salong was the Mae Salong Flower Resort. This resort was named as such because it has a large flower garden on the right side of the resort from the main entrance, which isn't located on a flat ground but on a semi-round curvy landscape several metres above the flat land similar to the velodrom stadium but half the size. Before reaching this flower garden, there was a tea centre just after the main entrance on the right side where visitors could sample many choices of tea available at this centre. You can also purchase the tea you like after sampling them, where a "tea lady" will brew them up for you the tea that you would like to try. Apart from tea leaves, which were packed in colourful and attracticve packaging, you can also purchase other tea related items including tea cups and tea brewing accessories. On the left of the resort compond were where the main lobby including a restaurant is located. The resort wasn't centred on a single large building with rooms but with several small "huts" scattered around the resort compound. The restaurant at the resort overlooked the hills on the rear side of the resort with an open area filled with tables for the resort guests and restaurant patrons to enjoy the great sceneries and the cool and pleasant weather.

The next stop from Mae Salong Flower Resort was The Tomb of General Duan, which houses the remains of General Tuan Shi-Wen, one of the Kuomintang (KMT) anti-communist leaders which were defeated by the Chinese communist in China and being forced out from the country. The tomb was located on a top level ground led up by several steps of stairs to its main tomb area, where an altar for prayers and a large concrete slabs with chinese characters and the word The Tomb of General Duan. Also found at this main tomb area were old photos of General Duan taken on various occasions and events during his heydays. One of General Duan's sons can also be seen here where he would speak in either Thai or Chinese in explaning about the history of the tomb and stories of his late father's struggles together with his late father's comrades during war era. From the main tomb area, the scenes from here were scenic since it overlooks the hills and houses on the lower level. On the lower ground of the tomb was a tea centre the same as the one at Mae Salong Flower Resort. In fact, I came to learnt that all the establishments in Doi Mae salong including resorts, hotels, tea proprietors and tea plantations would have such facility at their premises. The size of the tea centre depends on the size of the establishments, the bigger the establishments, the bigger would be the tea centre. Just as in any tea centres available at Doi Mae Salong, visitors can get to try the different tea varieties prepared by a "tea lady" and buy the choice of tea they like.

From General Duan Tomb, we moved on to the Doi Mae Salong town centre, where there was a main bazaar located here houses mainly dozens of tea shops as well as restaurants specialise in hot "man tou" a chinese style bun and also pork belly. Most of the tourists buses and minivans will stop here for the tourists to shop for tea leaves for own consumptions, as gifts for family, relatives and friends and for lunch. Apart from tea leaves, there were also many other dry food products from northern region and from China. Tea brewing accessories and tea pots and cups, some used in the olden days were also available and sold here. Several hilltribes women were also seen plying trade on shops fivefoot corners. There was also a massive concrete slab to signals the location of the area in Thai words located along the centre of the bazaar area. The road along the area was wider with shops mostly concentrated and lined along the main road.

The last stop at Doi Mae Salong was the 101 Tea Plantations which is the largest tea plantation farm in Doi Mae Salong. The tea farm was huge and massive here. Plantation workers can be seen returning with baskets full of fresh tea leaves on their back when I arrived here. This tea plantation farm is similar to the Boh's plantation farm in Cameron Highland but in comparison of the size, both were well spanned over the hills and flat lower ground area. There was also a tea centre here for visitors to try the tea varieties and for them to purchase.

Doi Tung was formerly a royal hill retreat which has been turned into a public and tourists attraction. This flower garden township is located about 28kms from Doi Mae Salong. Centre of the attraction at Doi Tung is a large flower garden where visitors can take nice photographs of the colourful variety of flowers and trees available at the garden. To enjoy the great scenery and cool weather, you can also relax over aromatic coffee and cakes at the Thai trademark coffee house, Doi Tung coffee at the open concept cafe as well as a Doi Tung coffee kiosk. Apart from colourful flowers, the grass that filled the ground of the garden were all being well maintained where they all looked fresh. The flowers were also being well taken care of and the garden named Mae Fah Luang is also being well maintained by the garden workers as it look clean with flowers blooming. Some of the trees were also decorated with pot of colourful flowers on its branches. Outside the garden are some of the souvenier stalls located that sell t-shirts, hilltribes costumes and many other items including tea. There was an area where tall tree branches decorated with long thin yellow colour (signifying royal colour) bunting flowing down from the tree branches located at the main entrance to Mae Fah Luang at Doi Tung.

I was at Chiang Sean town, located on the north east of Chiang Rai province also best known as the Golden Triangle where I travelled here from Doi Tung. This small town being tagged as the Golden Triangle because of its location which is near the Mekong River that borders between 3 countries, Thailand, Laos and Mynmar. It was also a town that was once thrived with the poppy plantations that produce the opium, one of the dangerous drugs that were being misused in the form of herion. There are several attractions that worth the visit when in Chiang Sean including the Opium Museum, Wat Phra That Phukhao and also the large Buddha statue at the riverside near the pier for boat services to Laos and Mynmar. The Opium Musuem is located at an inner section of the row of shops along the only main road of the town which was on the upper level of a shop cum house building. At the entrance of the musuem, you need to pay small fee of THB50 and will be given a postcard, where you can stamp on it with many choices of rubber stamps with various characters and words that signify the Golden Triangle theme. The postcard pictures also come with the theme related to the opium and Golden Triangle as well as hilltribes communities. On display in this musuem are brief description of the opium lord, Khun Sa, the life stages of poppy flowers, various pipes used to consume opium, replicas of man cosuming opiums, replicas of opium house, pictures of different hilltribes communities in northern Thailand, opium measurements, opium weighing machines and pictures of how opium were being harvested. Various souveniers were also available at the exit area of the musuem. Wat Phra That Phukao is one of the few historical temple sites left within Thailand and should be considered as one of the most important old Thai historical heritage. It was believed that the wat was already 1,200 years old. There is an welcoming arch at the main entrance to the compound of Wat Phra That Phukhao which resembles the roof of the temple greeting visitors. Entering from here, there are a long stretch stairs with multiple steps to reach the main wat area, which has an Ubosot or the ordination hall and also a wiharn on the left side of the ubosot. At the rear of the wiharn is the ruins of Buddha dated to as far as 1,200 years old where parts of the ruins had been damaged due to its years in existance till this present days. The main wat (ubosot) has very skillful architecture finishing in particular its exterior and its main entrance doors where it was beautifully crafted with good sense of traditional designs. From what I could observed, the ubosot had been reconstructed to preserve its former design and architecture. The large Golden Buddha statue sits proudly inside the ubosot. On the left of the ubosot were a drum and 2 bells being placed on. From the wiharn area, it overlooks the charming Mekong river and buildings over at neighbouring Lao, which has a casino over at the boder crossing there. There is also another casino resort over at Mynmar which has yet to be open to the public which presently under renovation and soon to be completed. Just accros Wat Phra That Phukhao, near the riverside, is where a large Golden Buddha in a sitting position placed on a higher level from the ground is located. There are also 2 large chang (elephant) where visitors can walk around the chang and pray for good fortunes. Many visitors seen grouping within the area to snap photographs of the Golden Buddha, to pray for good luck at the large changs and to enjoy the nice Mekong river views which overlooks the Lao PDR and Mynmar.

The next day, from Chiang Sean, took the bus and head to Chiang Rai city which is about 30km away. Along the way, the bus dropped and pick up passengers from various stops. At one stop, I witnessed several western/european students who could be in a student exchange programmes of where they boarded the bus I was in to Chiang Rai. First stop at Chiang Rai was the King Mengrai Statue at the King Mengrai Park, which was located right at the centre of the city. This park is filled up with nice green grass turf with nice, bright, colourful and fresh flowers decorated within the park. Also found at the park is the digital clock and temperature board. The centre of attraction of this park apart from the great looking flowers is the King Mengrai statue. On the left, right and cenre of the statue are small golden elephant (chang) decorated with yellow garlands.

From King Mengrai Park, the next destination was the Wat Phra Keaw (also known as Emeral Buddha temple) with also a museum annexed to this temple within its territory. According to history, the Emerald Buddha was sculpted by Gods as a gift to Venerable Nagasen Thera from Patna Bihar state in India. It was later moved to Sri Lanka before King Anurudha of Bagan, Mynmar requested the Emerald Buddha from Sri Lanka. Instead of arriving in Mynmar, the boat that used to transport the sculpture was swept ashore and landed in Cambodia. It was later moved to Angkor, Sri Ayudhaya, Lop Buri and Kampheang Phet. Later, King Mahabhrom from Chiang Rai took the sculture to Chiang Rai and hid the sculpture at the pagoda at Wat Pa Yiah. A lighting incident finally revealed the Emerald Buddha sacred treasure and from then on, the sculpure had been moved from one place to the other with Chiang Rai owned the sculpture for 45 years (1391-1436), Lampang for 32 years (1436-1468), Chiang Mai 85 years (1468-1553), Laos for 225 years (1553-1778) and Bangkok (1778 to present). The main ubosot building is red in colour with golden colour flowery decorations on its wall and arch. Inside the ubosot known as Phra Ubosot, the Golden Buddha sits on a higher level from the ground with several steps to reach the sculpture. The floor is fully carpeted in red with walls in red colour decorated just the same theme as its exterior designs. The musuem, known as Hong Luang Saengkaew is a thai traditional wooden building with a Buddha and sacred monk statue placed on the side of the building on the way to the main entrance to the musuem. The museum display among others the Buddhism and northern Thailand's cultures and sculptures. Within the Wat Phra Keaw surroundings is also a pagoda, known as Phra Chedi resembling a mini Shwedagon Pagoda. The Phra Chedi was where the lighting incident struck Wat Phra Keaw took place. The main ubosot, known as Ho Phra Yoke, built Lanna-style is where the Emerald Buddha was placed on. The Emerald Buddha sits on a special and distinctive small house with light effects and the interior of the wat is lit with green neon lights on its wall. A large Boddhi tree photo in a large framed potrait was placed on the rear of the Emerald Buddha. Another magnificent temple in Chiang Rai, apart from Wat Phra Keaw is the Wat Rong Khun, a white Buddhist temple which is not the conventional style of wat found in Thailand or other parts of Indochina region. The theme of the wat is white with many other paintings on the ubosot's wall and sculptures within Wat Rong Khun were not the typical drawings or sculpture that would be seen in other temples in Thailand. Here, you can get to see the sculpture of human skulls and arms depicting people who were drowning or asking for help. Even the safety cones found on the road were found to have human skulls on top of the cones. Inside the ubosot, pictures were not allowed. The drawings on the wall of the ubosot with modern and fantasy world theme including that of ultraman. The boundary of Wat Rong Khun was surprisingly sizeable with a small park and mand made lake at the rear of the main ubosot while towards the right of the ubosot after exiting it from the rear side, was a golden coloured washroom which could be easily be mistaken for an viharn or assembly hall of a temple. This temple was design and contructed under the supervision of Chalermchai Kositphipat, where his large human size cardboard mannequinne was found at the entrance to the main ubosot. Apart being known as a garden city of the north in Thailand, Chiang Rai is also a main agriculture producers, including fish farming and rice producers. The are many lands in Chiang Rai that comprised of rice crops and independant businessmen who ventured into fish and toad farming. I had the opportunity to visit a family in amphoe Phan, south of Chiang Rai of where they involved in such businesses. I get to witnessed on how fishes were mated, fish eggs were harvested from the fishes mouth, fish eggs were being preserved and hatched. One of the famous food in amphoe Phan is the king cat fish. This family also owns a restaurant nearby a wat with a large standing golden Buddha structure on top of a hill with a significant pagoda (phra chedi) at the rear of the wat. To reach this wat, you can either get the guide to drive all the way up or you can choose to walk up from the over hundreds of steps from the base level.

Posted by kidd27 00:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Chiang Rai - From Mae Sai to Tachilek

sunny 17 °C

Mae Sai town is located in Chiang Rai province and is the northern most town of Thailand. As in other northern and north eastern towns of Thailand, Mae Sai experience the cool season during the end and beginning of the year with temperature as low as 15 degrees during night time to a high of 25 degrees during day time. Chiang Rai adventures took me to Mae Sai, Tachilek in Mynmar, Doi Mae Salong, Doi Tung and Chiang Sean, the Golden Triangle area where 3 countries, Thailand, Mynmar and Laos sharing borders along the Mekong River. Bus journey from Bangkok took about 12 hours departing at 19.30 and reached Mae Sai at 7.30. The double decker VIP bus service provides its passengers with 1 movie entertainment, a box of dinner meal which comes with 2 pieces of cakes and a fried chicken drumstick, a bottle of water, 2 small packets of biscuits, 1 coffee or tea and 1 glass of carbonated drinks. This is the type of bus I mentioned when I missed it during my Indochina adventure from Mukdahan to Bangkok. From my experience, this VIP bus will definitely provide more comfort than the ordinary bus firstly with its seat which can was more spacious, adjustable to almost 180 degrees level and with massage feature. Secondly, this bus has minimal stops which fastened the journey and thirdly, its more comfortable and less stuffy and fourth, it has a toilet on the ground level. Nevertheless, I still believe that Thailand or any other VIP buses in other ASEAN countries that I had been to over the last couple of years still couldn't be as good as the Lao VIP bus which comes with sleeper berth and toilet. My experience from Vientiane to Savannkhet allows me to confirm the fact that Lao VIP intercity bus is one of the best in the South East Asia region and yet Lao is still tagged by western cables as one of the poorest among its ASEAN neighbuorhood that relies fund from sponsors.

Most travellers come to Mae Sai for a short day trip across to Tachilek, a small town in Mynmar for shoppings at the market where traders sell all sorts of consumer goods at very inexpensive price. Of course, this market is a paradise for Thais due to the good value items available here and the fact that Thailand is just a walk from the border control post. There are also a good number of foreigners seen shopping for items as the goods sold here are suitable for just about anyone. Though Mae Sai is not a major tourist spots in Thailand, Chiang Rai city is located not too distanced away which is about 76km from Mae Sai. And most foreign travellers arrived at Mae Sai from Chiang Rai most probably to get their passports stamped for entering Mynmar (killing 2 birds with 1 stone) apart from the inexpensive shoppings. There are several hotels located at the main road leading to the border post immigration which charge between THB800 to THB1,000 a night. Most of the hotels here still remain unrenovated on its interior after its establishment over years ago but on the exterior may look new because renovation works were carried out on the interior instead of both sides of the hotel. The main trading activities in Mae Sai town focused mainly on the main road that leads to Tachilek in Mynmar. Most of the shops located along this main road sell items including tea from Mae Salong, chinese herbs, chinese mushrooms, seaweeds, cashewnuts, ginko salty nuts, toys, assorted candies, precious items as well as jackets and t-shirts and several coffee house and restaurants catered for travellers and shoppers staying at hotels in Mae Sai. There is also a fresh market here which sell many vegetables, herbs and other local fresh produce that also come from as far as Chiang Rai and Mae Salong as well as food stalls selling local food such as the khao soi (a type of noodle similar to Bun Bo in Hue, Vietnam) and the black glutinous rice cake. So, having reached here in Mae Sai, one should try out these two local delicacies while strolling along the fresh market. There are also a bazaar establishment in Mae Sai town which are located on sois (small lanes) behind the 2 storey shops on the left hand side of the main road to Tachilek. Most of these stalls sell items mentioned above.

Crossing to Tachilek, Mynmar from Mae Sai, Thailand will never allows anyone to travel beyond this small town to other parts of Mynmar. For Thais, the Mynmar immigration office in Tachilek will issue a border pass valid for 7 days which can be arranged by the hotel where one stays while for other foreigners including from ASEAN countries, a travel permit valid for 14 days will be issued by Tachilek immigration office with the passport being held at the immigration office until one returns the travel permit upon checking out to return to Mae Sai at the border control post. For one thing that I noticed when at the Tachilek immigration office while getting the travel permit ready, it was the friendliness of Tachilek immigration officers. I must say they were a friendly lot where one officer repeatedly acknowledged his gratitute for travelling to Tachilek by saying thank you a few times and these officers never look sterned but of course not before you hand over an entry permit fee of THB500 which is applicable to all foreign travellers other than Thais, who pays only THB100. Prior reaching the Tachilek immigration, after a stamped out from Mae Sai immigration, its only a short walk across a bridge where upon reaching Mynmar's soil, a blue colour arch with words, The Union of Mynmar greets travellers from Mae Sai to Tachilek. A small section of the "no man"'s land on the right towards Tachilek with shops belong to Thailand are being located with its frontage being fenced up with only five footways for shoppers to walk to these shops which sell mostly gems, jade and precious items from Mynmar as well as souveniers, t-shirts and bags can be found at these shops. There is also an arch for toursits and travellers to snap photographs as evidence that they have been to the northern most of Thailand. After getting the travel permit ready and passport withheld at Tachilek immigration office, the tuk-tuk drivers will approach travellers offer to take them to several tourist spots within Tachilek. If you want to explore more of Tachilek instead of just shopping, a bargain with these tuk-tuk drivers will indeed give you a good value for short half day trip just to explore Tachilek and get to know the town better. For THB200, you can actually explore one of the best tourist spot in Tachilek, the smaller version of Tachilek's Shwedagon Pagoda, Wat Phra Yok, Wat Phra That Chai Mueng or Wat Thai Yai, The Wat Thai Lek, sampling the local Mynmar food for lunch, visit the Regina Padong Long Neck Village, a chinese temple and also a stop at a gemstone shop which sell the real gemstones and precious items that are being massively produced in Mynmar. The first stop was at the Wat Phra Yok. Here, the very beautiful white jade Buddha crafted the Burmese style is being placed at this temple. The interior of the temple is decorated with large framed buddha paintings which include the spreading of the buddhist teachings by the Buddha to its followers and monks as well as those of the famous monk photograph placed on the walls of the interior of the temple. Among others on display are the several other smaller golden buddha stupas as well as 2 larger buddha stupas on the left and right of the white jade buddha stupa. Green mats are being placed on the floor greeting visitors as well as for devotees to sit while praying. On the exterior, the temple has a very close association with the Hindu style architecture. A small table with old collection of Burmese coins and stamps was available at the entrance to the temple.The Tachilek Shewdagon Pagoda is one of the best tourist product that Tachilek could offer to visitors. This pagoda though is not as grand as its Yangon's bigger cousin, it is however equally stunning and marvelous as the one in Yangon. The area which Tachilek Shewdagon Pagoda sits on is rather large where it is located on the massive flat land up the hill. An arch will greet visitors to the pagoda from its main entrance and no far away from this arch is a large monk stupa on sitting position with several others in standing position lining up with the black colour alms bowls led by the Buddha in front. On the entrance to the pagoda were several stalls selling souvenier items. Once entering the Shewdagon Pagoda main area, you will be required to take off shoes and there will be the "pagoda guides" that will offer their "services" to sell you the prayer items while they take you around the pagoda and explain to you on the brief history of Tachilek's Shewdagon Pagoda. Depending on the day you were born, you will be led to that specifc day and to offer prayers and to bath the buddha stupa on the side of the altar. There are 2 temples within Tachilek Shewdagon Pagoda. One houses 3 large Buddha statues in it while the other with 3 different buddha statues from Mynmar, Thailand and Laos. At the end of the Tachilek Shewdagon Pagoda "tour" the guide will sell several items tagged as souveniers which include postcards with choice of old Burmese notes or new Mynmar notes which the price ranged between THB100 to THB150 each. To help the local people, you can choose to purchase these souveniers as a token of appreciation for their kind services, to help the people of Mynmar to improve their living standards or just for souveniers for own keep or for friends and families. The surrounding landscapes of Tachilek Shwedagon Pagoda were amazing with houses and shops dotting the foot of the hill where this pagoda is located as well as views of several other beautiful hills surrounding Tachilek town.

After Tachilek Shwedagon Pagoda, the next stop is the Regina Padong Village, where visitors could experience live performance by the Karen and Akha Long Neck Hilltribes community dance as well as purchasing handcraft souveniers made by these long neck hilltribes women. Padong Village is located just next to the Regina Golf Club Resort, which is the most luxury entertainment available at Tachilek with a golf course and a hotel found over at this golf club. With the name Regina Padong Village tagged on this small long neck village, it is believed that the special Mynmar hilltribes village was set up by the owner of the golf club as a package to attract golf lovers from abroad to come play golf in Tachilek and to experience for themselves on the way of life of long neck communities in Mynmar and also its cultures at a closer look. This village was located on a small hill next to the Regina Golf Club with Karen and Akha hilltribes houses set up on the foothill of the village. These traditional hilltribes houses are made of wood and has 2 types, one of which the house sits on the land while the other is tall wooden house with the lower part of the house being use for weaving the handcraft items. These hilltribes houses could have been altered to suit the land topography or the need of these hilltribes people who live there as a showcase to attract tourists. Some of the Karen and Akha long neck hill tribes people can be seen working on the handcraft items while ascending the village to the top and final level of the village where the stage is located for the performance by these hilltribes women. Outside the houses are the hilltribes workmanship on display for sale. At the end of the village which is also the top most level of the village, you can take photographs with the long neck hilltribes women while waiting for the performance to start as well as after the performance. These women will be more than happy to have travellers taken photographs with them. Some of them can be seen sitting on the benches surrounding the stage for visitors to sit and enjoy the hilltribes performance prior to start of the dance. The performance by the Karen and Akha hilltribes women centred on their traditional dances. These women's ranges from as old as grandmother to as young as a 4 year old child. From the stage area at Padong Village, the view was scenic with a temple visible from here and several hills standing beautifully can be viewed from this top most level of the hilltribes village.

Next stop after Padong Village was to sample a Mynmarese food at a small restaurant downtown in Tachilek. The restaurant has simple decoration and looked Hindu style from the interior with its entrance doors covered with green colour curtains while rectangle shaped tables and chairs were arranged simply for between 4 people to 6 people to sit. Food served are rather simple, quite similar to the Indonesian padang food in which dishes come in small plates served with steam white rice. The dishes include curry chicken, pork with potatoes, curry mutton and fish curry all in small portion of small plates. Rice can be added if needed. At the end of the meal, diners were served with local dessert, "lapphet" comprising of sesame seeds, fried ginger, tea leaves pickle eaten with roasted peanuts and also snacks which were similar to the chinese candies which is good for stomach digestions.

After lunch, head to the temple which was the Wat Phra That Chai Mueng or Wat Thai Lek, which means a small thai temple. The name itself suggested that this temple in fact is a Thai temple where the architecture and design of the overall temple structures were based on the thai style. Unfortunately, the temple was closed during the visit for renovation purpose to replace the old "ubosot" building or ordination hall due to its old age and poor conditions. From here, moved on to Wat Thai Yai or simply the big thai temple. This temple's structure and architectures have a combination of several influences of not only Thai but also Burmese, Hindu and Chinese from my observations of the available building structures here. At the ordination hall, there are 2 layer of spacious courtyard, upper and lower level with in between large pillars' designs at the entrance of the ordination hall crafted nicely in thai style. Inside the ordination hall, the Buddha structure is placed on a section witha wooden structure beautifully and carefully crafted in thai style with 2 large standing clock on the left and right of this wooden structure. Just as with the decorations at the courtyard, the interior of the ordination hall is also decorated with thai style design resembling an arch in front of the wooden structure where the Buddha sculpture sits on. On the exterior ordination hall building, there is a structure on top of the buidling with multi layers pyramid shape can be seen with the roof top design crafted skilfully in thai style. There are also 2 pagoda like buildings that can be found within the boundary of this temple.

Almost all of those who crossed over to Tachilek from Mae Sai, Thailand was to do some good shopping at the bazaar just right after the Tachilek's immigration checkpoint. This large market is located on the right after the immigration office with a staircase for people to get down and up the market. There are hundreds of shops and stalls within this market and basically, almost everything is on sale from bags, shoes, shirts, cigarettes, viagra pills, food, coffee, ladies and men's accessories and many more consumer items which suit everyone at inexpensive prices. Of course, the trick here is to bargain to get the best price possible. Crossing back over to Mae Sai after a great day tour and shopping at Tachilek, get some rest before exploring the night market along the main road leading to the immigration. Most of the stalls on the left sell food and snacks while on the right, stalls mostly sell souveniers and shirts. So, while walking through the night market, bought some snacks for dinner comprising of local Mae Sai food including the rice roll wrapped with minced pork and the other one similar to bun cuon in vietnam, where minced pork wrapped into a rice roll and then cut into small pieces for consumption. Since the hotel has a balcony with chairs and tables, we bought beer (Cheers) while enjoying fried pork skin snacks and also the boiled eggs with yolk filtered out while enjoying the night scenes of Mae Sai town.

Posted by kidd27 14:47 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Songkran Festival, Pakse, Savannakhet and Pha Taem

sunny 33 °C
View Phnom Penh on kidd27's travel map.

This year, I had the opportunity to celebrate Songkran Festival and experience the festivities in a family oriented atmosphere. I was back in Ubon Ratchathani since the last visit during the Candle Festival in 2009 last year. Ubon maybe not be glamorous when compared to Bangkok, but this provincial city is distinctive in its unique way. being part of the Isaan region, the people here can speak and understand the Lao language. The food here also have very close link to the Lao style (most notable being Som Tam and Khow Neaw)and taste while Thai of Vietnamese descent can be widely found in Ubon, so are the Vietnamese originated food including pho (fur), spring rolls (fresh & deep fry) and Moo yoh (processed pork wrapped in banana leaf like sausages). I personally like all the food mentioned and cannot resist the temptation even when in Bangkok particularly the khao neaw or sticky rice which can be easy and nice with accomponiment such as moo ping (skewered pork), kai yaang (grilled chicken) or just about any thai dishes. Days before Songkran holiday, I was in Pakse, Champasak province of Southern Laos for a short travel. My previous trip to Champasak province was also during last year's Candle festival but basically, it was only several hours of day trip to shop for some goods in Vang Tao border. For this trip, I travelled further into Pakse town which was approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour drive from Vang Tao. One thing that really got me frustrated was the fact that the Lao immigration officers who shamelessly asking for "tips" to get the passport stamped, which had been boldly increased from THB20 on my last trip to THB50. I don't understand why this was a practice for travellers who get into Laos through the right way and which in turn help spur the country's economic growth through various means including on travel services, transportation, food and various others such as shoppings. Such kind of act by unscrupulous officers not only deterring travellers but will cast a foul image on Laos. I do not want to comment about bad experiences but I felt intimidated with such act when I have got all my valid travel document to enter Laos legally but was still ask to pay for something that I shouldn't. Crossing the Thai immigration was a breeze as it has better immigration structure as compared to their Lao counterpart. Many Thais cross over to Vang Tao for day trip shopping at the border market just after the Thai immigration checkpoint, about 600m away. As for the Lao immigration, there were 2 different offices, where the smaller one, about 500m walk after Thai immigration office that serves the Thais without passport (only filled-up form with photo) and another, a further 100m walk, with a larger office which serves Thais with passports as well as foreigners. Most Thais spend time to shop foro half day while others will travel into Pakse town. To get to Pakse from Vang Tao, there are several ways and the easiest being the minivan taxis that could accomodate up to 12 passengers. The cost is THB80 per person for 1 way trip. You can get the taxi to head over direct to the hotel or guesthouse if you have had your booking completed upfront. I checked into one of the largest and unique hotel in Champasak province in the centre of Pakse, the Champasak Palace Hotel.

Champasak Palace Hotel was formerly a royal palace built by King Jao Boon Oum. He was the last king of Laos. The palace was built in 1969 but was abandoned in 1975 by the king when he fled the country to take refuge in France. A Thai owned company then successfully obtained approval from the Lao government to take over the building. It was renovated and refurbished to be turned into a hotel. Most parts of the hotel building still maintains its original interior with wooden doors and windows left intact. The hotel's rear rooms overlook the beautiful Sedone River and the scenic surrounding landscape including the bridge that connects the road to Savannakhet. Another part of the hotel rooms overlook part of the Pakse town. The hotel's lobby has 2 areas seperated by a main walkway into the reception with modern yet traditional design sofas and tables. There is a large restaurant on the left side of the reception. Almost all the areas within the building were non-airconditioned except for rooms, thus giving the guests a good feel of olden days living in the palace. Just outside the restaurant facing the rear of the hotel building, there was a large open area stretching right to the banks of Sedone River. The scene from the viewpoint of this area was marvelous where guests can sit and relax to unwind and enjoy the nice atmosphere and landscapes. By south east asia standard, the river water was noted to be clean and unpolluted while the banks were not littered with rubbish. The land where the hotel building was sited was on a higher ground thus giving it the advantage of good view over the river and Pakse town. This hotel was also featured in the Thai/Lao movie, Sabaidee Luang Prabang.

Most of the guesthouses and travel agents as well as restaurants were located along No.13 South Road and No.10 Road. Travelling short distances around town costs THB20 per person. The easiest way to get around is through the samlor, a motorbike taxi with cube seats attached on the side of the vehicle, which can sits up to 2 persons. There are 2 major shopping areas in Pakse, the Dao Heuang Market and Tangs Ferrer Lao Supermart. Dao Heuang market is where travellers could board minivan taxis to Vang Tao to cross to Chong Mek to get to Ubon. There is a large wet market selling range of fresh produce and groceries as well as cooked food for instant consumption. There are also shops around the market that sell range of products including handphones. The other market, Tangs Ferrer Supermart was located in the backpackers area, therefore catering to travellers apart from locals, which many items such as clothes, tshirts, bags, souveniers and a supermarket can be found here. It is also located adjacent to Pakse Hotel offering 4 star hospitality with Xuan Mai restaurant nearby. Across the Champasak Palace Hotel is the Delta Coffee cafe and restaurant which serves thai, vietnamese and italian food. I had my dinner here, khow neaw and deep fry spring rolls accompanied with a large bottle of Beer Lao. The food and beer were good while price still within acceptable range. There were many customers dining at this cafe with many seen filling up the tables by dinner time. A big group of foreign tourists led by a tour guide walked over from Champasak Palace Hotel and get themselves seated on reserved tables inside the cafes.

Pakse town is small and not much of attractions around, mostly on wats if that was what interest you. There was a very old wat, Wat Phabat, located near the Champasak Palace Hotel, just a very short distance walk towards the Dao Heuang market. There was some construction works that took place to restore an old viharn (assembly hall), which looked very run down during my visit and the temple looked deserted. It has a very spacious grounds and a small Buddha footprint shrine in the temple premise. Another wat is located at the end of No.13 South road at the edge of Sedone River near the 2nd smaller bridge to Savannakhet. This wat has a Buddhist college within its premise and the wat main temple look contemporary yet maintaining the traditional architechtures. The college still maintains its old structres which reflected on the age of the building. Away from Pakse town, on the way to Pakse airport in the border of Champasak and Savannakhet is the Wat Chompheat Thepphanimith Vararam. Not many people were aware of this temple as it was quite a distance from the town and took about 20 minutes to reach from Pakse town with samlor. The path leading to the temple from the main road was untarred and dusty surrounded by small trees scattered around large open grounds with wooden houses and huts between here and there. Around the temple, the area look very upcountry with no building surrounding the landscapes and with only small trees around. In the temple compound, there is a huge Buddha statue on sitting position on the rear of the main temple with a spacious open ground in front of the statue. Below the Buddha statue is where the chedi were located and the devotees can offer their prayers here.

After checking out from the hotel, headed to the Nazim Restaurant, at the 13 south road near the backpackers area for lunch. Across Nazim restaurant was the Dao Coffee cafe which was one of the handful elegant cafes in Pakse. Patrons can enjoy the cosy and relax cafe atmosphere while enjoying a nice cup of Dao coffee produce from the Bolaven Plateau in north of Champasak province. Packs of coffee were also availabe for sale in various package to cater to different taste for coffee lovers. At the back of the Dao coffee were rows of old shops which were mostly abandoned but several occupants were still seen moving around the area. Walking around the area will bring some reflection of the past living. Back to Chong Mek, after crossing over from Vang Tao, took a bus from the bus terminal located after the immigration checkpoint and the border market to Phibun Mangsahan on the eve of Songkran festival. Songkran is celebrated for 3 days in Thailand and this is a new year not only for the Thais but also for others in the Indochina region including Mynmar, Laos and Cambodia. This festival was celebrated in the early days, where the young will ask for forgiveness from the elderly by pouring the water on their hands as gestures to erase the past misdeeds and seeking to start anew. However, this celebration has been turned into something wild among the teenagers and yound adults where they will travel around towns on the rear of pick-up trucks and engage in water splashing among one another while playing loud musics. Such scenes can be widely seen almost everwhere in Thailand during Songkran festival. In Bangkok and Pattaya, foreigners joined with the locals to get involve in the water splashing fun. I had the privilege of experiencing the thai new year with an extended thai family, where there was a karaoke sessions and feasting on thai food. Some did the cooking, some enjoy singing while some enjoy the food. This is a good time for thai family members and relatives to get together to catch up on things that happened over the past year, as most of them work or live in other provinces and returned to their village to celebrate the new year. Everyone enjoyed themselves during the get together just as much as I did. Joining them in belting out on thai song also added into the whole lot of festivity fun. The next day, it was the 1st day of Songkran holiday and again I was at the same house to experience yet another thai new year family reunion do.This was a family on the mother's side where only the grandmother was around. Most people will put on fresh costumes by wearing colourful shirts on Songkran Day. The day started with breakfast with thai food, including green curry, khanom jin (noodle mix with curries), kai thot (fried chicken), khow neaw, somtam (thai salad), fried pork skin and many more as well as cold drinks, beer and whisky. After food, it was time for the main occasion where all the family member and relatives will gather in the living hall with everyone seated on the floor while the grandmother (or poo yai) will be seated on the sofa. Just as in the traditional way of celebrating Songkran, everyone starting with the most senior members and their spouse and children, if there are any, will take turns to pour the water from the small water bucket on the hands of poo yai seeking for forgiveness with a Wai (thai greetings) before and after water pouring session. Each and every member present will get involved. The most senior members will then give a speech after the session ended. The small garlands will be presented to each members. I was in Bangsean, near Pattaya which is about 1 hour drive from Bangkok. Bangsean is a beach retreat for locals, who would like to take a short break from the weekday work stress and enjoy some swimming and to induldge in seafood apart from relaxing on the beach chair. Before reaching Bangsean, there is a grand chinese temple with a very beautifully crafted pillars with the dragons, a big bell, nice tiles and roofs which has very strong chinese outlook. It has 4 storeys with each storey houses different chinese Gods. Inside each floor, it has a spacious pavillion and also prayer altars for devotees to offer prayers and each with balcony which overlook the large courtyard of the temple premise. In Bangsean, it was the 3rd Songkran day when I arrived and revellers were celebrating and enjoying themselves soaking in water with the water splashing fight that took place all around the beach main road. The place look very similar to Pattaya minus the farangs and posh or luxury and fancy resorts or guesthouses.

There are several interesting places in Ubon Ratchathani. One of which was Pha Taem National Park which is located in Khong Chiam district very near to Phibun Mangsahan on the way to Chong Mek. At the Pha Taem cliff, this is the place for trekking and camping for those who are adventurous. Being at the highest peak of the mountain, Pha Taem cliff is where Thailand's witness its first sunrise of the day and also this is the place to view the sun setting down. Its temperature can be as high as over 40 degrees. From the top of the peak in which also part of the parking lots, the senery was marvelous as it overlook the Mekong river and also Laos on the opposite direction. Trekking at the base of the cliff can be very challenging yet interesting and worth the effort. It was a 4km trails from the starting point with another ending point taking about 1 to 1.5 hours of trekking time. On the wall of the cliff were some drawings which stretch up to 180m of various animal paintings which dated to pre-historic time. The walking through the cliff base was a good way to get close to the nature as the scenic view of Mekong river and Laos highlands were just on the other side. The walkways were combination of some flat area, some steep and some with big rocks. Once back on top of the cliff, adventurers will need to walk further on the flat rocks going through some small forrest, which can easily get lost, so it should be advised that trekkers should stay in group to avoid of being in trouble. Just befor reaching the exit point at Pha Mon, this is another area which offers trekkers a great full view of the Mekong river and its surrounding landscape and atmosphere that will indeed made you fall in love with this place and never want to leave. There are several other interesting places around the National Park including the 2 Colours River. Visitors can have the opportunity to take photos from the view point post at this specially designated area with a shrine on the lower ground of the viewpoint post inside a cave, where a revered monk's body was placed for devotees to offer prayers. There is another temple on the parking ground which resembles the Phra That Luang in Vientiane in Laos. Another interesting area to visit at Pha Taem national park is Sao Chaliang rockpillars. This is where you can witnessed the weird natural phenomenon where a flat rocks across top of another larger erect rocks, making it look like a mushroom shape. Exploring further inside Sao Chaliang, there are several others interesting natural findings including fossils of seashells and sand grains which historians believed that this place was formerly a seabed.

Travelling from Ubon Ratchathani to Mukdahan in the north, about 200km distance takes about 2 hours drive. This is another gateway into Laos of Savannakhet town through the 2nd Friendship Bridge. The 1st Friendship Bridge is the border crossing at Nong Khai to Vientiane. Savannakhet is situated in the north of Pakse and is a smaller town as compared to Pakse. Most travellers will get into Savannakhet as a transit to either Vientiane entering from Vietnam and to Vietnam entering from Thailand. There are buses to Hue, Danang, Dong Ha and Vinh in Vietnam from Savannakhet bus terminal. I did a short trip to Savannakhet travelling from Ubon to Mukdahan and getting into Savannakhet from the Mukdahan border post with the regular Mukdahan-Savannakhet bus costing THB60 per person. The Savannakhet immigration control has bigger and better facilities compared to the Vang Tao border though Pakse is the 2nd largest Lao town. Reaching Savannakhet town from the immigration, the bus stopped at the main bus terminal. About 200m on the east of the terminal was the savanxay market offering plenty of shopping varieties including fresh produce and daily foodstuffs and groceries. There are also many goldsmiths in the main shopping area on a different section of the market, shirts, clothes, souveniers, bags, handbags, silk and handphoneshops. Many thais travel here for shopping trips on weekends and public holidays. The are some good vietnamese food at the food stalls market at Savanxay market, the grilled pork wrapped with spring roll paper rounds (wrapper) dip into water to make it sof and combined with various vegetables and mints as well as the deep fry vietnamese spring roll. Due to the close proximity of Savannakhet with Vietnam in town such as Lao Bao, Hue and Danang, the vietnamese food in savannakhet taste very authentic.

The trips around Thailand and Laos had been tiring made worst by the scorching hot weather but having the opportunity to celebrate Songkran festival with a big thai family provide me with the good experience in blending into the thai cultures and their way of life in a closer way.

Posted by kidd27 22:01 Archived in Laos Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Krabi

The getaway to Andaman Islands

semi-overcast 30 °C
View Phnom Penh on kidd27's travel map.

On stepping my foot out of the plane, Krabi Airport gave me the very grave sense of vacation atmosphere. The architechture of the building is simple yet the interior of it provides the whole lot of casual feel befitting the status of this beach resort town. This airport slightly differs from the one in Phuket, in my opinion, where generally, it's more relax and not too "rigid" as of any other airports even those that are in the beach/island status in nature category. This holiday was kept as short as three days, with a pre-booked accomodation that included a one day islands tour package. For a very affordable rates, with 2 breakfast meals and 1 dinner, all inclusive, as well as free airport tranfer to and from the resort, not forgetting a welcome drink, I can't beg for more. The resort is a 5 star rating hospitality, situated at the edge of Ao Nang beach, close to Nopharat Thara beach. The resort provides excellent services as well as basic facilities, including a pool, both adult and children as well as thai body and foot massage services at affordable rates, just by the side of the pool. Rooms on the ground floor have the privillege of instant access to the pool in front of the veranda, where you can basically just be ready to jump in once ready with the right outfit. Other ground floor units give access to the pool relax chair where you can either have a good dayout sunbathing, reading books or just simply relaxing by the pool enjoying the nature.

Krabi is in fact different from other beaches in Thailand, at least this was what I could see and thought. It was a surprise to me at the very first experience because I had the impression, that this beach will be very similar to all the other beaches in the Land of Smiles, with beach chairs accompanied by umbrellas lining up the beaches, packed with holidaymakers. I have been to several others such as Phuket, Hua Hin, Cha-Am, Pattaya and Ko Larn, Krabi is still far less commercialised in comparison to its other peers within Thailand. The main beach of Krabi is Ao Nang where there are loads of retail shops selling various tshirts and souveniers, budget accomodations and also restaurants and pubs available along the main road facing the beach which goes like a L shape direction. As you moved further up towards the direction of Krabi town, Ao Nang beach will not be visible. Many of the boutique resorts are located further down the main Ao Nang commercial area, towards Nopharat Thara beach, where you can afford to have higher level of privacy due to the very low beach crowd and the environment over there is very much peaceful and quiet with long stretch of beach length. You can have some couple of hours of good swim, sunbathing or have some chilling fruit mix. Just as you past through the bridge, the whole stretch of beach is Nopharat Thara. Here, at the starting point of the beach just after the bridge, there are long tail boat services to Railay beach. For those who did not engaged in tour services, this is where you can hop to other beaches in particular Railay which is divided into Railay East and Railay West to explore further. This is a very unique beach where both sides of the beach is divided by karst limestone hills and accessible on a trail track along the base of the hills which will brings you through the some of the most wonderful experience where you can see some of the stalactite and stalagmite with many cave entrances as you walk along. More on this letter. Another site, where long tail boats can be boarded to Railay is in Ao Nang beach, located at the beginning of the beach just prior to the Railay.

Krabi provides accesses to many islands within the Andaman archipelago, including Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, Phang Nga and Phuket. It is also easy to reach other small islands suitable for snorkelling and diving. Tours are aplenty where these are mostly located along the Ao Nang commercial area mentioned above. As for this trip, decided fo bypass Phi Phi since I had been there over the last trip to Phuket. So, decided to head for 4 island tour, Ko Poda, Ko Tub, Ko Kai (Chicken Island) and Ao Phranang. This tour included free flow of drinks, both chill plain waters and carbonated drinks and 1 lunch box. The pier is located at the end of Nopharat Thara beach. We were fetched from the resort early in the morning after breakfast, with a song theaw to the pier. Upon reaching the pier, we were then assembled by the friendly tour guide and ushered to the speed boat that will be taking us for island tour. There were all in 13 of us, a mix of couples and individuals comprising multinational races. The sea was rather rough on that day due to the raining season, where sitting at the front side of the boat not advisable due to safety reason, where you may get injured or flung out from the boat due to the impact of the boat hitting the strong wave. Ko Tub is a very unique island where you can reach the small island from the beach on the opposite side by walking through the stretch of hardened beach sand due to the low tide. This is possible as the stretch of sand was higher than the sea water at certain point of time such as the morning. The water over here was very clear and you can chose to either swim over at either side of the island. Surely, many wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to keep this distinct experience for memory, so you could walk over and while doing this, snapped some photos for your records. While you swim, you will also see many of the marine fishes swimming in group towards you, some attempted to bite on your flesh thinking those were their meals. So, take cautious for those that may be afarid of this, jst as precaution. This was indeed a very great experience because, in normal circumstance, you will only have such opportunity while snorkelling in the open sea. The whole area at Koh Tub looks like a swimming pool with its crystal clear water and really, I find this awesome. Over at Koh Poda, this is another great island with the beach overlooking a single karst limestone right in the middle of the beach. Some steback here include that of the water over here was less clear in comparison to Koh Tub, with some dead corals spread over at some areas under the water which may be dangerous as it will hurt the feet easily should one fails to exersice caution. Other than those 2 factors, generally, this is also a nice place to swim while enjoying the wide view of the open sea with the special limestone in presence. There were also some trees and shrubs around the island which can be very suitable for camping sites. Koh Kai was where the boat stopped for a snorkling experience. For me, it was very similar to Phi Phi. Not many fishes and beautiful corals around which I believed was due to the substantial number of access to human over the years.

Ao Phranang or Pharanang Cave beach has an awesome view of the karst limestone towards the end of the beach with a cave entrance. There were some cement/rock structures scattered around the entrance the cave which according to our guide, resemble that of human being. According to him, legend has it that a wife of a fisheman perished in the cave while waited for her husband to returned home but he never did. Fishermen and also tourists alike were said to be offering flowers an incense to ensure that the spirits rest in peace. This island offers very suitable place for swimming with the flat, clear from rocks and coral sand base. The beach was also quite long stetched and provide beach lovers a good place to relax, sunbathing, swimming and even jogging. This side of the beach is actually the Railey West where as I have explained earlier on accessible through the side trail along the Phranang Cave towards either side of Railay. In summary, Pharanang Cave beach is located on the West of Railey and you can walk your way to the East of Railay from Phranang Cave beach and vice versa. As you walk through the trail, you will get to see many of the stalactites and stalagmites formed thousands of years ago as well as many cave entrances. You plan ahead by walking to Railay East from Phranang Cave beach then head back again for a swim before your boat returned to Nopharat Thara pier at the end of the day. This was a very nice experience.

Krabi town has several ape strcutures being places at some of the traffic lights. This to me may be due to the province abundance of limestone hills, where according to history, human were transformed from this creatures where caves were once their home base. Thus, the province's city council have such an idea of placing ape replicas around the town. The town itself is thring with many activities taking place. There is a shopping mall named the Vogue Department Store, located along Maharat Road, near Soi 8, which is the only shopping mall in town. There are many restaurants serving authentic thai food spread accross the town. The main activities centered around Maharat Road near soi 4 to 10, with a night market popular with locals as well as tourists shopping for inexpensive and delicious thai food. You can walk around town on foot just to explore and sight seeing how it looks like. Travel takes about 45 minutes from Ao Nang beach to Krabi town and regular bus services are available. You can board the bus at soi 8 Maharat Road in front of 7 Eleven store.

Posted by kidd27 15:23 Archived in Thailand Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 5) Page [1]