Friday, 26 November 2010

Luang Prabang - world heritage

After a 6h ride I arrived in Luang Prabang at evening. I took the first guesthouse on the road and fall asleep in my bed, even tho it was just 8:30pm :P
After some fine 12h sleep I started to discover the city. Unluckily it did not meet my expectations. Too many tourists and the city seems a little surreal, as everything is about tourists :(
The temples were not as great as I hoped they were. But after being in the city for 2 days I really enjoyed it.
Well, ok... I started my first walk along Nam Khan river, enjoying breakfast at the river front. A small glimpse into Wat Sensoukarahm, Wat Sop, Wat Sirimungkhun and Wat Si Bun Heuang before visiting the more famous and old Wat Xieng Thong. River Nam Kham meets Mekong river and I continue my walk along the Mekong river front. A visit to the Royal Palace Museum and it's Wat Ho Pha Bang before I climbed 328 steps up to Phu Si hill and That Chomsi. I couldn't wait for the sunset as simply too many tourists have been there. So I climbed down and slandered over the handicraft night market to finish my day.
The next day I woke up early to see Tak Bat - which is when every morning at dawn all monks come out to receive their food for the day from the people. I was astonished by the number of tourists, but even more by the number of monks. It were at least 100... maybe up to 200 monks on the street. An sheer endless line of saffron robbed monks walking in front of the temples. I'm not sure though if they were able to outnumber the tourists... I have my doubts on that^^ Afterwards I walked along the streets to visit some more temples and the morning fresh market. At 12am I went to see Tat Kuang Si waterfall. It was an impressive one, indeed. Many small falls and pools lead you to the main waterfall. A climb up the hill allows you views down the waterfall and see the great landscape. After the climb I took a swim in one of the pools, really refreshing :D On the way back we stopped at a Hmong village. Unluckily that was simply too touristy... the villagers did set up stores all way along the village and the kids were trying to sell and beg non-stop. Sad to see what too much tourism can lead to :(
At the evening I take the bus to Luang Nam Tha.

Wat Sensoukarahm

Wat Xient Thong

Buddha within Wat Xieng Thong

Wat Ho Pha Bang

That Chimsi at the top of Phu Si

View down to the Mekong and to the mountains from Phu Si

View over Nam Khan river and Luang Prabang from Phu Si

Monks receiving their daily food as gift

Tak Bat, more than a hundred monks

Wat Ho Siang... that is a special Naga^^

The morning fresh market... yummy :D Do you see the shoes?

Tat Kuang Si waterfall from downstairs

Kuang Si waterfall from upstairs^^

good view from up the waterfall :)

Late afternoon sun gives a great atmosphere to the smaller falls

The pools were great for a refreshing swim :D

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Pakse - Vientiane - Xien Khuan - Vang Vieng

That was a quite stressy start into relaxed Laos^^
Monday (22.11.) I took a minibus from Ubon Ratchathani to the border village Chong Meng (100 baht, 1,5h). The visa at Laos border was without problems, just that I forgot to get USD in Bangkok and so they charged me 32euro (1300 baht) instead of 30dollar :(
A minibus (80 baht, 1h) brought me from Vang Tao to Pakse in Laos. I bought my ticket for the overnight sleeper bus to Vientiane. The 3h until the bus came, I used to do some sightseeing in Pakse.
There is not too much to see... I saw 3 markets and 1 of 2 bigger temples. Wat Luang was filled with young monks and the sunset behind made it quite a sight :)
The shopping mall looks funny^^ 2 floors of a cooled market :) After walking through the streets I had an indian dinner before taking a Laos foot massage... the right way to start my Laos trip and good relaxing before the bus journey.
The sleeping bus was horror^^ It took us 10h, 150.000kip from Pakse to Vientiane. The sleeping spots were about 1,7m long and 0.7m wide for 2 people. I shared mine with a tall french guy... I was able to sleep maybe 3 out of the 10h. My back and legs were aching afterwards :(
In Vientiane a tuktuk brought us from southern bus terminal to the centre. I enjoyed sunrise from the Mekong-promenade and new built Chao Anouvong park before having a good breakfast at Nam Phu Park.
From the local busstation I took bus number 14 to visit Xien Khuan (5.000kip 1.5h). Xien Khuan houses the Buddha Park which is filled with a huge amount of bizzare sculptures from Buddha, Shiva, Vishnu, Arjuna, and many more Hindu+Buddhist gods.
It is great to simply look for your most favourite sculpture or go through hell, earth and heaven to reach the top of the pumpkin sculpture and enjoy a view over the park.
The same bus brought me back to Vientiane where I booked a bus to Vang Vieng (30.000kip 4h). On the bus to Vang Vieng I met 3 polish who just started their holiday 4 days ago. I explained them that Vang Vieng is famous for it's nature, adventure activities, parties and drugs. A happy pizza knocked me off at the evening :P
After a long sleep and good breakfast (I enjoyed several baguettes in Laos already^^ finally bread again :P) I jumped on a minibus to Luang Prabang (100.000kip, 6h).

Wat Luang, Pakse

Sunrise from the Mekong at Chao Anouvong Park

Pumpkin sculpture in Xien Khuan Buddha Park


You just have to pick your favourite sculpture^^

I liked that one the most :P

stunning park

Good view after going through hell, earth and heaven of the pumpkin.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Ubon Ratchathani - enjoying temples and the Loy Krathong festival

A 6h train ride (57 baht) brought us from Korat to Ubon Ratchathani. Due to the Loy Krathong festival most hotels were fully booked. But the 3rd hotel of choice luckily still had rooms available, tokyo hotel.
The next day we rented a motorbike and explored the city. After some troubles of orientation, the fire department provided us a tourist map of the city :D So we started at the old temple Wat Tung Sri Muang, where friendly peopled offered us free drinks and food because of the festival. Next temple on the route was Wat Suphatanaram, a nice place to feed fish and watch the Mun river.
A bit further out of town the most stunning temples were waiting for us. Wat Nong Bua is a sparkling white and gold temple. With totally blue sky and strong sun the temple was nearly to bright to look at. Unluckily the pictures hardly can tell how stunning the temple looked to us^^
That was followed by the great Wat Ban Na Mung, which actually were 2 temples. Both having the structure of a boat shipping the temple. The smaller one even had rowers and guards :D The bigger one was actually sitting on a lake. I saw quite many temples already, but Wat Nong Bua and Wat Ban Na Mung are clearly outstanding. A drive along the Huai Wang Nong reservoir, where we later would celebrate the Loy Kraton festival, before we visited the cities Trung Sri Muang park.
At the evening we went to the Loy Krathong festival. First we visited the Ubon Ratchathani Rajabhat University and later went to the more stunning Huai Wang Nong reservoir. Some great fireworks, many floating Kratongs and flying Poms made up the scenery. The festival provided too many great snacks :P Later we sent our own Kratong floating and Pom flying :)

Wat Tung Sri Muang

Wat Suphatanaram

Stunning Wat Nong Bua

suay mak mak :)

Wat Ban Na Mung

Ship housing the temple with rowers and guards^^

the second part of Wat Ban Na Mung

Candle sculpture in Tung Sri Muang park

Big Krathongs, only for watching, all made from Banana

our little floating Krathong (right)

Sending a Pom flying :)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Phimai - a friendly village with lovely sights

On friday (19.11.) we took the bus to Korat (198 baht, 4h) and connected there to Phimai by bus (36 baht, 2h).  After arriving in the lovely village, we checked into Boonsiri Guesthouse who provided us with a map to explore the sights next day. A good streetfood dinner with some talks to the locals before going for a sleep.
The next morning (20.11.) we started walking around the village. First explored the Phimai Historical Park that hosts an old Khmer temple, which supposedly was an early concept version of Angkor. But of course it can not compete with Angkor, still the old ruins are a lovely sight. Then we walked to Sai Ngam, an old Banyan tree. Supposedly more than 350 years old it was an astonishing sight. The tree is huge and I'm still not sure it if were many trees or just one^^
On the afternoon we went back to Korat and by train on to Ubon Ratchathani (57 baht, 6h).

Prasat Hin Phimai

Nice park surrounding the temple :)

I like the carvings^^

Sai Ngam

Stunning nature

Train from Korat to Ubon Ratchathani

Friday, 19 November 2010

Ko Samet - busy island with sparkling white sand

On Tuesday (15.11.) I made my way from Bangkok to Ko Samet until Thursday (18.11.). First a 3.5h bus ride from Bangkok's Ekkamai bus station to Ban Phe, a tiny port town. A 35min ferry ride brought me to Ko Samet... finally sun and beach again :D
After checking some guesthouses, I decided to stay with Jep's Bungalows at Ao Hin Khok beach. The beach was rather quiet, compared to it's neighbours, the biggest and busiest beach - Hat Sai Kaew - and the second busiest one - Ao Phai. I also walked to Ao Pudsa, which is nearly as quiet as Ao Hin Khok... that is what activities on Ko Samet are about: Beach^^ Walks along the beach and swimming are the only physical activities. But sunbathing and chillaxing are good too before you enjoy the evening on one of the busier beaches.
I enjoyed to have quiet beach time during the day at Ao Hin Khok followed by dinner at Hat Sai Kaew and party at Ao Phai, Silver Sand Bar. Met a crazy group of English guys there and we had a lot of fun on Wednesday night :)
Over all I'd say Ko Samet offers the best beaches close to Bangkok. The sand was astonishing... white powder you were walking on. The water quality was so so... not good for snorkelling (though I doubt there is much to see anyway), but they might have been due to the storms around the islands and other parts of the gulf. Swimming was great there and so was sunbathing^^

Ferry to Ko Samet

Mermaid statue between Hat Sai Kaew and Ao Hin Khok

Ao Hin Khok beach

Awesome white sand

like sparkling powder :D

Monday, 15 November 2010

Kanchanaburi and the death railway

Saturday (13.11.) morning we jumped on the train towards Kanchanaburi province, which is famous for it's natural beauties as limeston hills, caves, waterfalls and jungle as well as the dark times during WWII when Japanese forces used Allied prisoners of war and conscripted Southeast Asian labourers to build a rail route to Burma - the death railway. The 7:35 train from Bangkok arrived in NamTok about 12:40. At NamTok a Songthaou (small public bus) brought us to the Sai Yok Noi waterfall. At first I was very disappointed due to the mass of tourists at this place. But if you walk pass the wide waterfall and the swimming pool (just 50m), you get to a more lonely second waterfall, which looked much more impressive to me. It was much fun to walk on the stones, which were covered by falling water. It looked extremely slippery as a thin layer with a few centimeters of water was running over the limestone rocks. But you could walk perfectly on it. We left our bags with a nice old lady who we met on the train and made our way to climb the waterfall a little :) It was much fun, but we had to be careful not to get wet due to carrying electronics.
Then we caught a northwest bound bus and continued to the Hellfire Pass memorial. The museum is set above a particularly gruesome section of the Death Railway, Hellfire Pass was a cutting that was said to glow in a hellish colour under torchlight. The memorial remembers of 100.000 civilian labourers from Southeast Asia and 15.000 Allied prisoners of war that died due to the gruel conditions they had to work under. But we were a bit short on time, so we only watched the museum and postponed the walking trail to the next day.
After a bus ride to Kanchanaburi city we checked in SugarCane guesthouse and stayed a night on the river Kwai. The city and river are famous due to the movie "Bridge over the river Kwai".
Sunday morning we went sightseeing the famous railway bridge over the river Kwai and the Allied war cemetery. About 12:30pm we made our way to the Hellfire Pass memorial again, arriving 2:30pm. But unluckily that was too late to do the whole 4 km walking trail which should last about 3h, seeing that the museum closed at 4pm. So we only took a short route to see the actual Hellfire Pass, or Konyu Cutting, and finally enjoyed the view from the lookout over the Kwae Noi Valley towards Myanmar.
The trip to Kanchanaburi was awesome. Great weather and awesome views helped to bear digging into dark, gruel history.

Sam Yok Noi Waterfall

Sunday morning on Kwai river

enjoying weather and view :)

The famous bridge over the river Kwai

Everything connected to the death railway gets a lot attention here.
Allied war cemetery

View over Kwae Noi Valley from the museum

Hellfire Pass - Konyu Cutting

View from Kwae Noi Valley Lookout towards Myanmar