A Perfect Blend of Cultures and Landscapes

thailandThailand is a country with a mixture of a diverse culture and even more diverse landscapes with mountains in the north and gorgeous beaches elsewhere. Travelling through the country can lead you from the busy metropolitan city of Bangkok to more serene, peaceful areas with hardly a soul anywhere.

Travelling around Thailand is very easy due to the country having a well equipped bus and rail system as well as internal flights if you wish to get there quicker. You can of course hire a car for your trip if you are exploring the country and not just staying in the one place. However, the driving there is a bit more chaotic than usual. It is certainly advisable to not hire a car if you have had no experience of these conditions before.

Thailand is really seen as a backpackers delight. Accommodation can cost next to nothing yet it can be located in the most stunning of places meaning you can wake up to a view straight from paradise. The food, especially off the beaten track, can also cost very little however you might have to be a bit more adventurous in trying things but this is not really different to other countries in the Far East.

The main, and most popular, destinations are Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and Koh Samui with these spread over the country. Indeed Phuket is one of several islands off Thailand and you can then find Chiang Mai in the north of the country in the more mountainous area. But if you are not pushed for time then travelling between the places can let you see what life is like for normal Thai people.

Places such as Bangkok have all of the tourist lights and are geared up for people from all over the world and indeed the prices of food and accommodation in Bangkok can be significantly higher than other places. For Bangkok it is certainly best to do your homework first as it can save you a lot of money. You are therefore best to check out what others have said and go with the general consensus before finally booking where you are going to stay.

Camping in Thailand

rainy-seasonEver notice how being an “eco-tourist” occasionally bears a startling resemblance to being a broke traveler? I ended up as an eco-tourist in Northern Thailand (and loving it) due to some poor financial management on my part. I had saved up my money and decided to take a year off from my day job as an elementary school teacher to travel the world. Unfortunately traveling through Europe really cleaned me out and by the time I reached Thailand funds were running low. In an attempt to get my budget back in check I turned to the cheapest form of accommodations and entertainment: camping, hiking and nature watching. Not having been a particularly outdoorsy person prior to the trip- I had a few mishaps along the way but overall it was a wonderful experience. I got lucky because Thailand happens to be one of the best places to be an eco and/or broke tourist.

Thailand has 76 national parks and the majority offer places to camp. Many will even rent you a tent for 5 baht a night. I would recommend that you try to bring your own tent because rental tents, as you can probably imagine, are occasionally stinky. I initially bought myself a cheap one-person tent but after a wet night during “the mango rains” I sucked it up and invested in a larger, sturdier model. The mango rains for those who don’t know refer to a one-week period in April when the season changes from dry to hot triggering heavy rainstorms. It is also the time when the land changes from brown to green. While it made for a wet and smelly week of camping the opportunity to watch the remarkable changes in the land was worth it. During my trip I stayed primarily in the Chiang Mai province.

Doi Suthep – Pui National Park
This national park is located just 12 km outside of Chiang Mai City. The park is basically a mountain and as you go deeper into the park you are simultaneously climbing the mountain. The park is home to a breathtaking Buddhist site the Wat Prathart Doi Suthep, which draws pilgrims and visitors from all over the world. I was lucky to camp near the Mok Fa waterfall where I was lulled to sleep by the rushing of the water. Beautiful walking and biking trails criss-cross the park. During the day you can see butterflies and at night the view of the stars is incredible.

Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon National Park boasts the highest peak in Thailand and is the most popular of Chiang Mai’s parks. In addition to Thailand’s highest peak- it is home to one of the most gorgeous waterfalls, Mae Ya- truly awe-inspiring. This is also the place where I began my “nature watching” in earnest. I did not know it at the time but the park is home to more than 300 species of birds so you don’t have to be a professional birder to spot some. If you are lucky you may see a deer or a gibbon (ape).

In conclusion, fellow travelers, we no longer have to admit when we are broke instead we can proudly claim to be part of the latest global trend, ecotourism.

Five Good National Parks in Southeast Asia

phnom-kulenVacationing in Southeast Asia is about more than the cities, the museums and the food. Indeed, no vacation to the region is complete without a trip to a few of the region’s many pristine national parks. One of the first parks on the list of important national parks is Kinabalu National Park in Malaysia. Located on the island of Borneo, Kinabalu Park is dominated by Mount Kinabalu, a popular destination for mountain climbers and hikers.

The park is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites for its unique ecology and natural beauty. This includes a variety of orchids and carnivorous plants. The park spans four climate zones. It’s possible to arrange for a guide through the park administration but whether you’re seeking a guided climb up the mountain or simply a leisurely hike through the grounds of the park, it’s a beautiful natural landscape that attracts thousands of tourists each year.

Another important national park is Phnom Kulen National Park in Cambodia. The site is of national and religious importance in the region and has played a role in everything from the founding of the Khmer Empire in 802 AD to the end of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. The water is sacred to Hindus and underneath the water are hundreds of ornate stone carvings depicting Hindu religious scenes. The site is also notable for its two waterfalls and an eight-meter long Buddha statue.

Gunung Mulu National Park in Indonesia is important not because of its history but because of its caves. The park is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to the largest cavern in the world. Many of the caves are uncharted and the aforementioned largest chamber in the world (named the Sarawak Chamber) was only discovered in 1981. Today, the park can be reached by helicopter and there are a variety of ecotourism activities on offer for visitors.

Ba Be National Park in Vietnam is also home to a cave but the focus of this park is more on its freshwater lake. Surrounded by forests and limestone cliffs, Ba Be Lake is home to a variety of wildlife including King Cobras and European Otters. It’s visually arresting and its biodiversity makes it the perfect place for ecotourist activities such as hiking, bird watching and boating.

Khao Sok National Park is the final park on my list. Located in Thailand, Khao Sok is notable as a rainforest with more biodiversity than the Amazon. The park also includes a reservoir and is known for a variety of flowers and animal life that make it an important ecological preserve. Perfect for hiking and photography, the Khao Sok Park sounds somewhat more tame than the other parks on the list but with water, forests and wildlife, it’s a good place to get away form the urban bustle of modern Thailand. Indeed, these parks are all great getaways from the modern economies and urban centers that often define Southeast Asian tourism today. Hiking may be much simpler than touring a modern city but it’s equally enjoyable and important in an Asian vacation.