2011 Southeast Asia
Expedition to Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia is so attractive that I can go back there many times, to get to know new countries. This time, I organized a one month expedition to Burma, referred to as the “land of the golden pagodas”. Then I traveled for over two months in Thailand, which gave me enough time to see the best beaches, Buddhist temples and the ancient cities. My last country was the adventurous Laos; the country of Mekong river, jungle trekking, waterfalls, rice fields and caves. It was beautiful, as always in Southeast Asia.
Introduction to my trip around Southeast Asia 2011
After 4 months of my great trip, I finally got back home.At first I planned to see more countries than I have travelled but I decided to not to hurry.This means that in each of them I spent enough time to get to know them very well.
First I went to Burma (Myanmar) for almost a month, then to Thailand for 2 months and 10 days and finally to Laos, also for one month. My initial calculation was wrong because during the four months I also wanted to go to Cambodia, Vietnam and the Emirates even though it would have significantly shortened my trip around the above listed countries. I therefore decided that to not to hurry and instead get to know very well only those countries that I really had the time for. My time spent in Asia gave me an opportunity to gain a very good knowledge of the countries I visited, without a feeling that I missed something.
This situation reminds me of Japanese tourists who are able to ‘see’ up to 7 countries in just one month, and they believe that they really got to know them.They take pictures from the bus, they “explore” the bus station and they leave the country without even knowing it. I personally call them “the collectors of exotic visas”, what I do not advise to anyone
I must admit that since 2004 when I was in Burma for the last time the country has improved a little bit and I suspect that it would steadily go forward.
Burma amazed me with its wealth of golden pagodas and many impressions of Buddha. First I visited the main city of Yangon and the impressive temple complex called Shwedagon Paya pagoda. Yangon is always the first place to visit what allows explorers that get the feeling of Myanmar. Then I went to see the golden rock pagoda in Kyaiktiyo which also proved to be a beautiful mountain adventure and allowed me to get to know the rural life of the people of Myanmar. According to the legend the golden pagoda on a small rock does not fall into the abyss because there is a hair of Buddha himself under the rock, what retains a perfect balance. Burma is one of my favourite countries and even though I could list a lot of beautiful places I will mention only a few.
I would definitely recommend Inle lake with its vegetable fields and cigar and silver factories on water. Inle Lake is a relaxing place where I saw people in their very interesting environment doing their daily activities. It was a hairdresser on a small island, a woman on a boat collecting tomato from her water field and a fishermen throwing his net.
I also liked the temple complex of Bagan which in a sense I compare to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. On 42km2 there are about 4400 huge and small temples which the same as Angkor Wat are about 800 years old. Those temples are remnants of the Buddhist dynasties that passed away long ago but fortunately their cultural heritage remained and draws thousands of tourists every year. I explored Bagan on a bicycle climbing the best temples and enjoying the picturesque views.
In addition, I organised a two-day trek through the jungle of Kalaw which lies on a Shan plateau at an altitude of 1320m and it is a starting point for all trekking expeditions into the jungle. I’ve been to Mandalay, I bathed in a natural pool close to rice fields near Hsipaw, I saw Buddha in glasses in Pyay and among the many interesting places that I’ve been I also visited the Buddha world in Bago. Then, when I was travelling around Thailand I organised a visa trip for myself and my blonde to the town of Tachilek. Burma must be travelled extensively with attention to detail.I also recommend my press publication about Burma titled: “Burma; the Country of Golden Pagodas”.
In Thailand I was going to spend only one month but there was so much to see that I was travelling around this beautiful country for 2 months and 10 days.
I started from Bangkok because that’s how it is usually. It all starts from the tourist ghetto in Kao San road. This time I was traveling with a woman and a 4-year old child and that’s why our culinary trip took longer than I expected. Traditionally, when in Thailand I started my trip with Thai – boxing and then I took my women to the best temples in the city. We went to the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, then to the Marble Temple (Wat Benchamabophit), the tall Wat Arun, the decorated with beautiful plants Wat Suthat and to the Golden Mount (Wat Suket). All those beautiful places were worth every minute of our time but we were also happy to travel by rickshaws, enjoy street food, Thai markets, Thai massage and when we went to the zoo for the child. I want to add that the zoo in Bangkok has monitor lizards which swim and walk freely and I think that it is a great advantage of this park. Because of its channels Bangkok was once called the Venice of the East because I think that the river transport should be used by tourists. A ferry from Kao San Road leads directly to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha and to Wat Arun on the opposite shore.
After Bangkok we went to southern Thailand to spend time on exotic islands on both sides of the Malay Peninsula. On the side of the Gulf of Thailand we saw Koh Samui, Koh Phangan with its sister island Koh Ma, then also on Koh Tao and at the end the nature reserve on the island of Koh Nang Yuan. I rode a moped through the exotic islands with a pretty blonde sitting in the back and my smaller blonde between us. We took bananas off the trees, we swam in the turquoise sea and we had a very good Thai food. It was a time of peace, swinging on the swings attached to the palm trees and the time of playing with the child in a beautiful natural setting. Additionally, on the island of Koh Tao we made an open water diving course down to 20m and our child enjoyed fresh watermelons on the board.
In southern Thailand we were moving around by boats and motorbikes wherever it was possible. I remember that when I was sitting on the beach in Railay monkeys organized an ambush on our papaya. One monkey distracted our attention in front of us and the other one stole our papaya from behind, but I luckily saved it.Unfortunately the impression of Thailand is damaged by a mass invasive tourism which is especially evident in the south.
Central Thailand and the Ancient Cities
Then we went to Central Thailand and the Antient Cities. Central Thailand is a combination of beautiful nature with Thai culture and tragic history. We went to Kanchanaburi to see the bridge over the River Kwai, the nearby museum and the Hellfire Pass which is canyon constructed with simple tools on the way from Thailand to Burma. During the Japanese occupation the construction of the bridge and the railway were done by thousands of White prisoners; and today some of them are buried under the tracks of the “death railway”. Not far from Kanchanaburi we also saw a lot of stunning waterfalls such as the fairy tale Sai Yok Noi one and the complex of Erevan waterfalls hidden in the jungle. I invited my women to the hot springs of Hin Dat, we did rafting, we saw rubber trees and finally I put them both on an elephant.
On the way from Bangok we visited Damnoen Saduak floating market where we saw how people living on the river and near it get by in a traditional way. Every small boat was a floating shop or a takeaway restaurant. It was a very interesting experience. Unfortunately we also went to see the crocodile farm which I didn’t like because on one hand those reptiles were protected and on the other they had to participate in pathetic shows and then they were transformed into wallets and belts. In the same place there was also an elephant show but I did’t like it neither because forcing elephants to unnatural behavior by making them playing football I classify as animal cruelty.
Then we spent educational moments in Ancient Cities such as: Ayutthaya, Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai. For example Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 and that civilization left rich heritage in a form of palaces which ruins we can see today. Visiting Ancient Cities is a journey through great Buddha statues and monumental buildings and even though its glorious years have already passed, to White tourists they guarantee very interesting and memorable experiences. We were sightseeing on bicycles and on foot but if someone has money and wants to do it with style they can rent elephants. Ancient Cities give many photo opportunities because the number of stupas and temples often stand in the background of shallow lakes or by trees with large roots which do not grow in the European countries. I also think that seeing the Thai Ancient Cities only once is not enough. Tourists should see them a few times at different times of a day to enjoy their beauty depending on the position of the sun. I suggest either early in the morning or before dusk.
Northern Thailand and Golden Triangle
My next destination was northern Thailand, which is just another picturesque region of the country, located in the mountains, among rice terraces, banana trees and waterfalls. This region offers a slightly cooler temperature than the rest of Thailand and it is rich in all crops, including the infamous hashish and opium. Green valleys of Northern Thailand cut by rivers are in very close proximity to Burma, Laos and the south-west China. Close proximity of those three Asian countries made the rapid development of trade possible but it also influenced a slightly different architecture and a more sophisticated cuisine. The capital of northern Thailand is Chiang Mai, the important cultural centre of Thailand and a popular tourist destination because of the beautiful temples. Even though northern Thailand has a lot to offer it much less visited than the beaches in the south.
First we went to Lampang, a small town in the north famous for its horse carts and peace by the river. Around Lampang there are many interesting temples such as situated about 20km from the town Wat Phra That Lampang Luang built between the thirteenth and the fifteenth century. I think that it should be definitely seen. Then we went to the hill town of Pai which is popular with tourists for its beautiful nature, hot springs and elephants. Around Pai I was of course moving around on a motorbike. Then we went to Chiang Rai which is a nice town but very importantly it is a base for the spectacular White Temple, for the highlanders living in their simple villages and to all the scenic views of north Thailand with its banana trees and waterfalls.
After traveling around Thailand for almost 2 months my visa was nearly expired so I figured out that it was the time to organize a visa trip to Burma. Therefore first we went to the small and pleasant villages of the Golden Triangle, such as Mae Salong, Mae Sai and Chiang Saen which are located at the intersection of the Mekong and Ruak rivers and which according to maps are indeed arranged in a triangle. We waited to end our visas and then we went to Mae Sai where walked into Burma for 2 days and went back to Thailand with a new 2-week visa.
Thai Government described the Golden Triangle area that way, suggesting that it does not go beyond the borders of Thailand, but the truth is that “the towns of the Golden Triangle” also include the border towns in Laos and Burma, and a certain area in Vietnam. We could say that the name itself is quite ironic, because the real meaning of the “Golden Triangle” is derived from the largest opium and heroin producing area in south-east Asia. Until recently most drugs came from here, but at the beginning of the twenty first century Afghanistan took over this “honourable” first place, and is now the largest heroin producer in the world. It also explains why the US military is still in Afghanistan. American soldiers are there, to only protect the drug poppy fields, because drugs make up a big percentage of the American GDP.
At the end of our trip we went to Chiang Mai where we spent three days exploring all the beautiful Buddhist temples. From there we went on a moped to the zoo and then to the spectacular temple of Doi Suthep. After all I gave my girls a lift to the airport in Bangok and then I went alone to the very north of Thailand, to Chiang Khong village where I crossed Mekong into Laos.No country is perfect but in my opinion a happy person is the one who managed to spend at least two months in Thailand.
Laos charmed me with magnificent waterfalls and deep caves. It is a sleeping area of south east Asia and its main asset is the scenic natural beauty. Although in the nation’s capital Vientiane and in the historical city of Luang Pra Prang there are a lot of Buddhist temples, Laos is famous for its nature. located near Luang Pra Bang I visited a Hmong village which despite its privacy is exposed to global tourism. My favourite however were the waterfalls of Kuang Si and Tad Se because they were hidden in the jungle and their numerous swimming pools piled one on the other giving me a warm shower and a bath. Another important place of natural beauty is around Vang Vieng. I cycled through there rice fields, I bathed in the river near buffaloes and I discovered numerous caves. The last point of my trip was Champasak with the Wat Pho temple and right on the border with Cambodia Si Phan Don, usually called the “land of 4000 islands”. I lived there in a wooden hut on the Mekong river, I was wandering among rice fields and then I took a boat to Cambodia to see Irrawaddy dolphins. I also cycled outside the islands to see Khone Papheng waterfall which is the largest in south-east Asia in terms of falling water. It devastates everything it encounter on its way and it produces a very loud sound. This is really a huge element, the observation sets in think how helpless man is.
Laos is mainly about mountains, caves, picturesque rice fields and the full of life Mekong river. I also recommend the homemade soups served by local people.
Apart from that I had a cruise on the Mekong river from Huay Xai to Luang Pra Bang, I saw Kong Lo water cave , I spent two days in the jungle near Luang Namtha and I had a great massage in Pakse. I recommend Laos mainly to all the stressed office workers but also to whole families. In contrast to the loud Thailand which is under constant invasion of White tourists in Laos you can still find peace and quiet.
Each of those beautiful countries took time and I’m writing about it because I want to resolve the questions directed to me :”Is it possible to see Thailand or Uzbekistan in 5 days or the entire South-East Asia in 1.5 months? Unfortunately not! Each country is a separate adventure, each country is different and each one requires time.
My trip was a very successful and a beautiful adventure.During the 4 months I took 6940 photos and it might be a problem which ones I`ll decide to upload on to Kompas Travel.
- ancient Thai cities
- Bagan temples
- bridge over the River Kwai
- Buddhism Myanmar
- Burma rice fields
- Chiang Mai Buddhist temples
- Damnoen Saduak floating market
- Doi Suthep
- Erevan waterfalls
- expedition around Thailand
- expedition to Burma Myanmar
- Hsipaw mountain trek
- Inle lake
- journey through Laos
- jungle Luang Namtha
- Khone Papheng waterfall
- Kuang Si waterfall
- Kyaitkiyo golden rock temple
- Laos rice fields
- Luang Prabang
- Mekong river cruise
- Shwedagon Paya Pagoda
- Si Satchanalai
- Tad Se waterfall
- Thai boxing
- Thai massage
- Thailand beaches
- Thailand elephants
- Vang Vieng caves