Bangkok has a population close to 6.500.000 inhabitants. It is a great force for economical, financial and political matters in Thailand of course but also in Southeast Asia and all over the world. Event though Bangkok is one of the protagonist on the southeast Asian stage, it is nonetheless a mysterious and wild city that deserves more than a glimpse. It is not possible to describe Bangkok in one word. Indeed, the capital of Thailand is a restless global city that glows with so many facets all more extravagant and surprising than the others. Always on the move, Bangkok will amaze you by how easily exoticism mingles with modernism. You can find in the same area old sacred temples rubbing elbows with giant skyscrapers and ultra designed and fashion shops neighboring the cozy typical stands selling Thai food on the cheap. To make a long story short, Bangkok has something to offer to really everyone. Here are some of the activities and attractions in the city of Angels:
The Grand Palace / Wat Phra Kaew
The Grand Palace is definitely the prime landmark of Thailand. It is a complex of buildings which covers 25 hectares. It was home for the Royal Family for 150 years and is now open to the public for a 10 USD fee. Visiting the Grand Palace will take you at least 2 or 3 hours so make sure you set your whole morning or afternoon aside.
The most famous part in the Grand Palace is the Wat Phra Kaew Temple which houses the magnificent statue of Emerald Buddha. This exhibit abounds with legends and cultural histories and is very sacred for the Thai people. Indeed, the Emerald Buddha is considered to be the protector of the country and to bring wealth and prosperity to the country in which he resides.
Apart from this prominent part, there are many things to see and admire in the Grand Palace. You will be stunned by the beauty of the place and flabbergasted by the gilded architecture. As you walk, you will have no choice but to contemplate the gorgeous mosaics that surround you and the jasper made pediments.
It is important to know that a strict dress code applies for visitors. Both men and women should wear long pants, long sleeves and no bare feet are allowed. If you want to visit the Grand Palace but you do not fulfill these requirements, the office at the entry will provide you shirts and socks.
Bangkok’s nightlife is internationally known to be wild, frenzied and loud. Well, this is true but as any self-respecting great city, the City of Angels offers every kind of nightlife you desire. Whether you want to party till dawn in pleasant company, or leisurely sip your beer in a laid back place while listening to a music band, you will find everything you want in Bangkok.
As everybody knows, Bangkok is renowned for the go-go girls. Yes, these kind of bars and clubs are ubiquitous and guarantee a crazy night but you can also find numerous excellent non pretentious street pubs to warm up and go clubbing in the trendiest and the most unforgettable discos of the whole country. It is up to you; you can spend the night in a western style place or a typical thai dancing club. One of the most popular place is the Khao San Area. Made famous with the book “The Beach”, Khao San road keeps drawing locals, tourists and backpackers. It is filled with cafes, littles stalls, pubs, bars, restaurants, retail stores… Shopping spot during the day, Khao San turns into a travelers meeting point in nightime. The atmosphere is relaxed but dynamic, chilled but active in the same time.
Thai Cooking class
It is often said that food is the reflection of a whole country’s personality. Then, what better fun and practical option than to take a cooking course? Based on rice and spicy ingredients, Thai cuisine abounds with delicacies all tastier than the others. Indeed, it is famously known for its balance of sweet, sour, spicy, salty and bitter taste senses. Taking a cooking class in Bangkok is a great experience that will enrich your culture and a nice occasion to meet people.
Muay Thai ( Thai Boxing )
Be it to watch a game or to take real lessons, Thai Boxing will guarantee you great sensations. Watching a thai boxing fight is synonym of a good night with wild atmosphere. The tickets are quite cheap and you will always find a fight to watch. Also, in Bangkok, lots of martial art schools and associations provide training for Muay Thai.
The very definition of diversity, demonstrating Malaysian culture at its best: a bustling melting pot of modernity and history, of colonial, Chinese, Indian and Malay influences on a sun-drenched tropical island. Located at the northwest of Malaysia, Penang is a bit different from Langkawi as it is mostly famous for its culture, food, its architecture and all its exotic heritage under British influence. Commonly called “The Pearl of the Orient”, Penang Island will guarantee you an authentic plunge into Southeast Asia. Penang Island is a lively melting pot, mixing Chinese community (in majority), Indians, and Malay. Thanks to its world famous food, such as Char Kuey Teow and Nasi Kandar, Penang has earned the title of “Food Capital” of Malaysia.
Georgetown is a historical city proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its mixed tropical colonial and Asian architecture is the best preserved example today of what was then known as the architecture of the “Straits Settlements” which includes Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Singapore. Lose yourself in the many meandering streets, by foot or by trishaw. Have a lassi in Little India, breathing in the scents from the spice shops, while immersing yourself with the myriad of colors that flood your visual field. Then wander around Chinatown (Everything in walking distance), visiting Chinese temples and shophouses.
Other attractions in Georgetown include:
•Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
• Fort Cornwallis
• Queen Victoria Clock Tower
• Numerous Chinese Temples, Mosques, Churches, and Hindu Temples
You could visit all these attractions by walking or using a trishaw. However, visiting the heart of Georgetown is much more enjoyable by foot. Indeed, you will not be surprised to see the time passing so fast in Georgetown: it is easy to spend the whole day walking around, tasting local snacks here and there while taking in the scenery of this beautiful old city.
It is the most popular destination in Penang right after Georgetown apart from being the most famous stretch of beach on the island. There is a high concentration of beach resorts here, mostly being 4 and 5 stars resorts. While the beaches can be seriously crowded at times (especially during public holidays)the mass of waters sports (jet skiing, kite surfing, parasailing, etc.) available and also massage/foot reflexology on the beach make up for this. If you are craving for local food, there is a large choice, from the many small stalls to restaurants selling mouth watering delicacies and homegrown recipes.
The area is also known for its night market (Pasar Malam in Bahasa), which constitutes the principal activity of Batu Ferringhi’s nightlife. From trinkets to batik clothes, and not forgetting electronic, music, watches, you will find whatever may be are looking for. Do not forget to bargain.
Teluk Bahang and Penang National Park
Teluk Bahang is a friendly fishing village (or “kampong” in the Malay dialect) located about 5 km from Batu Ferringhi, and it is the entrance to the Penang National Park. The village will delight you with its authenticity; it is a perfect place for a one day hideaway. There are several worthwhile activities to do there. You can choose between 2 hour trekking that will lead you to isolated beaches (like Monkey Beach or Pantai Mas), visiting the Penang Butterfly Farm, or have do a walk to the Forestry Museum.
Penang Hills (Bukit Bendera)
This is a well known attraction in Penang, for both tourists and locals. If you want to escape from Georgetown’s restlessness, Bukit Bendera is the place to go. There are two alternatives to climb the hill: either in jungle trekking style or people can use the red Swiss funicular train (currently closed for upgrade). Once in the jungle, you will appreciate the fauna and flora such as wild boars and squirrels, and a lot of birds. Not many people know about the Canopy Walk, a path on a bridge suspended on top of trees and 150m in length. From here get your camera ready as you will enjoy a beautiful view of Georgetown and the mainland.
Places of Worship
With all the religions coexisting together in peace on Penang Island, it is no surprise to walk and see the numerous churches, temples and mosques in the streets. Here are some of the most renowned ones:
* Kek Lok Si Temple (“Temple of Supreme Bliss”) :
– It is the largest Buddhist temple of Southeast Asia, and located in Air Itam, a suburb in Georgetown. The best period to visit is during Chinese New Year, when the temple is illuminated with thousands of lanterns. Built in 1890, Kek Lok Si is famous for its 10 000 Buddhas pagoda and its statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, which was completed in 2002.
* Kapitan Keling Mosque :
– This mosque is the largest historic mosque in Georgetown. You will admire the beautiful Indian Muslim architecture.
* Maha Mariamman Temple :
– It is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang, located in Lebuh Pitt.
Malacca is one of the most significant historical sites in Malaysia: in the 15th and 16th Centuries Malacca was the meeting place for the spice trade between East and West, comparable in size to major European capitals, with at any one time up to 2000 ships anchored before it. When talking about Malacca (Melaka in Bahasa Malaysia), it is necessary to talk about the history. Indeed, more than any other city in Malaysia, Malacca has a rich historical heritage. Malacca’s history begins in the 15th century, with a Sumatran prince named Parameswara. He was at the time fleeing from the conquering Majapahit Empire when he found and founded Malacca. He converted to Islam and became a sultan in 1414. At the time Malacca already attracted many traders from the Middle East, due to the spice trade, and this was a major influence in making Islam the official religion of Malaysia. Goods such as gold, silk, opium and tobacco were traded, promoting Malacca as the foremost “entrepot” in Southeast Asia. Its status soon attracted major sea-faring powers and in 1511, the Portuguese conquered Malacca. They then surrendered it to the Dutch in 1641 who ruled until 1795 that in turn ceded it to the British who reigned until the 1957 declaration of Independence of Malaysia.
Consequently, it is easy to understand that all these foreign invasions have marked Malacca. Eclectic ethnic groups and influences, mixed with a variety of traditions and culture, form the spicy identity of Malacca. Today Malacca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site designated in July 2008 (with Georgetown, Penang). Malacca is an ideal place to wander around and discover the wonders left by the melting pot of cultures that lived here centuries before.
This happening street lies on top of your to-do list. As its names indicated, it is just a street but one can easily spend the whole day there. There is an array of souvenir shops. You will be delighted to explore the numerous stalls and to bargain all these local batik clothes, wood handicraft, clogs, and of course, to bring them back home. At night during week ends, Jonker Street is the setting for another colorful and lively attraction: the night markets. It is a pleasure for the locals to walk around there straight after work, so go ahead and enjoy the effervescence of this famous “Pasar Malam”. Last but not least, Malacca and especially Jonker Street are renowned for their food. After a long bargaining you will appreciate a good meal in one of the many restaurants and cafés which sell local savory food, such as Chicken Rice Ball, barbecue squids …
A Famosa Port/ Porta de Santiago
When the Portuguese conquered Malacca in 1511, they immediately built an imposing fortification to be protected from counter attacks. Eventually the British decided to destroy the fort and today nothing is left but the main wall entrances. A Famosa Port is known as one of the oldest European monuments that remain in Asia.
Melaka Sultanate Palace
It is a replica from the original Sultanate during the period of Melaka Sultanate. Visiting it is a perfect occasion to learn more about Malacca’s history during the Golden Period.
Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum
Baba Nyonya (or Peranakan) designates the descendants of Chinese immigrants who moved to the British settlement of Singapore, Penang and Malacca. Also known as the Strait Born Chinese, this ethnic group is a beautiful and unique blend between Malay and Chinese people. Indeed, the Baba Nyonya adapted themselves to the Malay traditions to minimize the cultural shock. Baba refers to the men and Nyonya to the women. If you wish to catch a glimpse of their life, traditions, culture and heritage, a visit to the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum is really worth it.
The name Malacca, or Melaka in Bahasa Malaysia, has been chosen by the Prince Parameswara. According to a legend, he was resting under the Melaka tree when he saw a mouse deer fighting with his dogs and this same mouse deer winning the fight. This event gave him the inspiration and he decided to stay in the city he called Melaka.
When one talks about Bali Island, often the word “paradise” comes to mind. Indeed, this island abounds with clichés: world-class surfing, paradise for food, golden magnificent beaches, wild and crazy nightlife… But if generally a clich¬é is an ensemble of false ideas, here the cliché turns out to be true, as all the elements quoted above can be found in Bali. But above all, Bali has a unique culture, made of ancient legends and myths, and beyond that, made of a great open mindedness. With its internationally renowned many forms of art such as dance, music, painting, sculpting, Bali is not done amazing you.
Despite its infamous partying lifestyle, Kuta has many things to offer and is the ideal gateway for your adventure in Bali. Indeed, it is 10 minutes away from the Denpasar Airport and by bemo, motorbike or taxi, not far from towns like Seminiak, Ubud or Lovina. Apart from that, you will enjoy Kuta for its gorgeous sunsets and the golden sands. There are also a reasonable number of places to shop to buy handicrafts, batiks and local souvenirs.
Ubud is a little town located about 45 minutes from Kuta. Famously and deservedly called the center of Bali’s art scene, Ubud guarantees a romantic and clever escapade. Ubud is located at 300m above sea level, and hence enjoys a cool climate. This latter fact makes it a perfect spot to flee from the heat and the crowd of the other Balinese towns.
Ubud city is a real concentration of culture, typical Balinese architecture, and eagerness for knowledge. It is the best place on the island to have a real glimpse at Bali’s Hindu. Heritage and will delight all the curious and inspired people who want to experience something more than the fun and sun. These last fews years though, Ubud has inevitably lost a tiny bit of its charm as the merciless machinery of mass tourism spares none city. Nevertheless, if the town center is a bit noisier and competitive than before, the lane and the corners that are located away from it are really worth the visit and constitute a true must to put first on your to-do list. There, the nightly traditional dances which render Ubud so special and popular are exceptional.
Many beautiful rice fields surround Ubud and they constitute a relaxing and interesting activity to do. Many people like to hire bikes and ride in the paddy fields. There are also a lot of temples, historical sites, museums and galleries that are worth the visit. The icing on the cake is that every landscape that will accompany you is breath taking, so bring your camera along. Be it the long lanes full of art galleries or the magnificent greeneries of the fields, you will be charmed by Ubud.
Borobudur (yogyakarta) (Indonesia)
Along with the Angkor Wat Temple, Borobudur is one of the finest wonders of South East Asia and doubtlessly the most prestigious monument in whole Indonesia. It is a Buddhist temple located about 40km northwest of Yogyakarta. Place of pilgrimage, Borobudur is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. It has a lot of dramatic history behind it. According to some sources, it was built around 800 AD, but it is unclear by whom exactly and 75 years were necessary to finish its construction. After heyday for Buddhist people, the monument sank into oblivion under volcanic ashes and jungle that grew over it. Its “second life” in 1814 when Stamford Raffles (the Singapore Discoverer ) made the Dutch engineer Cornelius’ discovery public. All the credit was given to Raffles although he did not participate to the unearthing itself.
After this discovery, the site was under archeological attention and in the same time, slightly became more and more appreciated. Being a World Heritage Site, it has been renovated between 1975 and 1982. Now, it draws tourists but especially pilgrims from all over the world and is the most sacred place of worship for all Indonesian Buddhists.
To have a wonderful and unique experience, you can go to Borobudur during the Waisak festival (During the full moon in May). This ceremony celebrates the birth , life and death of Buddha with a long procession that goes from Candi Mendut to Borobudur. It is the perfect occasion to see all the rituals that accompany this kind of Buddhist celebration. It a colorful, spiritual and unforgettable experience.
Borobudur is shaped like a mandala. A mandala is a circular diagram that has its roots in Tibetan traditions. The whole temple is a representation of body, speech and mind of the Lord Buddha. All its architecture and statues live in harmony, and all the elements that form Borobudur are part of a pattern that serves for meditation. It is a real and spiritual guidance for pilgrims for them to find and achieve their way to Nirvana.
Tana Toraja, Sulawesi (Indonesia)
Tana Toraja, or ” The Land of Heavenly Kings” is a region located up in the hills of Sulawesi, Indonesia. The two important cities of this region are Makale, the capital, and Rantepao, the largest town. The inhabitants are the ethnic group the Torajans. They are predominantly Christians but obey to their cultural heritage and stick to it.
Tana Toraja is nothing compared to what you have seen or experienced before. You will be stunned by their culture. What makes Tana Toraja so special and unique is all their spectacular funeral rituals and their fascination with the dead.
Death Ceremony in Tana Toraja
An array of beliefs and rituals accompany the daily life of the Torajan people. When someone dies, it is believed that the deceased is not separated directly from the family as he continues to protect and save them by bringing them good luck. Also, as the funeral is considered the most important ceremony in the Torajan’s life, it takes time for the family to save money to buy a buffalo. Indeed, the burials are accompanied by buffalo and pig sacrifices. The more important the deceased, the more the buffalos. Some dances are executed; the dancers’ outfits are based on traditional warrior dress and weaponry. Therefore the funerals can happen a long time after the death.
The funeral season takes place during the months of July and August, so naturally it draws more tourists and curious than the usual. Do not hesitate to get a bit off the beaten track to have the best perception of this amazing Torajan life, or to come during the rest of the year. Makale is the capital of the Tana Toraja Regency. Rantepao is the cultural center of Tana Toraja and is a good gateway for your adventure in Tana Toraja. An absolute must-see in Rantepao is its market, Pasar Bolu.
Nias Island (Indonesia)
Nias Island is an Indonesian island located on the western side of Sumatra. It is a paradisiacal place known for its turquoise waters and, above all, for being a great surf destination. As a matter of fact, one of the main source of income of the locals is seasoning surf. It is an internationally known surfing spot renowned for its world class waves, the most popular site being Lagundri Bay.
Apart from these surfing features, Nias Island is blessed with gorgeous sceneries and a lot of other water activities to do: Fishing, diving… Indeed, the waters there are very rich. The people of Nias, who calls itself “Ono Niha” (it means “People’s children”) will amazed you with their strong culture. They live simply and are very hospitable towards tourists. Earning their lives mainly by fishing or farming, they live in old traditional houses, built with heavy woods and following a special architecture to resist the wrath of the weather conditions.
Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
Angkor Wat is one of the three temples of Angkor, Cambodia (with Bayon and Ta Prohm). Angkor Wat is a Hindu temple internationally known as one of the greatest national pride to all Khmers. Indeed it is such a symbol for the country that it appears on the national flag.
It was built during the 12th century by Suryavarman II and is entirely dedicated to Vishnu, the supreme God in Hinduism. In the late 13th century though, Angkor Wat was converted to Buddhism by a new king and it still is the same nowadays.
The temple is an interesting and beautiful mix between Indian architecture and the “Temple Mountain” pattern. It draws thousands of visitors every year, all of them being interested to see the remains of the tremendous religious, social and cultural center that existed in these ancient times.
Nothing in the construction of Angkor Wat is ever left to chance. Every element that composes it refers to a symbolic, astronomic or spiritual element. In Angkor Wat, everything is about the harmony between earth and stars. The symbiosis between all the element is what renders the complex so special and unique in the pilgrim’s hearts.
Irrawady river is the main river of Burma, as well as the largest one. It allows a considerable production of rice for the country, and this production makes of Irrawady a real artery for Burma. Besides these economic features, Irrawady river is a great cruise destination. It is the right place to discover the Burmese nature, culture and lifestyle. It will give you the chance to live a unique visual experience.