Places with photo galleries in Asia
Not only does Yala National Park have the world's highest concentration of leopards, but the landscape is extremely diverse, ranging from dense jungle over open scrubland to sandy beaches sloping into the Indian Ocean. The park is packed with all kinds of wildlife like Asian elephants, crocodiles, Grey langurs, Sloth bears (like Baloo from the Jungle Book) and more than 150 kinds of birds, including White-bellied Sea Eagles and Painted- and Black-necked storks. This is what makes the park so special:; there are literally animals everywhere and you get fairly close to them in the small jeeps.
These girls are not prostitutes, as you might think, but betel nut beauties who only sell betel nuts, cold drinks and cigarettes. Positioned in neon lighted glass booths along the major provincial roads, these skimpily dressed girls try to attract passing drivers' attention (probably mostly men) with their cuteness and lack of outfit. In the good old nineties, the girls were hardly wearing anything, but today no breasts or buttocks are exposed. Betel nut is a mild stimulant and is big business in Taiwan, where the girls are considered as a unique culture feature. They certainly make entering a Taiwanese town a bit more exciting. Just remember to keep your eyes on the road while driving.
Ayuthaya was the crown jewel and powerhouse of ancient Southeast Asia. It was the majestic capital of Siam (name of ancient Thailand) and a major trading centre for the whole Asian region. Its size and splendour were unmatched at the time. Unfortunately, this made the neighbouring Burmese envious, so in 1767 they raided the city, smashed it to pieces and burned the rest. This means of course that today the only surviving structures from the glory days are the ones that were made of bricks, like monasteries and towers. But there are still heaps to see and it is still darn splendid. And all this is just a tranquil day trip from buzzing Bangkok.
Chiaw Lan Lake was artificially created in 1982, when they built the Ratchaprapha dam. While it is never nice to flood a national park, the result seems rather genius. Steep, vertical limestone outcrops are now rising high out of the green, warm freshwater. Some outcrops reach more than 950 m straight up into the sky. The best way to take in all this beauty is to stay at some of the cool raft guesthouses made of floating bamboo poles tied together, and go exploring early in morning in a kayak. Though most people come here on a tour, it is easy to get here by yourself and then you can choose which area of the lake, you want to stay at.
Thailand has two Ko Chang and this is the little and overlooked one in the Andaman Sea. This small walkable island is covered in rubber trees and coconut palm and is pure serenity. Locals hire out simple bungalows and there is a handful of restaurants and bars for the few travellers who venture off the beaten track. Things are even slower here than on neighbouring Ko Phayam and farang facilities are close to nonexistent. This is how things must have been on Ko Pha Ngan twenty years ago and it is a refreshing reminder that there are still hidden corners in Thailand that lie untouched and ready to be explored. Ko Chang is probably the closest you can get to a Robinson-Crusoe vibe without actually being on a deserted island.
You can't say Ko Pha Ngan without saying Full Moon Party, but Ko Pha Ngan is a diverse island which has also secluded bays, dense jungle, waterfalls, and tranquil beaches for couples who rather enjoy each other instead of another firedance show. The party capital is Haad Rin where the rather trashed Sunrise Beach turns into a pumping dancefloor every evening. The sunset side of Haad Rin is rather calm and a good place to keep a walking distance to the party madness. The west coast is home to some beautiful stretches of sand with bungalows in any price range. Further north to both sides of the small fisher town of Chalok Lam are several low key beaches with a more alternative vibe. The ever more popular Bottle Beach (Haad Khuat) can be reached by boat from here. By renting a motorbike and ride the horrendous jungle roads across the island you will get to the two bays of Tong Nai Pan (Noi and Yai) which seems popular for families and relaxing couples. So you don't have to be a techno mad shoestring backpacker to enjoy Ko Pha Ngan, for it has something for everybody.
When you mention Ko Phayam to other travellers, most will think you mean Ko Pha Ngan on the east coast for Ko Phayam managed to be off the main backpacker and holiday trail. There is a couple of upmarket resorts on the island, but it's otherwise just palm thatched huts among the shady coconut palms and cashew trees along the almost deserted white beaches. There are no cars on Ko Phayam but a narrow network of path fitted for motorbikes. The island attracts a groovy crowd who has tried to hush down the existence of this little paradise. Besides hammock lying and spliff rolling, there is good birdwatching with chances to see hornbills and sea eagles. If you are looking for even more back-to-nature, try Ko Chang (little, not big Ko Chang on the east coast) a bit north or just Ko Kham a short boat ride from the Ko Phayam pier.
The little sister to Ko Samui and Ko Pha Ngan has a name of its own as a world-class diving destination. Wannabe divers flock to Ko Tao to get their PADI open-water certification making Ko Tao one of the most popular and cheapest places to do it in the world. But besides the bubble blowers, tiny Ko Tao also attracts travellers who want to escape the commercialised Samui and party-crazy Ko Pha Ngan. Though Ko Tao has several beaches, most people stay at lovely and long Sairee Beach. A low key mix of bungalows, seaside restaurants, inland town (if you can call a couple of streets a town) and funky bars makes it a fun place to be, diving or not. But as with any other islands in Thailand, you can choose other bays if you are into more secluded beaches and resorts.
The largest island in Thailand is Phuket. It is so big that it does not feel like one, which is kind of good for the place is welcoming several million tourists every year. Most people only make it to the main strips of sand at Patong, Karon and Kata, leaving a fair bit of beaches and green countryside to travellers seeking more than Starbucks, jetskis and expat bars. Phuket admirably manages to offer something for everyone. Even the Old Town of Phuket city is inviting and is a great base for the penny-pinchers who are more interested in exploring the island than spending money on prime beach location.
For an idea of the different beaches on Phuket, check out the photo gallery.
Even if you are templed-out, this wat is still fun to visit. The abbot had this insane idea to cover the pagoda with empty bottles in a statement of half save-the-planet-by-recycling and half religious thoughts about glass symbolizing the search for clarity in one's mind. The official name of the wat is Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaeo , but most locals simply know it by the name Wat Lan Khuat, Million Bottle Temple. Some travel guides misleadingly state that the temple is built out of beer bottles (Heineken and Chang) but it is "only" the surface that is covered with bottles (concrete is certainly also used) and most of the bottles seem to be energy-drink bottles (from M-150, Red Bull, etc) which doesn't make it any less wicked. Everything is covered with bottles: the monk's huts, the toilets, the water tower, even the crematorium is covered with glass bottles...