Tag Archives: SE Asia

Penang – Pretty Much The Best Visa Run Destination Ever

Penang is probably the best visa run destination for those coming from Thailand

Penang’ is the best visa run destination for nomads and travelers in Southern Thailand, as it has no shortage of attractions to discover while your passport is getting stamped.

After spending a week exploring Koh Samui, it was time to leave Thailand, as my 30-day exemption had run out. If you are in the south and you are looking for a great place to go on a visa run, Penang is an easy choice, as its combination of culture, drool-worthy cuisine, and historic attractions make the island the best visa run destination for those hanging out in Southern Thailand.

Butter Chicken and Naan, Penang, Malaysia

Char kway teow, Penang, Malaysia

Succulent Pork Chop, Penang, Malaysia

As one of Southeast Asia’s best food destinations, you can bounce from Indian to Chinese to Malay and Western food – and all of it for just a few dollars.

Door in Penang, Malaysia

As much as your meals here will be a star attraction, the sheer joy of walking around Georgetown surpasses it.

Door in Penang, Malaysia

As common as these entryways appear to its lifelong residents, their weathered appearance gives them a presence that the impersonal, unspectacular doors back home could never muster up on their own.

Archway, Penang Malaysia

Archway, Penang Malaysia

Archway, Penang Malaysia

Meng Eng Soo Temple in Penang Malaysia

The buildings here are not only gorgeous, but they are also custom-built to protect you against the elements. They feature overhangs that shield you from the intense equatorial sun, as well as monsoonal downpours that would otherwise soak you to the bone.

Chinese Temple in Penang Malaysia

And that doesn’t even cover this UNESCO-recognized town’s main attractions, as there are Chinese temples like the one shown, in addition to the Clan Jetties, which are so detailed that they will get their own post (stay tuned, it’s coming up very soon).

Love Lane in Penang, Malaysia

Iron street art, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Penang Malaysia

If you only have time to see one thing of note on the streets of Georgetown, make a sport of hunting down the stunning twisted iron sculptures that tell the story of this port on the Straits of Malacca. With 30 or so scattered through its Jalans, you’ll be spending some serious time outside – don’t forget to put on some sunscreen before heading out.

As mentioned earlier in this post, there’s more to come from Penang – have a question about this popular destination in Malaysia? Ask away in the comments below, as I’ve visited the island twice over the past six years.

Traveling to Koh Samui for the first time? Here’s what you can expect…

The view from my ferry's bow while traveling to Koh Samui from Don Sak pier // photo: James Shannon

The view from my ferry’s bow while traveling to Koh Samui from Don Sak pier // photo: James Shannon

Thanks to my super-long break from blogging, the pictures that I have taken from my Asian and Latin American travels have been collecting dust on my hard drive.

However, now that I have gotten the hang of running the day-to-day aspects of my business, I am finally making a commitment to get back to documenting my never-ending pursuit of excitement!

Although the trip in this post occurred over three years ago, it makes sense to go back in time given how long I have been ignoring this site.

After flying to Thailand on a whim and securing the first client for my nascent business, I was already running out of time on my 30-day visa exemption. While I had to leave the country to secure a proper visa, I decided to see a part that I had not seen on prior backpacking trips.

Many have derided this island as being the Gulf of Thailand’s version of Phuket. As much as I had loathed Patong Beach when I was there, traveling to Koh Samui was necessary in order to know this place for myself.

Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui, Thailand // photo: James Shannon

As it turned out, Chaweng Beach (the most popular resort area on the island) was quite the busy hub, but it wasn’t the in-your-face circus that Patong had been.

If you are looking for a place with all the restaurants, bars, and services you could ever want, paired together with a decent beach, you’ll want to base yourself here.

Chaweng Beach by day, Koh Samui, Thailand // photo: James Shannon
A spot like this wouldn’t be my first choice for some R&R (for me, that’s Koh Chang), but for many folks, it works well as a home base to enjoy one of Thailand’s finest islands.

While I stuck around this area more than I wanted to (bloody cold … I had bad luck that year with tropical islands and being ill!), I did eventually get around the island on a guided tour.

Koh Samui // photo: James Shannon
While many tours on Koh Samui are worth the cost, be sure that they leave out the monkey show.

This exploitative attraction nearly ruined the entire day, as its cruelty overshadowed the other worthwhile sights that the guide had shown us.
Wat Phra Yai, Koh Samui, Thailand // photo: James Shannon

However, there was one cultural highlight that had me walking away impressed: Wat Phra Yai (Big Buddha Temple).

Wat Phra Yai, Koh Samui, Thailand // photo: James Shannon

Boasting several gigantic Buddha idols and other icons of Buddhism, it was a refreshingly Thai corner on one of Thailand’s most hyped islands.

Wat Phra Yai, Koh Samui, Thailand // photo: James Shannon

Have any questions about Koh Samui? Been there yourself lately? Share your queries/perspective in the comments below.

Quick Safety Tips When Traveling Solo to Manila

Traveling Solo to Manila is perfectly safe if you follow some common sense tips

Photo by CC user Alvin js5 on Wikimedia Commons

Going on a solo vacation can be an exhilarating experience. You have full control of your own schedule, meaning you can move from one place to another at your own pace. While it’s not as scary when hopping from one state to another, it can be much scarier to jet to a different country on your own, such as the Philippines. Known for its sunny beaches and welcoming locals, it’s one of the best places to go on a budget.

But before you decide to book a stay in affordable hotels in Manila, you need to keep a few safety tips in mind when traveling on your own—especially if it’s your first time going solo. Let’s discuss a few ways you can stay safe no matter what island you decide to visit.

Always Be Mindful of Your Belongings

Tourists are hot targets for a lot of pickpockets. You might own some nice accessories, but wearing them while weaving your way through a packed area such as Divisoria may not be the wisest thing to do. Make sure to keep your bag’s straps on you at all times. If you must put your bag down on the ground, secure it by placing it between your feet, with one strap wrapped around your foot. For your valuables, you may want to invest in a waist pouch, but make sure you tuck it away properly.

Try to Stay Awake During Transit

Once you get onto a train, taxi, or bus, resist the urge to fall asleep, even if you’re exhausted from your itinerary. Unfortunately, you don’t have a travel partner who can watch out for you while you rest, so you need to be extra cautious about your surroundings. You never know when somebody might steal your belongings while you’re snoozing away. At the same time, you might end up sleeping and missing your stop. In the Philippines, you need to tell the driver where you want to be dropped off, or else they’ll keep driving on. If you have a tendency to nap despite your best efforts to stay awake, you might want to invest in cable locks and a mesh protector for your bag.

Learn as Much as You Can Beforehand

Always do your research before going to any particular location. For example, the way you conduct yourself in the U.S. may not go over well in the Philippines. And while you may be exposed to unusual food or practices, the worst thing you can do is to show clear distaste for any part of their culture. Some countries consider certain types of clothing to be offensive or unacceptable. You should also memorize a few useful words and phrases in the local language so that you can ask for help if you need to. In addition, do some research about any facial expressions or gestures that might be considered rude in that area. The last thing you want is to accidentally get into a fight with somebody without even knowing why.

Keep Information About Your Trip Private

While it’s wise to inform your friends and loved ones about where you plan to go and when you expect arrive, you shouldn’t share that information to just anybody you meet on the street. You’ll want to withhold any info about where you plan to go, as well as where you’ve booked a room. Don’t let any strangers figure out that you’re on your own, either. If you have to, pretend you’re waiting for somebody else. Otherwise, people might end up using what you’ve told them to track you down and steal your belongings. This isn’t to say that you can’t trust anybody in another country. For instance, Philippine locals are particularly friendly and helpful, especially when you’re asking for directions. Still, when you’re all alone in another country, it still pays to be safe than sorry.

In Short: Do Your Research and Stay Alert

By putting in enough preparation, you’ll find that traveling solo isn’t all that frightening. You might even gain deep, personal experiences you wouldn’t have had on a group trip. Keep all of these tips in mind and you should be able to stay safe and sound on your next trip.

Choice Views From Thailand’s Hill Country

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As my time in Northern Thailand is winding its way to a close, I’d figure I’d share more pics to show you what the mountains up in this part of the country are like.  The highlands up here are (believe it or not) the furthest of the foothills that radiate out hundreds of kilometres from the main ranges of the Himalayas.  They don’t reach up high enough to get snow in the winter time, but they do provide a bit of novelty for the Thai population nonetheless, as the coldest nighttime lows in December/January get nippy enough to cause frost to form!

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Despite the fact that I described them as foothills, these mountains aren’t small exactly … you see that squiggley line in the side of the hill ahead?  That’s just two of over 1,800+ curves on the Mae Hong Son loop, a popular motorbiking route that includes the mountain valley paradise of Pai. This road is not so great if you’re stuck in a bus or minivan, but a pure joy to ride on a bike (word to the wise #1: don’t rent a Honda Click, as you will struggle to get up steep inclines … word to the wise #2: check your fuel often … it’s actually remote in this part of Thailand!)

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Just in case you think North Americans have the market on tacky tourist stuff cornered, think again!  In addition to all the Coffee In Love attractions in nearby Pai, at the mountaintop viewpoint between Pai and Sappong, you can pretend to be a Karen tribesperson! Not my cup of tea, but I did find it amusing on this day in Thailand’s hill country!

Have you done the Mae Hong Son Loop in Northern Thailand?  What did you think about it?

Photo: The Ancient Ruins Of Sukhothai, Thailand

The Ancient Ruins Of Sukhothai don't see as many visitors as other sites in Thailand ... their loss is your gain The main ruins complex at Sukhothai, Thailand, as seen at High Noon…

Passed over by many travellers and tourists that have already seen the ancient Thai ruins at the more conveniently situated site in Ayutthaya, the remains of the medieval period capital of Siam in Sukhothai can come as a complete surprise to people with no idea what to expect.

In many respects, the ruins in Sukhothai are in better shape and are far more accessible to visitors.

Upon arriving in the Old Town via songthaew from the New Town (20 baht as of 2010, which was when the above picture was taken), guests can rent bicycles for 50 baht/day.

This makes cruising around the ruins a breeze and enables shots like the one seen above.

Ever been to the Ancient Ruins Of Sukhothai?

Photo: Monkey Business In Lopburi Thailand

Get up to some monkey business In Lopburi Thailand during your Southeast Asian backpacking tripA new simian friend hangs out with me on the bars of the Monkey Temple, in the centre of the Old City in Lopburi, Thailand

It’s easy to breeze past all of North Central Thailand if you don’t have an interest in ruins/temples. Between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, there are a few cities that have ruins that will interest the archaeology buffs among us, but for those looking for highlights in other areas, inquiries into the area comes up pretty thin.

This is when it pays to take a leap of faith and get off the beaten track. Textbook example: Lopburi, Thailand. Hands up if you ever heard of this place before. Unless you’ve scoured the internet for every bit of info on Thailand, or read your Lonely Planet guide from cover to cover, chances are you haven’t.

It does help to try and find whatever information you can about these places, though. Hmmm, Lopburi? A city overrun by monkeys? They’ll steal food and other objects (like your camera) right out of your hands? Sounds like a time! Off to Monkeytown we go!

As it turns out, unless you’re remarkably unaware of your surroundings, you’ll be fine here. Walk among them and they won’t swarm you (unless you have food obviously). Except for a few aggressive alpha males, they are largely harmless, and even in the case of those guys, just keep your distance and they won’t bother you. As you will find out, the monkey business in Lopburi Thailand is a totally cool thing to witness.

Their antics are adorable, and the babies are oooh, so cute!

Any monkey tales to share from the road? Tell us about our encounter with your genetic cousins below!

Photo: Movie Night On The King’s Birthday, Lopburi, Thailand

Movie Night On The King's Birthday in Lopburi, ThailandLocal Thais watch a movie on the King’s Birthday in Lopburi, Thailand.

The King of Thailand is one of the world’s most revered monarchs. Ask any Thai, and the vast majority will espouse how the King has led the country from being an agrarian nation at the conclusion of World War II, to a modern and well-regarded state where people’s quality of life has vastly improved. Everywhere you go in the country, you’ll see giant portraits of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit. Small framed photos of the King can be spotted in shops, guesthouses, and homes. Despite the fact that Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, which means that the King has no real political power, politicians often call on him for advice, and nobody dares to disrepect him when he voices an opinion, one way or the other. Indeed, it is a crime to insult the King in Thailand.

On the date of the current King’s Birthday (December 5), a bank holiday takes place throughout the entire country. Speeches to honour the King take place on TV, the sale of alcohol is banned (stock up before this day and ALL other scheduled Buddhist holidays), and festivities, including fireworks, take place across the entire nation.

In Lopburi, one of the events they held to honour Rama IX was a movie night on the King’s Birthday. Right outside my guesthouse door, they had a giant video screen set up, where they were showing videos trumpeting the King’s leadership over the years through various tough times. The movie shown above was one concerning typhoon Gay that struck places like Surat Thani and Koh Samui in 1989, making it the first tropical disturbance to form in the Gulf of Thailand and make landfall since 1891. Over 600 people in Thailand were killed, necessitating a massive relief response.

The King led the formation of a charitable organization, which sprung into immediate action in the wake of that disaster, and it has been called upon in other calamities in the years since then (the most notable example being the Tsunami that struck Southwestern Thailand back in 2004, killing 7,000 people). The video was very well-produced, and it did an excellent job to help explain why Thais love their King so dearly.

Ever been in Thailand during the King’s Birthday? What events did you witness/partake in?

Photo: Gilded Chicken Statues At A Shrine, Ayutthaya Thailand

Optimized-hpim1111Shiny blue and golden chicken idols, near Ayutthaya, Thailand

For many first time explorers in Thailand, sights like the one depicted above may come as a surprise. Denoting symbolism that has no direct comparison with Western culture, it definitely contributes one of many additions to the “WTF” file when exploring this exotic country.

If you want to know however, the chicken statues displayed here are at the shrine to the former Thai King Naresuan in Ayutthaya Thailand. When he was a prisoner in Burma back in the 1500’s he had nobody to talk to, save a bunch of roaming chickens. Having his Castaway moment, Naresuan anthropomorphized them into feathery friends, got through his ordeal alive, and later immortalized them in statue form.

Cool story. But even cooler statues!

What’s the most bizarre thing you have ever seen on your travels?

Photo: Lumphini Park, Bangkok’s Version Of Central Park

Optimized-hpim1021Lumphini Park, Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, like many cities across Asia, tend to be a sprawling concrete jungle, teeming with traffic and people, but with precious little in the way of green space.

Which is precisely what makes places like Lumphini Park in Bangkok so special. An oasis of grass and greenery in the midst of soaring skyscrapers and concrete shophouses that dominate this megalopolis of 14 million people, it is a welcome relief for all who happen upon it. Joggers, Tai Chi enthusiasts, and office workers seeking a temporary escape from the office all frequent this space of relative calm, finding solace in the hectic lives that they lead.

Worn down from your time in the Big Mango? Take the MRT to Silom Station and take a break in one of Bangkok’s most relaxing spots!

Koh Chang’s Got More Than Beaches. Like This Amazing Thai Waterfall.

Optimized-hpim0967Just one of several stunning waterfalls accessible in the interior of Koh Chang, Thailand.

With my latest (unplanned) trip to Thailand well underway, one of the first places I’m going to make a point of visiting is Koh Chang, the second largest island in the country. However, it largely remains off the tourist grid because it isn’t in the south of the country, where the tourism heavyweights of Phuket, Samui, and Phangan reside.

Now, I’ve established that Koh Chang has beaches in a previous post, but did you also know that it contains its fair share of waterfalls? Containing mountains in its interior that rise to approximately 600 metres at its highest point, and a robust rainy season that is nearing its apex, and you have a recipe for some spectacular chutes of water.

The picture above was taken about a month into the dry season. Imagine what this Thai waterfall must be like now?