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As the crow flies it is only 300kms from downtown Bangkok to the western Thai town of Sangkhlaburi. Despite this relative proximity, the two are poles apart in terms of their atmospheres and paces of life. Sangkhlaburi is a new town built on higher ground when the old one was flooded by the creation of the Vajiralongkorn reservoir in the early 1980s.
During the dry season, the level of the reservoir drops and the prayer hall of the town’s former temple stands like a guardian angel over the surrounding landscape. The lake is also the site of a 400-metre-long wooden bridge. Crossing the rather ramshackle bridge to the Mon township of Wang Kha was an essential activity for most visitors, but it partially collapsed two months ago. A cafe beside the bridge provides a great spot to soak up the ambience of this exotic location.
Another must on the itinerary of tourists is the 20km journey out to Three Pagodas Pass. The pagodas are nondescript, but the scenery en route is wonderful. Souvenir market stalls and the opportunity of having a photograph taken at the Thai-Myanmar border crossing are the main attractions of the pass. Foreign tourists are barred from crossing into Myanmar at present.
Sangkhlaburi draws travellers with its chilled out atmosphere and a taste of the Thailand of yesteryear. Most accommodation options in and around the town are close to the lakeside and thoroughly relaxing spots to spend a few days. Sangkhlaburi can be reached by bus from Bangkok or Kanchanaburi. Our 1Stop guide to bus travel in Thailand has a few details about this mode of transport.
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With more than 3,000kms of coastline and a profusion of offshore islands, Thailand has more than enough beach towns and resorts to satisfy the tastes of all comers. Options range from party towns extraordinaire Pattaya and Patong on Phuket Island to the deserted stretches of golden sands on areas of Koh Phangan and Khao Lak.
On the Gulf of Thailand side of the southern peninsula, Bang Saphan is fast becoming the beach destination of choice for discerning visitors looking for relaxation in a heavenly setting. Until the Country Road Bar opened earlier this year, nightlife in Bang Saphan was limited to the odd karaoke pub.
The bay at Bang Saphan is lined with soft, sandy beaches. The seas here are warm and visitors can swim all year-round apart from occasional days in the monsoon season when the waves are too high. Resorts such as the Palm Gardens and Bangsaphan Beach are mostly on the opposite side of the road to the beach and allow their guests easy access to the sea and seafood restaurants.
Although most people visit Bang Saphan to enjoy the sun and sea, there are a number of good outings. Ban Krut has additional beaches while the cave complex at Wat Tum Marong is an interesting spot for culture buffs. The island of Koh Talu boasts crystal-clear waters which attract divers and snorkelers.
The 1Stop Thailand travel guide offers information about the country’s best known beach destinations and has a link to a reservations service for Bang Saphan hotels.
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Opened only five years ago, the Dragon Descendants Museum is a fairly recent addition to Thailand’s inimitable tourist attractions. The museum traces the lives and heritage of the early Chinese settlers in Thailand. The main feature of the museum is a multi-tiered pagoda which is comparable in aesthetic beauty to similar structures on the Chinese mainland.
A massive dragon is the temple’s other landmark feature. The dragon has been built in the style of those that feature in dragon-dances in Chinatowns around the world for the Lunar New Year and other auspicious Chinese festivals. Curved fangs and a tongue breathing fire precede a 135-metre-long scaled body. The dragon’s eyes glower into the sky from a lofty elevation 35 metres above ground level.
There are 21 galleries in the museum which explore many aspects of Thai-Chinese history. One delves into how Chinese surnames evolved. There is a nominal admission fee to the museum itself, but entry to the grounds and shrine of what local residents call Wat Mangkon is free. An essential activity for most visitors is to light a joss-stick (tup) to the ancestral dragons.
The Dragon Descendants Museum is located in Suphanburi and is around 90 minutes’ drive from Bangkok. It is closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays. The 1Stop Thailand guide has links to the country’s better known tourist destinations and attractions.
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A train trip to Kanchanaburi and onwards on the remaining stretch of the infamous Death Railway is very much on the itineraries of visitors to Thailand. More than 100,000 Asian labourers and Allied prisoners-of-war died during the construction of the WWII track to Rangoon. Bridge 277, forever immortalised as the Bridge on the River Kwai, marks the start of the Death Railway and is a few kilometres outside of downtown Kanchanaburi.
Passengers can board trains to the current terminus at Nam Tok from either the station close to town or the one at the bridge. Trains run three times a day in each direction. Two of the trains originate at Bangkok’s Thonburi Station with departure times of 07:45 and 13.55. Journey times from Bangkok to Nam Tok are around 4 hours 30 minutes and from Kanchanaburi are 2 hours.
Parts of Bridge 277 are original and were part of the structure erected by the Japanese in 1943. After the bridge has faded into the distance, the train wends its way through pristine vistas. A highlight of the trip is crossing the Wang Pho Viaduct. The viaduct is supported by trestles built on the side of a cliff.
Travellers who do not want to go all the way to Nam Tok could get off at Tham Krasae. From here it is possible to take a walk across the viaduct. An ambient café and the grotto-shrine which the station takes its name from are other compelling reasons to linger in Tham Krasae.
From Nam Tok Station, Sai Yok Noi Waterfall is a two-kilometre hike or a short trip by songthaew shared taxi. Hellfire Pass is around 10kms from the station and taxi drivers can usually be persuaded to make the trip. Failing this, there are fairly regular buses on Highway 323 which drop passengers close to the pass’s access road.
The 1Stop Thailand section on Kanchanaburi has more details about the delights of visiting the town.
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Phuket’s Hog’s Breath Café is a part of the noted Aussie Hog’s Breath chain established by Don Algie in the late 1980s. The Phuket outlet remains true to the founder’s aim of serving the most succulent steaks imaginable garnished with full trimmings in a convivial atmosphere. The Hog’s Breath Phuket is located on Patong’s iconic promenade just across from the Jungceylon Mall.
The Patong branch ensures steaks are the real thing by flying the genuine product from Australia and then slow cooking for 18 hours for freshness and to lock the aromas inside. The prime rib range includes gems such as hickory smoked and avocado. Bernaise and black-pepper are among sauces providing a little extra piquancy.
Although steaks are Hog’s Breath’s signature offering they are by no means its only ones. An eclectic range of appetisers includes macho nachos, bruschetta and buffalo wings. Gourmet burgers, wraps, sandwiches and salads together with a special children’s menu cater to all tastes.
The café’s collection of Hog Wear features top quality vests and T-shirts emblazoned with the pig logo. The pig-screen television shows live sports fixtures from around the world. The Phuket chapter of the 1Stop Thailand guide has more details about holidaying on the Pearl of the Andaman.
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Koh Hae is a magical island eight kilometres south of Phuket. The island’s golden beaches and pristine environment together with the turquoise seas encircling it have left many former visitors feeling as though they have stepped off a boat and straight into the Garden of Eden. Ferries and speedboats run from Rawai and Chalong to the island. Journey times are usually between 15 and 30 minutes.
There are two main beaches on Koh Hae. Most tourists land at Long Beach which is in the middle of the north coast. The waters off this beach are great for snorkelling. Parts of the beach are ringed by buoys and off-limits to boats. The island’s famed staghorn coral reef is 100 metres offshore here. The reefs gave Koh Hae its English name of Coral Island.
Banana Beach is east along the coast from Long Beach. Banana is quieter and more exclusive. The coral reefs ringing this beach are not so far out and are accessible for swimmers with a reasonable level of fitness. Coral Island Club is the best known of the travel agents offering trips out to the island from Phuket. Daytrips include snorkelling, kayaking and buffet lunch on the island.
Holidaymakers wishing to stay longer on Koh Hae could book themselves a holiday at the Coral Island Resort. Our partner site is linked on the 1Stop Thailand home page and offers the opportunity of booking one of the resort’s 64 opulent bungalows at discount rates.
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The eastern Isarn region of Thailand is home to a few places with dinosaur skeletons. The biggest of these by far is what is nowadays Phu Wiang National Park. Palaeontologists have previously likened the quantity of bones in the park to a veritable dinosaur’s graveyard.
The first remains of the dinosaurs were unearthed less than five decades ago when geologists stumbled on them while searching for uranium. The dinosaur remains were new and unknown types, and carnivores and herbivores. Palaeontologists were able to date some of the remains to 130-million-years old.
The experts unearthed a previously unheard of species now called Siamotyrannus in 1996. The species is a kind of carnivorous thunder lizard. A good selection of the excavated bones and skeletons are housed in the park’s dinosaur museum. The park also has an Exogyra oyster-shell fossil field dating from millions of years ago.
Dinosaurs are not Phu Wiang’s only draw as there are a number of waterfalls as well as bucolic vistas and forest trails. Lad Champa Waterfall is close to Hua Phu Chon Reservoir while the majestic Tard Klang Waterfall is four kilometres away. Bungalows and a camp ground are available for visitors wishing to stay overnight. There are also food outlets and public restrooms in the park.
Phu Wiang National Park is 85kms from the town of Khon Kaen. The 1Stop guide to northeast Thailand has more details about the attractions of the region.
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Around 15kms south of the town of Prachuap Khiri Khan, Waghor Aquarium is a contemporary addition to the attractions at King Mongkut Science Park. The aquarium only opened eight years ago, but prior to this visitors were allowed to wander around the evolving facility without paying the nominal admission fee required nowadays.
There is a glass tunnel through the central part of the aquarium which enables visitors to observe marine species such as sharks and rays from close quarters. This vantage point is especially useful at feeding times. Tanks at the aquarium contain all manner of colourful tropical fish and corals.
Freshwater and marine species are contained in habitats designed to authentically replicate their native habitats. There is an open pond dedicated to starfish and other echinoderms. Displays themed around the environment have some English language signage.
The large grounds at the King Mongkut Park also feature various science and technology themed buildings and monuments. The centrepiece of these is a planetarium-museum which illustrates the experiments and research Mongkut made before travelling to the district to witness the solar eclipse he had predicted.
There are a number of food and beverage stalls onsite as well as a food-court at the aquarium. On a calm day the beach running down the east side of the park is a perfect spot for a picnic. The park opens daily between 09:00 and 16:00. The 1Stop Thailand guide to Hua Hin has details about Prachuap Khiri Khan Province’s better known resort.
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With almost 3,000kms of coastline stretching down the sides of its southern peninsula, Thailand boasts numerous beaches to suit all possible tastes. One that is often overlooked by international tourists is Ao Manao. This beach stretches around a picturesque bay just to the south of the town of Prachuap Khiri Khan.
Rented bicycles or motorcycle-and-sidecar taxis are the easiest means of getting to Ao Manao. As the beach is actually within the confines of an air force base, foreigners are required to sign in and out. The beach’s name translates as lemon bay and it is a magical sight with soft sands set against a backdrop of shade-giving pine trees.
The bay is sheltered and suitable for swimming most of the year round. Swimmers only need to keep an eye out for jellyfish in the months after the end of the rainy season. Vendors set up deckchairs and parasols under the pine trees. Visitors pay a 10 Baht fee for the use of the deckchair. The vendors all have menus and will place orders for food and beverages from the courts across the road from the beach.
Among recommended dishes are barbecued squid with spicy dips, fried rice with salted fish and steamed crab. It pays to explore a little as unusual snacks such as hor muk (curry barbecued in banana-leaf) and deep-fried ice-cream are not on the standard menus. The 1Stop Thailand guide provides details of the country’s better known beaches and holiday resorts.
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The Grand Palace in Bangkok is the official residence of the Thai royal family and one of the most iconic tourism sites in the kingdom. The spires and stately buildings that make up the palace complex are the epitome of the nation’s finest architecture. The palace’s Wat Phra Kaew Temple is probably the highlight of a visit.
The temple is really a self-contained complex in its own right and seems literally littered with mosaic-inlaid roofs, golden chedis, intricate murals, and statues of various guardian spirits and Buddha. The focal point is the hall that houses the famed emerald Buddha statue. Naga snake and garuda statues stand guard outside the hall to ensure the well-being of the Emerald Buddha.
Halls and pavilions such as the Phra Thinang Racharuedee open-sided audience chamber, Phaisan Thaksin Throne Hall and the Phra Thinang Chakraphat Phiman royal chambers in the actual palace provide illuminating glimpses of the grandeur of the building. Old cannons and museum exhibits of medals and coins round off the palatial draws.
Most of the Grand Palace as well as Wat Phra Kaew are open to the public every day between 08:00 and 15:30. A combined ticket, which is currently priced at 400 Baht, provides admission to the palace and several other important Bangkok tourist sights. The 1Stop Thailand guide to the Grand Palace provides more comprehensive details about this must see attraction.