Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What You Must See in Bangkok

By Hosh N

Bangkok is an exhilarating destination, with her interesting mix of traditional sights and attractions, exotic aromas and western influence. To unravel the layers of this city, you'll need to understand its history and culture. A trip to this Kingdom of smiles will allow you to do this if you allow yourself enough time to see some of the treasures this place has to offer. At least three days, and this is not a problem with an abundance of cheap flights and good hotels available in Bangkok throughout the year. This article features some of the highlights and traditional must-see attractions.

Wat Pho

Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) is one of the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok and located next to the Grand Palace. It is most famous for its grand and splendid reclining Buddha, covered in gold leaf and measuring more than 150 feet long. There are some cool spots under the trees beside the temple for rest and rejuvenation as well. Treat yourself to their famed massage services where they offer trained professionals in the school of traditional massage housed within the temple itself. You will also enjoy the action of dropping coins into a long line of small containers around the reclining buddha, as an act of accumulating blessings for yourself and others.

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace, with its glittery, extravagant architecture, is simply grand. This famous palace was built in 1782, and it continues to capture visitors' imagination with its magnificent buildings and intricate details. It gives you an insight into Thai royalty, in local Siamese style with its wonderful mix of colours.

Entering the palace grounds, you will have to wear long trousers or skirts. The dress code states no jeans, but don't worry, you can always rent the appropriate clothing for free if you turn up in them. Audio guides are avaliable near the entrance and are helpful if you are not in a tour group.

There's always touts outside the palace scamming unaware tourists that the grand palace is closed, and suggesting to follow their tours. Just don't be fooled by them.

Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo)

Located inside the grounds of the Grand Palace, and regarded as the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand, Wat Pra Kaeo enshrines Phra Kaew Morakot (the Emerald Buddha), the highly revered Buddha image meticulously carved from a single block of jade.

This temple is a huge incredible riot of glittering gold and colours, everywhere you look. There are a million details not to be overlooked and part of visiting the Grand Palace is seeing this Emerald Buddha. If you happen to visit the palace on the same day as the King himself, grab the chance to see the Emerald Buddha clad in its gold outfits!

Floating Market

The floating market has been reduced to a touristy state nowadays, but even though transactions are more involved and to do with tourists rather than locals these days, the floating market boats are still piled high with tropical fruits and vegetables, fresh coconut juice and local food cooked right on the boat itself.

With each boat jostling for space within the narrow canals, it's absolutely frantic and disorderly. The paddling skills of each boat-woman are to be admired at and they will stop and bargain with you at any time. It's vibrant, noisy but great fun.

Chao Phraya River

The Chao Phraya River flows through the capital and is where Bangkok's historic roots lie. One of the most fascinating and scenic areas of Bangkok, the riverside reflects a constantly changing scene day and night. The river is also one of the major transportation systems of the city, with massive traffic jams along the roads all day. The water-taxis ferries commuters up and doen the river, and heavily laden rice barges can also be seen in the waters.

The river is set against a backdrop of glittering temples, palaces and historical landmarks. You can also find luxury, five-star hotels, as well as cheap hotel deals along the riverside.


Chinatown is a busy area, packed with market stalls and has probably the greatest concentration of gold shops in the city. Always crowded, especially during the Chinese New Year period, this area still retains its old look and relatively untouched by modern high-rise developments. The Chinese community here still continues their own traditions and religious practices. Restaurants can be found abundant along the streets, offering Chinese cuisines, delicacies and seafood. One of the best places to enjoy sumptuous seafood at relatively cheap prices, and this area has lots of budget hotels for any backpacker.

Jim Thompson House

Jim Thompson or James Harrison Wilson Thompson was born in Greenville, Delaware in 1906. He is an American who started the Thai silk industry in Thailand after World War II. With his natural flair for design and color, and his dedication to reviving the craft, Thompson gained worldwide recognition for his success in generating international demand for Thai silk. This former residence of his houses a magnificent collection of Asian art and many unique displays, in addition to it being best place to purchase silk in Bangkok.

This place has an intriguing history to boot as well. During the Easter weekend in 1967, Thompson disappeared while on holiday with friends in Cameron Highlands, a northern Malaysian resort. An extensive and extended search failed to reveal any clues about his disappearance. Theories abound about his disappearance, but there has been no answer as yet.

Vimanmek Mansion

Built by King Rama V upon his return from Europe in 1897, this palace is the world's largest golden teakwood mansion featuring an elaborate and unique blend of Victorian and Thai architecture. Altogether there are 31 exhibition rooms, with the bedrooms, the throne room and the bathrooms maintaining the atmosphere of the Thai past. Some display rooms house exhibitions of Thai art including silverware, ceramics, crystal ware, and ivory.

Having a desire to know the world, Hosh loves travelling and peeping into other countries' cultures, food, lifestyles and attitudes, infusing herself with the spirit and soul of each foreign place. Go out explore the earth, it will not be a wasted trip on this planet, she believes.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Amazing Alice Springs

By Jenny Brewer

Alice Springs is one of Australia's most well known outback towns. It is almost in the centre of the Territory and lies between the West and East MacDonnell Ranges, and can be reached in a day's drive from Darwin.

Most of the year you can enjoy sunny days, and wide, blue skies. The winter nights get very cold, so don't forget your socks, and in summer the temperatures can soar to over 40 degrees. The best time to travel is spring and autumn, where the temperatures are not as extreme.

There is so much in this diverse town, which is the second largest in the Territory next to Darwin. You will find history in every corner, as the town was forged by brave pioneers and flying doctors who put Alice on the map. Make sure you visit the old telegraph station, which also offers bushwalking and pretty picnic spots. The Royal Flying Doctor service is known and loved by all Australians, and a visit to the original base is worthwhile to see the museum and enjoy the interactive tours.

The Alice Springs Reptile Centre also has to be seen, especially if you have boys with you (of any age!). You will be amazed at the large range of reptiles on show, including the frilly neck lizards, thorny devils, goannas, pythons and venomous snakes.

One of the highlights of your stay at Alice would have to be the 'Spirit of the Night sky', held at the Milky Way Café and Observatory in town. This educational and entertaining presentation, featuring powerful telescopes and displays will give you a greater insight into the heavenly realms.

The MacDonnell Range Holiday Park is recommended if you intend to stay here for a while. Set in an excellent, central location it has excellent amenities and there is plenty of room for the family.

Beyond the ranges surrounding Alice Springs are the Simpson and Tanami deserts. The Simpson is famous for its vast mesmerising dunes that go on forever, and although you can venture close should not be crossed unless you are with an experienced guide. Camel treks and four wheel drive expeditions are possible, although you won't see many other people in this part of the world.

There are plenty of day trips not far from town which are just as fascinating. One popular natural attraction is the Rainbow Valley, located in the James ranges. You can also visit Chambers Pillar on the way which features rock carvings and is steeped in history.

Travel north from town and you will be awestruck by the natural beauty of the bush, with camping, bushwalking, gem fossicking all popular activities. Visit the Gemtree, where you can visit the gem fields on organised tours and actually find something to take home. They also offer a large camping ground if you are not in a hurry to head home. Spend some time out here and enjoy the wonders of the starlit skies. Nothing beats an open campfire in the outback, with a majestic sunrise waiting to greet you at dawn.

Heading south just over 100 kilometres, you will be rewarded by some of the most stunning scenery at Finke Gorge National Park. There are camping facilities at Palm Valley, known for its bountiful cabbage palms, if you prefer to stay longer.

If you can allow an extra few days, make sure you plan to visit the famous MacDonnell Ranges, which surround Alice Springs. The West MacDonnell ranges are easier to reach, with swimming holes and bushwalks winding through the spectacular gorges. Take your time and camp overnight, or leave at dusk and enjoy a picnic at a swimming hole. The East MacDonnell ranges are also incredibly beautiful, featuring the stunning Trephina Gorge.

Alice Springs is surrounded by the most incredible rugged Australian outback in the world. It is the ideal base to visit those hidden natural wonders that beg to be appreciated and enjoyed. Your hire car will give you all the flexibility you need to make the most of your holiday in the territory.