■ Tucked into the corner of Thailand, close to the borders it shares with Laos and Cambodia in an area called ‘The Emerald Triangle’, the far eastern province of Ubon Ratchathani is remote, rarely visited and largely unknown to most Thais who invariably query why anyone would want to visit this distant region of ‘Isan’.
It’s also generally overlooked by foreigners who show much more interest in this country’s northern mountains and southern beaches. Some maps don’t even mention Ubon.
But that’s what makes Ubon an absolute must for any traveler hoping that Thailand still has some beautiful secrets – friendly people and uncrowded places that have yet to feel the impact of mass tourism. There aren’t many left, so it’s very advisable to visit a precious gem like Ubon soon before the hordes get there.
It’s not as if Ubon is off the beaten track. It has regular bus and train services from Bangkok, some 650 kms away, as well as flights into its “international” airport. The main highway from the capital is rapidly improving, easing notorious congestion spots in central Thailand. And yet the entire region, including the provincial capital of Ubon itself, does not boast a single ‘name’ or international chain hotel.
Surrounded by national parks and the Mekhong River, the remote and beautiful province of UbonRatchathani has escaped the attention of major tour operators - but with so many natural attractions it‘s bound to become an important tourist destination in the near future.
By Colin Hastings
Christian Schulz and fellow adventurers tackle one of Africa's mightiest ranges.
Having already cycled the slopes of mountainous Lesotho and Tanzania together during earlier African excursions, a well-travelled group of friends who met in Taiwan in the 90’s agreed that the Atlas Mountains in the northwest of the continent were worth exploring on our next trip.
The geological development of the Atlas Mountain formation was marked by a massive continental collision between the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula and the European plate, and it is not a continuous chain of mountains but a series of ranges separated by wide plateaus. The Atlas System extends some 2,500km across north-western Africa, spanning Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, creating a striking, sometimes harsh barrier between the arid Sahara and Morocco’s milder coastal climate. The middle and the most impressive of these ranges, with an average elevation of around 3000m, is called the High-Atlas. It begins close to the Atlantic in Agadir and runs in a jagged line northeast through the centre of the country encompassing some of the region’s most authentic pockets of culture as well as offering some of its best opportunities for cycling and hiking. Capped with snow throughout the winter months and cloaked with wildflowers through the summer, the rocky plateaus and lush valleys of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains provide a striking backdrop to outdoor adventures.
Marrakesh, the Moroccan Kingdom’s 4th largest City is the closest port of entry to the western part of the High-Atlas. This former imperial city in Western Morocco, is a major economic centre and home to mosques, palaces, and gardens. The medina is a densely packed, walled medieval city dating to the Berber Empire, with maze-like alleys where thriving souks (marketplaces) sell traditional textiles, pottery, and jewellery. A symbol of the city, and visible for miles, is the Moorish minaret of 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque.
By Christian Schulz
Beautiful and remote, Arunachal Pradesh on India’s far eastern border is home to the country’s greatest biodiversity, with as many as 600 species of orchids, one third of its plants of India, along with numerous mammals and over half of India’s 1,300 birds. But there’s a sense of urgency to explore the region as rapid development threatens its isolation
SURROUNDED by Bhutan to the west, China/Tibet to the north, Myanmar to the east, and the Indian state of Assam to the South, Arunachal Pradesh, is one of the most sparsely populated states of India and one of the world’s least-explored regions.
Being the easternmost state of India, Arunachal Pradesh is truly the place where the sun first rises. It is the largest of the northeastern states and much of it has hardly been explored or catalogued. Ethnic and linguistic diversity in the state may be the highest, not only in India, but perhaps in any comparablysized Asian region.
Top 5 tips to plan a frugal vacation and the ideal places to get started
Renowned travel blogger, Matthew Karsten once said, “Investment in travel is an investment in yourself.” Simply put, travelling is one of the most enriching experiences one could have. It allows us to reconnect, re-energise, and re-inspire to be better citizens of the world.
We are all too familiar with the common saying that we should live with no excuses and travel with no regrets. But often times, reality hits and our dreams for the perfect getaway are easily dampened as the economy sways, exchange rates fluctuate, and prices skyrocket.
But with a little perspective and some handy tips to plan a budgeted trip, Southeast Asia’s leading Travel Tech Company, Traveloka is here to empower discovery without having to break the bank.
Here are Traveloka’s top five tips to get you started on planning a vacation on a budget without compromising your dreams:
#1: MIND YOUR MONEY
• Cash is king. Keep an eye on exchange rates prior to your trip and seize the opportunity to grab good rates to avoid having to face unnecessary transaction fees at foreign ATMs (not to mention skipping the anxiety of finding a credible ATM machine in a foreign land!).
• Additionally, setting up Price Alerts with credible travel companions such as Traveloka will enable you to receive first-hand discounts on your preferred (dream) destinations, airlines and accommodations that are tailored to your budget, allowing you to make quick economically informed decisions.
NOTE: If you haven’t already, do consider signing up with frequent flyer programmes to gain mileage points! As you accumulate your mileage with every “fly” you make, remember to check with your airline to see what you’re entitled too with the mileage earned. You may be entitled to a free flight on your next travel or perhaps a free upgrade!
#2: TIMING IS EVERYTHING
• While it may sometimes be a challenge to schedule, travelling off-season is always a worthwhile decision. Hot spots where tourists would typically flock to will be less in-demand, bringing prices down significantly!
• Worth a try: planning at the eleventh hour may sometimes unlock the door (and luck) to many last-minute promos and discounts. Rely on trusty sites to get good snags on Attractions and Activities such as those offered on Traveloka to save on what would otherwise be expensive treats for the family.
• Another valuable tip: familiarise yourself with the local community calendar to leverage on free events or festivals that may be happening during your visit. Not only is this easy on your wallet, you’ll be deeply immersed in the local culture, gaining priceless experiences direct from the locals themselves.
• When selecting flights, avoid the crowd by opting for:
❖ Flights that take-off midweek instead of weekends.
❖ Flights on major holidays (not during or after!).
❖ Overnight flights - it’s “two for the price of one” as you save on spending an extra night on a place to stay.
#3: BE TRAVEL SAVVY
Skip cabs and take public transit instead for a little taste of “a day in the life of a local”. If it is available, get a multi-pass to save you a good amount of moolah while having the opportunity to visit a multitude of locations. For a healthier option, rent a bike and find yourself coursing through the city (or village) life.
If you’re looking for a full-day tour around town, check with the hotel concierge for credible local driver recommendations who will offer you reasonable and comprehensive packages that would usually include several tourist spots and eating stops.
Recommendation: Download an app map or a transportation app such as Grab or Uber to get around. This is to prevent getting cheated by local taxis with exorbitant fees.
#4: DINE CONSIDERATELY
#5: REMEMBER: THE LITTLE THINGS DO ADD UP!
YOUR FRUGAL VACATION AWAITS
Now that you’re armed with the “know-hows”, it’s time to start considering the “where-tos”. Here are some destinations for thought when planning your next frugal vacation:
1. TAIPEI, TAIWAN
As the capital of Taiwan, Taipei is a culturally-rich destination that never fails to captivate travellers from near and far with its intriguing blend of old town districts and modern skyscrapers. Fuelled and filled with genuinely friendly people, Taipei has much to offer with its charming museums, cultural sites, shopping areas, delicious cuisines and many more.
Things to do:
✦ Hike up Elephant Mountain and admire the majestic views of Taipei 101
✦ Take a day trip to Jiufen - the traditionally stunning “Santorini” of Taiwan
✦ Drop by Ximending to experience the “happening” side of Taiwan with its bustling nightlife and exuberant food vendors across the city.
2. HANOI, VIETNAM
Budget travellers and food lovers shouldn’t miss out on the attractions of Hanoi – a booming city with a blend of both Asian and European influence. Hanoi has plenty to offer from its dramatic landscapes of French colonial buildings to fascinating history, and not to mention mouth-watering street food which will leave you craving for more!
Things to do:
✦ Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum - Final resting place of Vietnam’s first Communist leader, Ho Chi Minh, also known as “Uncle Ho” by locals.
✦ Pop by a local cafe and sip on some ca phe (Vietnamese coffee).
✦ Enjoy the Thang Long Water Puppet Show – the visually stunning story of harvest that depicts the local Vietnamese’s day-to-day in the rural.
3. SHANGHAI, CHINA
As one of China’s burgeoning metropolis, Shanghai constantly exudes energy and excitement that permeates the world and is very much a favoured destination among tourists. This striking city - due to the unique blends of traditional Chinese architecture clad with European influenced buildings - sets up the perfect playground for photography lovers.
Things to do:
✦ Take a stroll through Tianzifang’s alleyways packed with street food and lively bars.
✦ Visit the 8th cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world, Lao Zheng Xing.
✦ Experience a world where fantastical dreams come true at Shanghai’s Disneyland!
Sometimes, maybe a little change in perspective is needed: the world isn’t all that big and neither are your dreams! All it really takes is a little discernment, proper planning, and careful preparation. Don’t let the restraints of a tight budget hold you back from exploring the world and taking that dream vacation.
Mr. Halif Hamzah, Traveloka Country Manager for Malaysia and Singapore shared, “Everyone should - and must - travel at least once in their lifetime, whether it may be a short getaway or a long way away. It enriches one’s soul, creates a wealth of invaluable experiences, sparks and spurs creativity, and promotes personal growth. We should not be held back by the means of the world that hinders us from fulfilling our travel desires.”
“We are blessed to be living in a digital age where we are riding on the crest of the wave of new technology. As the leading Travel Tech company in the region, it is our duty to constantly strive to innovate and empower the people with tools to make travel not only possible, but convenient for all - to enable the people to go forth and live their dreams in discovering the world,” said Mr. Halif.
For more information on Traveloka, visit https://www.traveloka.com/en-my/.
Built during the reign of King Rama V, Surawong Road is one of Bangkok’s most vibrant and historic business neighborhoods.
Connecting to the first road ever built in Bangkok, The Charoen Krung Road, and also to the banks of the Chao Phraya River, Surawong Road is revered as the Creative District. Thanks to its heritage, classic architecture, contemporary designs and authentic local food, this road is a cultural yet contemporary tourist destination. Here are 9 highlights of this area that you should not miss.
1. The Neilson Hays Library – the monument of love
Amid the bustling business district, is a quaint neoclassical building called The Neilson Hays Library. Established in 1920, the library is a monument of love, by Dr. Thomas Heywood Hays, the former Chief of the Royal Thai Navy Hospital and the first medical professor of Siriraj Hospital, in loving memory of his wife, Jennie Neilson, an avid reader, who devoted herself to library work until her last days. The elegant structure was designed by Mario Tamagno, an Italian architect, responsible for numerous landmarks around Bangkok such as the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall, Hua Lamphong Train Station, Makkawan Rangsan Bridge, and Phayathai Palace. The construction was executed with the same meticulous approach as those used with the aforementioned landmarks, prompting the public to call it “a grand palace on a small scale”. The still functional library offers more than 20,000 books for keen booklovers, and a gallery and café that have played host for special events and functions. It was awarded the status of “Historic Landmark” by the Association of Siamese Architects in 1986.
2. Bangkok Folk Museum – Bangkokians’ treasured history Bangkok Folk Museum, also known as Bangkokian Museum, is originally home to Professor Waraporn Surawadee who donated to property to become a museum that offers an insight into the lifestyles of Bangkokians amid lush, green garden. Located in the heart of bustling Bang Rak District that is now filled with commercial buildings and skyscrapers, Bangkok Folk Museum is a rare sanctuary that is open to the public for free. Visitors can also learn about the history of the house as well as Bangkok from knowledgeable staff members who will show you around and share delightful and fun stories along the way.
Bangkok Folk Museum offers an insight into the lifestyles of well-off Bangkokians during World War II and its aftermath (circa 1937 – 1957). The museum consists of three zones in three quarters with display many of the possessions of original family members in good condition as well as memorabilia from early Rattanakosin Era and art pieces.
John Gray, the internationally acclaimed Californian adventurer and Nature-lover whose passion for kayaking is helping to protect an area of outstanding beauty
By Barry Daniel
JOHN GRAY is a giant of a man, both in reputation and personal stature. He’s affectionately known as ‘The Caveman’ for his pioneering work in bringing the adventure sport of sea kayaking to the caves, lagoons and hongs of Phang Nga Bay in southern Thailand.
Alternatively, you’ll hear him teasingly called ‘Ling Yai,’ literally ‘big monkey’ in Thai. He’s certainly big (close to two metres tall and weighing 110 kilos) and indeed he is rather hairy and even aged 72, John still has great strength and dexterity, so the monkey moniker is pretty apposite!
There have been endless documentaries and films made about his exploits and his passionate stance on environmental protection. The Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, National Geographic magazine, all the big names have come calling upon the Andaman and the Cavemen’s door to seek out and promote this larger-than-life personality and his amazing kayaking adventures.
John hails from southern California and had an extraordinary upbringing being totally immersed in environmentalism and adventure from an early age. John’s parents met on a Sierra Club outing, and his mother was tremendously important in John’s early life.
“She was the greatest influence on my life and was truly a visionary. We were a sixth generation Los Angeles family and I remember when I was about five that our house was the local drop off point for the Audubon Society. It was a menagerie full of birds and abandoned or damaged animals. Ma would lavish tender care on all the animals and teach us about them at the same time. My love of Nature comes directly from her.”
John’s mother was also a very forward looking free thinker with strong egalitarian principles. “When I was twelve,” Ma said,” I was old enough to go ‘religion shopping’.
She took me around, Sunday after Sunday, to all the churches in the neighbourhood. She helped me understand what each religion had to offer and believed, and then left it up to me to decide for myself.
“So what religion are you now, fifty odd years later?” I asked. John laughed mischievously, “Oh, a bit of a humanist, with a dash of agnostic and a side sauce of Buddhism.”
Old buildings that have outlived their original purpose but cannot be knocked down for various reasons are being converted into trendy hotels and guest houses for a new breed of traveller.
By Ken Barrett
THE Prince Theatre was once the life and soul of Bangrak. Tucked away up a little alley off Charoen Krung Road, it had opened as a Chinese opera house in 1912. It actually became a bit too much fun, and was closed by officialdom a few years later, but reopened in 1917 as a cinema screening silent films, the audiences packed onto wooden benches and live dubbers improvising dialogue.
The Prince was one of Asia’s oldest cinemas. When the era of talkies came it rolled with the times, screening Hollywood lassics, but the onslaught of malls and multiplexes eventually took its toll, and the distinguished old theatre declined
into showing nudie films before finally giving up and locking its doors.
Its location probably saved the Prince from being demolished, crammed as it is on a small footprint of land amongst shophouses.
TAT Promoting Tourism in “Chanthaburi” Launching Creative Tourism Products Campaign to Develop Marketing Competency while Holding Local Strength Activities
Tourism Authority of Thailand is launching “Creative Tourism Products Campaign” to develop marketing competency and holding “Local Strength” activities in Chanthaburi province under the concept (Joyful Chanthaburi) along with other second tiers provinces, building on creative activities and supporting touristic site campaign under the theme “Amazing Thailand Go Local” with the aims to motivate local community to develop themselves in terms of local tourism by using their own culture as the valuable and extinguish magnet to attract Thai and foreign tourists.
Bureau of Tourism Service Development, Division of Tourism Products, Tourism Authority of Thailand is holding this campaign in order to serve the right tourists target which can be divided into 1. Women tourists, Gen Y tourists, Family and kids and Asian tourists. The unique identity of each community be use as the main key and will be held along with marketing activities and promotion to gain attention from tourists which will result in the increase of travelling rate and sustainably generate income to the community.
TAT has meticulously run this campaign by inviting many leading organizations and parties in tourism industry to conduct user co-creation workshop to sort out the all-dimensions needs of tourists and the reason behind those needs. And now, it is during the process of actual travel by sample tourists. This actual travel by tourists allows the sample tourists to conduct tourism assessment before and after the trip in which all result from the workshop and assessment will be used to develop the best tourism service and products in order to satisfy and fulfil the specific needs of different group of travelers. The joining communities in Chanthaburi for this campaign are Bang Sra Kao Community, Chanthaboon Riverside community, Rak Khao Bai Sri Community, Samed Ngarm community and Baan Pa Tha Wi community.
People who are interested in this Thailand tourism campaign can visit www.creativedistrictthailand.com and Facebook: Creative District Thailand for further details, maps, attractions and contact information of each community and other districts under Creative District Thailand campaign.
By Christian Schulz
After rides in some of the world’s most remote regions, a group of hardy expats head to the French-Spanish border\
IT started in the early 90’s when a group of sporty and fun loving expats living and working in Taipei regularly met to enjoy running with the ‘China Hash House Harriers’ along the scenic mountain trails in Taiwan. The motivation: ‘Compensate the many long office hours with healthy outdoor activity followed by camaraderie and consuming lots of cold beer’. From that, and a common interest in mountain biking, came the idea organizing a week of offroad biking somewhere outside the island in the region. Kicking off with Sulawesi in 1993, a tradition was begun of a regular annual week of cycling in different Asian counties. This included, amongst others, a helicopter drop off in the snow in the Jomsom, Mustang area of Nepal in 1997 followed by cycling up the Kali Gandaki gorge to the Muktinath monastery and ending up along the lake in Pokara. 1998’s ride led through Thailand’s Chiang Dao National Park area. In 1999 and 2000, it involved the first-ever organized mountain bike groups cycling the Kingdom of Bhutan. 2002 saw speedy long-tail boats taking the group up the Mekong River and them following the Chinese border on Laos’s jungle trails. In 2006 the African continent was approached the first time with the team spinning the pedals in the very mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho, while in 2007 Tanzania was explored. Costa Rica, in 2013, was the only location in the Americas so far.
Like on all the earlier rides the basic concept was simple: a daily good workout in beautiful surroundings, preferably cycling single trails; simple accommodation and reasonable food. However there is no compromise on the amber beverage: ‘enough chilled beer for everybody every evening!’ Attention to detailed logistics therefore is an absolute requirement.
Only a few members of the original group presently still live in Taiwan since some have returned to their home countries, mainly the US, or have found new opportunities in China or the Asian region. Thus flights carrying the bikes touched down in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao from all over the world. In order to get acclimatized and check the equipment, a ‘warm up ride’ in the little known desert of ‘Bardenas Reales de Navarra’ was staged before getting into the mountains and onto the Basque highlands.