Pai in Northern Thailand might be one of the best-known villages amongst tourists, but that doesn’t mean the reputation lives up to the hype.
Southeast Asia’s temples are world-class, but the big crowds and overgrown tourism is a downer. Here’s three of the quieter – yet still incredible – temples from the region.
The sleepy Kanchanaburi province, just a couple hours west of Bangkok, is a popular getaway thanks to its mountains, waterfalls and a pleasant provincial capital. Dotted throughout the province, however, are signs of one of the many atrocities committed during World War II. The Death Railway had 60,000 allied prisoners of war and many more Asian laborers working in horrible conditions under the Japanese.
Approaching the Muang Sing Historical Park outside Kanchanaburi was a little surreal to me. I had been living in Cambodia for two years, and the differences between that country and Thailand are striking as soon as you cross the border. So to see a rather grand Khmer ruin so far away from Angkor Wat was fascinating.
During Sonkran, nobody is safe. The Thai New Year festivities involve dousing anyone and everyone with water as a way to beat the heat and ring in the coming year. The three-day holidays is celebrated everywhere in the country with water guns, buckets and lots of ice-cold water. This past April I was in Thailand to celebrate the festival for the very first time.
The Mae Hong Son loop was top of my list of things I wanted to do in Southeast Asia. I heard a lots about this 700 kilometer (435 mile) journey from Chiang Mai, with most of the praise being heaped on the gorgeous scenery, the tricky roads and the interesting towns along the way. After completing the journey for myself, I totally agree with everything with everything. It was a hell of a fun ride.
Border casinos are a dime a dozen in Cambodia thanks to gambling bans in neighboring Vietnam and Thailand. Some of these casinos gaudy, while others look shady and host cockfighting matches. Out of the many casinos I’ve seen at several borders, none were quite as grand as the plainly-named Koh Kong Resort in the no-mans land between Koh Kong and Hat Lek on the Gulf of Thailand. Rooms range from $50 to $1,900 and the intended clientele is Thai. All the prices are in Thai baht, after all.
The border crossings into Cambodia are notorious for their corruption. Tacking on a few dollars to a standard entry visa – which is equivalent to a days’ earnings in most parts of the country – is commonplace. Things get even shadier with visas outside the standard tourist issue. Officials at the Thai-Cambodia border crossing in Koh Kong once tried extorting an acquaintance of mine for $100 to validate her NGO visa. These are supposed to be free.
Sukhothai in northern Thailand doesn’t overwhelm with the same majesty as the Angkor Archeological Park in neighboring Cambodia, but this sleepy ancient city makes for a much better visitor experience if you’re looking for tranquility. Crowds during last year’s high season were almost nonexistent, with a few tour groups hitting up the well-preserved central area and nobody venturing elsewhere in the 70 square kilometers of the park. Some of these ruins are little more than foundations in the ground, but they’re all yours as long as you don’t mind sharing with a few wandering cows.