Tropical nights, curious mountain silhouettes, sprawling rice paddies and pungent cuisine. And some snow-topped mountains as well. The Thaiger has selected the Top Ten of these camera-worthy towns. Southern Asia is a concoction of the ancient, very modern, traditional and enigmatic.
Amongst the islands, megacities and spectacular scenery there are also some very pretty towns that deserve your days pottering around and investigating. Some of them you would have never heard of. Here’s our Top Ten, in no particular oder…
Old Phuket Town, Thailand
Most tourists head for the beaches, but the southern Thai island of Phuket offers a lot, lot more these days up and down the west coast and across to the island’s east coast as well, not just Patong.
The historic old quarter of Old Phuket Town, located in the central east coast of the island, is lined with Sino-Portugeuse colonial shophouses, built during the island’s tin-mining boom of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Twenty years ago you couldn’t give them away. Now the old shop-houses are hot property and getting spruced up and re-used for a new generation of tourists and culture vultures. There are plenty of hip shops, cafés, restaurants, bars, art galleries and book shops. The area is also filled with Chinese temples, crumbling mansions and cultural museums.
Check out the weekly Sunday night ‘Lard Yai’ market along Thalang road for some local market vibes in amongst some local ephemera, astonishing Thai street food, some local performers and a few bargains. Kicks off around 4pm. If it rains during the island’s wet season (May to November), you’ll get wet but it’s always around 30 degrees C and you can duck undercover anywhere around the Old Town’s sidewalks.
Galle, Sri Lanka
On the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka is the walled town of Galle, an important trade port for centuries.
The UNESCO-listed fortress has been through three bouts of colonial rule – the Portuguese from 1505-1658, the Dutch from 1658-1796 and the British from 1796-1948. These days, many of the old merchant houses are renovated into museums, boutique hotels, shops, restaurants and bars.
The dining scene has grown in breadth and popularity, with fresh seafood, excellent Sri Lankan curries and egg hoppers (dome-like pancakes).
There’s also plenty to see as you walk off all that food. The Dutch Reformed Church, Sudharmalaya Temple, Galle Clock Tower, Galle Lighthouse, Meeran Mosque and the old Spice Warehouse.
Then head down the southern coastline to enjoy the surf, diving, whale-watching or just laying around Unawatuna Beach.
City of Vigan, Philippines
Experience a rich history of Spanish colonial-era architecture in the city of Vigan. It lies on the west coast of Luzon island in northwestern Philippines. Vigan was established by the Spanish in 1572. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage City.
Conquistador Juan de Salcedo developed a modern grid plan for the city, and Spanish architects designed beautiful churches, grand mansions and schools with unique windows and dark timber interiors.
Most of the colonial buildings are situated around the Plaza Salcedo, including the St Paul’s Cathedral. This beautiful Baroque structure was first built in 1641 and then restored after several earthquakes and fires.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Located on the central coast of Vietnam, about 40 minutes drive south of Da Nang, Hoi An’s Old Town has an international reputation as a haven for photographers, architecture lovers and lovers of food. Added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1999, the town was a former French colonial trading port that has been a commercially vital town for Vietnam since the 16th century. It’s now more important to Vietnam as a commercially vital tourist magnet.
The rambling narrow streets of Hoi An feature rows and rows of charming mustard coloured old trading houses. Many are now trendy restaurants, bars, design boutiques, coffee shops and tailors. Seemingly with a production designer preparing the town as a set for a ‘colonial asian’ movie, lush foliage spills from the rooftops and silk lanterns light up the town at night. It’s right out of a picture book.
George Town, Malaysia
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the sprawling historic quarter of George Town on Penang island showcases its many cultural influences over the centuries. You’ll also find some similarity with Phuket’s Old Town, just 600 kilometres north, but with a broader cuisine and more colonial influence.
George Town’s colourful heritage traces back 500 years when the former British colony was a prominent hub of trade on the Malacca Strait, enabling cultural exchange between Malay, Chinese, Indian and European residents. The town still resinates with influences from all of these cultures.
There is an eclectic mix of pastel-hued shophouses, Chinese mansions, churches and temples, colonial buildings, food and fortresses.
George Town deserves its reputation as the “food capital of Malaysia” and remains one of the best food cities in Asia – from street food to hawker centres, chintzy local restaurants to fully renovated mansions serving up high end fusion cuisine. Like the architecture, the local cuisine captures George Town’s multicultural history.
If you’re heading to George Town, take your appetite.
Luang Prabang, Laos
The former capital of Laos on the banks of the Mekong River, is the picturesque Luang Prabang, home to temples and dramatic natural scenery.
It’s either one of Southeast Asia’s most spiritual places or an emerging party town for the backpacker set, or both. Either way Luang Prabang makes a dramatic first impression.
The town is hugged by mountains as it rests at the bottom of a valley in central Laos. The location was the first kingdom in Laos from the 14th to 16th centuries, Luang Prabang was long a strategic location along the famed Silk Route. Since then the French have also had their time as colonial overlords which has resulted in a fusion of European and Laotian architecture creating a distinct townscape.
Although Vientiane, on the Thai border, is now the capital, Luang Prabang, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, continues to be the country’s cultural and artistic capital.
In addition to the graceful architecture, Luang Prabang is also home to beautiful natural attractions including the Kuang Si Waterfalls and Phousi Mountain. There are also more than 30 Buddhist temples, the Royal Palace Museum, night markets, river boat rides and biking tours.
Think Cambodia and you automatically think ‘Angkor Wat’, but Cambodian travellers are falling in love with the southern charms of Kampot.
The serene coastal town, on the southern coast along the Gulf of Thailand, is getting a reputation as one of the prettiest small towns in the region. Think colourful French colonial shophouses, tidy pedestrian-friendly streets, river activities and a feast for the cameras. You can spend your days kayaking, mountain trekking, biking, river cruises, paddle-boarding, or you could take a day trip through the countryside’s lush paddy fields, cave temples and waterfalls.
Kampot has a growing foodie reputation as a culinary playground with everything from traditional Khmer cuisine to vegan delights. The town still has a bit of a ‘rough’ reputation but is well worth a visit and certainly deserves its place amongst the top ten prettiest towns in Asia.
Kota Gede, Indonesia
Among the oldest parts of Yogyakarta in central Java, Kota Gede is known for its silver industry, cute laneways and photogenic architecture.
The location’s history goes back to the 15th century, when Yogjakarta was the seat of the Mataram Sultanate, the last kingdom before the Dutch colonised Java island. Wealthy merchants built palatial homes in the Kalang style, a mix of Dutch structural elements, traditional Javanese layouts and local craftsmanship.
Travellers in the 21st century can now walk along Jalan Kemasan and browse through boutiques, art galleries and silver workshops showcasing the famous jewellery and elaborate tableware. For a little history, travellers can also venture out to Yogyakarta’s most famous UNESCO-listed landmarks – the Prambanan Temple and the eighth-century Borobudur Temple.
In amongst one of the world’s most chaotic and messy countries, lies Mawlynnong, located in the East Khasi Hills of northeastern India, which has been named the “Cleanest Village in Asia”. Go figure!
The village lives up to its reputation thanks to the Khasi community who call the town ‘home’ and take great pride in keeping the village pristine. The town is famous for its meticulously pruned gardens.
There’s a popular 85 foot high tree house called Sky View constructed of bamboo that overlooks the jungle canopies all the way across the plains of Bangladesh to the south. There’s also the Mawlynnong Waterfall, while a living tree root bridge creating a scene from Game of Thrones or an Indiana Jones movie.
Ghandruk is a mountain village at the foothills of the Himalayas in central Nepal. The village is more than 2,000 metres above sea level, the highest in our Top Ten list.
The village is about a five-hour hike from Pokhara, a pretty lakeside city in central Nepal that acts as the starting point for the popular Annapurna Circuit (and also worthy of a visit for a few days).
You’ll find traditional tea houses, a mountain-top temple, horseback riding and the local customs of the Gurung people who live here.
Members of this Nepalese community have served in the British Army’s Gurkha regiments during many conflicts and you should make time to visit the Old Gurung Museum which provides lots of fascinating historical insights.
And the village has quite a spectacular backdrop with Mounts Annapurna, Machhapuchhre and Himalchuli looming large as you look over your shoulder.
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Dams, politics and greed are killing the mighty Mekong River
Original story by Piyaporn Wongruang – The Nation | PHOTO: Sophie et Fred
Dr Chainarong Setthachua, a lecturer and ecology expert at Maha Sarakham University, was at a loss when asked to describe the ongoing Mekong crisis.
“The most disastrous situation in history.”
Little is being done by governments despite recent stories and stark photos of the dried-bed of a major river that passes through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong River is the twelfth longest river in the world at 4,350 kilometres. It starts in the Chinese Himalayas and flows through six countries to its mouth in Vietnam and out into the South China Sea.
“We used the river as a political tool and an asset for economic development. Yet, we did not supervise its development, which has resulted in a real disaster. I don’t see any solutions because every government is only focusing on building dams, but not on the scars these development plans are leaving behind.”
China built the first Mekong dam in 1994, without consulting the Thai river communities downstream. A decade later, impacts from the dam finally kicked in, said Chainarong, who founded the Southeast Asia Rivers Network to track the effects of Mekong water resource management.
Thai communities impacted by dam operations were finally given a voice in development plans, which were being driven by international investment, especially from Thailand. However, as Thai protests grew, investors turned to neighbouring countries including Laos, which declared plans to become the “battery of Asia”.
Drought takes Mekong River to its lowest in 100 years, threatening food supply – National Geographic
According to the independent International Rivers organisation, China has completed 11 dams on the upper Mekong since then. The biggest are the Xiaowan and Nuozhadu dams, whose 250-300 metre high dam walls hold back reservoirs of 40 billion cubic metres capacity. Of the 11 dams planned for the lower Mekong, at least three have entered production. Xayaburi Dam in Laos was being tested during July ready to go online in October. Don Sahong is under construction, and Pak Beng is at the pre-construction stage.
But completed dams are already having a dramatic impact. This month, Thais living downstream from the Jinghong Dam woke to find the river level had dropped sharply. No one had warned residents of Chiang Khan district on the Laos border that the dam was undergoing maintenance, dramatically reducing their access to water.
The people in the lower Mekong predict the unstable water level will decimate migratory fish stocks and impact food security in an area where local communities depend on river fish. Studies report that Mekong communities depend on river fish for up to 80 per cent of their daily protein consumption.
A study from the Australian National University states that Mekong Basin dwellers are struggling to find new protein resources as a substitute for the fish. It would take both massive water and land resources, especially in Cambodia, to create new protein substitutes.
Downstream, communities in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta decline are suffering coastal erosion and salination of their once-fertile land. Dams are threatening the country’s “breadbasket” as locals experience food shortages and are unable to access freshwater for daily needs.
Despite the expanding concerns, the Thai government has not launched serious measures to study, monitor, or prepare remedial plans for people suffering the impact of dams.
Niwat Roykaew, chairman of Rak Chiang Khong conservation group, said that the old [top-down] way of working would not solve any problems, adding that he believed in the power of local people more than the government.
“It’s too late to say no to dam building. We have to find a way to live together, find a middle way between the engineering perspective and the human interest.”
Read the original article HERE.Keep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
Leonardo DiCaprio praises Thailand for efforts to increase the population of wild tigers
American actor, film producer, and environmentalist, Leonardo DiCaprio, has praised Thailand for its efforts to increase the population of wild tigers in the Huai Kha Kheng wildlife sanctuary in Thailand’s western forests.
On Global Tiger Day (July 29), DiCaprio shared his enthusiasm for south east asian tigers.
“In Thailand’s Huai Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuary, tigers are roaring back thanks to a major long-term effort by the government of Thailand, supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society.”
“As a result, tiger numbers in the sanctuary have risen dramatically, from 41 in 2010-11 to 66 today – a more than 60% increase. In addition, tigers moving beyond the boundaries of the sanctuary are providing a foundation for recovering the population across the entire western forest complex of Thailand, with benefits even spilling across the border into the Taninthayi region of Myanmar.”
The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, along with the World Wildlife Foundation, has launched a campaign to conserve tigers throughout the country, under the auspices of the Save Tigers Now project, which is working to double the global tiger population by 2020.
Meanwhile, six tigers will be sent to Cambodia from India and released into Cambodia’s Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary, the last known place a tiger was seen in the sanctuary in 2007.
Cambodia’s Provincial Department of Environment director Keo Sopheak told The Phnom Penh Post that India had agreed to export six tigers and release them into the sanctuary to help restore the species.
According to Wildlife Alliance, the last record of a tiger in Cambodia was in November 2007 in Srepok
“According to the plan, we will release six tigers to be brought in from India. The Indian government has agreed to the scheme.”
Srepok Wildlife Sanctuary was chosen because experts considered the area to be abundant with food suitable for tigers, such as gaur, banteng and deer, he said.
Global Tiger Day has been celebrated every July 29 since 2010, the last Chinese Year of the Tiger, when it was launched by leaders of the 13 tiger range countries – countries where tigers still roam free – and NGOs working to protect the species from extinction.
The Tiger is a media sponsor for Save Wild Tigers.
SOURCES: The Phnom Penh Post | The NationKeep in contact with The Thaiger by following our Facebook page.
Cambodian petrol station attendant shot in Nakhon Ratchasima
A Cambodian working at a Thai petrol station has been shot in Nakhon Ratchasima. He was resting, sitting at a table at the time of the incident.
The shooting took place on July 27 around midnight in the Pak Thong Chai district.
The 30 year old Cambodian worker was shot in the head from behind by a young Thai man, who then stole money from the dead victim. The incident was captured on CCTV (which we’ve chosen not to share).
On Sunday Thai police arrested a 23 year old suspect, the son of a Thai policeman. The killer was reported to be a gambling addict by Thai media. Following initial investigations, police say the suspect lost 4,000 baht at an illegal casino, stole his father’s pistol and went out on his motorbike at midnight to find an easy target to rob.
When he arrived at the petrol station, he saw the worker was asleep, shot him in the back of the head and escaped with a bag containing around 3,000 baht.
Police say the alleged murderer’s father will also have to appear in court as it was his gun used in the incident..
The Cambodian’s family are being sought to claim the body.
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