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Samutsongkram

Samutsongkram

Siem Reap

The life-support system and gateway for the temples of Angkor, Siem Reap (see-em ree-ep; សៀមរាប) was always destined for great things. Visitors come here to see the temples, of course, but there is plenty to do in and around the city when you're templed out. Siem Reap has reinvented itself as the epicentre of chic Cambodia, with everything from backpacker party pads to hip hotels, world-class wining and dining across a range of cuisines, sumptuous spas, great shopping, local tours to suit both foodies and adventurers, and a creative cultural scene that includes Cambodia's leading circus.

Angkor is a place to be savoured, not rushed, and this is the base from which to plan your adventures. Still think three days at the temples is enough? Think again, with Siem Reap on the doorstep.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is a metropolis that is going places. It’s the flourishing fast-mover that’s somehow secured old Saigon onto the seat of its shiny, new motorbike as it roars off into the future.

It’s the mesmerising gateway to Vietnam where traditional and modern influences live side by side. High-rises loom over shabby French colonial villas; conical-hatted street vendors plod past karaoke bars and glitzy shops.

Like the bamboo, shoulder-pole baskets you’ll see on the streets, Ho Chi Minh City is a balancing act of two parts: classical incense-filled pagodas are off-set by shopping malls and skyscrapers that wouldn't look out of place in the West.

It's a forward-looking city but still locals refer to it as Saigon, a name evocative of the past. One of the city's most poignant symbols is the Reunification Palace, where the last days of the Vietnam War were played out.

Saigon's story, however, was penned long before the American army waded in. Just wander around the beautiful Jade Emperor Pagoda, built by the Chinese in 1909, or search out Saigon Central Post Office for some grandiose French architecture.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Yangon

Yangon – formerly Rangoon – remains Myanmar's largest and most commercially important city. Its downtown skyline is dominated by the 'winking wonder' of Shwedagon Paya, a dazzling Buddhist temple that attracts pilgrims from all over the world.


Since the 2010 elections, Yangon's fortunes have skyrocketed along with its land prices, as both local and foreign investors scrambled to grab a foothold here. At the same time, decades of economic stagnation are only too apparent in the city's slums, shanty housing and creaking, frequently overwhelmed infrastructure – something you'll quickly realise as you crawl into town in a taxi from the airport.


In December 2013 a masterplan for Yangon was unveiled. Funded by the Japanese government's aid and development agency JICA, it proposed 103 priority projects costing over $5 billion – around 100 times the current budget of the Yangon City Development Committee.

 

Yangon, Myanmar

Laung Prabang

Luang Prabang is one of the most alluring places in Southeast Asia. Nowhere else can lay claim to the city's old-world romance of 33 gilded wats, saffron-clad monks, faded Indochinese villas and exquisite Gallic cuisine. It's a unique place where time seems to stand still amid the breakneck pace of the surrounding region.


This Unesco-protected gem, which sits at the sacred confluence of the Mekong River and the Nam Khan (Khan River), has rightfully gained mythical status as a travellers' Shangri La, and since its airport opened a decade ago the town has seen a flood of investment, with once-leprous French villas being revived as fabulous – though affordable – boutique hotels.


Beyond the evident history and heritage of the old town are aquamarine waterfalls, top trekking opportunities, meandering mountain bike trails, elephant camps, kayaking trips, river cruises and outstanding natural beauty, the whole ensemble encircled by hazy green mountains.

Laos

Khao Sok National Park

 

Khao Sok National Park is a nature reserve in southern Thailand containing dense virgin jungle, towerlike limestone karst formations and the man-made Cheow Lan Lake. It’s home to rare species such as the giant parasitic Rafflesia flower, hornbill birds, gibbons and tigers. The park can be explored by elephant-back safari, hiking trail, and raft, canoe or kayak via the Sok river.

The Sok river and its tributaries feed into waterfalls such as the stepped, rafting-friendly Bang Hua Rat and gently sloping Tharn Sawan. The waterway makes its way back to Cheow Lan Lake and Ratchaprapha Dam, where overnight visitors can rent rustic bamboo huts, treehouses, tent campsites or floating bungalows around the edge of the lake. Longtail boat rides on the lake pass small islands, karsts and caves, including the stalactite- and stalagmite-studded Nam Talu complex.

Khao Sok, Thailand

Chiang Rai

 

Chiang Mai is a city in mountainous northern Thailand. Founded in 1296, it was capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom until 1558. Its Old City area still retains vestiges of walls and moats from its history as a cultural and religious center. It’s also home to hundreds of elaborate Buddhist temples, including 14th-century Wat Phra Singh and 15th-century Wat Chedi Luang, adorned with carved serpents.

Outside the central Old City, Nimmanhaemin Road is lined with sophisticated galleries, boutiques, cafes and restaurants cooking the signature local dish, khao soi (egg noodles in curry). Also offered around town are traditional khantoke dinners – served on low tables in teak pavilions – accompanied by classical Thai music and dance shows. Handicrafts such as silk, silverware and lacquerware can be found at open-air markets like the Night Bazaar. Chiang Mai also acts as a base for treks into the nearby mountains for visits to temples, elephant training and rehabilitation camps, or isolated hill-tribe villages.

Chiang Rai, Thailand

Ko Pha Ngan

 

Ko Pha Ngan is an island in southeast Thailand that’s renowned for its monthly Full Moon Party. This boisterous night-long celebration, which is tied to the lunar calendar, draws revelers to its southeastern peninsula, Haad Rin. Most festivities center on Sunrise Beach, whose beach bungalows attract a backpacker crowd. On the north coast lie quieter, white-sand beaches including Hat Khuat and Hat Thian.

Lining the east coast are sheltered beaches like the palm-fringed Ao Thong Nai Pan. All over Ko Pha Ngan are upscale spas, Thai kickboxing camps, and meditation and yoga retreats like those offered at the Buddhist monastery of Wat Khao Tham. The island’s mountainous center is crisscrossed with dense jungle and scenic waterfalls like Than Sadet, within the national park Than Sadet–Ko Pha Ngan. The island is also a gateway to Ang Thong National Marine Park, a reef-lined island chain that’s popular with snorkelers and scuba divers.

Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand

Hua Hin

 

Hua Hin is a seaside resort on the Gulf of Thailand, in the southern Thai province of Prachuap Khiri Khan. Once a quiet fishing village, it grew into a fashionable escape for residents of Bangkok after the 1920s, when the Thai royal family built summer palaces here. Hua Hin Beach, popular for kitesurfing and other water sports, is the main stretch of sand, lined with high-end hotels and seafood shacks.

While Hua Hin has a laid-back vibe, its downtown is full of high-rise condos and luxury accommodations. Likewise, flower-lined Naeb Kehardt Road features stylish bars, coffee shops and art galleries. Freshly caught seafood is available at the night market off Petchkasem Road or at the many restaurants on the wooden piers off Naresdamri Road. To the south is Takiap Hill, covered with Buddha statues, wild monkeys and Wat Khao Takiap, a stark white Buddhist temple. There are also designer golf courses in the area that sometimes host tournaments.

Hua Hin, Thailand
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