Highlights of Cambodia, Laos and Northern Thailand, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in December 2011
Angkor Wat panorama, 22-second video clip

Leaf whistling in Luang Prabang, Laos, 54-second video clip
Dancers in Luang Prabang, Laos, 21-second video clip
View of Mekong River boat landing at Luang Prabang, Laos, 35-second video clip
Boat on Mekong River near Luang Prabang, Laos, 23-second video clip
Our Mekong River boat landing at Luang Prabang, Laos, 21-second video clip

Karen long-necked woman winding yarn in northern Thailand village, 31-second video clip
Long-necked women in northern Thailand village, 77-second video clip
View over the Golden Triangle, showing Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos, 31-second video clip
Elephant eating breakfast at Anantara Golden Triangle Hotel in northern Thailand, 62-second video clip
Passing elephants and tourist riders along the road near Anantara Golden Triangle Hotel, 13-second video clip
Mother and four-month-old baby elephant at Atantara Golden Triangle Hotel's elephant camp, 65-second video clip
Elephant playing with the head of the director of Anantara Golden Triangle Hotel's elephant camp, 85-second video clip
Six elephants in an enclosure at Anantara Golden Triangle Hotel's elephant camp, 121-second video clip

Those wishing to expand their travel and cultural horizons beyond Bangkok and the beach resorts of Thailand would do well to consider a one-week side trip to the following fascinating destinations:  Siem Reap, Cambodia; Luang Prabang, Laos; and the Golden Triangle area near Chiang Rai in northern Thailand.

Cambodia's Angkor Wat, the world's largest temple complex and one of the highlights of a visit to Southeast Asia, is located just outside the provincial capital of Siem Reap, which is only a one-hour flight from Bangkok.  Consisting of 228 square km (88 square miles) of Hindu temples, causeways, terraces and reservoirs, Angkor Wat was constructed over a span of 30 years in the twelfth century by up to 100,000 slave labourers.  The extraordinary artistry exhibited at Angkor Wat demonstrates that this period constituted the peak of the Khmer Empire.  In one temple superbly-sculpted bas reliefs extend for a distance of 800 meters (875 yards).

Abandoned in the fifteenth century when Cambodia adopted Buddhism and the capital was transferred to Phnom Penh, the site of Angkor Wat was rediscovered by the French in the mid-nineteenth century.  At various times in the twentieth century Angkor Wat was subjected to looting whereas today nature is the largest threat.  Trees growing through the stones have disfigured a number of the temples.  Similarly, algae and lichens continue to degrade some of the stone images.  What is little known is that Angkor Wat is just one of more than seventy temples in the vicinity!

Interestingly, Luang Prabang, the former royal and religious capital of Laos, derives its name from the Pra Bang, a gold Buddha which was presented to the first Lao king by a priest from Angkor.  Today Luang Prabang has a charm reminiscent of Kathmandu half a century ago.  Situated along the Mekong River at an altitude of 335 meters (1,099 feet), visitors may tour the former royal palace and several temples, including the very ornate Wat Mai.  Relaxing boat rides may be taken on the Mekong, and day trips to waterfalls and caves in the area are also available.

The town of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Aside from the temples, there is a clean and extremely colorful night market with many types of handicrafts and ethnic jewelry for sale.  Tourists are likely to encounter tribal people there wearing authentic costumes.

The so-called Golden Triangle is the area surrounding the point where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) share a common border.  At this location Laos lies across the wide Mekong from Thailand while Mynmar (Burma) appears to be only a stone's throw away across a tributary.  There are a number of interesting things to see and do in Thailand in the vicinity of the Golden Triangle. 

Tribal settlements are one major draw.  Visitors may take tours to villages populated by Yao, Akha and Lahu tribes.  It is possible to be shown the interiors of dwellings in order to understand what daily life is like there.  Decades ago Karen tribal people migrated to this area from Myanmar, and nowadays there are also villages where Padaung (a subgroup of the Karen) "long-necked" women can also be viewed for a fee.  These women have had their collarbones depressed since youth by wearing an ever-increasing number of brass collar rings.

A mere 35 km (22 miles) from the Golden Triangle there is a thriving trade between Thailand and its neighbor, Myanmar, via the Friendship Bridge connecting Mae Sai, Thailand and Tachileik, Myanmar.  For a fee of ten U. S. dollars, tourists can obtain a visa on-the-spot to enter northern Myanmar for up to two weeks.  This visa will allow a pleasant few hours in Myanmar to shop for imported Chinese manufactured goods which stream through the land crossing between Myanmar and the Chinese province of Yunnan only 167 km (104 miles) by road to the north of Tachileik.

Other sightseeing opportunities in the Golden Triangle area include visits to the interesting Hall of Opium Museum, situated along the Mekong River, and to the ruins of Chiang Saen, the ancient capital of the Lanna Kingdom.  One never-to-be-forgotten tour is an elephant-back jungle trek.  But even those who are not so adventurous would enjoy a visit to an elephant training camp such as the non-profit facility hosted by the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort.  British national John Roberts's Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (www.helpingelephants.org), with over 30 rescued elephants, is based there.

The least expensive round trip economy class airfare between Cairo and Bangkok is EGP 3,800 on Egypt Air, which flies nonstop.  Circle trip airfare from Bangkok to Siem Reap in Cambodia, Luang Prabang in Laos, Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, and back to Bangkok from either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, Thailand runs about EGP 5,300.  From the Chiang Mai International Airport it is a 4 1/2-hour ride to the Anantara Golden Triangle Resort, which sits within sight of the Golden Triangle.  One-way private transfers begin at about EGP 900.  On departure, Chiang Rai Airport is more convenient to the Golden Triangle, being only a 75-minute drive away.   


ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 316 of the 321 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com

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