Category Archives: Gallery

Sathorn Unique – Ghost Building

Sathorn Unique Tower is an unfinished skyscraper in Bangkok. Planned as a luxury condominium, its construction was halted during Asian financial crisis in 1997 (the construction started in 1990). Finished in about 80%, the building remains one of the most prominent of the derelict buildings in Bangkok.

Officially the tower is off-limits to the public, but many made their way inside by bribing security guards. I avoided that, but that’s my sweet little secret.

Couple of times dead bodies were found inside the building. Official cause of death in every case was determined to be a suicide.

The building is believed to be haunted, as the land upon which it sits is probably a former graveyard. Others believe the location of the building, whose shadow is cast upon the neighbouring Wat Yan Nawa, to be inauspicious, resulting in its failed completion.

At the moment, according to the locals, it’s not possible to enter higher parts of the building, as the owner has blocked the way to the upper floors.

Chiang Rai – The City

Chiang Rai is the capital city of the Thailand’s northernmost province of the same name. It’s probably one of the best places to live in Thailand (in my humble opinion – I’ve spent here two beautiful years). The city’s population is about 70,000. You won’t find tall skyscrapers here, everything is spread out on a huge area and has more of a “huge village” feel rather than a “city” feel.

The climate here is much more comfortable than the one in central or southern Thailand. In fact, it can be really cold in winter! I remember crazy situations when the thermometer was showing over 20 degrees Celsius, yet the wind was so strong and cold that we wore jumpers and jackets and it was still very cold. At night, the temperature can drop down to just few degrees above zero.

As I already mentioned, the city is quite spread out and the best way to get around is by bicycle or motorbike. The city centre is rather modest – but still there are a few sights worth seeing – The Temple of Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), the Clock Tower and the colourful Night Bazaar.

Perhaps you have heard about the famous Temple of Emerald Buddha located on the grounds of Grand Palace in Bangkok. Well, this Emerald Buddha (in Thai: พระแก้วมรกต) was discovered in Chiang Rai, Lanna kingdom in 1434. A lightning storm truck a temple where the Buddha image was kept. The statue felt down and became chipped. It turned out that the figure was covered with stucco. Upon removing all of the stucco, the monks discovered a perfectly made Buddha image from a solid piece of green jade (not emerald as the name suggests – “emerald” in Thai simply means “of green colour”). The statue was never closely examined by experts, therefore the exact composition and origin is unknown. It was probably crafted around XIV century in Thailand, but it can also come from India or Sri Lanka. The Emerald Buddha has changed its location a number of times – from Chang Rai it was transported to Lampang, later to Chiang Mai, then Luang Prabang (currently Laos), Vientiane (Laos) and eventually Bangkok, where it stays until this day. The Buddha image in Chiang Rai is an exact copy of the original.

On the grounds of the Temple of Emerald Buddha in Chiang Rai there is also a small yet interesting museum. The green Buddha pavilion is quite small but nicely done and the green-coloured glasses make quite a unique feeling about the place.

The Clock Tower seems to be located in the very centre of the city, not too far from the above mentioned temple. It was designed by a famous Thai artist Chalermchai Khositpipat (who comes from the area and also designed the very famous Wat Rong Khun – the White Temple) and is quite incredible. Everyday at 7:00, 8:00 and 9:00 in the evening the Tower plays a music and is changing colours. There is also an extra show at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

The Night Bazaar is a great place where one can eat well and cheap, buy souvenirs (or other useful things) and even watch the shows on the stage. Sometimes those are the traditional dances of northern Thailand, sometimes drag queen shows (lady-boy) and other times a local musician makes our time pass more pleasantly by playing good songs.

Chiang Rai city (A – Wat Phra Kaew, Temple of Emerald Buddha, B – Clock Tower, C – Night Bazaar)

Doi Mae Salong

Doi Mae Salong (Thai: ดอยแม่สลอง) is a place with a very interesting history. It is also one of my favourite places in Thailand. The official name of the village is Santikhiri (สันติคีรี), but it is located on a hill called Mae Salong (“doi” means mountain in Thai).

I mentioned the interesting history of the place. The early days of Doi Mae Salong go back to the time of opium trade in the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle was the name of the area where three countries border each other – Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos – and it was infamous for drugs trade. The following history was adopted from Mae Salong’s Wikitravel website (here).

In 1949, after the Nationalist Kuomintang government was formed, 93rd Division of the Chinese Nationalist Army refused to surrender to Chinese communists.

Unlike most of the unrelenting nationalists that fled to Taiwan in 1949, a force of 12,000 escaped from Yunnan to Burma and continued an insurgency against the Peoples’ Republic. They were at first supported by Taiwan and the USA, but diplomatic shifts later led to the partial disbanding of the nationalist forces in Burma. While thousands left for Thailand in 1961, many remained in Burma.

The soldiers that settled in Mae Salong kept it as a military base in preparation for an eventual counter-attack against communist China. They funded their arms purchases with opium production and rubbed shoulders with notorious Burmese warlord and drug baron Khun Sa, who lived a few kilometres away in Ban Hin Taek and who initially trained with the Kuomintang before founding his own army.

In the 1970s the Thai government struck a deal with the renegades: the battle-hardened soldiers would help them fight Thailand’s own communist insurgents in exchange for legitimacy and Thai citizenship. Part of their going straight involved the soldiers’ cessation of opium production in favour of the cultivation of mushrooms and above all oolong tea (a kind of between green and black tea, with the green being more dominant), which is now Mae Salong’s main product. The tea plantations can be spotted at almost every hill and valley in the area.

The road to Mae Salong is very windy and sometimes steep, yet usually very well constructed, which makes it seem actually pretty easy. Bear in mind that it doesn’t mean it is completely safe at all, as we have witnessed ourselves – but more about that later.

Probably the most famous place in Doi Mae Salong is Phra Boromathat Chedi, stupa built in honour of the Princess Mother, Srinagarindra. Next to the chedi is the Princess Mother Hall, a modern, Thai-style pavilion looking similar to a temple on the outside. There are two ways leading to the stupa – one on your feet, through 719 steep stairs (on photos) and very steep and windy paved road coming from the other end of Mae Salong (you can see the steep end of this road on the photos as well).

Other places worth mentioning are Tomb of General Tuan, the founder of Mae Salong, and Chinese Martyrs’ Memorial Museum (ticket: 20 baht, about 0.5 euro, in 2013). Museum is rather modest and its purpose is to keep the memory of soldiers that died during the fights against communism.

What is most breathtaking, are the views. Beautiful panorama can be seen especially from Phra Boromathat Chedi – from there you can also see the overwhelming tea plantations. It is definitely worth staying here for one night. During my last visit, it was a time of Tea Festival, Sakura Blossom and Several Tribes culture (not perfect name in English, but hey – this is Thailand). There was a procession of hill tribe members (living in the proximity) dressed in traditional clothes that walked through the length of the village. There was also a big marketplace and a large stage, where one could admire the shows of local folklore.

Mae Salong was founded by Chinese people from Yunnan province and therefore is a perfect opportunity to try the Yunnanese cuisine. Personally I love Yunnanese beef curry served with mantou (Chinese steamed bun without filling). Salapao (Chinese steamed buns with fillings) are also well worth trying.

On the way back we witnessed a scene of an accident – the truck has stopped on the tree growing at a turn. It is not something you can see every day. So much about the road safety.

Before arriving in Chiang Rai town, we briefly stopped at Pong Nam Ron hot springs. At that time they were still under construction, the only ready things were places for dipping feet and  ponds for boiling eggs.

The photos come again from many trips to Doi Mae Salong so do not be deceived by my constantly changing look.

Doi Mae Salong (A – Doi Mae Salong, Santikhiri village, B – Pong Nam Ron hot springs)

Doi Phahompok National Park

I almost forgot to include a post about the remaining part of Doi Phahompok National Park. You can read the first part here.

The most popular part of Doi Phahompok National Park (Thai: อุทยานแห่งชาติดอยผ้าห่มปก) are Fang hot springs located nearby the town of the same name. The springs are very picturesque as they are located next to the mountains. On a large meadow there are randomly placed rocks of various sizes – all natural. The hot water comes to the surface and creates ponds of different shapes and sizes. The larger ones were adapted for egg boiling. We can buy a pack of eggs, submerge them in the hot water, wait for about 20 minutes and eggs are ready to eat. This way they will also contain minerals from hot springs and therefore they should be healthier.

There are few large pools with hot water available for visitors (the water is not too hot so that entire families can enjoy) as well as private hot spring cabins with round shaped stoned bathtubs. The private cabin costed 50 baht per person (about 1 euro) per hour for min. 2 people (a single person could use a private cabin by paying for 2 people).

The national park also contains some waterfalls. Unfortunately, most of them are localised in areas that are hard to reach (the roads are steep and unpaved). At the beginning I followed the way to one of the waterfalls recommended by a park ranger but eventually common sense took over and I turned back. I have only visited easily accessible Pong Nam Dam waterfall – maybe a small one, but not without its charm.

Doi Phahompok National Park (A – ticket booth, B – Kiew Lom camp ground, C – Fang hot springs)

Tha Ton village

After scoring a beautiful sunrise at Thailand’s second highest mountain (Doi Phahompok), I continued my journey towards Doi Mae Salong, which is famous for its tea plantations.

Before I got there though, I have visited a temple next to the road and then stopped at rather small town of Tha Ton (village indeed, only about 2,000 people). Even though I have passed through Tha Ton many times in the past, I never stopped there for a longer time – which turned out to be a huge mistake. Tha Ton is located on the Kok river, which flows all the way from Chiang Rai city (and further, one way into Myanmar and another into Mekong river). The village is famous mostly for the temple – Wat Tha Ton, which consists of 9 levels. Each temple level is different – dragons and Buddha images are the most common sights here. The view of the surrounding areas from the higher temple level is simply breath-taking – the weather was very clear so the visibility was perfect. One could see military outpost on the border with Myanmar easily.

On Tha Ton-Chiang Rai water way there is a scheduled boat service. I have never decided to use this mode of transport because it takes much longer than the paved road (3h one way, 5h the other). Locals have mentioned that the boat trip is indeed quite nice, yet really long. The day was finished (and started) with the visit at one of the local restaurants by the Kok riverside. Fresh fish at good prices prepared in Thai way should not be missed by any travellers who happen to make their way in this area. Even though visiting this place is unlikely for ordinary tourists, it can provide you with a unique Thai experience.

Doi Phahompok – The mountain top

Doi Phahompok (Thai: อุทยานแห่งชาติดอยผ้าห่มปก) is the second highest mountain in Thailand (2,285 MSL) located in Chiang Mai province, not far from Fang city. It is not too popular among tourists – usually only locals go there. In order to reach the mountain top, it is necessary to use 4WD or a motorbike. The road is dirt and very challenging. One time I went up on my faithful 125 cc Honda Sonic (just take a look at photos, how dusty the road is!) and another time I went on the back of a local’s pick up truck. Outside of the season (the season goes from December until February) almost nobody comes here.

Before reaching the camp site, it is worth taking a small detour to the left, a little bit after the ticket booth (ticket for foreigners – 400 baht, about 9 euro, ticket for Thais  – 40 baht, about 1 euro) in order to see the Huai Bon cave. The cave entrance is rather small, but the cave goes on for 324 m and the corridor is anything between 2 and 25 m wide. Inside the cave, one can find many interesting rock formations, not to mention the abundance of stalactites and stalagmites. There are no lights whatsoever inside the cave so it is necessary to bring your own torch (flashlight). There are few other smaller caves in the area, but there are no signs pointing their exact location. Rarely people come to visit Huai Bon cave – I was the only visitor there. After seeing the cave, it is time to move on.

By going up, we reach a camp ground – the highest in Thailand (1,924 MSL). One can easily rent a tent. During the season, there is also a working restaurant here. There is a 3.5 km trail that allows us to reach the mountain top. The trail goes up almost all the time and can be challenging for some. The park rangers said that it takes about 2 hours to reach the summit. For me, as I am an experienced hiker, it took only one hour. First time I woke up at 4 am to reach the summit for the sunrise at 6 am, but instead I have reached the peak at 5 am and I waited over one hour for the sunrise (at that time I was also the only tourist – really the only one who was spending a night there). The second time I knew that it will take me only 1 hour to reach the summit so I started my hike later.

“Doi Phahompok” means “mountain with a flat top” and so it is – the top offers great views in all directions. The peak has 2,285 MSL, so in the morning we are above the clouds and the rising sun comes out of the sea of clouds. When we look to the west, we can see the border with Myanmar (Burma, and further into the country) and military outposts on the mountain tops. A little to the southwest one can see Doi Ang Khang (which I covered in the previous posts) if the weather is clear enough.

Doi Phahompok National Park offers other attractions nearby – famous hot springs and few waterfalls. I will cover these in the next post.

On the way I have made a stop at one temple, which houses the 300 year old wooden Buddha image – it is quite unique, and therefore, worth seeing.

Don’t forget to check out the second post about Doi Phahompok National Park by clicking here.

Doi Phahompok National Park (A – ticket booth, B – Kiew Lom camp ground, C – Fang hot springs)

Doi Ang Khang – Nor Lae village

My last post about Doi Ang Khang is dedicated to Nor Lae village, located at the border with Burma (Myanmar). The road to the village is rather steep (going up and down…). There is a small army base with a viewpoint in the village. The viewpoint allows us to see the beautiful mountainous scenery, as well as Burmese military outposts. Locals sell hand-made products, kids sometimes pose for photos. There is another quite dangerous road going along the border – you should ask soldiers for permission before using it.

Nor Lae village is only few kilometres apart from Doi Ang Khang Royal Project. In the surroundings of the Project there is also a “hidden” Ang Khang pagoda – there are no signs pointing you there, but if you only take a small side-way road out of curiosity, you can find it pretty quickly.

So we finish our journey in the coldest place in Thailand, we ride down the same most dangerous road in the country in the direction of the next mountain – Doi Phahompok. For some time Doi Ang Khang is included now as a part of Doi Phahompok National Park. We move on to see that “mountain with a flat summit”. I will describe it in the next post.

One last thing to keep in mind (same as with the other Doi Ang Khang posts) – the photos in the gallery come from all three different trips to Doi Ang Khang. Some of them were taken with my previous camera (non-SLR).

Surroundings of Doi Ang Khang (A – army base and camp ground, B – Royal Agricultural Station, C – Nor Lae village at the border with Burma/Myanmar)

Doi Ang Khang – Royal Project

I recommend to spend the second day at Doi Ang Khang on visiting the Royal Project – actually Royal Agricultural Station. The Royal Project is really interesting! Since the temperatures are much lower than in the rest of the country (please remember that the temperature can drop below zero in December and January), at the Project you can find fruits that are non-existent in other parts of the country – like strawberries (the tastiest in all of Thailand!), kiwi, pears or peaches. There is also a wide variety of vegetables, herbs, flowers, even tea and coffee. The entrance fee is 50 baht per person (about 1 euro). There are many interesting and beautiful gardens on the grounds of Royal Project – shaded moist garden, flower gardens – Garden 80 (named to celebrate 80. birthday or HM the King of Thailand), English roses garden, rhododendrons, scented garden, bonsai tree garden, natural rock garden… There is a lot of things to admire indeed. The variety of gardens guarantees great views at any time of the year. Let’s not forget to mention rare birds (including endangered and endemic species – together over 1,000 species) that attract both ornithologists and photographers alike.

It is possible to rent a room inside the Project (but don’t forget to book ahead in the high season – usually months ahead!), you can take a peek at the house for Royal Family (rather modest and seems unused for years), finally you can try out local specialities in a very nice and cheap restaurant. Plus there are some nature trails, hill tribe villages, mule riding (not common to see those animals around!). If you still have time after visiting the Project, I recommend to continue forward to Nor Lae village, located at the border with Myanmar (Burma) – I will cover it in the next post.

One last thing to keep in mind (same as with the other Doi Ang Khang posts) – the photos in the gallery come from all three different trips to Doi Ang Khang. Some of them were taken with my previous camera (non-SLR).

Surroundings of Doi Ang Khang (A – army base and camp ground, B – Royal Agricultural Station, C – Nor Lae village at the border with Burma/Myanmar)

Doi Ang Khang – The Views

Today I will write about my favourite place in Thailand (so far) – Doi Ang Khang. I personally love mountains, and Doi Ang Khang is the coldest place in Thailand. It is not the highest mountain in the country (1928 MSL) but it’s here where they observed negative temperatures (-2, -3 degrees Celsius). Doi Ang Khang is located in Chiang Mai province, about 3 hours drive from both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai city (so one can start the trip from either city). It is possible to get there using public transport (it is time-consuming and inconvenient) but it is much better to hire your own wheels. It is not too popular, especially among foreigners – it seems that only local tourists (mostly from the northern parts of the country) come here. Another important factor is the fact that the road to Doi Ang Khang is the most dangerous in all of Thailand. Only the last 10 km to the summit are so dangerous (especially the very last 2 km – road is extremely steep). Buses can not go there – the road is so windy (180 degrees serpentines!) that regular buses haven’t got enough space to make the turn. Even passenger cars get tired on the way (it is not uncommon to smell hot engine oil on the way) – it is much better to use 4WD. I have come here three times – twice on my faithful motorbike (125cc) and once with a car. Making this trip on a motorbike is truly unforgettable – and I prefer this kind of transport.

Upon arrival, there are at least two camping grounds – one is located at the small army base, and this is the one that I recommend. The reason for that is quite simple: soldiers have the best view at Doi Ang Khang (renting a tent starts at 400 baht for 2-people tent, about 9 euro). Those more picky can stay at resorts and hotels at the village next to Royal Agricultural Station – but in the season (December until February) it may be very hard to get a room without prior reservation.

First day I recommend to spend enjoying the view and climate around the summit as well as visiting the village. The village is quite interesting – the locals who live there come from various hill tribes and countries (Chinese, Burmese, Thais) and therefore it offers diversified cuisine.

In the evening I climbed up to the top of Doi Ang Khang to capture the sunset. At dawn, again I went all the way there (not very far from camping ground though) to see the sunrise. Afterwards, I continued towards Royal Agricultural Station. But I will cover it in the next post.

One last thing to keep in mind – the photos in the gallery come from all three different trips to Doi Ang Khang. Some of them were taken with my previous camera (non-SLR) and on top of things, I used to have long hair. Well then, enjoy the photos!

Surroundings of Doi Ang Khang (A – army base and camp ground, B – Royal Agricultural Station, C – Nor Lae village at the border with Burma/Myanmar)

Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), Laos

Finally I have arrived at Don Det, one of many islands making up the Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) archipelago on the Mekong river. Si Phan Don is located on the southernmost of Laos, next to the Cambodian border. It is extremely laid back place – you can easily relax yourself in the hammock and watch the days go by. I got myself a comfy bungalow on the riverside, with bathroom inside, small veranda with hammock and such pleasure costed me just 30,000 kip (about 3 euro, October 2014).

On the first day I only took some walk around the island and caught the sunset. On the second day I went out on a full day kayaking trip (price: 150,000 kip, about 15 euro). The main purpose of that trip was to see the largest waterfall in South East Asia – Khon Phapheng. It is not the most beautiful nor the highest of waterfalls. Being the largest cascade in South East Asia, Khon Phapheng offers impressive views on its up to 15 m high and 1 km wide rock formation, forcing the usually calm flow of the Mekong to roar through its narrow gorges and forming a natural obstacle for shipping. It is one of the reasons why China can’t be reached by Mekong only. Aggressive waters are crashing millions of litres on the rocks and into Cambodia every second.

The next day I went to Don Khong island, which at the time saw even fewer visitors than Don Det. I rented a bicycle and rode around the whole island – and apart from some modest temples I didn’t notice anything exceptional. I stayed there one night and came back to Thailand on the following day.

This way we have come to the end of my Laos trip in 2014. During this trip I have visited only the southern part of Laos, as I’ve seen the north earlier – I will surely post my photos and reports from previous trips later on.

Laos, Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands, A – Don Det, B – Don Khong)