For many people, riding on the back of an elephant in Thailand is the ultimate bucket list experience. However, there’s now overwhelming evidence to support claims by animal welfare experts that this form of tourism is not only unsustainable, but ultimately harmful for Asia’s gentle giants. You can barely turn a corner in Thailand without seeing a billboard touting elephant rides or shows, but, bafflingly, the nation has yet to implement laws to protect its captive elephant population. Unbeknown to many travellers, newly-captive and captive-born Asian elephants are traditionally subject to systematic abuse in order to ‘train’ them to accept riders and perform in shows. It might also come as a surprise to learn that elephants don’t have very strong backs. Experts claim that adult elephants can only support a maximum of around 150kgs on the middle of their back for up to four hours per day, but many of Thailand’s elephants work eight hour shifts, carrying two riders at a time. Metal seats, which tend to be used over lighter bamboo versions, add an extra 50kgs. And this is before factoring in whether these elephants have adequate access to water, healthy food (not just sugary bananas handed out by … Continue reading How to interact ethically with elephants in Thailand

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Sandy bliss awaits travellers off Cambodia’s south coast. Whether you favour being glued to a hammock upon an isolated shore, or fancy slothful days recovering from all-night raves, Cambodia has an island for you. Lapped by the lapis-hued waters of the Gulf of Thailand, the scattering of islands in Cambodia’s south have hugely diverse beach scenes. But all come with a jungle-clad interior, swaths of sand, and the nightly magic of bioluminescent plankton. Nearly all are also shadowed by the cloud of future big development – the time to go is now. Koh Rong Sanloem: hip romantic getaway On Koh Rong Sanloem, the wide sweep of sheltered Saracen Bay just might be the perfect beach idyll. At least 12 (with more on the way) small-scale bungalow resorts, built of wood and palm thatch, sit in harmony with the dense jungle that hugs the shore. Intimate Cita Resort has two-tiered bungalows with open-air bathrooms and hammock porches, while the bungalows of Secret Paradise exude an effortless beach-casual glamour. For a more secluded getaway feel, head to the island’s west for sand-between-your-toes living. Koh Rong Sanloem’s oldest resort is Lazy Beach, a hideaway (on the beach of the same name) all about … Continue reading Island hopping off Cambodia’s coast

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So you’ve partied on Pha-Ngan, snorkelled off Similan and temple-toured in Chiang Mai. If you’re now looking for somewhere to just get out and stretch your legs, Thailand’s little-visited northeast may have just what you need. ‘Isan’, as it’s called, has a rugged charm all its own, with plateaus, mountains and jungles that lend to great walks and hikes. Best for jungle One of Thailand‘s most valuable nature preserves, Nam Nao National Park is located in Phetchabun, but is easily accessible from the Isan city of Khon Kaen. The 966 sq km park has a wide variety of virgin jungle including bamboo forests, rainforest, and montane pine forests, but montane evergreen forests make up the majority of the area. It is home to a large elephant population, as well as kouprey, wild cattle, tigers and hundreds of bird species. An added bonus is that the park is cooler than the rest of the region – although you might want to avoid it in the wet season if leeches aren’t your thing. Possible walks range from short one-hour wanders to more challenging 10km and 17km hikes. Best for wildlife Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima Province is Thailand’s first, and … Continue reading Walks on the wild side: best places to stretch your legs in northeast Thailand

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Extending in a splendid arc down Thailand’s far southern Andaman coast, the glittering Trang Islands offer a wonderful step up in tranquility from their well-tramped neighbours Ko Lanta, Ko Phi-Phi and Phuket. Thanks to ever-better transport connections, short island-hopping distances and lush, unspoilt, coconut-palm beauty, these sun-drenched isles represent some of Thailand’s few remaining offbeat beach destinations. Though certainly not undiscovered, the Trang Islands are southern Thailand as you’ve always imagined it, only less travelled. Jaunty rock formations rise from sparkling emerald waters, sugary beaches wrap jungle-shrouded hills, speedboats buzz between road-free islands and weathered long-tail boats putter around with a refreshing lack of urgency. Reaching the Trang Islands requires more planning, effort and determination than jetting into Phuket or Krabi, but that’s precisely the point: make your way here while the islands’ chilled-out scene still prevails. Ko Ngai Just 16km southwest of Pak Meng on the mainland, and partly protected by Mu Ko Lanta National Park, road-free Ko Ngai (Ko Hai) is a tiny, semi-wild stunner. Although the island is more developed than its surrounding isles, no permanent population lives here; it’s just you and a sprinkling of low-key, mostly upper-midrange resorts. It’s a particular hit with families and … Continue reading Sultry Southern Thailand: a guide to the Trang Islands

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Located on the Central Plain of Thailand, Bangkok presents a larger than life atmosphere where the modern West meets the traditional East. It presents a multi dimensional setting with modern offices and hotels laid next to ruined buildings and exotic temples with beautiful gardens. Bangkok was declared Thailand’s capital city in 1782. Since then it has grown to become the largest city of Thailand with a cosmopolitan appeal and a population of over 11 million.Bangkok has a distinct population of monks who live in stilt houses by the river and make their living by begging alms. The country subscribed to constitutional monarchy in 1932 that has often been met with protests in the form of overthrowing and replacement of the Prime Minister as well as anti-government demonstrations. However, monarchy is regarded with great reverence in Bangkok and insulting the royal family is a punishable offence. Bangkok was a small trading post by the Chao Phraya river till its ruler, King Rama I, made it the capital of Siam in 1782 and converted it into a national treasure serving as the educational, cultural, political, spiritual, commercial and diplomatic centre. Magnificent Buddhist temples, busy markets, canals and a vibrant nightlife make Bangkok … Continue reading Shop till you drop in Bangkok

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