Tag Archives: Waterfalls

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey Part 2 – Lak Lake to Buon Ma Thuot

For the second day of my journey through the Vietnamese Highlands, Mui and I woke up at around 7am with the aim of reaching the waterfalls of Drây Sáp and Drây No on the edges of Buon Ma Thout – a couple of hundred kilometres further North for around lunchtime.

After a traditional beef noodle breakfast, we headed to some local M’Nong Villages in the early morning sunshine to take in the beautiful view across Lak Lake. It was peaceful scene with some elephants wandering around the banks with their keepers and the occasional out of towner.

Peaceful Solace - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Peaceful Solace – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Morning Stroll - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Morning Stroll – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Stork at Breakfast - Vietnam

Stork at Breakfast – Vietnam


Grazing - Vietnam

Grazing – Vietnam

Looking around the M’nong villages once again highlighted how there were distinct social class divisions within the tribe. There were two particular families with greater wealth and prosperity – one of their homes was built out of good quality solid wood with tiling on the roof, with the inside spacious in comparison to the standard fare. The other was built out of concrete, with a sheet metal roof and densely decorated on the outside. These two homes were completely removed from the disorder of some of the shacked huts we saw yesterday. What was more intriguing was that the style of housing remained consistent. They were also on stilts, oblong shaped and with a gable roof (a roof with two sides only). What differentiated them was purely based on the quality of the materials used and how they were decorated.

Mui Entering M'nong Tribe Home, Vietnam

Mui Entering M’nong Tribe Home, Vietnam


Upper Class of the M'nong Tribe - Vietnam

Upper Class of the M’nong Tribe – Vietnam

Mui managed to get us an invite into one of the local’s homes to have a look around. The house was quite spacious inside and as with yesterday’s fair, limited in terms of luxuries. However, they did have material possessions which were key to their social class status within the tribe. Just like having an expensive car on the front drive or a conservatory on the back of your house, certain possessions had certain meanings. For example, I touched on the importance of the huge jars that sat at the foot of the tombs of the M’nong cemetaries on the first day of my trip – these jars were hugely significant before you passed away. A family’s economic and social status within the village would grow with each additional bigger and better quality jar. At time of your passing, these jars would then sit at the foot of your tomb to show others how important you had been. They even had huge metal pan type objects which were apparently as important – again, quantity, quality and size qualified you. I found it quite fascinating how only a few kilometres further on from tribes like the Chil and the Ma, there’s another tribe who actually thrives on social infrastructure and materialism. Two complete extremes within touching distance of each other. The M’nong Tribe also embraced foreigners and was used to them, often capitalising on them through trade. The secluded Chil and Ma Tribes yesterday had barely seen an outsider. Their roots were the same; however the M’nong Tribe – even though still not technologically advanced – decided to try escaping isolation.

M'nong Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam

M’nong Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam


Social Status Jars - M'nong Village

Social Status Jars – M’nong Village


Trophies - M'nong Village

Trophies – M’nong Village

As we moved on, the heat intensified throughout the morning – much more so than yesterday – which meant we stopped off quite regularly to take on some fluids. One stop was at a huge brick producing factory – this again was not a machine dominated factory, but instead driven by manual labour. There wasn’t that much interest here, but it gave me another opportunity to take a couple more interesting snaps. Further on, we relaxed whilst looking out at some fisherman going about their days business on a stunning lake encircled by a beautiful mountainous backdrop.

Men at Work - Vietnam

Men at Work – Vietnam


Fishing in the Mid Afternoon Heat - Vietnam

Fishing in the Mid Afternoon Heat – Vietnam

After around 4 hours, we arrived in one of the most important towns in the Central Highlands – Buôn Ma Thuột. This was a hugely influential strategic post for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War and the current capital of the Dak Lak Province. It was here I encountered the next real gem of the trip. Mui did his usual by randomly pulling up in someone’s driveway. After knocking on the door and smiling at me, he beckoned me forward. At the door was a very old frail man who invited us in. Upon entering, all I could see hanging on the walls were certificates of the Viet Cong, with flags and emblems scattered around the place. The old man was a 90-year active communist who served for the Viet Cong throughout the war and has been a member of the Communist Party for over 50 years. He’s still an important spokesman of the Northern Vietnamese committee that still congregates within the town. His wife was a radio operator – although she was there, she kept to herself, with obvious affects from the war taken toll on her mind.

War Tales of an Old Vietcong Man - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

War Tales of an Old Vietcong Man – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Radio Operator of the Vietcong

Radio Operator of the Vietcong

Coincidentally, it was also the 35th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, and although he was a practiced communist, he was due to meet up with US veterans of war in Buon Ma Thuot that week! As Mui spoke to him, he recounted tails of fighting off the Americans and how to this day, he’s still proud of standing up to them in the fight for their own freedom. He described tales of shooting US soldiers from point blank range to save his own skin, to the extreme tales of shooting fellow comrades in order to help injured enemies. He said he mainly did this as dying was an easy way out of the pain. He’d gone through it all – the main story that stuck out centred around the horrendous napalm bombing – many times whilst evading the shells himself he would stand watching friends scratching away at their skin to try and release themselves from the burning sticky mess that had concealed them – again he would shoot them to ease the pain. He also explained how although 35 years had passed, the war scars were still there to be seen in his town and throughout the highlands. And it seemed like he was right from a brief tour round town, with the Vietnamese flag in full flight everywhere you go in amongst the War Memorials and statues. Mui told me to expect more to come as we move up through the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Buon Ma Thuot - Vietnam

Buon Ma Thuot – Vietnam


Iron Bridge - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Iron Bridge – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Bridge View - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Bridge View – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

It was then time to bid farewell and head for one of the best lunches I’ve had. Again, it was nothing too complex – just some traditional fresh spring rolls – but their taste and freshness was just unbelievable. The rolls were served open for you to make up as you wished. Aside from the rice wraps, it came with rice noodles, banana cucumber, lettuce, pork scratching, fried batter, the delicious star fruit and some incredible shrimp sauce. Wrap that all up and it exploded in your mouth – the freshness combined with the impish fats of the pork and batter.

With our stomachs content, we then headed about half an hour further up the road to the second highlight of the day – the beautiful Drây Sáp and Drây No Waterfalls. The lunchtime sun was a killer, beating down on both of us and it was a perfect way to cool off – diving into the lagoons with the waterfalls coming down from high above for a good hard massage. After taking a dip, it was time to relax in the surrounding jungle foliage before heading to our hotel.

Krong No River - Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Krong No River – Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls at Sunset, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls at Sunset, Vietnam


Massaged - Dray Sap Waterfalls on the Canon Ixus 50, Vietnam

Massaged – Dray Sap Waterfalls on the Canon Ixus 50, Vietnam

Dinner was another interesting affair – we headed back into Buôn Ma Thuột to a huge diner. This was one of the best places to get duck stew and I wasn’t let down. What was amazing was the fact the whole duck came in the stew. Not just the unrecognisable meat – but we’re talking feet, neck, and head! But the stew was incredible – the duck fatty and delicious, the soup itself refreshing yet tangy.

Mui Stirring Duck Stew - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Mui Stirring Duck Stew – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Buon Ma Thuot Restaurant, Vietnam

Buon Ma Thuot Restaurant, Vietnam

With day 2 over and the stories of the war in my head, we were gaining ground on the Ho Chi Minh trail itself…

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Vietnam Travel Guide
http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/central-highlands/dalat/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-highlands/sights/other/dray-sap-dray

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Kanchanaburi – Peaceful Thai Solace

After visiting the enticing Floating Markets of Damnoen Saduak in Ratchaburi, I jumped on one of the local buses passing me by on the roadside to head towards my next destination of Kanchanaburi – a small town about 150 km north and capital to its very own Province. The town is located on the borders where the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai Rivers converge into the Mae Klong River – a crossing where the Bridge on the River Kwai can be found forming part of the infamous Burma Death Railway – a project that was built by Asian Prisoners of War under the occupation of the Japanese in 1942.

Sunset at the Bridge on the River Kwai - Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Sunset at the Bridge on the River Kwai – Kanchanaburi, Thailand

As I’d started the day at 5am, I fell asleep on the bus within a matter of minutes. After what seemed a brief spell, I was then suddenly woken up by the ticket inspector shouting at me to get off the bus. I thought I’d arrived in Kanchanaburi, when in fact I’d gone back on myself and ended up in the middle of a bus depot in Ratchaburi – about an hour and a half back towards Bangkok. After wandering around the bus station, I finally managed to find the right bus and swiftly got back on my way in the right direction.

Ratchaburi Bus Terminal, Thailand

Ratchaburi Bus Terminal, Thailand


Bus Dwellers, Thailand

Bus Dwellers, Thailand


Thai Bus, Thailand

Thai Bus, Thailand

After another 2 and a half hours, I finally arrived in Kanchanaburi after watching the beautiful green countryside pass me by. I jumped straight into a tuk-tuk and headed into the centre of town, dropping my bags off at the quaint Sugar Cane Guesthouse which was home to a number of shacked bungalows serenely perched at the sides of the Khwae Yai River – or what’s better known as the River Kwai.

As it was only around 3pm, I took a quick wander around the town, which didn’t take too long as it was actually quite a small village. There were also very few people around which set the perfect scene for a much needed relaxing couple of days ahead of me.

Kanchanaburi is a town unfortunately tied to a dark and torrid history. In 1942, during the Burmese conflict of World War II, the Japanese seized control of a British Colony in Burma and initiated the construction of a railway network between Bangkok and Rangoon to support its forces. The railway ran roughly 415 miles to the West and was built using forced labour – around 180,000 were Asian labourers and 60,000 Allied Prisoners of War. The working conditions were horrific, with many of the labourers put to work in some of the most treacherous conditions on some of the most lethal terrains. The brutality, torture, starvation, sickness and death led to the Burma Railway come to be known as the Death Railway, for around half of the Asian Labourers and a quarter of the POW died during its construction. This meant that much of the surrounding area of Kanchanaburi was dedicated to those who died in its construction, with two huge cemeteries at its border – the War Cemetery in Kanchanaburi which contains 6,982 personnel and the Chungkai War Cemetery on the outskirts with a further 1,750 graves.

Kanchanaburi War Cemetary, Thailand

Kanchanaburi War Cemetary, Thailand


Kanchanaburi War Cemetary, Thailand (2)

Kanchanaburi War Cemetary, Thailand (2)

The Bridge on The River Kwai, also located in Kanchanaburi, was made famous mainly due to the 1957 film by David Lean which depicts the perils of the construction of the Burma Railway, and what you can see today is the steel bridge that was reconstructed after the Allied Bombing in 1944.

Death Railway - Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Death Railway – Kanchanaburi, Thailand


Death Railway - Kanchanaburi, Thailand (2)

Death Railway – Kanchanaburi, Thailand (2)


Close Quarters - Death Railway, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Close Quarters – Death Railway, Kanchanaburi, Thailand


Death Railway Train Ride - Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Death Railway Train Ride – Kanchanaburi, Thailand


Thai Schoolboy, Thailand

Thai Schoolboy, Thailand

Most of my time spent in Kanchanaburi was in relaxation, reading and listening to music whilst tucking into a few Lassies – a tasty fruit milkshake that originated from Punjab, India. Otherwise, I had a chance to experience the not so relaxing Thai massage, which was a mix of euphoria when the masseurs went to work on my back, to excruciating pain when they started to pull the bones out of my sockets!

On another of the days, I headed out to the beautiful setting of the Erawan National Park in the nearby Tenasserim Hills. Its Thailand’s twelfth National Park that covers an area of 550 square kilometres and is home to a stunning 7-tier waterfall – one of the most perfect examples of natural beauty in Thailand. The falls sit in a deciduous forest that covers about 80 % of the park with some stunning tree species that create a perfect sanctuary for all kinds of wildlife. There was an abundance of birds and lizards, with the beautiful turquoise pools home to spectacular colourful fish. As I was determined to get to see the majority of the falls on all seven levels and experience the tranquillity of the Park, I bolted my way to the top as quick as I could to try and avoid the tourists that were arriving in their droves behind me. At the top, a beautiful waterfall cascaded down a huge bright orange rock face into a crystal clear pool beneath it. I had managed to get to the top in about half an hour, about 20 minutes ahead of the next person, so I jumped straight in the pool to relax whilst listening to the falls and wildlife around me.

Level 7 - Erawan Falls, Thailand

Level 7 – Erawan Falls, Thailand


Me at Level 7 of Erawan Falls, Thailand

Me at Level 7 of Erawan Falls, Thailand

This is when I discovered that some of the fish in the pools were of the Garra-rufa species – the species now famous for Feet Pedicures all around the world. As I sat there relaxing, the fish then formed all around me taking shots at biting at the skin on my feet and back, with one mole on my back getting a particular mauling.

Foot Massage - Erawan Falls, Thailand

Foot Massage – Erawan Falls, Thailand


Foot Massage Fish, Thailand

Foot Massage Fish, Thailand


Jumping Fish, Thailand

Jumping Fish, Thailand

After about an hour at the top, I then headed back down towards the bottom, stopping by for a quick dip in the many falls en-route.

Level 1 - Erawan Falls, Thailand

Level 1 – Erawan Falls, Thailand


Level 2 - Erawan Falls, Thailand

Level 2 – Erawan Falls, Thailand


Pools of the Erawan Falls, Thailand

Pools of the Erawan Falls, Thailand


Pools of Erawan Falls, Thailand

Pools of Erawan Falls, Thailand


Seclusion at the Erawan Falls, Thailand

Seclusion at the Erawan Falls, Thailand

There were also heaps of Macaque Monkeys jumping round the trees, but many of them congregated around the tourists on Level 3, scampering around for any bits of food or ice cream. I just swam around the pools beside them, watching them play and lure their prey into giving up the tasty snacks.

Turquoise Erawan Falls, Thailand

Turquoise Erawan Falls, Thailand


Onlooking Macaque Monkey - Erawan Falls, Thailand

Onlooking Macaque Monkey – Erawan Falls, Thailand


Hungry Macaque Monkey - Erawan Falls, Thailand

Hungry Macaque Monkey – Erawan Falls, Thailand

After a delicious lunch of Cow Pat Gai (Chicken Fried Rice), I then headed to an Elephant sanctuary for a quick ride around the jungle. It was the first time I’d ever had an Elephant ride, and to be honest, if I had another chance again, I would probably turn it down!

Parked Elephants, Thailand

Parked Elephants, Thailand

I was teamed up with a young mischievous elephant which added a bit of an edge to the whole experience, but the ride was just so uncomfortably bumpy. As the sitting position is poised high on the back of the Elephant, every time the Elephant took a step, you’d feel like you were constantly going over speed bumps as its leg joints would move up and down like a set of slow engine pistons.

Elephant Ride, Thailand

Elephant Ride, Thailand

I had the chance to sit on the Elephants neck which didn’t help the situation, its coarse hair scratching at my legs with every move. The Elephant kept on defying its keeper, running off in the opposite direction in search for some fresh greenery to eat, with me clambering on for dear life in protest!

Masked Elephant Keeper, Thailand

Masked Elephant Keeper, Thailand


Riding Neck Side - Thailand

Riding Neck Side – Thailand


Holding On - Elephant Ride, Thailand

Holding On – Elephant Ride, Thailand


Banana Munching Elephants, Thailand

Banana Munching Elephants, Thailand

In the evening, with the town quiet, I sat around the Sugar Cane bungalows with a couple of other guests who were staying there. One was an interesting Iranian guy who after a few beers started to talk about the political situation in his country. He became very animated in what he had to say, but what was interesting was how he confirmed proudly about how Iran was amidst a massive weapons expansive program to protect itself from the conflicts of the region – but, he was quick to advise that any nuclear activity was solely for industry and not for war. As we discussed the possibility of construction of nuclear weapons, he became much more aggressive in his manner, maybe as I probed him for the finer details. I let him be at around midnight, and slipped off to sleep listening the the Geckos that protected me from the mosquitos buzzing around the bungalow.

The next day before heading back to Bangkok to meet Matt (the guy I met off my flight from Kolkatta) and head to Koh Phangan, I hired a scooter to go for a quick whizz around the local area. The area was quite flat with miles and miles of farming leading off into the distance where the higher mountains sat.

Corn Fields, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Corn Fields, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

After checking out the Chungkai Cemetary, I headed onto the Khao Poon Caves next to Wat Tham Khao Poon. These are a fascinating set of underground caves carved out of limestone where monks used to take regular worship. The caves are constructed out of a labyrinth of beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, with nine chambers interconnected together.

Stalagmites - Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Stalagmites – Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand


Khoa Poon Caves - Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Khoa Poon Caves – Kanchanaburi, Thailand


Blue Caves of Khoa Poon - Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Blue Caves of Khoa Poon – Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Each were named based on their apparent features or functions – for instance, the Phra Buddha Saiyas Room is home to a huge Reclining Buddha, the Mai Dern Room represented a Walking Stick, the Soi Yoi Room a Weeping Fig Tree and the Jorrakae Room a Crocodile.

Plastic Buddhas - Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Plastic Buddhas – Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand


Reclining Buddha - Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Reclining Buddha – Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand


Buddhas in a Line - Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Buddhas in a Line – Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand


Buddha - Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Buddha – Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand


Silenced Statue - Khao Poon Caves , Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Silenced Statue – Khao Poon Caves , Kanchanaburi, Thailand


Crocodile Room - Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Crocodile Room – Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand


Religious Shrine - Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Religious Shrine – Khao Poon Caves, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

As I wandered through the caves, I realised I was the only person there. The place was eerily quiet. As I went further and further in, the caves got danker and colder, with echoes of wind coming from the distance. Drops of water could be heard in the distance, with the flutter of bat wings high above. I squeezed my way through some tight passages as I moved onwards through the maze, and I couldn’t help but build up a pent up fear inside me. I was all alone. The cold air that passed through me unnerved me. The heavy silence almost deafened me. I just hoped that no one appeared out the corner of my eye. As I quickened my step, the fear built inside me like a ten year old child fleeing something petrifying. But I loved it. Fear is one of the greatest feelings that actually make you feel more alive. After venturing through a couple more chambers, I finally saw a tiny light shine through a gap in the distance, and after another five minute fast-paced walk, resurfaced.

Quickly jumping on my scooter whilst glimpsing over my shoulder to ensure I hadn’t disturbed anyone’s grave, I raced off into the farmlands around me. I managed to go round the back of the caves to find myself on the Death Railway again, the tracks splitting the hills in two around me. I headed down the tracks for about ten minutes before coming across a small village sat by the Kwai Noi River.

Small Village - Outskirts of Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Small Village – Outskirts of Kanchanaburi, Thailand

As I wandered through the village, I could feel a sense that I wasn’t the most welcome here. There were only a few people around, but I could feel their piercing eyes upon me. A toothless dog even came out to warn me off proceeding further, but was quickly called back by her owner.

Toothless Dog - Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Toothless Dog – Kanchanaburi, Thailand

As I walked on, I then got myself into a spot of bother. Round the back of the village sat a huge mansion, similar to a plantation house, with expensive 4×4 cars parked up outside. With an increasing unease building up inside me, as I turned around to head back through the village to my scooter, my heart sank as I turned to see a dozen dogs behind me. They were a mix of all shapes and sizes but all had their teeth bared with saliva dribbling out their jaws and an evil growl in tow. I’ve always been told to hold my ground to dogs and show them who’s boss, but twelve against one was completely outnumbered. I started to slowly walk backwards and out of nowhere, the smallest of the dogs charged at me, leading to a surge from the rest. In blind panic, I turned on my heels and ran as quick as I could, grappling my camera in the hope I wouldn’t drop it. As I rounded the corner kicking the dust up behind me, I managed to find a couple of big branches to pick up to try and defend myself. But, as I took position for a pre-empted strike, the dogs didn’t appear. They had stopped outside the mansion. It was like they were trained to defend vampires from any intruders whilst they slept. With adrenaline pumping in my veins and the two branches in my hand, I slowly crept past the pack whilst keeping eye contact with its leader. With no sudden movements from the hounds, I then darted off through the village as quick as I could.

Guard Dogs - Kanchanaburi, ThailandBack at the scooter, I whizzed off down some country lanes en-route back to town. I managed to luckily stumble across some corn farmers who in complete contrast to the previous village, greeted me in with open arms and offered me some juice whilst we tried to chat. They also showed me how they worked the harvest briefly – mainly of how they stripped the crops for packing.

Corn Farmers - Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Corn Farmers – Kanchanaburi, Thailand

After an hour or so, I then called it a day and headed back to the Sugar Cane on the scooter, dropping it off in time for sunset and a much needed beer after an eventful day.

Perfect Thai Sunset, Thailand

Perfect Thai Sunset, Thailand


Sunset Over River Kwai - Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Sunset Over River Kwai – Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Further Reading on Kanchanaburi

 
Kanchanaburi Info
http://www.kanchanaburi-info.com/

Erawan Falls
http://www.thailand.com/travel/natural/natural_kanchanaburi_erawan.htm

Bridge on the River Kwai
http://www.bridgeriverkwai.com/

The Burma-Death Railway
http://www.war-experience.org/history/keyaspects/thai-burma/default.asp/

More Photography :

 
“The Thailand Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Thailand Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |