Three Tours in Southeast Asia You Can Do on Your Own
By Berne Broudy
Thailand for the Birds
Avid birders and animal watchers alike shouldn’t miss a trip to Phu Kradung (Bell Mountain) National Park, near the border of Laos and the Thai town of Loei, considered the most beautiful in Thailand. Prolific orchids, temperate, tropical and evergreen forests are home to 130 bird species including the brown hornbill, large scimitar babbler, maroon oriole and snowy-browed flycatcher.
Elephants, Asiatic black bears and sambar barking deer in the park, but walkers and trekkers are more likely to catch a glimpse of wild pig, Asian wild dog or a white-handed gibbon.
Ancient Thailand in an Afternoon
Information, restaurants, porters, equipment rental and accommodations are all available from the park station Information Center at Sithan, at the base of the mountain.
Muang Boran (the Ancient City), 15 miles (25 km) southeast of Bangkok, claims to be the world’s largest outdoor museum. Yet, it goes largely unnoticed by foreign travelers.
A wealthy Bangkok citizen who wanted the less affluent to be able to know and appreciate the rich culture and heritage of the Thai kingdom created the park for the Thai people. At a cost of $200 million, he constructed scaled-down replicas of Thailand’s regionally typical wats (temples) and palaces. These appear in the 50-hectare park appropriately within a mini-map of the country.
Take a city bus directly from Bangkok to Muang Boran or sign up for a guided tour from Bangkok. Open 7 days a week, 8AM-6PM.
Vang Vieng, 100 miles (160) km north of Vientiane is famous for it’s limestone sinks, ravines, underground streams and caves, is a great place to take in typical Laotian countryside and to explore the karstic scenery. Vang Vieng is not a major tourist stop (the town didn’t even have electricity until 1992), but has nice accommodations. Caves lie on the west bank of the Nam Song River.
Hire a non-motorized fishing pirogue (pole boat) to take you across the river, and head for the hills. There are a number of caves within walking distance, and information and maps are available in Vang Vieng at guesthouses and restaurants. Explore the honeycombed tunnels and caverns on your own, or hire a local guide. Caves are accessible June-November.