One of the great joys of traveling to South East Asia is the opportunity to experience something a bit different. The growing western influence in these countries does mean you are likely to come across familiar sights such as McDonald's, Starbucks, KFC, and 7Eleven (especially in Thailand), but there is still plenty to see that is exotic and unique to this part of the world.
Lying on a beach or enjoying the local nightlife is going to be fun, but you don’t have to travel all the way to South East Asia to do this. You’ve gone to the trouble of flying thousands of miles to the other side of the world, so doesn’t it make sense to see some stuff that you are never going to see at home? Sure, going to museums and admiring architecture can become incredibly dull, but there is more to experiencing a country than this. By visiting the more bizarre tourist attractions, you see something that is not only interesting, but also great fun.
One of the lasting benefits of visiting an exotic country is you get the opportunity to accumulate some precious memories. Stuff may happen during this trip that you are going to be talking about for the rest of your life. If all you’ve done is visit the main tourist attractions, and spent the rest of the time on a beach, your friends at home are going to be bored numb by your travel tales. Do you want to inflict this on them?
The nice thing about the bizarre tourist attractions in South East Asia is they can challenge your view of reality. Maybe you’ve already heard about the Naga fire balls on the River Mekong, or about how you can shoot bazookas in Phnom Penh, but hearing about and being there are completely different things. Here are just seven of the bizarre things you can get to experience during your travels in South East Asia:
7 Wat Pa Maha Chedio Kaew, Thailand
There are over 40,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand, so it can be hard to maintain your enthusiasm if you’ve already visited a few of them. The thing that makes Wat Pa Maha Chedio Kaew so unique, is that this temple is made from 1.5 million recycled bottles – mostly used beer bottles! The construction began in 1984, and it continues to grow. This has to be the greenest place of worship on the planet, and it’s also surprisingly beautiful. You can find Wat Pa Maha Chedio Kaew in Sisaket Province.
6 Buddha Park, Laos
Buddha Park (Wat Xieng Khuan) is kind of like a spiritual theme park. There is over 200 hundred sculptures to admire and some of them are huge. The thing that makes the park so interesting is that it is full of statues of Hindu gods as well as depictions of the Buddha. It can actually be an eerie place in the early mornings and evenings because some of the sculptures are so bizarre.
There is also a similar park on the other side of the Mekong River in Thailand callled Sala Keoku – both parks have been designed by Bunleua Sulilat who is considered a bit of an eccentric, despite his status as a spiritual leader. The Buddha Park in Laos is located to the southeast of Vientiane.
5 Bamboo Train, Cambodia
The transportation system in Cambodia is mind-boggling on the best of days, but the bamboo train in Battambang takes things to a whole new level. You basically sit on bamboo slats that move along the track at a cruising-speed of about 15 kilometres per hour (about 9mph). If you have ever wanted to run faster than a train, you’ll have no problem doing this – just hop off, and a light jog should put you ahead of the other passengers.
The local people refer to this odd form of transport as a ‘nori’, and it can hold up to eight people. It takes about half-an-hour to go from one end of the track to the other – you probably wouldn’t want to go much further than this on a bamboo train.
4 Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam
The Cu Chi Tunnels are located in the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City. This is a popular tourist attraction, but it’s also one of the most bizarre things you are going to see in Vietnam. This is part of a network of tunnels that once stretched for 120 miles.
It is hard to imagine but people lived in this underground world for months at a time. The Cu Chi Tunnels were used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, and it gave them a huge advantage over the US army. Some of the tunnels are a bit tight, but the tourist ones have been made a bit larger to make them accessible to overweight westerners.
3 Bang Kwang Prison, Thailand
One of the worst possible endings to a holiday in Thailand would be to get arrested and sent to Bang Kwang Prison (aka The Bangkok Hilton). This is where some of the toughest criminals in the country are sent (many of them have been sentenced to death), and it is always where many of the foreign male criminals are kept. The conditions are harsh, and you need to wear leg irons for the first three months of your incarceration.
One of the most bizarre things you can do during your time in Thailand is to go visit Bang Kwang – although it might not be so bizarre if you are visiting a friend or relative. The prison is located in Nonthaburi which is just outside the center of Bangkok. You can visit the prison between 09:00 am and 13:00 pm. There is even a website where you can arrange to see one of the foreign prisoners. You are actually doing these guys a favor, because it means they have somebody to talk to. You need to bring along your passport, and it is important to dress smartly – otherwise you might be mistaken for a prisoner and made to stay there.
2 Plain Of Jars, Laos
The Plain of Jars might sound like some type of boring pottery festival, but it is actually one of the most mysterious tourist attractions in South East Asia (it’s sort of like the Stonehenge of Laos). Nobody is quite sure why these strange objects were left here, but the most plausible theory is that they were associated with ancient burial rituals (they are believed to have been made during the Iron Age). You can find the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang – not far from Phonsavan.
1 Naga Fire Balls, Thailand
If you are science-minded, it is going to be tempting to just dismiss the Naga Fire Balls as a hoax. You are going to find this skepticism harder to maintain after you have actually seen this phenomenon. There are plenty of theories and scientists have studied it, but there is so far no compelling explanation – the locals believe it is caused by a mythical snake.
The balls always appear on the River Mekong at the same time in the evening each year near the end of November. If you want to see them for yourself, you need to travel to the border town of Nong Khai at this time of year.