Why is it a great time to visit Luxor?

This story appeared in Getting On Travel in February 2018

It’s a perfect time to visit Luxor, Egypt because you’ll be able to soak in 3500 years of history—without being surrounded by hordes of tourists.

If you want to see some of the world’s greatest temples, and what could be the world’s richest archaeological site, go to Luxor!

An hour’s flight up the Nile from Cairo, Luxor grew out of the ruins of Thebes, Egypt’s capital from about 1500 to 1000 B.C.

Now is a great time to visit Luxor!

Although Luxor has been one of the major attractions in the Middle East, the city is suffering badly at the moment because tourism has almost collapsed. Direct flights from many European cities have ceased and once-thriving river services to and from Aswan are virtually non-existent. Most of the 300 or so riverboats that took tourists along the Nile in relative luxury are now tied to its banks, many rotting away.

This means it is a very good time to visit Luxor: Hotels have cut prices, tour guides are readily available, crowds are nowhere to be seen, and everyone is going out of their way to be friendly, helpful, and courteous. Safety is on everyone’s minds and I must say my wife and I (two middle-aged Western tourists) felt completely at ease everywhere we went.

Inside the Sonesta St George Luxor Hotel

After dreaming about it for decades, we had gone to Luxor to see two massive temples – the Temple of Amun at Karnak and the Temple of Luxor – as well as the alluringly-named Valley of the Kings. Each of these attractions met our expectations, and we then discovered there was much more to see and do for those with time.

The Temple of Amun (Karnak Temple)

This complex of three temples built over a 2000-year period is probably the biggest temple on earth.

Our expectations were high and as we wandered the site, we became more and more impressed.

The stillness of the whole place with its stone columnssoaring against the brilliant blue sky was breathtaking.

The surfaces of the grand courtyards are all covered with fine carvings. The scale and detail is staggering. I thought of the vision, the work, and the investment that went into this huge structure and then was told that all this could not even be seen at the time by the public; it was only for priests, royals, and the gods.

A millennia later, the public entered. We saw marks on the columns where Roman soldiers sharpened their swords, and early Christian images of Mary and Jesus carved on the ancient pillars like graffiti.

The Luxor Temple

Entrance to the Luxor Temple

The Luxor Temple is all about the great warrior pharaoh, Ramses II, even though it was started 100 years or more before his reign (around 1380BC). Two 25-meter pink granite obelisks built by Ramses once stood before the entrance gateway but today only one remains; the other is at the center of the Place De La Concorde in Paris.

The Luxor Temple has been in almost continuous use as a place of worship.

During the Christian era, the temple’s hypostyle hall was used as a Christian church. Then for many centuries the temple was buried and a mosque was eventually built over it. This mosque was carefully preserved when the temple was uncovered and forms an integral part of the site today.

Originally, an avenue lined with sphinxes ran the entire three kilometers between the Luxor and Karnak Temples. This avenue is currently under excavation and reconstruction, and you see a short completed section near Luxor Temple.

The Valley of the Kings

Entrance to the Valley of the Kings

In about 1600 B.C. there was a big change in the style of royal tombs. Until then, kings were buried in pyramids, but these were consistently being robbed, which meant kings were waking up in the afterlife without their precious earthly possessions. So, rather than mark their tombs with big pyramids, the kings started hiding their tombs underground in the valleys on the west side of the Nile.

Each buried king was provided with all the necessary things that would provide a comfortable existence in the afterlife, however, most of this has been looted over the centuries so most tombs were empty when they were rediscovered in modern times. After all these centuries, the condition of the 63 tombs that have been discovered and the details on their walls, however, is incredible. Most are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology.

The majority of the tombs are not open to the public. The entry ticket to the Valley allows you to visit three tombs out of several that are open but some require additional payment. The cost is reasonable, and the visitor arrangements are good, however, be aware that in summer the temperature can be stifling. Photography is not allowed inside the tombs.

The Hatshepsut Temple

Len Rutledge at the Hatshepsut Temple

The Hatshepsut Temple is, perhaps, the most spectacular structure on the West Bank of the Nile.

The mortuary temple was only discovered about 150 years ago and some on-going restoration work is still under way. The temple rises out of the desert in a series of terraces that from a distance merge with the sheer limestone cliffs behind.

The Colossi of Memnon on the West Bank

This temple was built by Queen Hatshepsut, the first known female monarch, who ruled for about two decades. Her reign was one of the most prosperous and peaceful in Egypt’s history. Although unknown for most of history, in the past 100 years her accomplishments have achieved global recognition and her stunning mortuary temple has become one of the most visited structures on the West Bank.


What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?

  • Lack of crowds and helpful locals make traveling easy.
  • Hotels and restaurants in Luxor are good and prices are very reasonable at present.

Take note

  • There are few facilities for visitors on the West Bank. Most stay in Luxor and travel to the West Bank by bus or on a tour. All the major Luxor hotels offer tours.
  • Because Luxor is in the desert, the surroundings are hot and dusty. Visitors of all ages, but particularly older travelers, need water to stay hydrated and perhaps a snack when you are visiting most of the sights. You might want to bring a hat along for protection from the sun.
  • Don’t rush it! A minimum of a two-day visit is necessary to see the major attractions but we would recommend that you stay longer to really appreciate the lifestyle and culture.

 

*All photo credits: Phensri Rutledge 

Story from the Courier Mail 11 June

Gorgeous sights a magnet for locals

With his flying wings clipped, a grounded Townsville-based travel writer seizes the opportunity to rediscover his own backyard.

Townsville
A

s a travel writer, I’m used to traversing the globe, but thanks to international travel bans I’ve turned my focus to some local attractions and pursuits. The easing of restrictions across Queensland provides a wonderful chance to reacquaint myself with the myriad things to do in the region and provide some local businesses with much-needed support.

DAY 1

The bright sun causes the deep blue sea to sparkle as the catamaran picks up speed. White fingers of foam stream behind us as Townsville city drops away. Ahead, tropical Magnetic Island looms large. I see sandy beaches bookended by rocky headlands strewn with huge boulders with forested hills behind.

The Barefoot Art Food Wine Cafe on Magnetic Island.

The Barefoot Art Food Wine Cafe on Magnetic Island.

I’m reminded why my planned 12-month stay in Queensland has turned into 40-something years.

The Nelly Bay terminal is our starting point and this is the departure point for the island’s buses (a day pass costs $7.20) but I am keen on an open-top rental car.

Renting the car is easy and my wife and I are off to walk the iconic jetty at Picnic Bay, follow the Nelly Bay Snorkel Trail, swim at magical Alma Bay, then slip over to Horseshoe Bay for lunch. The Barefoot Art Food Wine Cafe at Horseshoe Bay (barefootartfoodwine.com.au) is where we meet some Townsville friends, so it is perfect to order a seafood platter to share. Wow! Bugs, prawns, Thai fish cakes, salt and pepper squid, fish, chips and salad are enjoyed by all.

Brand reveal

After such a feast, we feel the need for some physical activity so after checking out the local water sports options – jet skiing, kayaking, knee boarding, water skiing and tube riding – we park the car in the Forts car park and head out in search of koalas and grand views. Quickly we find both.

The day is fast disappearing but at Geoffrey Bay we spot dozens of rock wallabies amongst the boulders and on the old road. We stop to watch before contemplating dinner plans.

Do we opt for the inviting Peppers Blue on Blue Resort (peppers.com.au) near the ferry terminal or do we return to Townsville and eat at the award-winning Touch of Salt (atouchofsalt.com.au)? A drink at Peppers and dinner at Salt solves this problem.

DAY 2

We rise late, ready to play tourists in Townsville. The Strand and the blue Coral Sea attract us, so we breakfast outdoors on the water’s edge at C-Bar (cbar.com.au). A fresh fruit salad with mango yoghurt and goji berry granola takes my fancy while my wife has crepes filled with grilled mango and bacon, topped with honey ricotta and berry compote.

Cloudy Creek Walk near the village of Paluma.

Cloudy Creek Walk near the village of Paluma.

Determined to get some exercise, we walk the 1.5km to the Rock Pool and back passing the fishing jetty, two lifesaver-patrolled beaches, public exercise gear, artworks and more. It really deserves more time but we plan on heading north to enjoy one of Townsville’s secrets.

Balgal Beach is 50 minutes north of the city. There is a netted area for swimming, great fishing and a nice foreshore park with children’s playground. Best of all there are few people. Gentle waves of variegated turquoise brush against the beach as we chill out. After a lazy couple of hours, we drop into Fisherman’s Landing for some of the best fish and chips in North Queensland.

A little further north, a road leads to the Paluma Range and its World Heritage rainforest. We stop at picturesque Little Crystal Creek then drive on to Paluma township. This secluded mountain retreat has excellent views from McClelland’s Lookout and fabulous rainforest walks.

Little Crystal Creek with its historic stone arch bridge.

Little Crystal Creek with its historic stone arch bridge.

Another half hour gets us to the Hidden Valley Cabins (hiddenvalleycabins.com.au), where a platypus viewing tour provides us with one of our best wildlife viewing experiences ever.

DAY 3

After the excitement of last night, we enjoy a lazy breakfast at Hidden Valley Cabins before setting our car satnav for Cardwell and its picturesque Cardwell Spa Pool. After recent rains you can swim in the water, which ranges from a bright baby-blue to a milky blue, depending on the time of day and levels of sunlight. The colour is the result of a chemical reaction with the rocks. As we leave Cardwell, we grab a pie from the foreshore pie cart.

At Ingham, we lunch at JK’s Deli (jksdelicatessen.com) before heading for the Tyto Wetlands on the town’s outskirts where pathways allow for close-up bird watching.

Before heading home, we take a turn inland towards the Seaview Range and Wallaman Falls. These sublime falls are Australia’s tallest, tumbling 268m into a 20m deep pool below. They’re an undisputed highlight of Queensland’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, and a must-see for visitors and locals alike.

Refreshed and recharged, we return to the city and home. With so much to see and do, you’ll need a very good reason to leave Townsville and this holiday reminds me that I haven’t found one yet.

Australia’s East Coast Highlights

Posted on May 20 2020 
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Australia’s East Coast Highlights

Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge

Australia continues to attract many visitors because of its animals, lifestyle and sunshine but just about all are surprised at its size. Australia is larger than Europe so don’t expect to be able to see the whole country in one visit unless you are planning on a three month vacation or a two year working holiday. The East Coast is the most populated area so this is not a bad place to start. From Melbourne in the south to Cairns in the north is around 3000 kilometres but there are several great places to visit in between.

Melbourne

We start in the World’s Most Liveable City and quickly see why it has scored this award for several years. Melbourne is Australia’s sporting, coffee, restaurant and arts capital. Depending on your interest you can attend the Australian Tennis Open, the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix, the AFL Football Final Series, the Melbourne Cup Horse Racing Carnival and international cricket tests. A recent study found Melbourne hosts over 60,000 live concerts annually, making it one of the live music capitals of the world. The city has more theatres and performance venues than anywhere else in Australia. There are approximately 5000 cafes and restaurants in the city, the highest per capita in the world. Many are top class.

Australias East Coast Highlights

Flinders Street Railway Station, Melbourne

Canberra

Australia’s little-known capital is well worth a visit. There is nothing old here but there are modern buildings aplenty. Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia, the National Science and Technology Centre, the National Zoo and Aquarium, the National Museum of Australia and more, will have you extending your stay.

Australias East Coast Highlights

Looking towards Parliament House from the Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Sydney

Located on the East Coast of Australia, Sydney is the oldest and largest of the Australian cities and today the city’s attractions are dominated by the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. There is a guided walking tour of the Opera House and you can join a guided ascent of the bridge. Between these two is Circular Quay, the city’s main ferry terminal and just nearby is The Rocks where more than 100 heritage sites and buildings jostle along the narrow streets. Elsewhere, Darling Harbour is a waterfront pedestrian precinct packed with shops, restaurants, museums, exhibitions, and entertainment venues. Sydney is famous for its beaches from tiny harbourside strips of sand to Bondi, Coogee, Bronte, Tamarama, Maroubra, Manly Collaroy, Dee Why, and Narrabeen on the Pacific Ocean.

Australias East Coast Highlights

Circular Quay with fountain, Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Sydney

Brisbane

Once it was called a big country town but Brisbane has now grown up. Across the river from the CBD, South Bank is home to the Cultural Centre with its world-class galleries and entertainment. You can climb the Storey Bridge, cuddle a koala at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, while Morton Island is the place to feed wild dolphins and snorkel around an old ship wreck. One hundred kilometres to the south is the famous Gold Coast with its excellent beaches, theme parks, restaurants and nightlife. To the north is the Sunshine Coast for more beach activity.

Australias East Coast Highlights

South Bank artificial beach looking towards Brisbane CBD

North Queensland Islands

With rugged coastlines and surrounding reefs bursting with life, you are spoiled for choice when choosing an island off the coast of North Queensland. Many are wholly or partly National Parks and many have nature viewing, snorkelling and sailing opportunities, and bush trails. Quite a few have accommodation. Some are very up-market such as One & Only Hayman, Hamilton, Orpheus, Badarra and Lizard while others have a range of rooms from excellent to budget. Magnetic Island off Townsville is the easiest to reach with ferries and car barges making the crossing multiple times a day.

Australias East Coast Highlights

Visitors to our room on Daydream Island

The Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is blessed with the breathtaking beauty of the world’s largest coral reef. This is one of the seven wonders of the natural world, larger than the Great Wall of China, and the only living thing on earth visible from space. A visitor can enjoy snorkelling, scuba diving, aircraft or helicopter tours, bare boats (self-sail), glass-bottomed boat viewing, semi-submersibles and educational trips, whale watching, and swimming with dolphins. Townsville is the headquarters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and it is home to the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium. Reef trips leave from many other northern towns including Cairns and Port Douglas.

Australias East Coast Highlights

The headquarters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville

www.lenrutledge.com

Is this the greatest view in Thailand?

Posted on April 14 2020 in i2Mag

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Words: Len Rutledge   Images: Phensri Rutledge

It is dark, cold and we are stumbling up a rough mountain goat track at 5 am to try to get a memorable image of sunrise over Laos. Sometimes I wonder about the sanity of travel writers!

But let me start at the beginning. We are in far northern Thailand experiencing the attractions of Chiang Rai Province far from the crowds of Bangkok and Phuket. We spent the night in the border town of Mae Sai where the constant traffic between Thailand and Myanmar creates a booming economy. Thais come here to cross the border on shopping expeditions for cheap Myanmar and Chinese goods but there is limited appeal for foreigners.

The Golden Triangle

Fifty years ago, this was almost a no-go zone as it was controlled by various gangs who turned it into one of the world’s most prolific opium producing areas. Today it is cultivating tourists rather than opium. Its peaceful, untouched landscape has become a draw for visitors and as we passed through vibrant green rice fields and little villages with their golden temples, I understood its appeal.

As we headed southeast, we moved from the plains into rolling hill country and before long we reached the Hall of Opium.

I believe this is one of the best museums in Thailand outside Bangkok and almost certainly the most interesting place to visit in the Golden Triangle.

It exhibits the history of opium around the world, the production process, the devastating effects of opium smoking, and campaigns to eradicate and substitute the crop.

The Hall is something of an opium theme park, with the latest in multimedia exhibits and lots of information in a modern setting. I was impressed! It was built by the royal Doi Tung Foundation, who have been instrumental in changing the lives of the locals in a very positive way.

Where the rivers meet

The main triangle area is a few kilometres south on the Thai riverside near the point where three counties meet. You can look out and see across the Ruak River to Myanmar and across the Mekong River to Laos. This is only mildly interesting for most people, so a series of bizarre attractions have been erected by the riverside to add to the appeal.

There’s a giant golden Buddha on a ship, elephant statues which you can climb, elaborate shrines to the royal family, half a dozen signs announcing you are at the Golden Triangle, and river cruise touts, souvenir shops and various cafes. I must say I was under-whelmed and quickly realised this was a major tourist trap, so we moved on.

Chiang Saen and south

About ten kilometres downstream on the banks of the Mekong is an old Lanna capital, the small but charming Chiang Saen, which is dotted with temples, historic buildings and ruins. Wat Pa Sak was built by King Saen Phu in 1295 when three hundred teak trees were planted here. The temple’s chedi is beautiful in the Chiang Saen-style and the exteriors are elaborately decorated with designs.

Wat Phra That Chedi Luang was built by King Saen Phu, the 3rd ruler of the Lanna kingdom in the early 13th century. The bell-shaped, Lanna-style principal chedi, measuring 88 m in height, is the largest structure in Chiang Saen.

Phu Chi Fah

For the next few hours, we more or less followed the Mekong River downstream but this is not a river drive because you need to pass through some rugged mountains with plenty of winding, steep parts of the road. Little villages dot the hills and corn fields and other crops abound.

Finally, we reached our accommodation in Phu Chi Fah at the Phu Mok Dok Mai Resort which had bungalows with a small bedroom, a private bathroom, and a balcony.

The reason for visiting Phu Chi Fah is to watch the sun rise over the hills in Laos from the top of a mountain range in Thailand. If you are lucky, mists blanket the mountains below, revealing only the jungle-covered peaks in Laos. This is a magical sight.

After settling into the resort, we checked out the town. It was tiny and late afternoon most of the vendors had packed up their stalls so we decided to drive through the Phu Chi Fa Forest Park to the car park to watch the sunset. An hour later we drove down again and enjoyed dinner at the resort.

Sunrise

We were told by the locals that to watch the sunrise transform the skies from dark blue to a pinky-orange, we would need to get to the top of the Phu Chi Fa Forest Park trail way before the actual sunrise.

So, there we were climbing the 760-metre rough dirt path in the dark. We were certainly not the only ones. Flickering lights from mobile phones and torches dotted the hillside.

It was cold at the top with a stiff breeze making it uncomfortable so we were pleased when the first signs of dawn appeared. Slowly the view opened up, revealing forests, hills, valleys, farmland and the mighty Mekong River. Above it all, golden rays turned the sky into a wonderful work of abstract art.

Phu Chi Fah is not only great at sunrise and sunset though; the daytime views are also pretty spectacular. To see the snaking valleys and the rows of endless pristine mountains in Laos makes many visitors stop and contemplate their lives. It could well be Thailand’s greatest view.

How to get there

When the travel situation returns to ‘normal’ there will be flights to Bangkok from many cities around the world. From Bangkok there are many daily flights to Chiang Rai which take about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Most visitors are permitted to stay in Thailand for up to 30 days if entering via an international airport under the Visa Exemption Rule.

Images: Phensri Rutledge

Len is the author of Experience Thailand 2020 available as an e-book or paperback from https://www.amazon.com/Experience-Thailand-2020-Guides-Book-ebook/dp/B082WZZ19G/

www.LenRutledge.com

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX5HUmGP1lR2aoscn3O8P2Q

Mae Salong and the Doi Tung Royal Villa

A recent story from Getting on Travel

Imagine a Chinatown without big neon signs, horrendous traffic and huge crowds? That’s Mae Salong.This small-scale Chinatown in northern Thailand attracts savvy Thais as well as in-the-know international visitors. Beautiful year round and refreshingly cool in winter, this remote hillside village in Chiang Rai province appeals not only for its location, but also for its fascinating history.


Editors’ note: Although the COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly changed the face of travel, we hope our stories stoke your memories of past trips and kindle ideas for future adventures. 


Mae Salong: A bit of history

After the communists took control of China in 1949, soldiers from the anti-communist Koumintang’s 93rd Division fleeing Yunnan, in southwestern China, began making their way to Mae Salong, first living in the rugged mountains of northern Burma and Laos for many years. Eventually, thousands of these Nationalist troops found their way to the Thai side of the border.

When they lost financial support from the Taiwan government, many of these former soldiers resorted to illegal activities to survive, including the opium drug trade. In 1969, the survivors were officially allowed to settle in Thailand. They returned this favour by fighting alongside the Thai army during the rampant communist insurgency in the 1970s and early 1980s.

It was not until 1978, however, that they were granted Thai residency. Many were also granted Thai citizenship. Their community on Doi Mae Salong was given the name Santi Khiri, which means “mountain of peace.” But, they still had a battle to change their lives for the better.

An indigenous hilltribe lady

Both the Thai government and organizations in Taiwan offered support, and the new arrivals began cultivating tea and temperate fruit crops rather than poppies. Their success is shown by the fact that tea and tourism are the economic mainstays of today’s residents. Living conditions and education improved over time, and the younger generation became fluent in Thai as well as Chinese. But, even today you don’t hear much Thai in the market.

What to see in Mae Salong

Martyr’s Memorial Hall in Mae Solong

Apart from the lovely mountains and the appealing tea plantations, several sights and activities entertain visitors:

  • The early morning buzzing of the local market with Chinese and hill-tribe people that ends before noon. Here, you can enjoy a classic breakfast of hot soya bean milk and Chinese doughnut sticks or just have some noodles.
  • Drive or hike up to the elaborate Tomb of General Tuan Shi-wen, memorializing the commander of the 93rd Division who led his troops here. From here, enjoy excellent views of the village.
  • The Martyr’s Memorial Hall, commemorating the fallen soldiers of the 93rd Division, displays detail the battles and the obstacles that the soldiers faced—as well as the successful settlement of survivors in Mae Salong.
  • Sinakarintra Stit Mahasantikhiri Pagoda, located on one of the area’s highest points, is another excellent vantage point when the weather cooperates.

Visiting Doi Tung Royal Villa

Mae Solong: Doi Tung Royal Villa

The Doi Tung Royal Villa, built in 1988, has elements of both northern Lanna-style (with its concrete and teak wood structure, lined internally with recycled pin) and Swiss chalet architecture. The former residence of HRH Princess Sninagarindra (the Princess Mother, who was the grandmother to the present Thai king), the villa doubled as the base for her work with the Doi Tung Development Project, which she founded. Many visitors are intrigued by the wood inlay of the Princess Mother’s favourite constellations in the positions they were on the day she was born.

Those who visit also gain an understanding of the progress that has been made. When Princess Sninagarindra arrived here in the 1980s, drug cartels, human trafficking, AIDS, addiction and destitution were common Desperate parents would sell daughters in order to feed their addiction and survive. This was part of the infamous Golden Triangle, once the biggest supplier of the world’s opium.

And there were other problems, too. None of the six ethnic groups residing here had Thai citizenship. They lived in abject poverty, without basic infrastructure or government support. Armed groups occupied parts of the area, so the locals were in constant danger.

The Princess Mother believed the problem was poverty and lack of opportunity for the villagers, so she set out to change the area, socially, economically, and environmentally. She wanted people and nature to coexist in harmony. She aimed to provide opportunities for all, so that lives would improve significantly. To help achieve this, she moved to the area.

Both the villa and surrounding gardens are open to visitors. While here, don’t miss the Mae Fah Luang Gardens, a botanical park on the slopes below the royal villa.


What’s appealing to the over-50 traveler?

  • The opportunity to see hill-tribe people without having to trek
  • The chance to better understand the history of the area and the Chinese culture at Doi Salong, as well as the real improvements that have taken place in people’s lives

Take note

  • Getting to Mae Salong by public transport is not easy. No buses tackle the steep, winding road, so the most convenient method is to rent a car or book a tour on a mini-van that departs from Chiang Rai, the nearest city. This will also make it possible to move on to the Doi Tung Royal Villa.
  • The road to Mae Salong is steep and winding: Those prone to motion sickness should consider prophylactic measures.
  • An organised minibus trip from Chiang Rai is enjoyable, but the same trip from Chiang Mai is especially long and tiring
  • Guided treks are the best way to small villages and hill tribe settlements.
  • Allow several hours to visit both the Doi Tung Royal Village and the gardens; no photographs are allowed inside the villa.

IF YOU GO


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Chiang Rai in Travel and Talk

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Asia: Thailand

by Len Rutledge

Two years ago, the world held its breath. When the media spotlight shone on the dramatic rescue of 12 young soccer players and their coach from the Tham Luang Cave, Chiang Mai, Thailand was put on the world map.

Overnight, the entire world became aware of Chiang Rai. Previously, if anyone thought of it at all, it was often confused with the larger Chiang Mai, 180 km to the south, but not anymore. Now Thailand’s most northerly city is firmly on the tourism route.

And so, it should be. Our recent visit showed that Chiang Rai City has an abundance of tourism attractions, headlined by three amazing architectural marvels. These can be summarised as the black, white and blue. The surrounding province contains some of Thailand’s most dramatic mountain scenery so a week in this area is not really enough.

The Black

The Baandam Museum (Black House) will astound you. Renowned Thai artist Thawan Duchanee spent more than fifty years building this somewhat controversial museum of folk art. It isn’t just one structure but a collection of around 40 buildings of varying shapes and sizes dotted around a peaceful garden. Each one is different and most are worth visiting.

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Thawan was an incredibly talented recluse who lived in one of the houses on the site until his death in 2014. Now the whole complex has been taken over by the government. Black, gold and red were the three signature colours of the master painter. These striking contrasts permeate the collection of houses, sculptures, animal skins, bones and relics.

Located about 12 km north of Chiang Rai City, you will need at least 1 hour to look around. This is a very popular spot, so if you want to beat the crowds its best to go either early morning or an hour before the museum closes. Try the mini-pineapples while you are there and you will agree that they are the sweetest in the world.

The White

Wat Rong Khun or the White Temple was designed by national artist and native of Chiang Rai, Chalermchai Kositpipat. The entire complex is an enthralling fusion of religious sanctuary, museum and art gallery. It has evolved into the top attraction for first-time visitors to Chiang Rai and the complex is packed in the mornings with tourists who commute from Chiang Mai for the day.

It’s not really just a temple, despite the monks; it’s more of a wildly expensive and expansive art exhibition. Visitors are surprised to find curiously irreverent imagery on the exterior — as well as Hello Kitty, Michael Jackson and Spiderman on the inside. Some find this imagery kitschy and its sacrilege to others.

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The emergence of the Predator from the ground is interesting and many hands reaching up as you traverse through the lifecycle of life, death and rebirth is a strange experience. But none of this should distract from what is probably the most artistic of Thailand’s temples.

Work on the temple will probably never really be finished, with present projects scheduled through 2070 but this on-going work does not distract a visitor. There is an art gallery, shop and café amongst the other structures in the compound.

The best time to visit is near dawn or dusk to miss the tour groups. The temple is 12 km south of Chiang Rai City. Foreigners are charged Baht 100 (about £3) to enter.

The Blue

Wat Rong Suea Ten, commonly known as the ‘Blue Temple’, opened in 2016. An artist who studied under white temple artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, completed the exterior and interior designs.

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What’s instantly attractive about the Blue Temple is just how vibrant the colours are. The deep blue building decorated with golden detail is simply stunning to look at. Unlike the White Temple, you’re allowed to take photos inside the Blue Temple. You won’t find any pop-culture references inside this one as the interior has a more classic design. At the centre of the room sits a white Buddha lit up with bright blue lights.

The temple has quickly caught the imagination of visitors who flock to its courtyard to take photos and worship. Entrance is free. A popular activity is to buy and eat the blue ice cream available from a vendor on-site.

The tall

Wat Huay Pla Kung which is a new entry on Chiang Rai’s growing list of unusual temples combines gold and white. There is a giant white statue of the Bodhisattva Guan (Goddess of Mercy) within which you ride to the top in an elevator, a white temple decorated with Lanna-Chinese art, and a 9-storied gold pagoda.

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The monk here has supposed healing powers and the mainly Thai Chinese who come to the temple to be healed have donated large amounts of money to build the Chinese statue. It is a giant landmark which dominates the local area.

Getting to Chiang Rai

There are many daily flights from Bangkok on several airlines which take about an hour and 15 minutes. If coming from Chiang Mai, the road trip takes about three and a half hours. The city has a wide variety of accommodation suitable for all tastes and budgets.

Images by Phensri Rutledge

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Thailand 2020 available as an e-book or paperback from amazon.com

https://www.LenRutledge.com

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Rhine Falls and Stein Am Rhein

This travel story was posted by i2Mag in March 2020

Europe’s Rushing Rhine Falls And Picturesque Stein Am Rhein

Posted on Mar 3 2020 — 9:10am by Len Rutledge
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There is something about waterfalls. They are naturally beautiful and their thundering roar and rainbow-causing mist means we simply can’t ignore them. Visit a natural waterfall and it’s easy to appreciate nature and feel a desire to protect it for future generations.

The Rhine Falls in Switzerland is claimed to be Europe’s largest waterfall, however, it’s definitely miniscule compared to Niagara or Victoria Falls. The falls is an impressive 150 m wide but only fall about 23 m. Because we had seen some photographs, my wife and I were not expecting anything great but we were wowed by the power and majesty of the rushing water and were amazed at how close we could get to the flow.

Rhine Falls offers the full range of facilities expected by visitors. Various restaurants and souvenir shops with endless trinkets are available on either side of the river. The railway bridge which crosses the river just upstream of the falls has pedestrian access so it is possible to make a roundtrip by using a boat, the bridge, and the connecting paths that link the two.

For most of the year the falls is illuminated after dusk and visiting then has an extra dimension. It is surprisingly different to the day experience.

We chose to approach from the south side and after parking we paid the fee to enter the grounds of Schloss Laufen which towers on a rocky spur high above the falls. We, like most visitors, strolled through the inner courtyard of the castle then descended on a paved path to the “Känzeli”, a viewing platform directly over the thundering water.

From here, and from the glass panoramic elevator, you get great views of this imposing natural spectacle. In summer, the best views of all are probably from daredevil boats which scurry about in the spray immediately below the falls. Several boat trips are available. You can simply cross the Rhine River to the other side, cruise on the river close to the waterfalls, or most spectacularly land on a small rocky outcrop right in the middle of the falls.

We walked down to river level in pouring rain but this didn’t lessen the thrill of being so close to the thundering water. The rain was joined by dense spray as we visited several viewing points before we decided we were wet enough.

After using the elevator to return to the top of the cliff we took a look around the castle and found out more about its 1000-year-old history at the “Historama” exhibition. This is included in the entrance fee. The castle was first mentioned in the year 858, so the ancient walls have seen much history.

For a completely different experience I suggest you then visit Stein am Rhein, a very picturesque town about 20km away to the east. This is an historic place with a well-preserved medieval centre situated in beautiful countryside along the lower end of Lake Constance, where the lake becomes the Rhine River again.

Stein am Rhein was just a small fishing village until 1007, when St. George’s Abbey was moved here. Now the town has a population of a little over 3000, and is a popular tourist destination.

It is a lively and very charming small town. Among the sights are the Monastery of St. Georgen a well-preserved Medieval monastery complex, the Lindwurm Museum depicting 19th century bourgeois and agricultural life, and the Hohenklingen Castle on a hill partially covered with vineyards, which was built high above the town in 1225.

It is here that we found the oldest church in the Canton. Burg Church dedicated to St. John the Baptist is surrounded by wall remnants of a Roman fortress which was built in the 3rd century.

Our favourite place though, is the Rathausplatz – the square of the City Hall – which is lined by old houses with magnificent painted façades. We stood and stared for ages as we took the vista in. It was one of the best urban scenes we had seen in Switzerland.

Then we explored the meandering alleys where there is prettiness everywhere. There are facades with delightful timber decoration, inviting al fresco cafés and restaurants, and unexpected scenes of everyday life. Finally we reached the river where there are many restaurants and cafés with outdoor seating and a lovely view.

In summer, passenger boats link Stein am Rhein with Schaffhausen near the Rhine Falls. This is a lovely relaxing trip with great views of life along the river.

www.LenRutledge.com

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IF YOU GO

The nearest major airport to the Rhine Falls is Zurich. From there, take a train to either the station called ‘Neuhausen Rheinfall’ or ‘Schloss Laufen am Rheinfall’ on the other side of the river. Both stations are located right next to the falls. It takes 45–60 minutes from Zurich.

Alternatively, rent a car and drive there. The roads are good and traffic away from peak periods is relatively light. Images: Phensri Rutledge

About the Author
Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge is the author of the Experience Guide series to Thailand, Norway, Ireland,& Northern Italy, Myanmar, Singapore, India, Istanbul and Melbourne. Books are available as ebooks or paperbacks from https://amazon.com by typing in Len Rutledge in the search box & on that site.

Thailand: Chiang Rai surprise

March 01, 2020

As posted by Traveloscopy Travelblog

Phensri and Len Rutledge find that temples, parks, museums, waterfalls, northern food and even a beach attract visitors to Chaing Rai, Thailand’s northern-most city. 

Many come on a day trip from larger, more well-known Chiang Mai, but that doesn’t allow sufficient time to experience all that this city offers. It really deserves much longer than this.

Day visitors see the extraordinary big three attractions – the White Temple, the Black House, and the Blue Temple – but miss out on the history, the serenity and the character of the city.

The History

Chiang Rai was founded in 1262 by King Mengrai as the first capital of the Lanna Thai Kingdom before he later moved his capital to Chiang Mai. Chiang Rai was subsequently conquered and occupied by the Burmese and it was not until 1786 that Chiang Rai became a Thai territory.

The spiritual heart of Chiang Rai is a life-size monument dedicated to King Mengrai the Great. Backed by three giant golden tungs (Lanna flags), the King’s monument is a good place to understand the early history of the city.

Next visit Wat Phra Kaew which is the original site where the famous Emerald Buddha statue was enshrined. Subsequently, the Buddha was relocated to Lampang, Chiang Mai, Luang Phra Bang, Vientiane and eventually to Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) in Bangkok. Today, a jade replica of the Emerald Buddha dressed in full regal attire is housed inside the crimson, Lanna-style pavilion behind the chedi.

Wat Klang Wieng, built in 1432, houses the original city pillar shrine as well as a spectacular temple complex built in a contemporary Lanna style. The temple has ornate grillwork, roof finials and gilded decorations on its vivid red façades and is a popular photographic spot.

The Culture

If you are visiting the hill-tribe villages around Chiang Rai, it’s a good idea to first drop by the Hill-Tribe’s Museum and get familiarised with their culture. The museum aims to build awareness of responsible tourism by educating visitors about Thailand’s ethnic hill-tribe communities and local etiquettes that they should observe.

Hill Tribe Women © flickr user The Pope

The museum showcases the history, customs and traditions of the seven major tribes inhabiting the northern highlands of Thailand, and displays the colourful tribal costumes of the ethnic hill-tribes.

If you want to know more, head over to the Mae Fah Luang Art & Cultural Park. Set in a lovely landscaped lake garden is a cluster of teak structures, constructed in traditional Lanna and hill-tribe styles.

At the Oub Kham Museum, you can see royal regalia and costumes and an assortment of rare antiques, pottery, ancient Buddha images, artefacts and tribal costumes. The collections are housed inside five exhibition rooms and a man-made cave.

Chiang Rai’s modern culture is displayed at the city’s clock tower. This is another offering from Chaloemchai Khositphiphat, the creator of the White Temple. It is best viewed in the early evening when the tower comes to life in an eight-minute light and sound show. Traditional Thai music plays and the monument turns from gold to all the colours of the rainbow.

Other modern cultural elements are seen in the Night Bazaar, Saturday Walking Street and annual Jazz Festival.

The serenity

Chiang Rai City should be all about chilling out and taking it in slowly. The city is built beside the Mae Kok and while there are a few hotels and restaurants along its banks it is largely undeveloped from a tourism point of view. To fully appreciate the beauty of the river, it is best to hire a long-tail boat and go for a ride.

An alternative is to rent a bicycle and take a leisurely ride around the city using the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s cycle map highlighting six routes following the river, or in surrounding districts, that visit most of the city’s popular sightseeing spots on quiet lanes.

Cycling is also popular around Singha Park on the outskirts of town. This agricultural tourist attraction has its own cycle lane around part of the extensive parkland, tea plantation and orchards. The park is a very low-key attraction spread out over a wide area but there are a few specific attractions such as a mini-zoo, a zip line, a restaurant, and a pizzeria.

Beyond the cycle paths, the travel experience could touch on meditation, yoga classes or a serious introduction to Buddhist teachings. There are wellness retreats which offer vegetarian meals, meditation, yoga and Tai Chi.

The Food

Thai food is a major attraction to most visitors and Chiang Rai offers plenty of variety. Khao Soi Gai Nong, a coconut curry noodle soup with chicken leg, is a local favourite. It comes with a side serving of red onions, lime, and pickled cabbage.

Khao Soi Gai Nong (source)

Sai Ua or Northern Thai sausage is a combination of minced pork meat, curry paste, herbs and spices which creates an explosion of flavours. Then try some Joi Yor Sod spring rolls. The pork, fresh vegetables, and rice noodles go just right with some good chili sauce.

For a special treat try the ambiance of a riverside restaurant or enjoy the action and street food at the Night Bazaar.

Getting to Chiang Rai

There are many daily flights from Bangkok on several airlines which take about an hour and 15 minutes. If coming from Chiang Mai, the road trip takes about three and a half hours. The city has a wide variety of accommodation suitable for all tastes and budgets.

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Words: Len Rutledge    Images: Phensri Rutledge