Think outside the Box

A travel story which appeared in The South African

Think outside the box for your next travel experience

With some places in the world becoming tourist unfriendly because of the sheer number of visitors, and others feeling overcrowded when you get there, now may be a good time to think of travelling to somewhere new.

Image Credits: The Fortress, Sri Lanka; The Alpina Gstaad, Switzerland; Shinta Mani Angkor, Cambodia


Excellent hotels, fabulous tours and exciting experiences are available in most destinations today. It just depends on you to make the most of the opportunities.

The following three destinations may not immediately come to mind when making travel plans but each will reward you with untold memories. I’ve also included some accommodation suggestions.

Sri Lanka

Those looking for new experiences in South Asia need to consider Sri Lanka. This has emerged recently as an interesting travel destination because of its beaches, wildlife safaris and adventure tours.

Along with its native land mammals – elephants, leopards and wild buffalos – the island is also a great destination for whale and dolphin watching. Sri Lanka also offers top-notch surfing and diving experiences, jungle treks, hikes and rock-climbing adventures.

Colombo is Sri Lanka’s capital and largest city. Stylish eateries, galleries and shops line shady boulevards and there are ancient temples, mosques, and colonial landmarks to see. Accommodation is diverse with everything from five-star to budget available. One place particularly worth a mention is Maniumpathy, a 19th–century jewel offering an oasis of serenity and luxury in busy Colombo but with direct access to art, shopping, entertainment, and dining.

Hill-enclosed Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. It is a World Heritage Site and has a number of tourist attractions. The city is famous for the Kandy Perahara-a huge cultural pageant that takes place in the month of July or August. It is one of the most colourful processions in the world with thousands of drummers and dancers accompanying a parade of ornamented elephants. The Kandy House is a beautiful example of a luxury Kandy boutique hotel. In the gardens, a stunning infinity pool has been landscaped into the hillside with views of the paddy fields. With only nine rooms it provides a private escape.

Sri Lanka’s beaches are attracting world interest and most are focused on the south coast. Endless stretches of pristine, white-sand beaches and crystal-clear seas await you at the historic town of Koggala. Not far away is the UNESCO World Heritage Galle Fort, the best preserved fortified city built by European colonial powers in Asia. The fort is a small walled town which is home to about 400 houses, churches, mosques, temples, and many commercial and government buildings.

Once again, excellent accommodation is available. The Fortress Resort and Spa is fashioned in the style of a strong fortress, its walls enclosing verdant gardens and water features, a spa, a huge swimming pool, wine cellar, restaurants, boutiques and exquisitely appointed accommodation. The resort is a perfect place to enjoy the beach, the village and the history while providing a quiet escape when you need it.


Switzerland enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide as a country with a great tradition of hospitality. It probably started in the 19th century when the world’s elite started sending their children to be educated in Swiss boarding schools. Every visitor today can quickly see that the reputation continues strongly.

One of the secrets to Switzerland’s success is its diversity. You can visit an enchanted castle or a first-class museum, gaze at breathtaking glaciers and stunning mountains, pass palm trees and grottos, explore World Heritage Sites and enjoy unspoilt natural landscapes and easy-to-manage cities.

Many names are legendary – Geneva, Zurich, Zermatt and St Moritz – but the surprise is the interest to be found in places you probably have never heard of. Take Avenches as an example. Two thousand years ago it had 20,000 inhabitants, and stately mansions and temples protected by a five-kilometre-long, nearly seven-metre-tall wall with over 70 towers. Today you can see the eastern gates and a wall tower, the forum’s thermal baths, the amphitheatre with a capacity of up to 16,000 persons, and temple ruins.

Switzerland has some great modern hotels such as the Alpina Gstaad which opened in 2013 but I also love to experience the grandeur of the more classic properties. The 150-year-old Bellevue Palace in Bern, the Hotel Des Bergues in Geneva, founded in 1834, which is now a Four Seasons Hotel, and the Hotel Splendide Royal in Lugano which is celebrating 130 years, are three of my favourites.


For many people, Cambodia means Angkor, the remarkable Khmer city of stunning temples. I rate this as one of the better sites in the world but the country, of course, has much more than just this.

Phnom Penh is the country’s lively capital city which is blessed with a picturesque riverside promenade and lovely colonial buildings to make a quite beautiful city. From the contemporary restaurants and bars to crowded markets, museums and glittering Royal Palace, there is much to see.

The sparsely populated and wild district of Mondulkiri is rich in a stunning landscape with its valleys, waterfalls, jungles and rolling hills. The wildlife-viewing opportunities, great scenery and cool climate make this part of Cambodia a fascinating place to visit for trekking adventures. Kratie is rich in striking French colonial buildings along the length of the riverfront. This charming area is a perfect place to sit and watch the brilliant sunsets over the Mekong River.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s premier beach town is a place to unwind by the beach, enjoy the fresh seafood, take in a snorkelling or scuba trip, and generally slow-down, lay back and chill-out. In recent years, the islands off the coast of Cambodia have become a tourist destination in their own right with new accommodation being built on nearly all of them, along with a host of bars, restaurants, dive shops and so on.

Angkor, near Siem Reap, is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. Highlights include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat, the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom, and Preah Khan and Ta Prohm. All are wonderful examples of Khmer architecture.

Siem Reap has grown dramatically in recent years and now there are an amazing number of hotels from which to choose. If classy interiors, good service and closeness to places of interest are important to you, Shinta Mani Angkor, an upscale boutique property with a pool, soothing spa and dreamy swing-seat dining, may be for you. The hotel enjoys a tranquil and leafy setting within the French Quarter of Siem Reap.

Just a short walk from Shinta Mani you’ll discover Siem Reap’s rising arts’ and culture precinct. Kandal Village is home to a vibrant and eclectic new mix of around 25 cafes, galleries, arty homewares, shops, spas and cool fashion stores. Go explore!

More new editions for 2018

Here are four more new editions of Experience Guides for 2018. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from






New for 2018


Take a look at these three new travel guidebooks which cover all the information you will need to decide if these destinations are right for you. With details on how to get around, what to see, experiences not to miss, food and restaurants, shopping, nightlife,  accommodation, and much more these books are indispensable before you leave home and while you are away.

Check them out at

Northern Italy —

Thailand —

Ireland — Italy 2018Small Ireland 2018m/dp/B078GJW7JK

Small Thailand 2018

A travel story from i2mag

Hot Travel Destinations For 2018

Posted on Oct 31 2017 — 9:31am by Len Rutledge

As 2017 is fast disappearing, travel writers, tour companies and the general public are starting to look at 2018. Between now and the end of the year there will be many articles about the recommended travel destinations for next year. Many will include out of the way, fanciful destinations that few are likely to actually visit.

While these unusual destinations make good stories, the real hot destinations will be some of those that have been popular for decades. They keep expanding and improving their tourism offerings and continue to meet the needs of most segments of the market.

Here are four that will continue to shine.


Switzerland enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide as a country with a great tradition of hospitality. It probably started in the 19th century when the world’s elite started sending their children to be educated in Swiss boarding schools. Every visitor today can quickly see that the reputation continues strongly.

One of the secrets to Switzerland’s success is its diversity. You can visit an enchanted castle or a first-class museum, gaze at breathtaking glaciers and stunning mountains, pass palm trees and grotti, explore World Heritage Sites and enjoy unspoilt natural landscapes and easy-to-manage cities.

Many names are legendary – Geneva, Zurich, Zermatt and St Moritz – but the surprise is the interest to be found in places you probably have never heard of. Take Avenches as an example. Two thousand years ago it had 20,000 inhabitants, and stately mansions and temples protected by a five-kilometre-long, nearly seven-metre-tall wall with over 70 towers. Today you can see the eastern gates and a wall tower, the forum’s thermal baths, the amphitheatre with a capacity of up to 16,000 persons, and temple ruins.

Switzerland has some great modern hotels such as the Alpina Gstaad which opened in 2013 but I also love to experience the grandeur of the more classic properties. The 150 year-old Bellevue Palace in Bern, the Hotel Des Bergues in Geneva, founded in 1834, which is now a Four Seasons Hotel, and the Hotel Splendide Royal in Lugano which is celebrating 130 years, are three of my favourites.


Thailand is a kingdom in south-east Asia filled with spectacular natural, cultural, and historical attractions. It is no surprise that the tourism industry has prospered despite some short-lived problems in recent years.

The North has the country’s highlands where vast mountain ranges dominate the landscape and you find hill-tribe people, isolated villages and the city of Chiang Mai. The Northeast features some highlands but also large plateaus where rice is grown and traditional culture is preserved.

Central Thailand is mainly plains and is a huge area of rice farming and agriculture along The Chao Phraya River. This is the most intensively developed part of the country and includes the huge city of Bangkok. The South contains many beautiful beaches and islands including Phuket, Koh Samui, and Koh Phi Phi.

Eastern Thailand has mountains, golf courses and tourist places like Koh Samed, Koh Chang, Bang Saen Beach, and Pattaya. The West is mountainous with many woodlands, waterfalls, and dams and this is home to Erawan Waterfall, Mon Bridge, Three Pagodas Pass, Underwater City, The Bridge of the River Kwai, and Kanchanaburi.

Thai cuisine is renowned world-wide and there is a great variety of authentic Thai food for you to try. Most Thai dishes are stir fried or grilled and served with rice but noodles are also popular. Thai beer is cheap and fruit smoothies and fruit juice are both very popular. Eating and drinking are two of the real pleasures throughout the country. Combine this with excellent accommodation, good transport and happy smiling people and it’s not hard to see why this country is so popular and will continue to be so.

New Zealand

New Zealand is a land of immense and diverse landscape. You’ll see things and have experiences here that are unique to this country.

There are spectacular glaciers, picturesque fiords, rugged mountains, vast plains, rolling hills, subtropical forests, a volcanic plateau, and thousands of kilometres of coastline with rocky bluffs and sandy beaches all within hours of each other. Don’t forget the cities. Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and others all have their own special feel.

Most New Zealand visitors find that they are quickly into experiences even though this may not have been their reason for visiting. At Waitomo Caves you can explore with a walking or boat tour, try blackwater rafting where you’ll crawl, swim and float through the caves on a rubber tube, or abseil or zip-line through the darkness.

The 53 kilometre Milford Track leads you across suspension bridges, board walks and a mountain pass. Queenstown has helicopter flights, the world’s first and most famous bungy jump at Kawarau Bridge and jet boat thrills through the rugged beauty and unspoilt grandeur of the white-water rapids of the Shotover River.

Rotorua has bubbling mud pools, shooting geysers and natural hot springs, as well as fascinating Maori culture. And these places are just a fraction of what is on offer.

Another feature of New Zealand is its high-quality accommodation, some of it in lodges in spectacular locations. Typical of this is Marlborough Lodge ( a luxury country estate located in the heart of the famous Marlborough wine region. There are elegant, contemporary suites, gourmet local cuisine, beautiful parkland surrounds and attentive staff on hand 24 hours a day. It is a great place to relax and unwind.


For many, the name evokes visions of an island paradise, exotic days, romantic nights and South Sea adventure. And this is exactly what you’ll find here. Officially known as French Polynesia, the area possesses one of the most spectacularly beautiful and diverse environments on earth in a mixture of high volcanic islands and low-lying atolls.

There are 118 islands but none impress me more that Moorea which rises magically out of the ocean like a cathedral. There are waterfalls tumbling down fern-softened cliffs, peaceful meadows and a bright blue lagoon which will bring to life the South Seas idyll of your dreams. Pastel-painted houses with gardens of hibiscus circle the island in a necklace of simple villages.

The quiet waters of the lagoon allow for a variety of activities, from swimming, fishing, scuba diving or snorkelling and outrigger canoeing to paddle boarding, kite boarding, and water skiing. The on-shore area is area is good for hiking, horseback riding, quad biking or exploring on a four-wheeler.

Many painters, carvers, jewellers and tattoo artists live on the island because of its beauty and serenity and you will find your own peace while watching fishermen on their outrigger canoe or listening to the sound of the ukulele while sitting on the sand under a tree.

The Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa ( offers bungalows set amongst gardens or suspended above the lagoon. Guests enjoy a swimming pool, a fitness centre, a tennis court, 3 restaurants and 3 bars. Arii Vahine Restaurant, which faces the lagoon, serves French and Polynesian favourites; the beach-side Rotui Grill & Bar offers a relaxed setting for lunch; and the overwater Toatea Crêperie & Bar is a popular hangout for evening cocktails and crêpes under the stars. This resort is great for both active and passive visitors.

About the Author
Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Norway available as an e-book or hard copy book from Amazon at and eight other guides in the Experience Guide series.

The Best Travel Destinations for 2018

Len Rutledge

This article appeared in Travelfore October 4 2017

The travel and tourism industry is booming as more and more people take advantage of low airfares and increased opportunities to see new places. While there has been some resistance to increased visitor numbers in some European destinations, much of the world is still welcoming visitors with open arms.

Here are some suggestions for places to travel and activities to experience in 2018.

The Philippines

Brilliant green rice fields, teeming cities, colourful jeepneys, stunning beaches, and smiling, happy-go-lucky people are all part of the Philippines scene. With more than 7000 tropical islands to choose from, you can find what you are looking for. Divers have long known about the country’s underwater attractions while Northern Palawan is perfect for sea kayakers, and Boracay is a world-class kiteboarding and beach destination.

The Philippines was colonised for 400 years and vestiges of the Spanish era can be seen in exuberant town festivals and centuries-old stone churches while huge shopping malls, fast-food chains and widespread spoken English come from the influence of the Americans.


Boracay Beach. Credit: Philippines Tourism

Manila, the capital, is a pulsating hub that blends the quaint with the modern, the mundane with the extraordinary. Cebu is a choice tourist destination with balmy weather, pristine beaches, crystalline waters, and luxurious resorts. Banaue is a place for nature adventures and cultural immersion and the rice terraces are quite extraordinary. Palawan has thick green forest, white-sand beach, sparkling water and magnificently sculpted jade islands.

Philippines Airlines operates from most continents to Manila and there are some direct services to Cebu.

South Africa

Go almost anywhere in South Africa and you can experience a combination of nature, wildlife, culture, adventure, heritage and style. During these tough economic times, it’s good to find a bargain destination where you can even afford luxury and have spending money left over. There is natural beauty in mountains, forests, coasts and deserts and world-class facilities.

It is not possible to talk about South Africa without mentioning wildlife. Everyone wants to see the Big Five, but there are also whales, penguins, meerkats, wild dogs, birds and much more. If you are looking to experience wildlife viewing in luxury, Tintswalo Safari Lodge, in the pristine private Manyeleti Game Reserve could be the answer. It shares an unfenced boundary with the renowned Kruger National Park and suites are decorated to reflect colonial times.

Tintswalo Atlantic Resort. Credit: Tintswalo Atlantic

The same company has beach-side Tintswalo Atlantic, a 5 star, award-winning boutique lodge nestled at the base of Table Mountain National Park near Cape Town. This is one of the city’s hidden gems. The views of a wild sea crashing below contrasting with a roaring fire and fabulous welcome drinks will set the tone for a memorable stay.

For a city location, the all-suites Michelangelo Towers in Sandton, Johannesburg appeals because it is directly connected to the Michelangelo Towers Mall and the Sandton Convention Centre, and is located directly opposite Sandton City and Nelson Mandela Square in the in heart of South Africa’s  Richest Square Mile.


Situated at France’s southeastern corner near the Italian border, occupying an area of just 2.8 sq. km, Monaco might be the second smallest country in the world (after the Vatican), but what it lacks in size it sure makes up for in attitude and variety.

There is an ornate opera house, Michelin-starred restaurants, and casinos, palaces, cathedrals, supercars, mega yachts, deluxe hotels and designer boutiques. There are also museums and galleries, festivals, nightclubs, and gardens with exotic plants and sea views.

Monaco. Credit: Monaco Government Tourist Bureau

The country is one of the most surprising and rewarding destinations in Europe. It is just 30 minutes by car, bus or taxi from Nice Airport through hairpin bends and along rocky cliffs. Monaco enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year and a temperate climate.


As most readers will know, Berlin has had a chequered history in recent decades. It is now emerging as one of Europe’s leading centres of culture. The modern Mitte district has the Museum Island UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also two opera houses and six major theatres, as well as museums, innumerable galleries and arts venues. Now, many new major cultural projects are locating here, just a few minutes’ walk apart.

Opened earlier this year, the new Pierre Boulez Saal is a major international concert hall with the elliptically-shaped hall regularly presenting concerts and chamber music. A complete contrast is provided by the 1740s Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin’s first opera house, which reopened in October 2017. Unfortunately, Berlin’s most popular museum, the Pergamon, is partially closed but from mid– 2018, visitors can view part of the Pergamon Altar’s treasures at a temporary exhibition building directly opposite Museum Island.

The James-Simon-Galerie will be the Museum Island’s new central entrance and visitor centre with central ticket office, cloakrooms and facilities, cafés and a museum shop when it opens in 2019.

To complement all this development, several major hotels have opened in 2017 and more are scheduled for 2018.

The Berlin City Centre Alexanderplatz, opened in May offering 344 rooms with a modern design over nine floors. Later, The Yard,  4-star boutique hotel with 55 rooms opened, followed by the Orani Berlin, a classy hotel with 42 subtle but rather luxuriously furnished rooms. Between now and year’s end the 60-metre-high Motel One Berlin-Alexanderplatz with 708 rooms, The Meininger Hotel Berlin East Side Gallery with 245 rooms and the Hilton Berlin City East with 254 rooms will all open.

Bargain rooms may well be on offer during the European winter.

Los Angeles

Many readers will have been to Los Angeles, USA but most will not be aware of the wide range of museums, art galleries and concert halls that are spread throughout the city. In the downtown area, the futuristic Walt Disney Theatre is an architectural masterpiece and is right next door to the city’s newest cultural and design showpiece, The Broad. L.A.Live is another vibrant entertainment complex offering restaurants and live music venues.

The Westside perhaps has even more attractions. There is the Getty Center located atop the Santa Monica Mountains then on Museum Row, there is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Pettersen Automotive Museum, the Craft and Folk Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. In Century City you will find the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Hollywood, known as the entertainment capital of the world, is an essential part of the L.A. experience. Film enthusiasts will love the renovated TCL Chinese Theatre and you can tour the Dolby Theatre, home of the Oscars. Not far away is Universal Studios Hollywood with its rides, shows and tours.

If you consider L.A. nothing more than a gateway to the USA, you had better re-think. It is one of the top picks for places to visit in 2018.

The Best Travel Destinations for

Len Rutledge
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Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge has been travel writing for 40 years. During that time he has written thousands of newspaper articles, numerous magazine pieces, more than a thousand web reviews and around 35 travel guide books.He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others.Along the way, he has started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV Guide, and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award, and other recognition.He is the author of the Experience Guidebook series which currently includes Experience Thailand, Experience Norway, Experience Northern Italy, Experience Myanmar, Experience Istanbul, Experience Singapore, Experience Melbourne, and Experience Ireland. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from

Banff to Vancouver, Canada

A Road Trip From Banff To Vancouver, Canada

Posted on Aug 7 2017 in i2Mag by Len Rutledge

Soaring mountains, rushing rivers, spectacular gorges, desert panoramas and sparkling wineries dot the landscape in western Canada. The best way to see it all is by rental car. We took five days to travel from the Rocky Mountains to the west coast but it could equally have taken us five weeks.

Banff is a resort town and one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations. It is surrounded by spectacular mountains and the Banff National Park. There are numerous hotels, restaurants, shops, spas and everything else required by visitors. We spend our day browsing, eating, and visiting the Cascade Gardens, the Parks Museum, and the terminal of the Banff Gondola.

The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel is an opulent 1888 Scottish baronial-style resort where we spend an hour or so exploring its myriad nooks and crannies. The class of the hotel is seen in its detail and we vow to come back and experience it for ourselves. Bow Falls provides a pleasant interlude just a kilometre or so out of town and the short trip along Tunnel Mountain Drive provides great views and some animal sightings.

# DAY 2 – 285km

We are on the road early with the aim of seeing bears. The Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise is very scenic and is a well-known wildlife drive. After 10 minutes we have seen an elk and deer. As we come around a corner two cars are stopped on the road and as we approach we see a black bear grazing just off the roadside. Fifteen minutes later the number of cars has swelled to a dozen but the bear is still there. We are satisfied.

Back on Highway 1 we climb Kicking Horse Pass, the point where the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Trans Canada Highway cross the continental divide between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and at the same time go from Alberta to British Columbia. After the top, we stop at a viewpoint to see the famous spiral loop on the railway and are rewarded by a view of an enormous freight train crossing over itself.

Field, an historic railway town with a dramatic river outlook, gives us a reason to stop as does Golden, a tidy town just off the highway. We have already passed through the Yoho National Park and now we enter the Glacier National Park. The country is spectacular and it is tempting to stop at every turn. We do stop at the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre and learn about the intrepid railroaders who built the railway through this wilderness and the avalanche scientists and others who keep this wintery pass open today.

Further on, the Hemlock Grove Trail, an interpretive boardwalk through the world’s only non-coastal cedar-hemlock rainforest, and the Skunk Cabbage Trail through a unique wetland, let us stretch our legs before stopping at Revelstokefor the night.

# DAY 3 – 320km

West from Revelstoke is the historic site of the Craigellachie Last Spike, hammered into the Transcontinental Rail Line that united Canada from coast to coast in 1885. At Sicamous we leave Highway 1 and travel south through the Okanagan Valley to Vernon. There are more than 100 lakes within a one-hour drive, world-class golf, mountain and wellness resorts, great beaches and trails, and outstanding mountain biking, but for us it is the start of Canada’s best wine country.

Kelowna, the largest city in BC’s interior, fronts Okanagan Lake and there are beaches and parks along the shore but we are not into cities at the moment so continue to tiny Peachland for a stroll along the lake edge and to grab something to eat.

The next few hours are a pure delight as we pass through orchards and explore some of the wineries. Greta Ranch is attractively set high above the lake. At Dirty Laundry Winery you pass under a washing line hung with underwear to get into the tasting room and restaurant. Poplar Grove has a beautiful building high above Penticton and a great cabernet franc wine. In Penticton we catch a glimpse of the old stern-wheeler boat but have no time to explore the Naramata Bench wineries before pushing on to Osoyoos for the night.

Here we find the splendid Waterfront Beach Resort and decide to stay for two nights in absolute luxury. The resort has lake frontage and the views from our huge balcony are stunning. This is Canada’s warmest lake and the area calls itself Canada’s only desert but to us it is paradise. We lap up the space, have a great meal in the restaurant and sleep happily.

# DAY 4 – 50 km

After a lazy start we explore some of the local attractions. The spectacular Desert Cultural Centre which is at Nk’MIP has a museum and interesting walk with First Nations guides. The Desert Centre is a not for profit boardwalk that meanders through the desert and provides an opportunity to learn about this ecosystem. The Model Railway with more than 40 computer controlled trains running through European style towns and landscape is quite remarkable and well worth the stop.

The wineries call us back this afternoon. We go to Oliver, which calls itself the wine capital of Canada, before visiting Hester Creek winery, Road 13 winery with its spectacular tasting room, Church and State winery with its dramatic indoor/outdoor tasting area, and Black Hills winery with its award winning tasting area and wine shop. We finally stumble back to the resort, enjoy a massage and sleep like babies.

# DAY 5 – 395km

Reluctantly we leave Osoyoos and make a stop after 20 minutes at cute Keremeos, a vibrant agricultural community located in the beautiful Similkameen Valley. There is a grist mill here with well tended Heritage Gardens and a tea room. Just outside town is a hundred year old covered bridge.

Highway 3 bounces along the USA border with Manning Park the highlight as it winds through the Cascade Mountains. The park has wet coastal rain forests, jagged snow-capped peaks, alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, a chain of small lakes, and broad river beds along the valley floors. For awhile we think we were back in the Rockies but on reaching Hope and returning to Highway 1 it is clear that most of the mountains are behind us.

Bridal Falls is our last stop before the traffic volume increases and Vancouverappears ahead. It has been a wonderful 5 days that could have easily been extended for weeks.

Photo Credit – Phensri Rutledge

About the Author
Len Rutledge

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Norway available as an e-book or hard copy book from Amazon at

Beguiling Bagan — Myanmar’s top attraction

Beguiling Bagan — Myanmar’s top attraction

From Canada’s Pique Newsmagazine August 31, 2017

 Bagan, located on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) River about 630 kilometres north of Yangon, is Myanmar’s premier tourist attraction because of its 11th — and 12th-century Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins. These are the most impressive in the world. This was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, which at one point controlled much of what now constitutes Myanmar.


Bagan is becoming very popular, so flights and bus services are growing in number, particularly in the November to March tourist season. At the height of this season, large numbers of visitors converge on the more famous temples and viewpoints, and at times these are starting to feel crowded.

Most international tourists arrive here by air via Yangon. The Nyaung U Airport is the gateway to the Bagan region and this is only 15 to 20 minutes from most hotels. Several domestic airlines have regular flights from Yangon, Mandalay, and Inle Lake.

Myanmar Railways operates train services between Bagan and Yangon, and Bagan and Mandalay, but these are slow and not particularly comfortable. There is a daily direct train from Yangon to Bagan with a sleeping car with two — and four-bed compartments. Bagan station is a modern pagoda-style building in the middle of nowhere about five kilometres southeast of the Nyaung U township.

Overnight buses and share-cars operate from/to Yangon and Mandalay and there are some day buses to Mandalay. An express ferry service runs between Bagan and Mandalay on the Ayeyarwaddy River during peak periods, and slower sailings are available all year.


Where you stay will be determined partly by how much you want to spend, how you plan to get around, and how many of the top temples you want to visit. There are basically four options. Old Bagan is the most central to the sights and there are some lovely riverside hotels here, a few restaurants but little nightlife outside the hotels.

New Bagan is on the southern edge of the zone but there are many midrange accommodation choices, some expensive riverside restaurants and some cheaper accommodation and eating places. Nyaung U is the largest settlement and a real town with the most restaurants and some good budget value. It is on the northern edge of the archaeological zone.

The two highest category hotels are in relatively remote locations in the general direction of the airport and you would not choose them if you planned on visiting many temples by bicycle or horse cart, or planned on eating in local restaurants.


There is little doubt that the ancient temples are the big draw in Bagan. To many visitors, it matters little that much of the restoration work done on hundreds of temples bears little relation to the styles and techniques used by the original builders. They still see the restored buildings as impressive monuments and frankly, this is probably the only practical approach to take. A headlamp or torch is useful for seeing the insides of many of the temples and for cycling out before sunrise and back after sunset.

The ruins of medieval Bagan, nowadays officially known as the “Bagan Archaeological Zone,” are scattered over an area of roughly 50 sq. km. Formerly inhabited by an estimated 200,000 people, the lost city is now largely deserted, leaving the monuments in a state of charismatic isolation that appeals to most visitors.

An estimated 2,200 temples, pagodas and other religious structures remain from the 14,000 or so that were erected between 1057 and 1287. The spectacle of towers rising from the scrubland is appealing at any time of the day, but especially so early mornings, when river mist and smoke often shrouds the brick and stucco structures, or in the evening as the sun settles below the horizon.


You shouldn’t leave Bagan without doing a sunset cruise on the Ayeyarwaddy River. At dusk, the river comes to life in beautiful warm evening hues and local life is on display. You see locals involved in their late-afternoon bathing rituals, starting cooking fires and relaxing before darkness. The trips are in wooden long-tail boats which leave from the bank adjacent to Old Bagan.

Boats power upriver then drift down again on the flow. Initially, it is quite loud but then the engine is turned off and you can listen to the natural sounds of the vast river while watching a wonderfully majestic sunset.


The Nyaung U market is different from most other markets in Myanmar because it combines a traditional market with an area popular with tourists who are attracted by souvenirs and antique shops. You can get bronze statues, old lacquer ware, paintings copied from the original frescoes in the Bagan temples, and many other things of interest.

But, frankly, it is the traditional market which has the most appeal to me. It is primitive, quite extensive, a riot of colour, and absolutely genuine. You can see novice nuns from a monastery nearby do their alms-collection round. Be fascinated by the yellow face powder worn by almost everybody. See stacks of freshly caught butterfish from the nearby Ayeyarwaddy River.


Souvenirs, sand paintings and lacquerware are available everywhere. Most of the main temples and pagodas have stalls with displays of souvenirs and paintings. There are also stairway stalls selling books and Myanmar-made crafts. The paintings and souvenirs are at affordable prices. Bargaining is possible in most places.

Bagan is famous for lacquerware. The products can be seen everywhere and can be bought at reasonable prices. There are lacquerware manufacturing factories which have been producing the finest quality wares for decades. The step-by-step process of making lacquerware can be seen at a number of these places.

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Myanmar, available as an e-book or paperback at

or at

Lose yourself in Lisbon

From Pique newsmagazine

Lose yourself in Lisbon

CLICK TO FLIP THROUGH (3)SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - Alfama District with Santo Estevao Church and the Tagus River estuary seen from Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Lisbon, Portugal.ALFAMA DISTRICT with Santo Estevao Church and the Tagus River estuary seen from Miradouro de Santa Luzia. Lisbon, Portugal.

Getting lost while overseas can be quite frightening but at times, it is just what you want to do. I have discovered hidden gems and charming, talkative locals simply because I wandered aimlessly along narrow lanes and up and down steep stairs without worrying where I was going.

I did this recently in Alfama, the oldest part of Lisbon, Portugal, and discovered it was a quarter just begging to be explored. It spills downhill south of the castle to the Tejo Estuary and is a “must” for those looking for the soul of the city.

Visiting Alfama is to experience the architecture, the sounds, and the smells of old Lisbon. On its narrow and winding streets I found all sorts of treasures and on its steep stairs, I learned much about what makes Lisbon so special. Life is lived, for the most part, on the street and the smells and noises are a major part of its atmosphere.

It is still possible to see Roman and Arab remains, two of the most dominant civilizations in Lisbon’s past. The narrow streets place little value on building facades but a much greater value is given to the interiors of the houses. Some houses still stand on foundations dating from the times of the West Goths but the whole structure of the area was essentially shaped by the Arabs. Although no houses remain from this era, the confused arrangement of its maze of streets and alleyways certainly does.

There are a few grand buildings such as the cathedral and some other churches that are worth seeing. The solid Se Cathedral from the 12th century resembles a fortification rather than a religious building, but the inside, with its gothic arches and ancient cloister, is well worth a visit. The castle is a major attraction. This is entwined with Portugal’s early history and is where the Christian Crusaders defeated the North African Moors in 1147. The citadel was transformed into a royal residence and prospered until the early 16th century when Manuel I built a new palace down by the river.

Alfama was initially an upmarket area before it became home to the poor and unlucky, together with delinquents, dockworkers and sailors. Some of this remains today but the quarter has now largely shrugged off its grim image. The advent of mass tourism has brought gentrification to the area.

It is now full of curious little cafes — many of them serving bacalhau, the rehydrated, salted cod that is one of the city’s staples. Many old houses are being repainted and repaired. Whitewashed houses are picturesquely framed by a sudden riot of colour and a blaze of geraniums, while upmarket restaurants and fado houses attract individuals and tour groups.

You should have plenty of time when you visit Alfama. You can easily spend half a day or more looking, wandering, and taking in all the action, sounds and smells of daily life playing out on the streets. It’s probably best not to plan a route in detail because you will have trouble following it anyway. Just follow your instincts. Wandering through the labyrinth of alleyways, small archways, tiny squares, and little flights of stairs, will lead you to many idyllic and picturesque corners.

Getting lost is par for the course. Blind alleyways reveal a bewitching world of medieval customs and rituals, where women haul their washing to public fountains, others sell fish from their doorways, and late at night the brooding sound of fado music seems to come from every nook and cranny. The restaurants with fado range from large affairs which attract tour groups to small “holes in the wall” with only half a dozen tables.

There are a few streets not to be missed. Rua da Sao Pedro is one of the most animated streets where craggy old fishermen and fishwives still offer the catch of the day. Largo do Chafariz is the tourist hub where steep stepped streets meander to view points where the shimmering River Tejo (Tagus) is framed by a latticework of terracotta rooftops, a few pines, and clumps of bougainvillea. Most of Alfama’s shops and tourist restaurants are clustered in this area.

On Tuesday and Saturdays, Campo de Santa Clara, a lop-sided square set below the looming dome of the Santa Engrácia Church, is transformed into a colourful and sprawling flea market, the largest in the city. This “thieves’ market” is a huge jumble sale of hand-me-down curios, unwanted bric-a-brac, and second-hand cast-offs. Don’t expect any bargains, just go for the atmosphere.

Along Beco do Carneiro, houses are stacked a metre apart, nestled with tiny taverns and chaotic corner grocers. If you are looking for fado music, tiny A Baiuca on Rua de S.Miguel stages amateur fado shows where residents literally walk in off the street and sing in front of diners. The atmosphere is great, the food less so, and you need to be aware that the food and drinks that are brought to your table without you ordering will be charged for if you touch them.

There are several notable hotels that cater for budget travellers as well as the more discerning visitor if you chose to stay in this area. I don’t believe it is the best place if you want to do some wider Lisbon sightseeing, but there is no disputing the local atmosphere.

Australia’s east coast

From the South African

Six stops on Australia’s East Coast you really shouldn’t skip

Australia continues to attract many visitors because of its wildlife, lifestyle and sunshine, but just about all are surprised at its size.

Circular Quay with fountain, Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Sydney. Phensri Rutledge

Image Credits: All images by Phensri Rutledge



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.


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.

Flinders Street Railway Station, Melbourne


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.

Looking towards Parliament House from the Australian War Memorial, Canberra


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.

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


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.

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.

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.

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