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

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

 

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.

The lure of the Kenai Peninsula

Imagine a breathtaking land shaped by glaciers, an ancestral home for Native Americans, pristine wilderness with abundant wildlife and some scenic towns ideal for those seeking meaningful connections with nature. That, in a nutshell, is the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, one of the last U.S. frontiers.The Kenai peninsula extends approximately 150 miles southwest from the Chugach Mountains, south of Anchorage, and is bordered on the west by Cook Inlet and on the east by Prince William Sound. The glacier-covered Kenai Mountains, rising nearly 7000 feet, run along the southeast spine.

There are several cities and towns in this region, including Seward on the Gulf of Alaska Coast and Homer on Kachemak Bay. One of the most visited tourist areas in Alaska, this area is especially popular with anglers of all ages lured by its excellent salmon and halibut fishing, so visitor facilities are excellent and there are tour opportunities galore.

Alaska is often seen as a young person’s outdoor adventure area and it certainly is that, but I found it is also excellent for seniors, as hundreds of thousands of cruise passengers who visit each year can confirm.

Seeking sealife in Seward

A nice catch in Seward on the Kenai Peninsula

Seward, a town of around 3000 permanent residences, is at the end of the Inside Passage cruise boat route from Seattle and Vancouver, and is about two hours by road south of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. The area is a photographer’s paradise with glaciers on land and porpoise, whales and sea lions in the water.

The long summer days are perfect for enjoying world-class fishing, tours of Kenai Fjords National Park, walks along the waterfront, learning about local history and culture, and enjoying the town’s restaurants, bakeries, shops and galleries.

Seward is home to some of Alaska’s finest year-round sport fishing. Anglers can fish for giant Pacific halibut, fight an acrobatic silver salmon or catch a trophy lingcod. Thirty fishing charters offer half-day or all-day excursions.

A highlight in Seward is a visit to the Alaska Sealife Center, which is designed as a research, rehabilitation and education facility. It has 15 aquariums and a huge netted space showcasing 150 different animals from the Gulf of Alaska, including birds, seals, sea lions, octopus and invertebrates. Allow several hours for a visit.

The Sealife Center in Seward

A sightseeing tour into the Kenai Fjords National Park offers the chance to see calving glaciers, humpback whales, orcas, otters, sea lions, eagles, puffins and other birds. One such trip includes lunch on exclusive Fox Island, where orcas come right up on the beach to rub against the rocky shore.

Seward’s Exit Glacier is one of the most accessible in Alaska. The wheelchair-accessible Glacier View Loop Trail meanders through a cottonwood forest before arriving at a panoramic viewpoint. The Glacier Overlook Trail is an additional 0.7-miles full of jaw-dropping sights. Tours offer the chance to walk on the ice and those with a sense of adventure can try ice climbing.

Angling the Russian River

Russian River drift fishing on the Kenai Peninsula

Forty-five miles north of Seward is where you find the gin-clear Russian River. This is one of the few streams in North America where sockeye salmon are easily caught on artificial flies. There are two contrasting zones: the infamous crowds of the ‘combat zone’ and the much quieter area near Russian River Falls, where you can see leaping salmon. The upper river is an area where you are more likely to see a bear than another angler.

In both areas, an angler fishing from the bank can catch trophy-size rainbow trout and Arctic char, but odds of catching good fish increase dramatically if you are able to float the river in a drift boat. Fortunately, experienced drift boat guides are available. All offer-full-day charters while a few also offer two-day trips.

Apart from fishing, this area of the Kenai Peninsula has one of the most extensive systems of maintained hiking trails in Alaska. You are likely to see eagles, mountain goats and Dall sheep. Brown and black bear, moose, wolf and caribou are also in the area.

Homer: The end of the road on the Kenai Peninsula

Shops on the Homer Spit on the Kenai Peninsula

This charming, colorful town is literally at the end of the road if you have driven up from the Lower 48 states. The town is surrounded by an incredible panorama of mountains, white peaks, glaciers, and the famous Homer Spit, a four-mile-long strip of land that stretches into beautiful, deep blue Kachemak Bay.

The Spit is a hub of bustling activity during the summer. There are throngs of tourists, people camping on the beach, charter boats heading out to catch halibut, beachcombers, and birders amazed at how many bald eagles they can spot. King salmon can be caught here from mid-May to the end of June, while silver salmon run in August.

Some of the most colorful and attractive shops, restaurants and food stalls you can imagine line the spit road. Many are built on stilts over the water and are accessed by boardwalks. Scattered among them are bars, charter operators, art galleries, and grocery and liquor outlets. It may be a town planners’ nightmare, but the public loves it.

Back on dry land, there are plenty of lodging choices, more shops, some interesting museums, a botanic garden, a farmer’s market on Wednesday and Saturday, and waterfront walks. Festivals include Winter Carnival in February, the King Salmon Tournament in March, the Shorebird Festival in May, and the Writer’s Conference in June.

On the other side of the bay is Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park, a 350,000-acre paradise of glaciers, mountains, protected coves for paddling, and an extensive trail system to explore on foot.


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

  • The laid-back vibe throughout the Kenai Peninsula encourages visitors to take their time and enjoy all there is to see and do.
  • If offers unique opportunities to see wildlife both on land and water. You are likely to see seals, sea otters, porpoises, whales and numerous species of sea birds while out on the water, and moose, black or brown bear, eagles, sandhill cranes, and perhaps rabbits, fox or porcupines on land.
  • Bear viewing is popular because people can see these wild animals up close in their natural surroundings, in relative safety and comfort. Well-equipped lodges and experienced guides make this popular with all ages.

Take note

  • This area gets very cold and has short days in winter, so it is not ideal for sightseeing at that time. Some shops, tour operators, and lodgings close but you will escape the crowds.
  • May to September is the popular time for most visitors. Days are long and everything is open. Lodging and restaurant prices can be higher than in the Lower-48 because the season is relatively short, and some pre-booking of accommodation is recommended.

All photo credits (except lead photo): Phensri Rutledge

Blue Plaques for some of Yangon’s Colonial Buildings

In a move that will help tourism, the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT) has begun installing descriptive plaques outside Rangoon’s City Hall and other buildings, as part of a larger project to highlight colonial architecture throughout Myanmar’s (Burma’s) biggest city.

The blue plaques initiative, as the US$75,000 project is known, will see 100 plaques installed outside sites of architectural and historical significance over the next year, with descriptions in both Burmese and English detailing when each building was built and why it is important.

The project is being funded by Dutch electronics giant Philips, which has partnered with the YHT. The original plan was to install 200 plaques in the city but this has been scaled back due to the expense of ordering high-quality plaques from Australia.

Philips, which opened its first store in Yangon last year, is also paying separately to illuminate the colonial buildings with LED lights. It has already installed lights outside Mahabandoola Park and City Hall.20131110_145937