i2Mag story on Southern Austria

Up And Down In Southern Austria

Posted on Jun 24 2020 
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 The little nostalgic steam engine huffs and puffs its way up the steep track as we leave the lakeside village of St. Wolfgang in Austria. We are bound for the Schafberg Mountain and our carriage is full of expectant and excited people. The joy of travelling in toy mountain trains is unexplainable in words but we all feel it. This is a real adventure.

Austria has long been a popular destination for visitors from around the world and when international travel returns to some semblance of normality (perhaps not until 2021) Austria is certain to be popular again. The Schafbergbahn began operating again, after a coronavirus shutdown, in early June so if you can get there the experience is available just as it was to us before the shutdown. If you are in this area, you would be mad to miss it.

The Schafbergbahn

The steepest, steam cog-railway in Austria has been ascending this mountain since 1893. It takes 35 minutes to reach the summit, climbing 1,190 metres over 5.85 kilometres. Along the way, we pass through forest, rocky terrain and rolling grassland. The views are magical but many of the passengers are concentrating on the little locomotive as it struggles up the track with the help of its cog drive.

The two original cog railway’s steam engines count amongst the oldest working engines in the world as they were built in 1893 and 1892. In 1992, four modern locomotives were built that operate their steam engines with diesel. Older diesel engine locomotives from the 1960s are kept and maintained for emergencies and there are two modern diesel locomotives.

The Schafbergbahn featured in the Sound of Music movie and it is a highly popular day-trip destination among both locals and tourists. The view from the summit (1,783 m) is the most spectacular in this world-famous region. On a clear day, there is a 360-degree panoramic view over the glittering lakes and across the mountains into Germany. All around, the mountains soar majestically, and you have this feeling of being on top of the world.

The rail terminal at the top of the mountain is close to a hotel and several restaurants and it is surrounded by rocky walking paths that test your fitness. Train tickets to the top are purchased for a specific up-hill train, and we learned there is heavy demand for mid-morning departures. For the best views, sit on the left-hand side of the train on the way up and the right-hand side on the way down. You need to book your return journey time once you reach the top.

The construction of the Schafbergbahn dates back to the late 19th century. At that time Viennese aristocrats wanted to spend the summer in the mountains. The railway network had been rapidly developed and an early form of tourism to accommodate the visitors became an important source of income for many locals.

A consortium of investors funded the construction of the mountain railway in 1893. Financial difficulties forced the owners to sell in 1932 then in 1938, it became the property of Nazi-Germany′s Reichsbahn and later of the Austrian National Railway ÖBB. Finally, the Schafbergbahn was sold again in 2006. Since then, it has been owned by the Salzburg AG company and it is operated in association with the boats that cruise Lake Wolfgangsee.

The way down is no less exciting as the engine struggles to control the rate of descent on the steep track. At one point we stop to allow another train to pass and see the train guard feverishly operating the points before we proceed. Finally, it is back to level ground and on to our next adventure.

Hallstatt is some 35 kilometres away. Some regard this as the most beautiful village in the world. The Chinese were so impressed that they produced a replica of it in Guangdong but thousands still flock here to see the original. It is difficult not to be impressed by the real UNESCO-listed version.

From the market square which hosts summer concerts and the Christmas Market, you are just a short walk away from one of the most beautiful photo points in Europe. But it is also the romantic alleyways, cosy cafés, delightful churches and the numerous little souvenir shops that make this place so appealing.

The charnel house or ‘Bone House’ in St. Michael’s Chapel with its unusual collection of over 600 artistically painted skulls is one of the more interesting tourist sites. Because of restricted land area, when an existing grave was reused for a new burial, the old skull or bones were transferred from the grave to the charnel house as part of a second funeral.

The World Heritage Museum is another attraction. Multimedia technology takes you back 7,000 years to the beginnings of this ancient salt mining town. With 3D glasses, you can immerse yourself in the history of old Hallstatt and learn trivia from the beginning of human presence to the elevation of the region to its World Heritage status.

People have been mining salt above Hallstatt for thousands of years and a visit to the mine can be a great experience. You reach it by funicular then enjoy a miner’s slide, a subterranean salt lake and an exciting trip on the mining railway. While here, take a small detour to the Hallstatt Sky Walk. This spectacular viewing platform sits high above the village and offers an idyllic panoramic view of Lake Hallstatt and breathtaking alpine landscape.

Electric boat driving is one of the most popular pastimes on Lake Hallstatt. The fresh air and the beautiful nature of the fjord-like lake combine to provide a relaxing experience. You can either captain the boat yourself or take an experienced driver who will take you to the most beautiful parts of the lake.

Available space is in short supply making parking in the village a problem, so the village centre is traffic-free during the daytime and visitors must park in several car parks nearby. These are within walking distance of all attractions but space is limited and we see late-comers having to queue for spaces as others leave. If you plan to visit, arrive before 9 am if possible.

If You Go: Under ‘normal’ circumstances there are flights from around the world to Vienna, the capital of Austria. Hallstatt and the Schafbergbahn are about 300 kilometres west and are reachable by rental car or train.

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.

Victorian story from Traveloscopy

June 22, 2020

Victoria: West is best

Words: Len Rutledge Images: Phensri Rutledge

Travel restrictions still apply to several states but Victoria is generally open for visitors. Our trip was completed before COVID-19 appeared but it should be possible to visit everywhere we did by the end of June, although booking ahead for the wineries and Sovereign Hill may be required. Start planning now because it is a great experience.

A Victorian holiday is always interesting so my wife and I were keen to make the most of our time. Exploring the airline timetables, we discovered an effective way of gaining an extra day. There are evening flights into Melbourne so you can leave after work and begin the holiday that day.

Our flight arrived at Melbourne airport a little after 9pm and by using the Parkroyal Melbourne Airport hotel we could have been eating at the restaurant, drinking at the bar, swimming in the indoor heated pool or exercising in the gym by 9.30. Instead we went to bed!

The Parkroyal proved to be an excellent hotel. Staff were friendly, our room was luxurious, facilities were well maintained and the breakfast buffet was a feast. After checking out we took the elevator downstairs and rented a car for a week from a selection of six operators.

The drive to Ballarat was easy but unexciting. This grand old city was built on gold more than 150 years ago and many dignified buildings still exist from those times. After walking the main street and visiting the outstanding Art Gallery, we drove to Sovereign Hill.

This is probably Australia’s best historical park and it has grown even more impressive since our last visit. We watched the redcoats march and fire their muskets. We photographed the coach ride, the candle making and the metal spinning.

The Red Hill Mine Tour proved to be better than expected and the gold pour showed us what a $150,000 ingot looks like. A short visit to the theatre and a chance to bowl in a 140-year-old manually operated alley saw us looking for somewhere to relax. The Hope Bakery proved to be the perfect place.

Gold panning at Sovereign Hill

No visit to Sovereign Hill would be complete without trying our luck gold panning. After 30 minutes my wife had collected gold worth about $5 from the creek.

Next day we reluctantly left Ballarat after spending the morning in the Botanical Gardens by Lake Wendouree. The gardens were established in 1858 and contain a remarkable collection of mature trees and statuaries.

Other highlights are the Prime Ministers Avenue, the Adam Lindsay Gordon Craft Cottage, the ex-POW memorial and the remarkable begonia conservatory. We should have allocated more time here.

Literally dozens of historic and boutique wineries are scattered across undulating western Victoria. Our desire was to visit some of them so we started in Avoca. Here the Blue Pyrenees Winery provided a chance to sample some spicy cabernet sauvignon and other classics before indulging in an excellent lunch.

Then it was on to the historic wine village of Great Western, known as the birthplace of Australian sparkling wine. The iconic Seppelt and Best’s wineries are here using grapes from vineyards that date back to the mid-1800s. Both offer tastings and we didn’t hold back. After selecting a few bottles to take with us, it was off to Stawell.

This historic gold mining town is world famous for its Easter Stawell Gift which was first run in 1878. We viewed the Hall of Fame and did a quick jog on the track which has created so many champions.

For thousands of years the dramatic Grampians mountain ranges have inspired wonder. Now largely covered by the Grampians National Park, the rugged peaks with their rich cultural heritage and breathtaking views are one of Victoria’s most popular destinations.

The area is suitable for everyone. There are hundreds of kilometres of bush walking tracks, excellent paved roads to waterfalls and spectacular lookouts, adventure tours offering kayaking, rock climbing and horse riding, farm gate providores and farmers’ markets, and comfortable accommodation.

We stayed in Halls Gap in a rental house. The cute tourist village is surrounded by remarkable mountain escarpments, forest and wildlife. Kangaroos graze on the football ground and birds are everywhere. There are numerous small cafes and restaurants and a general store and hotel.

We learned about the regions’ Aboriginal culture and history at Brambuk – the National Park and Cultural Centre just outside town. The extraordinary building has a bush food cafe and retail outlet as well as an information centre. A quick trip by car took us to one of five rock art sites that are open to the public.

www.LenRutledge.com

Photographs: Phensri Rutledge

Further Info:

Parkroyal Melbourne Hotel — http://www.parkroyalhotels.com/en/hotels/australia/melbourne/parkroyal/

Sovereign Hill – www.sovereignhill.com.au

Halls Gap Visitor Centre – www.grampianstravel.com

Brambuk – www.brambuk.com.au

Story from Luxe Beat Magazine

SINGAPORE IS A CULTURAL MELTING POT

Singapore is a cultural melting pot

The recent Black Lives Matter rallies have dramatically shown the underlying divisions that exist in many countries. Racism has affected many minorities and at times this has been accepted and papered-over. But not all countries suffer these problems. On a recent visit to Singapore I saw that different ethnic communities and religions can harmoniously live side by side. The world should take note.

Multiculturalism comes alive in dynamic Singapore and this is one of the great attractions of this city-state. It is seen on the streets, heard in the restaurants and smelt in the pungent aromas at the hawker centres.

The largest percentage of the population is Chinese but the large populations of Malays and Indians have considerable influence on the country’s lifestyle while British, other Europeans and Eurasians add further to the mix.

Singapore has some of the best hotels and restaurants in the world so it is easy to find the level of luxury that you need. Once you have settled in, I strongly recommend a visit to different areas of the city if you want to fully understand what makes this city so attractive to visitors.

CHINATOWN

Unfortunately, much of the area was demolished and redeveloped in the 1970s and hence it has lost some of its genuine appeal but some areas have been spared and these today offer a nice mixture of historical structures and restaurants, nightclubs, high-tech businesses and shops. It is safe and accessible, and is a great place for walking.

Strange Chinese medicines, questionable antiques, and cheap souvenirs may tempt you to come here to buy but this is also just an area for wandering. There are many shrines, museums and other cultural buildings, for history or religious buffs. The Chinatown Visitors Centre is a good place to find out all there is to do.

Chinatown is a great place to visit anytime but it takes on a special ambience during Chinese New Year (late January or early February). Most people will dress in red and give children AngPow, a monetary gift in a red packet to bring luck and prosperity. Every household is busy with spring cleaning to get rid of the old and welcome the new.

Houses are decorated in red and people celebrate with fire crackers. It is believed that these chase off evil spirits and awakens the deities and guardian spirits who are the custodians of good health, good fortune and prosperity.

LITTLE INDIA

Little India began as a camp for Indian convict workers who were brought in by the British to work on the city’s development. It still has important religious centres and is a hub for traditional businesses which many visitors find fascinating.

Serangoon Road is a wonderful place to wander. There are small restaurants, endless shops and great street scenes to observe. You should try some of the very traditional and economical Indian food and also some of the teas.

You will find a great range of Indian sari cloths which make good wall hangings if you don’t want to wear them, and the metal tiffin sets can be useful and good gifts. This area gets very crowded on a Sunday when immigrant Indian and Bangladeshi labourers descend here en mass.

A highlight here is the Mustafa Centre. This is the place to go if you need a new TV, gold jewellery, new cooking pot or some underwear at 4 a.m. because this place never closes. It has a cult following, is usually crowded and is the best place to go if you’re after a bargain. It is not fancy but it has a great range of items, and good prices to match. It really is a shopping experience unlike any other particularly after midnight.

KAMPONG GELAM

This is an historic district whose name originates from the Gelam Tree, which once grew abundantly here and was used in ship building. Rows of brightly painted shophouses line several streets, and many of them are occupied by trendy design firms, restaurants, art galleries, and craft and curios shops.

Haji Lane and Arab Street are where Singapore’s early Arab traders settled. This was the centre of the original Muslim section of town, famed for its speciality shops, Muslim restaurants and more. There are many backpacker hostels in this area today.

The area has vibrant colour and is a great place to explore slowly. There are textile stores and outlets selling Persian carpets and you’ll also see leather, perfumes, spices, jewellery, crystal and baskets for sale. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours visiting many of the stores and chatting with the sellers. Quality seems good and prices, once you bargain, are OK too.

Look for the Muslim restaurants, the money-changers and the travel agents who specialise in the travel needs of Muslim pilgrims heading for Mecca. Stop off at a coffee house or browse for traditional games such as Congkak which involves marbles and a wooden board.

COLONIAL SINGAPORE

This is where Singapore started and it’s a great place for visitors to start their exploration of this fascinating city. There are some stunning British colonial buildings and many of them have been converted to museums and art galleries.

Raffles Hotel is a Singapore institution not to be missed. Enter from Beach Road into the marbled lobby with its plush Persian carpets, note the wonderful Sikh doorman, and find your way to the Long Bar for a Singapore Sling. This famous drink was invented here in 1915 and you can still enjoy the great ambiance despite the ridiculous cost of the drink.

Colonial - Raffles Hotel

The Chijmes complex is a jewel of quiet courtyards, cobbled paths and fountains. This was once the Catholic Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus from 1840. It is now an elegant dining, shopping and entertainment complex that should not be missed. It is particularly attractive at night.

Down by the river is the Asian Civilisations Museum in a neoclassical building built in 1867 as a Court House. After a major renovation, it opened in its present form in 2003 and is probably the museum I most enjoy in Singapore.

Len Rutledge is the author of Experience Singapore 2020 available as an e‑book or paperback from Amazon.

Images: Phensri Rutledge

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

530 views
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

Share the Knowledge
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