Orchids of Thailand – Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

This post is about the first few days I spent in Thailand, in diary format. Enjoy! 🙂

Saturday 12th March

I arrived in Chiang Mai safely, if a little behind schedule – 45 minutes late. I was greeted by Peter’s girlfriend, Ping, as Peter himself wasn’t very well. I also met one of the other tour members, Phil, who also arrived on a late flight – we were the last ones to arrive.

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View of Chiang Mai from the Duangtawan Hotel

We got a taxi to the Duangtawan Hotel and met Peter briefly who explained about the activities which would be happening tomorrow – a visit to a temple and orchid farm. I face planted the bed as soon as I entered my room – jet lagged after a long journey!

Sunday 13th March

Weather: Sunny, 39 °C

Our first day got off to a casual start, as Peter explained he always makes the first few days more relaxed as everyone is usually tired from travelling. Once we are more accustomed to the weather and time difference the more serious treks into the jungle begin.

For the first week as there are so many of us – 40 in total – Peter is splitting us into groups, so the people from the Singapore botanical orchid society are in one group and we, individuals from all over the world, are in the second group. We all do the same activities in the day, just separately.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The morning was spent at the most popular temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; it is Chiang Mai’s most important and visible landmark. A local guide, Ning, showed us round and told us about the history of the temple then left us for an hour to explore on our own.

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Me in Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The monastery was established in 1383 by King Keu Naone to enshrine a piece of bone, said to be from the shoulder of the historical Buddha. The bone shard was brought to Lanna by a wandering monk from Sukhothai and it broke into two pieces at the base of the mountain, with one piece being enshrined at Wat Suan Dok.

The second fragment was mounted onto a sacred white elephant who wandered the jungle until it died, in the process selecting the spot where the monastery was later founded.

The 306 step staircase is flanked by mosaic serpents; the climb is intended to help devotees accrue Buddhist merit, but less energetic pilgrims can take a funicular-style lift! The terrace at the top of the steps displays a statue of the white elephant that carried the Buddha relic to its current resting place.

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One of the pagodas

The temple had an impressive ornate golden pagoda which contained holy Buddha relics, it was a very striking piece of architecture; it was literally gleaming in the bright sunlight.

It felt very strange being able to take photos in a sacred place of worship with people praying, Ning said it was absolutely fine and expected from tourists to do so. Even though I knew it was ok it still felt wrong using my camera!

There are supposedly glorious views of the city of Chiang Mai from the temple compound but the view was hidden underneath a haze of forest fire smoke. It’s a good excuse to return again!

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Buddhas inside the temple

I enjoyed looking round my first Thai temple yet I got just as excited by the Ficus trees which were covered in jackfruits as I did looking round the temple! The fruits of Artocarpus heterophylla were bigger than my head, it was an obligatory selfie moment!

I also saw a cannonball tree, Couroupita guianensis, which was displaying its distinctive large round fruits. Things really hotted up when we spotted Dendrobium capillipes flowering on another tree in the temple compound as well as D. polyanthum and D. lindleyi on other trees by the staircase leading up to the temple.

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Jackfruits!

They were high up in the trees but a German member was well prepared and had binoculars with him – it was sensational seeing my first orchids on the trip, even though they weren’t technically in the wild!

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Open Garden Squares Weekend

Last month I participated in the Open Garden Squares Weekend, an annual event organised by the London Parks and Gardens Trust. Over 200 gardens across London open their gates for one weekend, most of which are normally closed to the public.

Open Garden Squares Weekend banner

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Because there were so many gardens to choose from I had a hard job deciding which ones to visit! The gardens ranged from traditional squares to roof terraces and allotments, as well as gardens belonging to historic buildings, schools, shops and cafés.

I narrowed it down to the areas of London which were most accessible for me and went from there. I realised the Kensington Roof Gardens were open which made up my mind instantly – even if I only saw that garden I would be happy!

Kensington Roof Gardens

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It’s exactly what it says it is, just over an acre of gardens on top of a building. The idea alone is awesome, I love the thought of a natural hidden oasis overlooking London! If I lived in the capital that’s exactly what I’d want my garden to be like.

The garden is split into three different sections, the Spanish Garden, Tudor Garden and English Woodland. When I was in the Spanish Garden it felt like I was on holiday, you could definitely tell it took inspiration from the Alhambra palace in Granada.

Spanish Garden

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Stepping into the Tudor Garden was completely different, it was a beautiful green space. There were lots of evergreen shrubs, with lilies, roses and lavenders in flower. It had a lake with flamingos in it, yes real flamingos! I had to do a double-take!

Tudor Garden

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Strawberries growing on the wall!

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Flamingos!

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The English Woodland is at its best in spring when it has bulbs of daffodils, crocuses, muscari and more all flowering. It still looked pretty in summer, with tall grasses and foxgloves surrounding a small pool of water.

English Woodland

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I finished by heading up to the Babylon on the 7th floor – the views across London were breath-taking. Even though it wasn’t a clear day you could still see for miles, imagine having that as the view from your window every day. . . it was stunning!

Views from the Babylon

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I made a friend!
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I walked a minute down the road and stumbled across Kensington Square. It’s one of the earliest garden squares in London, dating from the 17th century. It was a peaceful, leafy haven of trees and a perfect square of lawn.

Kensington Square

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I then walked back along Kensington High Street, and saw the Royal Albert Hall for the very first time. I couldn’t believe it when I saw a lorry belonging to the English National Ballet parked outside, talk about a coincidence!

Impressive building in Kensington High Street

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Royal Albert Hall

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From there I visited several garden squares in the space of a few hours: Cadogan Square Gardens, Cadogan Place Gardens, Eaton Square and Belgrave Square. I love how I suddenly found myself on a street and discovered by accident several gardens on the OGSW list – I felt like Alice in Wonderland!

Cadogan Place Gardens

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Cadogan Square and Cadogan Place Gardens had some lovely herbaceous borders, I could smell a garden was nearby thanks to the fragrance of the roses!

Cadogan Square Gardens

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Lychnis coronaria

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Lychnis coronaria alba (white version)

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Eaton Square had some interesting sculptures and some great formal raised beds which were planted with vibrant flowers.

Eaton Square

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Sculptures

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Belgrave Square was quite large compared to the other garden squares, at 4.5 acres. It had fantastic London plane trees (Platanus x hispanica) and again, some excellent herbaceous borders. I took the tube to the next gardens I wanted to visit, which were right next to each other – handy for me!

Belgrave Square

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London plane tree (Platanus x hispanica)

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Sculpture

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The Middle Temple Garden was traditionally the scene of the plucking of the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York, as told by Shakespeare in Henry VI. Today the connection lives on with a rose called ‘William Shakespeare’ planted in the main terrace.

Middle Temple Garden

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Loved this glasshouse!
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It had a cute little glasshouse which I adored, the shrub and herbaceous borders had some bedding mixed in which gave it extra colour.

The highlight out of the two was definitely the Inner Temple Garden, there’s been a garden there since the 12th Century – legend is that the War of the Roses began after an encounter there!

Inner Temple Garden

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It had two deep herbaceous borders either side of the main gates which were in full flower, the colour combinations were so innovative and vivid. There were aquilegias, roses, poppies, lavenders, geraniums and dead allium heads which off set the rest of the plants wonderfully. It was gorgeous!

Herbaceous borders

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Aquilegia

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Peony

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London plane tree broad walk

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It had a broad walk of mature London plane trees on the side of the garden nearest the Embankment boundary – I loved seeing the river in the distance.

The last garden I visited was St Paul’s Cathedral Churchyard. The north side of the garden is home to some of the oldest London plane trees in the city as well as the capital’s only giant fir tree, while the south side has a beautiful rose garden.

St Paul’s Cathedral Churchyard garden

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I’d never seen St Paul’s Cathedral up close before so that was an added highlight for visiting the garden!

St Paul’s Cathedral

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I was knackered after trekking round London for the day but I saw some amazing, memorable gardens which I wouldn’t have got the opportunity to see at any other time of the year. I hope you enjoyed the photos! 🙂