Beginning January 6, 2008, the Longwood Graduate Program Class of 2009 traveled among three remarkable Southeast Asian countries. The political systems, cultural heritage, and gardens in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are widely varied yet equally stunning. The Fellows began their journey in Singapore, a densely-populated metropolitan city state, traveled north through the Malay Peninsula, and ended their trip in the mountainous northern provinces of Thailand. Dr. Robert Lyons, Program Director, as well as Longwood Gardens’ staff Yoko Arakawa, Matthew Eby, and Lorrie Baird accompanied the Fellows on their trip.
Singapore’s commitment to parks, gardening, and urban vegetation began in 1965 with its first post-independence Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. Today, his initial vision to create a city in a garden is particularly noticeable. The wide-spreading canopy of the rain tree, Samanea saman, provides welcome shade throughout the streets of tropical Singapore, located just one degree above the Equator. The tree’s naturally splitting bark provides an ideal habitat for epiphytes of all varieties including the bird’s nest fern, Asplenium nidus, as well as several species of orchids. Underneath the city’s arboreal canopy lies a meticulously cultivated layer of herbaceous and shrub material.
While visiting Singapore, the Fellows met with several administrators within the National Parks Board and the Centre for Urban Greenery and Ecology (CUGE), including Mr. P. Teva Raj, Director of Industry; Mr. Yong Fook Chyi, Assistant Director of CUGE; and Mr. Simon Longman, Director of Streetscape; among many others. These leaders discussed Singapore’s dedication to developing a sustainable layer of green infrastructure around the island for every citizen to enjoy and appreciate. The Fellows also toured the Singapore Botanic Gardens with Director Dr. Chin See Chung, and continued on to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and the newly completed Hort Park.
After a brief visit to the island of Penang, Malaysia, and the historic Penang Botanic Garden, the Fellows continued to Kuala Lumpur, home to over 1.6 million people. A commitment to urban greening was also obvious in this capital city of Malaysia. Strands of lights dangled from tree canopies while carefully placed exterior fixtures bathed buildings and monuments throughout Kuala Lumpur every evening. This city truly felt as though it came alive each night as the sky darkened and the oppressive heat disappeared amidst the beautifully illuminated skyline.
While in Kuala Lumpur the group visited several public horticulture institutions to learn about their plant collections, conservation efforts, and educational programming. After arriving in Kuala Lumpur, the group took a day trip to the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) in neighboring Selangor. Dr. Saw Leng Guan, Director of the Tropical Forest Biodiversity Centre, and Mr. Adnan Mohamad hosted the group for lunch and discussed his department’s work in the Flora of Malaysia project. Following a delightful lunch, Mr. Adnan Mohamad discussed the horticultural collections and display areas while guiding the group to an extremely popular attraction within FRIM. Perched 90 feet above the forest floor, the individual sections of FRIM’s famous canopy walk provided a unique view of tropical Malaysian flora. The group then toured the grounds of the institute’s newly created Kepong Botanic Garden.
The Fellows also visited Rimba Ilmu Botanic Garden at the University of Malaya and met its interim director, M. Sugumaran. This small university botanic garden performs incredible conservation work, botanical research, and educational programming with a modest staff and budget. Before returning to the hotel for the evening, the group enjoyed a tour through a rainforest ecology exhibit and the rare and endangered plant house at Rimba Ilmu. The Fellows also visited Malaysia’s National Orchid and National Hibiscus Gardens before departing Kuala Lumpur.
Departing Malaysia, the group traveled north to Chonburi Province, Thailand to visit Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden and Resort. This privately owned public garden is the estate of Mrs. Nongnooch Tansacha and was opened to visitors in 1980. The garden currently boasts multiple impressive display areas including a scale model of Stonehenge, the largest French garden in Southeast Asia, and the world’s largest collections of palms and cycads. The garden is both a popular tourist destination, located only a few hours south of Bangkok, and a well-established botanic garden providing high-quality horticultural displays and collections. The Fellows and their Longwood chaperones spent three days at this magnificent garden exploring, photographing and taking pleasure in the garden resort’s hospitality.
The Fellows then traveled to Bangkok and Ayutthaya to visit numerous Thai cultural and religious sites in the region. In Bangkok, the itinerary consisted of the Grand Palace and several Buddhist temples, called Wats in Thai, including the Temple of Dawn. In Ayutthaya, the group toured the ruins of the former Thai capital as well as the beautiful Summer Palace, Bang Pa-In.
An overnight train carried the group to the final region of their trip – Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Provinces. In this mountainous northern region of Thailand, the group enjoyed cooler temperatures and a slower pace of life. Following their arrival, the Fellows traveled with their guides to Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (QSBG), nestled in the mountains surrounding Chiang Mai. While there, Dr. Prachaya Srisanga discussed current QSBG activities and research and gave the group a tour of the extensive conservatory complex. Everyone seemed to be overflowing with curiosity inside the glasshouses filled with diverse, beautiful plants. The group then toured the incredible Tweechol Botanical Garden, with its incredible floral displays and endless topiaries.
In Chiang Rai, the Fellows learned about the impressive Royal Agricultural Research Stations that have helped to eliminate the widespread production of opium by teaching sustainable agricultural techniques to the local hill tribes. The Fellows visited the Doi Ang Khang Station as well as the immaculate formal gardens of Mae Fah Luang at Doi Tung.
At the end of the excursion to Southeast Asia, the group had visited well over a dozen venues of public horticulture. Enthusiasm for these horticultural institutions had accumulated for each of the travelers, and the group welcomed the opportunity for reflection on the 19 hour flight back to the United States. It became obvious that no one would soon forget the incredible institutions nor the wonderful people who helped facilitate the Fellows’ visits during this incredible educational experience!
The Fellows also recorded their experience in a travel blog that can be accessed here.