Laurel returns from South East Asia with plenty of memories – Christine Ladley Fund 2022

With the assistance of the Christine Ladley Fund, I embarked on a journey to visit the botanic gardens of South East Asia; my first visit to Asia, and travelling alone, so quite an adventure.

Phuket Botanical Garden in Southern Thailand was an extraordinary, eccentric gem, with a vast variety of plants. Of the twenty-plus areas, the amazing Palm Garden and Orchid section were most memorable.

Next was Rayong Botanic Gardens in Eastern Thailand. The best way to appreciate their wonderful waterlily collection is by canoe, and then it’s by bike round the ancient mangrove forest. An absolutely magical wilderness, lichens and mosses tumbling from twisted branches, it was so exciting to see wild Sarracenias and Nepenthes. Unlike the privately owned Phuket Gardens, Rayong is one of four Government Funded satellite gardens linked to the Queen Sirikit Botanic Gardens near Chiang Mai in the northern mountains. Each have specialisms which reflect their immediate environment; thus Rayong’s water lilies and mangroves.

Queen Sirikit, meanwhile, is so enormous that a car, or an organised visit, is essential. The highlight for me was the sky-walk; such a treat to view a tropical rainforest from above. Additionally, there is a fantastic range of glasshouses, including one devoted to Ethnobotany; a first for me.

Originally Laos Botanical Gardens near Luang Prabang was on my itinerary, but unfortunately it is closed until 2024 due to funding problems. So from Laos I travelled to Angkor Botanical Garden near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Opened in May 2022, this may be the newest in the world. It had a unique variety of Khmer plants, an interesting spice collection, wildlife forest and a beautiful flower meadow.

After two months travelling, I got to the much older Ho Chi Minh City Botanical Gardens in Vietnam. What a relief the lush, tropical greenery was, after the sweltering, chaos of the city traffic.

I also visited forests, national parks and other smaller gardens during my travels; it felt very special to see beautiful plants including a variety of orchids and ferns, growing in the wild that I had only previously seen in glasshouses.

I feel very grateful and privileged for this funding from WFGA. I am writing a blog about my botanical travels, which will continue whilst I am on my 12 month sabbatical. Although for the next few months, I will not be in such exciting places as South East Asia.  Thank you WFGA!

Laurel Goss