Asia In Style

5 12 2008

 

I don’t feel as though I am truly an adventurous traveller unless my hotel room has a rusted fan bolted to the ceiling, a television with three channels (or better yet…no television at all), a constant din rising from neighbouring streets, a lingering air of insect repellent and periodic power cuts…but I’m not so dedicated that I won’t occasionally stray towards something a little more opulent and luxurious that boasts white gloves, white sheets, white towels and fine white wine. Ultimately, a vacation is a treat or an opportunity to re-charge well-worn batteries, so why not indulge a bit?tic1

 

It was long believed that adventure and comfort don’t mix. Unless there was a dirt floor, a lumpy bed or a lack of air-conditioning it couldn’t possibly be adventure. However, as more and more people are drawn to exotic destinations, so the ability to travel in small groups and experience genuine cultural immersion while also enjoying a bit of comfort at night are no longer mutually-exclusive.

 

Oned of the best places to combine both worlds is in Asia. Boasting some of the best hotels and finest service in the world while still offering ancient ruins, congested markets, vibrant culture and thriving tradition, Asia can provide it all. Intrepid adventurer by day sampling food that would cause the neighbour to pass out, considerable comfort by night. Stimulation for the mind and senses by day, pampering for the weary body at night.

 

If your idea of adventure doesn’t extend to dorm rooms, mosquito nets and communal showers, click here.

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Bangkok, We Have a Problem

4 12 2008

 

Watching the recent news of the demonstrations at Bangkok’s airports, it’s hard not to feel sorry for those stranded and desperately trying to get home. Although most of us dream of forever lying beneath a palm tree without any plan to return home, the reality is a great deal of stress and frustration and probably a lot of unexpected cost.lax3-mw

 

The recent events in Thailand were unusual. People are occasionally delayed because of inclement weather, industrial action or disasters but rarely for as long as Thailand’s recent interruption. However, if it happens to you, what can you do?

 

When an airline’s flights are cancelled, they generally re-book you on their first available flight whether that’s later the same day, the next morning or a week later. If you’re lucky, they may re-book you on a partner airline that will get you home or to your destination a bit quicker. However, when thousands of people are affected across several airlines, it takes a long time for the back-log to be cleared by which time you’re likely sick of Pina Coladas and completely over the smell of coconut oil.

 

Contacting your airline just to find out what’s happening can be an ordeal in itself, especially in another language or in a country with a limited infrastructure. Of course, if the cause of your frustration is labour strife, there won’t be anyone for you to speak to at all! And, given the number of people in the same situation as yourself, you may well find yourself sleeping on the airport floor for a few days because hotel rooms will be precious commodities…especially affordable ones.

 

It is in situations like this that travel agents come into their own. Agents can check availability with all airlines, via indirect routes or from all airports within a reasonable distance – not just that from which you were originally scheduled to travel. They can advise you of your airline’s re-protection or refund policy or start to investigate your insurance coverage…they can also assist you with hotel reservations or transport to other airports. In some cases they may have a local contact who can help you on the ground, or they themselves may have first-hand experience of the city and be able to offer you some useful advice.

 

Although major disruptions of the magnitude of Thailand’s are very unusual, being able to actually speak to a calm, concerned and helpful friend at home can go a long way to relieving your burden of stress and help you feel less alone if ever similarly stuck. Of course, your agent may demand a box of chocolate-covered macadamias or a snow-globe of a frolicking dolphin, but that’s a small price to pay for a friend-in-need!

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Remembering

11 11 2008

Salerno, Italy

Several hours north of Bangkok there is a wide brown river spanned by a large metal railway bridge. It is a bridge like many others. Though thoroughly unremarkable in its design and appearance, every year travellers from all over the world make the journey to see it, cross it and pay tribute to those responsible for its construction. The bridge is located in the small town of Kanchanaburi: a place even less remarkable than the bridge itself yet now home to one of Thailand‘s major tourist attractions.

 

This is “The Bridge on the River Kwai”. A structure made infamous by books and an Oscar-winning film and built during the Second World War by the forced labour of hundreds of thousands of local Thais and many thousands of Prisoners of War.

 

Not far from the bridge sit two cemeteries that are the final resting place for more than 8,700 prisoners from Britain, Australia, the Netherlands, Malaya, India and elsewhere. If the bridge is the result of their brutal toil, the tranquility of Chonk-Kai War Cemetery is the reward of rest they were so cruelly denied during their last days.

 

Like war cemeteries everywhere, it is impossible not to be moved by these simple memorials. To walk amongst the immaculate headstones, to read the names of the fallen and witness their stolen youth is to see the destruction of innocence and the annihilation of entire generations. For those of us fortunate enough to have avoided conflict in our homelands, such loss of friends and brothers, fathers and uncles is incomprehensible, but sadly for millions of people throughout the world it is very much an ongoing reality even today.

 

Since the beginning of time, war has brought out the very worst and the very best in people. While it has been greed, hatred, powerlust and evil that has been responsible for war and the mind-numbing atrocities that have accompanied it, war has also provided us with some of the greatest acts of bravery, sacrifice and selflessness. Amongst the horror of violence and genocide are countless accounts of staggering heroism. Tales of seemingly ordinary individuals who risked – and often gave – everything to save the life of another.

 

When we travel, we often encounter memorials to those who have died in conflict and invariably we pass straight by on our way to a pub, restaurant, train station or art gallery.  The carefree attitude we have on vacation might well be the very same approach to life that those whose names are now carved in granite had until their own lives were interrupted and they were sent away to a distant shore.

 

Next time your travels take you past a memorial in a small town square or a perfectly maintained cemetery, spare a moment for those whose own involuntary travels never brought them home again.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Full Moon Beach Parties in Thailand: Get Ready to Get Down

6 02 2008

You are dancing under the blazing full moon on the island of Ko Pha Ngan, your arms flailing about wildly, your bare feet turning around and around on the white sand, your legs doing things you didn’t know they could. Electronic music stomps it’s way up and down the crescent beach, and the Gulf of Thailand seduces the partiers successfully with its warm, foamy waves. You are surrounded by thousands of travelers from around the world; backpackers, worldrompers, budget tourists, fire-twirlers, old hippies, new hippies, artists, hedonists, jugglers, dancers, musicians, deejays, and wanderers. It is mere minutes until the fireworks show, and many, many, hours until dawn. The night has just begun.

Are you smiling? Scheming how you can get a ticket to Thailand? Already Googling Ko Pha Ngan Full Moon Party? If not, then maybe you shouldn’t go to THE WORLD’S BIGGEST BEACH PARTY.

Or maybe you need to go the most of all.

Celebration is universal; having fun is essential to human happiness. Some of us even make it our priority in life. We have been dancing bare-footed to drum beats around fires for much longer than we have spent our days in pursuit of big-screen TVs or the newest car or diamonds or whatever else we use our money on in place of experience, which is worth more than anything you can order on Amazon.com.

This indisputable truth, that humans need to celebrate, is manifested every month during the full moon as anywhere from three to ten thousand travelers converge on a white sand beach in Southeast Asia, take off their shoes, and straight GET DOWN. Thailand is a dream for travelers, easy and cheap to navigate, with killer cuisine and the chill energy found in Buddhist cultures. American citizens need passports only for stays of less than 30 days, and round trip air tickets from the west coast of the U.S. to Bangkok are about $900-$1000 for March and April travel. The giant music festival takes place at Haad Rin Beach, and accommodation can be found as low as $2 per night (for a beach-side hut with shared bath). There are also plenty of luxury digs for those of you who crave a private pool or outdoor shower. If for some reason you actually plan on sleeping during the Full Moon party, be sure to book your room OUTSIDE of Haad Rin, and take one of the all-night taxis back to your bungalow.

Full Moon parties go off the hook every month, with upcoming summertime dates of February 22, March 21, and a very special festival on April 20. If you can’t make it to Thailand on those dates, no worries: there are also Half Moon and Black (New) Moon celebrations. All the parties are free and stocked with food, drink, and craft vendors. During the rest of your stay you can snorkel, dive, wakeboard, rent a moped, explore natural caves, and swim at pristine beaches all over Ko Pha Ngan and her sister islands of Ko Samui and Ko Tao.

Festivals and celebrations are are part of every culture on the globe, and whether you like all-night dance parties on the beaches of Asia, man-festivals on the dusty plains of Mongolia, or sugary skulls at the Day of the Dead in Mexico, HAVING FUN is the perfect excuse to travel!

So what are you waiting for? Someone to remind you how short life is, to tell you that if you are really really lucky, in the blink of an eye you will be old, wrinkly, and not that into beach dancing? You don’t need ME to clue you in; you’re reading my blog which means YOU have already taken the first step: admitting that you want to travel and have fun and experience everything you possibly can- and you will accept nothing less in your amazing life.

Your next step: ACTION. Now is the time to begin a real plan for your next journey. For more information on flights to Thailand, the Full Moon Party in Ko Pha Ngan, or traveling to festivals around the world, contact The Adventure Travel Company.

See you on the beach!

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Post and photos by Shilo Urban