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As reports come in that the political situation in Bangkok is steadily relaxing after days of major anti-government protests, thee are still questions about the safety of tourists who find themselves in the Thai capital. On Tuesday, the BBC reported that concrete barriers and razor wire placed outside police headquarters had been removed, a sign of tension cooling between the government and protestors. The U.S. government, meanwhile, has not issued an official travel warning, though a “security message” was posted on December 1, alerting travelers of the demonstrations.
For those who have booked flights and hotels in the region, should you be worried? Here’s what we’ve learned… Read more
Travelers were up in arms last week when Thailand announced plans to introduce a $16 entry tax for passengers arriving by air and staying more than three days – and a charge of 30 baht (97 cents) for travelers coming into the country from a neighboring state and staying for two days or less.
The Thailand Tourism Authority (TTA) claimed the proposed tax is needed to cover the cost of unpaid medical bills left behind by foreign travelers – although other reports mentioned the tax has been levied in the hope of attracting a ‘better’ standard of visitor, compared, presumably, to the young backpackers drawn to the country’s affordable beach destinations and buzzing nightlife.
In a statement to the press, World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) President & CEO, David Scowsill called the proposed tax “one of the more egregious tourism taxes that we have seen”.
Of course, Thailand is not the only country to charge visitors a fee for arriving or departing the country. While many countries include their entry or exit taxes in the price of an airline ticket (Thailand, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic, to name just three examples), a stubborn few still do not allow this. In the interest of you not getting caught off-guard at the airport without the means to cover an unexpected tax, here are a few entry and exit fees worth knowing about:
Whether it’s a smelly durian fruit, a sacred amulet, or even fresh livestock you’re seeking, there is a good chance you’ll find it in Thailand’s street markets. If you’re planning a trip, pay a visit to any of these for a unique shopping experience.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Damnoen Saduak
Perhaps Thailand’s most famous market, Damnoen Saduak is the one you’ll most likely find in the Thai guidebooks – because it floats. Full of wooden boats, clogged traffic, loud bargaining, and wild smells, all often coupled with heavy monsoon rains, this market on the water is a sensory (and olfactory) overload. However, don’t let its popularity dissuade you from a visit: While it does tend to get packed with tourists seeking photo opportunities and affordable fruits, spices, noodle soups, and vegetables, if you go early in the morning (between 8–10am), you’ll be able to get a feel for the rambunctious flavor of the market while not having to battle crowds to do it. Less than 50 miles from the country’s capital, it’s the best place outside of Bangkok to get any of Thailand’s unmistakable flavors. Whether you’re seeking traditional noodle soup (less than $1), fruits like rose apples, rambutans, longons, and bananas, sweet and savory pastries, or steamed rice and meat in banana leaves, there is no smell or taste that Damnoen Saduak doesn’t offer. Read more
Big cities make for great vacations. The culture and palpable energy is a large part of why so many people gravitate toward the world’s great cities and put up with, even embrace, the hustle and bustle. Sometimes, though, even the most committed city traveler feels the need to check out of the constant stream of activity in, say, London or New York, and that is when they head to the quiet calm of a city park. Read more
Spring has finally sprung and with beautiful weather comes the welcome excuse to get outside, just in time for Mother’s Day! Before you get mom any ordinary plant, check out our top ten list of the most beautiful gardens around the world for some inspiration. Take mom along for the day or make a future getaway out of these. Happy Mother’s Day! Read more
Though most of the inspired travel ideas I’ve written about so far have been because of Mother Nature, the Kuha Karuhas Pavilion inside Phraya Nakhon cave of Thailand’s Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park is definitely man-made. But, that doesn’t make it any less striking. Established in 1966, Khao Sam Roi Yot was Thailand’s first coastal national park, the Pavilion is just one of the highlights in the vast park. Read more
Spring and summer seem to be festival seasons, and this time of the year, there’s plenty to celebrate. Warm weather, blossoming flowers, the ability to carry your wife long distances – wait, what? Across the globe, there are tons of strange and spectacular festivals commemorating everything from macaque monkeys to body painting. We’ve selected seven we find a little bit odd, but entirely awesome. Read more
Don’t let the Carnival Cruise Line’s recent newsworthy items deter you from hitting the high seas. There are millions of cruises that sail each year without making the news. They have great customer service, activities for families, couples, and seniors, onboard entertainment, and unique ports around the world. Today we’ve rounded up the best of the best, from exotic international cruises to the always-popular beach destinations. Read more
While we’d all love to travel more than we do, silly things like money, jobs, children, and crippling anxiety keep us trapped in one place (often our homes that are filled with old newspapers). Thankfully, modern technology allows us to experience the world more easily than ever before. We can Skype with our friends on other continents, tour museums on our phones, and experience just about anything online. But what if you want to explore other cultures and places more tangibly and can’t hop around the globe like Indiana Jones? Well, if you have space in your yard (and don’t mind your home resembling the SkyMall Tuesday headquarters), then SkyMall has everything you need to bring the world to you. Rather than break the bank and exhaust all of your vacation days on constant travel, why not surround create a menagerie of handsome lawn sculptures that allows you to live internationally without ever leaving your house? Read more
Over the past couple of decades, Phuket’s place among luxury destinations has teetered on the proverbial cliff. Walk through Patong and you’ll need more than two hands to count the number of tuk tuks, touts, and bar girls who proposition you. (You’d probably want your hands to fend off the more aggressive girls, too.) With the throngs of tourists today, it’s hard to imagine that Phuket was ever remote. Which is why it’s all the more impressive that the super-luxe Amanpuri, originally opened in 1987 and arguably one of the most splurge-worthy properties in town, continues to define luxury in Southeast Asia.
I recently stayed in one of Amanpuri’s three newly converted Pool Pavilions. It is the most opulent of any accommodations I have ever enjoyed, and that includes the overwater villa I stayed in during my honeymoon in Bora Bora. Like other accommodations at Amanpuri, the pavilions come with an outdoor sun deck and dining terrace. It is not an exaggeration to say that the outdoor space is larger than many Manhattan apartments. Each Pool Pavilion also comes with a private pool (8-10 meters long).
Giggles are muffled and eyebrows are raised when anyone mentions traveling to Amsterdam. After some perfunctory chit chat about the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House, a pregnant pause typically lingers until someone asks the question: “Did you smoke marijuana?” Since the 1970s, tourists have flocked to Amsterdam to legally get high. Now, however, the laws have changed and, come May 1, coffee shops in the southern half of the country will cater only to Dutch residents who are registered members and possess a “weed pass.”
Of course, lawyers for the coffee shops are fighting the ban on tourists and hope to prevent the law from going national come January 1, 2013. However, I think it’s high time that other cities followed the Dutch and made local customs available only to residents. Here are just a few treasured traditions that locals deserve to enjoy without having to share with tourists.
And the winners of Lonely Planet’s The World’s Best Street Food guide are…Sebastiano from Naples, Italy and Preeti from Amsterdam. It was a pleasure to give them the news yesterday and have them confirm that they love winning free books almost as much as discovering and eating the perfect street food. My congratulations to them as well as my thanks again to Lonely Planet for donating the guides. And, of course, thanks to those of you who were willing to share your favorite street food picks as a condition for entering the giveaway.
The biggest winner, however, is me, as you all did my work for me this week by reporting on the best street food you ever ate. Here now, some highlights. Read more
When traveling to exotic places, local handicrafts make great souvenirs. But Tamarind Village in Chiang Mai, Thailand will do you one better with near-daily afternoon sessions to learn how to make traditional Thai crafts yourself. The 45-room hotel gives instructions Monday through Saturday – with a particular focus each day – on such techniques as weaving flower garlands (pictured), which are used as welcome gifts and to decorate religious shrines, and paper umbrella painting, a tradition brought to Chiang Mai by a monk from Burma. All instructional sessions are free for guests. On Sundays, Tamarind Village leads a morning walk through the local area to visit temples and historic sites. www.tamarindvillage.com
For general trip-planning information, see our Chiang Mai Travel Guide.
Situated on the idyllic isle of Koh Samui, about one hour south of Bangkok by plane, beachfront Le Meriden Koh Samui Resort & Spa opened September 30 with just 77 suites and villas. Rooms offer pool or beach views, as well as 32-inch flat-screen TVs and iPod docking stations. On-site, you’ll find a luxury spa, saltwater and freshwater pools, and three restaurants and bars. Now through March 31, 2012, opening rates at the resort are just $145/night, a real bargain for a Le Meridien property, and during Koh Samui’s high season. Daily breakfast for two is included; be sure to book by December 31.
THE VALUE: Rates will run about 20 percent higher next May.
THE CATCH: A round-trip flight to Koh Samui from L.A. – with a stop in Bangkok – costs around $1,900.
THE DETAILS: To book, go to www.lemeridien.com/kohsamui.
WE’VE GOT MORE: Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on hotels, flights, vacation packages, cruises, and more travel deals.
For general trip-planning information, see our Thailand Travel Guide.
The Luxury Nicknamed “the floating hotel,” the Hilton Pattaya is perched (on floors 16 to 34) above the 300-odd stores of Southeast Asia’s largest shopping complex, Central Festival Pattaya. The new 302-room hostelry pairs urban convenience (a private mall entrance) with seaside calm (stunning views of Pattaya Bay). The adjacent beaches allow for easy enjoyment of water sports and island excursions, while a host of monosyllabic restaurants, from casual to opulent, grant expansive vantage points.
The Value Readers who book an oceanview room or suite by July 15 for travel through September 30 can take 25 percent off the best available rate. Discounted rates start at $99/night, including breakfast and an afternoon tea.
The Catch Flights from the U.S. to Thailand typically cost more than $1,000, even from the West Coast. The rainy season also begins in June and lingers through October.
The Details 011-66-38-25-3030 (mention Floating Hotel); www.hilton.com
From the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Smart Luxury Travel magazine by ShermansTravel.com.
For general trip-planning information, see our Thailand Travel Guide.
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