I haven’t heard much of interest out of Thailand since writing this, and I’m assuming no news is good news. So unless something changes drastically in the next week, we’re going. Here’s a rough sketch of the plan:
- Arrive BKK after an 8-hour layover in Hong Kong. Check out the city for a day or two before heading to the beach.
- Fly to Krabi. Spend a couple of days of beach time in the area — either in Railay or Ko Phi Phi or Ko Lanta (or perhaps split our time between two of those three, depending on time and transportation options).
- Fly to Ko Samui for more beach time on Samui and/or Ko Phangan (but no Full Moon Parties for us — we’re way too old for that).
- Fly to Chiang Mai. Either do some trekking or a day at the elephant farm if it’s not all booked up; maybe a cooking class. We’ll most likely be in Chiang Mai for New Year’s.
- If we have time, I’d love to see Sukhothai. But I don’t know if it’s too tight of a squeeze (if we had another day or two I’d also love to squeeze in a side trip to Ayutthaya on the way back to Bangkok. But I don’t think it’s going to happen).
- Head back to Bangkok and fly home.
The flights from Krabi to Samui, and Samui to Chiang Mai are already booked (had to book those this past weekend, as all the direct flights were booking up, and we want to avoid flights through BKK as much as possible). Nothing else is, but I’ll probably grab a hotel room for our first night in Bangkok before we go.
Knowing that no matter how many frequent flyer miles one has, it can be difficult to actually use them, Kenny and I booked our upcoming vacation early. In fact, I believe we weren’t back from last year’s winter trip to Vietnam for six weeks when we reserved our tickets to Thailand for the second half of December.
We had some vague knowledge that there had been political unrest in the country, but we assumed that the situation was no worse than the usual rumblings coming out of that part of the world and that it wouldn’t impact a couple of tourists on a beach holiday. We never dreamed that the country’s major airports would be besieged by protestors and shut down for over a week not long before our scheduled departure.
Now that our departure date is only two weeks away, we’ve obviously been paying closer attention. Or perhaps I should admit, I’ve been obsessively scouring various online media and travel forums for any information I can get about the situation. And it appears to be improving, although it sounds like tensions are still running high.
On Monday, a court ruling declared that the prime minister and his party were guilty of electoral fraud and must step down. The PAD protestors proclaimed victory and ended their airport takeover. As of yesterday, service has resumed at Bangkok’s international airport, and it looks like Cathay Pacific (where we have our booking) will be in full operation by tomorrow. My understanding is that the situation is still somewhat fragile, and it’s anyone’s guess whether the looming discontent will lead to further demonstrations or even violence. Tomorrow is the 81st birthday of popular King Bhumibol, and his annual birthday eve address was much anticipated — in the past, he has been able to quell unrest by appealing to national unity — but it was canceled at the last moment due to a throat infection.
We’re still watching the situation closely, but the working assumption right now is that we’re going. It feels absurd to be headed to a place that 300,000 tourists are trying desperately to get out of, but on the upside I expect that we won’t have any trouble avoiding crowds or finding hotel rooms. And while this incident has severely tarnished Thailand’s image and threatens its heavily tourism-dependent economy, Kenny and I both feel that the best thing we can do to help Thailand recover is to go be tourists and do our small part to revive their economy. If things turn sour while we’re there but we can still make transit connections, we may retreat to Laos, Malaysia, or even back to Vietnam (I won’t cry if I have to spend a week on the beach in Nha Trang). Fingers crossed.
The LA Times has an interesting photo gallery with images of the flooding in Venice, caused by an unusually high tide. A few favorites:
Venice experienced some heavy rainfall when Kenny and I visited just over two years ago — the water level was high, but it was not quite a flood situation. Here’s a shot from our final day in Venice, shortly before we boarded a train for Bologna:
More craziness: one of my co-workers came across the Different Honeymoon ad in a magazine while waiting at his doctor’s office. He thinks the magazine was something like “American Express Travel,” and the issue was from March or April. If you find it (or see the ad in any other magazine), I’d be much obliged if you sent it along.
In the introduction to the Ljubljana section of Rick Steves’ Croatia and Slovenia, Rick says:
Batted around by history, Ljubljana has seen cultural influences from all sides — most notably Prague, Vienna, and Venice. This has left the city a happy hodgepodge of cultures. Being the midpoint between the Slavic, Germanic, and Italian worlds gives Ljubljana a special spice. And now Ljubljana is proud to be a trendsetter in the “New Europe” — most notably as Slovenia holds the rotating EU presidency for the first six months of 2008.
People often ask me: What’s the “next Prague”? And I have to answer Krakow. But Ljubljana is the next “next Prague.”
Of all the cities we’ve visited on this trip, Ljubljana would be my first candidate for a repeat visit. And not because we missed many of the major attractions here — in fact there aren’t many — but just because the ambiance and overall mood in this city are wonderful. It struck me as we were walking around today that Ljubljana feels a bit like Amsterdam (but of course without the canals, Red Light District, pancakes, and coffeeshops). It’s often dubbed a mini-Vienna. I haven’t been so can’t weigh in on that, but the architecture certainly has that Baroque Viennese flair. The couple of museums we visited were great, but I’d love to come back here just to spend more time walking around, sitting in cafes, and enjoying the amazing food. And as an added bonus, it would be great to see the city when it’s not pouring rain.
And another thing Ljubljana has going for it is, with notable the exception of a very brusque reception desk employee at the Hotel Park (we ended up staying elsewhere), all the Slovenes we’ve met have been extremely friendly and have bent over backwards to help us.
I wonder if I really just love any city with cobblestone streets and a river running through it (see Paris, Florence, Budapest, etc.).