Travelfish Founder Stuart McDonald Talks Southeast Asia Travel

If you’re interested in Southeast Asia travel, you might enjoy listening to this podcast interview with Stuart McDonald, founder of the travel site

McDonald has been traveling in the region for more than 20 years, and has some interesting thoughts on how travel — and travelers — have changed over time.

He talks mainly about Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Indonesia, and suggests an intinerary for a one-month tour through the region. His recommendation might surprise you.

NY Times: ’36 Hours in Bangkok’

I often enjoy the The New York Times‘s “36 Hours in…” dispatches.

The travel pieces usually convey, in perhaps 1,500 words, both the destination’s atmosphere and practical tips for visiting.

So I was delighted to see today’s “36 Hours in Bangkok,” by veteran correspondent Thomas Fuller.

I especially like the lede, because it mirrors much of my affection for the Thai capital:

Bangkok has hit the sweet spot. It’s modern but far from antiseptic, filled with luxuries, pampering and great food — but still affordable. In the glare of the tropical sun it can be an ugly sprawl of tangled wires and broken pavement. Yet amid the chaos, visitors find charm and, above all, character. Somehow extremes coexist: skyscrapers and moldy tenements; high-end, cloth-napkin dining and tasty street food stalls; five-star hotels and fleabag guesthouses overflowing with backpackers; libidinous hedonism and Buddhist meditation. To travel across Bangkok is to see several worlds at once. Increasingly it is also convenient. The city of paralyzing traffic now has ample public transportation options ranging from boats to an expanding subway system. But if there is one reason visitors return again and again to Bangkok, it is the people. The anonymity and daily grind of urban life is slowly wearing away at the legendary Thai smile. Yet Bangkok remains one of the friendliest cities on the planet, still infused with the Thai village traditions of hospitality and graciousness.

There’s also a slideshow.

Thai Airways to launch budget airline next year

2011 05 23 TG

MCOT says Thai Airways will launch a low-cost carrier in April, 2012:

The new airline has not yet been given a name. “Thai Silk”, “Thai Wings” and “Thai Fly” were initially offered for selection by the public and THAI staff.


Mr Ampon added that the board, meanwhile, approved the extension period of THAI and Singapore’s Tiger Airways contract for another three months. If by then Thai Tiger Aiways, earlier planned to be operated by both airlines, cannot yet be set up, Thai Airways International will cancel its joint venture with the Singaporean counterpart.

There are also stories from Reuters, the WSJ and the Bangkok Post.

A polished version of the vintage Thailand travel poster

You may recall that I pointed out a striking vintage Thailand travel poster back in January.

The image comes from the Boston Public Library’s collection of travel posters, viewable on Flickr.

Here’s the poster again:

2011 01 18 siam travel

Fast forward a few months. I received an interesting email yesterday from a Tim in Massachusetts. He wrote:

…I came across your site purely by accident as I was looking for a copy of that SIAM poster that had an unobliterated printer’s stamp. I pulled my copy from the Boston Public Library site and then repaired it with Photoshop and did an auto-set color levels and contrast to brighten it up. I wasn’t able to find a copy with an undamaged, printer’s stamp so I’ve opted to erase it entirely. Anyhow, I just wanted to pass it on to you if you care to update yours with the one I’ve fixed up…

Below is Tim’s repaired image. You’ll notice that the corners have been cleaned up, and the image is a bit clearer. While the vintage version has an interesting, frayed look, perhaps this one is closer to how the original appeared:

2011 04 06 thailand travel poster

Thanks for sharing, Tim.

Vintage Thailand travel poster

UPDATE — April 7, 2011: Here’s a polished version of the poster.


Here’s a very cool, vintage Thailand travel poster from the Boston Public Library. Caption: “Siam. Beautiful Bangkok, the Jewel city of Asia.” “Date issued: 1910-1959 (approximate).”

From the library’s Travel Posters collection, which contains some real gems.

(Via @babyfishie.)

Image: Boston Public Library, on Flickr.

Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to LA lands safely after bomb threat


AP: FBI: Flight lands in Los Angeles after bomb threat:

LOS ANGELES — A Thai Airways flight from Bangkok landed safely at Los Angeles International Airport Tuesday evening after a bomb threat written in poorly worded English was spotted on a bathroom mirror on the plane, authorities said.

Airport officials were notified at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday of the alleged threat to Los Angeles-bound Flight 794, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.

UPDATE: There’s more from AFP.

Thai Airways chief quits over excess baggage scandal

Financial Times:

The executive chairman of Thai Airways has resigned following allegations that he, his wife and another executive had flown with almost 400 kg of baggage between Tokyo and Bangkok last November.

Wallop Bhukkanasut, the chairman, said most of the more than 40 pieces of luggage belonged to an unnamed but important person and contained fruit to be donated to a Bangkok temple. He tendered his resignation before an internal inquiry could report next week.

The alleged incident, leaked by Thai staff disgruntled at cost-cutting at the lossmaking national carrier, produced widespread outrage in Thailand.

“His resignation has set an ethical standard for the airline’s executives on responsibility,” Ampon Kittiampon, the chairman of the board, said yesterday.

Mr Wallop has also been accused by Thai staff of ordering his baggage to be delivered to the lost and found baggage office to avoid customs duty, an allegation he denies.

(Emphasis mine.)

Here’s more info from the Bangkok Post and the WSJ.

Thailand’s PB Air ceases operations


A quick Thailand-specific aviation note that may of of interest: PB Air has ceased operating. The company’s Web site has a simple statement saying that “all flights are suspended until further notice,” but no reason for the stoppage is given. noted this news on Nov. 18, and I was curious to know what happened.

Today’s Bangkok Post has the answer: PB Air doesn’t have any planes to fly.

New aircraft delivery delay downs PB Air
Fight operation put on hold from this month

A delay in the delivery of new aircraft has forced PB Air, an airline founded by Boon Rawd Brewery beer baron Piya Bhirom-Bhakdi, to halt its entire flight operation.

Delivery of the two Saab 340s, leased from the US-based aircraft lessor AeroCentury, was postponed because PB Air found the condition of the Swedish-made turboprops unacceptable.

The first Saab 340 was supposed to be delivered in September and the second in October, but the delivery was put off until “probably” the end of next month, said PB Air chief executive Pornsartid Naruenartwanich.

The airline was forced to suspend all flights, starting this month, as it has no aircraft at its disposal because of the delivery delay and Bangkok Airways repossessing two ATR 72-500 turboprops at the end of October it leased to PB Air.

(Emphasis mine.) has more info.

Replicating a first class Pan Am 747 cabin — in a garage

Wall Street Journal:

Fliers nostalgic for the golden era of air travel might want to book a trip to Anthony Toth’s garage.

Mr. Toth has built a precise replica of a first-class cabin from a Pan Am World Airways 747 in the garage of his two-bedroom condo in Redondo Beach, Calif. The setup includes almost everything fliers in the late 1970s and 1980s would have found onboard: pairs of red-and-blue reclining seats, original overhead luggage bins and a curved, red-carpeted staircase.

Once comfortably ensconced, Mr. Toth’s visitors can sip beverages from the long-defunct airline’s glasses, served with Pan Am logo swizzle sticks and napkins, plus salted almonds sealed in Pan Am wrappers. They can even peel open a set of plastic-wrapped, vintage Pan Am headphones and listen to original in-flight audio recordings from the era, piped in through the armrests.

Mr. Toth, a 42-year-old global sales director at United Airlines, has spent more than 20 years on his elaborate recreation of a Pan Am cabin, which includes a few economy-class seats, too. All told, Mr. Toth estimates he has spent as much as $50,000 on the project, which he hopes someday to turn into a museum.

(Emphasis mine.)

What a story. And don’t miss the slide show.

The iPod-ification of Khao San Road

I was in downtown Bangkok’s Banglamphoo district yesterday afternoon, and I figured I’d drop by Khao San Road to see how it’s looking these days. You may remember that I penned a New York Times travel story in 2007 about how Khao San Road, long a gathering spot for backpackers, has become increasingly upscale.

I hadn’t visited the area in about six months, and at first, everything seemed normal: There were vendors selling offbeat T-shirts, various travelers were drinking beer at outdoor cafes, and a young woman was sitting on a curb, getting her hair braided.

But then I saw this, which I must admit took me by surprise:

iStudio (Mac reseller) on Bangkok's Khaosan Rd.

Yes, that’s a recently-opened iStudio shop — a Mac re-seller — on Khao San Road. I went inside, and can report that the shop sells the full range of Apple gear: routers, desktops, laptops, iPods, and even the iPhone. Here’s another pic:

iStudio (Mac reseller) on Bangkok's Khaosan Rd.

I also noticed, further down the street, that in addition to pirated music CDs, which have been available on Khaosan Road for many years, there’s now at least one vendor selling bootlegged computer software.

And then there’s this:

"Music and Movie -- Load to iPod" on Bangkok's Khaosan Rd.

There were at least two stalls where vendors were selling movies and music that could be downloaded directly to iPods, mobile phones, or computers. You can see, here, that the sign says “Music & Movie — Load to iPod.”1

So these new, digital offerings — the iPod-ifcation of Khaosan Road, if you will — means that if you’re a backpacker and you want to upgrade your aging iPod, let’s say, or even purchase a new iPhone, you can do so at one end of the street. Then you can wander a few hundred meters down the road and load the device up with pirated flicks and tunes. And there you go: You’re set for the rest of your journey.

Depending on your perspective, I imagine this is either scary, surprising (or not), or totally cool. Maybe it’s some combination of all of those.

  1. For the record, this practice may not be particularly new. And it may not be unique to Bangkok: A friend in the know tells me that this downloading service has been available in Phnom Penh for some time. []