There’s now a high-speed rail service linking Bangkok’s international airport with the city centre.
The 15-minute airport rail link was first approved by the government in 2003, and was supposed to open at the same time as Suvarnabhumi Airport in 2006, but it’s been dogged by delays.
Several reported problems with the rail link still need to be fixed, including loud door noises and the large gap between the train and platform in some stations. A baggage check-in service modelled on Hong Kong’s super-efficient airport express train has yet to begin operating.
A ride to the city centre costs 100 baht (£2/$3) for the 18-mile trip – about half the price of a cab. The train drops passengers in the Makassan area of the capital. Fares on the City Line – a slower rail service with eight stops – start at 15 baht (30p/50 cents).
by Andy Moreton
Luxique offers the best rates at 5 luxury hotels in Bangkok.
Tourists in Bangkok are being warned that if they buy food for street elephants they risk a fine of 10,000 baht (£202/$310).
The Thai authorities have repeatedly attempted to stamp out the problem whereby elephant handlers, known as mahouts, walk the creatures in the capital and sell bananas and sugar cane for people to feed them. The mahouts themselves face a similar fine plus six months in jail if caught.
A warning not to feed the elephants is being aired on local television and written on signs at various popular tourist spots in the capital.
There is little demand these days for the animals’ traditional skills in logging and other labour in outlying villages. The result is that at times in recent years, as many as 100 elephants and their handlers were regularly visiting Bangkok and were even seen begging in the city’s red light districts.
According to the Elephant Nature Foundation, an organisation which campaigns for elephant rights, street begging cuts an elephant’s life expectancy by at least half. The activists warn that car fumes and narrow streets often leave the elephants with eye calluses and tuberculosis and make them vulnerable to leg injuries.
by Andy Moreton
Luxique offers five great luxury hotels in Bangkok.
Along with all the other problems facing the worldwide tourism industry, it seems to have been the year of the travel warning.
First Bangkok and Athens experienced rioting in the streets. Then it was the turn of Jamaica to count the cost to tourism (projected at $350 million /£240 million) of clashes in Kingston between police and protesters trying to prevent an alleged drug dealer from being extradited to the US.
With the situation now calm, the Ministry of Tourism and the Jamaican Tourist Board have organised a campaign to assure potential visitors that the island is open for business and remains a safe travel destination.
The particular targets for the advertising blitz are the US, Canada and the UK, all of whom had issued travel warnings to their citizens at the height of the trouble. The US alone accounts for some 65 per cent of tourists visiting Jamaica.
Travel and tourism make up a quarter of Jamaica’s gross domestic product, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. It’s thought it could take between nine and 12 months to restore normality to the sector.
by Andy Moreton
It could be a good time to pick up a deal at a luxury hotel in Jamaica. Take a look at Luxique’s selection in Montego Bay and St Andrew.
Renewed political tension in Thailand is causing many tourists to question whether it’s safe to travel there.
A state of emergency has been declared to try to quell mass protests which have been going on in the heart of the capital, Bangkok. Some luxury hotels in the commercial centre have been under virtual siege for days, with thousands of anti-government ‘Red Shirt’ demonstrators camped out in the streets.
The US Embassy in Bangkok has issued an alert to its citizens living in and travelling to Bangkok, cautioning them about the uncertainty of the situation and the possibility of violence between demonstrators and security forces.
The Foreign Office in London is giving similar advice on its website and reminding visitors that by Thai law they must carry their passports with them at all times.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand insisted on its website that much of the city was operating normally, including Bangkok’s two airports, and that foreigners had not been targeted in the demonstrations.
However, the Bangkok Post reported that international tourist arrivals at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport had dropped by 15 per cent since the protests began in the capital on March 12th.
by Andy Moreton
One of the giants of the hotel business is retiring this summer after more than 40 years running the celebrated Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok.
Kurt Wachtveitl, who’s 72, took over the Oriental in 1967 after completing hotel school in Switzerland and working at several European hotels.
He became General Manager of an establishment with a proud history. Founded in 1876 by two Danish sea captains, the Oriental’s A-list crowd in the early days included the cream of the literati, including Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling.
Wachtveitl was given a free hand by the owners and transformed the hotel into one of the best in the world, his formula for success being a rigorous focus on his guests and staff. The hotel maintains a database of some 40,000 guests — listing their tiniest preferences, pet peeves and, occasionally, how their stays didn’t go quite right.
One senior executive was recently amazed when on arrival he was greeted with an apology for a water problem in his room a decade ago, and upgraded to a suite. “You win a person like this forever, I guarantee you,” says Wachtveitl.
The veteran hotelier has a fund of stories – he’s had to tread diplomatically with temperamental celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson, and once had to host Cambodia’s murderous Khmer Rouge leaders. More amenable guests have included Princess Diana, Sir Sean Connery, George W Bush and Elton John.
But Wachtveitl saves his greatest praise for his staff and is proud that the average length of service at the Oriental is more than 16 years. “I am lucky that Thais have great potential for the hospitality industry because of their warmth and caring attitude,” he said.
The Oriental is consistently featured in the lists of the world’s top luxury hotels and you can book it at the best rates through Luxique.
by Andy Moreton
A leading US magazine has named Tokyo as the world’s hottest city for food lovers – for a second consecutive year.
Food and Wine singled out the Japanese capital for its cutting edge restaurants and superb ingredients. “Tokyo is the best food city hands down,” said the magazine’s travel editor, Jen Murphy. “That’s where chefs are going for innovations. They are so far ahead of us.”
The magazine said Japanese chefs were dictating the world’s dining trends with their fierce devotion to seasonality and respect for aesthetics.
Barcelona came in second, followed by Copenhagen, London and New York. Of Copenhagen, Food and Wine said: “The world’s foodies are fascinated by the city and its avant-garde chefs, who experiment with unconventional ingredients.”
One surprise was that Paris slipped out of the top list. “Right now, there’s no new excitement to the food scene there,” claimed Ms Murphy.
Also out is Food and Wine’s 2009 list of the top restaurants at hotels worldwide. It includes Celadon at the Sukhothai in Bangkok; Moo at Omm in Barcelona; NoMI at the Park Hyatt in Chicago; Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons in Hong Kong; Le Meurice at Le Meurice in Paris and Mathias Dahlgren at the Grand in Stockholm. All these luxury hotels are bookable at the best rates through Luxique.
by Andy Moreton
As the anti-government protests in Thailand escalate, would-be tourists have been advised to think again and those already in the country to lie low.
A state of emergency is in force in the capital, Bangkok, and troops have used tear gas, water cannon and warning shots against red-shirted demonstrators demanding the resignation of the government and the reinstatement of the former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Last Saturday, in the resort town of Pattaya, southeast of Bangkok, demonstrators stormed a summit of Asian leaders and forced its cancellation.
The security situation is changing practically by the hour, but the latest advice from the Foreign Office in London is that people intending to visit Bangkok should urgently review their plans. “British residents in, and visitors to, Bangkok are advised to avoid any areas where demonstrations are taking place and to stay indoors as far as possible.”
Similar advice has come from the State Department in Washington and the Australian ministry of foreign affairs. Would-be travellers to Thailand are urged to consult their country’s foreign ministry website for up-to-date advice.
Thailand attracts between 12 million and 14 million visitors a year, with the largest groups of western tourists coming from Britain, Germany, Scandinavia and the United States. Its tourism sector has had to become battle-hardened in the past few years, surviving the SARS epidemic in 2003, the tsunami in 2004 and a coup in 2006.
by Andy Moreton