Category: Asia

I used to get upgraded to Business or even First Class when flying abroad with video crews for Preview Travel, the company that helped inspire Triporati. It was amazing! Massages in-flight, champagne, full beds, fresh and well rested upon arrival, I even felt like I got more oxygen! I never tired of the groovy toiletries kits and I still have some of the products these many years later. Would I ever pay for it…no. Would I ever use my frequent flyer miles to upgrade…maybe for a long haul flight.

As coach service has become worse and worse, the lure of Business and First Class seems more appealing. Yet with the cost so high, one feels like a kid looking at candy or toys through a shop window: it’s there but so out of reach. I chuckled recently when I read about how the downturn in the economy has hit business and first class travelers hardest…seems we are all flying cattle car coach these days.

Triporati Producer Gwynn Gacosta recently returned from a trip to the Philippines and has this take on the issue of “Class” travel.

Slumming It in Business Class

I tend to hate air travel and lately, there’d been little to like about it.  The food, or lack thereof, is terrible; the service rude or indifferent.  I hate that we in coach class aren’t allowed to use the bathrooms in business class, even if those are the ones we are seated closest to.  That there is no comfortable way to sit in order to avoid the people directly in front of us, behind us, next to us.  Certainly not with the leg room provided.

For my recent trip to the Philippines, I had to mentally prepare for an over 12-hour flight each way.  And really, there’s really no other way to prepare for that except to accept that it’s going to be uncomfortable and hellish.  I always wondered what first class and business class would be like, but I never thought I’d be so lucky to experience it.

When I arrived at the airport, a Cathay Pacific customer service rep informed me that my flight had been overbooked.  “Would you mind switching to a Japan Airlines flight, which leaves at around the same time, but arrives in Manila earlier?  And for your inconvenience, might we also offer you $200 spending cash as well as a coupon voucher for a free business class upgrade and access to our business class lounge for your next Cathay Pacific flight?”

Uh…is this a trick question? Continue reading »

2 Comments | Filed Under Air Travel, Asia, Feature, Luxury Travel, Philippines, Travel

When traveling in much of the developing world, having money in small denominations is important. Even when traveling in the so-called “First World,” having small denominations is helpful for tips and such. But in Vietnam, as Triporati expert Richard Sterling reports, having small money is essential. Without it, getting the simplest things done becomes a chore.

Richard moved to Vietnam last year and sent this dispatch about life in his Saigon neighborhood.

The View From 608

Life as I see it from apartment 608 on Ngo Tat To (”No Tattoo”) Street, Saigon

By Richard Sterling

A DOLLAR AND A DIME

You’ve always got to have “small money” in your pocket. In Vietnam or any other “Third World” country, any poor country, you need small money. There are too many persons who simply can’t or won’t break a five. Or a six, as the case may be. Here in Vietnam, for example, we have the 50,000 Dong note. A laughably big number for a sum that amounts to a three dollar bill. Years ago I asked a beggar here, when he pressed me for alms, for change of a 50,000 Dong note. More the fool I. The poor old sod had maybe one one hundredth of that in his krinkly, wrinkled hands. Then there was the time in Mexico when I was pulled over by a traffic cop. I earnestly tried to convince him that the stop sign was hidden by the tree (so providently placed), and so I couldn’t see it. He politely responded, “It’s not much money, Señor.” The smallest I had was a tenner. I asked him if he had change. He might have had a pocket full of ones and fives, but the answer was, of course, a smiling “Sorry, Señor.” I ponied up the ten-spot. Lesson learned. Carry small money. Always, carry small money. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Feature, Saigon, Travel, United States, Vietnam

R2I

Posted by Darya Mead

I was driving to work yesterday and heard a compelling report on NPR about the R2I phenomenon. R2I is short for “Return to India,” the story of so many who have perhaps studied and lived in the U.S. for many years and have now decided to return home. For many, it is the pull of the aging parents or maybe the desire to bring their knowledge and expertise to their homeland. There is no better time as the U.S. economy declines and the Indian economy continues to be robust.

With recent elections and the distractions arch-enemy Pakistan is facing, many Indian ex-pats are packing up their Silicon Valley, New Jersey or Dallas digs and heading home. According to Sandip Roy’s NPR report, web sites offer advice on everything from who’s hiring in Bangalore to how much gold you can bring home. Dubbed “a brain drain in reverse,” many of these folks jumping on the R2I train are in their mid–thirties, with families and higher degrees.  When they return, despite their heritage, many experience a culture shock. Continue reading »

2 Comments | Filed Under Culture, Family Travel, Feature, Food, India, Returning Home, Travel Tips, United States

Triporati Producer Gwynn Gacosta just returned from a remarkable trip to the Philippines to fulfill her mother’s final wishes. She wanted to scatter her mom’s ashes in the river where she used to swim as a child. The funny, challenging and poignant journey is captured in her own words—a blog post we wanted to share with you:

Final Resting Place

I planned my funeral, once, when I was ten years old.  I decided that I would be cremated, and my ashes sprinkled in all five oceans.  (Not only was I morbid, but I was also grandiose.) My future husband would travel around the world, leaving bits of me wherever he went.

My mother died 5 years ago of heart failure, and she told me that she, too, wished to be cremated. She also wanted her ashes taken to her hometown in Bulusan, Philippines, then scattered in the river where she used to swim as a child.  Immediately after she died, I started the process of making that wish a reality.  The funeral home placed her remains in a plastic box wrapped in a silk sheath so that it would go through airport security without hassle.  I wrote to my relatives in Bulusan and told them the plan.  To my surprise I was met with protests from my family, led by the parish priest, who insisted that she would never be at rest unless she was buried somewhere where people could actually visit and reflect.  Since no one in the family had the money to go anyway, we put her final wish on hold and her urn on the mantle.  But I always knew that one day I would take her.  She had counted on me. Continue reading »

2 Comments | Filed Under Asia, Culture, Feature, final wishes

Have you ever had Mandarin Islamic Chinese food? Did you know there are an estimated 20 million Muslims who live in China? These questions percolated as my taste buds marveled at the unusual combinations of lamb, cumin and other spice mixtures that seemed so new to me. I was first taken to Old Mandarin Islamic by a mom on my son’s soccer team. It was a rainy fall day and the boys and spectators were soaked and chilled. The hot pot beckoned, and I was up for an adventure. Way out in the Sunset district in San Francisco near the beach, this small hole in the wall offers not only a unique culinary experience but a geography and culture lesson in Chinese history. I returned this Sunday to pick up takeout and once again I was blown away. Signs in Arabic welcome the diners as well as the Chinese Sabado Gigante-esque/ quasi American idol show playing in the corner on the big screen TV. Familiar was the standard Chinese restaurant decorations, but unusual were the plaques with sayings from the Koran (I assume). Of course there is no pork on the menu and the lamb is Halal. It seems like the whole family is cooking in the back kitchen and you can see them in action as you traipse through to go to the restroom. The hot pot is a fun diner participation dish, much like fondue or Korean BBQ. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Asia, Budget Travel, China, Culture, Food, Restaurants, San Francisco

Who wouldn’t want to hike a trail with such a reputation? Where might this place be? Favorite hikes of mine include Nepal’s Mt. Everest Base Camp and Kala Patthar trek via Namche Bazaar; the network of trails around Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley and Grindelwald; backpacking trails in California’s Marble Mountain Wilderness, the Sierra Nevada, and Yosemite.

Others might choose the Inca Trail in Peru; the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain; pub-to-pub walking in the Cotswolds of England; the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

I’ve been tempted by the Overland Track in Tasmania. But Robert D. Hershey Jr. extols the virtues of the Milford Track in New Zealand in a recent story in The New York Times. As far back as 1908 this 33.5-mile trail was called the finest walk in the world and many hikers feel it’s true today.

After reading Hershey’s story I’m ready to start planning a trip south. How about you?

2 Comments | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Asia, Australia, California, Camping, England, Europe, Feature, France, Hike/Backpack, Nepal, New Zealand, Northern California, Peru, South America, Spain, Switzerland, Tasmania, United Kingdom, United States

I was about three years old when I saw my first train depot. I remember staring in wonder at the vapor clouds spewing off those gigantic locomotives in the Minnesota winter while a couple, seemingly oblivious to the outside world and acutely aware that their parting may be for a long, long, time, hugged and kissed and hugged and kissed.

But for me the awe was for that giant shed of ironwork and glass, the silver rails, the growling iron beasts waiting for departure from the Milwaukee Road Depot on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis.

Looking back, I can see that the place was pretty mundane compared to the grand railway stations of the world. Even by American standards it wasn’t much, but I would only learn that later. At the time I thought traveling by train was the greatest adventure imaginable, and part of that wonder was due to the grand spaces where trains began and ended their journeys, where passengers boarded and disembarked. Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under Asia, Europe, Minnesota, North America, Train Travel, United States

January is a time for the dreaded dance of the New Year’s resolution. Gyms are packed, nicotine patches in short supply, folks are scrimping and saving and many look to their waistlines for resolution inspiration. For many, the battle of the bulge still reigns supreme on 2009 to do lists. There is no better time to re-evaluate your diet and exercise routine.

So, I read with interest, a buried article on the MSNBC site, with the headline entitled: Indian airline fires 9 overweight crew members. It is no surprise to me that India is catching up on the obesity epidemic as many Indians have moved into the middle class. In general, weight in India is often a sign of prosperity. In fact, diabetes is a huge concern in a country, once known for famine, where now 35 million people and counting are suffering from the preventable disease. Interestingly, all the attendants fired were women and even though India has laws aimed to protect against discrimination based on factors including caste, gender, and religion, there are no specific ones about weight. Food for thought.

Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Air Travel, Culture, Food, India, Overweight travelers, Travel

Japanese Bullet Trains or Shinkansen are modern marvels: sleek, fast and on time. These trains are magnificent, and a testimony to Japan’s resurrection from the ashes of World War Two. The first-ever Bullet Train made its last run today, 44 years after its debut for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

The original model, the zero-kei (zero-series), was called the “dream superexpress.” The symbol of the nation’s recovery, the train attracted many fans and holds a special place in many Trainspotter’s hearts. The lighter and faster bullet trains today, carry millions of passengers and tourists around the island nation. The latest N700-series travels at nearly 200 MPH. There is a new line in the works; the maglev line will transport passengers from Tokyo to central Nagoya at more than 300 MPH! This train is expected to be in service by 2025.

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Asia, Japan, Train Travel

Without running a Google search or checking a current almanac, most of us probably wouldn’t know that our Earth contains 757 countries, territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups, and major states and provinces. Certainly most of us wouldn’t consider it possible to visit them all. Most of us would be wowed if we made it to 100 countries. Even 50 is pretty darn good. But all of them?

Charles Veley and others of his ilk aren’t like most of us. They want, and intend, to go everywhere. Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Africa & Middle East, Asia, Australia, Books, California, Cruises, Europe, Feature, North America, Paris, Sailing, South America, Travel