herald

Thursday 16 August 2018

A heartwarming visit to the land of smiles

THURSDAY I have come to Bangkok to ask one question. At the Thailand Tourist market press conference, after the usual bout of journalistic peacocking ("that is the same presentation as last year, Mr Director") I get my chance.

Is it fair that Europeans were told not to go to Thailand during the unrest in May?

Suraphon Svetasreni, Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, is circumspect. He understands, he says, but "once the advisory is in place and the situation has changed, they should have changed the level of advisory as well". He knows, and I know, that travel advisories are unfair.

If a bomb goes off in London or Madrid, there is no advisory against travel to England or Spain.

Poor countries have had their tourism written off for a decade by a high-handed civil servant.

FRIDAY I burned all my taste buds at dinner. On a scale of one to 10, the hotel manager told me, this spice is 11. It looked great. It tasted like the napalming of the Mekong Delta.

Dessert was that elusive, amazing and delicious fruit, the durian. It smells like rotting rubbish, and tastes delicious.

Saturday I have no idea what zampons are, but they are on the breakfast menu. The Le Meridien in Bangkok is spacious and arty, and full of helpful staff.

Sunday The new link from Phaya Thai to the cavernous Suvarnabhumi airport opened three weeks ago. It is clean and efficient and tickets are temporarily priced at 125 baht, about E1.50. Meals and massages are a fiver. Hotels are cheap.

Bootleg DVDs are E2.50. You can have a heart operation here for E5,000, one-tenth of the price at home. The HSE should send everyone to Thailand for treatment, and save the taxpayer a fortune.

Sunday afternoon Flight TG217 brings me to Phuket and the Katathani Hotel.

The hotel looks out on a seashore which still bears scars of the St Stephen's Day tsunami but today, a more peaceful place could not be imagined. There are orchids on my bed, two swans arranged in a heart shape and flower petals floating in the bath.

monday The downpour came at midnight after a long and lovely evening of the finest Thai fare. But you don't notice that much when you are in the Andaman Sea with water crashing over your head.

tuesday Elephant trekking attracts, and deserves, a lot of criticism. So much so that trekking will be phased out at Elephant Hills in the Khaosok National Park next year. I am glad to be one of the last to trek, because instead of the usual tourist nonsense, this trek brings you into the rain forest where the elephants clamber though muddy paths.

Wednesday Phuket is for families, says Joanna Cook of the Thai tourist board, as well as honeymooners. Thailand is a 14-hour flight from Dublin counting a stopover in Abu Dhabi (Etihad offer the best way down); it is a pity it is not much nearer.

Savvy Traveller by Eoghan Corry, How the Travel Industry Works and How to Make it Work for You. E15

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