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March 26, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Bangkok, Thailand

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Sawadee from Bangkok, Thailand! The five-hour-plus flight from Abu Dhabi, where we left off last week, could not have been any easier -- unless, of course, I had been sitting in First Class. Thailand is the final destination on my around-the-world journey and I will spend the next three weeks exploring this incredible country. We'll start in Bangkok, then head south to the beaches and finally north to the mountains and temples. If you're up for seeing one of the world's most exciting destinations, then put on your smile because we're in Bangkok, baby! If a city (granted, it's polluted) filled with friendly people, incredible bargains, insanely good food, luxurious hotels and hour-long massages for $6 is not your thing, then you can stay closer to home. This week, Margot Black takes us on a family-friendly vacation to the Monterey Peninsula. And if you really don't feel like going far, Sarah Kozer reviews the super-scary new flick Shutter -- you'll just have to go as far as your local movie theatre to check it out.

Great news! was made Travel + Leisure's web pick of the month! How cool is that? When you get a chance, go out and buy T+L's April issue (I bought 10 copies myself) and turn to page 28. We've been fortunate enough to get some incredible press in the past month (most notably The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post) and we hope it continues. Who would ever have thought when I started for fun in 1999 that it would turn into a full-time job and that we would be mentioned over 1,100 times in print, radio and TV! It's so exciting and mind-boggling.

Now to the good stuff! I was in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for too short a period … a mere 24 hours. But at least I got to see some of it, rather than none at all. If I hadn't needed to be in Thailand for a conference, I would definitely have hung out for longer. I look forward to going back to Abu Dhabi once their cultural district is finished and visiting their neighbor to the north: Dubai. To get to Bangkok, I flew Etihad Airways (check out my full review). Check-in was smooth and this time, the agent didn't make me weigh my carry-on. Phew! I had some time to kill in the airport so I made my bag even heavier when I picked up a few trinkets. The coolest were a few $10 silver camels with ornate stones. The one thing the smoky airport did not sell were postage stamps, which I needed to mail my postcards and to add to my yearly travel journal.

The 777-200 plane was packed with mostly Europeans making a connection from Europe to Thailand. The plane was configured three-by-three-by-three and I sat next to a cool young British couple who packed everything up and were leaving England to move to Thailand and open up a hotel on TonSai Beach in Krabi. I was so thankful to be sitting next to them and not the German guy who mistakenly took their seat. This guy smelled so bad that every time he moved, even one row behind and two seats over, I had to breathe through my mouth. If I were the flight attendant, I would've doused his stinky ass with some Axe body spray. Fortunately, he slept most of the flight and when he was awake, I passed the time hanging out with the flight attendants in the back galley. The hot meal they served was decent and as I wrote last week, Etihad's entertainment system is way above average. I didn't even watch one of the many movies because I was too busy talking and flipping from the GPS map to the live cameras. It was almost unfathomable for me to comprehend that I was flying over India, soon to be landing in Thailand!

I love Thailand. I visited for four nights in 2004 on my first solo international trip. I learned that it's exciting, safe (for the most part, including the tap water), the people are genuinely friendly, the food is outstanding and everything is ridiculously inexpensive. Besides, how can you not like a place where everyone is so polite and warm? Everyone in the service industry greets customers with a Wai and I mean everyone. The higher their hands, the more respect you have earned. Maybe western cultures should consider doing this so we don't have to touch sweaty, germ-infested palms when shaking hands.

There's so much to see and do here that I could write 500 newsletters and still not cover everything. One of Thailand's best qualities can be summed up by something a college friend of mine, who grew up in Bangkok, said. He explained to me how Thai people treat everyone with respect, no matter what class they come from: The rich eat with the poor and vice versa. It's not like India, where the rich and the poor typically do not associate. The Thai approach is awesome and I experienced it as I spent a total of 10 days in the capital, using it as my hub to go either north or south. Since I can't write about everything, be sure to pick up a good guidebook (I used Frommer's Thailand) and don't be afraid to go out and explore on your own. FYI: This trip, I had two friends to share it with me. My friend Natalie from Canada joined me for the first week, my buddy Mike from Connecticut the second.

The word Bangkok translates to mean "the village of wild plums". However, the Thais refer to the capital city as Krung Thep, which means "city of angels". And just like Los Angeles, the city is sprawling. Ten million people call this place home and it's filled with traffic and pollution. On a side note, the government really needs to start doing emissions testing on vehicles but that's another subject altogether. What's interesting is that Krung Thep is just an abbreviated version of the real name, which just happens to be the longest place name in the world according to The Guinness Book of Records. Are you ready? The real name of Bangkok is ... Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. That's not a joke and to hear my tour guide Chintana Suwawan pronounce it, click here.

In September 2006, Bangkok replaced the 92-year-old Don Muang International Airport (25 miles north of downtown) with the $4 billion Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK), which is situated about 19 miles east of Bangkok. Suvarnabhumi (pronounced su-wan-n-poom) in Thai means “the golden land” and was chosen by His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Incidentally, the King is highly revered by Thais, so don't ever disrespect him by bad-mouthing him; it's actually against the law! I was excited to see the new airport for the first time. The place is massive -- about 6 million square feet of floor space -- and has a modern industrial look with lots of exposed steel and glass. Walking to passport control was bit of a hike and I got nervous when I saw a huge queue at a last-minute visa window. Luckily, I remembered that Americans don't need visas to enter the Kingdom of Thailand. TIP: Choose the immigration line that has two agents working the counter, otherwise you could be stuck there for ages. I waited 15 minutes and my bag came out five minutes later. I liked the airport but the domestic area doesn't have a lot to offer; I'll write about this next week.

I made the trip from the airport to central Bangkok four times in two weeks so I learned from my mistakes. First of all, when you go through baggage claim or walk outside the main door, don't fall prey to any of the very aggressive imposters posing as official taxi drivers. A ride with them will cost you double or triple the regular fare. Just walk until you see this taxi counter. The line was never more than five people deep and be sure that the driver turns the meter on. The price with tip and toll fares (25 baht and 40 baht respectively) should be about 400 baht ($12.80USD) total. Now that's a bargain, especially considering that the ride can be anywhere from 35 to 90 minutes. That fare also includes the 50 baht airport service surcharge (from the airport) and don't get freaked out if the driver makes you pay the toll in advance. A few weeks ago, I paid $60 for a 25-minute ride in a metered taxi in Phoenix, which should help to put Thailand's cheap prices in perspective. BTW: Tips are not mandatory here but are appreciated.

The annual conference for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is what brought me to Bangkok. The 10 countries that make up ASEAN are: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Each year, the conference is held in a different country (next year it's Vietnam) and this year, the Thai government showed off their new Impact Conference Center; what a great facility! The place was enormous and the best part, besides meeting all the delegates, was attending the opening night dinner. Each country had dancers perform, including a special appearance by Miss Thailand. FYI: ASEAN was established in 1967 to promote tourism throughout the region and thanks to visa-free policies for its members, visitor numbers are increasing. Here's a link with more information.

Bangkok taxi drivers were pretty much the only people I encountered who didn't speak English. That's because most of the drivers are from the rural northeast part of Thailand. The best way to avoid confusion and headaches is to get the address of where you are going written in both English and Thai. All hotels have taxi cards so be sure to grab one before you head out.

Given the current economic climate, going to Southeast Asia is one of the smartest moves you can make. Even with our dollar dropping and not being as strong as it once was against the baht, Thailand is still one of the few places in the world where it's a bargain for Americans. The most expensive part of your trip will be the flight over and there are even some great deals on those too. At press time, $1 USD = 31 Thai baht. That means 1 Thai Baht = 3 cents. TIP: There are plenty of ATMs in the airport so grab some baht right after you clear customs. Here’s a link to a currency converter.

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Copyright 2008 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Abu Dhabi Airport


Check-In For Etihad


Airport Shop


Etihad Flight Attendants








Everyone Wai's




Mike Manna


A Park in Bangkok


New Airport


Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej


Int'l Terminal


Taxi Counter


Flower Delivery


Every Car Has One


Impact Center


Miss Thailand


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