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April 2, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Bangkok to Phuket

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Sawasdee from Phuket, Thailand! This week, we escape the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and take a short one-hour flight to the coast. Although we're just going for a quick weekend getaway, the effects are long lasting. First, we'll check into a resort with a killer view and a private island. Then, we'll tour the beaches that were sadly made famous when they were hit by the horrific tsunami on Boxing Day, 2004. Can you believe it's been so long? We'll pay a visit to honor those who lost their lives and discover the strides that have been made since then. Prefer a destination closer to home? Tag along with Matt Wilson as he takes a family-friendly skiing vacation at California's Mammoth Mountain. Craving something a little different? Join David Zuchowski for a food romp in Baltimore. It's a culinary tour you won't want to miss.

We left off last week from the exciting metropolis of Bangkok. I love Bangkok but I was really looking forward to seeing Thailand's beaches for the first time; I'd heard they're epic. My journey began when I arrived at Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi International Airport 90 minutes before departure. Check-in didn't take long and since Thai Airways is a Star Alliance partner, I made sure my United Mileage Plus number was registered so I'd accrue 500 miles. Surprisingly, the domestic area of the multi billion-dollar terminal doesn't have a lot to offer ... only a handful of shops and one main place to eat before getting to security. Sky Loft Casual Dining is located upstairs in the departures terminal, in a huge, bright, colorful buffet-style restaurant, with clear views of the runways. It's set up similar to Food Life in downtown Chicago but with fewer food stations. And here, you pre-pay for the charge card, which you then use instead of cash. (They refund any money you haven't spent when you leave.) I had a reasonably priced three-dish set Thai lunch with steamed rice for 180 baht ($5.75) but the aloe vera juice looked a lot better than it tasted and it was expensive to boot at 120 baht ($3.80). Disappointingly, it was nothing like the aloe juice in Curacao.

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At the first security checkpoint, security officials only checked passenger's tickets and identification. But the second checkpoint at the gate, was similar to what you'd find in the U.S., with the usual precautionary measures taken, though you don't need to remove your shoes. I hadn't traveled on Thailand's national carrier, Thai Airways, for a few years, and I'd forgotten how exceptional their service was, much like most Asian carriers. Before stepping on the plane, passengers were free to grab a newspaper (available in both English and Thai) from the rack. The young, attractive flight attendants (FAs) greeted each passenger with a friendly wai and a big smile. Then, they worked their tails off on the short one-hour, 10-minute flight. Thai Airways flies wide body planes with candy-colored interiors on this route (in this case, a 777-200) and flights depart practically every hour. Passengers are allowed two bags on the plane and they don't need to be weighed beforehand. Each seat has an individual monitor with an assortment of entertainment channels, plus live cameras facing forward and below. Even with the short flight time, the FAs still managed to serve all 310 passengers. They quickly passed out lunch boxes filled with a turkey and spinach wrap, fruit punch, water and a dessert. And they still found time to come around with tea and coffee. Now that's something you just don't see on American carriers.

Phuket is an island located in southern Thailand on the Malay Peninsula in the Andaman Sea. The name Phuket is derived from the Malay word "Bukit" meaning "hill" ... quite appropriate since hills surround the place. I didn't realize how much Phuket had grown in the past 20 years or so until I read that back then, there were no hotels or resorts. In fact, there were hardly any paved roads and just three flights a week on a small plane. Fast forward to present day: Now, it's the wealthiest province in Thailand with the highest per capita income. Tourism has replaced rubber, tin, agricultural products (like pineapples, coconuts and bananas), and fishing as the number one industry and over three million tourists visit each year. The majority are Europeans but Americans are discovering this place more and more, too. Back in the day, Phuket only offered visitors inexpensive, bare-minimum type lodgings, but not anymore. As the money came rolling in, so did the high-end resorts.

When Natalie and I touched down, I was surprised to see how large the Phuket Airport was and even more surprised to see flights arriving from all over the world. Ten airlines now service Phuket and bring in an average of 1,200 passengers an hour! Outside of baggage claim, our driver from the Evason Phuket & Six Senses Spa greeted us. NOTE: When your hotel arranges for a pickup, the charge is usually triple the regular price so check your options by calling the hotel, checking their website or asking at the airport information desk. The benefit of having a hotel staff member pick you up is that there are fewer hiccups this way and you get a comfortable, air-conditioned car for the traffic-ridden, 55-minute drive to the hotel. How disappointing to see all the cars but with three million tourists a year, it's no wonder they're experiencing infrastructure problems.

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Pictures From

The Trip


Suvarnabhumi Int'l


Inside BKK


Sky Loft


Airport Food


Thai Airways


Candy-Colored Interiors


Individual Monitors


Thai Airways Lunch Boxes


Phuket Airport


Outside of Baggage Claim


Lots of Traffic


But Not All Traffic


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