Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lounging in Style

A few years ago I found myself bleary-eyed in the early morning darkness at the Koh Samui (Thailand) airport. After checking in, I trudged into one of the nicest waiting areas I had ever seen and was astounded to find free pastries and drinks. A few minutes later I was happily emailing my parents about the free blueberry juice using one of the area's computers with complimentary internet.

That was my introduction to the wonders of the Bangkok Airways lounge, a first class waiting area open to the masses.  Having used the airline for a quick hop from Bangkok to Chiang Mai the other day, I'm happy to report that the lounge is still a great reason for showing up early to the airport. (Note: both Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and the Chiang Mai Airport have great lounges. The following describes the Bangkok lounge.)

Friendly workers greeted me at the entrance to the clean and spacious lounge and gave me the password for free wireless (a nice touch, though there were also still computers for use by those not traveling with laptops, etc.)  There were magazines and newspapers, but I was far more interested in the ample spread of food - puff pastries, a mini-sandwich, cakes, a traditional dessert wrapped in banana leaf, and even fresh popcorn - and the (non-alcoholic) drink options, including orange juice and Milo. I settled into a comfortable chair, caught up on email and contentedly grazed until it was time to head to the gate (which still had wireless access, though I don't know if all the gates do - ours was right across from the lounge).

In case the 20 yard walk from the lounge to the gate depleted our reserves, we were served a meal during the flight. Not a snack, but a meal on a flight so short it was mostly ascending and descending. A very hearty chicken sandwich (passengers can select dietary alternatives when purchasing the ticket) was accompanied by yoghurt and fresh fruit. There was also coffee and tea, all provided by pleasant flight attendants spiffily attired in newly designed uniforms.

Bangkok Airways is also notable for its excellent inflight magazine, Fah Thai (which is where I found out the uniforms were new). Naturally there are blurbs about locales the airline services, but there are also interesting general articles with excellent photography. This issue's standouts were articles on an arts organization helping children in Cambodia, some of them through a circus arts program, the tourism boom in Myanmar, and "The Plunder of Asia's Wildlife in Pictures" (a photo essay). It's easy to glean things to do, both mainstream and quirky, from Fah Thai, but clearly it's more than just sugar coated puff pieces on the region.

We had barely finished our coffee when the clouds gave way to the misty mountains of northern Thailand and we landed in Chiang Mai. I made it to the lobby of my hotel before 10am, energized (well, ok, bloated) and ready to spend a full day in a new city.

There are many easy and inexpensive options for traveling long distances in Thailand - trains, busses, ferries, mini-vans, taxis (not inexpensive for a long haul, but it might be fun to one day shock a Bangkok taxi driver with a request to go to Chiang Mai), etc. - but if time and comfort are concerns and maintaing a shoestring budget isn't, Bangkok Airways is a great choice.

Booking Tips: Make sure you check the websites of individual airlines (whether it's Bangkok Airways or Thai Airways or AirAsia, all of which I've used), as they may have much better fares than those shown on aggregator websites. For this flight, I booked a few days in advance at bangkokair.com and got a one way ticket for about $75, which I thought was quite reasonable. It's low season now; for in-country travel during the high season winter months, I'd book in advance as I'm sure flights, especially to tourist destinations like Chiang Mai and Koh Samui, fill up.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Journey of 1000 Smiles...

Chief of security and proprietor, Bangkok cafe

Thailand easily lives up to its reputation as "the land of 1000 smiles." A tourist who smiles will most likely be warmly rewarded in kind, as I alluded to in a previous post. It'd be difficult to capture the spontaneous smiles I've received, so here's a few shots taken immediately after encountering the subjects for the first time.
Ban Pu, Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park

Vegetable vendor, Prachuap Khiri Khan

Honey vendors, Prachuap Khiri Khan

Students, Prachuap Khiri Khan

Prachuap Khiri Khan

Ok, so I'm not sure if that last guy is smiling, but he seemed happy...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

It's a Tough Job, But...

Wildlife photography is demanding work. It takes research and knowledge about an animal's habits and habitat, patience and perseverance through long hours of stalking or staking out prey, and mental and physical stamina to withstand the harrowing demands of the field, which include lugging back-bending quantities of bulky equipment through often horrible conditions while waiting for what might be one fleeting opportunity to capture your subject in an aesthetically pleasing manner. What follows is the true tale of one successful mission.

It was early afternoon on a hot and humid day when I sat down to what I knew would be a delicious lunch at an open air restaurant in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, a few hours south of Bangkok. As I idly gazed across the creek from my thatched roof-covered picnic table, movement in the trees caught my eyes. Apparently a monkey had decided to take his lunch at the same time as I had. (photo above) Putting down my cold soda, I grabbed my camera and shot away until he finished his meal and slowly walked away down the creek bank. Before I could take a bite of my food, the retreating monkey inadvertently flushed a pair of kingfishers that had been resting out of sight in a bush. I again picked up my trusty Nikon, then trekked the grueling 5 yards to a nearby table for a better vantage point and clicked away.

I had barely returned to my now-cooling lunch when I was disturbed by some turbulence in the creek. Upon closer investigation, it turned out the creek was home to several mudskippers. They swam, stalked prey, and ventured onto the mudflats as I filled my camera's memory card.

It began to rain as I finally finished my meal, so I headed back to my guest house, the excellent Blue Beach Resort. I stopped outside my room for a quick chat with Ricky, one of the friendly people who run the place, when a couple of green birds flew up and perched in a tree a few yards behind him. They seemed too large to be bee-eaters, a quite common species in the area, so we angled for a better look, discovering they were some sort of parrot Ricky had never seen before in all his years in the area. While he kept track of their locations, I ran the 10 yards to my camera and managed to grab a few shots before the pair flew off.

Ten minutes of incredibly dexterous internet searching yielded an identification: the pair were relatively rare Alexandrine Parakeets. What a great way to cap off a successful photographic expedition. And just in time for my afternoon nap.

Yeah, maybe sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.
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Gotta Gettaway by Josh Lewis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.