Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Hey you...

What are you still doing here? All the action is now at:



a splash of light

Go on then!


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A Beijing Belly

Originally uploaded by Sven Mook.
I'm starting a series on bellies in Beijing. Here's the first shot.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Flying Free: A guide for those with lots of time and less money

Normally cross continental flights will cost a chunk of change - often $1000 or more. I was amazed to learn how easy it is to work the airlines for free miles using credit card sign up bonuses as a way of very quickly accumulating enough miles international airfare.

The world of airline mileage clubs is a murky and convoluted one, designed by the airlines for maximum financial benefit for them, and minimum for you. However, with a bit of research and attention to detail, it's fairly easy to turn the tables on them.

First, you have to decide which airline alliance to accumulate miles on. There are 3 main alliances: SkyTeam, One World, and Star Alliance. Each has airlines spanning most global destinations, but it's important to find out which airline has the most airlines serving your departure points and potential destinations. The biggest, and my personal favorite, is the Star Alliance network, but your, ahem, mileage may vary.

Next it's time to start racking up some points for award travel. The slowest and most expensive way is to actually buy tickets on an airline in your chosen alliance, and fly on their airplanes. The way to rack up significant miles quickly though, is by taking advantage of the generous credit card sign up offers linked the airlines' mileage programs.

To see what is available, go to the flyertalk forums which is constantly updated by people who know way more about this than me.

Most credit card deals have a minimum purchase requirement, usually to be completed within x months in order to receive your sweet sweet miles. In case you hadn't planned to spend that much money in that amount of time, you can take advantage of the US Mint's scheme to buy $1 coins online, using a credit card. These are purchased at face value and shipped to you free of charge. You can then spend them, or more likely, head down to your local bank branch to deposit them into your account. Be sure to call your bank to make sure they will accept the deposits before you proceed.

Once you've completed the purchasing requirements, it generally takes a month or two for them to post to your airline frequent flier mileage account, so plan ahead. Once your miles have posted, you can search for awards flights through the airline's website, but sometimes you have to call them to have access to all the award seats of their partner airlines.

For those interested in pursuing this further, I recommend browsing the above mentioned flyertalk forums for much more detailed information regarding the particulars of credit card deals and mileage programs.

Happy Flying!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bad News Bangkok

I spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon monitoring the deteriorating situation in Bangkok yesterday. Here in Vientiane the Scandinavian Bakery has cable TV with all the major Thai networks, as well as CNN. I started out watching Thailand's channel 3, but to my surprise, they stopped covering the news at around 2:30 PM and started showing some cheesy Thai soap! Turning to the internet, I saw that the station's headquarters in Bangkok was under siege and burning, with people trapped inside. Similarly, the Bangkok Post Thai ASEAN news, and many other media outlets were being targeted by the mobs (I don't think they qualify as 'protesters' at this point).

Central World has been gutted by fire after being set aflame when the red shirt leaders surrendered. Fire trucks were prevented from approaching the fire by gunmen, leaving the building to burn. Dozens of fires were being started at bank branches, Thailand's stock exchange building, police boxes, convenience stores, and other places the attackers felt represented the entrenched elite of the country. A curfew was in operation last night between 8PM and 6AM, and looks to be continuing today.

The violence and mayhem has spread upcountry to Chiang Mai and various cities in the northeast. When this madness will end is anybody's guess. It seems the government underestimated the violent intentions of these people when they decided to use force to end the protest. Since their leaders have surrendered, the remaining red shirts(?) are under nobody's orders and are capable of anything.

Here are some interesting links for those wanting more information on what's happening and how it came to this:

Somebody put together this graphic showing Thailand's major political events since Thaksin became Prime Minister in 2001.

Collection of photos from the crackdown on May 19th.

The Thai Visa website has the most timely information from the media that I've found on what's happening now. Go to the last page for the latest updates.

The Bangkok Post
was under attack yesterday but is still posting updates on their website.

Latest updates: Curfew to be shortened to 9PM-5AM and extended for the next 3 days. Petrol shortages in Bangkok.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

24 hours in Vientiane (Vieng Chan), Laos

Break your fast with an the omelet special or a flaky pastry at the Scandinavian Bakery near the fountain in the center of town, taking in a week old Bangkok Post, or splash out for the latest Vientiane Times, available at the register. After you've had your fill, head to the morning market (Dalat Sao) for a spot of shopping. This is the best place to pick up a stunning Laos style sarong, a bottle of local liquor with a snake in it, or a bronze cast Buddha.

When the haggling wears you down, regain your serenity at the 16th century temple Haw Phra Kaow . If your nerves need additional calming (and you're not templed out), the nearby Wat Si Saket offers further sanctuary from the pushy tuk tuk drivers outside.

By now it's time for lunch, and in Vientiane you're spoiled for options. Take your pick from excellent (and cheap!) Indian, French, Italian, Laos, and Thai options everywhere you turn.

The weirdest and some would say most interesting sight in the vicinity is the Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan) some 24 km away from central Vientiane, past the friendship bridge. A grassy field strewn with surreal concrete Buddha's, this place is one of a kind and a definite must see. To get there rent a motorbike and drive yourself or get ready to put those bargaining skills to use with a tuk tuk driver.

Next, beat the afternoon heat and practice that butterfly stroke at the Vientiane Swimming Pool near the stadium. Entrance costs 10,000 kip (around $1.20).

As sunset approaches, treat your weary muscles to a super hot sauna and massage with the monks at Wat Sok Pa Luang. It might seem odd to have a sauna in such heat, but it relaxes.

By now it's time for dinner so head to Kop Chai Deu near the fountain for some tasty Laos food and Beer Laos on tap.

Laos nightlife is picking up these days, so head to Samlor Pub for a spot of mixing and dancing, or grab some pals and go for bowling at one of the popular venues. When you've bowled your last frame, head to Future Tech to mingle with a young Laos crowd, or to Don Chan Palace, popular with both Laos and foreigners and open until 4 AM on the weekends.