Galley Gossip: Passenger of the month – Author Thant Myint-U

Name? Thant Myint-U

Where do you live? Right now in Bangkok, but before that in NYC for many years.

Bangkok, wow! Pretend I’m a tourist and I’ve just asked you to recommend a few places to check out while I’m visiting Bangkok, places you actually go to, what would you suggest? The Vertigo bar on top of the Banyan Tree hotel (pictured below), the Oriental Spa at the Oriental Hotel, the Tea Room at the Erawan Hyatt Hotel

Sounds nice. You write books, right? Hmmmm. It’s a little complicated. Most of the next six months I’ll be writing a new book. I’ve also worked for the UN more than ten years on and off, and taught history for a while at Cambridge University.

Tell me about your most recent book, The River of Lost Footsteps. It’s partly a history of Burma (which is where my family is from) and an attempt to introduce Americans and others to Burma’s incredibly colorful and exciting history. It’s also partly an autobiography, a travel book, and the story of my family over the past two hundred years.

Ever write about something you’ve seen on a flight? Yes. Well a little bit. In the RoLF I mention my first long flight on Pan Am from New York to Bangkok (and then to Rangoon) in 1974. We flew first class and had to go NY-Frankfurt-Istanbul-Teheran-Dehli-Bangkok-Rangoon. There was a bar and a big movie screen. It was such a long flight with so many stops I still remember the itinerary (even though I was only eight years old then).

Are you working on a new book? It’s called “The Hidden Map of Asia”. But can’t say anything more, other than that it should be published in a year’s time.

City you spend the most time in? Bangkok, about half my time this year.

Where do you travel the most often? All over Asia, Europe and the East Coast. My main cities last year were NY, London, Reykjavik, Oslo, Berlin, Stockholm, Beijing, Kathmandu, Rangoon and Bangkok.

Miles flown this year? Not sure, over 100,000.

Do you remember your very first flight? I think it was when we went to Jamaica when I was four (with my parents and my little sister). Don’t remember very much about it though. I think it was TWA.

You’ve been traveling your entire life! What about your last flight? I bet you can remember that. Rangoon to Bangkok last week. On Thai International (which is one of only a few airlines that fly to Burma these days). Only an hour. Great Thai food though and champagne. I take it many times a year. Always full. And Buddhist monks get automatically bumped up to business.

I did not know about Buddhist monks getting automatically upgraded to business class. That’s very interesting. Unfortunately, I’m sad to report, I do not believe we do that here in the States. So what Type / brand of luggage do you own? Globetrotter hard case (I have two sizes, one carry-on and one bigger)

Check it or Carry on? I usually check-in if it’s for a trip that’s more than a couple of days.

Checking your luggage does make flying a lot less stressful, but you have to get to the airport early and be prepared to wait at baggage claim. Window or Aisle? Aisle. I get claustrophobic in the window seat unless it’s a business class seat where you can easily get out without squeezing past the other person.

I’m an aisle girl myself. I think most people are. Any favorite seat in particular? Business class seat on Singapore long-haul (Singapore-NY 19 hours). I just watch a movie, eat, sleep for nine hours, wake up, eat, watch a movie and I’m there.

You actually make a long flight sound do-able. Something to Drink? Diet coke or champagne.

Beef or Chicken? I guess chicken

You don’t sound too enthusiastic. I guess you pack snacks? Never done that!

So what exactly is in your carry on bag? My laptop, papers, newspapers, books.

Any packing tips/tricks? I travel superlight. Sometimes just an old leather briefcase with a couple of extra shirts and socks and toiletries for a few days.

Describe your traveling outfit. Depends on what’s going to happen at the other end. I might wear a suit if it’s a short trip and I have a meeting to go to. And usually wear a blazer with jeans on a long trip.

Best shoes to wear through airport security? I more or less have only lace-ups so I just wear whatever I have to wear and don’t think too much about security hassles. In Asia it’s different. Very short lines. And you don’t have to take off your shoes.

Any airport routines? I always get a massage at the Thai Airways business lounge in Bangkok.

It’s official, I want to be you. Best airline/experience? I actually like the super long flights. No phone, no blackberry, no internet. I read and watch movies and don’t have to worry that I’m missing anything. The best views by far were in Nepal, flying right up against the Himalayas.

You make travel sound amazing. Most memorable experience onboard a flight? During the Bosnian war I used to fly every few weeks from Zagreb to Sarajevo (I was serving in a UN peacekeeping operation), and once or twice our planes got shot at as we approached Sarajevo airport.

That’s crazy! How about the nicest airport? There are so many nice ones in Asia now. Beijing is probably the most impressive. The one in Rangoon is probably the most surprisingly nice – brand new, efficient, easy.

Okay I’m ready to move to Asia. Favorite Airport restaurant? Hardly ever eat in an airport restaurant, actually.

Hotel away from home? These past few months it’s been the Chatrium in Rangoon (at least four weeks there altogether). I’ve been at a little guesthouse in Reykjavik a lot too.

Most luxurious hotel you’ve ever experienced? Hard to say, over the past year probably the Pimalai on Koh Lanta (an island beach resort) in southern Thailand and the Four Seasons in Bangkok.

Favorite in-flight announcement? We’re arriving early. Or we’re ready to take off and you look around and they’re lots of empty seats. Or the local weather is 70 degrees and sunny.

Oh I like those! Especially the part about the empty seats. When passengers are comfortable, they’re happy, and when they’re happy, flight attendants are happy, which makes for an amazing flight. Book / magazine last read on a flight? Financial Times.

Favorite travel book(s)? Pretty much anything by VS Naipaul or Paul Theroux.

You did recommend that I read The Old Patagonian Express, by Paul Theroux, and not only did I read it, it’s now one of my favorite books. It inspired me as a writer and a traveler. Where did you go on your last vacation? Trekking in the Himalayas

Tell me about your favorite destination? I’m always happy to go to Rangoon, which is where my family’s from – I’ve never lived there properly but have gone nearly every year since I was very young. It’s been so isolated but is still an amazingly cosmopolitan city – with Buddhist pagodas, mosques, Baptist churches, synagogues, and people from all across Asia, beautiful, with an incredible (and often very violent) history, and great food.

Now finish the following sentences…

I can’t fly without my…reading material

Once this passenger I sat next to…turned out to be a famous network news anchor.

If I could be anywhere in the world, I’d be…on the beach in Burma

When it comes to traveling, I wish…I didn’t have any luggage

Next flight? – Kuala Lumpur, for the day, in ten days.

Vertigo Bar at the Banyan Tree Hotel in Bangkok…