GadlingTV’s Travel Talk – Thailand Part 11: Red Shirts

Gadling TV’s Travel Talk, episode 41 – Click above to watch video after the jump

After riding elephants, eating scorpions, walking through Hellfire Pass, and visiting the famous bridge at the River Kwai, one of the only items left on our to-do list in Thailand was to speak with people that were passionate about the sensitive political environment. As we arrived back into the city, we caught word that a “Red Shirt” protest was taking place in Bangkok’s shopping district; so we went straight to where the action was.

To give some brief context, last year’s political events in Thailand resulted from clashes between two opposing camps; Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts. The Red Shirts (formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship) are mostly middle-class and rural citizens in favor of the progressive former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Shinawatra was removed by a military coup in 2006 (organized by the Yellow Shirts), which many Thais believe is due to the fact that Thailand’s Royal Family was threatened by Shinawatra’s success.

While Bangkok is currently stable and nearly all demonstrations have disappeared since the late summer of 2010, we felt privileged to be on the ground during this event, speak with those that had risked their lives for their beliefs, and share it with you here.

If you have any questions or comments about Travel Talk, you can email us at talk AT gadling DOT com.

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Hosts: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews

Special guests: Sean Boompracong, International Media Director for the UDD.
Produced, Edited, and Directed by: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews
Special thanks: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Trikaya Tours

Travel Talk took Thailand by storm on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Aaron & Stephen were free to openly share all adventures that they embarked upon.

State Department issues Libya travel warning – read more about this forbidden destination

Libya travel warning
As the unrest in the Middle East continues, the US Department of State has issued a Libya travel warning, advising Americans to steer clear of the country, and especially of “gatherings” there. The Wall Street Journal reports:

“‘U.S. citizens in Libya should minimize overall travel in-country, exercise extreme caution when traveling, and limit all travel after dark,’ the US said in a travel advisory. It said demonstrations, violence and looting were all possible over the next several days, and urged US citizens to stay away from any gatherings.

‘Even peaceful ones can quickly become unruly and a foreigner could become a target of harassment, or worse,’ according to the State Department advisory.”

I know I’m not the only one who will have no trouble staying out of Libya in the near future. Confession time: I had never considered going there. So, why do people travel to Libya? Gadling’s Tom Johansmeyer posted about a package deal there back in August 2010 (An easy way to get to Libya), with quotes about its “archaeological riches” and “a sense of discovery in a land virtually unknown to the modern world.” Libya also reportedly has 1250 miles of coastline “teeming with underwater wrecks, ruins and Nazi gold,” making it a highly-prized scuba diving destination (see: Diving in Libya). Furthermore, it’s a popular cruise ship port for the British and Italians (see: Will Libya Again Open to US Cruise Passengers?).

In case you or any of your friends were already in-the-know about the secret wonders of Libya, Americans in Libya are being urged to contact the embassy in Tripoli with the following contact details:

  • +218 (0)21-337-3250
  • After business hours: 091-220-5207

[Source: WSJ]

[Photo by anniemullinsuk via Flickr.]

Scotland asks U.S. to lift haggis ban

haggis, Haggis, Scotland, scotlandThe Scottish government has invited a delegation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Scotland in a bid to lift the ban on haggis imports.

In an interview with the BBC, Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said he wants to show the officials that haggis is made in a safe and sanitary manner.

Earlier this year we reported that the ban on haggis was being lifted. This ban was put in place on UK meat products in 1989 thanks to the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a.k.a. mad cow disease. The ban on UK meat was indeed lifted, but our report on haggis turned out to be premature, because in ensuing years the U.S. government had added a ban on imports of food containing sheep lungs, a key ingredient in traditional haggis.

Now the Scots are trying to get that last hurdle out of the way. Mr. Lochhead says the U.S. market for haggis could be huge. Think how many expat Scots, Scottish-Americans, and wannabe Scots there are in the good old U S of A. Just the number of people trying it once out of curiosity could add up to millions of dollars in sales.

He believes that if U.S. agriculture officials saw the high standards of food processing in Scotland, they’d give sheep lungs a break and allow them for human consumption.

Personally, I don’t like haggis, but that’s just me. I think that the more ethnic foods are available to the consumer, the better.

[Photo courtesy user Kaishu via Wikimedia Commons]

Taxes could make discounted hotels more expensive

If your next hotel stay is more expensive than you expected, blame the government. State and local governments, still reeling from the recession, are looking for any source of revenue they can grab. And, they’re next target seems to be online travel agencies.

Online booking sites, such as Expedia and Orbitz, negotiate a rate with hotels for available inventory, market it up a bit and pass it along to the travel-buying public. The business model is pretty straightforward. The problem comes down to which room rate should be used to calculate state and local occupancy taxes. At least 40 lawsuits have been filed over the issue, as local governments have rewritten ordinances to try to add a bit more to the coffers.

There’s a lot at stake, according to a USA Today report. Approximately $1 billion a year is perceived to be lost by state and local governments.

Yet, is it really lost? The online travel agencies are paying the hotels, and according to Andrew Weinstein, spokesman for the Interactive Travel Services Association:

“Occupancy taxes are based on the rate the hotel sets and receives,” he says, “not the profits, fees or commissions of its partners. … The facilitation fees are no more part of the hotel rate than the taxi that takes the guest from the airport or the tip they give the bellhop.”

How do you feel about this issue? Leave a comment to let us know if it’s what the hotel gets or what the occupant pays that should matter for tax purposes.

[photo by Howdy, I’m H. Michael Karshis via Flickr]

The feds want to know how to make international travel better

Here’s your chance to gripe! The U.S. Office of Travel and Tourism Industries is looking for your thoughts … on how a questionnaire is structured. So, rather than weigh in on the issues facing the industry, you can set the framework for how you’ll respond later. Yeah, it seems like a bit of bureaucratic overhead, but let’s face it: this is the language of government. And, you have the opportunity to shape the lexicon.

The questionnaire will be open to U.S. and non-U.S. residents to provide some insights on how to make international travel to and from the United States easier. You have to provide your recommendations by 5 PM on October 1, 2009, and then begin to hold your breath. The changes are expected to be put to use in January 2011!

So far, it’s pretty bland, so we’re relying on you to spice it up a bit.