US State Department Funds Thai Monument Restoration

The United States State Department’s Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation recently bestowed a $131,800 grant to the World Monuments Fund for restoration work at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a historic Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand.

According to WMF President Bonnie Burnham, “Support from the State Department’s Ambassadors Fund will assist the Thai Department of Fine Arts with continuing efforts to protect the site in light of increasingly severe flooding in the region and will advance conservation activities at the temple.”

Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya was once the capital of the Thai Kingdom of Ayutthaya, better known as Siam. For several hundred years, Ayutthaya flourished as one of the world’s largest cities, until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767.

Today, the remnants of the city are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, the elements have taken its toll on Ayutthaya’s ancient Buddhist temples and monuments, particularly the widespread flooding that devastated much of the country in 2011. Restoration on the monuments began in 2012, and the project is ongoing.

Correction, 2/19: This article initially stated that the grant was bestowed to the Thai government. It was in fact provided to the World Monuments Fund.[Photo Credit: World Monuments Fund]

Top five travel documents to email yourself before you travel

A lost or stolen passport or ATM card is a surefire way to add stress to any trip. As a preventative measure, I keep a list of travel documents (scanned, as necessary) in my inbox, so I have them at the ready should I run into trouble. Before you head out on your next trip, make sure you have the following documents, copied, prepped and prepared in the event you need them quickly:

1. Passport
If your passport mysteriously goes missing from the hotel security box or hostel front desk, or you’re mugged or robbed on the road, scanning a back-up copy can save you hours of paperwork and waiting. If you need a visa for travel, scan a copy of it, as well.

2. Medical and travel insurance cards (if applicable)
Not all medical insurance covers travel outside of the U.S., so check before you get on a plane. If you plan on visiting a region prone to civil unrest, natural disasters, or general sketchiness, have a medical condition, or are a fan of adventure travel, travel insurance might be worth looking into.

3. Bank and credit card collect call numbers
Keep the bank phone numbers nearby. It won’t bring your cards back if they’re lost or stolen, but at least you can report and cancel/put holds on them, ASAP. Most financial institutions have collect call numbers you can use from a foreign country.

4. Emergency contacts and relevant health information
At a recent appointment with a new physician, he noted that I was allergic to penicillin, and asked what happens if I take it. I explained I have a family history of anaphylaxis, and he asked why I don’t wear a medical alert bracelet, especially given my occupation as travel writer. It’s a good idea that never would have occurred to me. So while you’re typing up that list of contacts, including doctors, add in any life-threatening allergies or medical conditions. Should you wind up in a medical emergency, odds are someone, somewhere, will speak English. Or write it down in the language of the country you’re visiting (Lonely Planet Phrasebooks are invaluable for this kind of translation, even if you need to say it in Urdu or Thai).5. Itinerary
Be sure to send copies of your travel itinerary to family and/or a close friend. If you’re backpacking and don’t know where you’ll be staying or don’t have a world phone, the ubiquitousness of global cyber cafes makes it easier than ever to stay in touch, even in rural areas.

*Bonus round

U.S. Department of State contact info/Embassy and Consulate list
If you spend a lot of time overseas, especially if you fall into the category cited in #2, it’s a very good idea to register your trip with the U.S. Department of State. In the event of an emergency requiring evacuation, you’ll be in their system. It’s also helpful to keep the embassy/consulate link in your inbox and on your person, in case you or a fellow traveler runs into trouble.

Immunization card
Some countries or regions require you to present this, to prove you’ve had the necessary vaccinations before being admitted entry. Admittedly, I’ve never actually had to produce this document, but better safe than denied. For a list of recommended and required inoculations for destinations, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site.

[Photo credit: Flickr user cubicgarden]

U.S. State Department travel warnings. Useful or useless?

How useful are those U.S. State Department travel warnings? If you read too many, you might become scared off of travel all together.

As Carol Pucci points out in a recent Seattle Times article, politics and economics might play into U.S. State Department travel warnings and recommendations. This doesn’t mean that, if there is a travel warning for a particular country, you should poo poo it as nonsense, and not proceed with caution when making plans. Perhaps, though, the travel warning isn’t totally warranted. Pucci suggests checking other government’s travel warning venues, such as Canada’s, Australia’s and the United Kingdom’s.

Sometimes, even when a warning might be a good idea, the country does not make the travel warning list. Pucci cited India as an example. Consider this:

Just recently, less than a month ago, there was a bombing at Connaught Place in New Delhi, a part of the city that boasts United Coffee House, my favorite restaurant for samosas and drip coffee.

It is a gem of a place that dates back to the early 1930s. The colonial architecture with an Art Deco twist is superb. Connaught Place is popular with tourists, but is also part of the finance industry and is near government offices.

When I lived in New Delhi, two terrorist attempts were thwarted close by where I frequented. Our response, as well as everyone I knew, was to toodle around like normal.

Pucci makes the observation that despite the 140 people who have been killed in India since May due to troublesome unrest, India isn’t on the warning list.

Click on the link for the countries that are on the list. Israel is one of them–so is Nepal. A friend of mine who recently returned from Israel recently emailed me about the great time he had. Other friends of ours moved to Nepal a year and a half ago and haven’t had any problems that I’ve heard of.

The best advice I have–if you want to visit a country that is on the list, is find out which part of that country is a safety concern and avoid those areas. When we went to Sri Lanka, for example we flew into Colombo, but left for other towns and had an absolutely safe, marvelous time. Perhaps, Colombo would have been perfectly fine, but the sites we wanted to see were elsewhere anyway.

If you can swing it, go to United Coffee house. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye out.

Foreigners get warm welcome from Disney video

When the U.S. State Department decided foreigners needed a friendly welcome upon entering the country, they turned to Disney. Disney has long been active in lobbying efforts for more welcoming treatment of foreign visitors, and has expressed concern about the USA’s declining share of international travelers. The company produced the video free of charge.

The short film is a montage of still scenes of the “American life.” Naturally it’s warm and fuzzy. There’s no dialogue, just smiling people repeating the word “welcome.” USA Today also reports that “viewers will see dramatic images of American icons like the Statue of Liberty and the Las Vegas Strip. They’ll also see ordinary cities and farms as well as sweeping outdoor vistas. The video has no shots of Disney property.”

You can view a clip of the video here, or visit some 219 consular offices or airports with customs facilities.