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Tuesday, March 05, 2019

How a Travel Advisor Helps with Flight Delays

Last week, we had three clients miss their flight connections and one ActiveTravels member break his clavicle and ribs on a motorcycle accident in Phuket, Thailand. Before our clients even got off their planes, they were rebooked and ready to go on the next available flight. No standing in line for hours at the customer service desk with all the other passengers. The man with the broken bones is still healing in a hospital, but we were able to cancel and reschedule his first-class flight with a slight change fee. In this Do-It-Yourself World, you're led to believe that you can easily book travel on your own. That's certainly true, but when a mishap happens, which is inevitable when you travel, it's good to have someone working on your behalf while you're still on a plane with no WiFi. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/05/19 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, March 04, 2019

Your Flight is Cancelled: What To Do Next

We arrived around 10 am at the Bangkok Airport with more than enough time to catch our first flight that day to Hong Kong, which would then connect to our Boston flight home. We checked the Cathay Pacific website before we left the hotel and our first flight was on time, as scheduled. But unfortunately, that wasn't the case. We were told at airport check-in that our first flight had technical problems and would be delayed. There was no way we could make the connecting flight in Hong Kong and the next flight from Hong Kong to Boston would be exactly 24 hours later. Uggh.

Travel overseas, especially on a connecting flight and this same scenario is very likely to happen to you. You can jump up and down, pout, and say life's not fair, or you can take a deep breath, pause, and try to get yourself home as quickly as possible in a relatively comfortable manner. We were lucky to have a great person at the Cathay Pacific desk in Bangkok working on our behalf. First and foremost, when an airline cancels or delays a flight due to technical problems, they are under contract to get you to your destination on any airline, not just the airline you booked. Cathay Pacific understood this and led us over to the British Airways check-in to try and catch the flight to Heathrow and on to Logan, but it was too late to get on the flight. He then brought up two other options, fly Lufthansa 11 hours later that day, connecting in Frankfurt, or fly Emirates through Dubai at 8 pm, arriving in Dubai at 1 am. We would then wait at the Dubai Airport until the 8 am flight to Boston the next morning. Neither was particularly appealing. 
 
This is when you consult Google Flights or Kayak to ensure they are offering all options. Our son, Jake, found a 4 pm flight to Dubai on Emirates, which would get us into Dubai at 9 pm. Could they put us up in a hotel in Dubai that night so we could get a good night's sleep before the 8 am flight to Boston the next morning? At first, the Cathay Pacific rep hemmed and hawed, but then agreed to get us on this flight and purchase the hotel room for the night. When we arrived in Dubai later that day, we realized he went one step further. An escort met us upon arrival and led us to an in-transit hotel located smack dab inside the Dubai airport. We didn't need to go through Customs or even go through security again the next morning. All we did was wake up and walk to our gate. But none of this would have happened unless we first did our research, found the earlier flight, and asked for the night's hotel. So if you're ever in this same situation, remember to relax, do the flight research quickly, and be assertive.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/04/19 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, March 01, 2019

Kayak with Beluga Whales in Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill is known as one of the best spots in early winter to spot polar bears. Natural Habitat Adventures gained acclaim as the first outfitter to bring visitors to this destination. Now, they're praising the year-round attractions of Churchill. Venture on one of NatHab's summer trips and you're guaranteed to raft and kayak with beluga whales. More than 3,000 of these friendly white whales congregate at the mouth of the Churchill River for summer feasting. You may also spot polar bears on the horizon.
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 03/01/19 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, February 28, 2019

South African Luxury on a Budget

Think a safari has to be exorbitant, especially when staying at 5-star accommodations? Not necessarily true. African Travel is featuring a 12-night itinerary to South Africa in September, with stays at some of the top properties in the country, including the wonderful Twelve Apostles just outside of Cape Town, Rhino Sands Safari Camp in Mayoni Private Game Reserve, and the Oyster Box in Durban. Cost starts at $5995 per person, including the international flight from New York. Book this trip before March 31, 2019 and you'll receive an extra night at the Oyster House for free. Please contact ActiveTravels for more information. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/28/19 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Royal Air Maroc to Fly Direct from Boston to Casablanca

Morocco has become an increasingly popular destination for our clients at ActiveTravels in the past several years. The only challenge for people leaving from Boston is that there was no direct flight, meaning they usually had to transfer at JFK or Lisbon's Portela Airport. Thankfully, that's about to change on June 22nd. Royal Air Maroc has just announced that they will be flying direct from Boston to Casablanca 3 times weekly. Total flight time on the Boeing 787-8 will be 7 hours, 25 minutes westbound and 6 hours 35 minutes eastbound. Royal Air Maroc will also be joining One Alliance in 2020, so soon you'll be able to use your American Airlines miles to find seats. Once in Morocco, we work with a fantastic ground operator who packages together all lodging, guides, drivers, and restaurants to make your experience as seamless as possible. A typical 10-day itinerary will include Casablanca, Fez, Marrakech, the glorious seaside village of Essaouira, and at least one night at a Bedouin camp in the Sahara Desert. Please let us know how we can help. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/27/19 at 05:00 AM
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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Country Walkers Turns 40

Country Walkers, the tour operator that likes to slow down to appreciate the splendor of the world on two feet, is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2019 with a slew of new trips to far-flung locales like Zambia, Chile, and New Zealand. But we really like the itinerary to Sri Lanka, an 11-day jaunt coined "Sri Lanka: Ancient Temples & Tea Trails." The February trip is already sold out, but there's still availability on the December trip. We had dinner in Bangkok recently with a woman who has traveled all of Asia on 2 to 4-hour flights. She told us she loves Sri Lanka and returns there often. Fantastic scenery, history, culture, and people. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/26/19 at 06:00 AM
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Monday, February 25, 2019

Clark Art Institute Launches Free Snowshoe Program

Located in Williamstown in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, Clark Art Institute is a treasure trove of Impressionist paintings by Monet, Degas, and no fewer than 30 works by Renoir. American artists are well represented by rooms of Homers, Sargents, and Remingtons. The grounds are also exquisite, set on 140 acres of rolling hills and forest. And now the museum wants you to venture outside as well as inside, offering visitors a chance to borrow a pair of snowshoes for free. The Clark has installed a snowshoe rack and benches adjacent to the west side of its Manton Research Center building. Snowshoes are available in three sizes for both adults and children to borrow. While there, see the Turner and Constable show, on view through March 10th, along with a show on Thomas Gainsborough's drawings, on view through March 17th. 

 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/25/19 at 06:00 AM
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Friday, February 22, 2019

Anantara, a Serene Oasis in Bangkok

Bangkok is a sprawling, congested city and when you arrive at the Royal Palace, Wat Arun, and the other major sights, even they are overcrowded with tourists. That's why you need to take it slow, not place too many items on your itinerary, and stay at a great hotel where you will enjoy spending time. We split up our stay in Bangkok with two nights at the Anantara Siam and two nights at their sister property, Anantara Riverside. Both featured a lavish spread at the breakfast buffet, including American, Chinese, and Indian favorites. Anantara Siam also features an excellent Thai Restaurant, Spice Market, where we dined our first night. Afterwards, walk into the indoor courtyard and check out the koi pond. The highlight at Anantara Siam was their signature 90-minute Siam 2482 deep-tissue massage. Using two bamboo sticks, eight herbal compresses, and gold leaf, I walked out of there as loose as a jellyfish and happy as a clam. 

 
Anantara Riverside has more of a resort feel, overlooking a large pool where you simply push a button on your menu and a server appears to take your order. The hotel was crowded with families who would spend the entire day splashing around in the 90-degree heat. The Riverside Dinner Cruise from the resort's pier is a must, a 2-hour gentle cruise along the Chao Phraya seeing the Royal Palace and Wat Arun lit up at night. On our last day, to celebrate Lisa's birthday, we took a 5-hour cooking course with one of the hotel's chefs. At 8 am, we took a tuk tuk with Chef over to a local market and picked up all the necessary ingredients for the three courses we would soon make, including large prawns, chicken, lemongrass, galangal, chicory root, mushrooms, and many spicy peppers. Soon we were back at the hotel's outdoor cooking center on the 2nd floor, creating Golden Caps, crusted rice crackers filled with a chicken and shrimp filling; a spicy and delicious Thai soup that we hope to recreate at home one day; and a tender barramundi topped with spicy chili, curry powder, and lime. We finished with fresh mango that Chef sliced like bird's wings, served with sweet sticky rice that was topped with sweet coconut milk. A memorable birthday lunch! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/22/19 at 06:00 AM
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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Tastings Menus to Try in Bangkok

We were hungry as soon as we arrived at our room at the Anantara Siam in Bangkok after our flight from Hong Kong. We scouted out the choices and found that there was a Michelin-starred restaurant called Paste within easy walking distance. It was early Sunday afternoon and we were hoping we could grab one of their tables. Initially, the hostess said no, but as we were leaving, she said they had a cancellation. It turned out to be one of the most memorable meals of the trip, a 7-course tasting menu created by Bee Satongun, who was called the finest female chef in Asia. Each dish was prepared like a work of art on the plate and was the proper size for sharing. But it was the unusual spices that excited the palate. Favorite appetizers included roasted duck, nutmeg, and sawtooth coriander on rice crackers, and tapioca pudding of smoked trout, toasted peanuts, Thai mustard leaf, and wild sesame. Then came a hot and sour soup of crisp pork leg, roast tomatoes and fried garlic in a smoky chicken broth before the sublime entrees arrived. Laos Duck Curry was a highlight. The next dish was equally tasty but I had no idea what it was. Here's what it said on the menu: "Southern Thai-Muslim origin. Kimmedai, saffron, in-house made curry powder and nutmeg. Fried off in ghee, served with pickles and cured catfish eggs." Say what? It's actually a type of fish. 

The last night in town, friends had recommended Issaya Siamese Club to celebrate Lisa's birthday. Set in a Colonial-style plantation house, you dine in separate rooms on couches, like being in a relative's house. We were sitting in front of an RCA television, circa 1960s. Once again we ordered the Tasting Menu and, while it wasn't nearly as innovative as Paste, it still was very tasty. We started with mojitos in tall chilled glasses and dined on a palm salad before diving into entrees like a full lamb shank, tender off the bone, served in a tangy curry sauce. We were told to order the "Broken Bucket" for dessert and that's what I'll remember years to come. A woman arrived with dry ice to create an abstract concoction of goodness, replete with smoke, white chocolate, and coconut sorbet. What a festive way to end our trip! 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/21/19 at 06:00 AM
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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

An Exciting Visit to the Train and Floating Markets Outside Bangkok

On our second day in Bangkok, we met our great guide, Amy, from Trails of Indochina, at 7 am outside our hotel, Anantara Siam, and drove nearly 90 minutes southwest of the city to see the Train Market. Every day in the morning, a train runs on tracks between a bustling outdoor market. We walked along the tracks and viewed the bins overflowing with fish, squid, meat, pork, chicken, fruit, clothing, you name it. Then a horn blows and the shop owners quickly move their bins away from the tracks as visitors scramble behind a red line with very little space to spare so they don't get hit by the moving train. It's a frenetic yet exhilarating display of humanity in action, yet even more insane when you realize the train is only carrying tourists looking down at you with their cameras. I'm sure at one time, the market supplied genuine passengers on long train rides with produce for their ride. Anyway, we tried an assortment of tasty fruit, like rambutans and longans (similar to lychee fruit), sweet finger bananas, juicy mangosteens, and a wonderful mango smoothie.

Then we drove another 15 minutes to take a longboat on murky canal waters past houses on stilts to the Floating Market. In one of those rare Anthony Bourdain-like moments, there was a woman cooking pad thai in a large wok over a propane tank in her longboat in the mass of boat traffic, diesel fuel spewing everywhere. So we had to sample and it was probably the tastiest pad thai I've ever tried. The noodles were so fresh they practically melted in your mouth. Every bite I'm thinking "this is so yummy, am I going to get sick? I'll have one more bite." Then we walked over to a market selling souvenirs and more food stalls selling coconut pancakes, barbecued pork kebabs, and sticky rice, squeezed out from a small plastic bag. All delicious and, for the record, my stomach was fine the entire trip to Hong Kong and Bangkok. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 02/20/19 at 06:00 AM
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photo of Steve Jermanok
Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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