Violence in Thailand's far south. Also, when hotel rates are lowest in select cities.

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 2 of the January 2015 issue.
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Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 467th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine. Whew! I’ve worked on 463 of them… and still love doing it. Every month brings interesting mail, and it helps to have good-spirited, dedicated coworkers. 

Your letters of encouragement are inspiring too. With ITN largely reader written, this is a group project. And let’s not forget the advertisers who help support the magazine; if you notice something interesting in one of their ads, give ’em a call. It’s all coal for the engine that is ITN.

OK, let’s get to the news. Credit for this first item goes fully to one of our subscribers.

The US Department of State periodically releases Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts about other countries. These are often posted in response to news events, such as coups, mass demonstrations or disease outbreaks, but they also can include information about long-term issues, such as high crime rates or the threats of terrorist groups or anti-government militias.

Travel Warnings pertain to more elevated security concerns and are a step above Travel Alerts, the latter often indicating problems of a temporary nature and including dates on which the notices will expire. Each month, at the end of the “News Watch” section, ITN publishes a list of the several dozen countries on which there are current Travel Warnings.

The State Department’s website (http://travel.state.gov) also provides detailed background information on more than 200 countries and dependencies (covering visa requirements, currency, local laws, embassy locations, etc.), including for each a “Safety and Security” section. 

Under this section in the Thailand listing, ITN subscriber Edna R.S. Alvarez of Los Angeles, California, noticed — and brought to our attention — details about several violent incidents that occurred in Thailand early in 2014. These had not been included in the State Department Warnings or Alerts released in 2014 (though the US embassy in Bangkok, on its website, announced them in a Security Message for US citizens). 

Regarding the provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla in Thailand, the State Department notes, “The deep south of Thailand has experienced almost daily incidents of criminally and politically motivated violence for several years, including acts attributed to armed local separatist groups. 

“Although the separatist groups have primarily targeted security officials and Thai government interests in the southern provinces, they sometimes target public and commercial areas, including railways and areas where foreigners may congregate. In March 2014, at least 50 violent incidents killed more than 30 people in these provinces.” 

In one of these incidents, on March 30 in the city of Yala, 14 people were killed when two successive car bombs went off on a street of restaurants and stores. Twenty minutes after the first explosion, once people had gathered at the site, the second blast occurred. None of these details were mentioned on the State Department’s website.

As reported in the Department’s “Safety and Security” section for Thailand, there were several more bombing incidents in May. On May 6, a bomb injured five people in Hat Yai, a major city in Songkhla Province. On May 24 in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces, five people were killed and more than 100 were injured in multiple bombings in public places, including at three 7-Eleven stores. On May 28, a bomb in the parking lot of a hospital in the town of Pattani injured 10 people. 

So, as ITN subscriber Alvarez has discovered, when planning a trip somewhere, it can be worthwhile to check out that country’s “Safety and Security” section. Visit http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country.html and, in the Search bar just above the map, type the name of a country, then click on “Safety and Security.”

Here’s an item that budget-conscious travelers may find of interest.

In many places, prices of hotel rooms rise and fall with the local seasons, with room rates most expensive during “high season,” when the numbers of out-of-town visitors are highest. (Numbers of travelers often are highest when the weather is nicest.)

An easy-to-use, online Travel Advice Calendar — which shows the cheapest as well as the most expensive months in which to stay overnight in 70 of the most popular cities in the world, 41 of which are outside of the US — has been released for 2015 by the hotel booking site Trivago.

Trivago studied over 700,000 hotel listings on 175 booking sites over three years to create the calendars. The ratings are based on the average prices of overnight accommodations for standard double rooms.

For each city on the website, there is a calendar of 12 months on which each month is marked with a number of dollar signs, from $ to $$$$. The more dollar signs there are, the more expensive the hotel rooms are during that month.

In some locations, the difference between a $ rating and a $$$$ rating can be hundreds of dollars. In Amsterdam, for example, a hotel room booked in May could be nearly $116 a night higher than the same one booked in January.

The dollar sign ratings do not reflect overall price comparisons between cities; instead, they reflect the month-to-month price fluctuations for rooms within each city. Thus, the average cost of a hotel night in a month rated $ on the Paris calendar may still be more expensive than the average cost of a room in a month rated $$$$ on the Warsaw calendar.

Among cities listed are London, Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Lisbon, Venice, Istanbul, Moscow, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Montréal, Cancún and Buenos Aires.

A few observations made from the results — hotel rates in Dubai are cheapest in June-August (the hottest months); the least expensive months to visit Bangkok are July and October, and, in Sydney, the months June through September are all classified as $.

To download a calendar for any of the cities studied, visit www.trivago.com/hotelprices and click on a city link.

Lorenz Rychner of Denver, Colorado, read what I had to say about International Driving Permits, or IDPs (Dec. ’14, pg. 66), and wrote in to point out a gross inaccuracy and an omission.

He emailed, “The inaccuracy — you wrote, ‘If you have an IDP and are driving in a country that accepts it, you can leave your state-issued license at home’.”

“On the contrary,” Mr. Rychner wrote, “do NOT leave your ‘real’ driver license at home! I have an IDP and it says right on it, ‘Your valid U.S. driver’s license must accompany the IDP at all times’.”

He continued: “The AAA, which, as you wrote, is one of two companies that issue the permits, explains their purpose on its website, stating, ‘The IDP is valid only when carried in conjunction with and acts as a translation of a drivers license’.” 

Mr. Rychner noted that in the case of New Zealand, which I had referenced, that country’s tourism authority says on its website that one could get away with just the IDP. The website asserts, ‘You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have either a current driver’s licence from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP)’… and ‘In New Zealand all drivers, including visitors from other countries, must carry their licence or permit at all times when driving.’

Mr. Rychner then cautioned, “However, while that is the official policy in NZ, I doubt that you’d get a car without having your government-issued license. 

“Case in point — Hertz NZ states on its website, ‘At time of rental, the renter must present a full valid driver’s licence issued from their country of residence that has been held for a minimum of one year. If the licence is not in English, then an International Driver’s Licence (sic; read ‘Permit’) is also required.’ 

“And Avis NZ states on its website, ‘To drive an Avis vehicle in New Zealand, you must hold a current full valid driver licence appropriate for the vehicle while using it. It is mandatory that your driver licence also be in English when renting from Avis New Zealand. If your driver licence is in any language other than English, it must be accompanied by an approved translation, such as an International Driver Permit and be produced at time of renting from Avis.’

“So while the NZ government tourism authority says one thing, the rental agencies say another, and guess who wins when you stand there wishing to drive one of their cars, having left your state-issued license at home? 

“Depending on the foreign country, an IDP may or may not be required or even recognized, but prudence suggests that you carry it, just in case. To plagiarize the American Express slogan: ‘Don’t leave home without it’.” 

Mr. Rychner also wrote, “You failed to mention that the IDP is valid for only one year from the date of issue and that it may not be issued more than six months in advance of the desired effective date (as per the notice highlighted in red on www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html).”

He added, “For what it’s worth (as a matter of anecdotal personal experience), in more countries than I can remember, I have never needed to produce the IDP, neither at car rental locations nor in contact with law enforcement, and when I volunteered it, I was met with curious stares and responses of ‘What is this?’

“Still, each year I dutifully renew mine for $15 plus the cost of two passport photos. Call me an optimist… or a pessimist, as the case may be.”

A couple more CORRECTIONS to note —

• In an editing error, ITN printed an incorrect taxi charge in Marilyn Hill’s letter “Agriturismo in Veneto” (Dec. ’14, pg. 31), about her stay at Agriturismo Ca’ Beatrice, near Venice, Italy.

What was printed was, “I took a taxi from the Mestre rail station to the hotel for about 25, and it would have cost 30 from the hotel to the airport but the agriturismo owners gave me a ride (at 4:30 a.m.!).”

Since the driving distance from the agriturismo to the airport is only about five minutes, a taxi for that trip actually would have cost only 5-10 (not 30).

• In the article “The National Botanic Garden of Namibia,” in her December 2014 “The Garden Path” column, Yvonne Horn wrote, “My late-2014 visit was at the tail end of the rainy season.” What she meant to write was, “My mid-March 2014 visit was at the tail end of the rainy season.”

In Namibia, the months of January, February and March get more than twice as much rain as the next-wettest month, April, and June, July and August are essentially rain-free.

Virginia Shannon of Naples, Florida, wrote, “Thank you for printing my letter about my taking 35 trips around the world (Sept. ’14, pg. 34). Afterward, I received many calls, even from as far away as Poland! It’s been wonderful, and even though I’ll be 90 in March, I have all plans made to make the total 36.

“In the same issue was an article about Dubai, where the author stayed in the Riviera hotel. I’ve stayed there every year since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. I sent a copy of the Dubai article to the owner, Mr. Mohammed, who appreciated it very much.

“I’ve booked a flight on Qatar Airways in 2015, as they have new 777ers and a gorgeous airport.”

Jeff Carrier of Naples, Florida, applied for three ITN Travel Awards (All of Europe, North & Central Asia, and the United Kingdom) and wrote, “I have now visited 121 countries and calculate that I can reasonably, and safely, add another 50 to get to 171 or so.

“I would like input from readers who have traveled RECENTLY to the 20 or so countries that are pretty much always on the State Department Travel Warnings list in ITN. How did they do it and what were their experiences? It would be an interesting read, at least, for me.”

Send your comments to editor@intltravelnews.com or write to Visiting Warning List Countries, c/o ITN, 2126 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. (Include the address at which you receive ITN.)

Sol Gold of Las Vegas, Nevada, takes it one step further. He suggested we offer a new award for visiting all of the countries on the Travel Warnings list. He says we should call it The Come Back Alive Award.

I told him that, aside from that list of countries changing occasionally, which would present the problem of a moving target, we didn’t want to be responsible for encouraging people to put themselves in harm’s way simply to earn a coveted ITN Travel Award. So, for now, anyway, we have no plans to introduce that certificate.

Lynn Meadows of Truckee, California, wrote, “If you would be so kind, please send a sample copy of the magazine to my friend.” 

Of course! ITN will send a free sample copy of the next-printed issue to anyone anywhere upon request. Send us the names and addresses of any travelers — group members on your next tour, perhaps. ITN does not pass along the names and addresses to any other firm.

Lynn’s request included this note: “I used to get ITN secondhand from my mother. Now I am a loyal subscriber who reads each issue cover to cover. You do a marvelous job covering all there is to see and enjoy in our big, big world.”

Mary Barnett of Aiken, South Carolina, sent in an address and wrote, “We met this couple, who are avid travelers like us, on an Azamara Cruises sailing from Copenhagen to Iceland. I’ve been a fan of ITN for many years and have promoted it widely.”

Susan Walz of Portola Valley, California, asked us to send sample copies to a couple different travelers and wrote, “Dear ITN, I sure love the magazine. Thanks for all of your hard work.”

Like I said, when getting letters like that, it doesn’t seem much like work to me.    

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 467th issue of your monthly foreign travel magazine. Whew! I’ve worked on 463 of them… and still love doing it. Every month brings interesting mail, and it helps to have good-spirited, dedicated coworkers. 

Your letters of encouragement are inspiring too. With ITN largely reader written, this is a group project. And let’s not forget the advertisers who help support the magazine; if you notice something interesting in one of their ads, give ’em a call. It’s all coal for the engine that is ITN.

OK, let’s get to the news. Credit for this first item goes fully to one of our subscribers.

The US Department of State periodically releases Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts about other countries. These are often posted in response to news events, such as coups, mass demonstrations or disease outbreaks, but they also can include information about long-term issues, such as high crime rates or the threats of terrorist groups or anti-government militias.

Travel Warnings pertain to more elevated security concerns and are a step above Travel Alerts, the latter often indicating problems of a temporary nature and including dates on which the notices will expire. Each month, at the end of the “News Watch” section, ITN publishes a list of the several dozen countries on which there are current Travel Warnings.

The State Department’s website (http://travel.state.gov) also provides detailed background information on more than 200 countries and dependencies (covering visa requirements, currency, local laws, embassy locations, etc.), including for each a “Safety and Security” section. 

Under this section in the Thailand listing, ITN subscriber Edna R.S. Alvarez of Los Angeles, California, noticed — and brought to our attention — details about several violent incidents that occurred in Thailand early in 2014. These had not been included in the State Department Warnings or Alerts released in 2014 (though the US embassy in Bangkok, on its website, announced them in a Security Message for US citizens). 

Regarding the provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla in Thailand, the State Department notes, “The deep south of Thailand has experienced almost daily incidents of criminally and politically motivated violence for several years, including acts attributed to armed local separatist groups. 

“Although the separatist groups have primarily targeted security officials and Thai government interests in the southern provinces, they sometimes target public and commercial areas, including railways and areas where foreigners may congregate. In March 2014, at least 50 violent incidents killed more than 30 people in these provinces.” 

In one of these incidents, on March 30 in the city of Yala, 14 people were killed when two successive car bombs went off on a street of restaurants and stores. Twenty minutes after the first explosion, once people had gathered at the site, the second blast occurred. None of these details were mentioned on the State Department’s website.

As reported in the Department’s “Safety and Security” section for Thailand, there were several more bombing incidents in May. On May 6, a bomb injured five people in Hat Yai, a major city in Songkhla Province. On May 24 in Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat provinces, five people were killed and more than 100 were injured in multiple bombings in public places, including at three 7-Eleven stores. On May 28, a bomb in the parking lot of a hospital in the town of Pattani injured 10 people. 

So, as ITN subscriber Alvarez has discovered, when planning a trip somewhere, it can be worthwhile to check out that country’s “Safety and Security” section. Visit http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country.html and, in the Search bar just above the map, type the name of a country, then click on “Safety and Security.”

Here’s an item that budget-conscious travelers may find of interest.

In many places, prices of hotel rooms rise and fall with the local seasons, with room rates most expensive during “high season,” when the numbers of out-of-town visitors are highest. (Numbers of travelers often are highest when the weather is nicest.)

An easy-to-use, online Travel Advice Calendar — which shows the cheapest as well as the most expensive months in which to stay overnight in 70 of the most popular cities in the world, 41 of which are outside of the US — has been released for 2015 by the hotel booking site Trivago.

Trivago studied over 700,000 hotel listings on 175 booking sites over three years to create the calendars. The ratings are based on the average prices of overnight accommodations for standard double rooms.

For each city on the website, there is a calendar of 12 months on which each month is marked with a number of dollar signs, from $ to $$$$. The more dollar signs there are, the more expensive the hotel rooms are during that month.

In some locations, the difference between a $ rating and a $$$$ rating can be hundreds of dollars. In Amsterdam, for example, a hotel room booked in May could be nearly $116 a night higher than the same one booked in January.

The dollar sign ratings do not reflect overall price comparisons between cities; instead, they reflect the month-to-month price fluctuations for rooms within each city. Thus, the average cost of a hotel night in a month rated $ on the Paris calendar may still be more expensive than the average cost of a room in a month rated $$$$ on the Warsaw calendar.

Among cities listed are London, Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Lisbon, Venice, Istanbul, Moscow, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Montréal, Cancún and Buenos Aires.

A few observations made from the results — hotel rates in Dubai are cheapest in June-August (the hottest months); the least expensive months to visit Bangkok are July and October, and, in Sydney, the months June through September are all classified as $.

To download a calendar for any of the cities studied, visit www.trivago.com/hotelprices and click on a city link.

Lorenz Rychner of Denver, Colorado, read what I had to say about International Driving Permits, or IDPs (Dec. ’14, pg. 66), and wrote in to point out a gross inaccuracy and an omission.

He emailed, “The inaccuracy — you wrote, ‘If you have an IDP and are driving in a country that accepts it, you can leave your state-issued license at home’.”

“On the contrary,” Mr. Rychner wrote, “do NOT leave your ‘real’ driver license at home! I have an IDP and it says right on it, ‘Your valid U.S. driver’s license must accompany the IDP at all times’.”

He continued: “The AAA, which, as you wrote, is one of two companies that issue the permits, explains their purpose on its website, stating, ‘The IDP is valid only when carried in conjunction with and acts as a translation of a drivers license’.” 

Mr. Rychner noted that in the case of New Zealand, which I had referenced, that country’s tourism authority says on its website that one could get away with just the IDP. The website asserts, ‘You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have either a current driver’s licence from your home country or an International Driving Permit (IDP)’… and ‘In New Zealand all drivers, including visitors from other countries, must carry their licence or permit at all times when driving.’

Mr. Rychner then cautioned, “However, while that is the official policy in NZ, I doubt that you’d get a car without having your government-issued license. 

“Case in point — Hertz NZ states on its website, ‘At time of rental, the renter must present a full valid driver’s licence issued from their country of residence that has been held for a minimum of one year. If the licence is not in English, then an International Driver’s Licence (sic; read ‘Permit’) is also required.’ 

“And Avis NZ states on its website, ‘To drive an Avis vehicle in New Zealand, you must hold a current full valid driver licence appropriate for the vehicle while using it. It is mandatory that your driver licence also be in English when renting from Avis New Zealand. If your driver licence is in any language other than English, it must be accompanied by an approved translation, such as an International Driver Permit and be produced at time of renting from Avis.’

“So while the NZ government tourism authority says one thing, the rental agencies say another, and guess who wins when you stand there wishing to drive one of their cars, having left your state-issued license at home? 

“Depending on the foreign country, an IDP may or may not be required or even recognized, but prudence suggests that you carry it, just in case. To plagiarize the American Express slogan: ‘Don’t leave home without it’.” 

Mr. Rychner also wrote, “You failed to mention that the IDP is valid for only one year from the date of issue and that it may not be issued more than six months in advance of the desired effective date (as per the notice highlighted in red on www.aaa.com/vacation/idpf.html).”

He added, “For what it’s worth (as a matter of anecdotal personal experience), in more countries than I can remember, I have never needed to produce the IDP, neither at car rental locations nor in contact with law enforcement, and when I volunteered it, I was met with curious stares and responses of ‘What is this?’

“Still, each year I dutifully renew mine for $15 plus the cost of two passport photos. Call me an optimist… or a pessimist, as the case may be.”

A couple more CORRECTIONS to note —

• In an editing error, ITN printed an incorrect taxi charge in Marilyn Hill’s letter “Agriturismo in Veneto” (Dec. ’14, pg. 31), about her stay at Agriturismo Ca’ Beatrice, near Venice, Italy.

What was printed was, “I took a taxi from the Mestre rail station to the hotel for about 25, and it would have cost 30 from the hotel to the airport but the agriturismo owners gave me a ride (at 4:30 a.m.!).”

Since the driving distance from the agriturismo to the airport is only about five minutes, a taxi for that trip actually would have cost only 5-10 (not 30).

• In the article “The National Botanic Garden of Namibia,” in her December 2014 “The Garden Path” column, Yvonne Horn wrote, “My late-2014 visit was at the tail end of the rainy season.” What she meant to write was, “My mid-March 2014 visit was at the tail end of the rainy season.”

In Namibia, the months of January, February and March get more than twice as much rain as the next-wettest month, April, and June, July and August are essentially rain-free.

Virginia Shannon of Naples, Florida, wrote, “Thank you for printing my letter about my taking 35 trips around the world (Sept. ’14, pg. 34). Afterward, I received many calls, even from as far away as Poland! It’s been wonderful, and even though I’ll be 90 in March, I have all plans made to make the total 36.

“In the same issue was an article about Dubai, where the author stayed in the Riviera hotel. I’ve stayed there every year since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. I sent a copy of the Dubai article to the owner, Mr. Mohammed, who appreciated it very much.

“I’ve booked a flight on Qatar Airways in 2015, as they have new 777ers and a gorgeous airport.”

Jeff Carrier of Naples, Florida, applied for three ITN Travel Awards (All of Europe, North & Central Asia, and the United Kingdom) and wrote, “I have now visited 121 countries and calculate that I can reasonably, and safely, add another 50 to get to 171 or so.

“I would like input from readers who have traveled RECENTLY to the 20 or so countries that are pretty much always on the State Department Travel Warnings list in ITN. How did they do it and what were their experiences? It would be an interesting read, at least, for me.”

Send your comments to editor@intltravelnews.com or write to Visiting Warning List Countries, c/o ITN, 2126 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. (Include the address at which you receive ITN.)

Sol Gold of Las Vegas, Nevada, takes it one step further. He suggested we offer a new award for visiting all of the countries on the Travel Warnings list. He says we should call it The Come Back Alive Award.

I told him that, aside from that list of countries changing occasionally, which would present the problem of a moving target, we didn’t want to be responsible for encouraging people to put themselves in harm’s way simply to earn a coveted ITN Travel Award. So, for now, anyway, we have no plans to introduce that certificate.

Lynn Meadows of Truckee, California, wrote, “If you would be so kind, please send a sample copy of the magazine to my friend.” 

Of course! ITN will send a free sample copy of the next-printed issue to anyone anywhere upon request. Send us the names and addresses of any travelers — group members on your next tour, perhaps. ITN does not pass along the names and addresses to any other firm.

Lynn’s request included this note: “I used to get ITN secondhand from my mother. Now I am a loyal subscriber who reads each issue cover to cover. You do a marvelous job covering all there is to see and enjoy in our big, big world.”

Mary Barnett of Aiken, South Carolina, sent in an address and wrote, “We met this couple, who are avid travelers like us, on an Azamara Cruises sailing from Copenhagen to Iceland. I’ve been a fan of ITN for many years and have promoted it widely.”

Susan Walz of Portola Valley, California, asked us to send sample copies to a couple different travelers and wrote, “Dear ITN, I sure love the magazine. Thanks for all of your hard work.”

Like I said, when getting letters like that, it doesn’t seem much like work to me.