* Burma’s Last Royals

The King in Exile: The Fall of the Royal Family of Burma by Sudah Shah (Harper Collins)

Reviewed by Susan Cunningham

MYANMAR’S LAST ROYAL FAMILY, summarily ousted by British colonizers more than 125 years ago, hasn’t been a sensitive subject since independence in 1948. But less than three years ago, The King in Exile by Sudha Shah might have run afoul of censors just for noting that Taw Phaya Galae, a grandson of the last Burmese royal couple and one of her sources, served a stint in prison after participating in the squelched 1988-1990 democracy movement.

It is one of many signs of change that an edition of Shah’s family biography, already available in English in Myanmar, will soon be published in Burmese.

4 Daughters of Myanmar's King Thibaw

The Final Four Burmese Princesses

For the past two years, Myanmar’s military government has assumed a gentler, less martial face as it bids to welcome tourists and Western investors. After nearly 20 years of house arrest, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in Parliament in 2012 and ventured abroad to collect her 1991 Nobel Prize and other laurels. The strides the country has taken toward greater freedom of expression in the past two years have received less attention, but are also important.    MORE

* Indonesia hoteliers eye emerging middle class

By Susan Cunningham
HotelNewsNow.com correspondent

BANGKOK—Fueled by steady economic growth exceeding 6% annually, the rise of Indonesia’s middle class and its impact on the hotel landscape were prominent themes at Travel Trends’ No Vacancy conference in Bangkok last week.

Of the 248 million people in Indonesia, approximately 20%–50 million–now belong to the middle class, said Sonia Kapoor, client service director for Nielsen Singapore. Now compiling between $4 and $20 each day to save or spend on leisure activities, members of this group will comprise 50% of the population by 2030, she predicted.

The number of new hotels being built or in the pipeline is unknown. The breakdown of travelers also is hazy, but Scott Blume, group CEO of PT Raja Kumar International, provided an estimate: “At least 25% is probably business travel and the travelers are staying in the 3- to 3-and-a-half-star range hotels. That’s 400,000 to 500,000 rupiah, or about $40.” … MORE

* Deals and developments in Sri Lanka

Cliff-side Kandalama Hotel (Aitken Spence), a Bawa design in central Sri Lanka

Geoffrey Bawa-designed Heritance Kandalama in Cultural Triangle

Sri Lanka’s hotels have been far from the international spotlight for 30 years, but the country accumulated a sizable inventory during the 1960s and 1970s. More than 500 Sri Lankan hotels and other types of lodging are listed on online booking sites. There are approximately 70 listed just for the Bentota-Kalutara beach strip southwest of Colombo.

Here are some companies that have announced sizable investments for renovations or new builds since the end of the country’s civil war in 2010.

Jetwing Hotels Limited

Jetwing Hotels will build six hotels by 2014, adding to its existing stable of 12, according to Jetwing Chairman Hiran Cooray. Forty-year old Jetwing, which also runs outbound tours, already operates the largest number of hotels in the country with a total of approximately 520 rooms. Cooray said Jetwing will spend $18 million … more

* Motoring with Mohammed: Living La Vida Yemeni

Motoring with Mohammed
by Eric Hansen (Vantage)
Reviewed by Susan Cunningham

Eric Hansen, the intrepid, foolhardy author of Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo, is back with adventures from a beguiling corner of the Middle East. Back in 1978, after a yacht-wreck in the Red Sea, he was stranded for two weeks on an uninhabited island off the coast of North Yemen. Rescued after two weeks by a boatload of amiable Eritrean arms smugglers, he left buried on the island a pile of notebooks that he had compiled during seven years of bumming around Greater Asia.

Most of Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea takes place a decade later when Hansen returns with the hope of recovering his notebooks. His plans to revisit the island are stymied by bureaucracy, military security zones, and rumors of the presence of Yasser Arafat. Fortunately, Hansen rapidly loses his sense of mission as he falls into the rhythms of the Yemeni male lifestyle. This demands spending a large part of each day chewing a hallucinogenic leaf qat.
Continue reading

* Thailand: Data suggests supply/demand mismatch

By Susan Cunningham
HotelNewsNow.com Correspondent

BANGKOK—Tourism in Thailand has bounced back strongly since the global meltdown of 2009, despite continuing economic doldrums in Western countries and Thailand’s continuing political instability.

New source markets have momentum, tourism revenue was up 8% last year and more than 18,000 hotel rooms will enter the market within the next three years. Yet the mood in Bangkok earlier this month at TravelTrends.biz’s “No Vacancy” conference was cautious—even somber.

“There’s a disconnect between luxury hotels and growth in mass tourism,” said Bill Barnett, managing director of Phuket-based consultancy C9 Hotelworks. “There’s a disconnect when it comes to infrastructure … MORE

* Visiting the Thai market where a train drives through


After I saw this startling video of a Thai market ebbing and  flowing over the tracks of a train, I had many questions. Where was the market? Could I visit it? What is the history of this line? I’ve found a few answers but I’d love to know more about the line’s history.

The train line began running some time before World War II as a freight line, hauling coal from the coast to Bangkok. As for the rest of the answer:  You can’t reach it from Hualampong, Bangkok’s central train station. Nor from Bangkok Noi, the small station on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, where the train to Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai departs. Continue reading

* Biking the wilds of Bangkok

Bicycling atop a clogged canal, slapped by the branches of tea trees and buzzed by cicadas, is a rejuvenating experience. A little bit jungle, a little bit village, Bang Kra Jao takes only a few minutes to reach from southeastern Bangkok by hopping a longtail boat across the Chao Phraya River. Because it’s a protected conservation area, this spit of greenery …

This piece appeared in the November 2008 issue of Reader’s Digest Asia.