Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Thailand Celebrates 1M Annual Visitors: Vagabonding Lulu goes to Hollywood

Vagabonding Lulu joined the Tourism Authority of Thailand to celebrate 1M visitors during the 2017 tourist season. The celebratory party aptly named "A Million Thanks" brought Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) partners together for an extravaganza party at Wanderlust Hollywood in Los Angeles, California, where the venue was transformed into a Thai Street Market.

"I was so excited to finally eat authentic Thai food after my trip to Thailand last November," said the Arizona travel writer. "I was in seventh heaven eating and talking to the Thai street food vendors that TAT brought in for the party." 
Authentic Thai massage at Hollywood Party
"I also got a Thai massage, danced with the other fabulous travel writers that I met on the TAT Thailand trip, and posed for Instagram photos in a real Thai tuk tuk. It was almost as much fun as traveling to Thailand," Vagabonding Lulu stated.
Travel writers Bella Graham, Stacey Wittig and Pat Bailey Russo in Thai Tuk Tuk

Travel Disaster Averted

Vagabonding Lulu almost missed the party when her airplane was delayed out of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. "I'd flown in from Flagstaff and was waiting for my connection in Phoenix for my next flight to Burbank," said the seasoned traveler. "Fellow travel writer Suzanne Stavert [of Adventures of Empty Nesters blog] was picking me up at the airport and then driving me to her home in Pasadena to get primped for the party. The plane that was to take me there was delayed in Albuquerque. As my flight continued to be delayed, I texted Suzanne and told her not to leave for the Burbank airport."

"I was pretty much freaking out that I was going to miss the party... I wasn't so sure how long it would take to drive the LA freeways to Hollywood. I calmed myself by Googling the distance and traffic -- only 25 minutes from BUR to Wanderlust Hollywood." Unfortunately the late plane didn't allow time for Lulu to go to Suzanne's home to change. And it was a LITTLE 76-passenger tube-like CRJ9. 
The CRJ9 was similar to the on depicted here

The regional jet has a toilet in the tail where the ceiling curves over the occupant's head making them crouch. "I am glad that I have hidden talents; like a crouching tiger," laughed the travel writer. "I ended up changing from my Flagstaff fleece and yoga pants into my evening gown in the tiny toilet of the plane."

BEFORE and AFTER the mini-toilet dressing experience

Vagabonding Lulu makes debut Hollywood appearance

Check out the exciting TAT party on this YouTube vid. Can you spot Vagabonding Lulu in her debut Hollywood appearance?

Tourism Authority of Thailand

Wanderlust Hollywood

Stacey "Vagabonding Lulu" Wittig is a travel writer bbased in Flagstaff, Arizona. Like this story? Then "Follow" this blog from the box in the upper right.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Don't Miss the Desires of Your Heart: Tips for Traveling Solo

Many women travel alone successfully. Especially those who have lost their husbands, are retired, or like me can’t pry their hubbies away from the home front. Other ladies are terrified just thinking about traveling solo and so miss the desires of their hearts. Wherever you are on this spectrum, one of the following five tips is sure to grease the wheels on your travel buggy:

1. Hook up with Others

If you are unsure of traveling by yourself, book a group adventure with companies such as Road Scholar, formerly known as Elder Hostel. Promoting lifelong learning, their trips to faraway lands -- or around your region -- offer chances to meet others of similar interests. As I told my parents when I headed off solo to Spain for the first time, “Don’t worry. I’ll be with my friends – I just haven’t met them yet.”
Photo by Didier Weemaels on Unsplash

2. How to keep your Money Safe While Traveling Solo

Keep your money safe. I am always surprised when well-traveled girlfriends return from trips and announce that ALL their money and credit cards were stolen. Then they begin the saga of how difficult it was to replace passports, get cash and reissue credit cards. This won’t happen to you with a system I call “redundant security controls.”

Divide your credit cards and cash into three piles. To the first pile, add a copy of your passport and stash it inside a cotton money belt. As your least accessible stash, it’s the place for larger bills and your backup credit card. Put the second pile into a passport-sized wallet that hangs around your neck and goes in your handbag as a wallet when you don’t want to look so geeky.

I find that the neck wallet works well in airports, train stations and ferry ports when I need both hands for baggage but also need access to travel docs at a moment’s notice. The second stash is most accessible, so keep only one-day’s supply of small bills and your passport here. The third pile goes into an envelope with driver’s license and second copy of my passport. I hide the envelope inside my carry-on bag (not my handbag) in a zippered compartment.

When checked into hotel rooms or cruise ship cabins, leave the waist wallet locked in the safe. Then if someone grabs your handbag, the perp gets only one-third of your loot. If they make off with the pile that includes your passport, you have copies to take to the Embassy.

3. Don't Leave Home Without - Making Copies of - It

Before leaving home, make two copies of both sides of each credit card. Credit cards have the “Lost or Stolen” phone number right on them, so if any card is stolen, you can access that information along with credit card numbers from your copies. I kept the copies hidden in separate bags on my trip to Kerala, India.

4. Single Travelers Share Experiences on Escorted Tours

Lisa Cappabianca, of Cappabianca Travel in Erie, PA, recommended escorted tours for single travelers going overseas. “You get to share your experiences with other people. …cruises are a good fit for singles because they are safe and activities are planned.” I loved my experience with Hedonistic Hiking Gourmet Hiking Holidays. I traveled solo to Nice, France, but met up with a group of Aussies that soon became fast friends while we hiked over the Alps into Italy. Read more about that adventure here.

5. Luggage Tag Saavy

When on tours or cruises where your address changes daily, put your itinerary in your luggage tags. That way, if luggage is lost, the airline can deliver it to the appropriate address. I learned this one when my luggage followed me around the Mediterranean during a 12-day cruise. Without the itinerary, my bags didn’t catch up with me until day seven.

So girls, get started today by filling out that passport application and making your bucket list.

Reprinted from Her Times magazine, Erie, PA.

Stacey “Vagabonding Lulu” Wittig is an Arizona travel writer who loves solo globetrotting and boomer travel. Read more about her adventures here or at Facebook

Disclaimer: Vagabonding Lulu was a guest of Hedonistic Hiking gourmet hiking holidays, yet all opinions are her own.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Bangkok Posh: Three Hotels Worth the Splurge

Bangkok is a cosmopolitan city where posh hotels share the same space with a gritty yet accessible street culture. It's intriguing that all live together to provide a robust visitor experience. This #ThailandInsider loved sticking her toe into each side of the doings and particularly enjoyed these three luxury hotels worth the splurge.

Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park

The Thai-inspired elements of the public space and my 33rd-floor guest room let me know that I was in Bangkok, Thailand's capital city. However, the luxurious accommodations of the flagship Marriott Marquis property also made me, with my American sensibilities, feel quite at home. The 5-star hotel offers a rooftop bar in their M Club Lounge on the 27th floor, but their new rooftop restaurant, Akira Back and A Bar, on the very top of the hotel opened January 2018. I can’t wait to try them out.

The view from my room on the 33rd floor of the Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park was fascinating and I felt as if I were right in the middle of the city's hubbub - but I could watch from my own restful, quiet sanctuary. 

The Athenee Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Bangkok

I adored the sophisticated style and service at The Athenee Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Bangkok where I learned the story of Princess Valaya Alongkorn, who once lived on the grounds where this magnificent hotel now stands. The 2018 redesign of the space was inspired by the princess and her refined love of chess, reading and blending Western clothing with Thai styles. 

I loved exploring the grand hotel and grounds, and finding bits of the princess's royal legacy incorporated into the modern refinement. Do you see the nod to her obsession with the game of chess in the topiary at the rooftop pool area above?

The Vimarn Siam Suite is inspired by the summer residence of the Princess's royal family. The spacious two-bedroom suite that sleeps six is worth the splurge. 

Banyan Tree Bangkok

The thrilling rooftop bars and restaurants atop the Banyan Tree Bangkok hotel are a must-do when you are in the capital city. After the elevator deposited me on the 60th floor, I bravely teetered up two flights of outdoor stairs to the rooftop bar. With wind teasing my hair, I sat on the edge of night and sipped an Aroi Mak, the hotel's Thai-inspired signature cocktail that included basil, ginger liquor and coconut water. 

Later, I stepped inside to the award-winning Saffron restaurant at the Banyan Tree Bangkok to enjoy the finest dining experience of my 16-day trip. The four-course meal provided an explosion of tastes that mixed traditional Thai cuisine with a contemporary presentation. Each taste was multi-layered like a fine wine, yet each flavor was exact and didn’t have the stewed characteristic of some Asian food.

Each of these posh Bangkok experiences are worth the splurge. Check out the details here:

The Athenee Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Bangkok

Banyan Tree Bangkok

Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park

Common to the travel industry, writer Stacey Wittig was hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. While that has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure. #ThailandInsider

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What is it like to fly Business Class with China Southern?

Photo Credit: WikiCommons-Airbus A380-841,China Southern Airlines
After my non-stop flight from LAX to Guangzhou, many ask, “What is it like to fly Business Class on China Southern?” The first thing I say is, “China Southern’s business class is a real game changer for people who can’t sleep in Economy.” Then I tell them how I sprawled out in a 24-inch Business Class seat that -- with the flip of a switch -- reclined into a flat bed. Of course, I had to try it out -- before the flight attendant came by with beverages -- while waiting on the ground for the wide-body jumbo jet to fill with the Economy passengers. Hey, I’d been one of those poor Economy saps just the week before.

Business Class: Remedy for Claustrophobia

This was my first flight on the acclaimed Airbus 380 (A380), the largest passenger airliner on the planet. The A380 has been in commercial service since October 2007, but this was my maiden voyage on the massive craft. I’ve read that the A380-800’s cabin has 40% more usable floor space than the next largest airliner, the Boeing 747-8. No wonder the cabin feels open and spacious; it would be difficult to get claustrophobic here. In addition to my two-foot wide seat, I had a large storage compartment next to the window (I scored a window seat) and another 24-inches of table-top-like space for work files, magazines, scarves or other travel essentials.

With China Southern's 1-2-1 configuration you can get a window seat AND an aisle seat, all in one!

China Southern, a state-owned airline, flies daily direct flights from LAX, SFO and JFK to Guangzhou (CAN) in southern China. I was delighted to take my first A380 flight on a long-haul Business Class ride from LAX to CAN.
Business Class menu offers your choice of Chinese or Western

China Southern Business Class Boarding 

Earlier while walking from the boarding gate to the A380, I was directed to the elevator and gangway that took me to the upper deck. With Business Class, I’d been welcomed with Priority Boarding, so I was one of the first passengers onto the jetliner. “Oh boy, the upper deck!” I smiled. I always wondered what the ride felt like from the upstairs section. And I couldn't wait to get the upper level views of LAX at night.
Ordering dinner before take-off - check out that window right behind my head.

What does it feel like to fly on a China Southern A380?

We took off at 10:20 pm LA time. From my perspective in Business Class, the giant craft felt like a hotel taking off. From the upper level, the sensation of lift-off seemed different than the feeling I get during take-off in narrow-body airplanes. The cabin of the A380 is one of the quietest in the world, so maybe that’s why it felt more like the quiet, calm bridge of the Starship Enterprise than Luke Skywalker’s rattle-y and bouncy X-Wing Starfighter.

Speeding down the runway just before the plane becomes airborne is always my favorite part of the flight, and I pay careful attention to my body’s sensations during each take-off. You see, I’m an acceleration junkie; the sensation of taking off in an airplane is now the closest I get to the feeling of accelerating a race car. Yes, I loved racing automobiles and miss the adrenaline rush of 0-60 mph in three seconds.

The large plane seemed to lumber down the runway, hardly picking up speed. When the giant bird finally let go of the ground, we began our ascent. Throughout the duration of the 15-hour flight, I experienced a very smooth ride. Only at one point in the night was I awakened by the feeling of motion. And that sensation can best be described as the motion you would get if you were laying on the back of a large whale or dolphin. Just a comforting, gentle, gliding, streamlined motion. I went right back to sleep.

Why you should upgrade to Business Class?

I slept more than seven hours on my China Southern Airlines flight from LAX to CAN. That alone should have you upgrading to Business Class. 
Lots of room - a window seat with an aisle.

I would have slept more except I wanted to experience the exotic cuisine, free alcohol and larger individual video monitors for on-demand television, movies and audio stations. After I put my shoes in the special and out-of-the-way shoe compartment, I slipped on the China Southern slippers, went to the roomy Business Class bathroom to use the Italian body products provided by the airline and unfolded my in-flight quilt and in-light mattress bag (sheet.)
My feet can't even touch the end of the pod and I'm 5'7"

I hit the switch to unfold my 24-inch-wide seat into a flat bed (I was already relaxing in ‘cradle mode’ after the sumptuous dinner.) I grabbed my choice of pillow (two sizes), then put on the ear plugs, eye mask and calming facial mist found in my Business Class amenity bag and finally curled up to sleep. I found that I could lay flat on my back or curl up on my side just like I do in my own bed at home.
Can't beat seven hours of sleep...

I was awakened from a deep sleep by the flight attendants who had asked at dinner time if I wanted to be roused for breakfast. Of course! The bed was so comfortable and I slept so well that I think I am spoiled to ever return to Economy seating. However, I do now have the experience to write the next article, “How to Make Economy feel like Business Class.” I’ll try my best.


China Southern Airlines

Stacey "Vagabonding Lulu" Wittig is an Arizona travel writer who loves calling the Grand Canyon State home. She was hosted by China Southern Airlines for this trip that continued onto Thailand. Enjoy this article? Then sign up to receive email notification so you don't miss her next travel tips.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Mazatlán: Stories are the Best Souvenirs

It's been years since I've visited Mazatlán, Sinaloa, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Maybe twelve. Up until that point, I'd traveled to Mazatlán at least five times. The tropical getaway was one of my favorite affordable beach destinations. It's actually close – only a two-hour and eleven-minute flight from Phoenix on American Airlines. And you can typically score some great vacation packages.

Updated Travel Advisory Earns Mazatlán Another Chance

But the first thing that I did when I got the invitation to visit the Mexican “Colonial Town on the Beach” was check the US State Department advisory for the fair city. You see, ten or so years ago drug cartel activity earned bad press for Maz. One of Mexico's most powerful criminal organizations is based in the state of Sinaloa. Yet the current advisory updated on August 22, 2017, states:
Defer non-essential travel to the state of Sinaloa, except the cities of Mazatlán, Los Mochis, and the Port of Topolobampo.
Since my travel in Mazatlán, as far as I knew, would be limited to Zona Dorada (the golden coast where many of the hotels are situated), the historic town center and direct routes to and from these locations and the airport, I decided to give Mazatlán another chance.

Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead

I was so excited that my visit, hosted in conjunction with Fiesta Amigos, a conference of travel professionals, would coincide with Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead. I'd never attended Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico and was intrigued to learn more. (Read more at my blog post What is Day of the Dead? )

I was not disappointed. I felt totally safe the whole week that I was in Mazatlán and swam, body surfed, snorkeled, and did something I'd never done before: go deep sea fishing. But my most favorite experience was the Day of the Dead processional or what is called the callejoneada, or alley stroll. And what is so cool, you don't have to wait til next year to have a similar experience. Mazatlán’s carnival is coming up February 8-13, and you’ll find the same awe and appreciation of different cultures that I found on my latest visit.

Breath in the 'present moment'

We stood in the heart of the historic district, Plazuela Machado, waiting for whatever was going to happen next.  I wore a headband of the colorful flowers typical of the holiday. The balmy night was filled with anticipation, and when I looked at the children's faces, I was reminded of my own youthful ‘nights before Christmas’ hopefulness. The square was filled with families and us, the delegates from the Fiesta Amigos conference waiting for the Dia de Los Muertos callejoneada to start.

There's something beautiful about the unfolding of unknown rituals. I felt a sense of childlike wonder take over, and I let go of the need to control or understand what was going to happen next. On the other hand, the Americans that surrounded me needed to know what was next, and since they didn't, wanted to make it – whatever it was – happen on their own. There was a sort of culture clash going on.

“What are we doing just standing here?” pouted one of the American hipsters.
“Just standing here,” I thought to myself. “Really, it’s OK to simply stand and breath in the present moment of anticipation and excitement.”
“Let's just go! Let’s just start walking,” she demanded, pushing ahead. The treasonists in our group moved slightly forward while others held back. I imagined that from above we looked somewhat like an amoeba changing shape as we pushed against the crowd, and as the crowd pushed against us. I was happy to stand my ground and wait for whatever was going to happen next.

In time, three young Mexican public relations professionals arrived holding placards on long sticks that read, ‘Fiesta Amigos.’ They positioned themselves at the front and back of our group of about 150 people. The association had asked us to dress in white for this occasion and so we stuck out of the crowd as a seemingly amalgamous group between the handheld signs.

Finally, fireworks and bottle rockets signaled the beginning of the promenade and our big white amoeba started moving forward around the square.

I expected our group to move with the masses of others that had gathered in Plazuela Machado. But I was astonished to see that those not dressed in white parted to let us through. Parted to let us through? Families with baby carts, grandmothers, ninos and ninas stood on the curb or sat on walls smiling and sometimes waving as they watched us walk by. Waving at us?

I thought we had come to promenade with the locals, but instead, WE were the promenade and the locals were watching US! I learned later that the Fiesta Amigos had been processing in the Day of the Dead parade for years. Locals reached out to touch my arm and then pointed to the flowers in my hair. “Que bonita,” I heard several times.

Some of those standing curbside were dressed in Muertos attire, and I stopped to ask if I could take their picture. They would nod solemnly, and I would snap the picture.

We walked for blocks, snaking through the alleyways of historic Mazatlán until ending up at the Malecon, one of the longest boardwalks in the world. It was an incredible experience and one I am sure to tell stories about for years to come.

Make your own stories in Mazatlán during carnival. You know, stories are the best souvenirs... Learn more at

Stacey “Vagabonding Lulu” Wittig, travel writer, was a guest of  Reynolds + Associates public relations firm while researching this article. The opinions of the opinionated travel writer are her own. The information here is posted with the best of her knowledge, but there may be omissions or changes over time.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Don’t Miss these Five Joyful Experiences in Bangkok, Thailand

Don’t miss these five joyful experiences in Bangkok, Thailand. Discover why Thailand is called the "The Land of Smiles" when you experience these five "must-see" Bangkok happenings. I was filled with great personal joy at each of these special places, and I bet that you will, too.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market 

Take your camera as colorful photo ops abound in this mayhem of Thai vendors and waterborne souvenir hunters. I loved photographing the older Thai women skillfully maneuvering their long, canoe-like boats with just one paddle. The ‘J’ stroke, the ‘Sweep’ and the ‘C’ stroke – these elders, paddling from the stern, knew ‘em all. 
Many were out early to sell vegetables from their gardens to the canal-side restaurants or floating eateries. Later, I was happy to eat a bowl of Tom Yum Lemon at one of the floating noodle restaurants where I’d seen my favorite grandmother selling earlier in the day.

Tip: Get to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market as soon as possible as the tour buses start arriving at 9 am. Although being part of the khlongs (canals) jammed with boatloads of wheeling and dealing tourists is also an exciting adventure. The market officially opens at 7 am, but many noodle vendors open at 6 am.

Bang Kra Jao Bike Tour 

Oh, what a joy to escape the chaos of the city by cycling Bang Kra Jao, a green zone located adjacent to busy Bangkok. 

We sped through the jungle-like wilderness until arriving at the Emerald Way, a series of pathways, elevated two meters above the marshland. It took some concentration to keep the mountain bike between the hand rails ...and out of the drink. The rustic homes that we rode past were built on stilts to avoid seasonal flooding. 

“When I was a boy before these paths were constructed, I swam to my friends' homes,” said our twenty-something guide. Follow the unbeaten path through the park which is known as the "green lung" of Bangkok.

Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

You’ll be happy to learn that Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha is more than a temple. 

The complex includes the first public university in Thailand. Its school of Thai medicine is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. As I explored various pavilions, I was delighted to discover medical illustrations showing pressure points used in the traditional massage modalities. 
The complex also houses Thailand’s largest collection of Buddha statues that were brought here by one of the kings after looting of ancient relics became a problem in Thailand. 

Tip: Be prepared to remove your shoes to view the gold-leaf-covered Reclining Buddha, which is 151 feet / 46 meters long. Wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees.

Chaopraya River Cruise

Enjoy a Bangkok sunset while sipping French Champagne and cruising the Chao Phraya River. The river, long a trade route, reminded me of the Washington DC National Mall. National landmarks and royal monuments line each side of the waterway making for a perfect – and joy-filled – sightseeing expedition. 

And how easy to just sit back and watch as the Thai world goes by. Supanniga Cruise offers a choice of evening champagne cruises with drinks and Thai snacks or an exquisitely-prepared six-course dinner of Thai cuisine. 

I wondered how they could deliver such fantastically presented dishes from a boat galley. But they did!

Chatuchak Weekend Market

Expect to be overwhelmed by Chatuchak Weekend Market, AKA JatuJak or JJ Market, for short. Even the most-seasoned international travelers get a little starry-eyed at the immensity of this place. 

Fortunately, the 15,000 vendor stalls are divided into 27 sections. And maps are provided to this ‘delight for the inner shopper in all of us.’ Although some sections are open on other days (check the website for details), the whole market is open Sat and Sun 9 am – 6 pm.

Travel writer Stacey "Vagabonding Lulu" Wittig was a guest of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and China Southern Airlines while researching for this article. And as usual, her opinions are her own. All the information provided is accurate and true to the best of her knowledge, but that there may be omissions, errors or mistakes. Yes, this is the disclaimer. Cheers!