In recent years, Thailand has had numerous opportunities to measure the resilience of its tourism sector. A devastating tsunami that crippled Phuket in 2004 and a spat of anti-government demonstrations in parts of Bangkok last spring both challenged the rich hospitality, economy and environment that have created what can only be described as an emotional connection between the “Amazing Thailand” brand and the visitors who keep coming back to it. In both instances, the Tourist Authority of Thailand sprang quickly into action, fixing the damage and providing travelers with real-time information, always with the same warmth and “Thai-ness” that has proven itself to be unshakable. Thailand’s tourism sector enters 2011 headlong with a momentum that is—to borrow its favorite word—amazing.
Japan’s Shinkansen “bullet train” might break speed records, but India—with 40,000 miles of track and more than 6,000 stations—has Asia’s largest rail network. For passengers aboard any one of India’s half-dozen luxury trains, the pace is leisurely—all the better for taking in centuries of cultural heritage sites while being coddled in a style once reserved for Maharajas.
The Golden Chariot is the first and only luxury train to explore India’s south. Its popular 8-day, 7-night “Pride of the South” itinerary visits culturally and geographically diverse Karnataka. Flanked by the peaks of the Eastern and Western Ghats, the state has 200 miles of gold sand beaches along the Arabian Sea as well as extensive jungle tracts replete with elephants, tigers and exotic birds. Karnataka is also a cultural treasure trove. In this “Cradle of Stone Architecture” are hundreds of elaborately carved Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples and monuments, many UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Agents can book seats on the Golden Chariot directly. But in India—a developing country with a reputation for bureaucracy—it’s helpful to work with a knowledgeable tour operator like Pallavi Shah, energetic founder and CEO of Our Personal Guest. Educated at Bombay University, she worked for 22 years at Air India, where she became Director of Specialty Marketing. In 1989, Shah launched Our Personal Guest. Agents booking trips through OPG earn a 10 percent commission, usually about $100 a day. That can really add up, says Shah, since most trips to India last 14-21 days.
The country of Ethiopia, with its ancient history and culture, varies immensely across its geographical regions. While most head to the North to savor the cultural richness of this destination, a trip to Eastern Ethiopia’s low-lying, arid land brings a sharp contrast from the lush green landscape found in other parts. While this may not be the ideal place for the active traveler, for the coffee addict it’s pretty close to Heaven on Earth—as it is known as home to some of the best coffee in the world. Religion varies here as well, as most of the population in Eastern Ethiopia is Muslim. Combined with palaces and Mosques, Eastern Ethiopia is truly a unique destination.