Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Amazing Race 14, Episode 7

Jaipur (India) - Phuket (Thailand)

I won't be able to watch this week's episode of The Amazing Race until I get home. I'm delighted, however, that one of my talented friends at Airtreks.com, "rate desk" expert David Derrick, was generous enough to accept my invitation to share his thoughts about a destination -- Thailand -- that he knows much better than I do:

Hi. I'm David Derrick making a guest appearance as commentator on the travel issues in The Amazing Race 14 .

There were a lot of questions raised in this week's episode, worthy of much discussion, such as using travel agents versus booking flights directly with airlines, differences in how animals are treated in different societies, the history of the rickshaw, and how "random" factors and events can dominate your experiences and impressions while travelling. Too much was going on to limit my comments to just one of these questions. So here are my thoughts on a few of the issues in this weeks episode.

Airline Routes:

I put together custom around-the-world airfares for a living, so I was hoping for some kind of challenge this week when it came to getting everyone to their next destination, Phuket. They all followed a pretty straightforward route, however, using a domestic flight ((Jaipur to Delhi) to a trunk route between capitals (Delhi to Bangkok) to another domestic flight (Bangkok to Phuket). All of th racers ended up on the same flights.

As Edward mentioned last week , air travel in India has changed dramatically over the past decade now that the government has liberalized its bilateral agreements with other airlines and countries. It used to be that nearly all flights into India had to come into Bombay or Delhi. Passengers going to other destinations in India were forced to connect at ungodly hours in these notorious airports. The only exceptions were a few flights from Singapore, Malaysia and Persian/Arabian Gulf states into Chennai/Madras, Kolkata/Calcutta, and, rarely, a few other cities.

Now you can get international flights into all kinds of places in India such as Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bodgaya, Cochin, Hyderabad, Kozhikode, Nagpur, and Trivandrum. some of these flights come directly from as far away as Europe, and from almost anywhere in the world you can now make connections through obvious places in the Gulf like Dubai (hub for Emirates and served by many other airlines), or less well-known ones like Doha (hub for Qatar Airways), Abu Dhabi (Etihad), Bahrain (Gulf Air), Muscat (Oman Air), Sharjah (Air Arabia, the largest "low-fare" airline based in the Gulf), and so forth. If you are flying into one of these cities, I would strongly advise taking a direct or connecting flights from somewhere outside of India -- that is, of course, unless you are interested in stopping over and spending time in Delhi or Bombay.

Communication:

There are a lot of things that can help you win "The Amazing Race": cunning, physical strength and endurance, critical thinking, good looks, etc... But I think the most important thing is communication. Most contestants trip up because of issues in communication both with locals and with fellow travellers (i.e. their partners in the teams in the race). They rush through reading the "roadblock" instructions and don't understand the tasks fully. Personal dynamics can lead to bickering and self destructive competition within the same team. Language and cultural barriers can hinder interaction with locals. These are all issues that affect not just the contestants in "The Amazing Race", but all travellers. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of trying to practice good communication skills when traveling.

Dealing with local people:

The best thing you can do to positively interact in a different country is to learn a few words of the local language. Yes, this would be hard for contestants on "The Amazing Race", since they don't know their destinations beforehand. But most travellers don't have this excuse. By just learning the words for "hello" and "thank you" you show people that you respect them and want to interact in a positive way, and can open doors into more meaningful experiences.

After learning a few words of the local language, you should also learn something about the culture and customs of the places you go.

I have a lot of experience with Thai culture since my wife is from Thailand, and we go back to visit the family every year or two. Thailand is known as the "land of smiles" for a reason. No matter what the situation, most Thais can't help smiling (even at funerals and political protests!). Public displays of negative emotions such as anger or sadness are rare. This doesn't mean that people don't get angry or sad: They just keep it inside.

This week in the race, it made me cringe to see Jaime barking at her poor taxi driver and the man in the medicine shop. A Thai person speaking like that -- visibly angry -- would be considered a low class thug. Mike and Mel, on the other hand were perhaps too "nice", or at least too willing to accept their driver's statements that he knew where he was going. They should have realized that their driver didn't actually know where he was going, but didn't wart to say, "No".

A lot of Thai people, being from the land of smiles, do not like to tell you bad news, especially to foreigners. Instead they will reassure you that everything is fine, or worse, even tell you a lie they think you will want to hear. The same thing can happen elsewhere, but it's more likely in Thailand than in many other countries. It's important that you try to recognize this when asking for directions from strangers. Otherwise you could end up on the wrong side of town!

Happy travels,

David

Link | Posted by Edward on Sunday, 29 March 2009, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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