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Lap land

Lap land

I am considering taking my new laptop on future holidays, so I will I be able to store and email digital photos. However, will I be able to use my usual internet service provider? And what else should I look out for when travelling with my laptop?

Gus Highsmith, Hants

The Travel Desk replies:

Whether you should use your laptop to access the internet abroad is dependent on two factors: the country to which you are travelling and the ISP you use.

Ask your current ISP if you will have to pay long-distance call charges. This will be the case for all but the most global ISPs. The UK ISP Claranet has dial-up connections in France, Germany and, soon, Spain, but access from, say, Asia, will be considerably more expensive. Going online with BT anywhere outside Britain will also involve a long-distance call.

If you will be travelling extensively with your laptop, sign up with a truly international ISP like America Online and remember to get the local dial-up numbers for your destination before you leave.

Your next hurdle will be the connection. Many hotels have separate modem sockets, but be wary of simply unplugging the phone - most hotels use digital systems that carry more current than home phone lines. A modem saver from IBM will warn you of unsafe voltage levels and protect the modem from power surges.

If you are really miles from anywhere, including the ubiquitous internet café, you can try using a mobile or a satellite phone, as several Everest climbers have done. Your modem will have to support cellular protocols (most do) and you will need a special cable from your phone's manufacturer.

You will also have to take into account the various idiosyncrasies of foreign power supplies and take the appropriate adaptor. If this has not put you off lugging the laptop around the world then bear in mind that it should always be part of your hand luggage on flights. Modern X-ray machines won't damage the hard drive, but if the X-ray equipment looks more than 20 years old ask for your computer to be hand checked - many airlines will want to check that it is a real, working laptop anyway. Never allow metal detectors to be used since their magnetic field is strong enough to do some damage.

Thai break

My wife and I have finally reached the stage in life when we can travel without our children. After many great holidays around the world together, our two boys would rather travel without us. So, with our new-found freedom we can do anything we want, and after weeks looking at brochures we've finally settled on Thailand. We are treating this as our second honeymoon and have three weeks in late January and early February. Now that it's just the two of us we intend to fly business class. We thought we would spend some time on the beach and some time exploring the north. Despite looking at the guides and brochures I cannot work out an itinerary. Can you please help us?

Michael Murphy, by email

Phil Haines replies:

Congratulations. You will be joining the growing number of like-minded people who are relishing travel in their maturity. Thailand is a popular choice because of a near-perfect blend of hotels, scenery, food and culture.

The essential itinerary starts with two to three days in Bangkok incorporating the main temples of Wat Phra Kauw, Wat Pho and Wat Arun, the Royal Palace and some shopping time. If your budget permits, enjoy a couple of nights at the Oriental Hotel on the banks of the Chao Phraya river. Usually described as the earlier haunt of Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward and other old Asia hands, nowadays it is the service that justifies the expense of a stay. Once, I arrived there at 1am and, befuddled by jet-lag, took a moonlit swim. As I walked to the lift a member of staff said, "Good morning, Mr Haines". I had been in the hotel less than one hour and already the staff had magically memorised my face and name.

There are many good hotels in Bangkok and, like Thai Airways, they are known for their superb standards of friendly and efficient service. If you walk from the hotel, beware of people offering to act as your guide. This is one moment you could have your visit ruined by conmen, probably eager to show you a gem shop.

Traditionally, the three-day Thailand familiarisation in Bangkok is followed by the one-hour flight to Chiang Mai. Two nights in Chiang Mai and two nights in Chiang Rai (or the peaceful Shan tribal area Mae Hong Son) should be enough time to enjoy the temples, markets, hill tribes and elephant ride through the teak forests.

The choice of beach destination is trickier. Many people find Phuket too full of package tourists and depart thinking they could have been anywhere. Koh Samui is less developed, yet with all styles of accommodation, and is still the number one youth beach destination. The beautiful long beaches of Krabi, on the mainland, are convenient for boat trips to the Limestone Islands in Phang-Nga Bay, including Nail Island of Man With the Golden Gun fame. The island, Ko Phi Phi, where The Beach was filmed, can be visited from Krabi or Phuket.

A final suggestion is a trip to the magnificent temples and ruins of the classic Khmer Angkor complex in Cambodia. Amid dozens of temples and hundreds of monuments, Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century, is one of the most inspired human achievements.

For decades, Angkor was a difficult destination. Now travel there is straightforward: there are five flights a day from Bangkok to Siem Reap with Bangkok Airways, which also flies from Phuket, with a full domestic service. Cambodian visas are available on arrival at the airport. Your agent should be able to sell this three to four-day add-on as a package.

Phil Haines, the youngest person to have visited every country in the world, runs a travel company, Live Ltd (tel: 020-8737 3725; email:, which "specialises in travel to special places".

Post-op skiing

Three weeks ago I underwent a knee replacement operation on both knees. However, I have just been invited skiing by some friends in March and was wondering if I would be fit enough to go by then, or if there was anything I could do to speed up my recovery.

Arnold Pool, Sheffield

Dr Jules Eden replies:

A knee replacement is a big operation, and the fact that you have had one on both knees means that you would be doubly vulnerable on the slopes. It usually takes about eight to 12 weeks to make a full recovery, during which the doctors expect you to do only a little light exercise.

Skiing puts a tremendous strain on your knees as they have to be flexed or bent when you go down the slope to act as shock absorbers for the rest of the body. By March you should be fine, but there are a few other factors to consider.

If you are overweight then you will be putting more pressure on your knees, so you must make sure you are as close to the ideal weight for your size as possible. Another factor is what we call "quadriceps wasting". Quadriceps are the muscles in the front of your thighs that are used when your knees are flexed. Should the condition that necessitated your knee replacements have resulted in these muscles wasting away, then you will find it very hard to keep up with your fellow skiers.

If this is the case, then March may be a little too early to go skiing. However, with some good physiotherapy and exercises to build up your quadriceps, you should be fine on the green and blue runs.

If you do decide to go, I would strongly advise that you to stay away from mogul fields or particularly uneven runs as they will cause extra grief to your post-op knees.

One other thing. Make sure that you get up and walk around during the flight. People who have just had knee surgery are also vulnerable to blood clots developing. As this condition can be related to dehydration, make sure you drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids when you are in flight.

Dr Jules Eden runs, the online GP consultation service, which can advise, diagnose and treat travellers at home or abroad (tel: 020-7350 2079; email:

* Send your questions to: Travel Desk, The Independent on Sunday, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS. Email: