TRAVEL: YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR PANEL OF EXPERTS
Sunday 08 August 1999
My fiance and I are getting married in February and wish to take a three- week honeymoon in Thailand. We are not interested in doing a package deal; we are travelling on limited funds and would rather book flights and explore independently. We would like to visit Bangkok for a couple of days but apart from that we want to avoid the hustle and bustle and visit some quieter places and learn about Thailand's history, culture and religion.
The Travel Editor replies: In two or three days in Bangkok you can see most of the city's major sights. After that amount of time in the city, most travellers have had enough of the heat and pollution anyway. The most economical way to get about is by bus (essential to have a map; best ones available from any bookshop that carries English-language material). The notorious tuk tuks (three-wheel motorbike taxis offering hair-raising rides around Bangkok at often extortionate rates for tourists) and taxis are easier to pick up, but more expensive.
With three days in Bangkok, you could make a start with a visit to one of the early-morning floating markets south-west of the city, for example Damnoen Saduak. You could also visit Nakhon Pathom, the neighbouring city regarded as the oldest in Thailand and home to the world's largest Buddhist monument. I would spend one day visiting Bangkok's heavily gilded temples and another exploring the former royal capital of Ayuthaya, with its 400- year-old temple and palace ruins.
You could then take an overnight bus or train to Chiang Mai (or fly, domestic flights with Thai Airways cost from pounds 40 one way). Chiang Mai is widely considered to be Thailand's cultural capital, full of vibrant handicraft markets, teak temples, Thai massage and cooking courses. From here you can decide whether to move north-west to Mae Hong Son (trekking to visit hill-tribe populations, a visit to Asia's longest caves and rafting) or to Nan (similar activities, if a little less frequented by tourists). Various tourist buses run regularly from Chiang Mai. Again, inexpensive flights are a time-saving option, although the journey north can be an experience in itself. About a week in the north should allow you to do all of the above.
A visit to at least one of Thailand's spectacular beaches is a must. From the north, you could travel back via Bangkok to either Koh Samet or Koh Chang, two islands a few hours south-east of the capital offering simple accommodation in bungalows on the beach for a few pounds per night. If you wanted to venture further afield (an overnight train from Bangkok plus a couple of hours on a boat, or a pounds 50 flight one way), the island of Koh Samui offers secluded caves, waterfalls, diving and snorkelling and a wider range of accommodation.
Alternatively the Krabi province, on the south-west coast, offers striking limestone formations, beach resorts, climbing, sea kayaking and scuba diving. Just inland is the Koh Sok national park, 646sq km (250sq miles) of thick jungle, soaring cliffs and crystal rivers. The most expensive lodgings are at Our Jungle House (pounds 7 a night), but the treetop huts there offer truly romantic accommodation for intrepid honeymooners.
I am travelling to the northern coasts of Colombia and Venezuela and am concerned about the risks of catching diseases from sandflies. A friend of mine recently returned from Venezuela and the bites he had received seem to be getting worse rather than better. Are the risks great, and is there any guaranteed way to avoid getting bitten?
Dr Larry Goodyer replies: Sandflies can carry a variety of diseases caused by different organisms. The viral diseases can cause a sandfly fever, and one particular bacteria can result in a condition known as bartonellosis. Perhaps the best-known disease transmitted by the bite of the sandfly is leishmaniasis, which was of particular concern to the soldiers fighting in the Gulf war.
Fortunately, these conditions are comparatively rare in travellers; there are only about a dozen cases of leishmaniasis reported every year in travellers returning to the UK. Leishmaniasis is treatable with drugs, but in some cases the illness is not apparent until long after the patient has been bitten. Unusual nodules or sores in the area of a bite can be a sign of a sandfly-transmitted disease. It would be worth a trip to your doctor.
Sandfly bites can be difficult to avoid if camping out in certain parts of the world, although the use of repellents can help. They are most active at dawn and dusk, so it may be worth getting up later in the morning. Ordinary mosquito nets are not fine enough to stop sandflies, and special sandfly nets are too stuffy to sleep under. The best solution is to use a regular net impregnated with permethrin. Fortunately, sandflies can jump only about two feet off the ground.
Dr Larry Goodyer is a lecturer in clinical pharmacy at King's College, London. Contact the Nomad Travel Health Helpline (tel:0891 633414; calls cost 60p a minute).
My wife and I would like to go camping in Normandy but do not have a car. Is there any way to take a train to campsites where it would be possible to rent pre-pitched tents?
A G Hickman
The Travel Editor replies: Almost every village and town in Normandy has a campsite, but there are few places in France where it is possible to rent a tent in the conventional sense.
There are plenty of places where you can rent mobile homes, "huttes" (huts) and "bungalow toiles" (a sort of canvas/plastic hut). The tourist offices in both France and England (French Government Tourist Office tel: 0891 244123) produce full lists of sites, which indicate where there are pre-pitched facilities of these kinds. The cheapest place to stay in each town is usually the Camping Municipal, charging F20-F30 (pounds 2-pounds 3) per person, per night. Superior categories of campsite (three or four-star) are located along the coast, where you'll pay hotel prices and get similar facilities - swimming pool, restaurant, bar and so on. Here the pre-pitched facilities for rent tend to be mobile homes.
Getting to Normandy by rail is very simple. You can buy connecting tickets from any British station to any French station via any of the cross-Channel ferry routes (National Rail Enquiries tel: 0345 484950). Alternatively, you could take the Eurostar (tel: 0990 186186) to Lille and then change for either Nantes or Rennes on the TGV (total journey time should be a swift six or seven hours). To get out to the campsite you would have to use either bus or taxi. All but the smallest rail stations have information desks to help with onward travel, and some stations even hire out bicycles. Distances and hills in Normandy are not too great, so cycling is a great way of getting about.
UK camping tour operators specialising in France often have their own pre-pitched tents for rent. If you want to pre-arrange your camping holiday, you could go though an agent such as Canvas (tel: 01383 644000). It offers tent accommodation in a variety of campsites. One week at the Chateau de Martragny campsite (easily accessible from the port of Caen) would cost pounds 197 for a tent sleeping up to six people (sleeping bags/duvets not supplied). It can include transport in the package but self-drive with short ferry crossings only.
Recommended reading: `Camping & Caravanning France 1999' (Michelin, pounds 8.49); `Alan Roger's Good Camps Guide: France 1999' (Deneway Guides and Travel, pounds 6.99).
I am interested in a taking a day trip to Ireland to play golf. Are there any companies that can arrange this?
The Travel Editor replies: Golfing day trips to Ireland are hard to come by as a package deal as people usually want to stay longer and combine the golf with a short break.
Most golfing tourism companies will be able to tailor-make a day trip for you and can arrange early flights into Dublin with a round at a course on the outskirts of the city. A Golfing Experience (tel: 0181-205 7138) can arrange flights from London Stansted, a day's car hire (saloon car) and a round of golf at Luttrellstown Castle Golf Club in Dublin region for around pounds 230. Leisure Breaks and Golf (0151-734 5200) do have package day trips travelling over by ferry from either Liverpool or Hollyhead. A sailing from Liverpool with 18 holes at the Black Bush Golf Club in Co Meath as well as a four-course dinner in the evening, returning on a late ferry will cost from pounds 69 to pounds 75 in September, including all transfers and green fees. A day trip to the scenic Druids Glen golf course in Co Wicklow can also be arranged, sailing from Holyhead in north Wales arriving at 9.30am in Dun Laoghaire. The price, including the ferry cost and a round at the Irish Open Championship course (again with Leisure Breaks and Golf), would be in the region of pounds 130 (transfer to the course is not included but can be arranged).
If you wanted to spend longer in Ireland, Co Kerry is home to some of the country's most beautiful and famous courses. Unfortunately, this means that they are the most popular and, consequentially, harder to get on to. Although most of the deals involve longer stays, A Golfing Experience can organize a trip to Kerry staying one night in a b&b, with one round on one of Killarney's parkland courses (Ballybunion, Dooks or Killarney Golf club) and another on the Tralee Links Course, including car hire and flights from London Stansted for around pounds 272. For full listings of golfing tour companies to Ireland contact the Irish Tourist Board (tel: 0171-493 3201).
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