Hanging Around in Thailand

Our trip to Thailand had been long awaited, originally planned for the winter of 94/95. My wife Karin had bought the maps and books and even packed; we were off. The balloon was ready at Thunder and Colt with a heavy duty basket tailor made for hard use overseas. And then they went bust. The delay meant that we missed the relatively short window available for flying in Thailand. So it was rainy old England for most of the winter and a rethink of the plan for us. I had been asked to go out there by Jon Nunns having previously worked for him in South Africa flying passenger ride balloons.

Jon’s interest in Thailand comes from several commercial tours he’s probably had the most experience of flying in Thailand. Sky balloons agent in Thailand managed to sell one of the first balloons to roll off the production line to a pair of business men who wanted to learn to fly and fly advertising banners in I come again, this time to train and point them the right way.

So after a fantastic summer passenger flying in England, it was off on a Quantas Jumbo from a snowy December Heathrow. We caught a connecting flight from Bangkok to Chaing Mai, a city in the North which was hosting the South East Asia Games, ( SEA games ) our first port of call. Jon, returning from SAGA, was there for three days to ease us into things.

Our hosts had managed to find sponsor’s a cell phone company and we had a busy schedule ahead. The city was humming with activity related to the games and it was great fun to be there. We generally flew across the city in the mornings and over the main stadium in the evenings.

The stadium itself was about 10km from the centre of the city and lay under an east facing slope which of course moved into shade in the evening allowing us to fly over the stadium and away into open countryside, the mornings had the ability to take us up the slope and away to the west which was not a good idea as there was about 50km of forest and national park before the next road.

It was always fairly calm and finding places to land was not a problem. We were not alone in the air a Carlsburg balloon had been shipped in from Europe and a Cameron Gas airship from America. Strangely neither thought to visit or call the international airport 8km south of the stadium. This caused some amount of trouble as Thai’s love complicated permissions to fly and neither had any. As we did have permission we were contactable and received some amount of flack from their CAA. We smoothed the path quite well for them, prison was mentioned on more than one occasion!

The airship did a fantastic job seemingly never out of the air and carrying a TV camera beaming live pictures from the stadium. During the evening we tethered next to the stadium and the airship still plodded around dropping leaflets.

Thai’s are football fanatics and the Asian cup was also held during the games in the evening. Our tethers coincided with all the home team games. As Thailand progressed through the ranks tickets sold out and it started to get ugly at the gates. For the semi final the fans burnt down the ticket tents in protest and several thousand extra tried to get in causing an outbreak of police brutality.

We tethered high allowing us to see the matches and carried PR people, they tended to want to stay up a while as we had the best view in the house!

On the first and last day of the games we flew into the stadium itself, the first flight by Jon, with me on board and the last by myself. What a fantastic feeling when you drop over the edge of the stadium roof and come to a dead stop amid all that noise and then pile out again, really good fun, it comes highly recommended!

The flights over the city were also commendable. The airport required us to stay below 1000′ and if we required to fly higher then we had to call them on VHF. It worked well and of course flying across temples at low level was fascinating. Chaing Mai old city lies within a square canel and contains some 300 temples in total. It was here that we aimed to overfly every day. The River Ping winds it’s way to the east of the old city and was very handy for big direction changes. As a rule most wind directions could be found and staying over the city centre for an hour or so and then climbing and departing was fairly easy.

I have to say that Northern Thai’s seemed more fun loving than their Southern countrymen. To this end they enjoy letting off fireworks and tissue balloons carrying balls of burning rag to keep them aloft. Not uncommon to see 10 or so cross the night sky glowing red when drinking a beer. They climb quite high as well I flew with some at 3000′. On a couple of occasions, on landing villagers let off tissue balloons in our honour. They also flew bigger ones with strings of fireworks blasting away underneath. All good stuff for balloonists to watch. The last night of the games saw the launch of in excess of 1000 of these balloons in about 10 minutes from all around the stadium, and as it was a calm night it was the prettiest balloon thing I’ve ever seen.

So once that was all over it was off to Bangkok eight hours South by road. Unbeknown to myself we had come to the notice of the Prime Ministers office and were sought out for a job!

The deputy Prime Minister, Thakasin Shinawat, had said on coming into office early in 1995, that by the middle of January 1996 (or 2539 as it is over there) he would sort out Bangkoks traffic problems. He has been pouring millions of Baht of his own money into what is basically an impossible task. He has also been doing all sorts of stunts to show the people that he is trying to remedy the situation.

We were asked to fly him over Bangkok to observe the traffic from the air, this being in their words, a low cost solution. Permissions obviously had to be sought. We were summoned for our first meeting with the CAA on Christmas Day, at 10 O’clock, everybody apparently finding it amusing that I was missing my Christmas day. On arriving it transpired that they didn’t really want us to fly as it is a military state and they didn’t want me to see anything I shouldn’t. The Kings Palace is a no no to fly over as you should never have your head higher than his! However the civilian run Prime ministers office had put big pressure on and they felt they had to relent and by the way, what could we tell them about the other balloon and airship in Chaing Mai ( are you getting the picture that this is a warning). It transpired that we held the winning hand but they really had to tell us they did not like it first. There one and only request was that I didn’t fly higher than 500′. Now what! a pleasure. Royal helicopters fly at 800′ so that was that. I walked away on Christmas days with a piece of paper that ordered me to fly not above 500 AGL wherever I liked! A trip then to the tower at Bangkok International to let them know what was happening and pick up an air chart. They already knew all about us and wouldn’t give me an air chart: military secrets and all that. If I’d known I could have brought them in England before we left!

Thus it came to pass that I was doing balloon traffic reports over the city of Bangkok with the deputy Prime Minister on board and a film crew and five TV crews following through the traffic. We flew two days doing four flights. The flights themselves were pretty exciting to the point that I wouldn’t rush to do them again. The tallest building is getting on for 1000′ and we flew right between a bunch of them of course stopping all the traffic as we went. For those that know we launched from just above Siam Square and flew across generally towards the Queen Siriket Convention centre and then over the river. The 500′ level became a real pain in the afternoons as the OAT was some 37C and thermals were popping off all over the place I may or may not actually flown quite a bit higher at the beginning of these flights and came down when it cooled down, but perhaps I’d set the altimeter incorrectly!

So after all the fun and games it was off to train three people in total: our agent and the two business men. To start with we went off to Rayong a Province to the SE of Bangkok renowned for it’s beach resort Pattaya. The guys for some reason where keen to train there. Unfortunately it proved too coastal and the sea breeze knocked out the evening flights and the land breeze in the mornings. Our permission was only for a 25 km square so we couldn’t go any further inland.

Not a problem as one of the guys had relatives with a farm near Kanchanaburi, home of the bridge over the river Kwai in the west of the country. It was here that most of the training was done. It was an ideal area for ballooning, being generally flat with occasional 5-600 foot hills popping up like islands. The fields are mainly of Sugar Cane roughly three quarters and the rest are rice paddies. Everything went fine and after three return trips to Bangkok on business the guys where ready. They will be travelling to England to take their PPL’s shortly.

One more surprise lay in store. Seeing as the flying into the stadium in Chaing Mai had gone so well I was asked to fly into another with a football to start The Thai football league. Not such a big deal but the stadium as 500 metres from the sea with houses all the way to it. Luck was on our side once more and after two days of strong monsoon winds on the day in question it was calm. We inflated behind a five story building which was right next to the stadium and bang on for the wind direction. The signal for us to launch was a series of fireworks the ninth being our go. At the practices which we couldn’t fly into because of the wind we made sure that the marching bands had left and we had a clear stage. You know whats coming next.1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 Go, we rose from behind the building to see that everybody was still stood there,down between them all I came our official hopped out with the football and handed it to the President of Yamaha and we quickly deflated the balloon,! no way was I going to fly out of that one!

So thats briefly it, I haven’t touched on the really infuriating stuff, the stuff thats supposed to add character afterwards. I’ll let you find out all those bits for yourselves.

If you are interested in going out there then the man to contact In fact the head man of the brand new Balloon Club Of Thailand is:-

YUTAKIT WANICHANOND

125/135 CHANGWATANA ROAD

PAKRET

NONTABURI

11120

THAILAND

FAX 584 0042

To update the story in June 04, the deputy Prime Minister became the Prime Minister and is poised to buy a share of Liverpool Football club in the UK. I have since flown in Australia, Kenya and am now back in South Africa with my own ride business. [http://www.airborneadventuresafrica.com]

A Traveler’s Guide to Geneva – Switzerland

Switzerland ranks near the top among countries with highest quality of life in the world. The country’s most cosmopolitan city is Geneva, which is also one of Europe’s priciest. The city surrounds Lake Geneva with stunning views of the Alps and Jura mountain chains and is characterized by its strong French culture, evident in both the language and the cuisine.

Geneva is a major banking center and houses the top 200 international companies’ headquarters, including the likes of the United Nations, International Red Cross, and the World Health Organization. The city is also the capital of watch making, one of the world’s oldest technologies, with companies like Patek Philippe, Rolex and Piaget carrying forward a 450-year tradition.

Getting around Geneva:

From the airport

Geneva International Airport is located 5km (3 miles) from the city center. From the ticket machine in the baggage recovery area at the airport collect a free ‘Unireso’ ticket which will enable you to use public transport in Geneva city for 80 minutes. Transports Publics Genevois operates a bus route to the city center, which takes about 35 minutes. CFF trains leave regularly from Cointrin railway station at the airport and takes approx 6 minutes to reach the city. Taxis to the city center cost about SFr30-35 (approx. USD $30) taking 15-20 minutes. The paper includes case studies highlighting how multinational corporations have tackled consolidation, what they gained and what pitfalls the organization encountered along the way.

Around the city

Geneva is a compact city and is easily conquered on foot, but there are a number of transportation options when you need them. Driving is not recommended in the city due to the limited and expensive nature of parking.

Top tip: Pick up a Geneva Transport Card, available to all visitors staying at a hotel, youth hostel or camping sites in Geneva. The card allows you to use the public transport network for free during your entire stay. The local bus system covers virtually every square meter of the city and the intercity bus covers points outside the city.

The central train station, Gare Cornavin, has numerous rail links all over Switzerland and beyond. Be wary of pickpockets in and around the station, and if you’re on business travel, don’t let your laptop of briefcase leave your line of vision at any given time.

Ferry shuttles cross the lake, operating during daylight hours and departs every 10-30 minutes. Alternatively, pick up a free bicycle behind Gare Cornavin and at Quai du Mont-Blanc. The steep slopes of the Old Town and lack of bike paths in the city are a deterrent for most cyclists, but the paths along the lake are excellent.

Don’t miss…

Lake Geneva, Jet d’eau and gardens – Stroll along the promenades around the lake and discover the spectacular flower clock in the gardens of Lake Geneva. If you have time, take a boat cruise on Lake Geneva, with views of castles, monuments and of course the Jet d’eau, the tallest water fountain in the world.

The Old Town & St Pierre Cathedral – Wander along the cobbled streets of the Old Town and visit the boutiques tucked away in the charming alleyways. Stop by the Romanesque Saint Pierre Cathedral, designed in the mid-12th century and took an additional 150 years to complete. For the best panoramic views of Geneva head for the Cathedral tower.

The United Nations – Take a tour of the United Nations, the world’s single largest conference center for multilateral diplomacy and top-level international politics. Visit one of the surrounding museums, including the Red Cross Museum or the Ariana Museum devoted solely to seven centuries of glass and ceramics from Europe and the East.

The Saleve – For a quick and easy escape to the countryside, ride the cable car to the top of this mini-mountain and enjoy the breathtaking views of the city below and the Alps in the distance. The more adventurous can also sign up for a tandem parasail or paraglide flight.

Schtrumpfs building – Boris Chappuis, Branch Manager for BCD
Corporate Travel Geneva recommends a visit to one of Geneva’s more curious sites – the Schtrumpfs (the French word for “Smurfs”) building, which is located in the funky Les Grottes neighborhood. The area is a modern architectural landmark, designed by three architects determined to create the most unconventional building possible. The result is a Gaudi-style mix of colors and designs, which must be seen to be believed!

Geneva’s nightlife is unlikely to blow you away, but there are numerous bars and clubs around. The liveliest places are in Carouge – try Le Chat Noir one of the best jazz and blues club in Geneva. The city also has top-notch classical music and opera. Pick up a local guide to see what’s on.

Why These Are the 5 Coolest Castles of Europe

Europe has literally thousands of castles that range from medieval gems to modern kept residences and in their own way they are all pretty cool. Some have seen epic battles and are now just ruins while others have thrived for centuries due to preservation and are filled with tales of heroism, tragedy and even horror. While I think that all castles have their own unique history and identity, here are what I feel are the 5 coolest castles of Europe and why.

1. Edinburgh Castle is one of Scotland’s most important castles as it’s timeline is as historically legendary as the country’s past. During the Wars of Independence, the castle was captured and lost numerous times between the English and the Scots including the 1314 capture under Robert the Bruce. Even with its share of turbulent battles, this massive fortress has been dominating the skyline of Edinburgh for 9 centuries perched atop the volcanic Castle Rock. Any castle that represents the battle for independence of a nation and overall pure grit of that country is impressive but the statues of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace greeting guests at the entrance are just one more reason why this is a cool castle.

2. Castle Dracula or Bran Castle in Romania is a cool castle simply because of its association with the famous Vlad the Impaler otherwise known as Dracula. Located in the Transylvanian Alps, this castle was originally used for defense against the Ottoman Empire. Although Vlad did not have a significant history of residence at the castle, his mark was made in grisly fashion as he insisted the heads and body parts of enemies be impaled and put on display around the castle giving his name Vlad the Impaler. The human trophies may be long gone but this castle is still about as evil as it gets and that makes it cool.

3. Neuschwanstein This German masterpiece is so spectacular that it was the blueprint for the famous castle you see at all Disney theme parks. A true fairy tale castle, Neuschwanstein attracts over a million visitors a year making it one of the most popular attractions not only in Germany but all of Europe. Relatively young for a castle at only about 150 years old from completion, this icon built by King Ludwig II was to be his retreat and homage to Composer Richard Wagner. Unfortunately, the King was only able to live in the palace for a total of 172 days until his death. Wagner never even set foot in the castle due to his death in 1883. So here’s why it’s a cool castle, if you are a single guy, and own a fairytale castle in an incredible scenic location, well… you’ve got it made.

4. Windsor Castle Originally built by William the Conqueror after the Norman invasion of 1066, this is now the largest inhabited and longest occupied palace in Europe. From a distance at the end of the Long Walk, one can only imagine the thoughts of potential invaders staring down at this rather ominous structure. The castle has served many purposes over the centuries from protection over the outskirts of London to sheltering the Royal Family during WW2 bombing campaigns. Today the castle is used primarily for hosting state visits and acts as an official summer residence for Her Majesty the Queen and the fact that you can still enjoy this landmark while the queen is in residence is pretty cool.

5. Castillo de Coco This castle is what I think of when I picture a true medieval castle. Located 55 km. south of the City of Valladolid Spain, this fortress is an incredible example of Spanish Medieval architecture. Complete with a moat and advanced defensive system, this castle which was constructed in 1453 has been impeccably preserved and stands today practically the exact same way as it did in the 15th century. Having been the target of many unsuccessful attacks, the castle defended itself for centuries until Napoleon finally took the castle in 1808 and it was lost for the first time in its long history. Castillo de Coco is one of those castles that you think of when you watch medieval movies but it’s the moat that puts this into the cool elite.

Europe Travel – Explore the Most Beautiful Continent in the World

If you are planning your vacations then a tour to Europe would be the right choice. It is the most beautiful continent in the world and for exactly this reason one should visit this lovely continent. The established fact about Europe came out in the year 2004 when World Tourism Organization declared it as the biggest travel spot in the world. In this year 54% of the world’s travel business came from Europe only. Europe travel will give you an opportunity to see various tourist destinations that can refresh your mind and will definitely make your tour unforgettable.

Europe comprises of various countries that are very rich in travel destinations. These countries have various landmarks that can cater every kind of traveler. All kind of travelers has different traveling needs. Some loves to visit beaches, museums, Churches and some loves to enjoy sports adventures. Also Europe travel offers a chance to visit various historical monuments Scenic beauty of this continent has always attracted a keen and potential visitor. The places to discover, here, are endless.

Major countries which are part of Europe travel are United Kingdom, France, Greece, Holland, Iceland, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Rome, Switzerland and Turkey. Each of these countries has some world famous tourist location where a traveler can learn history, natural beauty and lots more. Traveling to these countries of Europe could be a lifetime experience for you.

Europe travel is one of convenience. In Europe, mode of transport are fully recognized and well managed. Various countries in Europe are famous for their rail networks. However this lovely continent can be seen through ship, railways, air transport and even through roadways. European countries are well developed with high living standards, culture and traditions.

Europe travel is the right combination for every kind of traveler. The countries of Europe are a must visit in a lifetime. So, if you were planning your trip then pack your bags and move to Europe, the real paradise on earth.

Silly Travel Gadgets

We all want gadgets to make our lives easier, especially when traveling abroad or here at home. Traveling is very stressful and companies know this, so they try and sell you such far out gadgets to travel with, I wonder where they come up with these, why people even buy them.

Off course there are those gadgets that are life savers while traveling such as those nice comfy neck pillows, now airlines are charging for just a flat pillow, these to come in handy, particularly if you travel a lot. But when it comes to an air conditioned tee shirt, I draw the line. I noticed these online when I was shopping around. They actually pump cool air into the tee shirt, thus keeping you cool all day, oh please! Not only are they pretty lame they are expensive, around $150.00 a shirt, I can certainly buy something much better for $150.00.

As I have traveled through Europe they do not have public rest rooms like America does. You usually have to squat over a hole and tinkle. Well now they have a paper cup shaped like a cone and tinkle in it, standing up. Number one you might as well as tinkle over the hole outright because ladies, sometimes our aim is not so good, or at least mine isn’t. Then you have carry it around until you find a place to throw it away, no thank you.

Disposable underwear I can almost go along with, almost. They are made out of paper I think, I did not dwell on it for very long, thinking, that’s okay, I really don’t need them and do not want a paper cut in the most unusual spot. So no disposable underwear for this gal.

One of the silliest traveling gadgets I have seen is the wearable sleeping bag. Have people become so lazy that they will wear what they sleep in everywhere? I do hope not. I just can not imagine this and have yet to see anything so stupid on airplanes.

The sad part about all these silly travel gadgets is that people will actually buy them thus putting money in the manufactures pocket and they are probably laughing all the way to the bank. So fellow travelers, don’t fall into this trap that you can not travel without some silly gadget that will probably only not work, you have wasted money that you can use to buy a nice memento.