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How to Spend A Weekend In Vientiane

KJ7FT7 Drone photo of Patuxai, War Arch Monument in Vientiane Laos.

Sleepy little Vientiane is one of the more overlooked capitals of Southeast Asia—most pass through for no more than one night. But on a long-weekend trip, I quickly learned that what it lacks in wow-factor attractions, it makes up for with plenty of small-town charm. I live just a short flight away, in Bangkok, but had never visited

STYLE
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What it’s like to be Bill Bensley, designer of whimsical resorts and fan of gay pirates

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If you are Bill Bensley, the world that the rest of us know is not the only one you inhabit. For the prolific designer, each project has its own realm, based on a backstory he makes up and uses to inform every decision from wall art, to doorknobs and lobby soundtracks. His latest, Shinta Mani Wild, is the fourth in his own Bensley Collection and has

  • ABOUT ME

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    I have lived, worked and written all over the world starting at the daily paper in my Connecticut hometown before moving to global publications. I specialize in unusual and viral travel, culture, and lifestyle stories that appear in places like The Wall Street Journal, Vice, BBC Travel, Travel + Leisure, South China Morning Post and The Times of India.

LIFESTYLE
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Thai Architect Duangrit Bunnag on Life in Bangkok

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Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag’s work is recognizable by strong, simple lines that create a continuity between the outdoors and indoors, such as the resorts Costa Lanta in Krabi and the Naka Phuket. He has recently attracted the admiration of Bangkok’s young, hipster set with the Jam Factory, an artsy outpost that opened its doors in December 2013 and quickly became the go-to meeting spot for creative types of all stripes.

OFF DUTY
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Bangkok’s Swing-Dancing Scene Takes Off

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Girls in hair kerchiefs and guys in suspenders stand in a circle clapping to the beat of a Count Basie song. A couple bounces through the middle, performing a frenetic Lindy Hop. The woman’s full white skirt flies during swing-outs. The man’s gangster-style brogues gleam, polished to a high shine. He moves his hand across her back to start a Charleston. The onlookers cheer. A guy in granddad

FOOD
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We Tried the Spicy, Pork-Filled Menu of Bangkok’s First Taco Bell

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The extent to which Bangkok was hyped about the opening of Taco Bell’s first ever Southeast Asia location was clear when I arrived at MercuryVille, a mini mall in the heart of the city’s financial district. By 9 AM, over 500 diehard enthusiasts of the chain were already in line. Many of them had posted up the night before to stake out their spots ahead of the crowd trying to win free tacos for a year

WORLD MUSIC
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Thailand’s Forgotten Country-Psychedelic Music Is Having a Global Renaissance

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A psychedelic organ riff pours out of a taxi’s stereo in Bangkok. I point at the radio and the taxi driver flips it off with a pleasant “Excuse me.” He’s used to foreigners and rich Thais looking down on his music, but I want him to turn it up, explaining I’m a Molam fan and headed to a nearby club to hear the same music live. He eagerly shows me a video on his phone of his granddaughter practicing Molam in her bedroom in Isaan. By the end of the taxi ride, we’re both cruising to the tunes with grins on our faces.

CULTURE
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Where people don’t like to say no

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Thai people don’t like to say no. This is evident even in their simplest words: “yes” is chai and the closest thing to “no” is mai chai, which translates as “not yes.” This is more than just a simple language quirk. It reflects much about Thai society that isn’t apparent to outsiders until they’ve spent some time in the country. When I arrived in Thailand four years ago, mai chai seemed a clunky phrase. I soon realised, however, that it becomes even more unmanageable when a polite ending is tacked onto it, as it often is. Then, it becomes mai chai ka, if a woman is speaking, and mai chai krub if a man is. It’s far less sleek than the simple non in French or nein in German.

SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL
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Settha Palace: Vientiane’s Tried-and-True Indochina Hideaway for Luxury Travelers

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In the sleepy capital of Vientiane, Laos, there are often just two words on the lips of luxury travelers: Settha Palace. The French colonial-styled, 29-room hotel is the preferred stop for visitors seeking the glamour of old Indochina. Vientiane is not a common stop for luxury travelers, but it still has its charms. “The music, the atmosphere, the feeling that you’ve truly gone back in time. That’s what interested me,” says Settha Palace general manager Hala Krimi of Vientiane, speaking with Travelogues over lunch at the hotel’s La Belle Epoque restaurant.

LGBTQ
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First black queen at Thailand’s transgender pageant — China came third

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Miss International Queen 2019, arguably the world’s most prestigious trans pageant, crowned its latest winner in Pattaya, Thailand on Friday. History was made when judges selected their first queen of African descent, Miss USA Jazell Barbie Royale. Jazell is more than a pageant girl. She is a full-time HIV awareness advocate with a message to spread, a cabaret performer and an opera singer. Her historic win moves the pageant, which featured 20 candidates from as many countries this year, forward in strides – and fittingly since this year’s theme was world equality.

TRAVEL STYLE
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Bill Bensley on Style, Shopping, and Shinta Mani Wild

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In the far reaches of hotel designer Bill Bensley’s Bangkok design studio sits a warehouse holding a menagerie of unusual items that will – eventually – end up being used in one of his wild hotel projects. Some of the weirdest things currently housed there are a pair of artificial legs and a box of glass eyes from the 19th century. Though I almost don’t want to know the answer, I have to ask. Thankfully, the glass globes are new old stock, not something that was previously stuck inside someone’s head. Bensley is responsible for some of Asia’s greatest hotels. His latest opening came in the last weeks of 2018, is among his most ambitious, and was one of the most anticipated travel

TRAVEL
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Bill Bensley Goes Wild: The prolific hotel designer speaks on nerves and nature ahead of Shinta Mani Wild opening (INTERVIEW)

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Bill Bensley once said, “Never do anything twice. Experiment. Do weird things. Once you start repeating yourself, you’re through.” True to form, the iconic hotel designer stepped squarely off the map with Shinta Mani Wild, a 15-key suspended tent camp in Southwestern Cambodia tucked away in the remote Cardamom Mountains. The camp opens Friday

LOVE AND ART
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Thai Illustrator Tuna Dunn’s Cute Comics Are Surprisingly Dark

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With three published graphic novels, over 50,000 fans, and a handful of beloved GIFs, Bangkok illustrator Tuna Dunn has come a long way since she began publishing sweet and painful comics about crushes, relationships and heartbreak to a Facebook page three years ago. Despite reaching an almost exclusively Thai audience, Dunn writes only in English. She says her mother tongue doesn’t

HUMAN INTEREST+
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A New Crowdfunding Platform Helps Human Trafficking Victims Come Home

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Mira* was 14 when she was lured away from her impoverished Indonesian hometown with promises of lucrative restaurant work in nearby Singapore. Instead, she was given false documents that identified her as 19 and spent two years serving wealthy Singaporeans—performing sex work in a hotel instead of the waitressing work she was promised.

VIRAL
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Coffee and Coffins: Bangkok’s death-themed cafe brings awareness to the end of life

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Kid Mai Death Awareness Cafe is serving up more than just lattes and smoothies. This new cafe in Bangkok, founded by Professor Veeranut Rojanaprapa, offers philosophy classes in one corner, desks where you can plan your funeral in another, and a casket that you can climb inside to get a discount on a cappuccino. The new cafe has been featured extensively in Thai media. Unfortunately, those looking for a kitschy cafe experience may be in for a letdown. As Dr. Veeranut said to us, the cafe is more of a “life-research exhibition” than a

RISQUE
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What happened when one woman got a ‘happy ending’ massage in Bangkok

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She imagined a sensual massage, aromatherapy scents and a cheeky hand between her thighs finishing her off. What she got was something completely different. Londoner Janie Thompson* lived in Bangkok for three years and was fascinated by the raunchy tales her guy friends shared about their experiences in Thai “happy ending” massage parlors. She’d always wanted to try it but had a live-in boyfriend when she was a Bangkok resident. On a recent trip back to the city, a year since

VIRAL
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Get an Espresso and an Exorcism at Bangkok’s Premiere Witchcraft Cafe

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Bangkok has a wide array of spiritual services for sale. Want to pump up your rack with “natural breast enlargement” courtesy of a chest-slapping shamaness? Can do. Interested in dropping $2000 on an illegal doll that houses an aborted fetus who predicts lottery numbers? Bangkok has you covered. In a society that loves the occult, Ace of Cups is the lone “witchcraft cafe” where you can grab a plate of fettuccine while having your fortune told.

FOOD
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Bangkok Poutine: A taste of home, community, and local celebrity for the city’s French Canadians

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By some estimates, there may be as many as 100 — but French-Canadian expat Sophie Mottet guesses there are just a few dozen of her fellow Quebec natives living in Bangkok. She’s only met a handful of Francophone countrymen in her year and a half in the city. Unlike the huge communities of Americans, Brits, Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos in Bangkok, French Canadians are scarce. And being most comfortable speaking their own — mostly Québécois — French dialect, they are not completely at home among the French or other North American foreigners.

VIRAL
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Celling It: Pay to get locked up at Bangkok’s new prison-themed hotel

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While Thai prisons are nowhere anyone wants to end up, a new hotel in Bangkok features a jail theme and a cartoonish riff on life behind bars for its guests. Located just off Sukhumvit Road in the up-and-coming Udomsuk neighborhood, Sook Station is a hotel with a very unusual theme. For just THB1,080 (USD$30) per night, guests can pout behind a fake set of bars that act as the door to their room, hunker down in oversized black-and-white pajamas, and pose for mugshots. To complete the anti-luxury feel of the hotel, the bathrooms are shared.

RISQUE
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I Went to a Blowjob Bar in Bangkok, Thailand

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Bangkok, Thailand, is one of the world’s deepest pits of pure sin, a forbidden zone where you can get pretty much whatever sexual perversion tickles your pickle presented to you on a silver platter, with drugs and booze on the side. Countless massage parlors, brothels, and call services exist to cater to the humongous sex-tourism industry.

FOOD
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Karmakamet Conveyance’s tasting menu brings diners into the memories of Chef Juthamas Theantae

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Can you taste the past? A memory? An emotion? Those are some of the questions one of Thailand’s best-known chefs, Juthamas Theantae, seeks to answer with her latest offering, Karamkamet Conveyance, which opened last month. The narrow, mirror-filled, 32-seat restaurant offers only a single, 7-Course Tasting Menu (THB2,500, add THB1,800 for biodynamic wine pairing), with.

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM
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Shows, selfies, and shaming: Experts weigh in on elephant tourism in Thailand

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Most people that vacationed in Thailand a decade ago were eager to ride an elephant and proudly show the photos to friends back at home. Now warnings about the cruel conditions many captive elements live in abound and elephant tourism is a whole other animal. Today, the same scenario will get you elephant-tourism shamed by

HOTEL REVIEW
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The Slate: Artsy Phuket resort is a win for design fans, adventurous eaters, and spa lovers

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If you’re the kind of person who appreciates a bit of culture even when you’ve got sloth mode turned on high — this unconventional resort in Phuket pulls off a clever balancing act between artsy and indulgent. The Slate is a design-oriented beachfront resort just seven minutes by car from Phuket International Airport. SEVEN MINUTES. If you’ve spent

TRAVEL
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9 things to do on Pattaya’s famous Walking Street (that aren’t go-go bars or ping pong shows)

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The Walking Street in Pattaya is known the world over as a go-all-night red light district. But lots of other attractions have sprung up on the street to accommodate male and female vacationers that come for a night out, as well as the busloads of tourists that walk through for a quick, curious look at

HOTEL REVIEW
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Home Indochine D’Angkor: This retro Cambodian hotel in Siem Reap offers boutique stay on a budget

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On a recent trip to Siem Reap — which commenced as most of our trips do, with endless searches, exhaustive tab opening, and much comparison shopping — we thought we had booked the perfect undiscovered gem of a hotel.

NIGHTLIFE
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Alleyway dive bar The Vagabond delivers homage to Bangkok beer bars of the past

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At the end of a dark alley, in the far reaches of Sukhumvit Soi 11, a small oasis has popped up in the form of The Vagabond bar. The outdoor drinks spot quietly opened for business six months ago and has gained traction purely by word of mouth. It’s drawing much of the crowd that

LGBT+
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Bangkok is Burning: Vogue ambassador Amazon Sun is bringing ball culture realness to Thailand (VIDEO)

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Strike a pose, shante, work it, throw shade, fierceness — these phrases have their origins in gay ball culture. If you’ve watched RuPaul’s Drag Race, seen the documentary Paris is Burning, or recall Madonna’s Vogue video, then you already know