Thursday, September 17, 2009

Paper Planes and Dreams

Mong Thongdee has caught the world's attention with a story that's worthy of front-page news. The 12-year-old resident of Thailand might have construction worker parents making around $7 per day, but he also placed as the nation's best in a paper plane contest with a dart that floated 12.5 seconds in the air--long enough for him to be invited to represent Thailand in the Japanese origami airplane competition. Think there's a catch? There is, and of the type that we travelers might have temporarily faced while planning a zig-zagging trip to lesser known countries--visa issues that need to be worked out. It turns out that Mong lives on a temporary visa and cannot move freely between his country and others. Even for a boy who lives right behind the Chiang Mai Airport, making paper planes, a trip out of the country seems like a faraway, virtually unattainable goal.

Thongdee's parents are migrant workers, says case worker Achara Sutthisoontharin, who works on legal issues for Thailand residents. "His parents left Myanmar since 1995 and never went back. So Mong doesn’t exist there," Achara said. Not only is this crushing news for the talented boy with a dream, but it highlights a serious issue for migrant workers not just in Thailand, but all over the world. Stateless, nationless people lack security, benefits, and basic rights, and thankfully, Thongdee's story has captured international attention. While entitled to basic education, Thongdee's case could take as long as seven years to wrap up. "I know some people thought, ‘A son of migrant making paper plane? Big deal!’" said Mong's teacher, but it turns out that this gift, the local children's only pastime, has inspired big dreams in the small school. In addition, Mong wants to be able to fly a plane for real someday.

If you are inspired by stories like these, the best way to let people know is to get involved! No matter where your luxury hotel is located, try to get out and mingle with the locals, learn about real life in the particular country, and even give back in some small way through volunteerism during your trip. By choosing tour companies that donate a percentage of the proceeds to social and community development, you are doing your part, while learning more than a good deal of visitors. Combine resort lounging with volunteer vacations for a delightful mix of the socially responsible and the purely restful, and you'll come back with a new zest for life.

Consider traveling to Thailand for real, while staying in these quality locations.

Banyan Tree Bangkok: Sleek and modern, this hotel is located smack-dab in the commercial district, and has business amenities tucked into rooms with Thai flair. Rooms happen to also boast great views of the city from the 15th floor up, so consider a new view of the city on your visit to Bangkok.

Anantara Resort and Spa: This spa destination is located near surrounding forest where you can, if interested, book a ride upon a elephant through the leafy underbrush. All rooms and suites have their own special balconies for a peek at Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos borders, and there's a recommended spa on site for your relaxation needs.

Four Seasons Bangkok: Why not do it up in style? Traditional Thai architecture plus a grand lobby and gardens means that you'll really get to luxuriate in this special location. For those craving some international cuisine, there are seven options for you at the Four Seasons Bangkok. Relax by the lush tropical garden afterwards.

The Peninsula, Bangkok: This luxurious riverside hotel has received many special travel awards for its service and general hotel quality, and as soon as you arrive, you'll know why. The 37-story hotel offers panoramic hotel views and large guest suites, and is close to shopping destinations for the rich, famous, and curious.

Next stop, Thailand! What do you say?

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