What to do on a trip to Thailand when everyone is in search of the country's elusive, untouched paradise?
"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing," he went on dreamily, "messing-about-in-boats…" So says Ratty in Kenneth Grahame’s classic story, The Wind in the Willows, a staple of any English childhood.
Everything improved when we started messing about in boats—long-boats, to be precise. My arrival in Thailand had coincided with the rainy season, and after two interminable days watching the downpour from our veranda, we were fed up. But on the third day the clouds lifted and the sun came out, as did the Factor 30 and our snorkelling gear. I began to see why my boyfriend always talked about this island as a magical place.
Koh Tao is several hours by catamaran from Koh Samui, via Koh Phangan. This archipelago is the heart of The Beach territory—Alex Garland’s 1996 novel which put Thai-island-hopping on the map. It’s ironic that the story of a young backpacker's search for a mythical, isolated beach, untouched by tourism, should have inspired the film of The Beach (2000). Starring Leonardo Di Caprio, the blockbuster film led to 20th Century Fox bulldozing and re-landscaping of the natural beach on the island of nearby Koh Phi Phi. Fox controversially cleared coconut trees, widened the beach, even altered sand dunes to make it more ‘paradise-like’ (and a long environmental court case ensued).
This is a tricky one. There’s no doubt that the oxygen of publicity risks spoiling the unspoilt places of the world—remember how we flocked to the quiet Greek island of Kefalonia after the book and film of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin… But how else do we discover these gems?
Volkswagen is ceasing production of the legendary hippie van at the end of the year, but Scott Jennings, whose restaurant owns 16 of them, says the stories of epic parties will never end.
So I hear they are stopping production of an all-time classic. Not only is this the end of an era, it’s the end of a counter-culture icon. More weed has been smoked, more babies have been conceived, and more fun has been had in the Volkswagen Bus than perhaps any vehicle ever made. When people see the Bus, it’s almost impossible not to smile. It brings them back to a simpler time of no-worries partying.
The Bus’s official name is the Type 2, having been derived from Volkswagen’s first model, the Type 1 Beetle. You might know it as the “hippie van,” as its associations with the ’60s are so strong. The first model of the Type 2 actually appeared in 1949—it’s been in constant production for 64 years. Unfortunately, the Bus’s cab-forward design puts the driver ahead of the front axle, which doesn’t meet safety requirements in almost every country. Germany stopped making it in 1979 and Mexico ceased production in 1994. The Volkswagen plant in Brazil is the last place on Earth still making a version of the VW camper van, but starting in 2014, all new cars in Brazil must have anti-lock brakes and air bags, and Volkswagen says it cannot adjust production to meet the law. As a result, the last Bus will roll off the factory line on Dec. 31.
I always thought it was an urban legend that the VW Bus is the most dangerous vehicle ever made. It’s not entirely true. It can’t be the most dangerous vehicle ever made—that’s the motorcycle. What’s next, are they going to strap an air bag to a motorcycle? We should be able to choose what kind of vehicle we drive, even if it comes from Brazil. I’ve been driving a VW Bus for the past 15 years, and—knock on wood—there haven’t been any physical damages. (But there may have been some mental damages.)
The New York State Attorney General wants Airbnb to turn over user data. It could lead to the ruin of Gotham’s short-term rental market, writes Jim Epstein
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, newcomers to New York City found an abundance of spare bedrooms, living room couches, and kitchen cots available for rent. "Boarding out," as it was once called, also provided a vital income stream for poor families in possession of spare rooms, couches, and cots. By 1912, according to one survey, nearly half of Gotham's black households had boarders, many of them migrants from the South. An even higher percentage of Russian Jewish households had boarders; my great-grandparents routinely put up men and women fresh off the boat for short-term stays in their Lower East Side tenement.
Julien Faure/REA via Redux
“Huddled masses yearning to breathe free” isn't the first phrase that comes to mind when describing tourists in 21st century New York City booking stays through Airbnb, the wildly popular website connecting residents wanting to pick up some extra cash with out-of-towners looking for cheap alternatives to a traditional hotel. Although the terms and conditions have changed, the commercial impulse is much the same. Take a twenty-something couple named Lauren and Rob, who asked that I not reveal their last names because of the legal issues surrounding Airbnb. They moved to the Big Apple to make it in showbiz. Struggling to make ends meet, they now cover about half the cost of their $2,250-a-month Manhattan apartment by renting out their living room couch for $65 a night.
But unlike New York of a century ago, when capitalist transactions between consenting adults were generally allowed, the government has been waging war on the short-term rental business. A new front just opened that might ultimately drive many of New York City's roughly 15,000 resident users to quit Airbnb. Last Friday, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a subpoena demanding that the company hand over a spreadsheet listing all its hosts statewide, their addresses, the dates and durations of their bookings, and the revenue these bookings have generated. News of the subpoena was chilling for many of the people whose names will appear on that list because they’ve been using Airbnb in violation of the law (more on the legality of Airbnb in a moment). Seth, a Manhattan lawyer who started hosting short-term rentals of his Upper East Studio during a period when he was out of work, says he'll probably quit as soon as his lease is up. "The subpoena is scary," he says, fearing he’ll have to hire a lawyer and pay a big fine.
In his new masterpiece on the evolution of Amsterdam as the world’s most liberal city, Russell Shorto examines the dawning of one of the darkest periods in Dutch history.
The stories of three families may give a sense of this hopeful, newly expansive, but brief moment of the city’s history. Of course, many of the Jews who moved into the new district were diamond workers. A cluster of streets preserves the memory of the time in their names: Topaz Street, Diamond Street, Emerald Square. One couple in particular moved to Sapphire Street. Another moved a few blocks up the river. The boy from the one family, whose name was Joël Brommet, fell in love with Rebecca Ritmeester, the girl from the other. They married, and the young man, who had an artistic sensibility, began to work with fabric and window design for shops. In 1925 they had a daughter whom they named Frieda, and the little family moved to the Zuider Amstellaan, or Southern Amstel Avenue, one of the wide boulevards that Berlage had laid out. Frieda spent her girlhood in the embrace of her extended family, living a few blocks from both sets of grandparents. She had an easy life, she tells me. Her parents doted on her.
Anne Frank at her desk in her house at the Merwedeplein in Amsterdam. (Reuters, via Corbis)
Meanwhile, another son of a Jewish diamond cutter, whose name was Bernard Premsela, fell in love with a girl named Rosalie, married her, and moved with her to an address just across the river, in what is now called Spinozastraat. In the same year that they married, 1913, Bernard Premsela got his medical degree. He came under the influence of Aletta Jacobs, and in this expansive, liberal era he became consumed by thoughts of sex: that is, he realized that gender differences, sexual urges, and the act of sex constituted a large portion of what it meant to be human, and yet society had caged and perverted this vast and undeniable force. He decided to specialize in something that almost didn’t exist. He chose to become a sexologist.
Following Aletta Jacobs, he focused first on birth control. As a socialist, he saw it initially as a way to help lift people out of poverty, but as his ideas expanded he concentrated more on women. He believed that equality between the sexes should be a goal of society and that birth control was a tool to achieve this, for it helped protect women against, as he said, the “excessive procreative demands” of men. After Jacobs’s death in 1929, Premsela helped to found the Aletta Jacobs House, a family planning clinic, and became its director. The next year he held a public event at the American Hotel—one of the big new structures that architecturally defined the city’s new golden age—at which people discreetly submitted questions about sex to him in writing. For by now he was interested not just in birth control but in sex as a means of personal growth and liberation. He began a radio show about sex. He wrote a series of books with titles that sound more like they were written in the 1970s than the 1930s: Sexual Education for Our Children. It was all quite shocking to the prevailing conservative culture, but Bernard Premsela maintained a serious, dignified persona, and he pulled it off. It also helped that he enlisted the aid of Floor Wibaut, whose advocacy of sexual reform and women’s rights dated from his reading Multatuli in his early years.
Will probably become luxury apartments.
Long a haven for graffiti artists, 5 Pointz in Queens, New York, might be luxury apartments very soon. On Thursday, the NYC Council will be discussing a proposal by the warehouse's owners to convert the privately owned building, which attracts artists and gawkers with its brightly decorated facade, into a $400 million housing project. The two towers, including artists' studios and affordable apartments, would be the tallest in Queens. "The truth is there was not a way to save the building," Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer said of the proposal.
In the 1860s, a silver-mining town in Mexico began burying their dead in a crypt…only to discover 10 years later that they had inadvertently mummified their loved ones.
Beginning in the early 1860s, hundreds of the dead were interred in above-ground crypts in the Santa Paula Pantheon of the silver-mining town of Guanajuato, Mexico. Today, their bodies are on display at a museum in gruesome states of preservation, mouths gaping and hair and clothes still intact.
A few years after the crypts opened, the town passed a law requiring families to pay a burial tax; if they failed, the bodies of their loved ones would be removed. When authorities opened the crypt to take out the deceased whose relatives had defaulted on their fees, they found the bodies had been naturally mummified by a combination of the tomb's cement walls, heat, and low humidity. The first mummy discovered is said to be the body of Remigio Leroy, a French doctor.
A mummy on display during the launch of an exhibit of the Mexican mummies in August 2009. (Louis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images)
Soon after the preserved corpses were unveiled, curious people began paying workers a few pesos for a peek at the tombs. Allegedly, those first visitors even broke off bits of the bodies as souvenirs. For the next 90 years, until 1958, bodies continued to be stored in the mummifying conditions of the original crypt, resulting in a total of 111 mummies. Ten years later, the city of Guanajuato opened an official museum to house them.
Two lawsuits are up against a private beach.
Laid-back surfer-types aren't much for fights, but when it comes to their waves, there's no holding back. A new documentary looks at California's Martin's Beach, which is owned by a billionaire venture capitalist, and the surfers and beach-goers battling for the right to use it. The California Constitution "guarantees public access to the state's beaches," and the surfers' have launched a lawsuit on the grounds that the property’s locked gate violates the California Coastal Act of 1976. Known as the "Martin's Five," the wave-loving group was arrested for trespassing on the beach. Although charges against them were dropped, they have decided to pursue their case for the right to hang five.
In attempt to get host records.
The neighborly home-sharing site Airbnb is engaged in what could be a lengthy battle with New York. Attorney-General Eric Shneiderman subpoenaed the company in an attempt to get the identites of all 225,000 in-state hosts, and Airbnb announced its intention to fight the request. Recently, the site came into trouble for violating New York City's occupancy rules which include a tax for hotels. Despite winning the lawsuit, it announced NYC guests would pay tax of $2 per day and 5.875 percent of rent. The next hurdle: half of Airbnb's listings in the city violate a law against renting out an entire apartment without an owner present.
But everyone refuses to sell them lifts.
In North Korea’s latest attempt to keep up with the Joneses, the country is barreling towards completion on a new prestige project: the multimillion-dollar Masik Pass ski resort. The decision is perplexing, since according to CBS, this country of 24 million has about 5,500 skiers—only 0.02 percent of the population—and it . Experts suggest that the choice of South Korea to host the 2018 Winter Olympics may have something to do with North Korea’s determination. The project hasn’t been without its setbacks—Switzerland, Austria and France have all refused to sell ski lifts to North Korea because of ongoing sanctions on the sale of luxury goods to the country. But the project’s head, Kim Tae Yong, told CBS that he wasn’t worried. "We can make nuclear weapons and rockets," he said. "We can build a ski lift."
The sacred covenant of travel dictates: always chase the new. But what if you find yourself pining for a place you’ve already been? Debra Klein on the beauty of finding yourself by returning to the same spot over and over again.
My cheek hovers centimeters from the triple thick pane of germs and grime separating me from the object of my affection; my contorted backward glance suggests I’m trying to read something affixed to my upper lip. I take a last longing glimpse, before facing front and reality: the desolate in-between before I see my beloved Hawaii again. As the plane rises onto the invisible highway and the watery horizon and milky sky meet, I’m lost in thought, trying, as always, to figure out a way to make this arrangement we have more permanent.
Images Etc Ltd/Getty
Such destination devotion once repulsed me. Retracing steps violates the sacred covenant of travel: thou shalt romance “the new.” My travel mission statement was always more George Clooney than Swallows of Capistrano. Hit it and quit it. No returns. Gulliver never took a Mulligan, that’s the rule.
How can we get psyched to visit someplace we’ve already visited? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? We’re not having a fresh experience, learning a new culture, seeing sites or people we’ve never laid eyes on before…or are we? If the scenery is the same on the outside—if our thoughts aren’t overrun with running all over—maybe then we’re able to journey within.
Urban explorer Bradley Garrett spoke to Josh Dzieza about the excitement and the pitfalls of poking around abandoned subway stations, skyscrapers, and other off-limits sectors of cities.
Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole a hundred years ago. Everest is littered with oxygen tanks and suffers from traffic jams. But exploration is still happening around the world. It’s just that some of the most interesting expeditions are now much closer to home—right in the heart of the city, in fact. And the challenges aren’t just physical but social and legal: security cameras, trespassing laws, and the common sense that tells you not to jump into sewer systems.
Bradley L. Garrett
These recreational trespassers call themselves urban explorers. Some focus on abandoned buildings, wandering through defunct hospitals and power stations half-reclaimed by nature and taking post-apocalyptic photos. Some scale monuments in the off hours, when the tourists have gone to bed. Some delve into city infrastructure--subway tunnels, bridges, even sewers. It would be a stretch to call it a movement, but there are clusters of urban explorers around the world and they keep tabs on each other through images posted to message boards. Every so often a group will start doing truly amazing things, and their images will break out into the wider world. Right now, that’s a band of Russian kids who recently scaled the pyramids and the Notre Dame cathedral. A couple years ago, it was a group in London that explored every abandoned station in the Tube.
Bradley Garrett, a researcher at the University of Oxford, had the good luck to be embedding with that London crew from the beginning. Doing research for a PhD project, he became a scribe of the tribe on their urban adventures. In his new book, Explore Everything: Place Hacking the City, he recounts his group’s journeys to derelict power stations, mid-construction skyscrapers, a boneyard of mothballed jets, and the nooks and crannies of London’s infrastructure. Garrett’s book, and its excellent photography, makes clear that urban exploration manages to combine both vertigo and claustrophobia, with people perched on beams hundreds of feet above the city, trapped in elevators, and outrunning rapidly rising sewage. It also bears the mark of its origins as a doctoral thesis, with frequent references to Guy Debord and the theories of various philosophically minded geographers. It’s sort of like Jon Krakauer meets Gilles Deleuze, or a really adventurous W.G. Sebald.
From a submerged Bar Refaeli to a Mediterranean idyll, a voyeur’s look at the stars’ sun-soaked scenes.
Wildlife, storytelling, dung, and other things I encountered on my Zambian safari.
The bouillabaisse is just as tasty, but Europe’s 2013 Capital of Culture now has a lot more to offer. Anna Watson Carl reports.
More than a natural wonder, Cappadocia's formations have been a safe haven to many. Nina Strochlic reports.
Tony Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet Publications, remembers the fun early days of travel guide writing, but says they're not over yet.
Miley Cyrus’ fav new haunt is Beacher’s Madhouse, the craziest club in Los Angeles.
Take the vacation of a lifetime—in beautiful North Korea? That’s Uri Tours’ pitch. Lloyd Grove reports.
In ‘Mapping Manhattan,’ explore the city via 75 New Yorkers’ personal geographies. By Allison McNearney.