diamond head : Reservations required to visit Hawaii’s famous Diamond Head State Monument


Reservations required to visit Hawaii's famous Diamond Head State Monument

Reservations required to visit Hawaii’s famous Diamond Head State Monument

Out-of-state visitors to the Diamond Head State Monument in Hawaii, locally known as Lē’ahi, are now required to make reservations prior to the visit. Residents have free access to the park but those …





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He loved to talk and had a huge heart. Locals share stories of N.J.’s Famous River Hot Dog Man.


He had a heart that was as big as anything.

That’s how a close friend of Greg Crance, ubiquitous for his role as the Famous River Hot Dog Man, described him in the wake of his death on Monday from COVID-related complications.

“He was very passionate about his business and did everything he could as far as the (Delaware) River goes to clean it,” said Wes Siegel, a resident of Delaware Township. “I know him and his boys and his employees once a year would go up and down the river and clean all of the garbage that they would find.

“I’ve seen it a couple of times in person — they would come back with a boat filled with garbage bags.”

Crance was the owner of Delaware River Tubing, Inc., a tubing, rafting, canoeing and kayaking business located in Alexandria Township that has offered summer excursions on the river since 2002. Crance operated a hotdog stand on a platform stationed in the middle of the Delaware River beginning in 1987.

Each summer, tens of thousands of people travel from across the state and beyond to spend a day tubing along the Delaware. Delaware River Tubing received the President’s Award in an annual marketing competition conducted by the New Jersey Travel Industry Association in 2017.

Yuuji Crance, Greg’s son and operations manager of Delaware River Tubing, previously told NJ Advance Media that he is uncertain of whether or not the business will continue to operate this summer in light of an ongoing legal battle with the state, which began after the company lost a concession agreement granting it access to the Delaware River from state park land.

However, he said the Famous River Hot Dog Man platforms on both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania sides of the Delaware River will continue to operate even if the tubing business closes.

The owner of Discount Auto Parts & Repair in Kingwood Township, Siegel met Crance while working to repair the buses used to transport tubers to and from the Delaware River. They grew to become close friends, celebrating nearly every Thanksgiving together for the past six years.

“He was a huge talker,” Wes said. “You almost sometimes had to cut him off and say, ‘Hey listen Greg, I got work I got to do here. I got to get going.’

“But I always felt bad doing that, because he always had something to say.”

In addition to reflecting on their close-knit friendship, Wes also expressed his appreciation for how Crance’s business positively impacted the local business community.

“Mostly people from out of state (visit Delaware River Tubing) — and the town gained a lot of revenue from that, in my opinion,” Siegel said. “I gained revenue just in my shop from that too.”

Cindy Kunnas, executive director of the Greater Lambertville Chamber of Commerce, also drew attention to Crance’s influence on the local economy.

“I’m very sorry to hear about the passing of a member (of the chamber),” Kunnas said. “He was an important part of the economy for the river town. His tubing company and selling hot dogs from his island — it was an iconic part of the river.”

Echoing Kunnas, Laura Pointon, president of the Frenchtown Business & Professional Association, said Crance’s impact on the region was “immeasurable.”

“We see all of the different people it brings to the area just to go tubing — people who would have never heard of Frenchtown or Hunterdon County, they’re coming here just because of the marketing reach that company had,” Pointon said.

She added that the organization will support the company should it continue to operate this summer, and expressed her admiration for Crance’s commitment to its success throughout his life.

“I’ve been in Frenchtown since 2008, and I’ve never talked to him. But I’ve seen him numerous times, probably close to daily fueling up the boat and the hot dog boat … and you always see the blue t-shirts,” Pointon said. “And to see what he dealt with with trying to keep his business running … he was fearless.”

Karen Haller Siegel, Wes’ mother and another resident of Delaware Township, said Crance was “one of the kindest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

“He cared so much about people and always made sure they had a fun but safe time on the river all while overcoming the many obstacles in his way,” Karen said. “Greg was a pillar of the community and will be greatly missed.”

Grant Hawley has worked at Delaware River Tubing since 2017. He performed different odd jobs at the company before Crance helped him get his boating license in 2019.

He recalled how Crance taught him how to spot rocks in the Delaware while he was training to become a boater, labeling the memory one of his favorites of a boss who did “everything he could to keep his business afloat.”

“Greg and the company were great,” Hawley said. “Greg always would be there to help out, and was very understanding with any issues that were happening, and do anything in his power to resolve them. He was a good man.”

Stacy Tuzik, a resident of Kingwood Township, also shared one of her most treasured memories of the business — seeing the blue buses travel through the streets of the town each summer.

“I appreciated the way he helped friends and families celebrate summer together,” Tuzik said. “A river trip can really slow down life … People get to make eye contact and belly laugh and enjoy the blue sky and green trees.

“I know the tubing business was controversial … but that was one perspective,” she added. “Building memories for people is another perspective (and) the focus that I choose.”

A GoFundMe page has been established to raise funds to help the Crance family pay for memorial service and medical expenses. Over $1,000 has been raised as of Wednesday afternoon.

“Greg was a beloved husband, father, and grandfather and his larger-than-life personality was a staple in the community,” the page reads. “We hope, as a community, we can help his family get through this difficult time.”

A viewing for Greg Crance will be held this Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Decker-Givnish Funeral Home in Warminster, PA. The event will also be live-streamed on the funeral home’s Facebook page.

Tell us your COVID-19 vaccination stories, send us a news tip or questions about the vaccination process on our tip form.

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Caroline Fassett may be reached at [email protected].



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World Famous in New Zealand: Wairarapa’s Featherston Booktown Festival


If you were thinking Featherston was just another little country town in the Wairarapa, think again: it’s officially a Booktown.

This is an international organisation of 22 small towns with multiple second-hand and antiquarian bookshops, and Featherston has been a member since 2018, with its seven varied bookshops.

It’s a distinction that the town is celebrating from May 6 to 9 this year with a Karukatea Festival, offering 55 events. The 99 presenters include not only authors, but musicians, poets, podcasters, printers and paper-makers, being serious or silly, sometimes both, and always entertaining. There are workshops too – and all ages are catered for.

As well as an annual book festival, Featherston is also home to seven varied bookshops.

SUPPLIED/PETE MONK

As well as an annual book festival, Featherston is also home to seven varied bookshops.

READ MORE:
* Six of the best small towns to visit before summer ends
* Literary rock stars on their way to Featherston
* Mike O’Donnell: 100 more Booktowns please

The road over the Reumtakas to Featherston offers up some spectacular views.

Pamela Wade

The road over the Reumtakas to Featherston offers up some spectacular views.

WHY GO?

Because, fabulous time-suckers though they are, it’s not all about the festival, or even the bookshops.

Located at the base of the Remutaka hills, Featherston is the gateway to the Wairarapa, with a long and notable military history – there was a huge army training camp here in World War I, which in World War 2 was used as a prisoner of war camp for captured Japanese, 122 of whom were shot in an “incident” in 1943. You can find out more about this, and the camps, at the Heritage Museum, and should take a look too at the Anzac memorial in the main street, with its distinctive cupola.

The nearby infamous Remutaka Incline on the rail link to Wellington is nearly 5km of track with a 1-in-15 gradient, so steep that a Fell engine was used to tackle it for 77 years. You can see it, the only one left in the world and meticulously restored, in the town’s Fell Locomotive Museum.

The heritage Royal Hotel has been extensively, and imaginatively, renovated and is worth a look and, ideally, an overnight stay in one of its steampunk-decorated rooms. The cleverly-named C’est Cheese shop and deli across the road has a wide range of hand-made Remutaka Creamery cheeses, as well many other tempting goodies. Be sure to go next door to Mr Feather’s Den, where you’ll be astonished by the range of “oddities and delights” they offer there, from jewellery to taxidermied chicks.

Up in the hills, beside the road to Wellington, is a striking statue commemorating the long march of soldiers from Featherston into the city and away to war.

Pamela Wade

Up in the hills, beside the road to Wellington, is a striking statue commemorating the long march of soldiers from Featherston into the city and away to war.

INSIDER TIP

Joy Cowley lives in Featherston, so say hello if you see her.

ON THE WAY/NEARBY

Up in the hills, beside the road to Wellington, is a striking statue commemorating the long march of soldiers from Featherston into the city and away to war – and the women who fortified them with cups of tea.

Lakes Wairarapa and Onoke make up Wairarapa Moana, 9000 hectares of wetland where many species of birds can be spotted and there’s a variety of accessible walks. The Remutaka Rail Trail, with its bridges and tunnels, is just one appealing cycling or walking option in the area.

Stonehenge Aotearoa is not simply a concrete incarnation of the Salisbury original, but an observatory too, with day-time tours and night-time star-gazing.

The heritage Royal Hotel has been extensively, and imaginatively, renovated and is worth a look and, ideally, an overnight stay in one of its steampunk-decorated rooms.

Supplied

The heritage Royal Hotel has been extensively, and imaginatively, renovated and is worth a look and, ideally, an overnight stay in one of its steampunk-decorated rooms.

HOW MUCH?

The Festival event entry fees vary, and some are free. Booking is already open.

BEST TIME TO GO

The festival would be fun, but the books and cheese are always there. booktown.org.nz



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World Famous in New Zealand: New Lynn’s Te Toi Uku Crown Lynn & Clayworks Museum


Tucked into the ordinary Auckland suburb of New Lynn is the home of what many consider to be a New Zealand icon: Crown Lynn china.

Instantly recognisable for both their bold patterns and sturdy construction, these dinner sets and ornaments have been part of daily life since 1948 and reached their peak of popularity in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Instantly recognisable for both their bold patterns and sturdy construction, Crown Lynn dinner sets and ornaments have been part of daily life since 1948 and reached their peak of popularity in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Pamela Wade

Instantly recognisable for both their bold patterns and sturdy construction, Crown Lynn dinner sets and ornaments have been part of daily life since 1948 and reached their peak of popularity in the 1960s and ‘70s.

For both casual visitors and enthusiastic collectors, the museum provides the opportunity to inspect, compare, admire and learn about the brand, its origins in 1861 bricks and power-line insulators and its development through to the factory’s closure in 1989.

READ MORE:
* Crown Lynn: A beginners guide to collecting the nation’s beloved crockery
* 50 things to do in Auckland for under $20
* Kids making plates with clay discovered under school
* Crown Lynn pottery collecting new fans

Most Kiwis would have eaten or drunk from some of this crockery.

Pamela Wade

Most Kiwis would have eaten or drunk from some of this crockery.

WHY GO?

Because you don’t have to be a collector to recognise this china as part of your personal history.

For most New Zealanders, Crown Lynn crockery or ornaments are an instant trip back in time to family dinners or visits to Grandma’s, and the memories come flooding back. While other museums recognise Crown Lynn’s place in national history, and feature it in their displays, it’s only at Te Toi Uku that you will find the actual tools and equipment that were used to make the china.

The museum itself, owned by the Portage Ceramics Trust and recently renovated, is located on the site of the original brickworks and next door is a picturesque old kiln. Displays of plates and mugs, swans, chess pieces and more are supplemented by information about the production processes which, while eventually highly mechanised, still incorporated much hand-work.

While the decorating must have given some artistic satisfaction, it’s mind-boggling now to imagine what it was like spending all day attaching handles to cups. Storyboards not only describe the initial creative processes, but also introduce the people behind them, and detail how the first utilitarian designs were overtaken by more contemporary shapes and decoration, reflecting the increasing sophistication of public taste.

Turns out Crown Lynn designs were more artistic than many would remember.

Pamela Wade

Turns out Crown Lynn designs were more artistic than many would remember.

INSIDER TIP

The curator, Rosemary Deane, is a fount of knowledge about the brand, and welcomes questions. If you’re sceptical about how valued these once-common pieces of china now are, have a search on TradeMe and be enlightened.

ON THE WAY/NEARBY

If you want more lovely pottery to admire, then Titirangi isn’t far away, where you’ll find some artfully displayed at Te Uru Waitākere Gallery, plus much more. Colin McCahon House is tucked into the bush nearby, with examples of his art and the full story of his life there. Or you could admire both nature and sculpture at Waikūmete Cemetery, which is a lovely place for a stroll. For something entirely different, the Charlotte Museum is quite close, celebrating lesbian culture with a wide range of exhibits.

The museum is located next to an original brick kiln.

Pamela Wade

The museum is located next to an original brick kiln.

HOW MUCH?

Entry is free, though donations are very welcome. The museum is normally open Wednesday to Friday 10am till 4pm and, on Saturdays, 10am till 3pm.

BEST TIME TO GO

If you’re addicted, the museum’s next biannual Crown Lynn Collector’s Market will take place at New Lynn Community Centre on Sunday, May 2 from 9am till 1pm. The first-ever New Zealand Studio Pottery Market will be part of the event. tetoiuku.org.nz



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World Famous in New Zealand: Why there’s only one way you should see Devonport


This is the ideal combination of fun and discovery.

On the wharf, meet up with Devonport-local Pauline, of Magic Broomstick Tours. You’ll be shown how to ride this marvellous, self-balancing machine – it’s so easy – and then follow her on a cruise along the waterfront, pausing at the points of interest.

There are so many of them, and most you would go past without noticing, so the inside knowledge is invaluable. Then, carry on skimming effortlessly right up to the top of Maungauika North Head for terrific views of the harbour and city, and the extra bonus of some wartime history. You will walk through some of the dark, echoing, hand-dug tunnels that thread through the hill to the gun pit, where Pauline tells you all about the big gun installed there against the threat of a Russian attack in the 1880s.

Seeing Devonport via Segway offers an ideal combination of fun and discovery.

Pamela Wade

Seeing Devonport via Segway offers an ideal combination of fun and discovery.

READ MORE:
* World Famous in New Zealand: Flying over the America’s Cup course
* World Famous in New Zealand: Auckland Town Hall Tour
* World Famous in New Zealand: L’Arte Cafe and Gallery, Taupō
* $50 challenge: How to spend a day in Auckland on a budget

Devonport is full of history, both naval and domestic.

Pamela Wade

Devonport is full of history, both naval and domestic.

WHY GO?

Because nobody ever rode a Segway without a permanent grin. Plus, you get to enjoy so many of Devonport’s hidden treasures, which include, unexpectedly, a giraffe and a pair of concrete greyhounds.

Humming through the quiet back streets, between North Head and Mt Victoria, you’ll see beautiful, old villas painstakingly restored, set in lovely gardens, and hear insider gossip about some of them. You’ll make a note to come back to those tearooms by the sea you go past, or that tempting French café and the cute museum inside an old church.

Mt Cumbria Reserve’s peaceful lawns offer a temptation to attempt the machine’s dizzying 18.5km/h top speed, before you wend back downhill again. You’ll pause under a big pōhutukawa to look for Bertie (or Beatrice) the cockatoo, pass the lovely, renovated old Elizabeth House (party central for the Wrens during WW2) and stop again under Old Albert, the Moreton Bay fig tree that’s well over a century old.

Musicians will enjoy tutting at the mistake on the nearby band rotunda surround. And then it’s all over –and it’s guaranteed you won’t want to get off.

The playground in Windsor Reserve offers hours of fun.

Pamela Wade

The playground in Windsor Reserve offers hours of fun.

INSIDER TIP

If you’re coming from the city, make life easy and take the ferry across the harbour. Everything you’ll want to do in Devonport is within walking distance.

ON THE WAY/NEARBY

Allow plenty of time for a good look around Devonport’s varied shops, eateries and art galleries, and to admire the stylish library. The playground, with its Bean Rock tower, is irresistible for children and, a pleasant stroll away along Torpedo Bay’s sandy beach, the Navy Museum is full of interest – don’t miss the boatshed out the back.

At the Visitor Information caravan on the wharf, they’re happy to offer suggestions and advice.

The prime spot for city protection is also ideal for city and harbour views.

Pamela Wade

The prime spot for city protection is also ideal for city and harbour views.

HOW MUCH?

Tours and prices range from $45.50 per person for a shorter ride, up to $130 each for the 2.5 hour Historic North Head option. Riders must be aged over 10 years. There are three daily tours in summer, two in winter, or by appointment.

BEST TIME TO GO

Choose a fine day for maximum enjoyment and great views over the harbour. See magicbroomsticktours.co.nz



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World Famous in New Zealand: Taupō’s free, warm water haven – Otumuheke Stream


Otumuheke Stream steams quietly through bush and scrub and along the edge of Spa Thermal Park in Taupō.

Then it drops down a couple of small waterfalls, filling the pools below them with beautifully warm, silky mineral water, before finally easing into the mighty Waikato. It’s gentle, beautifully relaxing and, unlike the more commercial options available, completely natural.

You just walk about 25 minutes from the town centre and through the park down towards the river. Once there, you get into your togs and then climb down the steps at the stream’s edge to soak in one of the pools, or even sit directly underneath the little waterfall.

The waterfall provides a very natural kind of neck massage.

Pamela Wade

The waterfall provides a very natural kind of neck massage.

You choose how hot you want the water by where you sit; and, if you want to claim a swim in the actual Waikato, the stream makes it less challenging here, temperature-wise.

READ MORE:
* Taupō: The North Island’s most underrated town
* World Famous in NZ: Riuwaka Resurgence Walk, Kahurangi National Park
* Back Your Backyard: The natural gems of Taupō
* World Famous in New Zealand: Taupō’s Huka Falls
* World famous in New Zealand: Aratiatia Rapids, Taupo

No-one who has had a soak is in a hurry to leave the stream.

Pamela Wade

No-one who has had a soak is in a hurry to leave the stream.

WHY GO?

Because nothing helps more in achieving peace of mind than getting something really good, for free. That’s a great bonus on top of the beauty of the natural surroundings and the simple pleasure of soaking in the warm water. It all works together to achieve the winning combination of mental tranquillity and physical relaxation.

If full immersion doesn’t suit you, there are convenient boulders to sit on and dangle your feet in the water.

Afterwards, you can sprawl in the sun on the grass, or the wide wooden steps, and watch the kayakers paddling past.

INSIDER TIP

There are toilets and changing rooms nearby, as well as a #LoveOtumuheke sign for the Instagram-addicted. Though the pools are rarely crowded, you can explore further upstream for even more privacy, and higher temperatures.

Higher up the stream, there are more private pools.

Pamela Wade

Higher up the stream, there are more private pools.

ON THE WAY/NEARBY

Though it will probably destroy your now-peaceful state of mind, it’s a pleasant walk along the river from the pools to the Huka Bungy, where you can watch people flinging themselves off the platform, in ones or twos, plunging down 47 metres, or whizzing along on the swing at up to 70kmh.

It’s worth following the track down along the edge for different views back towards bungy operation on the cliff and of the welcome swallows that nest near it. From there, you can continue along the track towards the lake and the Control Gates Bridge, to see the river meekly doing as it is told.

For exactly the opposite sort of behaviour, you can walk from the stream along the river the other way, to the Huka Falls and marvel at the raw power of the Waikato as it surges through the gap. There are lots of biking options in the area, including the Rotary Ride and Waikato River Track, where you can find in the bush, if you look hard enough, a swing on a long rope above a valley to give you some different thrills.

There is a constant stream of jumpers at nearby Huka Bungy.

Pamela Wade

There is a constant stream of jumpers at nearby Huka Bungy.

HOW MUCH?

Nothing! Which would be the best part of it, if it weren’t also so lovely.

BEST TIME TO GO

Any time when it’s open (7am till 8pm), even on a chilly day.

lovetaupo.com



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World Famous in New Zealand: Lake Taupō’s Hole in One Challenge


Unsurprisingly thought up one night in a pub and sketched on the back of a beer mat, the Hole in One Challenge has been a fixture on the Taupō lakefront since 1993.

Three holes of varying sizes, from standard width right up to a vast 50cm in diameter, are located on a pontoon floating just over 100 metres out from the shore. They are the irresistible target for aspiring Lydia Kos, who buy buckets of golf balls to whack towards it with mostly predictable results.

What can be relied upon, though, is the fun to be had in the attempt, by anyone able to swing a club and those encouraging/mocking them.

The view from the tee beats that of most real golf courses.

Hole in One Taupō

The view from the tee beats that of most real golf courses.

READ MORE:
* Young couple strike Taupō’s rare $10k hole in one
* Iwi buys popular Taupō tourist attraction
* Entrepreneur proposes Lake Tekapo pontoon golf

Contrary to popular belief, success is not impossible.

Hole in One Taupō

Contrary to popular belief, success is not impossible.

WHY GO?

Because, on average once every fortnight, someone – over 1000 so far – and sometimes even a complete novice – scores a win and walks away with a prize. Getting a ball into the holes with the blue or white flags allows you to choose from a range of vouchers for an outing with local tourism operators: anything from a leisurely cruise to a bungy jump. The skilled (or super-lucky) golfer, and so far there have been seven, who drops a ball into the middle hole with the red flag receives the ultimate prize: $10,000. As a consolation, if you just land your ball on the pontoon nowhere near a hole, you’ll get a free one and another chance at that big chunk of loot.

INSIDER TIP

Don’t worry about all those submerged golf balls mounting up: a snorkeller goes out to retrieve them every day. There are six tees to drive from, so keep a close eye on your ball to avoid disputes with your fellow golfers over whose shot landed where.

The Hole in One offers fun for all the family, regardless of their golfing ability.

Pamela Wade

The Hole in One offers fun for all the family, regardless of their golfing ability.

ON THE WAY/NEARBY

For more conventional golfing action, there’s mini-golf a short distance away; as is another Taupō fixture, the McDonald’s, with its actual DC3 where you can sit inside to eat your Big Mac. If you’d rather dine somewhere fancier, you’re spoiled for choice around town.

Further along the lake front you can get out onto – or above – the water in all sorts of craft, or buzz around the Domain in a little train, or go to the museum. If you brave a swim and it leaves you feeling a bit chilly, there are hot showers in the Superloo here, if you pay $2.50.

It's good fun to eat your burger inside a retired DC3.

Pamela Wade

It’s good fun to eat your burger inside a retired DC3.

HOW MUCH?

A bucket of 15 balls costs $15, 30 balls cost $25 and 50 $40. Those who are feeling super-confident can pay $1.50 for just the one ball.

BEST TIME TO GO

You won’t want wind. The activity is open rain or shine, but a fine day will at least allow you to appreciate the glorious views of the mountains at the far side of the lake, if you’re not able to score much pontoon action in the foreground. During summer, Hole in One Challenge stays open late, for a different experience under the lights. See holein1.co.nz



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How Bangkok’s Khao San Road became the world’s most famous travel hub


Bangkok (CNN) — Once upon a time, the locals peddled rice on Bangkok’s Khao San Road. Lots of it.

Barge after barge paddled, and later motored, down the vast Chao Phraya River and into the mouth of Banglamphu Canal, where they dropped off thousands of tons in jute sacks to wholesalers in the neighborhood.

By the end of the 19th century, Banglamphu district was by far the largest rice market not only in Bangkok, but anywhere in Siam, the world’s largest rice growing nation.

Smaller vendors opened shops south of the canal, where a dirt-track alley became so thick with the rice trade that King Chulalongkorn ordered a proper road built in 1892. Running only 410 meters, the cobbled strip wasn’t grand enough to be named after a historic Thai figure or nation-building principle, unlike other city thoroughfares, so it was simply called Soi Khao San (Milled Rice Lane).

As Banglamphu flourished on rice profits, the district expanded into clothing (including Thailand’s first ready-made school uniforms), buffalo-leather shoes, jewelry, gold leaf and costumes and regalia for Thai classical dance theater. Local demand for entertainment gave birth to two musical comedy houses, Thailand’s first national record label (Kratai), and one of the kingdom’s first silent-movie cinemas.

Yet only 100 years later, an invasion of international backpackers almost completely eclipsed local market culture. Starting as a trickle in the late 1970s, when Bangkok was a terminus for the Asian hippie trail, the influx became a tidal wave in the 1990s.

Guesthouses proliferate

I don’t think anyone could have predicted the inexorable evolution of the road and surrounding neighborhood.

When I first strolled down Khao San Road on a research trip for the first edition of Lonely Planet’s Thailand guide, 40 years ago, it was lined with late 19th- and early 20th-century two-story shophouses.

At street level were rows of shoe shops, Thai-Chinese coffee shops, noodle vendors, grocers and motorcycle repair shops. Owners or tenants lived above.

A few rice dealers hung on, but as 10-wheel trucks had taken over from river barges, rice transport and trading had for the most part moved elsewhere.

While Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown, was the main commercial focus for Chinese merchants and residents, and Phahurat served the Indian community, Banglamphu was clearly a more Thai realm. Around the corner on Chakkaphong and Phra Sumen roads, artisan shops still crafted costumes and masks for classical Thai dance-drama performers.

06 Khao San Road

The 1st (1982) and 2nd (1984) editions of the Lonely Planet Thailand guide.

Joe Cummings

I had a spent a long, hot day jotting down notes on the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho), and the Giant Swing, all of which lie within a kilometer’s radius of Khao San Road.

These are arguably the city’s chief sightseeing attractions, so when I noticed two Chinese-Thai hotels on Khao San Road, I immediately thought to recommend them in my guidebook as a convenient base for travelers. Nearly identical in their modest amenities, Nith Chareon Suk Hotel and Sri Phranakhon Hotel cost $5 a night at the time, and catered to Thai traders buying wholesale goods in Banglamphu to sell upcountry.

Down a narrow alley nearby, I was even more thrilled to stumble upon VS Guest House, recently opened by a Banglamphu family taking guests into their 1920s-vintage wooden house for $1.50 per head. Further alley exploration turned up two more family-run, similarly priced guesthouses, Bonny and Tum.

“Foreigners back then traveled so quietly. They were interested in history and culture, unlike youngsters we see nowadays, who seem more interested in getting drunk and partying.”

Rintipa Detkajon, Khao San Road guesthouse owner

These two hotels and three guesthouses formed the sum of Khao San Road accommodations I listed in the first “Thailand: A Travel Survival Kit,” published the following year, 1982.

When I returned a year later to update info for the second edition, five more guesthouses along or just off Khao San had appeared, so I dutifully added these for the 1984 edition.

From that point forward, every time I came back to Banglamphu for the guide’s biannual update, the number of places to stay had multiplied exponentially. Within a decade, the choices proliferated, block by block, from Khao San Road out to other streets and alleys in the district, until backpacker hotels and guesthouses numbered well over 200.

“The Beach” effect

By the mid-1990s, the neighborhood was a global phenom, the largest backpacker center among the three Ks — Kathmandu, Khao San, and Kuta Beach. Besides housing and feeding the largest transient backpacker population in the world, Khao San Road became a world-record contender for its black market in unlicensed cassettes, CDs and DVDs, fake IDs, counterfeited books and brand-knockoff luggage.

Dozens of bucket shops offered unrivaled bargain fares on little-known airlines flying imaginative routes to virtually any airport on the globe.

Alex Garland, an unknown writer at the time (now famed for directing sci-fi films “Ex Machina” and “Annihilation)’, boosted Khao San’s bad-boy rep further with his 1996 cult novel, “The Beach.” Based on Garland’s own travels in Thailand, the first seven chapters take place on Khao San Road, where Richard, a young English backpacker, meets an eccentric Scot calling himself Daffy Duck who gives him a secret map to “the beach.”

Prior to the pandemic, Khao San Road was a popular spot for travelers and locals to celebrate Songkran, the Thai new year festival.

Prior to the pandemic, Khao San Road was a popular spot for travelers and locals to celebrate Songkran, the Thai new year festival.

PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/AFP via Getty Images

The novel describes a room in a typical Khao San guesthouse of the era: “One wall was concrete — the side of the building. The others were Formica and bare. They moved when I touched them. I had the feeling that if I leant against one it would fall over and maybe hit another, and all the walls of the neighboring rooms would collapse like dominoes. Just short of the ceiling, the walls stopped, and covering the space was a strip of metal mosquito netting.”

A film adaptation directed by Danny Boyle and starring Leonard DiCaprio hit world cinemas in 2000, and probably introduced Khao San Road to a larger audience than either the novel or my Lonely Planet guides.

That same year Italian electronic music producer Spiller released a video of his dance track “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love),” shot in Bangkok with a prominent scene at the end where Spiller and singer Sophie Ellis-Baxter dance in an underground Khao San Road club.

A New Yorker article that year described Khao San Road as “the travel hub for half the world, a place that prospers on the desire to be someplace else,” because it was “the safest, easiest, most Westernized place from which to launch a trip through Asia.”

Khao San Road today

According to the Khao San Business Association, in 2018 the road saw an astounding 40,000-50,000 tourists per day in the high season, and 20,000 per day in the low season.

With such numbers, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority announced in 2019 that it was investing $1.6 million to transform Khao San Road into a regulated “international walking street.”

Initiated perhaps in part to counter Khao San’s somewhat unsavory reputation, the project was to be completed in late 2020, with a repaved road and footpaths, and retractable bollards designating spaces for 250–350 licensed Thai vendors, selected by lottery.

Vehicles would be banned from the road from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

10 Khao San Road

Former Lonely Planet author Joe Cummings stands with VS Guest House owner Rintipa Detkajon during a January 2021 visit.

Ian Taylor

When the coronavirus pandemic forced Thailand to close its borders in April 2020, international tourist arrivals fell to zero almost overnight. Khao San Road partially recovered when domestic travel re-opened in July, however, and by the time the renovated Khao San was launched in November 2020, weekends found the road packed with Thai youth as well as lesser numbers of expats.

Pubs along the street that typically boasted 80% European customers became almost 90% Thai.

A vibrant 10-day series of light installations called Khao San Hide and Seek attracted a steady crowd in November. The installations were supplemented by live performances from nearly 20 bands. Local studios led workshops focused on traditional Banglamphu arts such as embroidering khon (classic Thai dance-drama) costumes, preparing traditional khaotom nam woon (sticky rice triangles steamed in fragrant pandanus leaves), and crafting thaeng yuak (fresh banana tree trunks carved into intricate patterns, for use in funerals, monastic ordination and other Buddhist ceremonies).

The neighborhood suffered another setback when a second wave of coronavirus cases spiked in early January 2021. The government quickly ordered the closing of all entertainment venues in Bangkok, and once again Khao San Road emptied out almost completely.

When I re-visited a deserted Khao San later that month, I decided to stop in at VS Guesthouse, the first and oldest guesthouse still standing. Every other neighborhood guesthouse I passed by that day was shut tight, but to my surprise the vintage wooden doors to VS stood wide open.

I chatted with the members of the family who owned the house, now in their fourth generation. Rintipa Detkajon, the elder of two sisters who look after the home today, recalled how her late father, Vongsavat, started taking in foreigners around 1980, allowing them to sleep on the family’s living room floor.

“I was around 16 years old when our first guest, an Australian man, stayed the night,” she recounted. “Foreigners back then traveled so quietly. They were interested in history and culture, unlike youngsters we see nowadays, who seem more interested in getting drunk and partying.”

The family added to the wooden house over the years, at one point reaching a peak of 18 rooms. They now operate 10 rooms going for $10 a night. The day I visited, just one room was occupied, by an American who was staying long-term.

I asked Rintipa about the lack of business due to the pandemic.

“It’s not just us, it’s the whole world,” she said. “We’re all in this together. This is our home, so we’ll survive.”



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World Famous in New Zealand: Auckland Town Hall Tour


The Auckland Town Hall opened in 1912.

PAMELA WADE

The Auckland Town Hall opened in 1912.

It’s sat near the top of Queen Street for over a century, an elegant and familiar part of the background to city life, but few Aucklanders have had a proper look at this building that they actually own. Now you can, if you’re quick, on one of the hour-long tours that are being offered around the performance part of the Town Hall, both public and backstage.

Beginning by the grand staircase, you’ll learn about the competition to design it, the winner receiving the staggering sum of £400, equating to $72,000 today. It was a Melbourne father and son partnership who succeeded with their Edwardian Baroque design, which took just two years to build, opening on December 14, 1911.

Grand staircase at Auckland Town Hall.

PAMELA WADE

Grand staircase at Auckland Town Hall.

The tour takes you into the Concert Chamber and Great Hall, to view them from all angles, and have features pointed out that audiences usually miss. You’ll learn why capacity has reduced over the years (hint: bigger audience members) and be shocked to discover that – despite Kate Sheppard being honoured with a bust above the staircase – women’s toilets were not included in the original construction.

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Stained glass windows at the top of the stairs at Auckland Town Hall.

PAMELA WADE

Stained glass windows at the top of the stairs at Auckland Town Hall.

WHY GO?

Because why wouldn’t you want to stand where the Beatles and the Rolling Stones have stood? And the Queen, and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton? As well as many, many performers from around the world, and, of course, thousands of graduands trailing across the stage to receive their precious piece of paper. Plus, you get to go behind the scenes, literally under the stage, to view the secret and functional side of performances. Finally, you’ll enjoy a hot drink and a sweet treat.

The Orgelbau Klais organ.

PAMELA WADE

The Orgelbau Klais organ.

INSIDER TIP

Don’t be shy if you know your way around a keyboard: you’ll be offered the opportunity to play the huge German-built Klais organ, so seize it for a literal blast through its 4000 pipes. And if that’s your real passion, look out for the Organ Trust’s four annual free organ concerts, followed by free tours which will get you right up close with the organ, and give you another chance to play it.

ON THE WAY/NEARBY

You’re close to the Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, which is always worth a visit as it’s free, and has beautifully displayed exhibitions. Resuming January 18, you can attend Friday evening drawing sessions there too, also free, with materials supplied. Albert Park is just outside, with manicured nature to enjoy, and scattered artworks to admire. And, of course, Queen Street and High Street are right there too, for shopping and refreshment.

The Great Hall from the stage at Auckland Town Hall.

PAMELA WADE

The Great Hall from the stage at Auckland Town Hall.

HOW MUCH?

Tickets cost $35 each, recommended 14 years and over. Be aware that there are a lot of stairs to negotiate, some of them narrow and steep. Tours are limited to 18 people.

The Great Hall from the Upper Circle at Auckland Town Hall.

PAMELA WADE

The Great Hall from the Upper Circle at Auckland Town Hall.

BEST TIME TO GO

Soon. The tours are popular and selling out fast. There are places left only on the last three currently scheduled, on Sundays 17 and 24 January – although more tours may be listed to meet demand. Check the website aucklandlive.co.nz.



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World Famous in New Zealand: L’Arte Cafe and Gallery, Taupō


The very colourful L'Arte Cafe and Gallery, Taupō.

PAMELA WADE/Supplied

The very colourful L’Arte Cafe and Gallery, Taupō.

Just around the lake edge from Taupō, in Acacia Bay, and founded by the mother-daughter team Jo and Judi Brennan, this is a delight for all the senses that’s deservedly popular.

Tucked into a neat garden back from the bay are both colourful and original artwork, and a licensed café serving a range of such delicious food that it is a huge relief that the breakfast and lunch menus are simultaneously available all day.

Whether it’s a proper meal you need, or an in-between treat you want, you’ll find it here, with the appropriate drink to go with it.

Even better, though, there is real art to admire in the garden. There are metal and pottery sculptures to catch your eye as you walk up the path, some of them kinetic, but the main act is the spectacularly colourful outdoor living room with sofas, armchair, fireplace, tables and a window.

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Each surface is a marvel of jigsawed pieces of bright tile, smooth and decorative. Even more marvellous, given the hard nature of the materials, the seats are superbly comfortable, the cushions clearly pre-indented by real bottoms. With flowers and birds part of the creation, it’s quirky, cheerful and clever, and irresistibly photogenic. This decorative theme is continued in the café and throughout the garden.

A kiwi on display at L'Arte Cafe and Gallery, Taupō.

PAMELA WADE/Supplied

A kiwi on display at L’Arte Cafe and Gallery, Taupō.

WHY GO?

Because when did you last feed body and soul at the same time, this colourfully? From the corn fritters and yummy Mexican bowl to the flower birdbaths and kete wall art, a visit to both L’Arté Café and its Gallery is deeply satisfying.

There is real art to admire in the garden.

PAMELA WADE/Supplied

There is real art to admire in the garden.

INSIDER TIP

Take a proper wander around the garden to spot all the artworks, you’ll need sharp eyes for some of them – look twice at those flowers and butterflies. Don’t miss the gallery where there’s a range of different creations, large and small, to admire and buy, and where the workshop behind is a pottery studio that produces much of the art you’ve been admiring.

ON THE WAY/NEARBY

Now you’re all fuelled up, head back down to Acacia Bay and use some of that energy at Taupō Kayaking Adventures. They offer a variety of hiking and biking activities, with or without guides, but it’s hard to beat a paddle around the lake to view the spectacular 14m high Māori rock carvings at Mine Bay.

Take a proper wander around the garden to spot all the artworks, you’ll need sharp eyes for some of them.

PAMELA WADE/Supplied

Take a proper wander around the garden to spot all the artworks, you’ll need sharp eyes for some of them.

If that sounds too much like hard work, take a gentle stroll along the lake edge on the nearby Rangatira Point Track for some great views. Or if it’s a Saturday morning, go back towards town for a browse around the Taupō Market, just off Acacia Bay Rd.

HOW MUCH?

No charge to enter the garden, so you could theoretically enjoy the mosaics for free – but then you would be depriving yourself of that excellent food and coffee.

BEST TIME TO GO

The café can get busy, so time your visit wisely. A sunny day is best to enjoy the garden art. Currently, open Wednesday to Sunday 8am till 4pm. See: www.larte.co.nz



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