Safe and secure in sunny Thailand

Lonely Planet experts answer readers' travel questions

I'd like to go to southern Thailand, to some of the more remote beaches and islands, but I'm not sure of the security situation. Do you have any advice?

Kate Jurgens

For the latest travel advice and warnings from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade go to safetravel.govt.nz. Due to the recent demonstrations, airport closures and general unrest, the Australian Government is urging that visitors exercise a high degree of caution in all areas of Thailand.

Terrorist attacks and other dangers are a possibility, as anywhere in the world, and every traveller must decide for themselves whether to travel or not.

The real problem area in Thailand is near the Malaysian border, although west of the beach resorts and islands you intend to visit. These are the provinces of Yala, Songkhla, Pattani and Narathiwat where terrorist attacks occur regularly due to the long history of trouble between Muslims and Buddhists in the deep south. The other major problem area is near the Cambodian border in the vicinity of the Preah Vihear temple where there is an ongoing border dispute and military conflict.

Probably the southernmost place you might visit is Ko Tarutao Marine National Park, one of the most exquisite and unspoiled regions in all of Thailand.

This massive park encompasses 51 islands covered with well-preserved virgin rainforest teeming with fauna as well as sparkling coral reefs and radiant beaches.

The only accommodation here is government-run, eco-friendly cabins and longhouses. You can also stay on nearby Ko Lipe, which does not come under the park's protection and has some resorts and tourist facilities.

A chain of smaller islands stretching north from Ko Tarutao makes up Mu Ko Phetra Marine National Park. There are some lovely secluded beaches and coves and opportunities for snorkelling, sea-kayaking and walking. For the latest information straight from other travellers' mouths, go to the Thorn Tree forum.

Avoiding muggers in Rio

I am going to a conference in Rio de Janeiro for four days in April. I want to take my girlfriend but she's worried about the crime there. What information can you give her to reassure her, keeping in mind that for most of our social activities we'll be part of a group?

Des Addams

There's no doubt that Rio is a crime-ridden city. Theft, muggings and ATM scams are common but if you just follow a few rules you will minimise any risks greatly. Don't walk around with any more cash than you need and don't display expensive items such as jewellery, iPods or cameras. That's pretty obvious advice, really, and a rule you should follow wherever you travel. It's best to avoid carrying a bag that can be snatched easily. Try to keep your money and possessions under your clothes.

Take taxis at night, never walk on the beach at night as this is a target area for thieves and use ATMs inside buildings. You will stay safer by going out as a group rather than on your own or as a couple.

Europe by train

My husband and I are heading to Sweden in June, then plan to travel to the Languedoc region of France. Can you suggest the best way to travel by rail from Stockholm to Toulouse or Carcassonne and how long the journey might take? Is there a better or more cost-effective way to make this journey?

Su Vincent, by email

Sweden to Toulouse is a vast distance and the journey will take about 27 hours. If you have the time and you don't mind changing trains, you'll no doubt have a lot of fun. The changing landscape will be interesting and you're likely to make plenty of new acquaintances en route. The trip will involve taking a train from Stockholm to Copenhagen in Denmark, then changing to another train for Cologne in Germany, then another train from Cologne to Paris and one last change to Toulouse. Getting to Carcassonne from Paris would mean a change at Toulouse or Montpellier.

Go to raileurope.com. It's certainly not a cheap way to travel. If you decide to opt for a sleeper and purchase a flexible fare, you're looking at over $700 per ticket. Unfortunately there are no Eurail passes that would make it cheaper for you to travel this route. If you plan any further train trips you might consider the Eurail Regional Pass, which offers unlimited rail travel in two countries, valid for five, six, eight or 10 days. That could be Denmark and Germany, or Germany and France. Sweden is not included in this pass. Go to eurail.com for more information.

Another option would be to travel by ferry with Stena Line from Goteborg to Kiel in Germany and then take the train from there to France. The trip takes 131/2 hours and costs around $350. Again, not cheap.

The sailing on this route is overnight and, as such, you must purchase a cabin fare. Go to stenaline.com for more information (click on "Great Britain" to get the site in English).

You might just opt for a boring old flight instead. Ryanair flies from Stockholm to Marseille ($125).

Marseille to Carcassonne or Toulouse by train is then only a four-hour trip and costs from $60 one way. Go to the French rail website for more information.

Exploring Florida Keys

What's the best way to see the Florida Keys from Miami? How much time should I set aside to see Key West and stop just about everywhere in between?

Lloyd James

The Florida Keys are joined by the long and flat Overseas Hwy (or US Hwy 1), all the way from Miami to Key West. It takes three to four hours, depending on the traffic, to get to Key West.

However, stopping along the way at some of the 45 bar-studded mangrove islets is where the fun really begins. Think of it as a kind of tropical, water-locked American road trip. You'll either contract cabin fever or fall in love with the many varied and eccentric communities of the Keys.

Driving down the Overseas with the windows down, the wind in your face, Florida Bay on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other is a fantastic experience, but getting stuck in gridlock traffic is not. Just know that it does happen.

You can hire a car or take a Greyhound bus from downtown Miami. Pick up a bus along the way by standing on the highway and flagging one down.

Skip the road altogether and take the four-hour sea trip via the Key West Express, which departs from Miami Seaquarium at 9.30am Monday to Friday and 8.30am on Sunday ($105 one way).

The best way to see the keys, though, is by bicycle. The Florida Keys Historic Overland Trail is set to be completed in 2012 and will connect all the islands from Key Largo to Key West.

- NZ Herald

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