TIME France

See How a Rare ‘Supertide’ Turned a French Medieval Town Into an Island

France High Tide
AP An aerial view as a "supertide" submerges a narrow causeway leading to the Mont Saint-Michel, on France's northern coast, March 21, 2015.

Mont Saint-Michel is normally accessible by a slim causeway.

Visitors witnessed Mont Saint-Michel in northwestern France become an island on Saturday, thanks to a rare “supertide” that submerged a causeway that typically provides access to the medieval community. The waters rose some 42 feet (13 meters) and temporarily disconnected the area, which is about 2,000 feet (600 meters) from land.

TIME China

Seven People Were Killed By Falling Rocks at One of China’s Top Tourist Spots

Seven tourists killed in rockfall at China beauty spot
Stringer—Imaginechina/AP In this screenshot, the huge rock is seen at the accident site after it fell off a mountain, killing seven tourists and injuring 19 tourists, at the Diecai Mountain scenic area in Guilin city, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, 19 March 2015.

The tragedy happened at the famed Diecai Mountain in Guilin province

Boulders tumbled down a mountainside in China Thursday, crashing into a group of visitors waiting to board a boat at one of the country’s most picturesque travel destinations, killing seven.

State media outlet Xinhua reports that 19 others were injured.

The incident happened at Diecai Mountain near in the southern city of Guangxi. The scenic area is famous for its karst mountains dramatically rising out of rivers and lakes.

MONEY Travel

Strong Dollar Cuts Prices on European Vacations

A stronger dollar and a weaker euro are making European vacations cheaper for Americans.

TIME Aviation

U.S. Airlines Expecting Highest Passenger Numbers in 7 Years

If numbers bear out, it would be most passengers since the financial crisis

The spring travel season could see U.S. airlines post their highest passenger numbers in seven years, bolstered by rising employment and personal incomes, says industry group Airlines for America.

Some 134.8 million passengers — or about 2.2 million people per day — are projected to fly in March and April, according to a press release.

If accurate, that would mean the most airline travelers since numbers peaked in 2007 — right before the financial crisis.

The 2015 projections are a 2% boost from the 132.2 million people who flew on U.S. airlines during the same period last year.

John Heimlich, Airlines for America vice president and chief economist, said high consumer sentiment and “the continued affordability of air travel” may contribute to a busy travel season ahead.

MONEY Shopping

5 Astounding Things About America’s Biggest Mall Planned in Miami

150306_EM_mall_1
Courtesy of American Dream Mall

There will be hundreds of stores and an indoor ski slope. More surprising is the possibility of sea lion shows, submarine rides, and which group will likely be the most important customer base.

If a proposal first revealed this week in the Miami Herald is approved and actually built, the suburbs of Miami would become home to the largest mall in the U.S. It’s been estimated that the megamall will cost $4 billion to complete, but that’s hardly the only eye-popping factoid attached to the monumental project. Here are a few more:

It’ll occupy a whopping 200 acres. That’s roughly double the acreage of the Mall of America in Minnesota. The Miami megamall, dubbed the American Dream, has been proposed by a Canadian company called Triple Five. The firm also owns and manages the Mall of America, as well as another American Dream, a much-maligned complex near the East Rutherford, N.J., sports venues once known as Xanadu that’s taken more than a decade to develop and still isn’t open; and North America’s largest mall, the 5.3-million-square-foot behemoth with two hotels, a water park, and 800+ stores in West Edmonton, Canada.

The project is supposed to employ tens of thousands. Construction will reportedly require 25,000 workers, and about that many permanent jobs are expected to be needed to keep the complex running as imagined, according to Triple Five. As for the criticism that many of these jobs would be low-paying retail and tourism gigs, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the Miami Herald that all jobs are good jobs, though there seems to be some confusion as to how many jobs will actually be created. “Everybody is focused on high-paying jobs,” Gimenez said. “Not everybody is qualified for them. Twenty-thousand jobs are twenty-thousand jobs.”

There will be sea lion shows and submarine rides. Triple Five isn’t in the business of creating mere places to shop. Instead, it develops “tourism retail and entertainment complexes,” and points to a quickie Time.com post as proof that the Mall of America is the country’s “Most Popular Attraction,” drawing some 40 million visitors annually. (Meanwhile, a story from sister publication Travel & Leisure left the Mall of America off its “Most Visited Tourist Attraction” list because it wasn’t deemed culturally or historically significant.)

In any event, Triple Five markets its malls as full-fledged destinations, not simply shopping centers; one particularly ambitious plan envisioned chartered flights heading to Newark, N.J., just so rich folks the world over could visit the American Dream in the swamps of Jersey. Among the over-the-top features in the works for the American Dream Miami are an indoor ski slope, skating rink, water park, amusement park with a roller coaster, Ferris Wheel, live sea lion shows, hotels, condominiums, and submarine rides.

It’ll be neighbors with two other enormous malls. As the Miami New Times pointed out, the proposed American Dream mall is planned to be built in Miami Lakes, at the intersection of the Florida Turnpike and I-75. Given the location and scope, it would likely compete directly with two existing monster malls in greater Miami, the Aventura Mall and Sawgrass Mills—which currently rank, respectively, as the third- and seventh-largest malls in the U.S.

The mall isn’t necessarily aimed at Floridians. Instead, the key demographic that may lead to the American Dream Miami’s success (or failure) is that of wealthy international tourists. Foreign visitors constitute one-third of foot traffic at shopping hubs like the Aventura Mall, according to Miami Today, with an outsized portion coming from Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina. Canadians and Europeans come in abundance as well, and the foreigners tend to spend far more time and money during their shopping excursions than Americans because 1) they’re rich foreigners; and 2) it’ll likely be a while before they get another opportunity to go on a wild spending spree in America in the future.

Foreign visitors have even begun flocking to South Florida around Thanksgiving, and it’s not for turkey dinners. “More and more South Americans now really understand that because of the great discounts, Black Friday is a terrific time to travel to the U.S. to shop,” a Saw Grass Mills executive explained.

TIME Art

Watch a Video of British Artist Banksy in Gaza

Several of Banksy's latest graffiti pieces are highlighted

British graffiti artist Banksy, known for his subversive street art, released a two-minute video from war-torn Gaza on his website Wednesday.

“Make this the year you discover a new destination,” it wryly says, in the style of a tourism video. But instead of sandy beaches, it offers viewers a glimpse of what a Gazan sees “well away from the tourist track”: tunnels, rubble and children gazing at some of the 18,000 homes destroyed last July in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.

The video also spotlights several of Banksy’s latest graffiti pieces, including images of children swinging from a surveillance tower, a parent grieving over a child in a bombed-out setting, and a kitten donning a pink bow.

“A local man came up and said ‘Please — what does this mean?’ I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website — but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens,” Banksy writes.

“The cat found something to play with,” a Palestinian man says during the video. “What about our children?”

MONEY Tourism

Disney Theme Park Admission Is About to Cross the $100 Threshold

Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Orlando, Florida
Alamy Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Orlando, Florida

Word is out that Disney is about to jack up theme park admission prices, like it does every year. This time, a single day at the Magic Kingdom will hit three figures.

Five years ago, the price of a one-day adult ticket to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom was $79. Toward the end of the summer of 2010, prices were raised, to $82. From there, prices went on a tear. Sometime in the first half of the years listed below—before the peak summer season was under way—Disney raised prices as follows:

$85 in 2011

$89 in 2012

$95 in 2013

$99 in 2014

Here we are in early 2015, and, like clockwork, another theme park admission price hike appears to be in the works. The ThemeParkInsider blog and the Orlando Sentinel have both cited inside sources that indicate price increases will be announced as soon as Sunday, February 22. This time, the price of a one-day adult admission to the Magic Kingdom is expected to cross the $100 mark—it’ll hit $105, to be exact, taxes not included.

As has become custom, single-day prices at EPCOT and Disney’s other theme parks will likely be a few dollars cheaper, and prices for children (ages 3 to 9) will be a few bucks cheaper than those for adults. The prices mentioned are all for entrance at one park on one specific day; “Park Hopper” passes that allow visitors to hit multiple theme parks on the same day cost extra—and this option is all but guaranteed to cost extra as regular admission prices rise. Likewise, theme park giant Universal Studios will likely raise prices hand in hand with Disney.

As of Friday afternoon, Disney had issued no official comment on the subject of price increases, but given its recent history, at this point it would be more of a shocker if the company decided to forgo a price hike than leap over the $100 watermark. If the one-day Magic Kingdom price hits $105 as fully expected, admissions will have risen $26 (or about 33%) in a quick five years.

It must be noted that consistently strong visitor numbers give Disney and other theme parks good reason to keep jacking up prices. Year after year of price hikes haven’t scared the crowds away; in fact, on Christmas Day 2014, Disney parks were temporarily closed to new visitors on both coasts because there were simply too many people. There’s even a certain subset of fanatical theme park goers who wish that Disney and Universal would usher in price increases so severe and sudden that they would result in a sharp dropoff in visitors, at least on peak weekends and holidays if not year-round.

Overall, what the steady climb of one-day admissions and the general pricing structures of Disney and Universal do is destroy the spontaneity of a theme park vacation. A single day’s admission costs are so extraordinarily high that they basically force families into booking discounted multiple-day tickets in advance to get some semblance of decent value. Countless websites and guidebooks lecture visitors on the necessity of making dinner and “character breakfast” reservations, among other steps, months before heading to Florida. The idea of winging a trip to Orlando’s theme parks is widely viewed as foolish, perhaps somewhat by design.

For obvious reasons, this formula works out nicely for the theme park companies. Tourists are steered away from one-day, spur-of-the-moment visits in favor of multi-day vacations, dramatically increasing opportunities that they’ll also pay up for pricey lodging, meals, “after hours” cocktail parties and other extras.

It’s easy to see how, once you open the door into a theme park vacation, costs can quickly snowball. Sorta like what’s happened to theme park admissions prices over the past few years.

TIME World

Britain Gives Tourist Attractions Very Literal Chinese Names

Derwent London Plc's Offices As Real Estate Trust To Demolish Own Savile Row Offices For Apartments
Bloomberg—Getty Images Somehow, "Custom-made for Rich People Street" doesn't have quite the same ring as "Savile Row."

Savile Row becomes 'Custom-made for Rich People Street'

In a bid to attract more Chinese travelers to its shores, the United Kingdom has a campaign underway to assign Mandarin names to many of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.

Britain’s national tourism agency, VisitBritain, has released some of the most popular suggestions, and each of the 101 locations have been notified of their three most popular options.

They’ll narrow it down to one result over the coming days, but in the mean time, some of the Mandarin alternatives reveal the very literal thought process behind this initiative.

“GREAT names for GREAT Britain” takes the Shard—a fairly accurate if abstract name for the London skyscraper—and renames it “A Tower Allowing Us to Pluck Stars From the Sky” or “London Cone.” The dapper Savile Row becomes “Tall, Rich, Handsome Street” or “Custom-made for Rich People Street.” And apparently Chinese must be more skeptical than Scots, because “Loch Ness Monster” in its Mandarin form is downgraded to “Loch Ness Shadow.”

It will remain to be seen whether these English roses by any other name will smell as sweet, but Chinese tourists will be in for at least one fragrant attraction in the U.K.: Haggis, or in its new form, “Made of Sheep’s Stomach and Smells Good.”

TIME World

French Tourists to Be Deported Over Nude Photo Shoot at Cambodian Temple

CAMBODIA-TOURISM-ANGKOR
Alex Ogle—AFP/Getty Images The Angkor Wat temple complex at sunrise in Cambodia's Angkor National Park, Siem Reap province, Nov. 8, 2014.

Court claimed three men were taking naked photos for use 'in publications such as a calendar'

A trio of tourists from France were arrested for taking nude photos of each other at a world-famous Cambodian temple, and will be deported.

The three men in their early twenties were found Thursday inside Banteay Kdei temple at Angkor Archaeological Park, AFP reports, which houses Angkor Wat — a 12th-century temple and UNESCO World Heritage site.

The trio were arrested by Cambodian authorities and given a suspended prison sentence of six months, plus deportation from Cambodia and a four-year ban on coming back to the country. The men were also fined $750 each.

“They confessed to making a mistake and asked for the Cambodian people to forgive them for their actions,” prosecutor Koeut Sovannareth told AFP. The men claimed that they took the pictures as souvenirs, “but we believe that their intention was to use the photos in publications such as a calendar,” Sovannareth said.

[AFP]

TIME Thailand

Tourists Are Reporting a Dramatic Surge in Harassment by Thai Police

A tourist policeman stands guard as tourists walk along Khao San road in Bangkok
Chaiwat Subprasom—Reuters A policeman stands guard as tourists walk along Khaosan Road in Bangkok on Jan. 19, 2012

The Land of Smiles? How about the Land of Shakedowns?

Mastercard’s 2014 Global Destination Cities Index recently ranked Bangkok as the second most visited destination in the world after London. Spend a few days this hedonistic metropolis and you’ll soon understand why, for it offers an almost unbeatable mix of culture, edgy nightlife, cheap shopping, comfortable hotels, warm weather and — who can say no? — Thai cuisine.

But since the May 22 coup d’état that saw the ouster of a democratically elected government and martial law declared across the country, many tourists and expatriates in Bangkok have fallen prey to a criminal practice. The victims have little recourse when reporting incidents to the police, because the perpetrators are police officers.

“If you go to Sukhumvit Road, you can see the police looking for tourists who are smoking or drop a cigarette butt, then they ask them for their passport and make them pay 2,000 baht [just over $60]. I see this happening all the time,” says anticorruption politician Chuwit Kamolvisit.

“[And] when the tourists come out of Soi Cowboy [a notorious red-light area], the police ask them if they’ve had drugs and then make them do a pee test on the side of the road. If they don’t want to do the pee test, they have to pay 20,000 baht [about $610].”

Being a former brothel owner, Chuwit’s word isn’t exactly gospel in Thailand. But his claims are apparently corroborated by dozens if not hundreds of first-person reports in the form of local newspaper articles, complaints to embassies, blogs and social-media postings. Some believe that the coup, by disrupting traditional avenues for corruption, has forced aberrant police officers to look for new targets.

On Dec. 10, British Ambassador Mark Kent tweeted, “Met Tourism Minister this morning. Covered range of issues, including reports of stop and search in Bangkok.”

The Twitter feed of Joe Cummings, the former Lonely Planet author who practically ​put Thailand on the backpacker map, is riddled with stories detailing police harassment and extortion. “Random police searches of foreigners in BKK is getting bad,” reads a typical entry dated Dec. 6. “Many reports of innocent tourists forced to pay bribes.”

Then there’s this scathing letter to the editor by tourist Reese Walker published Nov. 29 in the Bangkok Post: “Stopped, frisked and searched. When we asked what reason was for the search, police simply laughed at us. The police even asked my fiance to perform a urine test on the side of the road … [We] won’t be recommending other people to visit Thailand based on two frightening incidents of what we believe to be racial profiling.”

Walker’s letter gives me a real sense of déjà vu because when I was assignment in Bangkok last month, I too became the victim of a police shakedown.

It was Christmas Eve and I was at the upstairs area of a terrace bar in the Silom Road area having a late-night drink. At around 2 a.m. I called it a night and descended to the ground floor. There I saw half a dozen police officers searching the premises and interrogating the bartender, who was handcuffed on a chair. An officer detained me straight away. “What’s going on?” I asked, identifying myself as a journalist.

He made a menacing fist at me, which convinced me to pipe down.

About 15 minutes later, another police officer produced a bag of white powder, shook it near my face and accused me of buying it. I emphatically denied the claim. Meanwhile, other police officers began helping themselves to drinks from the bar. When the bartender protested, they kicked him in the shins.

Eventually, a police officer took me outside where a Thai woman told me if I paid the equivalent of $15,200, I would be released. I told her I hadn’t done anything and would not pay a cent. I was taken back inside, where officers had now detained another four Westerners present at the bar. They then took all five of us in taxis to a nearby police station without a word of explanation.

Over the next four hours we were individually forced to undergo urine tests for drugs, during which a policeman standing guard in the lavatory taunted me by saying, “You cocaine.” Images from popular books and a TV series on the notorious Bangkwang Central Prison penitentiary, the so-called Bangkok Hilton, flashed through my mind.

Next we were taken to a media room with powerful fluorescent lights. Exhausted and disheveled, having not slept the entire night, and with our urine samples lined in front of us, we were photographed in a setting that made us look guilty as sin.

Some time after dawn we were presented with a typed document — in Thai — and told to sign it. At this, I drew a line and demanded to speak with the Australian embassy. Only then did our tormentors back down, casually informing us we’d all passed our drug tests and would be released — if only we signed on the dotted line. I did so, but I also scribbled, “This is not my signature” on the document before walking back onto the steamy streets of Bangkok at 8 a.m. on Christmas Day, traumatized but elated to be free.

During my detention, I identified myself as a journalist many times and asked for an explanation. None was given to me. After my release, I wrote to the official email address of the Thai police, but it bounced back. I copied half a dozen other government agencies, including the Australian embassy in Bangkok, which is supposed to have a police-liaison unit, but the only reply I got was from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, which said the following:

“The Royal Thai Government and the Royal Thai Police have no such policy to detain, harass, abduct, threaten and drug test Western tourists in Thailand. On the contrary, the Royal Thai Government recognizes the huge importance of tourism and safety for all foreign tourists is an on-going priority for the country.”

One would think that would be the case. Tourism receipts and indirect tourism activity account for 15% of Thailand’s GDP — making it the largest sector in the economy. So why would police be allowed to make omelets from Thailand’s golden eggs?

The most popular theory is that low-ranking street cops, some of whom earn as little as $1 an hour, are seeking out new sources of income, because the military-led government has begun cracking down on the street vendors who were the former targets of police shakedowns. Foreigners make convenient prey because they can be intimidated and, compared with the local population, are relatively wealthy.

“This explanation says the takeover has placed the police, traditionally at odds with the military, in some sort of frenzy amidst proposed restructuring that is likely to deeply disrupt the way the police have operated — both formally and informally,” says Thai political analyst Saksith Saiyasombut.

But Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai political scholar based in Japan who has had his passport revoked for criticizing the military-led government, thinks the practice has, paradoxically, a social-order element to it. Demanding random drug tests from some tourists, or asking for cash for a dropped cigarette butt, the thinking goes, shows other tourists that Thailand’s new rulers want to shed some of the seedier aspects of the country’s image abroad.

“The coup makers came with a mission. And that mission is to rebuild an orderly and clean society,” Pavin says. “They believe that by appearing to be serious about cleaning up society and creating an orderly atmosphere, it will attract more tourists. They even bizarrely announced a new campaign, Tourism and Martial Law, to promote the idea that society under martial law is pleasant.”

He adds: “It will not work, because they don’t understand either the logic of tourists or indeed the economy of tourism.”

Bangkok may have had 16.42 million visitors last year. But that number is down nearly 2 million compared with the previous year, with the drop attributed to the declining ruble and corresponding fall in the number of Russian tourists. Increased fear of flying in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines tragedies has been proffered as another reason, as has general uncertainty about the coup. If action isn’t taken to rein in the Thai police, tourist numbers may fall further still.

Read next: Thai Prisoners May Soon Be Catching the Fish on Your Dinner Plate

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