Fly and Drive in the USA

Fly and Drive in the USA

Prepared by Harold Stephens
Travel Correspondent for Thai Airways International


        Royal Orchid Holidays doesn’t have a Fly/Drive programme in the US but that shouldn’t stop you from renting a car at the airport. The International Airport  at Los Angeles, LAX, has half a dozen car rental companies. If you check the car rental agencies on-line before you arrive, you will find prices will be less expensive than booking directly at the counter.

        It’s really a very simple process and takes only minutes once you arrive at the International Airport in Los Angeles. And I can think of a half dozen advantages for renting a car. Most importantly, you are free to come and go on your own, and with your own car you don’t have to worry about hotel reservations. Furthermore, you can check out hotels to see where you can get the best bargain.

        You probably have some idea where you want to travel before you arrive in the US. It might be Los Angels, San Diego to the south or to the north to San Francisco and all the way to the Canadian border.

        For a grand trip, let me tell readers something about California’s most scenic highway—Highway 101 that leads from downtown Los Angeles and nearly to the Canadian border.

        Highway 101 is certainly the most historic highway in California. It follows the route the Spanish explorer Juan Gaspar de Portola followed in 1769 when he marched north from Mexico. The route later became known as El Camino Real, the King's Highway. In memory of the Spanish, this historic road connects the 21 missions of California and once served as the main north/south road in California until 1926.

        The history of California roads really began shortly after the turn of the twentieth century in Oceanside in northern San Diego County, when wagons and primitive autos competed for space on its narrow, bumpy, unpredictable dirt surface.

        San Diego County, the State of California and the City of Oceanside all financed a concrete and macadam road through north San Diego commencing in 1909 and terminating in 1918 with the pavement of the thoroughfare through Oceanside. Fifteen feet wide and four inches thick without shoulders and subgrade, this “improved” road did not last very long.

        However, the road was good enough to lure settlers from the nation’s hinterlands out to the Golden State via Route 66. The locals also took to the highway in droves, thanks to the more affordable and vastly improved automobile after 1918. By 1922, the first of many repairs and improvements to the coast road began. In 1925, the route became officially designated U.S. Highway 101. Thanks to the untiring efforts of the Automobile Club of Southern California, founded in 1900, the roads through this region were well marked.
        The coast road provided great entertainment. The famous, notable and unique traversed its ribbon of concrete, including Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt. Such Hollywood luminaries as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Woody Herman and others came to enjoy the beaches and see the sights. Some even set up regular summer camps along the beach. The road was the center of the city’s business life.

        Lots of people, besides residents and visitors, stood to gain from the scenic Highway 101 that ultimately stretched from Los Angeles and ended just south of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington State, close to the Canada border. The road and automobile, through their symbiotic relationship, stimulated the rise of a totally new phenomenon, the “car culture,” which was epitomized in sunny Southern California. Garages, automobile dealers, gas stations, auto laundries, auto camps, hotels, motels and cafes sprang up along the route, celebrating and exalting the fusion of concrete and steel.

        The coast road contributed mightily, because of its position, to national, regional and local historic events. It led visitors to the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park, San Diego. Special days were set aside for caravans travelling to this event, as well as special days honoring the automobile itself.

        Highway 101 caught a lot of action during Prohibition (1919-1933) because it conveyed, in an expeditious fashion, Hollywood stars and common folk alike to Tijuana where booze flowed freely, horses raced continuously and one could gamble and dance the night away. The Great Depression affected the road to the extent that individuals traveled it less often, and consequently, the growth of auto-related businesses slowed dramatically.

        By 1942, with the United States firmly committed to World War II, Rancho Santa Margarita to the north of Oceanside was converted into the largest Marine Corps base in the nation. The new Camp Pendleton brought much needed growth to an economically depressed region.

        Few could predict the toll that this population explosion would have on Highway 101. The road was no match for this great military-related influx. A 1950 report claimed that Oceanside possessed six of the ten most deadly intersections in the county. Sadly, the actions taken by local politicians to remedy the traffic situation ultimately spelled the end of an era for the once glorious and scenic Highway 101 in San Diego County. By 1953, a new four-lane highway bypassed the downtown route of the 101. Later this new highway became Interstate 5 and forever changed the character of the “Road”.

        In San Francisco, as in Eureka and Crescent City farther to the north, Highway 101 follows the main street through these city downtowns. At one time all US highways went through cities before being bypassed by Interstates.


Q. Dear Mr. Stephens, I enjoyed very much your story on your visit to Myanmar, and I would like to visit the country, but how safe is it to travel there these days? Many countries have put out warnings to their citizens to stay away. Can you enlighten me? Thank you. —Karen Jameson, Los Angles, California.

A. Dear Ms. Jameson. Your question is one that I have asked many people on my visits to Myanmar. From what I have been told, Myanmar is one of the safest counties in the world to travel in these days. The government keeps a close watch on crime. For example, I was curious why motorbikes where outlawed in Yangon and questioned my old friend Phyoe Wai Yar Zar, who runs his own travel office, about this. He claims the authorities feel that motorbikes make for easy escape for criminals. So they have been banned in the capital. I also asked about how safe, in his opinion, is it for foreigners in Myanmar from the head chef, Chee Kong, a Malaysian, at Traders Hotel in Yangon. He had been with Shangri-la group for 30 years. He acknowledges that tourism has dropped after the storm, but the media is not helping matters. He emphatically stressed that travel in Yangon and Myanmar is 100% safe and it’s a pity the press is making such a fuss about it. It’s not fair for the people of Myanmar. They are the ones suffering. That’s one man’s viewpoint but it reflects the sentiment of many I talked to. I will add that I certainly felt safe every place I traveled there. –HS

Harold Stephens
E-mail: ROH Weekly Travel (

Note: The article is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the view of Thai Airways International Public Company Limited.

The original 101, Camino Real

Rest areas all along the route

Signs everywhere to guide motorists

The Mission of Saint Luis open to everyone

Signs for bed and breakfast

Great places to eat, including this famous diner in LA

Impressive Old Spanish missions

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Another gate, to Saint Miguel

Mission San Luis, also a university

Stop along Highway 101 and visit a ghost town