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|Our Final Year As a Teenager|
This month we celebrate our 19th anniversary. This has given some of us who have been around for quite a while the inspiration to ponder the experiences we have had and what we have accomplished. Not all of it has been good, of course, but we have survived in a business that is difficult to survive in. We all share a sense of accomplishment about that. Friends have been made, fortunes lost and won, and a wealth of experiences had. Douglas credits our "family" in nine countries as well as our many loyal customers around the world.
Over nearly two decades we have been able to put together a collection of destinations, activities and local personnel that is almost impossible to match, and we are still growing by adding new ones (see story below). Travel+Leisure Magazine publishes annual "10 Best" lists for everything from rental cars to cruise lines, safari outfitters to airports. Of their pick for the 10 Best Cities in Asia, Purple Dragon has operations in seven (Chiang Mai, Hoi An, Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, Udaipur, Bangkok and Thimphu). Chiang Mai ranked #1. Tokyo, Kyoto and Ubud are not in our portfolio, but we think seven out of ten is pretty formidable. And recently Sambor Prey Kuk was granted UNESCO World Heritage status. We think it deserves that honor. We've been offering a tour there for more than fifteen years. (Look for a story about Sambor Prey Kuk in the October newsletter.) We think we have recognized and celebrated the best places in our part of the world decades ahead of Travel+Leisure.
The Boss was interviewed by QX Magazine recently. When asked how he might want to celebrate our 19th anniversary he answered, "I am thinking of ordering a pizza." You can read about the interview below.
One of the best photographers we know, Jeffrey Wood, sends us photos spontaneously from time to time. The photo at the right/above came to us last week, following shortly after a shot of rainbow flags fluttering in the wind above the former Bank of America building at the corner of Castro and Market in San Francisco. Remarkably, the sky was blue, something rarely seen in Fog City this time of year.
Our New Old Website
PurpleDrag.com is getting a long-overdue face lift. Since the site has more than 400 pages, this is a gargantuan undertaking. You may not notice big changes since the bulk of the work is in the background--"leaner" pages that load faster, and an updating of the source code that requires our team (Douglas mostly) to go through every line carefully, leading to dire predictions of blindness. Part of this process includes changes that will make search engines more friendly to us. This is being accomplished country-by-country and is about half finished. (Vietnam is completely finished, while Cambodia, India and Bhutan pages are mostly finished except for SEO and social media buttons) While the design is much the same, the look is cleaner and photos are larger. We hope the end result will be a better experience for those who visit. In the mean time, it's a hard hat area, so please excuse minor glitches while we work. However, if you see anything that looks absolutely wrong (like missing photos or backgrounds, inconsistent fonts, anything that looks too big or too small, for example), please send us a bug report.
BetterBhutan.com went through the same process in July. We think it looks pretty grand, however there are still major additions planned.
Our “Forgotten” Destinations
In addition to practically all of the most-visited places in our part of the world, Purple Dragon also offers some more unusual destinations, chosen for their charm, appeal, and cultural value. Some are not really all that unusual, although they seem to be ignored by many other tour companies and some of our customers. We have decided to feature one of these in each edition of our newsletter so readers have a better idea what they can add to a more mundane itinerary. This month, it's Mui Ne Beach in central Vietnam.
Mui Ne is Asia's one of the most overlooked beach destination. Just south of fishing town of Phan Thiet, Mui Ne's beaches are wide and sparkling white. The sea is brilliantly blue and perpetually calm. The resort area is surrounded by sand dunes. If you were delivered there blindfolded you might think you had been dropped off somewhere in North Africa. Mui Ne is located in an unusual climactic bubble where it rains only about three times a year, so visitors are virtually guaranteed gorgeous weather. Prices are gorgeous, too. Your money will go a lot farther here than many other beach resort destinations in Asia. We use a lovely beach-front hotel that has a big pool, free wifi and non-smoking rooms and bungalows.
Once known as "Champa," this is part of Viet Nam has been settled since about 400 BC. It is likely that people from the Indian subcontinent settled here. Chinese historical writings report a thriving culture here as early as the second century AD. Amratavati, the ruins of a major Cham city, can be found not far from Hoi An. There are smaller ruins around Phan Thiet that could be easily mistaken for Khmer. Our Hue & Hoi An trip includes a stop at the Cham Museum in Danang.
The nearby town of Phan Thiet is a major fishing port. It is laid back, yet bustling, and decidedly untouristy. You will find great food, interesting shops, and even a little nightlife. There is/was at some point a small disco that was very, very gay. If you stay for any length of time here, we recommend renting a motorbike so that you can explore the area when you are not soaking up the sun.
Phan Thiet is about four hours from Saigon by road, or just a bit longer than three hours by train. We think a couple of nights in Dalat is the perfect addition to beach time at Mui Ne, although that requires driving. You can find more information about both destinations on our newly-refurbished Vietnam section of Purple Dragon's website: www.purpledrag.com/vietnam
Hassan & Frank Loved Bhutan
“ ....thank you for making this journey possible. It was one of our best trips ever and thanks to Jamyang and Sonam one of the most memorable too. I think we have never met such dedicated, considerate and professional guides and drivers before. They surpassed our expectations by far and we had a lot of fun together - even in the rain. Even though it was only a week, Jamyang and Sonam managed to give us a thorough insight into the life of the Bhutanese people, its culture and history. We couldn't have asked for more. So please forward our gratitude and best wishes to both of them. If we come back to Bhutan one day - and both of us would love to - we will definitely get in touch with you again.”
Hassan and Frank (German and Singaporean, respectively) traveled with Purple Dragon/Better Bhutan to Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and the Phobjikhha Valley in July. We enjoyed working with them, too. They are the second customers in a row who have sent us fan mail suggesting that they might travel with us in Bhutan again some day. We would especially like to remind all of our friends that there is no limit yet on the number of times you can visit Bhutan, as Himself already knows. You will find Bhutan here: www.BetterBhutan.com
If you have traveled with us recently and would like to appear in Bulletin from Bangkok, I'm all ears. You can also leave five-star feedback on Purple Dragon's Facebook page, and a brief review if you like. The photo was taken by John Duffus and entered into our 2010 photo contest.
QX Interviews Douglas
Media darling Douglas was recently interviewed by London-based QX, one of the UK's more prominent gay magazines. It's amusing, sentimental, and shows off a side of both Purple Dragon and The Boss that you may find informative and entertaining. You can read it here: http://bit.ly/2u6MtKX
Been There, Done That?
Coming soon to Purple Dragon's website will be two major new trips for those who think they have been there and done that. We are integrating these into the website along with all the complicated stuff the folks in the Bangkok office are doing with it.
Northeastern Cambodia is the last piece of what for some can be a Grand Cambodia itinerary that covers the entire country in three weeks or more. This seven-night itinerary begins and ends in Phnom Penh, and includes Kompong Cham, Kratie, Koh Trong (Mekong Dolphins), Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri. You will not see bus tour groups or throngs of tourists. You will see, however, a very authentic side of Cambodia, a lot of history and some splendid gifts of nature.
Our current Thailand's Golden Triangle trip is just two nights. After you spend a a night in Chiang Rai, you dip your toe in Golden Triangle for a second night. That's fine for people who only want a quick look at this cosmic place where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.
If you would like to have either of these itineraries before they appear on our website just shoot us an email:[email protected]
Disease du Jour
Our occasional column about medical tourism returns this time with remarkable new ways to go home looking like a million.
Medical science has advanced to the point that some kinds of aesthetic treatments can almost be performed by machines in a matter of minutes. The era of the "lunch hour face lift" has really arrived. There are devices that actually met fat and dramatically tighten skin on the face and elsewhere, and erase wrinkles, veins, uneven skin pigmentation and old age spots without cutting or puncturing the skin.
Thermage has been around for fifteen years and has going through several states of improvement since then. It is one of several devices that use radio frequency pulses to heat collagen, the lowest layer of the skin. As we age, collagen production decreases and strands of elastin (the protein that makes skin somewhat elastic) become chaotic. The body responds to heated collagen by producing more of it and reorganizing elastin strands, tightening the skin in the process. While Thermage may produce some instant results, it takes a period of months for the lasting effects to be noticed. Some people may need multiple treatments and others may never see results at all. While most people feel no pain during treatment, others may find it to be uncomfortable.
The new Ellipse Nordlys machine does the same kind of thing with IPL (Intense Pulse Light) technology. Ellipse calls it "skin resurfacing" to reduce wrinkles and fine lines, and to improve overall complexion. It is a kind of laser. However, Ellipse claims its machine does many more kinds of things, including reduction of age spots, acne and some kinds of skin cancers. It is also a solution for other kinds of skin problems including veins, warts and hair removal. Nordlys has a "filtering system" that helps to prevent burning.
There are other devices manufactured by other companies that claim to do the same kinds of things using radio, IPL/laser and ultrasound technologies, including Ulthera, Ultra V, Hifu and Novamax. While less costly and painful than a surgical solution, results do not last as long and are not for people who have baggy eyes, chins or jowels. We normally recommend getting an evaluation from both an aesthetic clinic and a surgeon at the same time, and consider the time and cost ramifications of both.
The CoolSculpt machine does the opposite of heating--it freezes fat so that your body can dispose of it on its own. In other words, freeze it, then poop it. Science calls it "cryolipolysis." It's not for obesity, but for subtle body sculpting. For most people it requires multiple visits. If you have stubborn fat that dieting will not dispose of, cryoliposys might be a faster and more comfortable solution than rolling naked in the snow. Which brings us to cryotherapy--lowering the body temperature to under -100 degrees Celsius for two to three minutes. This burns a huge number of calories, oxygenizes the blood to flush toxins, and increases metabolism. Cold stimulates collagen production just as heat does. Unlike Cool Sculpt, however cryogenics does not focus on specific parts of the body that need attention.
We have been helping our guests add all kinds of aesthetic, dental and other medical solutions to their visits to Thailand for fifteen years. If you are considering doing this, pleases visit the new "Tan & a Tummy Tuck" page on Purple Dragon's website: www.purpledrag.com/wellness.htm
Next time we will look at "instant" six packs and some fat removal technology that is just a little bit invasive.
Douglas on Hotels: Delhi's Imperial
We don't pay him much but he gets to sleep in some pretty nice hotels. In this new column Douglas writes about some of his most memorable stays.
When I stayed in Delhi's Imperial Hotel the General Manager took me on a tour. Ordinarily I do not enjoy hotel inspections. They are a punishment for getting a room free or cheap. But this time I did not mind because The Imperial is something special.
The Imperial was Delhi's first true luxury hotel, an imposing structure built in what you might call "Colonial Deco" style. It's big--more than 250 rooms and nine restaurants--I saw them all--and a very grand ballroom. I was in a lovely, airy suite that made me feel like I should be sharing it with someone rather than enjoying it on a business trip alone. The Imperial Suite was far more lavish. My guide pointed out that the windows were bullet proof, which I suppose is something visiting heads of state would expect. The suite was huge. Everything in the hotel seems over-sized.
The grounds are just as lavishly landscaped. They have a huge pool, of course, and tennis courts. As you drive into the property the long row of palm trees lining the road might remind you of Beverly Hills. The hotel was built in 1936, during Hollywood's grandest heyday. I wonder what it must be like to arrive in the back of a '36 Rolls Phantom III.
Aside from its heritage, it grandeur and its luxury, one thing that makes The Imperial so special is its collection of antique treasures. On our tour we stopped at the entrance to a cocktail bar, which was not yet open. (It was breakfast time.) A very large black and white photograph hanging there caught my eye. It was taken at the opening ceremony for Bombay's iconic India Gate in 1924. There were what seemed like thousands of soldiers there. Only two of the tiny figures were on horse-back.
"Oh, that's a photo of Victoria and Albert at the opening of India Gate," the manager told me. Then he pointed out that Victoria and Albert had actually autographed the photo. My jaw dropped in astonishment, to which he added "We have a warehouse filled with this sort of stuff."
A New Cruise from Bangkok
Beginning in November, we will be offering a new cruise to Ayutthaya from Bangkok. We already offer an overnight cruise that ends at Bang Pa-in, the old summer palace. Our guide meets there and you drive back to Bangkok after touring Ayutthaya.
The new cruise is two nights, sails round trip, and you see many of the monuments there from the boat, although you do go ashore in both Bang Pa-in and Ayutthaya to see them close up. Other stops include Koh Kret, which is home to a community of Mon potters, and a fresh market.
Sailings are "whenever you want," subject to advance arrangement and availability with a minimum of two passengers. The boat is a lovely converted rice barge made of teak. Meals are included, of course, and the boat has a full bar.
♥ You might think twice about taking international flights into Don Muang Airport, especially if you arrive during peak traffic times, which are early morning and after 11:00 p.m. Recently passenger have been stuck in immigration queues for more than four hours because of management and staffing issues. The resulting publicity will surely help to solve this problem, but not necessarily overnight. http://bit.ly/2v7oz55. Immigration at Suvarnhubumhi Airport has also been very messy and immigration officers have been ordered not to leave their seats, even to use the bathroom. http://bit.ly/2voJyib
♥ Bangkok Named "Best City for..." Post Office Travel Money, a currency exchange company with 11,500 branches in the UK, has named Bangkok as the "world's best city for a weekend break," beating out Tokyo, Beijing and Dubai. They used a variety of factors to make this choice, but mostly it boils down to how much fun you can have on as little money as possible. We hope you will consider staying a bit longer than a weekend. Washington, Toronto, New York and Boston came in 7th through 10th place respectively.
♥ Jetstar in the News. Jetstar Asia, a regional airline, has recently begun flights between Danang (Hoi An) and Chiang Mai, thereby eliminating plane changes in Bangkok and either Hanoi or Saigon. They have also recently added direct flights between Bangkok and both Saigon and Hanoi.
♥ Green Season Member Deals. Choose any Purple Dragon Angkor Wat package, stay at least three nights and get a 15% discount through October. Thinking of Koh Samui? Khwan Beach Resort is offering us a variety of "pop up" specials through the summer. Contact us for the Discount du Jour.
♥ At Boeing, the Lion Roars. Regional airline Lion Air has just purchased 50 Boeing 730-10 aircraft and 218 of the new 737 MAX-8, nearly tripling the size of their fleet.
♥ Mandatory Insurance for Thailand? The Thai government is once again considering requiring visitors to the Kingdom to be insured. They have not quite figured out how to do this and what documentation might be required, or how to control the bedlam that might be created in immigration lines. (See the top Leftover story.) Foreigners living here are not required to have insurance. If you travel with Purple Dragon we cover you with insurance for the period of your stay with the policy that the Tourism Authority of Thailand requires.
♥ Juthamas Siriwan Sentenced to 50 years. We like this story so much we think we might keep repeating it until Juthamas gets out of jail. The former director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand has been sentenced to fifty years in prison for her part in a corrupt contract-awarding deal for a film festival. Juthamas presided over Tourism Authority of Thailand when it participated in raids of our offices and the phony prosecution and deportation of two directors of what was then Utopia Tours. (Story Here.) Hope you enjoy the food and the ambiance, Juthamas. We would love to send John Howard to keep you company.
♥ Airlines for Sale. If you are in the market for an airline, Air Berlin, Air India and Alitalia are available. Names starting with "A" put you at the top of many kinds of lists.
♥ Dreamy Air Canada to Mumbai. They recently added non-stop service between Toronto and Mumbai four days a week using the Boeing 787 Dereamliner.
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