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Royal Cremation Dates Changed
Thai people are still mourning the death of our beloved King Bhumibol last 13 October. Even though the official mourning period for the public was just one month, an astonishing number of people here (including many resident foreigners) are still wearing black and/or white every day. But Thailand's monochrome mourning period should come to an end with the royal cremation, just about one year following his death.
His Majesty's cremation was originally scheduled between 25 and 29 December. However, that has changed. The new dates are October 25 through 29.
An enormous crematorium is being built on the great lawn adjacent to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The wood came from a single tree that was chosen when His Majesty was a child. The cremation will be an elaborate and solemn series of ceremonies culminating in the actual cremation, which will be partially obscured from public view. The structure will later be dismantled and the wood donated to schools and/or temples.
While there will seating for the Royal Family and dignitaries for the ceremonies, the general public will probably not be able to get close. However, everything will be televised live. No king since Ananda Mahidol, Rama VIII, sixty-seven years ago, has taken place in Thailand. So this is a new experience for all of us here. The photo at the right was published in Life Magazine in 1950 and depicts the crematorium built for King Rama VIII. The structure being built for King Bhomibol, Rama IV, appears to be many times larger, as befits the world's longest reigning monarch in our lifetimes.
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 most 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 Kanchanaburi, Northwest of Bangkok.
Kanchanaburi is best remembered for the River Kai, made famous by Hollywood in 1957. British and American soldiers were held in a POW camp by Japanese troops and forced to build railroad bridge over the river. You can still ride on the Death Railway, walk on a bridge that crosses the river, and visit the cemetery where many POWs were laid to rest. This is an easy day trip from Bangkok. In the past, visitors could also add a visit to a Tiger Temple. Some of the people involved in operating the temple and the tiger "sanctuary" were found to have been trafficking in tigers and tiger "parts," and had encroached on public land. So the Tiger Temple no longer exists.
A far more interesting way to experience the beauty of Kanchanaburi is spend one or two nights there. In addition to all of the attractions mentioned above, you get to stay in a hotel that literally floats on the River Kwai, and enjoy the awesome natural beauty of Erawan National Park, which lies on the Burmese border, visit a Mon (ethnic minority) village and more. To see what we do in Kanchanaburi look here .
Your Place in the Happiness Garden
While modern science has not yet found a way to insure eternal life, there are are some alternatives. Ours is to plant a tree for you (you get to choose what kind) with your name permanently attached to it in the "Happiness Garden" in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. The garden surrounds what is now the worlds largest seated Buddha statue on a hillside overlooking the city. Purple Dragon (including our BetterBhutan.com team) has already begun to plant a tree for every one of our guests who travels to Bhutan with us beginning last month. Each of those guests will receive a "progress report" by email about twice a year that will report on the growth and the health of the tree, sometimes including a photograph. If you have traveled with us before April and want a tree of your own please send us an email .
The Happiness Garden is part of a national reforestation initiative. More than 70% of Bhutan is covered by old growth forests. Cutting trees (or even collecting fallen wood) is strictly controlled. The current progressive government wants to continue to keep the Kingdom pristine and green. After all, Bhutan is the only carbon-negative country on the planet, and they want to keep it that way. We want to do our part. As you might remember from the most recent newsletter, BetterBhutan.com has also founded Plastic Free Bhutan, which now has a website: www.PlasticFreeBhutan.org. (It's a work in progress.)
A Gaggle of New Hotels (and a Boat)
Douglas loves to change hotels. Sometimes Purple Dragon customers are just not interested in a hotel we offer, so we quietly replace those with alternatives our guests might find more appealing. Or we find them offering rates that undercut our contract rate, in which case we return the contract to the hotel after it takes a quick trip through the shredder. (See the "global jewels" story below.) Or sometimes we fall in love with hotel and want to try it on for size.
The Siam, Bangkok is now our top luxury hotel. Located on the banks of the Chao Praya River, The Siam is an all-suite luxury urban resort designed by the acclaimed architect/designer Bill Bensley (who own the Shinta Mani in Siem Reap). One hallmark of Bennsley's designs is that no matter where you look you will find something pleasing to the senses. You'll never see an electrical cord dangling from a table, or anything that seems out of place or that distracts from the sometimes-intricate decor. The design is inspired by the art deco architecture and decor of the reign of King Rama IV. The hotel offers scheduled shuttles on the river that help defy Bangkok's notorious traffic.
Check Inn Regency Park, Bangkok . At the other end of the luxury spectrum is the Check Inn, Regency Park. Regency park was the very first hotel we used in Bangkok almost 19 years ago. Originally it was a training hotel for the Accor Hotels chain, then was sold and seemed to fall on hard times. It has changed hands again, has had a complete make-over and is looking great. It is now our least expensive Bangkok hotel. The location just inside Sukhumvit soi 22 is five minutes walk to Skytrain and the Emporium shopping complex. It has a large, airy atrium, a roof-top swimming pool and gym.
Khwan Beach Resort on Koh Samui's Mae Nam Beach is a romantic all-suite/villa hideaway with private pools that attracts quite a few LGBT guests. If you saw our March newsletter, you may already remember that they also offer "Glamping" (not just camping) luxury, air conditioned safari tents. The owner worked in the Paris fashion scene, so the design and decor are anything but commonplace.
The Resort is directon on the beach and has both a nouvelle cuisine restaurant and a spa. Several room types include private pools. It's close to shopping and golf. The Maenam River separates the resort from a major section of Mae Nam Beach, which means fewer crowds of non-guests.
All of the boats we use use on Halong Bay are pretty great--comfortable, clean and safe, and operated by the the first company on Halong Bay to use biodiesel.
But for those customers who want something just a little bit nicer, we now offer the Paradise Halong . With just 17 deluxe cabins and suites with balconies, the ship has a very high crew-to-passenger ratio, a spa onboard, luxurious deck lounge, a better-than-average wine list, and great things coming from the kitchen. Passengers enjoy the use of kayaks and a variety of shipboard activities on either one- or two-night cruises.
Naumi Liora Hotel in Singapore is a block of converted shop-houses in the city's vibrant Chinatown. It's an architectural gem with contemporary, colorful, fun, and sometimes a bit quirky decor. Its 79 rooms are equipped with free Wifi and satellite TV. They have a 24 hour front desk, a restaurant and a tennis court. As Singapore hotels go, prices at Naumi Liora pretty modest. You will enjoy it for its character and comfort, its convenient location and its proximity to restaurants and shopping. And in case you are wondering, rooms are large enough for both you and your shoes, and practically all of them have windows.
Peter and Peter Loved Bhutan
“To say it with a minimum of words: before we went to Bhutan I was convinced that this would be a 'once-in-a-lifetime' trip..... Now the chances are at least 50% that I will return to Bhutan. And, I would not even consider looking at other tour operator than (Purple Dragon's) Better Bhutan!”
The “Two Peters” traveled with us in late April and early May to Thimphu, Punakha, Trongsa, Bumthang, Wangduephodrang, Paro and the Haa Valley. They are both extremely well traveled, so we had to go out of our way to impress them. Like all of our guests, we listened to what they really wanted. Obviously, they were happy with their experience. While visitors to Bhutan frequently complain about the food, one of the Peters gained 5kg on their trip. You can read their five-heart review on BetterBhutan.com . Oh, the maximum number of times you can visit Bhutan has not been determined. It's easy to get hooked on the Land of the Thunder Dragon, and discounts apply to future trips with Purple Dragon/BetterBhutan.com.
Determining prices for our packages is a complex and labor-intensive process that takes three people. While most of our hotels contracts expire at either the end of October, end of December, or end of March, we are working on prices as far in advance as we can. You may find out of date prices on our website for some of our destinations. That does not mean we are not working on them, and it does not mean we are not offering that destination or certain hotels. If you cannot find prices for a destination for the period of time you want to travel, please shoot us an email . Our most chronic pricing problems are with India, Hong Kong, Myanmar and Singapore. If you are considering one of those destinations, it's best for you to begin a conversation with us and allow us to get prices for you based on your travel dates and hotel choices.
That Was Fast! Jaya House Rockets to the Top
In our last newsletter we told you about a new hotel Siem Reap that we decided to use while it was still under construction. In fact, we were probably the first to sign a contract with Jaya House River Park. This innovative and lush new five star hotel is managed by former GM of the award-winning Shinta Mani. Although they opened only five months ago, Jaya House has already shot to #1 of of 339 hotels in Siem Reap. (Yes, Dorothy, there are 339 hotels in little Siem Reap, which has two stop-lights.) Wow! That was fast. But we would expect nothing less of Christian de Boer, a hands-on manager who never seems to sleep. You can expect Jaya House to sweep up major "Best" awards for his creation before the hotel's first anniversary.
In his own Tripadvisor review Douglas wrote that "Tripadvisor needs a six star button," referring to the online system the website employs to collect reviews. You can read his here . He stays in a lot of hotels and likes to point out that he not only speaks his own mind, but is often critical. (He's "Picky in Paradise" on Tripadvisor.) Please give a Helpful vote if you like the review.
Our Jewels Go Global
For a while now we have been telling you about our newish Sapphire and Ruby premium Membership levels. Our "Jewel Members" get to travel with us at our cost. We add zero profit, and Members save anywhere from 15% to 40+% on packages, hotels, transportation, guides and activities in all nine of our countries.
Recently a Ruby Member asked if we could get a good deal for him on hotels he needed to book in South America . The boss thought it over and said "Why not?"
Purple Dragon has contracts with 150+ hotels used on an ongoing basis as components in the packages we sell in the nine countries where we operate. Sometimes, however, we get a request for a hotel we do not use regularly, or we experiment with a new destination, or test interest in hotels we might want to have a contract with later on. For these reasons we subscribe to two GDS (global distribution system) providers. A "GDS" is something like Agoda on steroids. They give us access to thousands of hotels around the world at rates that are sometimes well below what consumers can find online. Our Sapphire and Ruby Members now have access to all those hotels.
But what about cruises and tours offered by other companies? Another "Why not" from the boss. In most cases we are able to book things like Club Med, Orient Express, an Africa safari , some major cruise lines, group tours offered by mainstream tour companies just about anywhere in the world and save our Members at least 10%, the typical commission paid to travel agencies.
Through 2017 Club Sanook Members with expired "Purple Bonus Points" can apply them towards the cost of a premium membership. There is also an attractive discount for prospective members aged 65 or older. The Ruby Membership is for life. The Sapphire Membership is for three years beginning with the first date of services (the day you begin to travel) as a member. You can read more on our new member sign-up page .
Five Flawless Years with Siteground
As you probably we are a 100% internet company (although guests sometimes actually visit our office to say Hi), and have been for nearly 19 years. So we depend on a company to "host" our fourteen (BhutanBoy.com, a fashion site, is on the way) websites. In other words, the hosting company has all the servers and a connection to the Internet and we upload files. Since we began the original incarnation of our company, we used six different hosting companies. They all sucked, one way or another. Either there were down-time issues, security lapses, no/poor technical support, servers hosting twice as many domains as they should, or worse. Then we found a company called Siteground, which is based in Bucharest, a fast-growing European tech capital. We just celebrated our fifth anniversary with them, and could not be happier. So we thought we should give them a plug. Our up time is 100%. Pages load fast because they have multiple servers around the world, offer a lot of freebies, and have positively the best tech support we have ever found. You'll get an answer or a chat 24/7 if something goes wrong or you find yourself out of your depth. They are genuinely nice people who hold your hand and walk you through a problem in simple English without talking down to you. All of our sites live on one server, so we have plenty of elbow room. And dare we mention their prices are terrific? If you have or plan to have a website and want to avoid going through a litany of rotten hosting companies, click on the Siteground logo to learn more.
John Loved Myanmar
“My trip to Myanmar was fantastic! I couldn't have had a better time! The guides were so professional, knowledgeable and just pure perfection. I didn't have one single issue the whole time I was there. From Yangon, to Bagan, to Mandalay, to Golden Rock and back to Yangon, every aspect of the trip was spectacular.”
In April John G. took an amazing trip with Purple Dragon to Myanmar. He began with a full day in Yangon, spent the night then flew to Bagan the next day. He had two nights each in Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake before returning to Yangon, and driving to the Golden Rock for the night. He returned to Yangon via Bago the following day. After a night in Yangon he had a full second day of Yangon sightseeing before departing on a late flight to Bangkok. He wrote extensively in his personal blog and thought this was one of the best trip of his life. We think this is the perfect itinerary for a first-time visitor to Myanmar. He certainly looks happy in this photo taken at the Golden Rock!
♥ Hue Offering Public Toilets. The city of Hue, Vietnam is making facilities open to the public without cost. Some hotels, restaurants and businesses have not wanted to make their "johns" available to those who were not patrons. What a relief!
♥ UNESCO Bid Accelerates Monument Restoration. According to a New York Times story, authorities in Bagan are planning to make another attempt to gain UNESCO World Heritage status for its sprawling complex of historic religious monuments. The region was hard hit by an earthquake in August 2016, and much of the damage was the result of shoddy repairs made after an earlier earthquake by the previous military government. World Heritage Status will help to insure that the quality of restoration work meets the test of time. Meanwhile, most of Bagan's temples are open for visitors to enjoy from the ground and from two fleets of hot air balloons operating therre.
♥ Canada Says "No Bumping." A proposed law in Canada will make the bumping of passengers from commercial flights illegal as part of a "Pasenger Bill of Rights." This follows the outrage of a Vietnamese-American physician being dragged off a United flight in Chicago. The law, if passed, will become effective in 2018 and sets high financial incentives for passengers to volunteer to give up their seats and penalties paid to those whose luggage is lost.
♥ Angkor Hilltop Sunset Now Rationed . Administrators of Angkor Wat are now restricting participation in a popular activity there: a hike up a hilltop to view the sunset. It has become very crowded and dangerous. While we do not recommend this hike, our guides will see what we can do to make sure you are one of the chosen few. There are plenty of other great places to view a sunset.
♥ Juthamas Siriwan Sentenced to 50 years. 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. We told you the story in this newsletter in August 2015 that she would be going on trial and we were somewhat skeptical that she would actually do any time. Juthamas presided over TAT during the time 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.
♥ Indian e-Visas. India has streamlined its once-arcane visa processing service. A new online visa application website makes the process fast and nearly effortless. Read more on Purple Dragon's visas page: www.purpledrag.com/visas.htm
♥ Flip-Flapping on Street Food. The good Generals who run the Land of Smiles recently decided to "clean up" the streets (the same way the neutered and sterilized the flower market) by cracking down on street food. The reaction has not been very cheery. Bangkok is Asia's most visited city, and street food draws so many visitors, so this week the generals demanded that the city and tourism authorities "push forward the promotion and quality of Bangkok's street food" venues. That's a relief to us. Thais eat five or six times a day and cannot survive with something grilled on a stick, a plastic bag full of something spicy, a bag of something fried (whether it's bananas or chicken). The spicy bamboo shoots, chillies and pork balls Douglas picked up in his soi morning smelled positively poetic. We're happy to show you where to find food you will dream about later out on the street. In March CNN named Bangkok the "world's street-food capital."
♥ Crystal Bus: A New Kind of Mobile Feast. We all know what a dinner cruise is. Now Hong Kong has a "Foodie bus," that gives a quick tour of the city's must-see destinations (with few stops), while enjoying a meal prepared y some of Hong Kong's best restaurants, including several with Michelain stars. There are two daytime departures. If you want the bust at night, you need to charter the entire double-decker bus.
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