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|A New Addition to Our Family|
At long last Purple Dragon's first Sri Lanka tours will begin to appear on our website before the end of 2017! Sri Lanka becomes the 1oth country in Purple Dragon's portfolio.
We have wanted to add three new countries for the past several years. Nepal seemed to be a natural addition since we already offer India and Bhutan very successfully. But the tragic earthquake there has been a setback, although Nepal remains on our list. Taiwan has always been very interesting to us because of its great diversity of its scenic beauty, its history and its culture. The fact that Taiwan is comparatively tolerant and has a large LGBT community with a sensational annual Pride celebration is a plus. Alas, we have not been able to find anyone on the ground who is willing to work with us there. For us that is a key starting point. (If know of any gay people working in tourism there we would love to connect with them. )
Sri Lanka has always intrigued us because there is so much to do and see. Although their twenty three year long civil war ended in 2009, open wounds remained. Now Sri Lanka seems to be holding onto its fragile peace and we think it's a great time for us to be there.
Sri Lanka already has an entry page on our website and some of the initial content is being written, and itineraries should begin to appear before the end of the year. If you wanted to be our first Sri Lanka customer, we're afraid you are already too late. That honor has already gone to Paul and Herman, who will be going on a nice 11-night journey with us to Colombo, Sigiriya, Kandy, Nuwara Elliya, Tissamaharama, Galle and Negombo in February. But you could be our second guests there, or third. We plan to have five different packages from five to fourteen nights. Like most of our other destinations (particularly India, Bhutan and Myanmar), everyone will get a custom tour based on their individual interests and the amount of time they have to spend with us in Sri Lanka.
Our Website's Face Lift Continues
As we told you in our August newsletter, PurpleDrag.com is getting a long-overdue face lift. Since the site has more than 400 pages, this is a gargantuan undertaking and it is not yet finished. 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 line by line. We are replacing many photos and re-processing old photos to make them look great. Many of our photos came from our five photo contests years ago, and wear adding photo credit wherever possible. The next step will be new, separate pages especially for mobile phones. (Existing pages already look great on most tablets.) Since many of our customers send us their parents, co-workers, siblings and neighbors, we are tweaking the content to make it more welcoming for everyone. In the end we hope that our site will be a better experience for those who visit. Please have a look at our progress and tell us what you think.
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 Sambor Prey Kuk.
Sambor Prey Kuk is what remains of the grand capital of the Chenla dynasty that predates Angkor Wat and was the birthplace of the first of the Jamavarman Kings who ruled over the Angkor Empire. It is close enough to Phnom Penh to make a convenient day trip from there. We also include Sambor as a stop in our overnight road trip between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, the Road Less Traveled.
To a certain extent the reward is in the journey itself. You get to travel through some lovely countryside. If you are interested we can even make a stop at a village of silversmiths. This part of Cambodia is a broad plain and, though you may only catch glimpses of it, you nearly trace the route of the Mekong as you travel there and back. One stop is very popular with Khmer people, not only because there are clean toilets and some nice food, but because you can buy any number of different deep fried insects, including tarantulas. (The fangs are tweezed before frying.) Khmer people swear by them as a cure for motion sickness and we have heard them compared to soft shell crabs. I wouldn't know.
The Ruins at Sambor are not as impressive as many in Angkor Wat because they are 200 to 500 years older. Nonetheless, there are quite interesting and of historical significant. This is an ancient place that constantly competes with the encroaching forest to survive. You'll want to wear long pants and sturdy shoes here since this is a nature walk, in part. Your guide might point out a colony of fire ants that have bundled themselves up snugly within the broad young leaf of a small tree. Their eggs are a pricey delicacy in restaurants in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Sambor Preykuk's group of three temple complexes here were built between the sixth and ninth centuries. Some of them have not survived the perils of time (or Richard Nixon's penchant for saturation bombing). Some are in remarkably good condition. I found the photo on the right of three guys we know who are posing in front of Prasat Boram. We are pretty sure that lions with manes never lived in Cambodia as suggested by the imposing carvings guarding the temple entrance. Lions strongly suggest Chenla roots in India, which also exported Hinduism as far away as Bali.
Bhutan on $ale
Here's something you don't see every day: discounts on travel to Bhutan.
In October we have had five new Bhutan bookings so far--all of these are for November and December. That may not sound like many but we had only five in all of 2013. Inauguration of our BetterBhutan.com website in 2016 has increased our Bhutan bookings about 1,000%. While we are very happy about that, we have to admit that last-minute bookings are really difficult for us because of limited availability of flights and hotels. In most cases we have to compromise when it comes to hotels and travel dates, and and we do not like to have to compromise.
So Douglas has decided to reward those who plan in advance. For trips from February 2018 through January 2019 we are giving a 5% discount from the government-set nightly rate for trips seven nights or longer. (This does not sound like much, but our margin is only 10%.) For trips 12 nights or longer the discount is 7.5% .
You do not have to choose dates before this offer ends on 15 December unless you are sure of them. However, you do have to choose either low season or high season and the number of nights you want. You can extend your trip later, although extra nights will not be subject to a discount unless they are added before 15 December. You cannot reduce the number of nights or change from high season to low season. (You can change from low to high.) We need to know your dates at least 60 days in advance. Since everything in Bhutan is subject to controlled availability we hope you will give us as much time as possible
To take advantage of his offer just shoot Purple Dragon an email. You will be asked for a deposit, with the balance due 30-45 days before your trip. Premium class hotels like Taj and Uma are subject to the same surcharge. A photo of you wearing a silly Black Necked Crane on your head is included free (as long as Phobjikha Valley is included in your itinerary).
Believe it or not, it is not too early to plan for the October 2018 festival season. Flights and hotels will be sold out by March, so you should get serious about October now regardless of discounts. One of our most recent guests in Bhutan was able to attend three different festivals during his 12 day trip. We would like to make your adventure in Bhutan just as awesome.
Like you, we are horrified and angry, and we realize that leading Burmese politicians no longer deserve our respect. However, the ongoing turmoil in Rakhine State is well away from anywhere you are likely to visit. We are watching the situation there closely on a daily basis. We have recently heard that the government is discussing some kind of repatriation plan. If there is any good news it's that His Holiness, Pope Francis, will visit Myanmar and Bangladesh from 27 November through 02 December. Bringing a humanitarian end to this crisis is undoubtedly at the top of his list of objectives, and we have more confidence in him to bring Myanmar's government to its senses than we do in Aung San Suu Kyi. Meanwhile, Facebook has become the primary platform for spreading hate and inciting violence in Myanmar. Some of our customers have sent us posts made by people who they have met there. They are very, very disturbing. Facebook needs a very big spanking. If you agree, share this newsletter.
A "Tomato Team" is Born
Bizzy, bizzy Douglas has recently been making trips to Siem Seap to carry seeds and supplies, and to dispense wisdom about the growing of tomatoes, his fruit of choice. The "farm" is moving full speed ahead and he first blogged about it in September. He shares the history of tomatoes and what makes "his" tomatoes different from the "crap" Thai people call tomatoes. The team of three is headed by our manager Rath, who has been reding all he can has become adept at grafting tomato seedlings onto the roots of other nightshade plants, particularly eggplpant, which have much stronger, pest-resistant roots. (Douglas captured the demonstration with his phone. He is using plumbing tape to fasten the two plants together. Who would have though such things were possible?) They are starting with about 50 different "cultivars" and hope to end up with 12-16 that are commercially viable. You won't see them in Thai supermarkets, but a lot of chefs in Bangkok will be ecstatic. Read it here: http://www.douglas-thompson.com/blog/20September17.htm. He's also in discussions with a Thai farmer about growing tomatoes in Thailand as well.
Plastic Free Purple Dragon
Over the past months you have probably read stories in this newsletter and in Douglas' blog about the impact of plastic on the environment. In Asia, much of the negative impact of plastic can be attributed to tourism. In Cambodia alone, many millions of plastic drinking water bottles are discarded. Along with many other responsible tourism and hospitality companies in our part of the world Purple Dragon is working to limit the negative footprint of visitors.
Earlier this year our team in Bhutan started their own Plastic Free Bhutan group and more than 50 other travel companies joined up. All of us have pledged to ask their customers to bring refillable bottles for drinking water and to refrain from giving away water in disposable bottles. In our (Purple Dragon and BetterBhutan.com) case, we also ask customers to refuse plastic bags straws when shopping, as well as drinking straws everywhere, and to also carry an empty bag to collect all non-organic (plastic) trash to take home with them. So far our guests have been enthusiastic.
Beginning on 01 January, we will no longer have disposable water bottles in our vehicles or give them to customers in any of the 10 countries where we work. When you travel with us we want you to bring your own bottle. Hotels will refill them for you. We think that it will add to your positive experience to realize that this one small act will help end practices that are making our planet uninhabitable.
One of our competitors, Journeys Within, produced this video that showcased Cambodia's tourism industry-driven "Refill Not Landfill" campaign. We think it's really terrific. Maybe we'll ask the UN if they will underwrite the Refill Not Landfill Bhutan video we would love to produce.
New On Our Website
We have been promising these new trips for a while, so they may not be a surprise. The pages are not yet finished because we do not have photos yet, but the itineraries are there for you to review. We can add the eye candy later.
Extended Golden Triangle. We have created a longer Thailand's Golden Triangle itinerary because we think there is much more to see than we can offer in two nights. We will still continue to offer our "Quickie" two-night GT trip.
Eastern Cambodia has so much to see that our trip is five nights long (six if you want an extra day to play with elephants). You can take this trip alone or add it to one or more of our other trips to create a longer itinerary. Our "Great Eastern Circle" connects what we offer in Angkor Wat, Kep & Bokor National Park and the"Road Less Traveled" to make one long and magnificent Grand Cambodia trip for those who have three to four weeks.
Sri Lanka. It will take a while since we are still in the midst of redecorating the rest of our website, but we have a starting place, a least.
Do you have photos we can use? We will give you photo credit and a Purple Dragon gift certificate for any we decide to use. Please contact The Boss.
Not Yet On Our Website
There are a dozen or so "ships" cruising from the Mekong Delta near Saigon up Tonle Sap to Siem Reap. Some are scary. Some are quite nice, and some barely qualify for anything bigger than a boat. Aqua Mekong is a welcome newcomer that cuts no corners when it comes to comfort, amenities, and cuisine.
Owned by a fabulously handsome Italian, Aqua Expeditions operates luxury ships on both the Mekong/Tonle Sap and the Amazon. The 62.4 meter Aqua Mekong carries a maximum of 40 passengers plus more than 40 crew. There are twenty suites on two decks below an upper observation deck, which has an outdoor pool. There are lounges both indoors and on the observation deck. In addition to a dining room, there is also a movie theater (which they call a "screening room"), gym and library/game room and a spa. The ship carries its own tenders (shown below) for local shore excursions. You'll also find wifi throughout and a Michelain Star chef. The only thing they do not offer is dry cleaning, but you can live without that for a week. Indoor spaces are air conditioned, of course.
Aqua's itinerary is similar to those that most other cruises and boats follow--from My Tho, near Saigon, to Siem Reap via Phnom Penh. Depending on water levels, the ship makes eleven stops in between. The seven-night itinerary is also broken into a three- and a four-night segments that can be booked separately. Some of the sailings are operated withs pecial themes, like photography, with an expert aboard to contribute to the experience. Their shore excursions are very creative and cater to small groups, depending on your interests. At one stop you have the option to explore on bicycles with one of the ship's staff guides.
Aqua Mekong will be a splurge for most people and prices will make backpackers faint. But Aqua provides thekind of terrific experience we like our guests to have. if you are interested in learning more, pleasestart a conversation.
A New Jewel in our Collection
Thanks to Member feedback we have added a new Premium Membership category--the Emerald. This new category is a two-year membership (beginning with your first date of travel as a Member). At the same time we have extended the Sapphire Membership from three years to four and reduced the cost. Our Premium Memberships allow Members to travel at zero profit prices--in other words, the wholesale rates we pay. For more information, please visit our Premium Member Page.
Disease du Jour: Michaelangelo does Liposuction
Our occasional column about medical tourism returns this time with remarkable new ways to go home looking like a million.
Medical science has advanced at an amazing pace. Liposuction was invented in 1974 but did not attract alot of attention until the early 1980s. Lipo uses a "cannula" (OK, it's a long suction tube" that is slipped into an incision and maneuvered to Hoover out big globs of fat. This is usually "stubborn" fat in places like the abdomen, thighs and "love handles" that cannot be easily diminished by dieting.
After 35 years Liposuction has evolved into several different kinds of technologies, including Micro-Lipo, which uses very narrow cannulas that can be used in places where a large instrument would be inappropriate, like the face and neck.
We (well, not me, actually since I'm a skinny lesbian) all want to have the kind of body that can be shown off shirtless--a body like Taylor Lautner, Zach Efron, and even Will Smith. But let's say you are in good shape and spend a lot of time at the gym but you are not seeing defined abs and pecs. That happens with some people. Or maybe you are in pretty good shape but don't have as much time for the gym as you would like because your career takes priority, yet you are competitive and need to look great. Or let's say you are soft, overweight and have never been to the gym. Well, if you are guy #3 there is not much modern medicine can for you until you tone up and slim down. But if you are guy #1 or guy #2, there is something like a modern miracle you need to hear about.
OK, so we already know that you can suck out a lot of stubborn fat through a suction tube. But what if you put that same fat back into the same guy in an organized, aesthetic and highly skilled way? Yes, it's true--a 21st century Michaelangelo can use your own fat to give you high definition abs and pecs. We know such an artist and will gladly introduce you to him. You could return home looking great and feeling more confident than you have for a long time. And in answer to your question about the photo on the right: "Yes!"
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 "A Tan & a Tummy Tuck" page on Purple Dragon's website: www.purpledrag.com/wellness.htm. We match our guests up with medical professionals who we vetted so you do not have to Google "face lift Thailand" and take your chances. We do not charge for this service since we hate to see people go home cheated or maimed, but it would be nice if you bought something from us while you are here. We can even provide supervised recovery at the beach if you have a major procedure.
Douglas on Hotels: Hanoi's Sofitel Metropole
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.
Graham Greene's ghost probably lingers in Hanoi's venerable Metropole Hotel. He wrote The Quiet American while living there. Somerset Maugham wrote The Gentleman in the Parlour while in residence. Noel Coward hung out there. Charlie Chaplain and Paulette Goddard spent their honeymoon there. During the military conflict that the Vietenamese call "The American War," both Jane Fonda and Joan Baez spent time in the hotel's bomb shelter (not at the same time, thank God). Presidents, kings, and a host of stars, sopranos, diplomats and even this lowly tour operator have been guests of The Metropole. Some hotels somehow manage to last for a long time. A few, like the Metropole, become an integral part of history.
I have been fortunate enough to stay at The Metropole five or six times. Everyone should stay there at least once in their life. It's a splurge, but a splurge you deserve. There are two different buildings--the original "historic" wing, and the 20th century "opera wing" with its own entrance facing Hanoi's historic French Colonial Opera House. I prefer to stay in the original building. I don't mind hanging around with the ghosts. Ceilings are high, windows have slatted shutters and the Victorian ornamentation decorating walls, windows and doors is original. The floors are made of wide wooden planks that sometimes creak as you walk. You won't find concrete anywhere, except around the pool.
The hotel has recently reopened the bomb shelter that has been hidden for decades under the lawn near the pool. Hotel guests can take a "tour" of the shelter with a local historian who lived through the war in Hanoi. It's high on my bucket list. Both Fonda and Baez were guests of the shelter when Nixon was bombing Hanoi.
Dining at The Metropole has always been a great experience. Duck al'Orange was introduced by the French and remains as a staple today. They have an adorable sidewalk cafe where you might want to have an afternoon coffee. There are also a French, an Vietnamese and an Italian restaurant in addition to a very clubby bar near the pool. While I have tried them all, the thing that stands out most in my memory is the Metropole's breakfast. An army of chefs and bakers go to work at about 03:00 to produce the most lavish, most fabulous breakfast in Asia. The pastry is, of course, as good as you expect to find in Paris.
Ultimately, it's the people working there who make any hotel great. When I arrived for my last visit I stepped up to the reception desk the cheery woman behind the desk said "Welcome back Mr. Thompson." I was surprised because I had not yet introduced myself of given her my passport. "How do you know I am Mr. Thompson," I asked, to which she replied "Oh, I remember you from your last stay with us. We are happy to see you back."
Chae & Eli Loved India
Chae and Eli celebrate their birthdays just a few days apart in November (Mazeltov, guys!). When they asked Purple Dragon to help them with something spacial again this year Chae mentioned that they had shot a video during the India trip we planned for them in 2011 and that their video appeared on YouTube. Honestly, we loved it enough that we thought we should share it with you. As amateur videos go it is very well done. The "traffic" scene near the beginning is somewhat chaotic, but first impressions of India are often of chaotic street traffic and noise. The scenes that follow include some of our favorite places (and definitely our favorite hotels) in India. You get to evesdrop on both of their birthday celebrations and enjoy music perfectly matched to the footage. I especially liked the scenes of Varanasi, where the video ends on a very spiritual note. We hope you enjoy it. Obviously, they did.
Sharing is Good Karma
We get between 10 and 15 new Members a month. That's not bad, but we think we deserve 50 to 75. You can help us by sharing this newsletter on socal media. (You can use the handy buttons we have provided on the right.) We also hope you will invite your friends to join, whoever they might be. Not all of our Members are gay or lesbian. They joined because they like what we offer and find our newsletter entertaining, informative and of value. Our sign-up form includes a question about how new Members heard about us, and to give us a name if it's a friend. We love that! When it happens often it results in real good karma and a very special thank-you from us.
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