Over the past few years we have slowly been "connecting the dots" along Indochina's Mother of Rivers, the Mekong so that our guests can experience most of this great river and the many cultures it passes through. For those who want an uncommon experience in our part of the world, we have recently added some new and exciting programs:
Way Beyond Luang Prabang is not new, but it is our starting starting place. After one or more nights in Chiang Rai, we take you to Chiang Khong, then across the river to Houey Xay in Laos to begin a one- or two-night journey to Luang Prabang. You travel on a luxury purpose-built teak river boat through spectacular scenery and past landlocked villages. You spend the night in riverside hotel in Pak Beng that was built exclusively for passengers of the cruise. You can also add a stop for a night at Kamu Lodge to experience real rural village life in Laos.
The River of 4,000 Islands almost on our website, but we are are already accepting reservations. Sail from Pakse in Southern Laos on a two-night cruise that visits the Khmer ruins at Champasak, visits landlocked villages, and cruises through the "4,000 islands" that end near the spectacular Pha Pheng waterfall on the Cambodian border. You sleep aboard the Vat Phou, a luxury boat with terrific food and expansive upper decks where you can lay back and watch the scenery slip buy. While in this part of Laos you can add an overnight side trip to the cool, high-altitudeBolaven Plateau, where you can watch the coffee grow and see some of the most awesome forests and waterfalls on the planet.
If you are adventurous and do not mind a bit of dust, our new Cambodia Backroads program shows you to seldom-visited side of Cambodia. After two days in Angkor Wat, set out by motorbike with a guide and one or two companions to experience life along the Mekong. Visit the pre-Angkorean ruins of Sambor Preykuk, the stilt houses and weavers of Kampong Cham, and the endangered fresh water dolphins at Kratie. This trip includes motorbikes, helmets and other equipment, hotels and meals. You return to Siem Reap at the end to be reunited with your luggage.
Phnom Penh to Saigon by Boat. Although not on our website, we offer custom arrangements by boat between Phnom Penh and Saigon with an overnight stop in Chau Doc if you are using our packages in before and after the trip. You ply the backwaters of the Mekong Delta to see tropical forests, small villages, great plantations, and eventually the great ships that sail up the Mekong to collect rice, fruit, cane and the other things that are produced in abundance in southern Vietnam. We can pick you up by car in Chau Doc, or you can travel by small boat all the way to Ho Chi Minh City.
Thirty-four years of exploring our planet, 117 trips and 45 countries later, I can say, quite unequivocally, that Bhutan is one of the most extraordinary places I have ever visited, and our Purple Dragon holiday there one of my most enjoyable and memorable experiences.
My travelling companion and I took the ten-day Grand Bhutan Tour, with our own guide, driver and 4-wheel drive, from the international airport at Paro, across the great passes to the spiritual heartland of Bumthang in central... (read the whole story)
Some of Thailand's leaders want to turn Pattaya into a "family-friendly" resort destination. Really.
Until the Vietnam War Pattaya was a sleepy seaside town; little more than an inconsequently blip on a road along the Gulf of Thailand 90 km south of Bangkok. American warships often anchored not far offshore. A fleet of B52s took off from what is now U-Tapao Airport to bomb hot spots in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. It did not take long for entrepreneurial Thais to seize opportunities to open bars and brothels to attract bored, lonely GIs in search of a bit of relief from the pressures of war. Girls (and even a few boys) soon flocked to this new boom town.
Sleepy Pattaya was quickly transformed into Thailand's premier R and R destination. Since the war's end the town, with its nightlife, tropical climate, and once-sparkling blue water, has continued to attract adult pleasure-seekers from Thailand and abroad. Nowadays, the area is home to one of Thailand's largest communities of retired foreigners as well as a favorite hide-out for foreign criminals. It is also considered to be Thailand's "Sin City."
The world economic crisis has impacted Thai tourism badly, and Pattaya in particular has been hard hit. For months we have heard locals describe Pattaya as a "ghost town," and a few long-established nightlife venues have closed for good. At the same time, some nightlife businesses have been subjected to raids that have helped to drive what's left of the customers away. Hotels that once depended primarily on western male visitors are being forced to court other markets.
Most locals are well aware that a concerted effort is being made to "sanitize" Pattaya. Some blame the U.S. Embassy. Others blame prudish, reactionary factions in Thailand's government. (There are more of them than you think.) In any event, there is an organized plan in place to polish out the seedy side of the town to attract families and other mainstream visitors.
Honestly, we are a bit dumbfounded by the whole notion that a resort town that already attracts families, busloads full of Japanese, massive groups of Russians and countless other mainstream visitors needs to be cleaned up at all. It seems to us that tourism authorities should be doing more to encourage tourism rather than chase it away with foolish attempts to re-engineer Thai society. It simply will not work.
If they want to sanitize something they should start with the water. Meanwhile, enjoy Pattaya. You will receive a warm welcome.
Cheap Thrills in Bangkok and Chiang Mai! If you want a bit of adventure along with Thailand's culture and other diversions. we have two new packages that you might enjoy if you are a return guest. We now offer "adventure" packages in both Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Bangkok Adventure includes a day-long bike ride. Chiang Mai Adventure includes a day or white water rafting. Both include "zip line" flights through the treetops of nearby old growth forests. You Tarzan, me James.
Don't want to wait until April to save money? A few of our favorite hotels are offing special prices during high season. Members can take 10% off our Pattaya Plush package between now and the end of March. Some of our hotels have made permanent price reductions. Take our "River of Dreams" cruise on selected dates between now and the end of February and take a companion free! Take any of our Bangkok packages, stay at the Sukhothai Hotel and get one more night free. We also have discounts in February at Luang Prabang's Villa Maly and Kamu Lodge.
We will be adding new Member specials as they become available. Incidentally, all flights on Air Asia are discounted 20% through 28 January.
If you have an iPhone, iPad, Blackberry or other "smart" hand-held device you may be wondering how you ever lived without it in the past. Amazing advancements in technology have given us gadgets that keep us organized, find useful information, entertain us, take great photos and even make a telephone call. Our Douglas and his iPhone are inseparable and this inspired us to begin creating a smart phone "app" that will tell you where to go and what to do in Asia. Although no official announcement has yet been made, we have decided to call it simply "Miss Fu" in honor of our esteemed, reclusive Membership Secretary. You will probably not be able to download it until March or April. However, if you or anyone you know owns or manages a business of any kind in Asia and would like to be included in the listings, please visit the app's website: http://www.gayasiaapp.com.
Way back in 2010 we announced our 4th annual photo contest. Then came a litany of distractions that included civil unrest, a world economic crisis, loony political drama, and the development of an iPhone app. It seemed that practically everyone was distracted, so we put the contest on the shelf. We have dusted it off and are picking up where we left off. We will be updating entries received to date over the next two weeks. For more information view our Photo Contest page.
We learned a lot about the "travel advisories" of foreign governments during Thailand's political unpleasantness of last April and May. while none of the Kingdom was directly affected outside of about one square kilometer in the center of Bangkok, many governments suggested that their citizens stay away from Thailand. One UK tour operator even forced all of its customers to return home prematurely. Those of us who witnessed the problems here first hand realized how foolish all of this was. Tourism was severely damaged and many visitors were needlessly terrified away from enjoying a lovely Spring holiday in places like Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and Koh Samui.
So why do governments issue these dire warnings? To protect themselves from their own citizens, of course. If you take a sailing trip off the coast of Somalia and are kidnapped for ransom and your own government had not warned you against going near there, you would probably find a way to hold them legally responsible.
Most educated people in the world know that it is not a good idea to take a sailing trip off the coast of Somalia, whether their government warns them about it or not. And most tourists have enough common sense not to wander into the middle of a gigantic political demonstration just to have a look, although some actually did in Bangkok and lived to tell about it. Whether or not you heed the warnings of your government depends largely on common sense. We think it is irresponsible for foreign governments to paint an entire country with the same brush when comparatively small event causes inconvenience or disruption on . Did any of them send their own staff and their families away from Thailand during the epic Red Shirt demonstrations? Not at all. We saw them in a supermarket about three km away from the demonstrations, shopping for Gallo Zifandel, Charmin, Grape Nuts and all the other things foreigners cannot live without here.
While we are not suggesting that anyone completely ignore government travel advisories, we hope you realize that their objective is to cover their own backsides. But have you notices that no government would dare warn its citizens about traveling to dangerous places like Los Angeles, Manila, Paris or Rio de Janeiro. Go figure.
Earlier this year we were excited to report about a new visa-on-arrival program in Myanmar. All you needed to do is arrive in Yangon with two photos and a completed application, which was available on the flight.
Well, that did not last long. Nervous about the recent "elections," policy-makers there decided to return to the old procedure that requires you to get a visa before you make the trip. We advise doing this well in advance of travel. If you wait until you arrive in Bangkok you will have to apply in person. The queue outside the embassy begins to form around dawn, since they issue a fixed number of visas every day. (200 is our guess.) If you are too late, you are out of luck.
Our July issue carried a story about how Earth and all of humanity are scheduled for demolition on 21 December 2012. Is it a hoax? Mass hysteria? Another media plot to keep us from turning off the Idiot Box? A PR stunt for a sequel to a third-rate sci-fli flick? According to The History Channel, Nostradamus, The Mayans, dead astrologer Jean Dixon, and Sony Pictures, we are all doomed to become extinct in a simultaneous combination of nuclear holocaust when Osama vaporizes the Vatican, the triumph of Satan, Earth shifting on its axis, and the invasion of malevolent space creatures. Does this mean we can all stop paying our bills and taxes and tell the boss where to stuff it?
We really do want to plan one final blow-out party. Our question is, where do you want to be when it all happens? We like the idea of going out with a bang, enjoying our last moments in style. So just for fun, tell us where you would most like to be and why. We will tabulate the results and print selected comments in the next Bulletin from Bangkok. If you are witty enough you might win a place on our 2012 Farewell Tour! Just GO HERE to tell us your Armageddon fantasy.
Do you use Gay Romeo, one of the largest global gay social networking websites? If you do, please help Purple dragon by adding us as a "Guide." It takes only a moment and if enough Members add us, we will get free advertising. Here's how: Click on the "guide" tab in the top row. Next, under "Detailed Guide Search" choose Asia>Thailand>Bangkok and look for our logo. When you open our page there will be a row of links along the top. Click on "Save" and save us as "Known Personally" That's all there is to it! If you send us an email to tell us you have helped us this way we will add 100 Purple Bonus Points to your account.
If you received two or more emails announcing this issue of Bulletin from Bangkok, that means we have duplicate records in our Membership list. Please let Miss Fu know so that we do not clutter your In box with redundant email.