Club Sanook Newsletter - February 2007

 

 
 

September 2007

 

 

Road to Ruin

Practically nobody wants to take our Kep & Bokor National Park program, which is a real pity since it is one of the most interesting trips we offer. Many of our guests have already visited Cambodia twice or more and are looking for something new and fabulous to do, and Kep is far more interesting than trashy Sihanoukville. So let us entice you with a brand new incentive for you to add this trip to your "see someday soon" list--Bokor will be completely ruined within the next two years.

Atop a mountain in Southern Cambodia, with sweeping views of the sea below, Bokor was a French "hill station," a weekend retreat for foreigners living in colonial Phnom Penh. It was a thriving community made up of private villas, a dozen hotels, a Catholic church and a massive casino that towered over it all. It is safe to guess that more than a thousand people lived and worked there permanently, from croupiers and chefs to hookers and priests. Even the young King Sihanouk kept a home there, although discretely distant from the hubbub that surrounded the casino. It all came to a sudden end when the Khmer Rouge were poisded to move into the area. Everyone fled quickly en masse, leaving everything behind. The Khmer Rouge removed everything useful, including all of the electrical wire and plumbing, and systematically destroyed more than 2,000 private villas in nearby Kep. Today, both places remain almost untouched as an eerie reminder of a terrible moment in history.

The road to the top of Bokor Mountain is rugged and has disappeared completely in many places, yet it is It is easy to imagine ancient Citröens and Renaults climbing into the mist on a Friday evening as bureaucrats and businessmen fled the heat and tedium of Phnom Penh. It is a miserable, bone-jarring trip that passes through three distinct climates and one of Asia's most unspoiled forests. Far more dazzling than Hollywood's idea of a jungle, ancient trees here are encrusted with orchids and ferns. Thanks to the road, and because this place is not yet well known, not many people make this trip.

The wind whistles through the empty casino at the top of the mountain. You can wander through what had been kitchens, lavish suites and a massive gaming room with a huge fireplace. Close your eyes and you can almost hear the laughter and the roulette wheel, and smell Gouloise smoke and perfume. It does not take long before you understand how fragile this special place is. Many of the crumbling concrete walls are covered with psychedelically-colored lichens. Many visitors carve their initials into them, which seem oddly appropriate.

It is a great tragedy that a hotelier with close ties to Cambodian government officials plans to build a big hotel at the top of Bokor. A new hotel means a new road and a new road means tour buses and eventually further development of one of Asia's most spectacular, unusual and unspoiled places to visit. Those who have not had to spend a couple of hours on the miserable road will probably have far less respect for what they find at the road's end.

Call us pessimistic if you like, but we think that now is the time to see Kep and Bokor before they are ruined. Some day you will be able to say "I was there when...."

You can see an album of Bokor and Kep photos on our website.

36 Hours in the Dark

Friday the 14th was as unlucky as Friday the 13th when our internet server suffered a fatal seizure. It took more than 36 hours to replace successfully. During that time any email that you might have sent to us was lost. If you did try to contact us and have not yet had a reply, we are not ignoring you! We may not have received your mail in the first place and hope you do not mind sending it again. You can read more about this on Douglas' blog.

Your Holiday Could Save Your Life

When is the last time you had a comprehensive physical exam? Most of us put these things off indefinitely because they are inconvenient and costly. The longer you delay a thorough check-up, the greater likelihood there is that an undiscovered health problem will simply become worse, and possibly life-threatening. Procrastination can kill you.

One solution is to get a check-up during your vacation! What better gift could you give yourself? If you plan to vacation in Thailand you can get an thorough health evaluation in only about half a day and at a fraction of the cost of a comparable evaluation at home. Top hospitals in Bangkok and Phuket now offer packages that include a physical exam, an impressive battery of blood tests that include screening for all kinds of things, including various cancers, as well as heart, lung and liver functions. One hospital, Bangkok Medical Center, also has a check-up package especially for your heart, while Bangkok Phuket Hospital offers a check-up package that is especially for cancer screening.

You can find several different packages at a broad range of prices compared side by side on our website and instantly make an appointment or send an inquiry. Club Sanook Members who take advantage of one of these check-up plans will be rewarded with 500 Purple Bonus Points.

Disease du Jour. We all know about cholesterol and how a 20th century diet, smoking and other factors can lead to clogged arteries that result in heart attacks. Most of us also assume that this happens only in the upper body. Actually, the arteries in your legs are equally vulnerable. Severely restricted circulation could ultimately result in the loss of a leg if left untreated, like poor Zha Zha, whose legs have serious infections due partly to blocked arteries. She had emergency surgery earlier this week.

A simple "Ankle Brachial Test" that compares blood pressure taken simultaneously at both ankles can help identify critical circulatory problems. If you think you may be at risk, you should make sure the check-up package you choose includes this test.

Clearance Sale: Bangkok Medical Center is offering special promotions through 31 October. If you are considering a health exam, plastic surgery, dental care, joint replacement or other procedures you could save up to 50%. Look here.

Myanmar: Books, Monks and Discontent

There are faint glimmers of hope that the people of Myanmar might be on the verge of bringing about changes in their government. Thousands of monks have been staging non-violent protests in this devoutly Buddhist nation. The junta there recently doubled the price of petrol (gasoline), which has hit an already-impoverished public very hard. A growing number of citizens are joining the protests. While these events are well away from where visitors are likely to be, this is, nevertheless, an exciting time to be in Myanmar.

We have long been on the black list of the Burma Project and other well-meaning groups that also hope for the best of the Burmese people. Obviously, there are two political schools of thought about sending visitors there.  We have seen what openness and tourism have done to change Vietnam and we are sad to see how the current international embargo has forced the junta to seek the friendship of countries like Libya and North Korea.

Although they are sucking a lot of cash from the pockets of people who are honestly concerned about what is happening in Myanmar and think they are doing something positive, the many vocal special interest groups that are "fighting" Burma's military dictatorship do not seem to be doing very much for the Burmese people otherwise. As a tribute to them, we donating one book for every Purple Dragon Myanmar guest to a local NGO that is building libraries for school children there and teaching kids to read. People who can not read will probably never never break free from a cycle of poverty and will not be able to fully contribute to the democracy which we hope lies ahead.

Bobby's Back....

"Well c'mon, man, I hear that Bobby's back...."

Wait a minute. Wasn't that a song? Well, our Bobby has just returned from enjoying Sweden's extra long Summer, learning Swedish and eating his daily helping of herring. He will be around until adventure calls again.

Meanwhile, Joe in our office is on an extended medical leave. You can read more on our blog. We miss him a lot.

 Your Five Minutes of Fame...

Do you have a personal website or a blog where you share your Purple Dragon travel experiences? If you do, we will publish a link here, and eventually from our website as well.

We have been helping Jim Gaidula and a friend plan their trip through Vietnam and Cambodia for several months. It is really exciting to see the whole thing unfold daily on Jim's website. You can read his travelogue and see some great photos at www.jimgweb.com.

If your website links to ours, please let us know so we can give you a reciprocal link. If you publish a graphic link we will do something really special for you.

... And Ours

Capitalists Visit Hell Garden. If you saw our most recent postcard you know that we have recently revitalized our Temple of 1000 Incarnations day trip from Bangkok. The day includes a drive through lush, green Suphanburi province to experience a different spiritual side of Thailand than you can see in big cities, and eat a lot of fresh prawns and traditional Thai deserts. The highlight is a visit to an amazing wat (temple) with thousands of Buddha statues and an amazing "Hell Garden" that depicts grizzly scenes of the afterlife for sinners. This trip caught the eye of a writer from the Wall Street Journal, who featured our tour in a recent story. We hope the movers and shakers of Wall Street have taken note of the eternal risks of greed and avarice. Ouch!

Douglas Ate Guilin. If you find yourself on a Bangkok Airways flight during September or October be sure to look for a story called "Gourmet Guilin" written by our very own Douglas Thompson in Fah Thai, the in-flight magazine. Besides the spectacular scenery, Douglas discovered that Guilin has some of the most fabulous food in Asia. He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that he has made three trips there. Let us know if you are not able to travel on Bangkok Airways but still want to read the story.

Vietnam Still Seems the Place to Be

The last edition of Bulletin from Bangkok carried a story about booming tourism in Vietnam. Vietnam is now in such great demand (not entirely due to our story, of course) that we are having problems finding hotel rooms for most of our customers who want to travel between now and the end of January. If you plan to visit Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City during the coming high season we strongly recommend that you make reservations as far in advance as possible.

India is the Other Place to Be

When we launched our first India programs just one year ago we really underestimated the interest our guests have in going there. One problem we are experiencing is a shortage of hotel rooms there as well. India has some of the best hotels in the world as well as some of the worst, and there is not much in between. Just as with Vietnam, we encourage you to book as far in advance as possible and avoid holiday periods. (If you are considering the Christmas/New Years holiday period this year you may already be out of luck). The Taj is having a face lift to remove years of yellow grime. Everyone will want to see that!

New on Purple Dragon's Website

One of our guests reminded us recently that we need to add new trips because they have already taken practically every one we offer. We are happy to do just that. A new Mai Chau excursion is now available from Hanoi. Mai Chau is an idyllic and colorful valley  with several villages settled long ago by Thai ethnic minority people. You can go there in a day or spend the night in a rustic house on stilts. This trip will debut on our website any day now.

Featured on Club Sanook's last postcard, Beyond Luang Prabang offers a unique opportunity to add two days in a pristine eco lodge on the banks of the Mekong.

Not yet on our website but available on request are two new Laos itineraries. We now offer an overnight road trip between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, which delivers some of the most splendid scenery in the region. We are also working on a new tour to Pakse in Southern Laos. In and around Pakse you will see Khmer temple ruins,

India in Style  

India's Oberoi Hotels are among the most spectacular and luxurious in the world. If you have always wanted to stay with Oberoi in Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur or Rananthamabore but have gasped at the prices, you are in luck. During the coming low season (April through September 2008) we expect to have a special promotional packages that allows you to enjoy Oberoi for around half the normal price. We do not have prices yet, but we will gladly add you to our our list of people to notify when we do. Some of our guests to tried to take advantage of this program in 2007 were disappointed because they waited until the last minute and rooms were unavailable. If you do not want to be disappointed next year, please contact us.

Seeing Double?

If you received two or more emails regarding 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 redundant email.

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