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2018 Travel Planning Guide
Happy New Year! We are looking forward to a new year filled with new adventures. We would like to help you get the most out of your visit to our part of the world by giving you a bit of information that will help you plan your visit the destinations we offer, season by season. Unlike other parts of the world our rule of thumb is that we really have only three seasons. Not only is the climate different in each season, but so are prices and many one-time events.
Our Spring is normally March through June
Weather. April showers do not bring May flowers since our Spring is the driest of our seasons. It's also the warmest. April is normally the hottest month of the year in Southest Asia since Thailand and surrounding countries are at their closest distance from the sun during the entire year. India (particularly in the north), Bhutan and Sri Lanka are in between temperature extremes. Vietnam's beaches are at their best in Spring and in Green Season through September.
Prices in most of our countries come down after the winter high season, except in Bhutan, which is exactly the opposite. Low season (December through February and June through August ) and spring is high season (March through May and September through November ). It's always a good idea to plan visits to Bhutan well in advance, particularly over high season. More on that below.
Events. During Spring Thailand celebrates its annual Songkran festival (Thai New Year, officially April 13 through 15 in 2018). People "play water" from dawn to dusk and getting doused, splashed, hosed or shot with a water gun is unavoidable. Everyone stays wet for several days and many bars and restaurants are either closed or operating at limited capacity. Much alcohol is consumed, so we do not recommend road trips outside major cities. It's best to fly or travel by train. Thailand's highways are among the most dangerous in the world over major holiday periods. Other new year festivities happen in Cambodia and Laos (both April 14 through 16) and Myanmar (April 17, though people take holidays over a longer period) celebrate.
In India, Holi is the second largest festival of the year. Instead of water, people "play" Holi with both dry and wet colored powders. If you join in the fun you will become a rainbow. It all washes off easily, but you will want to pack "one way" clothing that you don't mind leaving behind.
Something to be proud about
Phnom Penh's annual Pride celebration will take place May 16 through 20. It's one of the region's fastest growing pride celebrations. There are parties every night in major drinking establishments, tuktuk races, and a pool party at the end. Rambutan Resort, our favorite hotel in Phnom Penh, is ground zero for fun. Purple Dragon is happy to help you enjoy it all: www.purpledrag.com/cambodia/phnompenh.htm
Phuket Pride was in late April 2017. However, the 2018 event is on hold while organizers take time to reinvent it.
After 11 years Bangkok Pride will be resurrected in 2018. It was first scheduled for November 2017 but was postponed in due to the death of the King. Dates are not yet set, but it will apparently take place in April or May.
Green Season is our Summer and early Autumn and lasts through September/October
Weather . We admit that " Green Season " is a euphemism for "rainy." But if you imagine torrential downpours day after day you have been watching too many Humphry Bogart films. Green season is far more polite, with brief rainy periods about every other afternoon. That said, we cannot always predict how green things will be in this age of global warming. We had rain on and off into December 2017. While normal precipitation might be messy in urban areas, it makes the countryside glorious. A little bit of rain helps keep temperatures cool and the air clean.
Prices. If you are looking for bargains and don't want to compete with huge crowds, this is a great time to visit. Low season prices prevail in all of our destinations during these months.
Where to Go . While this is not the best time of year for beach resorts, it's the best time to explore the countryside. Driving trips through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and parts of Myanmar can be vividly green with brimming rice paddies. Cambodia is particularly gorgeous during this time of year and we recommend our road trip between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap as well as day trips from Siem Reap into the countryside to Phnom Kulen, Beng Melea, Preah Vihear and Koh Kher.
Major work on the only East-West highway through Bhutan is ongoing. If you plan to go farther east than Phobjikha you may encounter delays due to heavy equipment and landslides, although things should have been improved since last year. If you travel as far as Bumthang, which we strongly recoment, it will save time on the road if you fly back to Paro. There are daily flights and you need to reserve well in advance. We'll help you with the itinerary based on the time you have available.
On the Mekong River in Laos, our boats between Chiang Khong and Luang Prabang as well as in Southern Laos go into dry dock during all of June. Some trip by boat on Inle Lake in Myanmar may not be possible due to high water levels and pernicious aquatic vegetation.
Winter begins in October/November and continues until March
Weather. Winter is the ideal time to visit Thailand's beach resorts. However, parts of Southeast Asia can be almost chilly. Night temperatures in Bangkok dip to the low seventies (Fahrenheit). You'll need a jacket in Hanoi and the rest of Northern Vietnam. Temperatures in Northern India--particularly the Himalayas and Rajasthan--and Bhutan can be chilly, though not unbearably cold. Snow is rare except in the high mountains.
October is typically typhoon season along Vietnam's coast, although tropical storms can and do appear September through November. Except for Mui Ne/Phan Thiet , which is dry about 362 days a year (see the story in our November 2017 newsletter ) seas can be too high and the water too cold for swimming in the ocean. Stick to the hotel's pool.
Prices. Winter is high season so prices are higher than Spring or Green Season . While dates vary from hotel to hotel, peak season prices are even higher and apply between around 15 December and 7 January in addition to dates before and after the Lunar New Year (February 16 in 2018 and February 5, 2019),
Winter Travel Planning . If you wait until the last minute to plan travel to Southeast Asia during peak season you will pay the price. Hotels begin to fill up in July and August, and last-minute travelers get the left-overs. If you are picky about hotels and want to get the most for your money, start a conversation with us by April and complete bookings by July. Myanmar and any beach resort destinations book up ahead of others. Some beach hotels have minimum stays of five to seven nights during peak season.
Events . There are plenty of festivals and other events to enjoy (or avoid in some cases) during winter months. Here are some you should know about:
Pushkar Fair in Rajasthan is one of India's most spectacular events. It's basically a livestock fair. People come from every corner of India to buy and sell cattle, camels and other animals. But the fair is so much more. There is animal racing, animal decoration competitions, bridal competitions, turban-tying competitions, cow-milking competitions, music, dancing and much more, Hotels fill up quickly, so temporary "glamping" (luxury tent) facilities are set up to accommodate the crowds. The Fair is planned for 15 through 23 November this year. You need to reserve by February/March.
Lunar New Year/Tet . The Lunar New Year is celebrated throughout much of Asia, from Vietnam to China. Masses of Chinese people take holidays lasting up to a week. Many want to leave winter weather behind, so many hotels in Southeast Asia add surcharges during this period. LNY is celebrated in Vietnam as "Tet." Everything shuts down during Tet because it's bad luck to work. For that reason we do not offer any tours in Vietnam during this period. LNY and Tet are celebrated from 17 through 20 February in 2018.
Water Festiva l is celebrated in Cambodia 22 through 24 November, while Loy Krathong is celebrated in Thailand. One of the highlights of Cambodia's Water Festival is boat races. On Loy Krathong people release "krathongs," sometimes-elaborate floating lower arrangements (often with candles or lanterns) onto any body of water they can find. In Bangkok the Chao Praya River is filled with them.
Bhutan's best festivals are in October and November. Many people schedule their trips to Bhutan so that they can incude at least one festival. In 2017 one of our customers was able to include three in his visit, which is a record for us. For most people one or two are plenty. To see all of Bhutan's festivals visit our Better Bhutan website: www.betterbhutan.com/festivals.htm .
Something to be proud about
There should be quite a few Pride festivals in the region in Winter 2018/19. Few have yet announced their dates, but we can guess, based on previous years:
Taipei Pride's mega-parade will take place on Saturday, October 27th. It's one of Asia's biggest. 2017's 15th annual parade drew a crowd of well over 100,000. We'd love to be sending Purple Dragon guests to Taiwan by October 2018. It will surely be a spectacular even in 2018 now that Taiwan will most likely be the first Asian country to legalize same sex marriage.
Delhi's Pride! Delhi's 11th annual pride parade is scheduled for 12 November.
Our "Forgotten" Destinations: Northern Vietnam's Mountain Retreat
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 time we explore Sapa, in the "Tonkinese Alps" of Northern Vietnam.
If Sarah Palin lived in Sapa she could say "I can see China from my house." French colonists built this scenic town high in the mountains near Vietnam's border with China in the 1920s to beat the sticky heat of Summer in Hanoi. The town and surrounding region is well known for gorgeous mountain scenery, waterfalls and immaculately-terraced rice paddies. But what makes Sapa unique and fascinating are the ethnic minority villages of the Black Hmong, Red Dao and Dzay people that visitors reach by trails through the countryside. Trekking requires permits, but the private guide we supply will take care of that for you.
Cat Cat village is the closest and easiest to reach by a half hour walk down a stone path. Just about everyone living there will be wearing traditional hand-made clothing. You will have plenty of retail opportunities.
Because Sapa was built by French people in the mountains, Sapa town may remind you of Alpine villages of Southern France. What remains of the original architecture is textbook colonial, with high ceilings, fireplaces, tall, arched windows and decorated facades. The town--a village really--is compact and walkable with narrow streets lined with shops and cafes. There is also plenty of bustle--colorfully-dressed touts and loud Vietnamese pop music seem to be everywhere. The tourism economy is driven by backpackers so prices are on the low side.
Aside from scenic lanes there are two places in particular you need to see. First is the local market, where you will see an abundance of handicrafts from ethnic villages. In particular you will find locally-produce textiles and clothing, much of it hand-dyed indigo, which accounts for the stained hands of many of the older women selling what they produce. You will also see quite a bit of jewelry. This market is not entirely for tourists. It is also the town's major local supermarket, with fresh vegetables and meat. Unlike supermarkets you are probably used, to meat does not come in plastic trays and cling film, you should expect to come face to face pieces of animals.
While you are out and about the second must-visit place in the town is the "radio tower," the highest point on the hill on which Sapa is built. A short walk will reward you with sweeping views in every direction of the mountains and valleys that surround you.
How we "do" Sapa. Purple Dragon's Sapa tour is by overnight train both ways between Hanoi and Lao Cai, including a first class sleeper. Sleeping compartments are shared unless you want to pay a premium for private quarters. Your Hanoi guide travels with you. You have one night each direction on the train, and one night in Sapa, although we really recommend at least two nights there to see more than Cat Cat village and to soak in the ambiance of the countryside. You arrive back in Hanoi about 05:00. We can take you from the station to the airport if you have a morning flight to your next destination.
What to take with you to Sapa depends on the season. Winters are cold so you will need a jacket/coat. Be prepared for rain during "green season." Regardless of the season you should be prepared with comfortable walking shoes with good traction. If you arrive ill-prepared there are plenty of places in Sapa town to buy gear appropriate for long walks in the countryside.
2018 Vietnam Promotion for Club Sanook Members
If Vietnam is still on your bucket list or you want to return to see more, we have a special offer for you if you are a Club Sanook Member. Choose any two Purple Dragon Vietnam packages and take a 10% discount on the total. Choose any three and take 12.5% off the top. Take four (Saigon, Hue & Hoi An, and Hanoi (with or without Halong Bay) plus either Phan Thiet/Mui Ne , Sapa or Dalat) and you can take a 15% discount from the total. Reserve by 28 February 2018 for travel from February through March 2019. This discount cannot be combined with other offers or Diamond Member discounts and does not apply to airfares or extra hotel nights. Please mention this promotion when you " start a conversation."
Not sure about dates or how much time you have? Maybe a "gift certificate" is a better option for you. A gift certificate is a credit you buy for future use at a discount in a denomination you choose. If you have an approximate idea about where, how long, and what kinds of hotels you prefer we can recommend an appropriate denomination. This give you a lot of flexibility and will help you save money. Read more in our "private" member-area.
Own a Piece of Purple Dragon
Douglas is putting half of his shares in Purple Dragon up for sale to finance expansion over the next two or three years, including two new websites, rewriting a travel-related app, adding a sales manager to the staff and quite a bit more. He wants to build the business so that brands can be sold to the benefit of all investors. There are travel related benefits to most shareholders. Some investors will get Jewel Memberships free. Share packages start at 10,000 Thai baht (just under $250).
He has recently sent letters of invitation to some of our customers. Since then, he has gotten better advice about some facets of the offering and share prices. If you would like to receive an updated copy of this information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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 .
Bargain Bhutan for Aussies
Bhutan celebrates 15 years of friendship (diplomatic, at least) with Australia with a "Bhutan-Australia Friendship Offer" for holders or Aussie passports. Travel June through August and you can forget about the government-set daily minimum and the US$65/night "royalty" paid to the government, and also the $30/night "small group surcharge" for fewer than three people traveling together. Selected hotels are offering preferential nightly rates up to 50% off. Some special airfares are also available, we're told.
This is good on any itinerary, regardless of length. The end result is a fabulous adventure in Bhutan for between 40% and 50% off what you would normally pay. So you should be able to get ten days in Bhutan for the price of six. A real rip snorter of a deal! Interested? You are not the only one, so rattle your dags and give us a yell (hurry up and contact us soon).
President Trump Prevents Air Crash Deaths Worldwide
US President Donald Trump has given himself credit for commercial aviation's safest year ever. 2017 turned out to be the safest year on record for global passenger and cargo flights with only ten incidents resulting in 44 deaths--only three of which were in the United States. All three involved propeller-driven aircraft.
"Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation," Mr. Trump tweeted on January 2nd. "Good news! It was just reported that there were zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!" In reality there were no passenger deaths involving jet aircraft. In 2016 there were 16 accidents resulting in 303 fatalities. The president's "best and safest" record on commercial aviation accidents in 2017 failed to take into account military aviation deaths, or fatalities directly or indirectly attributed to ingesting in-flight meals.
We want to thank the president for all he is doing to keep us safe in the air. We also hear that the food on Air Force One is better than what the airlines give us.
Sadly, 2017's record was shattered in the early hours of 2018 with an accident in Costa Rica that killed twelve.
In November we told you about the birth of a "Tomato Team" in Western Cambodia, inspired by Douglas and created by Phin Sopharath, our manager in Siem Reap. Our urban farmers are on the cusp of their first crop of heirloom fruit. We are experimenting with 40 different cultivars (varieties), tiny, medium, large and giant, and in every color but blue.
We are also introducing the world to a cultivar that French settlers brought with them and disappeared completely during the Khmer Rouge years,, never to reappear in commercial cultivation. Only three or four people have been growing it since the 1970s. Douglas has named it "Cambodia Rose" because of its pink to orange color, and also remembering that "rose" is also a verb, unlike "rouge."
The next crop will move to a larger piece of land. More about that in the February newsletter.
If you are in Thailand or Cambodia and are interested in tomatoes, contact Douglas. Foodservice customers get priority. And if you are traveling with us and would like to visit the farm, let us know. The farm is also growing two different chilis from Bhutan for the local Indian/Nepali/Bhutanese market in Thailand.
Honestly, some people should just stay home. You have seen them before--tourists who won't touch local food or respect local cultures, who complain endlessly, and expect that prices for everything are negotiable. You've seen them at hotels that serve buffets, piling their plates high with all the best stuff, leaving little or nothing for other diners, and leaving half of what they took behind on their plates. What some visitors do is, well, shocking, and we have to wonder what they were thinking about. Recently a gay couple from the the California city of San Diego were arrested for dropping their collective drawers at Bangkok's Wat Arun and Wat Po, which are both working Buddhist temples, then publishing said pix on Instagram. You probably already know that shoulders and legs must be covered to visit Wat Po. It did not take police long to track down the couple, who were fined a mere 5,000 baht (about $150) and promptly deported. To tell you the truth, we think that the punishment was as shameful as the crime. Bare asses beg to be spanked.
Douglas on Hotels: Saigon's Spring Hotel
In contrast to my last two hotel stories, I'd like to tell you about a budget-priced hotel, Spring Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.
I've probably spent more nights in Spring Hotel than any other hotel in the world--easily 80 to 90 room nights, mostly in the early days of Utopia Tours (our previous incarnation) and major corporate group events we planned for Ogilvy & Mather and others. I first chose it because of the price, location and because they are very gay friendly. Those things have not changed.
Spring Hotel's location could not be better. It's just a block behind the Opera House on a leafy, quiet street near sightseeing, shopping and some great restaurants. Rooms are simple but clean and cheery. You can afford a really nice suite for less than a standard room in a four star hotel. The lobby has a grand staircase, which nobody uses because there is a lift that accommodates only four or five people at a time. Their small lobby restaurant serves a terrific breakfast, always with some kind of exotic fruit you may have never encountered before. Most of the rooms have very nice city views. The best view is from their roof-top bar.
Most important to me is that Spring Hotel feels like home. It has been owned by the same family since it first opened nearly 2o years ago and we have been using it since we first began this enterprise. Their staff are like family, and some have been around since the beginning of time. We think it's pretty special and I'm sure you will, too.
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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