Happy New Year #3
We extend our fondest New Year greetings for the third time in 2012. Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are celebrating their traditional New Year festivals. It's "Songran" in Thailand and if you are here, you are probably soaking wet.
Speaking of getting wet, there was no tsunami here this week. As soon as an under-sea earthquake off the coast of Northern Sumatra on April 11 was reported, people in coastal areas headed for high ground (except for the predictable few who went directly to the beach). Bangkok Airways cancelled seven flights to and from Phuket and Koh Samui. However, tsunami warnings were cancelled soon after they were issued.
Good Advice from Myanmar
The "Other Doug," who takes care of our customers in Myanmar has just sent us the following message: "We want to give a general update on the hotel booking situation which we are facing now for this coming season (2012–2013), most especially in Yangon where room demand is particularly high. Now we are receiving messages from some hotels that rates will be revised even though contracts had been previously given. They will honor the old rates only for rooms already confirmed."
By "revised" he means "increased," of course. If you read our February newsletter you know that Myanmar is suddenly very popular and we expected this kind of thing to happen. Hotels there have not increased their rates at all for several years. Demand is driving prices up. If you plan to travel to Myanmar between now and March 2013, we strongly recommend that you not wait long to confirm your reservations. By July or August we expect to begin to have significant problems any finding rooms at all in many parts of Myanmar during high season.
Explosions at Silom Skytrain Station?
Quite a few of our customers have written concerning an email that appears to be from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. The email describes explosions on Silom Road in Bangkok that injured many and killed one.
There has been nothing in newspapers, local TV, CNN, BBC, or even Al Jazeera about explosions here, so this story smelled pretty bad to us from the beginning. It took only about two minutes using Bing to find an identical email that was distributed in April 2010 during the "Red Shirt" occupation of several streets in Bangkok that eventually lead to the throwing of explosives. (You can read Douglas' epic account of those events in his blog.)
So if you received one of these frightening emails, just ignore it. Obviously there are people working at the U.S. Embassy here who have way too much time on their hands and thought it would be fun to indulge in a harmless April 1st prank. Your tax dollars at work.
Surviving Suvarnabhumi Madness
Just about everyone here has a strong opinion about Suvarnabhumi ("su VANNA poom"), Bangkok's "new" airport. It is no larger and can handle no more passengers than Don Muang, the "old" airport. Some people like the contemporary architecture. Some do not actually mind walking half a kilometer to their gate through what seems like the an endless shopping mall. And others do not mind standing in an immigration line for 45+ minutes just to enter the Land of Smiles.
Immigration lines have become almost unbearable lately. Two of three of the airport's immigration entry points are closed due to construction, leaving lines that are quite possibly three times as long as they used to be. Heaven help you if there is someone with a Pakistani or Iranian passport ahead of you. Citizens of some countries are being scrutinized very, very carefully. (One recent guest found himself behind four gentlemen from the Middle East who took more than half an hour to process. Two were not allowed entry.) A squad of riot police are now a permanent fixture the immigration processing area, helpfully checking to make sure visitors have all of the necessary documents completed before they come face to face with an immigration officer.
How to get through the madness in 20 minutes. If you are over 65, pregnant, disabled, traveling with a brood of screaming children or all of the above, you can join the special queue next to the one used by diplomats. If you are not among one of these privileged few, however, we can get you through the airport madness and into a waiting limo within about twenty minutes after you exit your aircraft. Someone will be waiting at your gate to greet you, handle your carry-on luggage, and escort you to a very exclusive "immediate service" immigration desk. They will then retrieve your checked luggage, whisk you through customs, and out the door to a waiting vehicle that will take you to your hotel, or even to Pattaya if that is where you are destined. While there is an additional cost for this service, we are happy to offer it to customers using our services who can't bear feel like a piece of livestock after an 18+ hour flight.
Meanwhile, Bangkok is again a two-airport metropolis. The "old" airport, which was hit hard by last year's floods, is open again and serving low-cost domestic airlines.
Our One-Man NGO in Cambodia
Rath, Purple Dragon's manager in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) is one of the most wonderful and good-hearted people we are fortunate enough to employ. There is a lot of poverty in Cambodia. A few months ago he asked us to help him rescue a woman and two children who were living on the street in Siem Reap with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Since then we have established a fund from our Angkor Wat bookings to help families that are going hungry, and we have helped several so far. This family pictured on the right lives in a house made of bamboo thatch. The man of the house is in jail for stealing a fishing net he needed to feed his family. The family is still going hungry, of course. Every family gets a big bag of rice, a case instant noodles, canned fish and other protein foods, condiments and personal care items. Sometimes there are treats for kids. Several have also received live chickens. (Hopefully they will reproduce.) This was Rath's idea and we are proud to be able to help him take care of his community. If you have traveled with us to Angkor Wat, you can be proud that you contributed to Rath's efforts.
Can You Believe It? Number 15 And Counting
One of the things we at Purple Dragon are most proud of is the high percentage of customers who have traveled with us more than once. About 500 of our customers have traveled with us twice or more. About fifty have traveled with us five times or more. Fifteen have traveled at least 10 times.
As of March, the new record-holders are Jeffrey Wood and Mark Abate, who have shared stories of some of their travel experiences with us in this newsletter. On this trip Jeff and Mark spent a few days in Bangkok (where they used their free shirt coupons--see below), then took Purple Dragon's Way Beyond Luang Prabang trip from Chiang Rai down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. They also brought their friend Jeffrey Chu, who also had a terrific time. They are seen here enjoying the pleasures of Luang Prabang.
The next runner-up is Richard in San Francisco. He might be the reigning trip-taker had it not been for an unfortunate health episode that caused him to cancel his most recent trip. He's one of our favorites so we hope to see him again soon. Marc from Belgium will reach the 14-trip mark in July. James from Milwaukee and James in New Jersey are not too far behind. This is not a contest, of course, but we immensely flattered that so many of our customers like what we do enough that they return again and again. Many have become good friends.
Our biggest challenge is to add new and interesting destinations so that our favorite customers do not run out of things to see. We have a number of things on the drawing board. Here's one:
Nepal At Last!
We have been promising Nepal for quite a while. After all, it's a natural addition to India, where we have been working for more than five years, and Bhutan which we have offered for two years. We have been offering Nepal on a custom tour basis and finally have worked out a series of itineraries with terrific Nepalese style hotels that you are sure to love. Any new country (Nepal will be #10) is a tremendous undertaking that requires research, local staff, hotel contracts, pricing issues and photography. All of this should appear on our website by July. If you can't wait until then,let us know what you have in mind and we will make it happen.
The Green Season Will Save You Some Green
Our "green" (cooler and slightly rainy) season has almost arrived and savvy travelers can use their Club Sanook Membership to save money. We are just starting to add Green Season specials to the Member area on this website. Here are a few:
You must mention these specials at the time you reserve. In most cases they cannot be combined with other Member specials. To see all of the current specials as well as the various ways you can save money if you plan to travel during the next high season is to view our Member Specials page.
Get Your Shirt Here
For the last several years we have given our customers a coupon for a free custom-tailored shirt from a shop that The National Geographic included in its list of the world's ten best tailors. No strings attached, but when you see an entire floor of luscious shirt fabric you will probably want to take home two or three more. Unlike most tailor shops in Bangkok, they do not send their orders out to a sweat shop somewhere. Their tailors work in the floor above so you will not only get a shirt that actually fits, but is made with craftsmanship not commonly found elsewhere. Want your initials embroidered on your cuff? Diagonal button holes? Convertible French and button cuffs? Box pleats rather than a center pleat? It's your shirt, so you are the boss. Stop by our office for a coupon for your own free shirt, or click on the min-coupon above and print your own coupon right now. They also make suits, pants, and just about anything else you might want, including a fuzzy pink vintage Chanel-style suit for our own Miss Fu.
Pot Pouri: Plenty of New Hotels.... (Yes, We Have Gone Mad in China)
We are constantly looking for something better for Purple Dragon's customers. We also listen carefully when our guests tell us what they like and do not like, retire hotels that no longer live up to our standards, and add what we hope will be new and better.