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Summer (and Giant Water Gun Season) in Southeast Asia
April is the middle of summer in the Land of Smiles. While your summer might be in July and August in the northern hemisphere or December and January below the equator, we are closer to the sun in April than any other time. It gets hot, (93F/34C today but with 65% humidity it feels like 109F/43C) which is why so many people enjoy dousing, hosing, and shooting each other with water during the annual Songkran Festival. (That may be curtailed this year--especially in places like Khao San Road and Silom soi 4 due to current severe drought conditions.) Some of us take advantage of the long holiday to travel to place where we can beat the heat. If you have avoided travel to our part of the world during June through September because you think it will be too steamy then, you are missing the opportunity to spend less and avoid high season crowds. We call this "Green Season" because we normally have rain about every other afternoon for about 45 minutes. Of course, it might not rain at all again this year. But who knows?
Make Appointment, Then Knock
A Memo from Douglas
Recently, I received an email from someone who had dropped by our office unexpectedly and I had not yet arrived. I had a meeting on my way to the office and was not expecting anyone. Our bookkeeper was working alone inside with the door locked. When I arrived, I unlocked the door and locked it behind myself. The customers found this very unsettling and, despite the fact that our security procedures need not be explained, they wanted an explanation. After all, we are in an "office tower" and we have "security guards."
First of all, "security guards" in Thailand are uneducated and untrained. The are no better than hall monitors in grammar schools. They are not armed because they know nothing about weapons (thank God). The only guard wearing a uniform in our building directs traffic in the parking garage.
But there is a greater explanation:
Several months ago as I was saying goodbye to a visitor who was just leaving our office, a young Thai guy standing in the hallway began a conversation with me. Something like "How have you been? ...." He looked vaguely familiar but he was very friendly so he followed me into the office while engaging me in conversation. Maybe I had actually "met" (wink) him before and I did not want to be rude. He very politely told me that he had parked his motorbike illegally downstairs and that he would be grateful if I could loan him 300 baht to go pay the fine so the police would remove the boot they had installed. He left me his national ID card as a security deposit. I considered this and did not find to be a very big risk so I agreed to help.
About two weeks later he reappeared at our office, looking very agitated. He had a fanny-pack slung over his left shoulder. He sat on the sofa at the front of the office and told me that after he had been there the first time he met up with a friend, had too much to drink in a karaoke bar, and shot two other customers dead. Then he unzipped the fanny pack to reveal a handgun. He was on the run, wanted to flee to Cambodia, and needed cash. He wanted ten thousand baht from me. I negotiated him down to about 700 baht and he left, without his ID card.
Fifteen minutes later I went to the police station. I knew too much, he had a gun, and did not want him coming around again. As it turns out, the ID card was not his, and the policeman who took the report seemed much more interested in talking to his girlfriend on his phone than catching a dangerous murderer.
About three weeks later I encountered this guy again next to the lift on the ground floor of our office building as I was exiting a taxi. We exchanged words, he moved towards me threateningly, and I beat him with my walking stick while the head of building security looked on helplessly. And that's why we lock the door.
When our bookkeeper is alone she feels very vulnerable with an unlocked door. Even when other people are in the office we keep the door locked so we can control who can comes in. Quite a few other businesses in our gleaming office tower keep their doors locked. There is a wealth management company on our floor, across the hall from Thai Football Association ( FIFA). They both have video cameras and doors that only open with buzzers. Elsewhere, there are several gem and jewelry dealers and an aesthetic medical clinic that also lock their doors. There is even a dealer in rare Japanese sake who sees customers only by appointment. Since we started leaving our door locked, people who normally stopped by to shoot the breeze for half an hour now find it inconvenient and do not bother, as has a long-time friend who works for another travel company upstairs who used to take his 30 minute nap on our sofa almost every afternoon.
If you want to visit our office we would love to see you. However, please call to be sure that someone will be around who is able to help you when you visit. Since 99.5% of our business is conducted online, and we try to avoid having having a flood of people wandering in and out to ask for paper for the printer in the business center or wanting to buy a bus ticket to Pattaya, which is why we moved away from the hotel where we used to work. If you have boyfriend problems please ask Darika for help. I have problems of my own. And if you are a relative stranger and you want to drop to say hi and tell us where you have been and where you are going on trips we did not provide you (yes, this happened recently), we have no time for you. Ditto if you bought a trip from us ten years ago and want to blather about what you had for lunch and the tell us about the tacky jewelry you bought at 300% of its value. (Yep, this happens a couple times a year.) If you want to be entertained, buy me dinner unless I have already invited you out myself. I work 14/7 and only have time to spend on the people who matter most--those who have entrusted their expectations of a great travel experience to us.
We're Giving Away a $1,000 in Gift Card, and Here is How You It Can Be Yours!
You can win a $1,000 Purple Dragon Gift Card at the end of August, and spend it like cash on any Purple Dragon tour arrangements during the next two years--or you can give it away. Prizes will go to the top point-earner in this promotion between now and the end of August 2016. You can earn an almost-unlimited number of points easily:
You must be an active (e.g., not expired) Club Sanook Member to earn points toward the prize. If, in the unlikely event two or more people end up with exactly the same number of points earned at 18:00 on 31 August, Bangkok time, we will divide the $1,000 gift card between them. To qualify, you must earn a minimum of 25 points. The gift card cannot be exchanged for cash. The winner can give the card, or pieces of the card, away as long as it is not sold or bartered.
If you do not see a "Like" or "Share" button on any page please let me know. The Purple Dragon website has 834 pages, and we are checking them one by one to make sure they have the Facebook and other social media goodies.
Since we launched the Better Bhutan website, several interesting things have happened: our Bhutan business has jumped about 600%; and, the site has developed something like a fan club we have not seen in any of our other sites. About thirty people in various parts of the world "check in" to BetterBhutan.com almost every single day. Someone in Flevoland, Netherlands has made 47 consecutive daily visits. Fourteen visits from someone in Thimpu, Bhutan. 48 daily visits from someone in Ratchaburi, Thailand. 116 visits from someone in Paris, 36 from Napa, California, and the list goes on. Nearly 100 people have visited the site 2 or 3 times. These are not people who are just leaving the site open in a tab on their tablet or phone. Some are using desktop computers. And most of these people are accessing multiple pages within minutes of each other. We are not sure whether they love the photography, or they are dreaming of a trip to this Himalayan eden.
BetterBhutan.com is getting 200 to 500 page views a day, which is pretty spectacular for a new website with fairly obscure content. We are pretty proud of the site and excited at the prospect of more and more of our customers enjoying one of the most fabulous places we know. And if you are one of our daily visitors, please let us know who you are.
And how do we about all of this? The first thing Douglas does when he sits down at his desk at 06:30 every morning is to look through the stats of all of our websites to see what people are viewing, what they are not, and how they found us. We have no way to identify any individuals, but we can tell which browser they are using, their monitor size. the name of their service provider, their location. We think that's pretty awesome.
Two New Club Sanook Member Categories
We are now accepting applications for two new Membership Categories with extreme benefits.
Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but they are not especially rare and some gems are far more valuable (and more attractive to us single girls). We are happy to announce our new Sapphire and Ruby membership levels. Both allow you to travel with Purple Dragon at our net wholesale rate. Wholesale means the cost we pay hotels, car companies, guides, and other suppliers for the components that go into our tour programs, including taxes that are passed on to us, and credit card commission fees we have to pay. In other words, zero profit. We think this is a great deal for someone who has long term plans for multiple tours in our part of the world at a $6,000 to $7,000 or more per year.
This is a great deal for:
The Sapphire Membership is good for three consecutive years.
As a Sapphire or Ruby Member you can travel as often as you like during the period of your Membership, whether it be our standard packages, custom tours, or hotel-only bookings. If you are a Diamond Member you can take a $250 discount on the Sapphire or Ruby Membership cost. If you are basic Member you can apply expired Purple Bonus Points toward your Membership at US$ .05 per point of you have a minimum of 1,500 expired points. Cost for Sapphire Membership is US$2,900. If you travel just once a year you will probably recover the cost of the Sapphire Membership about half way through the three-year period if you travel once a year and spend an average of $7,000 each year.
The Ruby Membership is good for the Member's lifetime. Cost for Ruby Membership is $4,900. Ruby Members traveling just once a year and spending $7,000+ per trip should recover the cost of their Membership in the third year.
A few important rules: Memberships are not transferrable. Prices for travel purchases at the Sapphire and Ruby level are good for the Member and one companion. If others join you and are following the same itinerary, we will offer a discount of 10% off published rates, based on four people traveling together (which is less than the published rate for two people). Since our pricing and our supplier agreements are pretty confidential, Members at this level will be requited to sign an agreement not to disclose any of the details of the prices you pay.
Why are we doing this? We have plans to expand (two new countries and three new websites) and diversifiy (expanding our app development, and beginning distribution of several agricultural and industrial products). It will cost us less to give our best customers a great deal than borrow from a bank. We like you better than banks anyway.
Interested? Let's talk.
Comings & Goings
Say hello to Neung (say "Noong" - which means the number one in Thai), our new trainee. We think he is going to be a super star at Purple Dragon. Neung is 33, speaks great English, knows his way around computers, and comes to us with a hotel and customer service background, so we are happy to give him a sitting-down job. Neung is passionate about travel and has already visited most of the place we offer. He spent a few days in Yangon just before he began work last week. I think his souvenir photo is pretty magical.
If you have traveled to Hanoi with us you may have met Tuan, who has worked for us for nearly fifteen years. Tuan lost his mother just a few weeks ago after an extended illness that required many (expensive) hospitalizations.
Tea, our head guide in Phnom Penh lost both of his parents just days apart last week. If you have words of kindness for either or both of them please direct them to me and I will forward them. This has been financially difficult for both of them. Gifts are welcome. I will gladly give you a Paypal account if you ask: firstname.lastname@example.org
What You Had To Say About China
The China poll in our last Newsletter asked you what you thought about China. We had a poll about China in 2012. However, only 31 people participated. This time, nearly 850 of you gave us your opinions. Thank you all! We were prompted to launch this poll because China has mostly become junk business for us. We sell fewer and fewer tours. Our most common China booking is a trip to the Great Wall on a business trip. we are trying to determine whether things in the news are affecting peoples' travel decisions: crackdowns on dissidents, the press and religious institutions, recent events in the South China Sea, disappearing Hong Kong book publishers, and massive capital punishment. Or is it something else? Here's what you told us. All percentages have been rounded to the next whole number.
1. How many times have you visited China?
Two or three times: 29%
Ten or more times: 28%
Only for business: 7%
2. If so, do you have plans to return there? (80% answered)
Not sure: 25%
3. Please tell us the primary reason you have not visited or do not plan to return. (42% answered this question)
China is pretty low on my list: 29%
I am not interested since there are other places i would rather see: 12%
I do not approve of things the Chinese government is doing: 17%
China has become way too expensive: 6%
A combination of factors: 27%
4. Do politics or current events ever play a part in your choice of a holiday destination? (79% answered this question)
It depends on a combination of factors, so there is no easy answer: 26%
5. What might be your reaction to Purple Dragon eliminating China from its offerings? (92% answered this question)
Good for you: 10%
I would "be disappointed by Purple Dragon's choice: 22%
Whoa! I would still like to use Purple Drgon in China: 26%
We encouraged those who participated to leave additional comments. More than half of those who participated included additional comments, so do not have room to publish them all. However, a cross-section of the most representative comments appears below. We also pulled some data from all of the comments. For example, 12.9% of all participants (not all of those who left comments) mentioned "disappeared book-sellers;" 38.7% mentioned "pollution;" 12.9% mentioned something like "hoards of local tourists;" 12% specifically mentioned issues with visas; and, 29% mentioned the "behavior of Chinese people" in a negative context.
None of the results of this poll were a big surprise and our decision about whether to quit China will continue to be decided by those who vote with their credit cards.
"China had not approved or disapproved my Visa after four months and would not say why so I went back to retrieve my passport which they had the whole time. It was a hassle to go to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco and wait for hours."
"I have lived in Mainland China for more than 15 years, but I am planning to leave. While technically speaking the Chinese are reasonably polite to Western tourists, the rest of the world has gotten wise -- the Chinese are FAR more interested in our money than in providing good service, & the entire country is just TOO polluted (in many ways) to be pleasant. Sadly, once foreigners sense how unfriendly the Chinese are to each other, how inappropriately significant even fake appearances are, AND how much they value money, most foreigners are NOT willing to put out the large sums necessary to travel to and within the country. Even in the tourist industry, Chinese people are neither service-oriented NOR service-minded, so tourists' experiences rarely live up to expected international standards. As websites & blogs like yours have grown in popularity, tourists have decided to spend where they get more value AND better service for their money."
"Like Lola-whatever China wants China gets either sit on it and claim it or buy it. The truly unforgiveable is the decimation of Tibet and the demonizing of the Dalai Lama. China will "appoint" the next Dalai Lama who will be a puppet. I cannot support those bullies and true scoundrels."
The Cambodian government is considering (or denying that are considering, depending on who you ask) reopening access from Thailand to Preah Vihear, the magnificent temple complex that sits inches from the Thai border (also depending on who you ask). It is one of the world's great wonders that took 200+ years to build. You may remember that Thailand and Cambodia have disputed ownership of the site several times and that there was recently a shooting war before the UN once again decided who really owned the place. You can be sure that once access from Thailand is restored Purple Dragon will be one of the first to offer an overnight tour there.
In the next newsletter: Choose your favorite beach destination in Thailand! We will ask you to tell us which beach destination in Thailand you love the most and why, and which you do not rate highly, and which you think Purple Dragon should be offering but isn't yet.
Phnom Penh Pride comes in mid-May this year, and we think it would be a fine time to be there. They have lots of parties planned.
Purple Dragon's Nepal plans are back on track due to their speedy recovery from last year's earthquake.
Asia's wild tiger populations have finally reversed course and grown for the first time in a century. We know the perfect place to see tigers, now that Thailand's "Tiger Temple" is a thing of the past.
If China is still on your wish list, United Airlines will begin non-stop service from San Francisco to Xi'an on May 8th using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. On 13 July United begins non-stop service from SFO to Hangzhou, one of the "water cities" near Shanghai. United already serves Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu. These new destinations make it possible to avoid connections in Beijing or Shanghai and also help to eliminate the necessity for multiple domestic flights (which are pretty dreadfu) if you are visiting several places in China.
Americans: The three-month, single entry Vietnam visa is about to be a thing of a past. It will be replaced in May with a twelve-month, multiple-entry visa, thanks to a reciprocity agreement between the Vietnamese and US governments. Douglas is ecstatic. "Now I can go buy coffee any time I run out!" he told me.
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