Industry Insiders: Joe Poulin, President & CEO of Luxury Retreats

Originally operated out of founder Joe Poulin’s bedroom in 1999, Luxury Retreats has become one of the largest villa rental specialists in the world. The secret: “We only do what’s in the best interest of our guests,” Poulin says. “That is how you build a consumer brand, by listening to your guests and clients and responding with the right product experience.” Such experiences include staying in villas on the shores of Hawaii, cliffs of Santorini, and coconut plantations in Thailand.

Born in Montreal and an entrepreneur since the age of 11, Poulin manages his 150 employees and his properties intensely but fairly, expecting the best from his staff, and testing every villa under a more than 700-point inspection that it must pass – no exceptions. “The integrity of our name is our single greatest asset,” Poulin says. “Just be honest and transparent; you can never go wrong.”

Anantara, Angsana, Andara, Oh My! Our Guide To The Tongue-Twisting Thai Resort World

When we heard the news that Banyan Tree had officially opened a new resort yesterday call Angsana in Phuket, our first thought was, “Yes! Another gorgeous, warm, exotic-yet-comfy property in the Banyan Tree family!” We literally thought those exact words. Our second thought was “Isn’t there already a resort in Phuket with that name?” (Because these are the questions that keep us up at night.) The answer, as it turns out, is no. But anyone who’s tried to book a beach getaway to Thailand knows there’s a good reason for such confusion. Here’s our quick-reference guide to what makes Thailand’s high-end resorts unique.

Located on Bang Tao Beach, Angsana is a $30 million renovation of the former Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket, a part of the Laguna Phuket complex of five luxury hotels set on 600 acres of parkland, with three kilometers of pristine beach spread over six lagoons, and an outstanding array of recreational and dining facilities. It’s constructed in a modern style with hints of traditional Thai architecture, like steeply arched roofs and small canals and waterways throughout the property. We love the brightly colored accents in the décor, which bring the vivid colors of the nature outside into the pristine rooms. There’s an emphasis on teaching sustainability, both in the hotel’s management practices and in experiental learning, like interacting with the property’s two baby elephants, Lucky and Joey. With 409 rooms and suites, four restaurants, and Xana–the resort’s beach club which is yet to open–there’s a lot going on here, so we’re eager to see where this property finds its niche.

Anantara’s 83 villas enjoy prime real estate on Mai Khao beach on the northwest coast, near the Sirinath Marine National Park, which keeps development to a minimum. The Anantara Hotel Group specializes in the Asia-Pacific region, based out of Bangkok, and this is definitely the place to make the most of the islands, with a busy itinerary of activities on the resort, ranging from tennis to cooking classes, and numerous excursions for everything from visiting a gibbon rescue, to an elephant trek, to snorkeling and diving the Similan Islands. And definitely make sure to check out the open-air spa—you’ll need one of their ultra-relaxing signature Thai massages to wind down from your busy day.

With just 26 villas and 37 suites built into the hillside overlooking Kamala Beach, it’s tempting to hide out in Andara’s plushly appointed rooms and play house with the high-end appliances, punctuated by trips to the pool (a social gathering place for the resort). The restaurant, Silk, serves elegantly presented Thai classics to a mix of hotel guests and locals. Force yourself  to hop the shuttle down to the hotel’s private club at the public beach, or to nearby Patong Beach, a major party destination for travelers to Thailand. After all, you need to reach the water in order to access the hotel’s two best accessories—a pair of 92 and 115-foot yachts available for everything from multi-day cruises around the islands, to catered scuba-diving daytrips.

It will come as no surprise to fans of the Aman brand of resorts (and they do tend to be ardent fans) when we say that the traditionally-constructed Amanpuri, on the west coast’s Pansea Beach, is all about relaxation. Unwind here with visits to local festivals and temples, daily yoga and meditation sessions on the hillside, and trips to the teak-lined but airy spa (Aman’s first full service spa, where they developed many of their signatures). Or try it the Western way with a sunset drink on the bar’s beachfront terrace and attentive service, including spa treatments, in your spacious, traditionally appointed rooms.

Oops! Top Google Accidents of the Week

Google, the clumsy little family run company who’s unofficial motto is “Don’t get caught being evil,” says it’s been accidentally spying on you by accidentally cruising around the streets in high tech data gathering trucks on the prowl for open WiFi networks. Luckily for all involved, it was just an accident – that happens to coincide with their core business model of legally spying on people. Phew! In honor of Sergey Brin, let’s look at some other crazy accidents in the news this week.

Thai soldiers used real live bullets to mistakenly kill anti-government red shirt protesters in Bangkok, as well as an Italian journo covering the conflict.

Lindsay Lohan accidentally missed a court date in the US because she was stuck doing missionary work in the impoverished French village of Cannes.

A male escort from rentboy.com accidentally fell on the dick of a renowned anti-gay activist while carrying his luggage up to his balls. room.

Tour de France hero Lance Armstrong’s former teammate Floyd Landis swears he saw Armstrong accidentally getting blood transfusions in the back of a truck when he won the Tour in 2004.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, running for Christopher Dodd’s Senate seat, accidentally “misspoke” about serving in Vietnam. The random accidents occurred with increasing frequency as he ran for political office.

Actor Shia LaBeouf now admits he and others accidentally fucked up the Indiana Jones movies.

BP accidentally fucked up the entire ocean.

In Jamaica, a gentleman by the name of Orville Richard Burrell was once again apprehended shagging on the sofa, in the shower as well as on camera – then proclaimed his innocence via an undeniably catchy tune.

Monks For Dummies

As you may know, you can get ordained online, making you a minister in a matter of hours. This way you can officiate drunken shotgun weddings anytime you want! For those of you who want a little more gravitas behind their religiosity though, now you can become a Monk, in just a month. Monk for a Month offers two-to-four week intensive programs in Northern Thailand, where you go in as a mere man and come out as a (novice) monk. Note, you will be sans all facial and head hair should you take this route. Yes, even your eyebrows will have to go. During your month’s stay, you’ll have to follow a bunch of rules and get up before dawn to meditate. You might also get the chance to teach English to other monks, take some sightseeing trips and meditate in the forest. Just so you know what you’re getting into, here’s a primer to the official Monk-in-residence rules:

1. Refrain from killing. Eating meat is OK, killing anything is not. 2. Refrain from stealing. 3. Refrain from sexual misconduct. No sexual activity is allowed at the temple.. 4. Refrain from false speech. 5. Refrain from intoxicants. No drugs or alcohol.

Those are the basics. Once you’ve got the hang of those, they’ll lay these on you:

6. Refrain from eating at after noon. Two meals per day, breakfast in the morning and then lunch at 11:30. 7. Refrain from making music, attending performances 8. Refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and decorative accessories. 8. Abstain from luxurious chairs and beds.

And finally, if you’re going FTW:

10. Refrain from handling money.

One final note: like it goes in many religions, women are still considered inferior, so if you’re not packing a wang, you won’t be able to be ordained. Participate yes, graduate, no.

Bizarre Laws Worldwide

image If you’re going to take advantage of the multitudes of deals going on to get the hell out of dodge, you might want to take a look at some of the more bizarre laws that are in effect (or at least on the books) in foreign countries. Take note, or you might have to pay up.

Venice: It used to be that the pigeons were the main attraction in St. Marks. You could buy a bag of pigeon feed and watch the birds flock and swarm people with the food. Now, in an attempt to keep the square clean and safe, it is illegal to feed the birds. All of the pigeon feed vendors were shut down and fines are now handed out to anyone violating the no feed rule. Don’t try it, it’ll cost you upwards of $600.

Germany: It is illegal to run out of gas on the Autobahn. So don’t do it. You’ll get dinged once for running out of gas, once for stopping on the Autobahn, and once for walking on the Autobahn, all at $100 a pop.

United Arab Emirates: You cannot eat in public during the holy month of Ramadan. Also, PDA is illegal as well, you can even get busted for being a car with tinted windows with a member of the opposite gender. Fines run about $275 for the eating in public, and several months jail time for PDA.

Thailand: Keep your shirt on. No driving without a shirt or else they’ll fine you about $10.

Canada: Paying for something over $10 in coins is grounds for the shopkeeper to not sell the item to you, so keep the metal to a minimum and pay with paper (or plastic) instead.

England: No long goodbyes outside the trains in Warrington Bank Quay. They’ve posted “No Kissing” signs in the train station, and will direct you to the “kissing zone” located in the parking lot if you start to make out in the wrong place.

Moscow: It is illegal to have a dirty car, which is open to interpretation from the ticket-giver, so if you get pulled over for this offense, it’s best to offer up some cash in the $100 range and you’ll be on your way (to the car wash).

Grenada: In an attempt to teach visiting cruise guests some manners, the city is making it illegal to stroll around in your bathing suit while in town. It’ll cost you $270 per offense, but the tourism board reports that this is one of those laws that doesn’t get much play.

Denmark: Turn your car lights on. It’s illegal to drive without them on, even during the daylight hours. This law might get adopted by the rest of the EU, so get used to it, or pay $100 per offense.

Singapore: Pretty much, don’t do anything gross. Don’t feed birds. Don’t spit. Don’t chew gum. Or sell gum. Or leave a toilet unflushed. Fines are $100 each.