The newsletter of PurpleDragon Ltd's private travel club.
October 2018 - Our 20th Anniversary Issue!
Same Sex Marriage in Asia Revisited
In our May 2014 issue of Bulletin from Bangkok we wondered out loud which country in our part of the world would be first to legalize same sex marriage. In fact we took a poll that allowed readers to tell us which they thought would be first, and offered a $100 gift certificate to be given away in a random drawing of those who forecast the future accurately. We have kept all of those entries for more than four years since there are still no winners.
In 2014 we wrote: "Cambodia's late King Norodom Sihanouk wrote in his personal blog that it was about time for same sex couples to be welcomed legally. The Vietnamese government is set to discuss amendments to the country's marriage law soon with the next few months. A recent English language newspaper carried a story about changing attitudes in that country, and shared results of a recent poll that determined that more than a third of the population supported marriage rights. Saigon has a very open and vocal gay community that has staged a number of public 'weddings' in the past." We also thought chances were "mighty slim" that Thailand's junta would make any kind of progress in that direction.
Nearly four and a half years have passed. So where does this leave us?
Cambodia: LGBTQ groups and human rights activists have been pushing for legalized marriage for quite some time. The Hun Sen government has other things on its mind. So we were surprised on 30 September by a story on Cambodia's VayoFM Radio website that announced the following (in Khmer): "His Excellency Keo Remy (Secretary of State at the Office of the Council of Ministers) is on his way to have the same sex marriage law. This has been our concern for seven years and we did have an organization to help gay people and make sure that everyone in the country is treated equally. In fact, last year Cambodia hosted (an LGBTQ rights conference attended by representatives of 30 different countries) and now surely we can see that in Cambodia there little social or religious objecting to being gay .
"The only concern is those parents who still keep the traditional mindset that they want their children to produce the next generation. So firstly we are going to advertise about this law and to make sure that it's absorbed by the whole of society first, then we are going to announce and tell the world."
That is indeed a hopeful sign, but gay Cambodians are still waiting. Speculation is that they are going to drag this matter out until the next election. (They just had one, so that means five years hence.) Could the Hun Sen government be dragging their collective feet for political reasons?
Vietnam has, by far, the most liberal social attitudes towards homosexuality and same sex couples in Asia. Nevertheless, their government has made no moves to legalize marriages. There was a change in government in 2014 and from an administration with a contemporary world view that made massive changes the country's economy and individual rights, to one that is decidedly more conservative.
Thailand: Although the overwhelming favorite in our poll, Thailand has hovered near the bottom of our list since 2014, so we were very shocked indeed to read that the generals running our lovely Junta plan to legalize same sex unions before the February 2019 elections that have been rescheduled to March and, most recently to May. (Or are they back on for February? Who knows, really?) While "marriage" is being bandied about, it will more likely be a "registration" of civil partnerships that may--or may--not lead to bona fide marriages. It is not yet clear what rights registrants will have. Activists are decrying this "interim" plan as inadequate.
Nepal legalized homosexuality in 2007 and made world headlines in 2015 by changing its constitution recognize that LGTBQ people enjoy certain rights, including the right identify themselves as a third sex. We would not have been the least bit surprised if Nepal turned out to be the winner, but no cigar, yet.
Bhutan, the little country that invented "Gross National Happiness," just held its third-ever general election. (The 4th king "retired" a few years ago and a democracy was established. His son, the fifth king, a.k.a. "K5" is hard at work an K6 is walking on his own now.) Quite a few LGBTQ Bhutanese are coming out these days. Douglas has an astonishing number of gay and trans Bhutanese friends on Facebook and has been mentoring a small group of activists there. If the next government is more liberal than the last, same sex marriage could be a reality there within five years. We have seen people at the ministry level intervene in support of LGBTQ issues and Buddhist leadership has shown its to be supportive. They, too, could be a surprise winner.
Taiwan: Absolutely nobody chose Taiwan in our 2014 poll. Yet, the island nation potentially stands the best chance of being first. In May 2017, Taiwan's constitutional court struck down the legal definition of marriage "between a man and a woman" as unconstitutional. The court gave the government two years to enact legislation that would allow same sex marriages. So far, that has not happened. While public opinion seems almost overwhelmingly supportive, two conservative/ Christian (yep, even in Tiawan) opposition groups have been successful at putting anti-gay referendums on the ballot. With just seven months of the two year deadline remaining, groups like Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan are pushing back against lawmakers. Ultimately, following a clumsy referendum in Novemberr, all hope of marriage equality in Taiwan appears to be impossible now.
Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea: Sadly, probably not in our lifetimes.
So where does that leave us political pawns who have waited so patiently? Maybe India will win this peculiar lottery. They are full of surprises.
Americans: Purple Dragon Wants You to Vote in November
We do not want anyone in our community to miss voting in the November midterm election, so we are offering incentives for anyone who does. US citizens who vote in November can get a 10% discount on one or more Purple Dragon tours. Anyone 35 or younger at the time (millennials historically have poor voting habits) gets a 15% discount. Anyone can get an extra 2% by sharing our "Vote!" page on social media. All you have to do is click/tap the Share button on that page.
We do not care how you vote, who you vote for, or how many times you vote. All we need is proof that you voted. There is no cost to participate and you do not need to be a Club Sanook customer, but there are some rules. To learn more just read this: https://www.purpledrag.com/vote.htm
If you are not a US voter you can't participate, but you can get the 2% discount if you share our Vote page on social media. Just send an email to [email protected] and tell him where to find your Facebook or Twitter page.
Postcards from Myanmar
Purple Dragon guests have been descending on Myanmar recently and have sent us "post cards!"
Jeff and Mark, our most-frequent travelers, chose Myanmar for their 28th trip with us. Jeff is one of the most outstanding photographers we know. This was their second trip to Myanmar. (Their first was in 2009, and quite a few things have changed since then. This time they visited just Mandalay and Inle Lake. Jeff was overwhelmed by the many photo ops on the lake. The top photo is his. He shot this one with his phone just before they climbed into a boat on their hotels' dock. The second is a temple in Ava (a.k.a. Amarapura). They wrote this about their trip:
Mark and I just returned from Myanmar (Burma) and we had a fantastic trip!
We were last there nine years ago with Purple Dragon, at a time when the country was still under repressive rule but had high hopes for the future. Shortly after that visit, there was a transition in government which brought a surge in tourism. On our recent visit we found that once again tourism was significantly slow as the world fears more dark days ahead for the country. We chose to visit, not in support of the government or their actions, but in support of the wonderful people there who make their living by tourism. Just as on our first trip, we encountered nothing but gracious, kind people who welcomed us with open arms, and proudly helped us get to know their amazing part of the world even better. Our guides and drivers made us feel that we were visiting with friends, as is always the case when traveling with Purple Dragon!
We started our visit in Mandalay, with all of its historical charm. There is a building boom there, but history remains as vibrant as ever. We visited the sites of centuries old royal cities, and learned of the cultures who built them. From the ancient city of Awa, visited by horse cart, to the enormous unfinished stuppa at Mingon by long tailed boat, there were jaw dropping sights and adventure at every turn.
Next we journeyed to Inle Lake, an upland lake in the center of the country. We had never been here before, but we will absolutely return! I have rarely been surrounded by such unsurpassed beauty. It is truly a photographer's paradise. The giant lake has shaped the culture of the people living on its shores as well as those who actually live on the lake. We stayed in a "floating hotel" which was built on pilings in the lake. It helped us better understand the people there who rarely step onto dry land. The sunsets were breathtaking!
Myanmar is an incredible place, with people who have weathered harsh times, but who remain optimistic and welcoming. Once you visit, you will want to return as we plan to do!
Eric and Philip have traveled with Purple Dragon to Cambodia, India and Bhutan. They chose Myanmar for their honeymoon. They were married just one week before they departed. As of the date we are publishing this newsletter, they are not yet half way through their trip.
Like most first-time visitors, Eric and Philip are visiting Yangon, Bagan, Mandaly and Inle Lake. As you can see, they have already visited Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and experienced a hot air balloon flight over Bagan, which But they most wanted to include a couple of festivals, one of which are a bit off the beaten track. From Mandalay they will travel by car and train to Hsipaw so they can experience the Hsipaw Pagoda Festival, which happens just one day a year. From there, they continue to Inle Lake, for the final day of the Phaung Daw U Festival, which includes a spectacular parade of ornate boats. (See the video below).
After a couple of days in Inle Lake they will take a "slow" train, one that tourists seldom experience, through rural valleys and villages to Kalaw, a former British Hill Station town filled with colonial architecture. The trip takes about six hours and is the only major transportation in the area, so it makes makes multiple stops and offers abundant slice-of-life photo opportunities.
Their final stop is Pindaya, a town surrounded by tea plantations. Pindaya is famous for its nearby cave complex, which is filled with thousands of Buddha statues. From there they continue to Yagon for a night.
It was a real privilege for us to design Eric and Philip's honeymoon. Douglas had a lot of fun with this somewhat-demanding itinerary. He loves challenges like this. We hope they get showered with a bit of rice somewhere along the way.
You can see many more photos on Eric's Facebook page. We're enjoying them quite a bit so far.
A New and "Undiscovered" Island You Won't Want to Visit
Take a trip to the glamorous Maldives, playground of the wealthy, who enjoy glamorous islets and reefs surrounded by pristine water.
Phuket is setting an example we hope will be followed by other resort islands. The Phuket Hotels Association has convinced major retailers to replace the plastic bags they normally give way with paper. Residents who cannot afford them will get reusable bags free.
This is a terrific first step, but there are several more steps we would love to see: abolish drinking straws and single-use water bottles. More straws end up in the ocean every year than plastic bags. Reusable water containers are very inexpensive. Tourism contributes more than a million empty water bottles to the world's trashevery day.
Central Group, one of Thailand's biggest retailers, is taking bows for switching to paper/reusable bags at their department stores and supermarkets on Phuket. But elsewhere in Thailand, they are among the country's biggest plastic polluters. (SevenEleven is probably worse.) This may slowly change. Supermarkets in most of their department stores/malls in Bangkok now have a paper bag day once a week.
As you probably know we celebrated our 20th anniversary in August. If you did not read our anniversary newsletter click on the image on the right. We are offering some special deals especially for Club Sanook Members through November 2018:
⋆ Travel with Purple Dragon for 20+ consecutive days between November 2018 and July 2019 and you will get a voucher for 20% off your next trip.
⋆ Enjoy an extended Bhutan tour (14+ nights) and take 12% off Bhutan, or 15% off the total if you also add 5+ nights in India and/or Sri Lanka.
⋆ Test drive our new Sri Lanka tours. Travel for nine or more days and take a 10% discount.
⋆ Combine three of our packages in Vietnam and get 10% off the total.
⋆ Travel 14+ nights in Myanmar and get 10% off the total.
⋆ Travel 12+ nights in Thailand or Vietnam and get 10% off the total.
Rules: You must be a Club Sanook Member and travel from between November 2018 through September 2019. Make a 25% deposit by 30 November 2018. You can guess about your travel dates if necessary--you can change dates later up to 45 days in advance, although new dates will be subject to availability. Good for bookings made 01 October 2018 and later. Deposits are not refundable. Final balance is due 45 days before travel begins. Airfares, hotel-only bookings, or sightseeing-only bookings are not subject to discounts. These offers cannot be combined with other discounts or gift certificates and do not apply to anything that flies. All of our other standard Terms & Conditions apply. Vouchers for future travel cannot be applied to Bhutan travel, but we'll you 10% off instead, or 12% for 14+ nights.
⋆ Take $500 off a Ruby Membership or $300 off a Sapphire Membership if you upgrade before 30 November 2018. We are offering a maximum of three Ruby and three Sapphire Memberships at this price. If you have traveled with us in the past you probably also have an additional discount available at $.05 for ever dollars you spent on Purple Dragon tours in the past. Ask me how much we have set aside for you. More than 450 of our Members have at least 10,000 points that can be used. Maybe you are one of them.
A Career Reboot, a Festival and a Unique Place to Stay in Inle Lake
For something like fifteen years Daniel See managed Purple Dragon's business on Phuket, while he was also managing Club One Seven, the island's first hotel exclusively for gay men. We still remember Club One Seven's original location facing the "gay beach," particularly the day it was destroyed by the infamous tsunami. Daniel, most of his staff and four Purple Dragon guests lived to tell about the tsunami because they took refuge on the hotel's roof just in time.
Daniel recently made a significant career change. He realized that it was time to move on from Phuket, and resettled in an idyllic village-on-stilts on Myanmar's Inle Lake. And Weaver's Boutique Homestay was born in an Inthar heritage house on stilts located in Inn Paw Khon village. Like most villages on Inle Lake, Inn Pew Khon specializes in a single handicraft. Theirs is the hand-weaving of lotus, cotton and silk.
Weaver's Boutique Homestay is more than just a tourist accommodation, it is based on the concept of community homestay tourism. It's an affordable accommodation alternative, ideal for independent leisure travelers of all ages, and anyone seeking genuine and honest travel experience. They offe a homely atmosphere a great selection of home-style meals with local fresh produce, space for conversing with other guests, and a staff with the local knowledge of attractions and activities of Inle lake. Unlike most major resorts that are isolated from each other, Weaver's is built in a village that gives insights into real life on the lake.
Daniel has many years experience as a hotel manager. One thing we are sure of is Daniel's dedication to quality hospitality with touches of decor that straight decorators never seem to master. Weaver's is not for backpackers, it's for visitors who want an economical, authentic stay on Inle Lake where they can enjoy the company of like-minded travelers. If this sounds like a good fit for you, we are happy to put you in Weaver's Boutique Homestay for your stay in Inle Lake when you explore Myanmar with Purple Dragon.
Daniel sent us a great video from an 18 day festival that tours villages around Inle Lake. You have probably never seen anything like it.
Our "Forgotten" Destinations: Southern Laos
Every so often we remind you about a destination in our portfolio that does not get as many visitors as we hope there would be. This month, it's Southern Laos.
Aside from Luang Prabang and, to a lesser extent Vientiane, Laos does not attract the volume of visitors that neighboring Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar do. The southern part of the country is the sleepiest, but one of the most magical and a fantastic choice for visitors who want to experience places few tourists visit that are filled with history and natural beauty.
Pakse, the biggest town in the region, can hardly be called a city. However, it has a number of hotels, an international airport and the best pho outside of Vietnam. Pakse is normally the beginning and ending place for explorations of Southern Laos. There are flights to and from Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Bangkok and Siem Reap, so it is somewhat easy to fit into a longer regional itinerary.
Champasak is the biggest attraction near Pakse and the starting (or ending) place for a two night cruise of the Southern Mekong. Fourteen hundred years ago, Champasak was an outpost of the Khmer Empire--the same empire that built Angkor Wat. What remains in Champasak is Vat Phou, an impressive archaeological park filled with buildings from that time, including some imposing religious structures. The town itself is quaint and laid back.
The upstream makes two overnight stops in landlocked villages, where you can get a taste for local life. The boat has expansive upper decks where you can totally relax and watch the lush scenery slip by, returning distant waves from small boats and people on land. All cabins are en suite and meals aboard are included, of course.
The cruise ends near the border with Cambodia. Boats can navigate only as far as the border, where a massive Don Khone Waterfalls block the way. You reach the waterfalls by small boat from the town of Don Det through the "4,000Islands." There really aren't 4,000 islands, but huge pieces of tangled greenery floating on the river make it seem so.
Following the cruise we take you to the Bolaven Plateau, the crater of an ancient extinct volcano. The altitude there is perfect for coffee growing. You'll see coffee plantations (and spend one or two nights at one), and see several spectacular waterfalls as well as villages and plenty of elephants along the way. What you will not see is a lot of tourists.
If you do not have time for a cruise (or want to economize) we can still take you from Pakse to Champasak, Vat Phou, Don Det, the 4,000 Islands and Don Khone Waterfalls, then back to Paro for your departure flight. Because flight schedules are erratic you might need to spend a night in Pase at the end. If you're really rugged, there is a bus late every afternoon from Pakse to Uban Rachathani, across the Thai border.
You can read more about Southern Laos on the Purple Dragon website HERE.
Please Welcome our Newest Family Members
We want to thank Julian L., James F., Barry S., Kevin H., Matt D., Peter H., and Tom R. for believing in Purple Dragon. They are our newest shareholders, and we welcome them to our family. They are helping us in multiple ways to grow. If you would like receive a prospectus and learn how investors also get great travel benefits, just go here.
♥ Asia's Most Tasteless Hotel Room. That award goes to a short-term hotel in Nonthaburi, a suburb of Bangkok. In case you don't know, a "short term" room is rented by the hour, and typically not for napping. Some such establishments in Thailand hide the vehicles of guests behind giant curtains, which occasions the term "curtain hotel" for the same kind of hostelry. Anyway, this room has 40 different rooms, each with a different decor. The one getting the most attention is the "Hitler Room," which is decorated with festive Nazi decor.
♥ Juthamas Siriwan Sentenced to 50 years. We like this story so much we think we might keep repeating it until Juthamas gets out of jail. The former director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand has been sentenced to fifty years in prison for her part in a corrupt contract-awarding deal for a film festival. Juthamas presided over Tourism Authority of Thailand when it participated in raids of our offices and the phony prosecution and deportation of two directors of what was then Utopia Tours. (Story Here*) Hope you enjoy the food and the ambiance, Juthamas. We would love to send John Howard to keep you company.
♥ Thailand Invests in its Future. Blumberg has published a story about things going on in the Thai economy, the tech industry, and manufacturing. If you read the fine print you'll see that it is sponsored by the Thai Board of Investment. Nonetheless, it's very informative, convincing and probably mostly true. Read Blumberg.
♥ Bangkok in the Top 10. WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council) have named this year's top 72 cities in the world in terms of job creation and contribution to GDP. Bangkok appears 7th from the top this year. The top spot went to Shanghai.
♥ Ryanair blew it when they failed to eject a passenger who launched into a racist verbal assault of the elderly woman in the aisle seat in his row. The aircraft was still boarding before its flight from Barcelona to London. We would rather not use any airline that tolerated this kind of behavior. Several YouTube videos have been viewed more than one million times each.
♥ Air Italy has begun service between Milan and Bangkok on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, allowing connections from New York, Miami, Havana, London, Madrid, Cairo and several points in Russia and Africa.
♥ Pink India Tourism Blooms. Since India's Supreme Court overturned laws that criminalized homosexuality, business is booming there. It's not just tourism. The kinds of shops, hotels, bars and service businesses that you are used to at home are beginning to appear at an astonishing rate as LGBTQ entrepreneurs are coming out of the closet. If you haven't visited India yet, the time has come to enjoy one of the most profound travel experiences of your life. Purple Dragon has been offering india for about 15 years so far.
♥ Boom Supersonic, an American start-up company headed by an Amazon alumnus, has ambitious plans to revive faster-than-sound commercial air travel. Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Japan Airlines have invested substantially in their project. "Baby Boom," the company's first aircraft, is expected to make its first flight in 2019. That's just next year, not 2040, so if you missed out on the Concorde about fifty years ago, you still have a chance to cross the Atlantic for the price of other airlines' business class seats, before you are too old to enjoy it. A single accident ended all Concorde flights in 2002. Once in commercial operation the flight from Los Angeles or London or San Francisco to Tokyo about half the time (or less) as currently-operating aircraft at mach 2.2. Boeing is currently working on a "hypersonic" aircraft that will travel at mach 5.
♥ Thailand's government has decided that winter will begin officially on Saturday, October 27th and has decreed that precipitation will come to an end. This is also the official beginning of high season for us. Temperatures are in the low 30s (mid eighties farenheit) but dip down to the low twenties (upper sixties Fahrenheit). Thai people bring out their douvets, turtleneck sweaters and down parkas. I Googled "Skiing in Thailand," and only found plans for indoor slopes on Koh Samui.
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