October/November 2009

Yes, We're Still Here

We have not published a newsletter since May, which has prompted several of our Members to send us worried emails. We're OK and we have not succumbed to the world's financial melt-down. Actually, we are doing better than most, thanks to our loyal customers. We have been so unbelievably busy that we have not had much time for the things we like to do the most, like this newsletter. Douglas has not had time to blog since July. Our office is short of staff, but we are about to hire Mr. Perfect to take control of our empty desk. Quite a bit of time has been going into developing new things to entice our customers, as well as a major overhaul of the Purple Dragon website. If you have not seen our newer, fresher look, please take a moment to look around: www.purpledrag.com

India "Comes Out"

In our last newsletter we wrote about the Pride event that was about to happen in New Delhi. Quite amazingly, there were ultimately scores of such events throughout the country, even in small towns. Sujit B. on our Delhi team snapped this photo for us to share with you. Pride in Delhi

Not long afterwards the New Delhi High Court ruled that laws that criminalized homosexuality were discriminatory and a violation of fundamental rights under the constitution. The British colonial-era law had called for a ten year jail sentence for guys caught doing naughty things with each other. Police in some cities have used such laws to harass local gays and close gay gathering places. The court's ruling is effective only in Delhi. However, other provincial high courts are expected to follow suit.

Gay activists are predictably jubilant and Indian Christians and Moslems are predictably outraged. Discussing homosexuality has long been taboo in India. Even though these antediluvian laws have rarely resulted in prosecutions over the last two decades, striking them down has brought the "G" word into dinner table conversations across India. As Martha would say, "It's a good thing."

Fan Mail of the Month: Jeff & Mark Loved Myanmar

We have traveled extensively in Southeast Asia with Purple Dragon and have always had wonderful experiences.  Myanmar was a place that we wanted to visit, but we were concerned about the political unrest that Mark & Jeffwe heard so much about in the American media.  Douglas reassured us that Myanmar was safe to visit, that we would be welcomed, and that we would love what we saw.  He couldn't have been more correct on all counts!
 
Myanmar is a fascinating country, much less Westernized than many of the other countries in the region.  It has a long and proud history all its own.  We felt that we were privileged with a glimpse of authentic Southeast Asia that has been somewhat lost in neighboring countries. 
 
We visited Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay over the course of a week.  Despite the distinctly different "personalities" of each city, we consistently felt welcome and were amazed by the rich culture and incredible sights that we were shown.  From the opulence of Swedagon Pogoda in Yangon, to the mystical temples of Bagan, to the royal charm of Mandalay, we were captivated.  Thanks to our outstanding guides we gained far more than the typical tourists' appreciation for all of these magical places.
 
This was a fantastic trip that we will never forget.  I am so thankful that we had this opportunity to experience such a unique part of the world!
 

Jeff Wood & Mark Abate
San Francisco
 

A More Civilized Songkran in Luang Prabang

Jason took this photo and we love it!Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar all celebrate their own New Year festivals at the height of the warmest, driest time of the year. Thais and Lao call their New Year "Songkran," which could also be translated as "let's all get wet."

Although drunken hooligans prowling the streets with high powered water guns has spoiled the holiday in much of Thailand, Songkran in Luang Prabang remains more traditional. Those who want to stay soaking wet for a few days find ways to do that. Most people enjoy colorful parades, special markets, beauty contests and the chance to sculpt chedis out of sand. The atmosphere is quite festive. People either dress up or stay shirtless, and the flow of beer and local whiskey seems to put folks in a very agreeable frame of mind.

If you are interested in experiencing Songkran in Luang Prabang in 2010, please consider joining the small group we are putting together. We depart Bangkok on 14 April 2010 and return on the 18th. (You can go earlier or stay longer if you like.) Although we have planned some fun activities, we are leaving plenty of time for everyone to enjoy LP on their own. If you are would like details, please click here.

Been There, Done That

With increasing regularity people come into our office and announce that they have "already visited Bangkok three times and there is noting left to see." Believe it or not there is more to the Big Mango than the Grand Palace, the Weekend Market and Babylon. Sure, there are places like Jim Thompson's House, Vimarnmek Mansion and Wat Po that are well-trampled by tourists. However, there is plenty more if you scratch below the surface. In every edition of Bulletin from Bangkok we offer a few suggestions and will eventually publish the compiled list on our website. This bag is real

The Museum of Counterfeit Goods. Some Asian countries are famous for fake watches, pirated movies and software, knock-off handbags and phony Raybans. Counterfeiters are also making everything from perfume to door knobs and (gasp!) Mrs. Fields' cookies. While there are laws in Thailand to protect intellectual property, just walk down any major street in Bangkok and you will see that the laws are rarely enforced. The law firm of Tilleke & Gibbins, which represents a number of harmed parties in the war against counterfeiting, maintains an intriguing museum that displays the fake stuff side by side with the genuine goods. You can visit Monday through Friday from 08:00 to 17:00 on the 26th floor of Supalai Grand Tower on Rama 3 Road. 02-653-5555.

Wat Benjamabophit is off the tourist radar, but well worth a visit since it is so different from most of the other temples you are likely to visit in Bangkok. Constructed of pure white Carrara marble, it is the most modern and most beautiful of Bangkok's temples under royal patronage. The interior is heavily influenced by European architecture. The ceiling, in particular, is very different from what you would expect in a Buddhist temple. The cloisters are home to about fifty bronze Buddha images. You will find Wat Benjamabophit on Si Ayutthaya Road, directly across form Chitralada Palace, the royal residence

Mae Glong ("deflowered umbrella") Market is in Samut Songkram, about an hour from Bangkok. It is nicknamed the "dare devil market" because vendors set up shop on the railroad tracks. They do a brisk business in vegetables, wicker baskets and umbrellas until a train approaches. Somehow the entire market instantly disappears until the train passes, and reappears almost magically. Only in Thailand. You can get there on public transportation for about ten baht.

Disease du Jour: Need a New Liver? Grow Your Own

Thailand takes medicine very seriously, thanks to a royal heritage of public health and nursing. Thai hospitals normally have the newest, most advanced equipment before most hospitals in the U.S. or Europe.  So it is no wonder that Thailand is also in the forefront of medical technology. In the area of stem cell therapy the Kingdom is well ahead of most of the rest of the world.

Stem cells are produced by the body to replace other cells that die. They are unique in that they can transform themselves into practically any other kind of cell. In the U.S. there has been quite a bit of political disagreement about stem cell research using tissue from the unborn. What many people do not understand is that healthy human beings produce their own stem cells every day.

Several hospitals here have already begun to offer stem cell therapies. Stem cells are isolated in a patient's blood and cultivated in a laboratory to produce them in enormous quantities, which are then injected into tissue that needs regeneration. Initially there were great successes with diabetic leg and foot wounds that refused to heal. However, the technology has advanced beyond that to include spinal injuries, heart disease, and diseases of the eye. One quadriplegic treated with injections of his own stem cells is now walking again. And yes, some patients have had good luck recovering from baldness. We have been told that none of the patients treated have suffered from any negative side effects of treatment.

None of this exists yet in the West because lengthy clinical trials are required by government regulations. People with critical life-threatening illnesses have little to lose so they really do not care whether or not laboratory rats have survived treatment with their own stem cells. They are coming here in increasing numbers for treatments that are probably illegal back home.

If you think you might be a candidate for stem cell therapy (or know someone else who might be), we are happy to make referrals to hospitals that offer this option. Email: concierge@purpledrag.com

DarikaDarika Answers Your Questions About Travel, Too

Miss Fu's best friend, Darika Watchalottaporn, is a celebrity here in Bangkok. Although she is not seen in public as often as she used to be, she still dispenses advice on her website: www.askdarika.com. We have asked her to answer travel-related questions from our Members and we will share these with you from time to time. We invite you to send her your own questions. Recently she received these:

"I am planning a trip to Thailand next year.  I understand that a health certificate is required, stating that I have no communicable disease.  Of course, HIV is communicable if precautions are not taken.  I hope that this will not prevent me from entering Thailand."

Where did you hear such a thing? If you are covered with KS lesions and walk through immigration with a bottle of oxygen you may be questioned.  Major airports in the region are are using temperature sensors to identify arriving passengers with elevated body temperatures. They are trying to identify people who might be infected with the H1N1 influenza virus.

After checking around I cannot find any country in our part of the world that requires a medical certificate to enter. Even China has removed HIV from its list of forbidden diseases, so I seriously doubt entering Thailand will be a problem.

"My partner and I have been planning a trip to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. However, we are concerned about the swine flu epidemic. The media here in the UK are making Asia appear dangerous. This little piggy does not want to stay home this winter. What do you think?"

Visitors have little to fear from H1N1 in Thailand, little piggy. We learned plenty from SARS, Avian Flu and SLOPS. Thai people are meticulously clean so they wash hands often. Most major condominium and office buildings display anti-H1N1 posters and even have bottles of alcohol hand wash in the lobbies. Chances are, H1N1 is a bigger problem where you live than it is here. So come, have fun, but wash your hands often, please

Love, Darika

From the Trivia Basket

Bangkok Airways has lost its rights to fly between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Cambodia's new national carrier Cambodia Angkor Air (which is actually Vietnam Airlines in disguise) has replaced PG with four round trips daily.

The British government must be pretty desperate for cash. They have been taxing Brits who travel abroad for years but have recently increased the taxes to rediculous levels. We think this is pretty outrageous (particularly since some of the parliamentarians who passed this law have pockets full of government money they are refusing to return.) Quite a few Brits think it is outrageous too. If you are one of them there are petitions you can sign. Or you could vote the scoundrels out of office.

This year's Hong Kong Lesbian & Gay Film Festival will take place from 20 November through 1 November. It's the biggest queer filmfest in Asia. Contact us if you are interested in attending and want details.

Some people love to complain that Purple Dragon's  prices are too high. One frequent complainer brought our attention to another gay company's fifteen-day gay group tour through India at a cost of US$3,495 per person on a twin-sharing basis. We sent the same itinerary to our crew in Delhi and asked them for a price quote. As it turns out, we could offer exactly the same tour with private cars, drivers and guides throughout for $3,150 per person. If you think our prices are high and you are looking for a cheap tour to India, look here.

Snakes on a Plane? Although you probably prefer not to think about it, commercial aircraft are probably as susceptible to infestations of rodents, bugs and other nasty things as most buildings are. We came across this website accidentally: www.aircraftfumigation.com

New in Purple Dragon's World 

Aqua Boutique GuesthouseHolidays & Festivals. Many customers write to ask about local festivals they want to include (or in some cases avoid) in their travel plans. So we have added a new festivals to the Purple Dragon website.

Aqua Boutique Guest House is a hot new all-suite hotel in Phnom Penh. It is the good mid-priced option we have been looking for there. The facilities and location are great. They have a cute restaurant on the premises. No pool, but the Mekong River is a stone's throw away. While they are not billing themselves as a gay hotel, Aqua is gay owned and managed.

We are still working (much too slowly) on our Singapore, Bali and Bhutan, although we have been accepting reservations for all three places for a several months already.  If you want to be alerted when we put them online, please let us know.

Seeing Double?

If you received two or more emails regarding this issue of Bulletin from Bangkok, that means we have duplicate records in our Membership list. Please let Miss Fu know so that we do not clutter your In box with redundant email.

Purple Dragon pioneered gay Asian travel  
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