April/May  2010

Expo Shanghai: Drop Everything and See It

Shanghai ExpoEarth hosts a World's Fair that actually lives up to its name less often than once a decade. The last truly great Fairs were in New York in 1964/65 and before that in Seattle (1962). You may argue with us if you live in Montreal, Osaka, Spokane, Knoxville, New Orleans, Lisbon, Siem Reap, or any of the other "World's" Fair venues  since 1965.  While those were stupendous in their own right, the New York fair took place at the dawn of the space age, at a critical juncture in the evolution of transportation, communications, and scientific innovation that lead to the Information Age. Similarly, the simultaneous Worlds Fairs of San Francisco and New York in 1939 coincided with the birth of television and the dawn of the Atomic Age as political and social changes put both Europe and Asia on the brink of war. For the most part, other Fairs have not marked the same historic milestones of humanity by giving us daring ways to see the future.

China's Expo Shanghai promises to be the biggest yet and will probably be remembered as a Fair that helps the world define the 21st Century. The 1939 Fair trotted out Albert Einstein and Vermeer's painting The Milkmaid. Denmark plans to transport its iconic statue The Little Mermaid to put on display in its pavilion in Shanghai. With twelve separate groups of pavilions, 140 national will try outdo each other to promote global understanding of their cultures, their products and their tourism destinations. In the end, however, China will be the biggest star since the entire Expo will showcase China as a (like it or not) modern power.

Expo Shanghai opens on 1 May and will run through 31 October, and is expected to attract 600,000 visitors. At just under five square kilometers, you cannot see the entire expo in one day, so plan on spending two or three days there. The Expo site is on the Pudong side and can be reached by shuttle bus or by boat. It will be open between 09:00 and midnight daily.

Club Sanook Members who travel to Shanghai with Purple Dragon can get a free one-day pass if you spend five nights or a two-day pass if you spend seven nights. Ask us for details.

Is Siem Reap the New Palm Springs?

Thanks to all 36 of you who sent us a recent story from the travel pages of  the New York Times about how Siem Reap (the funky town adjacent to Angkor Wat) had become a "Gay Haven in Cambodia." Our Douglas was interviewed twice by the author, although an unseen red pen eventually exorcised him from the story. He found the piece to be "foolish and shallow," a well-tempered criticism from our boss after being  snubbed by a mere newspaper. He insists it is not pouting.

We have been operating in Siem Reap for nearly fifteen years and were probably the first to offer private tours specifically catering to the gay and lesbian visitors, so homosexuals  are nothing new to Siem Reap. Two gay-owned bars there attract a few gay visitors and local expats,  yet have no gay staff. Out of two hundred hotels in town,  four or five owned and managed by gays, which hardly makes Siem Reap the new Key West. Nor do the two guys wearing matching shirts the author saw in a restaurant. (Oh please, girl! They might have been visiting Mormons on a mission together.) Darika tried her best, yet not even she could turn Siem Reap into a "Gay Haven."

This does not mean we do not recommend Angkor Wat to our customers. To the contrary, we love the place, even though there is a dearth of gay nightlife. Cambodia's best gay nightlife is actually in Phnom Penh, which has five or six gay bars (including one that attracts drag queens), and several discos that are patronized heavily by gay men and lesbians.

Why do gays go to Siem Reap? That seemed to be the premise of the Times story, although the question was never answered. We think the answer is that Cambodia is a happy, relaxed place populated by non-judgmental Buddhists. We also find that our customers are more intellectual and far more interested in immersing themselves in culture and  history than the average Korean bus tourist. Compared to Barcelona or San Francisco, Cambodia is a huge bargain, which helps make shopping an even more fulfilling experience.

We think we can write far better travel stories than the one many of you have read. If you happen to be an editor at the New York Times, let's talk.

Those Pesky "Red Shirts"

Red ShirtsIf you watch television news you have undoubtedly learned that those pesky red shirts are back, that they have taken over Bangkok, and that blood is running in the streets. Well, almost.

The epic battle of the Red Shirts, those loyal to deposited prime minister Taksin Shinawatra vs. everyone else may bubble and boil here for months or even years to come.  March 20th was the Reds' turn to bring Bangkok traffic to a stand-still, which does not take much effort. They clogged Petcheburi Road at the intersection near Central World Plaza for about six deafening hours, completely closing it to traffic. Rather than displayinhg any anger or violence, those involved made it into a street party, which swept up many from the sidewalks. In all of the exuberance, the political message was completely lost.

Shortly thereafter, the red shirt leadership appeared to have run out of stunts to wow the public. The one million participants they promised turned out to be merely one hundred thousand, and two thirds of them departed after the Saturday street party. The best gimmick the leaders were able to cobble together in this round was to collect blood from a few thousand of the reds, and pour it on the steps of the parliament building and the front gate of the current Prime Minister's home. (We suspect there was quite a bit of chicken and pig blood in the brew since these are a staple of the Thai diet and easier to come by than O-negative.) They even found the son of a defrocked Brahmin priest to put a curse on the government.

On April 3rd, the third Saturday of demonstrations  the Red Shirts struck at the very heart and soul of Thai culture--the shopping malls. They took over the Rachaprasong Intersection (adjacent to Central World Plaza, Central Chidlom, Siam Center, Siam Paragon, the Inter-Continental Hotel, Gaysorn Plaza, the Holiday Inn and the Hyatt Erawan) and erected a stage. Businesses closed, claiming losses in the billions of baht. The reds do not intend to move. For those who live nearby (like Douglas, who has used his time stuck at home to die all of his white shirts pink) it has been a noisy nuisance. There are no toilet facilities for the fifty thousand or so people living in the street, which could make it smelly as well.

A supportive but visibly-distressed Taksin has appeared from this week's hiding place on giant-screen closed-circuit broadcasts to prod the mob on to victory with all the vibrato of a general sending his troops off to their deaths in battle. The government they are trying to topple will take possession of more than a billion dollars from his frozen bank accounts in the coming week. The Supreme Court determined in March that these were ill-gotten funds swindled during his term as Prime Minister. Considering the huge amount of money this massive piece of street theatre is costing to produce, it is difficult not to wonder what all of this is really about.

Fortunately, there has been no violence so far.

(Give us your take on all of these rainbow-colored shirts in this edition's "Sound Off!" opinion poll below)

Pink Shirts Join the Fray

Thailand's Silent Majority is finally finding its voice. The tourism industry (including our staff) , university professors and leaders from the business community, members of the middle class and even a few taxi drivers are at last speaking up and wearing pink shirts. They are tired of what the Reds are doing to Thailand's image abroad and to their morning commute at home. Their inaugural rally a few days ago attracted thousands. Police had to rescue some brave red shirts who showed up to jeer the crowd. If you plan to visit Thailand  soon,  Think Pink and leave the red clothes at home, lest you make an inadvertent political statement.

Photo Contest #4! Photo Contest #4

Our Members take some of the best travel photos we have ever seen. We are celebrating everyone's creativity once again with our fourth annual (well, almost) photo contest. Around 450 photos were entered in the last contest. Everyone who enters wins Purple Bonus Points and all Club Sanook Members get to vote for their favorites at the end of the contest. You can read more on Purple Dragon's website, and also view all of the entries from the three previous contests.

Sound Off

The poll taken in our February issue brought a more passionate response than we had expected. The question was: "Would China's human rights issues influence your decision to travel there?" In addition to the votes cast, our readers left quite a few great comments.

10% to 24% Off! Yes, Really

This is the seventh year in a row that we have offered discounts and special offers to Members who plan well in advance for high season. This year we have added something new that offers  much more flexibility and greater potential savings. You can read about it HERE along with other Member goodies for 2010.

Jeff & Mark Loved BokorJeff and Mark Loved Kep and Bokor

After a day of touring in southern Cambodia, my partner and I were sound asleep in Kep when a thunderstorm came through. We were awakened by peals of thunder and flashes of lightning which seemed to turn night into day. With each rumble and crash the windows rattled.

While waiting for the storm to pass and sleep to return, I couldn’t help but reflect that very similar sensations could have signaled far more grave occurrences in this very area less than 20 years ago.          READ THE WHOLE STORY >

Bokor Gets a Reprieve

Our September 2007 edition of Bulletin from Bangkok had a story entitled "Road to Ruin" that lamented the impending doom of Bokor Hill Station. The good news is, more than three and a half years have passed and there is still quite a bit of work to be done before the road reopens. We have discovered a tricky way to get past the construction and up to the top of the hill in less time than it took to drive the entire road before work started.  You still have a year or so to see this remarkable place before bus-loads of tourists travel to the top of the mountain to stay in a new hotel/casino. It will take no time at all for the fragile 20th Century ruins to become the tragic 21st Century ruins. We have two new hotels in Kep that are not yet on our website.

Been There, Done That

Think you have seen and done it all in Bangkok? Not unless you have visited the Mae Nak Shrine. Mae Nak is legendary folk hero believed to have lived in the countryside near what is now Bangkok a century ago. While her husband was fighting a distant war, Mae Nak died in childbirth. She loved her husband so much that her ghost refused to leave their home. When her husband returned home, she appeared to him as a mortal and they resumed their lives together. Eventually, her husband figured out he was living with a ghost and fled to a nearby temple. Mae Nak then went on a rampage throughout their village. Fortunately, a shaman who conducted exorcisms captured her in a bottle.

The shrine is supposedly Mae Nak's burial place, and is probably the only shrine with a TV set, which is on all the time. Thais make pilgrimages to the shrine to leave toys and diapers for her ghost-child plus quite a bit of nonsensical kitschy junk. Mae Nak is a "patron saint" for those who want to win the lottery or avoid being drafted into the army, as Mae Nak's husband was. Now you are a bit closer to truly understanding Thailand.

Royal Barges MuseumThe Royal Barges Museum houses a flotilla of more than fifty historic boats that are used for the Royal Barge Procession and the Royal Katin Ceremony (the King's presentation of robes to monks) on the Chao Praya River.  The boats are ornately decorated with with mythical characters from Hinduism and Thai mythology. A Royal Barge Procession requires nearly 2100 oarsmen who wear uniforms that resemble those worn by the King's navy three hundred years ago, which explains why the barges sail in attack formation. Mystical chanting and a drum beating a cadence assure that every movement of the oarsmen happens in a unison of such precision that they seem almost mechanical. The King's personal barge, the Suphannahong, is about 45 meters (around 150 feet) in length and was crafted from the trunk of a single teak tree in 1911. The museum also displays oars, flags and other regalia and may be reached by car or by boat. Don't forget your camera.

April / May's Quiz

The January quiz was really easy. The winner was Ed Stumpf, who now has a $100 Purple Dragon Gift Certificate. Thanks to everyone who entered! You can see the answers to January's quiz HERE.

Form Object

All of the answers can easily be found on Purple Dragon's Website and they are easy to find. The optional bonus question takes a bit more effort but you do not have to answer that one unless you want to. All entries with all questions answered correctly will be entered into a drawing for a $100 gift card you can use for any Purple Dragon package. Give it to a friend if you like. Or enter monthly and you might collect them all! If you also answer the bonus question correctly you will be entered into a drawing for a grand prize. We have not figured out what that is going to be yet, but you will probably like it.  You must be a Club Sanook Member to enter. Only one entry per person, please. You must enter before 30 April 2010. We will give all of the correct answers and name the winner in the next newsletter.

No Rain, No Rice

June through September is one of the best times to visit our part of the world. Crowds are smaller, prices are lower, and we get about 45 minutes of rain every other afternoon. It clears the air,  cools the heat and makes local crops and our luscious tropical landscapes very, very happy.

The number of "green season" special discounts and other offers for Members continues to grow.   Our special prices at the Metropole in Hanoi are really terrific and many  hotels are giving our guests free nights when they pay for two or three. Want to take a look? Take this short cut.

From the Trivia Pile

Bangkok Airways, "Asia's Butique Airline" seldom gives anything away free. However, you have a Visa Platinum or Visa Signature credit card, you can use it to buy two Bangkok airways tickets for the price of one! Or if you use your card to buy two round trip business class tickets, you will get two round trip domestic (Thailand) economy class tickets free. It's on their website (bangkokair.com). There has to be a catch somewhere, but we cannot find one. Tickets must be purchased on their website. The offer is good through 15 December 2010!

Train travel expands in Myanmar. The Ministry of Rail Transportation has recently launched an overnight Yangon to Bagan train with an all-daytime return trip. The train features an "upper class" coach as well as a sleeper with four beds per compartment. The system already offers rail transportation between Yangon and the new, super-modern rail station in Mandalay.

India has its first gay shop, selling everything you can imagine with rainbow colors, including coffee mugs- t-shirts, jewelry, hats, belts, bangles, bags, flags, ashtrays and something called "danglers," yet apparently nothing in the "marital aids" department. India may not be quite ready for that. We especially liked the rainbow-colored false eyelashes.  Azaad Bazaar is located in free-thinking Mumbai, but is sure to inspire other specialty retail stores of this kind across the country.

What Are Those "Purple Bonus Points" All About?

In February we sent a semi-annual statement of Purple Bonus Points to each of our Members, which caused a small flurry of email from Members who were not sure how they earned points or what could be done with them. You can read the whole story about Purple Bonus Points on this very website. Miss Fu will remind you of the number of points you have accumulated so far (although we have not posted any 2010 points yet, so please be patient) below Miss Fu's name on the emails you receive to notify you about new newsletters.

Seeing Double?

If you received two or more emails announcing 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 Red Our "Cult Status" Blog

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