April 2011

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The Sinking, Shrinking Greenback: Good News or Bad News?

Last week the value of the US dollar fell below 30 Thai baht, a new low. People here love to speculate about the cause. Some believe that the U.S. government is manipulating exchange rates intentionally to correct trade imbalances. We've also heard that Washington's intent is to punish the Chinese, who own a lot of dollars. Maybe Thailand is inflating the value of its own currency. Who can tell? While we would love to see the dollar back at at 40 baht, we do not foresee that happening any time soon.

This is a good news/bad news story for people planning to travel in our part of the world. The bad news for Americans is that Thailand is a somewhat more expensive than it has been, although still a bargain compared to a summer in Tuscany.

The good news is that the current rate of exchange only impacts visitors to Thailand who spend dollars. Most of our contracts with hotels and other suppliers in the other eight countries where we work are in U.S. dollars, so our dollar prices remain unchanged. If you spend pounds, Euros or Australian dollars, prices are lower than they have been because the dollar has weakened against those currencies as well. Euros and pounds have appreciated slightly against the Baht since last month, although they remain marginally lower than a year ago. In many cased in Thailand, we have reduced our own profit margins to keep prices where they have been. The bottom line is that the costs of visiting most of southeast Asia for most of our Members have been creeping down for most of our Members.

Jeff & Mark Loved India

Have you ever thought of going to India? We had, but we had also assumed that at least a month was needed for the trip; perhaps you have thought the same. Thanks to Purple Dragon’s “India’s Golden Triangle” itinerary, we got a wonderful introduction to India in far less than a month, and are looking forward to a return visit!

India’s history is a kaleidoscope: rich, varied, and influenced over the centuries by many cultures. The resulting diversity is evident at every glance; from the Hindus to the Buddhists to the Muslims, and the Maharajas....   > Read the whole story

Green Season Specials Save Money

James and Dave saved 24% on their October adventure in China by taking advantage of Club Sanook discounts and special offers.  This is the eighth year in a row that we have offered discounts and special offers to Members who plan well in advance for the next high season. Last year we added something new that offers  much more flexibility and greater potential savings, and we are repeating it this year. You can read about it HERE along with other Member goodies for 2011/12. If your dates are set and you know where you want to go, we will give you a handsome price reduction for booking well in advance. And even if you are not sure of your dates or final itinerary, you can buy a "gift certificate" at a cost well below face value and give it to yourself! We all deserve a nice gift once in a while.

We are also offering Members these "green season" goodies. (Most offers are good through September):

Enjoy our new Southern Laos program before the end of September and take 30% off + double Purple Bonus Points.

Special Member-only prices at The Sukhothai in Bangkok, Lana Mantra, Chedi and Rachamankha Hotels in Chiang Mai, Le Royale in Phnom Penh, and the Caravelle in Ho Chi Minh City. Some of the discounts are very generous. Ask us for details.

Take our Way Beyond Luang Prabang cruise/tour and get a free night at the new five-star Luang Say Hotel in Luang Prabang

Dreaming of Angkor Wat? Take any of our Angkor programs, stay at the award-winning Hotel de la Paix, and your third night is free.

Through June you can take a companion on our "River of Dreams" overnight cruise free. Just pay the single rate and your companion goes along at no cost.

You can find all of the current Member Specials HERE.

Been There, Done That: Shopping Heaven in Beijing

In this regular feature we explore some of the more offbeat, lesser-visited attractions in the cities where we work, especially for those who think they have already seen and done it all.

Beijing's sprawling Panjiayuan Market is tiny (about 50,000 square meters) compared to Chatuchak, Bangkok's mammoth Weekend Market. However, if you are a collector, love to shop, or simply want to soak up a lot of Chinese culture and history, a few hours there is almost worth making a trip to Beijing.

Panjiayuan is among the world's best antique markets. You will not find anything new here unless it as recently made to copy something old. This is, perhaps, the thing you should remember above all else when sifting your way through China's outdoor markets. The Chinese have become adept at counterfeiting the objects of our desire with such brilliant precision that some of the fake pieces of "Ming" ceramics for sale in the market have actually fooled experts at the National Museum.

This alone should not discourage you from a day at Panjiayuan. Most of what you will find for sale is authentic and pretends to be no more valuable than what you are willing to pay for it. You will find plenty of junk. Upwardly-mobile Chinese love to get rid of their old furniture, ceramics and chachkas so they can have room for all the wonderful new plastic things they want to own. So savvy shoppers with a sharp eye can always find special treasures. There are also sections where you can find used books, propaganda posters, and other printed material, painted scrolls, jade pieces of practically ever size, description and quality, and plenty of  brass and bronze decorative household items, including things like old door and window hardware.

Many vendors sell things that are new, including colorful strings of beads made from semiprecious stones, ceramics and even Kung Fu weapons. One of the best things to shop for are small pieces of vividly colored, hand-painted wooden furniture from Tibet, primarily boxes, chests, stools and footlockers.

One small section of the market showcases the truly special items you will not be able to fit into your checked luggage. If you are searching for a temple door or an elaborately carved palanquin from the 18th or 19th centuries, you will probably find it here. Or you could simply settle for a pair of dainty womens' shoes left over from the era of bound feet, or perhaps some tortoise shell eyeglasses frames from the 1930s.

Panjiayuan Market is across Long Tan Park Park from the Temple of Heaven. It's open Saturdays and Sundays, although some sections of the market are open daily. Wear comfortable shoes and leave your credit cards behinds since very few vendors there accept them. And take your guide. Our guides are not allowed to accept commissions and are adept at negotiating and fairly skilled at evaluating the quality of what is for sale, so he may be able to save you quite a bit of money. If you are a commercial buyer, like some of our guests, the guide could save enough to pay for a good part of your trip. We can include Panjiayuan Market on either one of our Beijing programs.

If you really cannot live without the 18th century palanquin, you can have it shipped.

  Panjiayuan Market 2


old books

New at Purple Dragon

Step into one of Hanoi's newest, most luxurious boutique hotels, the Silk Path. Smartly located near the city's famed "old quarter" and Hoan Kiem Lake, the Silk Path is a great value for those who enjoy luxury. Each of their rooms offer the kind of rich, contemporary decor you would expect in a five-star hotel in London or Milan, with plenty of marble and polished wood. You will enjoy luxurious linens, spacious bathrooms, flat panel television, complimentary internet access and paintings by fine Vietnamese artists. Guests can enjoy a Vietnamese or a Mediterranean restaurant, two bars, and roof-top spa and fitness center. Guests literally get white glove treatment. We now include the Silk Path among Purple Dragon's hotel options in Hanoi.

Pot Pouri

Transgender recruits in Thailand's armed forces no longer need to be offended by the way their gender and sexuality are officially described. "Psychological abnormality" and "gender identity disorder" will now be referred to as "Type 2" or "Type 3" to avoid offending them. Heterosexual Thai men will be referred to as "Type 1." Rules were changed to allow conscription of others individuals if the army runs short of Type 1. However, under the "two beer rule" the boundaries between the types can become quite blurred. Military service might fun after all.

Danang (Central Vietnam) Airport's splendid new $75 million terminal and long runway are due to open next month. Runways will be able to handle wide bodied aircraft, so those in the know are calling Danang the "new gateway to Vietnam." Saigon, one of the "old" gateways to Vietnam is planning to build a mega airport that will be able to handle three times the number of passengers and tons of freight than the current airport.

Retirement in Thailand certainly appeals to many. In fact, we have been exploring ways to assist many of our customers who decide to spend their golden years in the Land of Smiles. Now comes a new social networking website called GayCareThailand.org. Their primary interest seems to be the development of a residential complex for silver daddies. If you are considering making the move here, you might find some good resources on their site.

If you have not already heard, Thailand has a sparkling new monthly gay magazine called Out in Thailand. You can find it in all of the usual places, including some unusual ones, like a number of major bookstores. If you cannot make the monthly trek to pick up your own copy you can read the current edition online: www.out-in-thailand.com

The UK has appointed an openly gay Ambassador to serve in Cambodia. Mark Gooding is currently Deputy High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives in Colombo, and is due to take up his new post in September. He is openly gay and has a civil partner, Dr. Christopher McCormick.  Unfortunately, they will miss Phnom Penh Pride, scheduled for 10 through 16 May.

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

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No animals were harmed in the making of this newsletter.