Purple Dragon
Bulletin from Bangkok

August 2011

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Road to Ruins

by Douglas Thompson

After hearing stories--both good and bad--for more than six years about the trip by road from Bangkok to Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), I finally gave in last week. With the help of a Xanax and a picnic lunch, I finally made the trip myself.

Like most people, I keep an "I'll never do that again" list. Hiking up three different mountains are at the top of the list. When I owned a restaurant in Siem Reap and spend half of each month there I saw cars caked with red dust arrive late every afternoon with the day's catch of backpackers from from the border town of Poipet. Some found their way to Figo, our much-lamented bistro, and told us stories about eight hours on a road that was paved only here and there, and bridges that had not yet been built. How could I not be horrified at the idea of making a journey by land that can be accomplished by air in under an hour?

Poipet Border CrossingA friend in Siem Reap who makes this trip often recommend his driver, Mr. Tee. Tee arrived at my front door promptly (something not to be taken lightly in Thailand) at 8:00 a.m. last Friday and we were off. Despite the video karaoke along the way, the drive was effortless. You have to like The Eagles and Celine Dion to travel with Tee. Or watch movies on your iPhone like I did. Once we were well beyond Bangkok's sprawl the scenery was actually rather pretty. The rolling green hills and thick woodlands reminded me of Tuscany.

Including a rest stop, the trip to Aranyaprathet, on the Cambodian border, took three and a half hours. Tee did everything he could to make sure the trip across the border was as painless as possible. Once I passed through Thai exit formalities, however,  I was not fully prepared for the madness on the other side. Beyond a huge gate carved in the likeness of Angkor Wat was a crush of people crossing the 500 meter frontier on foot in both directions, along with local porters with push-carts and a traffic jam of trucks laden with goods. The way is lined with giant casinos and rustic little shops selling snake wine and all kinds of duty free goods. Getting a visa on arrival, hauling my luggage 500 meters, and passing through Cambodian entry formalities took 45 minutes. Now that I am an expert it will take 30 next time.

Our Siem Reap manager Rath was waiting for me at the end of all of this red tape. However, our driver was not. Cars are no longer allowed to pick up visitors. In an effort to control (e.g. profit from) the taxi trade from Poipet to Siem Reap, the newly-arrived must take a bus for about ten miles to a cavernous new "arrival depot," where visitors are relieved of about $5 for "parking fees." I enjoyed my first frosty Angkor Beer while Rath greased the wheels of commerce, then we were on the road again.

The drive to Siem Reap took another two hours. The road is now paved the entire way, and we arrived at the hotel just after 2:30 p.m.

This trip will not find its way onto my "never again" list unless I get tired of it. From my front door to the Golden Banana Hotel in Siem Reap took just over six hours and cost about $100. I avoided a $10 taxi drive to hellish Suvarnabhumi airport, where I would have had to walk more than 500 meters to reach the Bangkok Airways departure gate. I avoided another $10 taxi ride from Siem Reap airport to my hotel on top of a $150 airfare. So I saved about $70 in the two extra hours it took to drive.  Two people traveling together will save more than $200.

Driving is definitely not for everyone, but it is an alternative for those who want to see the countryside and save money to enjoy themselves more in Siem Reap. If you are traveling with us to Angkor Wat we will be happy to refer you to Mr. Tee and meet you on the other side. I will be spending more weekends in Siem Reap from now on. Maybe I'll see you there.

"Before"Billy Loved His Face Lift (and Richard loved his Lasek)

By Richard Holm, Caribbean Consulting

The idea of 'Medical Tourism' sounds wonderful. Travel to an exotic destination and combine a fantastic vacation with getting a facelift, liposuction, LASIK eye surgery, dental work and more… all at a fraction of what it would cost at home! Sign me up!

However, when you actually get down to planning for medical procedures abroad, where do you start?A friend of mine found his plastic surgeon on the Discovery Channel's show about Thailand. Another just Googled 'cheap face lift thailand' and got on a plane with no idea of what he was getting. Or you could just pick up a copy of the Bangkok Post and see the ad for $600 facelifts or $1,200 sex change at a shopping mall! (Really, some people do this!). How do you choose where to go for doctors, hospitals and background/reputation checks? Unlike the USA - you can't just go to court and sue a doctor for malpractice - so you'd better do your homework before you go!  Read the whole story >

Gay Mekong Cruise at a Discount!

Vat Phou CruiseJoin us on a two-night cruise of the Southern Mekong on 29 September and we will give you a fantastic price! We have several guests on this sailing and there are no other bookings so far, so we want to make it into our first gay cruise.

A couple of months ago we released our new Southern Laos package, which includes a two night cruise on the beautiful Vat Phou floating hotel, and some time in magnificent Bolaven Plateau. Should you join other Purple Dragon guests in Southern Laos, the cost will depend on how long you stay in Pakse and the Bolaven Plateau. Contact us and we will give you a price far below the price on our website. But act quickly since we want to keep this trip exclusively for our own customers.

New Old Temple "Opened" in Angkor Wat

RathIn June Angkor's Baphuon Temple made international headlines when it "reopened" to visitors. Actually, the temple was open from 1066 until reconstruction began in the 1960's.

While Baphuon ("ba-POON") was originally the largest temple complex in what is now known as Angkor Wat. Several things about the temple are quite different than found in most of the other monuments in the area. The causeway to the entrance is elevated, and must have traversed a moat. The temple itself rises from a massive stone foundation that is almost 6 meters high.  Regretfully, the temple was poorly constructed, which contributed to its early deterioration.

Baphuon's original splendor has always been overshadowed by its colorful history. After the capital of the Hindu Khmer Empire was moved in the 15th century, Angkor was settled by Bhuddists, who began to disassemble large portions of the original temple to create a massive reclining Buddha at the rear of the structure. You can still see if you have a good imagination. The surrounding grounds were littered with huge stones, and many are still there. In the 1960s the French made a heroic effort to catalog each stone and try to identify how this massive jigsaw puzzle should be put back together. Those extensive plans were burned during the subsequent terrible years of the Khmer Rouge.

We have been watching the post-war attempt to reassemble the structure with great interest for the past fifteen years. While there are still thousands of numbered stones laying about, a decade of scaffolding is gone and you can now climb to the top of the temple (weekdays only) to admire the splendid view and imagine how magnificent Baphuon Temple once was.

You can click on the photo of Rath, our lovely Angkor Wat manager, to see an album of Baphuon photos.

Miss Fu Released

http://www.missfu.mobiNo, Miss Fu has not been in custody. However, the beta version of the smart phone app named for her is now available for viewing. We are still testing, testing, testing and adding content. You can use your phone's camera to open Miss Fu with the QR code on the right. Otherwise, you can go to www.MissFu.mobi. Miss Fu is formatted for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. You can also see it with Nokia, Samsung and other "smart" devices, although you probably will not be able to  see the lovely fonts we are using. You will not be able to see Miss Fu with your PC. If you are still using a dinosaur mobile phone, Miss Fu is just one more reason to change to something smarter. Apple has sold more than 120 million iPhones, and there are probably nearly half a billion smart portable devices in use today. If you own a gay-friendly business anywhere in Asia you can add it to Miss Fu by visiting www.GayAsiaApp.com. And please visit Miss Fu's Facebookpage. Not only can you LIKE her, but you can add her as one of your "personal interests." We all like to be liked, and Miss Fu really loves people liking her, like it or not.

Our idea of a bucketShare Your Personal "Bucket List"

Even with the help of a little cosmetic surgery none of us are really get any younger. For fifteen years we have gradually watched some of our long-time customers grow older at the same rate as the rest of us--some a bit faster than others. Some have told us about the many things they regretted not doing before they were beyond the ability to enjoy them. Others have done it all and are still planning to do more.

If you are over fifty you have probably have an unfinished mental "to do" list of places and things. If so, we would love to share your "bucket list" with our readers. Hopefully it will inspire some of us not to wait until the very end to scratch the names off the list. So consider this our invitation to send us your own list and we might publish it here (without identifying you, of course, unless you do not mind) as part of a new regular feature in Bulletin from Bangkok. Send your list by email to: [email protected] and dazzle us with your creativity and dreams. We have no intention of using your list for marketing purposes. It's strictly for fun.

Pot Pouri

Rath, (the very cute guy pictured above) our Siem Reap Manager, has taken on the responsibility to care for families in Tonle Sap's floating fillages near Angkor Wat. The government has forbidden fishing during the rainy season and many already-impoverished families are going hungry. Beginning immediately, Purple Dragon will buy a 10kg bag of rice plus high-protein foods for those in need near Siem Reap for every customer who books an Angkor Wat tour with us through 2011. We are also considering the possibility of making micro loans to encourage sustainable enterprises in the future. You can read more on Rath's FaceBook page.

In a similar vein, Hotel de la Paix in Siem Reap has always been a model corporate citizen and has an initiated numerous community projects to educate local people and fight poverty. Their latest is a "Share Your Shirt" campaign. They are gathering "once good" clothing to distribute locally, particularly to children. If you are able to donate anything (perhaps Club Sanook's Bookshopmake extra space in your luggage for newly-found treasures purchased while adventuring in Asia), please drop them at Purple Dragon's office and Douglas will carry them personally on his next road trip to Siem Reap.

Club Sanook's bookstore has had a long-needed facelift. You will find plenty of new and interesting books and travel goodies on offer. Eventually we plan to begin to offer unique hand-crafted items from our part of the world as well as Purple Dragon logo merchandise. You can be the first on your block to own a shoulder bag made of recycled Cambodian and Vietnamese fertilizer sacks. Everyone in our office has one and they are fun and colorful.

Nap PatongWe have recently added The Nap Patong (right) to our collection of hotels in Phuket. It's chic, sexy and the great rates they have given us are wallet-friendly. It's very close to the beach and many rooms have ocean views. Our favorite rooms have a circular stairway to a private roof-top terrace. The Nap offers a large health club, restaurant, wifi and everything else you expect of a great hotel.

The Ambiance in Pattaya is not new. However, the management is. Markus Gloor, formerly of Bangkok's Tarntawan Place, has taken over to restore The Ambiance to its former comfy splendor in the center of Boys Town. We said chok dee to them six months ago, but changed our minds when Markus took over. We are crossing our fingers that new Swiss management will make The Ambiance a happy, clean place to stay in the future.

Happy Ending: Would You Buy a Tour From These Guys?

Believe it or not the Chinese government has gone into the gay tour business! We recently received some spam from a "gay" tour company we had never heard of. They have a slick website (www.konglon.com) if you ignore the broken English. It is pretty odd that they say how many have bought each of their tours. Two people have bought their Tibet tour, but so far there have been no takers for their "grand tour." It did not take much digging to discover that the company is owned by China International Travel Service, a very big government-owned company. It's not clear what makes these tours "gay." We have plenty of experience with mainstream tour companies slapping a gay label on an ordinary tour and hoping that consumers will not be smart enough to figure out that it's a sham. We know you are too smart to be fooled.

Purple Dragon pioneered gay Asian travel

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No animals were harmed in the making of this newsletter.