Purple Dragon
Bulletin from Bangkok

 
The newsletter of Purple Dragon Ltd's private travel club.

Purple Dragon pioneered gay Asian travelJune 2012

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Paradise Islands

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
a tale of a fateful trip,
That started from this tropic port,
aboard a tiny ship...." *

If you are over fifty and grew up in North America you are probably already humming the theme song to a 1960s American television show about an odd group of people who are shipwrecked on a tiny uncharted tropical island. They build huts from bamboo and enjoy a series of misadventures in improvised luxury. One of the characters, Ginger (played by Tina Louise), managed to look flawless in a sequined gown for four seasons.

Gilligan's Island made us all dream of an uncharted tropical island somewhere out there, with endless sandy beaches and no tourists, where we could escape everything and everyone in comfort.

"No phone, no lights no motor cars,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
As primitive as can be." *

One of the most frequent requests we receive is for a few days on an "unspoiled island that has not been 'discovered' yet." While such places probably do not exist (or we would have "discovered" them, thus disqualifying them as potential destinations), we have found two that come pretty close:

Koh Ngai vistaKoh Ngai. We had never heard of Koh Ngai (which is pretty unusual) until one of our customers planned a trip there. The island lies just south of Koh Lanta and can be reached by boat from Lanta or from the mainland town of Trang. Koh Ngai has no airport. There are just five hotels (and a few B&Bs) on the island, spread evenly along the eastern coast. The rest of the island is covered with old growth forest and coconut groves. There is only one road on the island, so it is easy to explore on your own if you rent a motorbike. The only other activities are on or in the water. Snorkeling, fishing and diving could not be more perfect in the clear blue water. We are working on a Koh Ngai package that will include a flight from Bangkok, a two-night (or longer) stay,  a speed boat from Trang, and one or more fishing or snorkeling activities. You will not find any bamboo huts. We will be using a hotel that is very luxurious considering how isolated the island is. If you are looking for something quiet, low key and comfortable away from the maddening crowds, Koh Ngai could be the perfect option for you. If you would like to know when the Koh Ngai package appears on our website, just leave us your name and email.

Song Saa restaurantSong Saa Resort is on and around two privately-owned islands off the southern coast of Cambodia near Sihanoukville. Because they are close enough together to be connected by a wooden walkway, locals have nicknamed them song saa, "two sweethearts." Song Saa is more than just a hotel--it is a luxury lifestyle getaway that includes both hillside, jungle and over-water villas, all with private pools.

Sparkling white beaches abound, and the waters that surround them are protected as a marine reserve that covers more than one million square meters. The resort has an ambitious program of sustainability to make sure Song Saa lives in harmony with the islands and the surrounding marine ecosystems.

Unlike most tropical resorts in our part of the world you do not continue to dig into your pocket after you arrive. There is one price for each villa for one to four people that includes all meals, daily surprises from the executive chef, beverages (house wines, spirits, mini-bar, and even a Champagne bar), and use of kayaks, sail boats, snorkeling equipment, internet telephone, and high-speed WiFi throughout. There is even a spa and wellness center suspended from the forest treetops.  Connecting Song Saa's two islandsYou can be as active, as decadent, or as lazy as you like. A private picnic on a deserted beach? A nature walk to discover obscure flora with one of Song Saa's resident naturalists? Just ask. The perfect place for your wedding/honeymoon? Local monks are standing by.

You do not have to take the SS Minnow to reach Song Saa. We drive you to Sihanoukville by private car from Phom Penh, and you will be transported to the islands in a very sexy speedboat by a very sexy speedboat driver. There are also flights to Sihanoukville from Siem Reap if cows are not congregating on the runway.

If you would like to know when the Song Saa package appears on our website, just leave us your name and email. You can see plenty of Song Saa photos on their FaceBook page. If you like it, please Like it.

* Theme song and lyrics copyright © Sherwood Schwartz and George Wyle,  1964, 1966

Mmmmm! More Myanmar Madness

Our Douglas, who has been in the tourism business for something like 35 years (yes, he's ancient) says he has "never seen anything like it." The mad panic to visit Myanmar has caused some hotels there to behave badly. The Park Plaza Royal, the three-star hotel Purple Dragon uses in Yangon most often has just increased its prices by 338%, making it the most expensive hotel in Yangon--more expensive than The Strand or The Governor's residence.

The Sedona Hotel in Mandalay, also one of Purple Dragon's most-used hotels, will answer availability requests only if they come in the form of a letter with a deposit guarantee if rooms are available.

Shwedagon Pagoda in YangonThese are creative ways to deal with unprecedented demand. However, we do not think they do much to cement long-term relationships within our industry or with the public. Sooner or later, Myanmar will cool down, so we are wondering how these hotels will weather the ill will they have created. We will never use Park Plaza Royale again. Most of the hotels we use are not indulging in profiteering.

If you plan to travel to Myanmar between now and March 2013, be prepared for some surprises. Although you can give us a list of hotels you prefer to use, chances are small that you will get everything you want, and possibly none at all. In the end, we take what is available, if anything. We ask our customers to be as flexible as possible about the order of places visited in the itinerary you want, and also about the hotels we are able to find.

Because of all of the challenges caused by the public's sudden appetite for Myanmar, the average booking is taking us more than twenty staff hours compared to four or five in the past. We have cut our margins significantly to keep our prices competitive. We are also asking for a deposit from those who ask for Myanmar trips through mid-2013 before we begin work on their arrangements. Frankly, some of the people who contact us are not serious about visiting Myanmar, or are just window shopping. Like most other professionals, our time is not free and we cannot afford to donate it to people who are not serious or ask for the impossible. If you disagree with this, please visit the Custom Tour page on Purple Dragon's website to hear our side. Not even a hair stylist will give you free haircut to see if you like it or not.

Our best advice about Myanmar is to avoid December and January completely. If you want to stay at The Strand, the Governor's Residence, or Kandawgyii Palace in Yangon, Inle Princess, Hotel by the Red Canal or Tharabar Gate Hotel, if you want a cruise between Mandalay and Bagan, or if you are fussy about the precise itinerary, we recommend that you give us nine to twelve months advance notice.

So what doest his mean on my planet? Although Myanmar is very trendy now it's not the only exciting place to visit in our part of the world. One of our colleagues in Vientiane suggested that Laos should change its tourism marketing slogan to "Come to Laos Because Myanmar is Full." Funny but true. Myanmar will still be there next year for those who plan well in advance. The madness will die down and prices will stabilize. In the mean time we have plenty of wonderful places you have probably not visited before.

Incidentally, our miracle performance record has been pretty good so far.

Myanmar Celebrates Its Gayness

Yes, Dorothy, there are homosexuals in Myanmar. Just about the same percentage of the population are LGBT as there as in your town and ours. But never have so many of them been in one place before than Myanmar's first-ever gay pride celebrations in mid-May. While there were no parades, there were indoor events in Yangon,Mandalay, Monwya, Kyaukpadauing and Pathein.

In Yangon, the ballroom at the Excel tower filled with to capacity, with an estimated 400+ participants, mostly in traditional Burmese dress. Speeches and music focused on the event’s theme, “Homosexuality is not a sickness.” Among those who attended were film stars, artists, famous authors, and a 106-year-old  transgendered woman living in Rangoon (see photo).

The celebrations were part of the International Day against Homophobia and Trans-phobia, and were officially sanctioned by the government--something the organizers of pride events in Thailand have never been able to accomplish. The events were organized, in part, by the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma.

"In the past a crowd of people at this kind of event would be assumed to be against the government--taking part in something like a protest," said Aung Myo Min of the HREIB.

"Now LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) society has courage... and they dare to reveal their sexual orientation."

Sexual contact between two people of the same sex is against Burma's archaic colonial penal code, but is practically never enforced. The HREIB is planning a series of workshops and seminars on homosexuality and discrimination in Burma, and is planning a campaign to to abolish the Penal Code 377, just as gay activists were able to overturn a 19th century anti-gay law in India three years ago.



 

Myanmar Gay Pride Yangon 2013
106 year old transsexual at Myanmar Gay Pride Yangon 2013

You Could Be The Proud Owner...

... of your own gay sauna in Bangkok. Douglas' buddy Andy started a very stylish gay sauna in a neighborhood that is home to three universities.  He needs to sell it so he can rescue the business of a friend who is ill. This will require him to move away from Bangkok. If you would like to be in touch with Andy, please contact Douglas.  If you are reading this newsletter on a portable device you can see photos and a map in the beta version of Miss Fu, our forthcoming app. Just touch here. Sorry, you will not be able to view this properly with a desktop or notebook computer.

Guess What We Found!

About the time one of Purple Dragon's office staff decided the grass was greener on the other side of the hill, we upgraded some of our computers. In the process of moving data from old computers to new, we "misplaced" the photo contest we began in 2011. All of the photos and information about the people who entered them vanished. If you are one of them, you probably wondered what happened to the contest. Now you know.

The good news is that we recently found a DVD with some backed-up files that we did not know we had. The disk included all the files from our formerly-lost photo contest. Whoopie! We will be dusting it off and putting it on our website as soon as we can. In the mean time, if you would like to enter, please visit Purple Dragon's Website.

Join UsExpired Points? Want a 15% Discount or
"At Wholesale Cost" Prices Forever?

We have a creative way to give you all of the above. If you are interested, ask us for details.

Sweet Prices on July Mekong Cruises

Luang Say Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang CruiseOur "green" (cooler and slightly rainy) season has almost arrived and savvy travelers can use their Club Sanook Membership to save money.

Take either of the Mekong cruise options we offer in Laos during July and you can have a huge discount. We offer Way Beyond Luang Prabang which includes a hotel night in Chiang Rai and an overnight (or two nights if you add a stop at Kamu Lodge) cruise to Luang Prabang (or vice versa. Our Southern Laos trip includes a two-night sleep-aboard cruise plus some time visiting the Bolaven Plateau.

Add a stay at The Three Nagas in Luang Prabang, stay two nights using our all-inclusive package and get the third night free.

Vat Phou Southern Laos TourYou can find a growing number of special offers in the Member area on this website. These include: Stay three/pay two night special offer at Shinta Mani in Siem Reap, a third night free at Grand Hotel d'Angkor through September; 10% off any of our Angkor Wat packages if you choose through June; 10% off any of our Chiang Mai packages through October when you stay at The Rachamankha, and book and pay for your trip 30 days or more in advance, special prices at The Nap Patong in Phuket, Nora Beach Resort and Baan Haad Ngam in Koh Samui, the Royal Orchid Sheraton in Bangkok and more.

You must mention these specials at the time you reserve. In most cases they cannot be combined with other Member specials. To see all of the current specials as well as the various ways you can save money if you plan to travel during the next high season is to view our Member Specials page.

Last Chance for High Season Discounts

Our Members-only gift certificate program is the very best way to save quite a bit of money if you plan to travel during high season and are not absolutely sure of your itinerary. To take advantage of this program you need to finalize your certificate purchase by June 30. You can see more details on the Member Specials page.

Ping NakaraPot Pouri: Even More New Hotels
Chiang Mai and Siem Reap

We are constantly looking for something better for Purple Dragon's customers. We also listen carefully when our guests tell us what they like and do not like. We "retire" three or four hotels a year because they no longer live up to our standards in one way or another. At the same time we add new partners that are happy to serve our guests and understand that we work in a business built on relationships. We are happy to tell you that we have added three new companies that will help to enrich the quality of what we offer you.

Details, Details, Details. We work with nearly 150 hotels and make an effort to inspect each of them at least once a year. Some a few of these are "concept" hotels Deluxe Bedroom at Ping Nakara(converted mansions/villas, highly contemporary architecture and decor, "island fever," etc.). While most hotels are successful at achieving their ultimate potential, there are always little things overlooked. Take, for example, an upmarket hotel in Luang Prabang with lovely 1920s decor that seems splendid until you notice every electrical cord  behind every table and its corresponding electrical outlet, and a tangle of wires from computers and telephones below a large table used for reception.

In Chiang Mai we have found one hotel that seems to be utterly flawless in every way. The Ping Nakara is a heavenly confection of white colonial architecture. We were overwhelmed the moment we entered their spacious lobby at how well this 19th century building had been restored with such utter perfection. Only the tiny The Verandacracks in the 1890s tile floor gave away the building's age. Adjacent to the reception hall is a cozy bar and a sumptuous library with views of the pool as well as a veranda. The hotel has only 19 rooms. Deluxe rooms have private balconies and overlook the pool. No tiny detail has been overlooked. Even the container of cold drinking water beside the pool fit the elegant period decor flawlessly. What we did not know until we ended our tour was that the hotel was built only two years ago and that the little cracks in the tile floor had been painstakingly painted by hand.

Ping Nakara is centrally located but on a quiet street separated from the river by a small plantation. Unlike hotels along the river, it is not prone to seasonal flooding.

By the way, Bangkok Airways announced on 1 June that they will be discounting fares for travel to Chiang Mai during August and September, but bookings must be made by 30 June. The roundtrip fare from Bangkok will be THB 2,790 ( US$93) inclusive of taxes and surcharges for  a maximum stay of five days. The carrier operates six flights daily on the Chiang Mai route.

The Return of Shinta Mani. Shinta Mani was one of our favorite hotels in Siem Reap until we began to have some issues with their management. The hotel has been sold and is being managed by some of the former staff of Hotel de la Paix, which is destined to become a Hyatt. Celebrated architect Bill Bensley has done a magical job of transforming this once-dowdy property into a sleek, spectacular boutique hotel. Purple Dragon is happy to have the opportunity to use Shinta Mani again in all of our Angkor Wat programs. If you have stayed there in the past you will probably not recognize the place, except for the omnipresent smiles.

Shinta Mani's Garden View Rooms

Attention Atlantis Cruisers

If you plan to join the Atlantis cruise from Singapore to Hong Kong (via Thailand and Vietnam) in March/April 2012, please let us know. We are arranging special private and small group shore excursions you will want to know about, including an overnight stay in Bangkok to enjoy the nightlife and see the sights the way only Purple Dragon can show them to you.

Happy Ending: Join Miss Fu on FaceBook

Our elusive, reclusive Miss Fu has finally succumbed to endless pressure and has joined the rest of the world by creating her very own FaceBook page. You can be among the very first to join what will surely many friends. You can see the only photo of Miss Fu we know to exist.

More happy news: Since the last edition of this newsletter there have been no coups, riots, floods, demonstrations, or terrorist attacks in Thailand. That does not mean things are getting dull around here. There is always something happening in the Big Mango.

Purple Dragon pioneered gay Asian travel

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