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PEACE AT LAST!
Unless you are a cloistered monk (or nun) you surely know that Thailand has gone through a messy political situation for more than six months.
How did things go so wrong? In 2013 the ruling Pheu Thai party government tried to pass an amnesty bill that would have let a lot of their friends off the hook (including fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra) for all kinds of crimes. This was the fuse that ignited a massive anti-government movement in the form of the Peoples' Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which held rallies in several places in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand. There was a predictable reaction from the Pheu Thai party and their cousins the red shirts. Yingluck Shinawatra, the younger sister of Thaksin, was prime minister. Correctly or not, anti-government protestors assumed that she was her brother's puppet. Because of sentiment against her government, she dissolved parliament and became a "caretaker prime minister." In the end she was legally removed from office along with nine of her cabinet members. She got into trouble as head of a corruption-ridden "rice pledging" program that turned rice into gold for some, and for abuses of authority for personal gain among other things. That left a government made up of Senate that had no authority to run the country, and some minor cabinet members. Thailand found itself in chaos, anger, division, and headed towards civil war.
Well, it's all over now. What little was left of Thailand's government was replaced in the 19th coup since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.
After Yingluck Shinawatra was removed from office, the head of the army went to great lengths to bring all factions to the table to come to a consensus that would help to avoid civil war. Both sides (leaders of the Pheu Thai and red shirts on on side and PDRC on the other) held their ground stubbornly. They would not compromise or even talk about anything except the plumbing where they held meetings along with members of the Elections Commission, Senators, a delegation from the Democrat Party, the national police and military leaders. At about the same time four sizeable stockpiles of "war weapons," probably destined for red shirt factions, were discovered and the military decided things had gone too far. They took over running the country less than three weeks ago. They plan to install a neutral prime minister and a legislative body to enact reforms and encourage reconciliation in preparation for an election.
Quite honestly, most of us in the Kingdom are relieved that the military took over. But before you wag your finger and call us names, the "yellow shirts" no longer exist, and have not for several years despite what people at CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera try to make viewers believe in a 60 second attempt to explain very complex events. By US Secretary of State Kerry's own definition of "democracy," it has not existed here for more than a decade. There are no tanks in the streets. Public anxiety, rhetoric, threats, dogma and killings have ended. Life here is again peaceful, happy and as normal as anyone can expect, although there is currently a midnight to 04:00 curfew, although not in effect in tourist destinations like Phuket, Samui, or Pattaya. It is not expected to last much longer in Bangkok, Krabi or Hua Hin. Those currently visiting Thailand universally agree that it is perfectly safe and they are happy to be here.
We are disappointed that the US State Department has issued a travel advisory that states Thailand should be avoided for non-essential travel. We think that this is irresponsible. (Douglas described it more strongly as "horse shit.") The Obama administration has made no effort to create a dialogue with the former government or the anti-government leaders. US ambassador Kristy Kennedy has done a pathetic job of enlightening those in Washington about the real issues or of educating herself, for that matter. Thaksin's paid lobbyists and lawyers in D.C. apparently have the strongest voices since Washington has a distorted view of recent events.DT's Blog Goes Public
If you read May's newsletter you know that Douglas has been blogging extensively about the political situation in Thailand for nearly six months. After the first month he restricted access to the blog to readers living outside of Thailand and neighboring countries because he did not want to enflame the situation. He also did not want to become a target for gun-and-grenade-packing PWRCS (people with rose colored shirts). He recently decided to open the January page for unrestricted public access. You can find it HERE.
We will be the first to admit that Thai politics have been ruining business for our industry. For better or for worse, Chinese, Taiwanese and Koreans are staying at home. While Purple Dragon is better off than most, we are feeling the squeeze, so Purple Dragon is offering a new special promotion for Club Sanook Members:
Plan to visit our part of the world during July, August or September? If you reserve and pay by 15 July you can get tasty discounts practically everywhere we offer--particularly Thailand. The size of the discount depends on how many Purple Dragon packages you combine on your trip. So the more you book the more you save. You can even combine discounts with current Member Specials. If you are using a Bangkok package you can even get a memorable Loy Nava dinner cruise aboard a lovely converted rice barge on the Chao Praya River free! You will find details on our Members' Specials page.
Results Are In: Same Sex Marriage in Asia
In May's newsletter we asked those who left their footprints to guess which (if any) of the countries where we work will be the first to legalize same sex unions. We do not currently offer Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, or Taiwan, but those would be unlikely winners anyway. After tabulating all of the "votes" we were honestly surprised by which countries came out on top.
This all began after we read that Vietnam was on a fast track towards this monumental move. Although those who cose Vietnam made arguments to support their choice were extremey compelling, VN came in second with 31.9% of the votes. The big surprise was that Cambodia came out on top with 41.6%. For Cambodia to enact a same sex marriage law would be pretty fantastic, they may not yet be as progressive as Vietnam.
Thailand, which is assumed to be the most LGTB-friendly country in Southeast Asia, won 23% of the votes. Thailand's legislative body is likely to be quite conservative for the next year, if not longer, and has more urgent matters to deal with. We hope that part of the "natonal reform promised by those in power might inlcude embracing expanded rights for the LGBT community, which might include same sex unions. Some well connected people still strongly believe that Thailand might be first.
Surprise, surprise, surprise, Myanmar took 2.2% of the votes, and Laos 1.3%.
If any country in our region makes this move it will be a remarkable event that will compel its neighbors to catch up. For those who picked the actual winner, we will draw one of those who guess right to win a $100 Purple Dragon gift card.
...50% Diamond Membership Dues Extended
Diamond Membership half price? Thanks to all of our Members who upgraded to Diamond Status during May. We have decided to extend our half-off offer through June. As you may know, we added a "Diamond" membership option around this time last year. Diamond Members get 10% off the first Purple Dragon package they reserve and 5% off any others as long as they are Members. Diamond Members earn an extra 50% bonus points on the trips the book, and get back any points that might have expired. Points never expire as long as you are a Diamond Member. The cost to become a Diamond Member is $400 for three years. During May, however, you can upgrade to Diamond for just $200 for three years or $300 for five years. To upgrade to Diamond just go to www.clubsanook.com/upgrade.htm. In the "promotion code" field enter either 3YEARS or 5YEARS. You will hear from me soon thereafter.
A Night at the Circus
Children of all ages love a circus, and I am not exception. There is something about the music, the costumes, and the exciting performances that keep us all young. Recently I took in a performance of a "circus" in Siem Reap that unlike anything I have ever seen. Aside from the center ring and the big top, Phare Cambodian Circus has reinvented the concept of circus.
Since there is absolutely nothing to compare it to, describing the Phare Circus is challenging. As close as I can come is to imagine Cirque de Soleil being invented in a rural village in Cambodia out of 40% fantasy and 60% sweat. For a little more than an hour circus-goers are mesmerized by acrobats, magicians, beautiful women, beautiful men, energetic music and, of course, clowns. There are no elephants or other animals. Instead, the players perform incredible acrobatic feats to tell a story that is lost on most of the audience. Except for two, the entire cast is young, male, attractive, and shirtless. Men are decorated with magical amulet tattoos so commonly seen in rural villages; the kind that monks and shamans apply with a sharpened piece of bamboo. These young performers are largely country folk who might not have opportunities otherwise. They train for eight 'to ten years.
Every single member of the troupe seems to move non-stop during the entire time they are in the ring, and the things they do defy both gravity and the what most of us can do with the bodies we have. One of the cast becomes a monkey who shimmies up a coconut palm (a steel support for lights) using only the strength of his arms. He climbs and descends adeptly, as a monkey would, pretends to slip, then regain his grip three meters below as he descends head first. As you watch, you can almost imagine he has a tail. There is plenty of juggling with fire, and skipping a flaming rope, contortion, and towers of people standing atop each other. In the finale, three of the acrobats jump five meters onto one end of a teeter-totter, which propels another performer standing on the opposite end into the air, where he does a triple backward somersault. He seems to enjoy doing this so much that he does it four more times, always landing on a
Phare Circus has a show every night. Tickets are $25 and worth every cent. They have several different shows (we saw Eclipse) that rotate, so you if you are staying in Siem Reap for several nights you may be able to see more than one. It is a lot more fun than spending your evening at the tacky Pub Street. At the end of the show the audience is invited down into the ring to meet the cast and musicians, and even have your photo taken with them. Thanks to Phin Sopharat and Jeff Wood for the photos. You can find several videos on Youtube.
Flightsee Angkor Wat
There is a new way to soar above Angkor Wat, and the cost is far less than a short, expensive helicopter flight. Ultralight Cambodia is a new and exciting way to get a bird's eye view of Angkor Wat, the Floating Villages on Tonle Sap, the Roulos Group, a flooded forest and more. You can see everything in an hour at a cost that is remarkably low compared to helicopters, which require a minimum of three passengers. It's a real thrill because these aircraft fly fairly slowly, are highly maneuverable, and can fly very low. They are very safe because they can be landed on a tiny bit of clear land and can even glide without power for some distance. This is an experience that you will love to tell your friends about and always remember as one of the favorite things you did in Angkor Wat. If you are interested, just send Purple Dragon an email.
Our next newsletter (probably August) will look at India in depth. We will have invaluable information for first-time visitors and return visitors alike. India is changing rapidly and, even if you have been there before, we will tell you about what is new and wonderful. Join us as we visit not only Rajasthan and India's Golden Triangle, but also Amritsar, Kashmir, India's gayest city Mumbai, a city transported to India from France, the backwaters of Kerala, and some very splendid beaches. If you have specific questions about India that you think should addressed in our stories, please shoot me an email.
High Season Prices
It's that time of year again. It's June but we are looking forward to 2015 already, and are working on enquiries for as far in the future as November 2015. Purple Dragon uses nearly 400 different hotels in nine countries, and most contracts expire between the end of September and the end of December. This year we got an early start, and most of our high season prices are already online, although we are still working on Myanmar and India. If you plan to travel before October you can take advantage of special "curfew" rates and low season specials >here.
Only a fraction of our Members have probably read Douglas' monumental blog. However, most of you probably have a strong opinion about current events in Thailand and how it might impact you as a visitor, and tourists in general. We would like you to answer four questions (anonymously, of course) on this subject at the same time you leave your "footprint." You will earn 100 Purple Bonus Points automatically. It will take you less than two minutes. Sorry, but the footprint function was available only through the end of June. Be sure to leave your footprint in the August 2014 newsletter.
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