Purple Dragon Club Sanook
Bulletin from Bangkok

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

Purple Dragon pioneered gay Asian travelOctober 2012

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A Fresh Look at Vietnam

Hoan Kiem LakeVietnam continues to evolve as an exciting destination for LGBT visitors. There is so much to do and see beyond just Saigon and Hanoi/Halong Bay that it is worth two to three weeks just to see best of the country, including Dalat in the Central Highlands, the always-dry Mui Ne Beach, lovely Hoi An, historic Hue and, in warmer months, high-altitude Sapa, which sits almost on the Chinese border. Even though Thailand and Vietnam are neighbors, it is worth remembering that Vietnam has very different seasons, so beach resorts might not be what you expect in winter months.

Vietnam is also increasingly progressive. Hanoi and Saigon recently saw their first Pride parades around the same time the Justice Minister announced that the country is considering legalizing same-sex marriage. Long-time activists like our Douglas were astonished. Wherever they are, Ho Chi Minh is grinning and Lenin spinning.

Hanoi. Vietnam's capital is arguably the most beautiful city in Metropole HotelSoutheast Asia. Streets are lined with stately trees and the architecture remaining from periods Northern Vietnam was part of China through the French colonial period.

The Sofitel Legend Metropole continues to be among our guests' favorite hotels in Asia. They have recently completed a complete renovation of both of their buildings. A stay at the Metropole is something everyone should experience at least once. It has been home to Charlie Chaplin, Somerset Maugham,  great stars, presidents, tycoons, and royalty. Graham Greene Wrote The Quiet American while living in the hotel. Joan Baez and Jane Fonda (not at the same time, of course, since they would Graham Greene Suitenot be caught in the same bomb shelter together) were both guests of the hotel's bomb shelter during the war in the sixties.

The hotel has recently undergone extensive renovations that have increased its facilities, including a larger spa, improved business center, and redecoration of virtually all rooms and suites. Guests of The Metropole never go hungry. While their three restaurants are great for any meal, the hotel serves the best breakfast in Asia (and maybe the world).

Gay businesses have blossomed in Hanoi. There are now several bars, discos and spas catering to gay clientele. Our local staff know the local scene well and can advise you when you travel with us.

Been There, Done That:* Metropole guests can now sign up for a short tour led by a local historian that includes a visit to the legendary and long-closed bomb shelter.

Halong Bay. We cannot imagine a trip to Hanoi without including Halong Bay. Back in the day, the trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay took nearly four hours. There was one narrow highway, which was badly paved in places. New highways cut the driving time down to around two hours. Purple Dragon has made some big changes in what we offer there.

We have discontinued the old wooden boats we used for years in favor of larger, more comfortable cruise ships. If you are considering visiting Hanoi and Halong you can see these new options on the Purple Dragon website. Both of our packages visiting Halong Bay offer a Bhaya cruise free or for a very small surcharge, depending on which hotel you choose. You can even upgrade to a two-night cruise on one of several different boats, or one- or two-night cruises on a private yacht that comes with a chef. Halong Bay now has free WiFi just about everywhere, thanks to the government.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Saigon continues to be the gayest city in Vietnam. Oddly enough, however, there are no gay bars (although several discos have significant gay presence on weekends). The local "scene" moves to a different place every night. Someone sends a text message that says something like "ten tonight at such and such a place." The message gets forwarded with comments to those who in turn do the same.

Meet me at the top!Been There, Done That:* We are in the process of making a change in our three-night Saigon Sizzle package to give guests a choice of day trip out of the city. The package has always included a day in the Mekong Delta. If you prefer, you can instead go to Tay Ninh to attend "vespers" at the holy see of the Cau Dai religion, which is an amazing thing to witness. We have dropped the Cu Chi Tunnels since it has turned into a tacky and shameless bit of propaganda. Instead you travel to nearby Nua Ben Den Mountain, where you take a cable car to see a pagoda and sweeping views at the top. This was the site of a major battle during the American War and you can still see evidence of the conflict.

Central Vietnam. There is much more to Vietnam than Saigon, Hanoi and Halong Bay. Hue and Hoi An--both UNESCO World Heritage Sites--should be considered essential parts of a trip through Vietnam.  Hue was the seat of government when what is now Vietnam was ruled by emperors. There is an Imperial Citadel that is like a miniature version of the Forbidden City. Each emperor built a "tomb," which was really a lavish residence in the countryside. You can see three or four of them by car and by boat in one What am I?day. Hoi An's history stretches back more than a millennium. Once a thriving port city, the Chinese, Malays and Portuguese all left fine examples of their own architecture.

Getting there: There are non-stop flights to Danang (45 minutes from Hoi An) from Chiang Mai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Incheon (Korea), Pakse (Southern Laos), Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other cities within Vietnam.

Been There, Done That:* Take a day trip from Hoi An to My Son, the ancient Cham city of Amratavati, which will remind you of a miniature Angkor Wat. While once surrounded by forest, the hillsides that surround My Son are still bare from Napalm dropped in the 1960s. The coral reefs that surround the Cham Islands near Hoi An are a great place for snorkeling during summer months. Hoi An locals go to the beach before sunrise. [postcard]

Hoi AnHuePhong Nga Cave

Son Doong, Thien Duong, and Phong Nha Caves. Not discovered until 1991, Son Doong is probably the largest cave complex in the world. The largest chamber stretches almost 5 kilometers in length with a ceiling of 200 meters. Nearby Phong Nga was considered the largest cave in Vietnam until 1991. Thien Duong cave, in the same national park, is 31km long and is the most spectacular. It you are fascinated by caves or want to experience the biggest things the world has to offer, we can help you visit this relatively-undeveloped part of Central Vietnam. Fly from Hanoi to Dong Hoi, a sleepy beach town with comfortable hotels, and spend at least two days. You will need appropriate footwear and your own flashlight. Guides who know the caves are available on site.

"Been There, Done That" is a regular newsletter feature where you can learn about interesting places and things you have never heard of in cities where you have already seen and done everything.

Cruise with Atlantis  Atlantis Update

If you will be sailing on the Atlantis Singapore-to-Hong Kong gay cruise in April you can now read about Purple Dragon's unique shore excursions online: www.purpledrag.com/atlantis.htm. If you know people who will be taking this trip, please share. If you are considering taking the cruise and have not booked yet, we are happy to help you. Book your cruise through Purple Dragon and earn points plus a 10% discount on shore excursions.

Recommend Your Favorite Travel Book, Earn 25 Points

We have been hard at work revamping club Sanook's online shop. We have a lot of new books as well as goodies, gadgets and gifts for people who love to travel. If you have a favorite book about Asia, or things Asian, or gay life, we welcome your recommendation. Please follow the link on our Shop Page and we will give you 25 points for each recommendation that we decide to include.

Happy Ending: End to Myanmar Price Melee

Myanmar's Ministry of Hotels and Tourism has capped hotel rates in the country, thus ending the roller coaster ride some of us have endured since last October. One hotel Purple Dragon has used frequently in Yangon raised their rates by more than 300%, making it temporarily the most expensive hotel in the country. The ministry has been getting tough, particularly with four- and five-star hotels. The GM of one hotel in Yangon is being deported for six months for greedy profiteering. For the first time in our memory that we can rightly accuse the Myanmar government of actually doing something right.

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Copyright 2012 Purple Dragon Ltd. All rights reserved.
No animals were harmed in the making of this newsletter.