Bulletin from Bangkok 

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

December 2018

Editor: missfu@clubsanook.com

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"Gaywashing" and Tourism

Have you ever used a search engine t0 look for a gay-owned business or product? Were you presented with results that you were suspicious of because it seemed most or all were not gay businesses or products at all? Or have you seen a product all dressed up in gayesque rainbows or pinkGaywashig Doritos triangles that has absolutely nothing to do with being gay, like the "Rainbow Doritos" some marketing genius at Frito-Lay dreamed up? These are examples of "gaywashing," a practice some businesses use to deceive consumers by pretending to be gay or having some connection to the gay community (other than wanting our money).

We are seeing more and more gaywashing in tourism. It is not difficult to find. I recently came across a Facebook page for a tour company in Nepal with a name that is blatantly LGBTQ-related and displays photos that appear to be from a pride celebration in Kathmadu, although they could easily have been staged. I am 99.5% certain that this page, which is associated with an adventure travel company, is not owned or managed by anyone gay, may not employ any homosexuals, and has absolutely no connection the gay community in Nepal. It is shameless gaywashing.

Recently there has been increasing public dialogue about gay, trans, and other minority characters being played on television and film by actors who apparently belong to no minority at all, thereby depriving minority actors of work opportunities, even though the roles may be cheezy and stereotypical. Yep, this is anther version of gaywashing.

If you think that gaywashing is harmless, consider a similar form of deception in the entertainment industry. "Minstrels," Caucasian entertainers wearing black-face makeup and gloves, performing in a way that mimmiced "negroes" (frequently with the help of tambourines) were popular on stage and in film from the 1920s through the early 1950s. Eventually this practice was understood to be racist and socially unacceptable. Al Jolson in BlackfacePerhaps the last time such "entertainment" was presented in public was in 1993, when Ted Dansen roasted Whoopie Goldberg at a New York Friar's Club luncheon in black face. In his sketch he used the "n" word repeatedly and he ate watermelon. Fortunately, he does not apparently play the banjo. There were numerous horrified African-Americans  in the audience. While Dansen and Goldberg were in a relationship at that time, it ended quite publicly less than a month later.

Dressing up a bag of tortilla chips (or a tour, for that matter) up in gay rainbows that it has not earned and that it does not deserve is morally no better than painting your face black to pretend you are a "negro."

The "gay market" is seen universally by businesses around the world as a gimungous bag of money just waiting to be exploited, and increasingly some travel and tourism companies that think they very clever are disguising themselves as gay to cash in. This is not the same, of  course, as a mainstream company like an airline, hotel chain, liquor company, fashion line or a credit card company publishing gay-focused advertising in gay media. In most cases these companies employ significant numbers of LGBTQ people who are treated with equality and dignity, and also help fund Pride groups and other nonprofits that support community interests. Gaywashers support nothing but their own selves through deception.

Douglas, our leader, wrote about "Getting Rich Selling Gay Travel" in his most recent blog: https://www.douglas-thompson.com/blog/13August2018.htm. A couple of weeks ago a luxury beach resort hotel in Thailand called on him in an effort to get more gays guests, who they presume to be big spenders. Normally, we are the ones who ask hotels for wholesale rate contracts if we are interested in using them. This hotel made quite a production of attempting to entice him into what they thought was a huge opportunity. Ultimately, all they wanted us to do was sign a contract without Douglas even seeing the hotel first-hand. Apparently they were given mailing lists of LGBTQ travel agents by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, but they are not sharing. TAT has never given us a thing. In fact, they persecuted us ruthlessly at one time.

Just days after meeting the hoteliers, Douglas purchased the internet domain name "gaywashing.com." We've been talking about what to do with it, but ultimately it will probably become a place where gaywashers in all kinds of industries are outed to consumers. If you know of any kind of business using gaywashing tactics, please let me now about it, confidentially.  We would like to learn more about this practice outside the tourism industry. We'd also like to have your ideas about how we can all have some fun with a gaywashing.com website. If you would like to be informally involved by helping us as an advisor, I would love to hear from you: missfu@clubsanook.com.

If you are considering patronizing what appears to be a gay business, ask questions first. Who are the owners? How many LGBTQ people do they employ? What is their connection to the community and what community resources do they support? In the case of travel businesses, membership in IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association) is a credential that means absolutely nothing. Anyone can join IGLTA. (They are really good at collecting dues. In our  experience, that's the only thing they are good at.) An IGLTA member logo on a website automatically declares that that the business is "gay friendly," which does not mean any kind of significant commitment to our community or our values other than taking our money. You might even go as far as to say that IGLTA facilitates gaywashing for their own profit. We appealed to IGLTA for help when TAT was trying to destroy us. They pocketed our dues, but when it came to standing up for a gay tourism business that was being to subjected to official homopobia they said "sorry, we don't do that." (You can read about the entire ugly episode if you follow the link in the second paragraph of "Leftovers" below

LGBTQ people have survived and thrived as a community because we have earned each others' loyalty. Calling your business "gay friendly" simply to cash in on pink dollars, pounds and euros is gaywashing, and we think that is as deplorable as blackface.

So What Makes a Tour "Gay?"

We have been shopping lately for a place where our tiny advertising budget can go a l0ng way, and have settled on a major website that we will tell you about later. The site mostly makes money selling hotel rooms and a bit of advertising in something like a directory of businesses. They have separate websites for different parts of the world, including Asia.

David and Es Loved BhutanWe would really like to promote our Bhutan trips there.  However, while the website includes content for sixteen different countries, they do not have any content for Bhutan. It seems there is "no there there;" no gay bars, beauty salons, hotels, saunas, massage salons, local magazines or anything else, and the tourism system there does not allow them to sell hotel rooms. Does this mean there are no LGBTQ people there? Heavens, no. There are a surprising number of "out" young people in Bhutan. They just have not needed gay-only products or services.

Is it safe to assume that LGBTQ travelers are only attracted to places with gay bars or saunas?  (Personally, I find the idea places with none of those things quite refreshing.)  If not,  how could a tour to place like Bhutan, for example, be "gay?"

You may have noticed that Purple Dragon's tours are not built around visits to bars or saunas, and that we use virtually no gay hotel, mostly because there are practically none in our part of the world. Our tours are "gay" because we recognize the special needs of our customers when it comes to service, discretion and personnel. Virtually all of our guides are gay, which means our guests get insightful interaction with local people, and sometimes opportunities to meet more if they are interested. The suppliers we use, like hotels, drivers and restaurants, have a lot of experience with our customers already, so there is nothing novel about a same-sex couple or small group of friends traveling together.

Almost equally important is that Purple Dragon has, over twenty years, become a part of the local communities and cultures in the places where we work. We have mentored people and groups who are building communities, as we have been doing quietly in Bhutan. We support local Pride organizations where they exist and want our help. Some of our customers are happy to support us rather than "mainstream" companies because of these efforts. Others choose to do so simply because they like to support gay-owned businesses. If you are one of them, we really thank you.

A place like Bhutan (or some of the places we offer in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, India and even Thailand that do not yet have bars, spas or other traditional gay businesses) has a lot to offer regardless of that, including authenticity, unspoiled culture, extraordinary scenic beauty, or a spotless environment. We offer places like these because they guarantee our guests uncommon experiences. So if you are stuck in a South Florida/Palm Springs/Sitges/Mykonos/SanTomFrancisco/Berlin holiday rut, we have some amazing places waiting for you to discover. They might even change your life!

Tom Loved Myanmar

Tom N. has been traveling to SE Asia for fifteen years and has used the services of Purple Dragon extensively, including his most recent adventure in Myanmar. He shares  some great advice, if  you are considering of a Myanmar trip but have not gone yet. 

I'm in SE Asia and I'm not even breaking a sweat. Tranquil Inle Lake is in the mountains of gorgeous Shan State in the northeastern part of the country. Arriving at your hotel by water does not truly prepare you for what you're about to experience. Glide across the lake to take in the local Inntha lifestyle from the comfort of your cushioned armchair aboard your own private long boat. Have lunch at one of their multi-story stilt houses.

Watch the fisherman with their conical nets as they paddle their canoes using one foot on the oar. A little bribe from your guide and some of them will even pose for you.

Observe the extraction of lotus stem fibers and watch as they create a weave-able thread right before your eyes to produce some truly stunning articles of hand crafted fabrics you'll want to take home.Inle Lake

Your guide will take you to see a local market at whatever village is hosting it that day where you can see the Pa-O women wearing their traditional dress. See the holiest site on the lake which features five Buddha images so old that the continuously applied gold leaf by only men has rendered them into featureless blobs. Watch the silversmiths at work in their shops hammering out exquisitely made pieces. Learn how this agrarian society grows their vegetables on small floating islands that they maintain. Their hydroponic tomatoes supply the whole country with their bountiful crop.

Marvel at the Bagan-period ruins of Indein reachable by boat. Take a day excursion over land to the Kakku Valley where over 7000 dazzling pagodas cover a hillside. De-stress in a new men's spa in nearby Taunggyi. Your guide can take you there.

And speaking of spas for men, there are now half a dozen to be found in Yangon, Myanmar's former capital and largest city. Explore Yangon's British colonial past and pamper yourself with a large room at the Strand to get a sense of the city's history. Or stay at the Sule Shangri-La. A free Golden Circle membership will have you enjoying an executive room on an upper floor where you can have a quiet breakfast while taking in the view of Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's holy of holies for Buddhists. The gleaming spires of this must-see attraction and their jewel encrusted umbrellas can be blinding in the morning light but they take on a serene hue as sunset approaches.Bagan

The plain of Bagan is world renowned. Learn about the thousand year old history and be prepared to be wowed at the spectacle of hundreds of various sizes of pagodas dotting the dusty landscape. In the mornings, hot air balloons fill the sky as visitors take in the sunrise from above. The country's best lacquerware is found in its busy shops. Plan on at least two days there or add a day and stay at the resort on Mt. Popa with its view of a temple complex lovingly constructed atop a volcanic plug.

Mandalay doesn't disappoint but it's best attractions lie in its surrounding cities. Be sure to visit the many holy sites of Sagaing across the Ayrewaddy River, the lifeline of the country. Talented silversmiths are there to be found as well. Spend a cool night at elevation in Pyin Oo Lwin, where the British used to get away from the heat.

I first came to Myanmar in 2008 after a particularly unfortunate set of political events when few other tourists ventured here. And when I returned this time nearly eleven years later, I was amazed at how much the country has changed. Generators no longer line the streets outside the shops as the electrical supply has been modernized. I could stay in touch at 4G/LTE speeds to quickly send photos of Buddha images with their painted faces to jealous colleagues back home. There are ATMs and currency exchanges everywhere now - no more changing money on the blackAung Ballooning Above Bagan market. The exchange rate is very favorable too. You'll be amazed at how low the food prices are. And most noticeably, there is traffic on the streets! Citizens no longer need permission from the government to own a car and the country is full of right-drive imports from Thailand and Japan driving on the right as we do in the West. Just be sure to take care when crossing the streets in Yangon as the newbie drivers don't yield to pedestrians.

The most recent political unrest is confined to one town in Rakhine state in the Northwest, a region that is not even open to tourism. Purple Dragon makes it possible to plan your trip such that only the cost of your visa goes to supporting the government. Travel the country using private carriers whose small fleets use the latest turbo prop aircraft. Yangon's new domestic and modern international terminals await you.

Or enter the country via Mandalay from Bangkok or Chiang Mai, and take in a care-free cruise to Bagan where you can visit local tribe life along the river. But be sure not to miss spectacular Inle Lake to bring a cool respite to your vacation and stay in one of the fabulous honeymoon-worthy resorts that lie at the north end of the lake. It's really no sweat at all!

Introducing Our New Face in Myanmar

For the entire sixteen or so years we have been offering Myanmar we have used three different local companies to handle our bookings and care for our customers. This is the only one of our ten countries where we have had use another company rather than operate on our own.

In most places we have local teams of operations people and guides to take care of our customers. We know them well. Some have worked for us for nearly 20 years. Most of them have slept on Douglas' sofa at least once. We're all "family," which is different than working for with a bureaucratic tour company that employs dozens of clerks that spew out impersonal cookie-cutter itineraries.

Aung with Anderson CooperThat came to an end in November. Big Tour Company took a magical honeymoon that Douglas spent months working on and almost literally put it through the shredder, leaving our guests with the trip the company wanted them to have and destroying much of the planning we had done. Then they had the audacity to try to bullshit their way out of it with a twisted "we know better than you" argument.

You may remember reading in our October Newsletter that our former Phuket manager had moved to Inle Lake to operate a cute little homestay on stilts. Douglas found him online one evening and explained via Facebook Messenger that we wanted a highly experienced senior guide who would work directly with us to handle our customers. Oh, and he had to be both gay and obedient. Within five minutes Douglas was chatting with Aung Kyaw Mynint, who was instantly a perfect fit for us. We are happy to introduce him as our new country manager.

Aung has been working as a guide for 19 years. He graduated from Mandalay University with a degree in history. His English is excellent, of course, and he has traveled to every corner of Myanmar in additional to Europe, the UK, Thailand, Philippines and China. He has guided celebrities and delegations. Aung is also one of the most extraordinary photographers we know of, which makes him the perfect personal guide for camera bugs. (Aung gave us the three photos in Tom's story above. That's him at the top of this story, enjoying the view from a hot air balloon over Bagan.)

Anderson Cooper called Aung "the best tour guide in Myanmar." When Douglas fired Big Tour Company we placed Tom N. (see the story above) immediately in Aung's hands. Tom called Aung "a rock star." We are really lucky to have Aung on board. Whenever possible, Aung will travel with our guests from place to place rather than our past practice of using different local guides at each stop.

Sa Pa Reinvented

We are in the process of replacing the Sapa tour on the Purple Dragon website with something entirely new.  As you may know, Sapa is  a side trip from Hanoi, so close to the border that you can see China in the distance. The area around this French Colonial Hill Station town is dotted with villages Sapaof ethnic minority people. Visitors enjoy the charming town and all its pleasures at night, and visit villages during the day on foot with a local trekking guide. Lucky visitors are rewarded with spectacular mountain scenery, terrace rice paddies, and waterfalls. Sapa town has several markets selling quality handicrafts from surrounding villages. You can also take short funicular ride to the foot of Fansipan, the tallest mountain in Indochina, then a cable car to the top for views from over 3,100 m (nearly two miles high).

In the past we have traveled from Hanoi to Lao Cai by overnight sleeper train, each way with four people sharing a compartment or paying a premium for a private compartment. However, a new highway directly to Sapa makes it possible to drive there in about four hours, which allows you to  enjoy the scenery the entire way. In the end, the price is lower.

Hiking in Sapa is about a "1.5" on the difficulty scale of ten, although sturdy walking shoes or boots are a really good idea. Sapa is very seasonal, with larger crowds in March through October. September and October are said to be the best moths. However, if you don't mind chilly weather Sapa is especially magical in winter. Prices are much lower, shopping for local handicrafts is more pleasurable, and many hotels there have fire places in some or all of their rooms. And you can probably see China from your balcony. https://www.purpledrag.com/vietnam/sapa.htm

2019 Promotions

Southern Laos CruiseIf you are following us on Facebook you already know that we have an a collection of promotions that will help Club Sanook Members up to 15%, mostly during March through October 2019.

Luang Prabang plus either or both both of our Mekiong cruise tours (Chiang Rai to Luang Prabag or Southern Laos)

The Ultimate Vietnam Tour: Saigon, Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay: 15% Off. You can add Sapa and get a discount on that, too.

Discounts on Bhutan? For Club Sanook Members, definitely! 10% off seven to eleven nights, 12% off for 12+ nights. Or get 15% when you add India and/or Sri Lanka.

Myanmar? Thailand? A grand multi-country tour? We have special deals in 2019 for those as well.

You can read all of the details on Purple Dragon's website: https://www.purpledrag.com/2019.htm

Surajgarh HaveliOur "Forgotten" Destinations: A Night in a Maharaja's Palace

Every so often we remind you about a destination in our portfolio that does not get as many visitors as we hoped for. This month it's Surajgarh, an obscure village in India that holds some of Asia's most fascinating archaeological treasures.

At first glance, Surajgarh is a ramshackle little town of about 18,000 souls on the edge of a desert, an obscure detour between Delhi and Agra. You'll probably arrive from Delhi after dark so the first thing you see will be Surajgar Fort, the former palace of a Maharaja, transformed into a charming boutique hotel. The night Sujit from our affiliate office in Delhi and I stayed there we were the only guests. We spent much of the evening in the al fresco bar on the roof, where a local couple and their two children entertained us with magical traditional music.

You will have some time to wander around the surrounding area the next morning, or you can rely on a camel-powered cart to take you around. There are an amazing number of Hindu temples and shrines for a town this small, but it is the "havelis," former mansions of the wealthy merchant class, that are truly fascinating.

Doors are literally open everywhere. The havelis are now communal homes to multiple families and residents are used people--including visitors apparently--coming and going. The original residents decorated the interiors of their houses with lavish frescos in vivid colors, sometimes depicting scenes from from the daily life of the Marawi people. Clearly, they tried to outdo each other. In even the most modest of the havelis, it seems like every wall and ceiling surface is decorated ornately. Due to the dry climate of the region, colors are still bright and vivid after about 250 years.

As you drive towards Agra (or Jaipur, depending on how we arrange your itinerary) you will make an additional stop at Nawalgarh, called by some "The Golden City" of India. Nawalgarh is considerably larger than Surajgarh and also has many significant decorated havelis, some even larger and more lavish than Surajgarh.  Some are operated as museums. Obviously you could skip Surajgarh completely and spend a night in Nawalgarh, which has several hotels that cater to Western vistors. But we like the small town ambiance of Surajgarh, and its charming, palatial boutique hotel, where you can literally walk into a stranger's home and admire the decor. https://www.purpledrag.com/india/surajgarh.htm

Incredible India

Please Welcome our Newest Family Member

We want to thank Phil M. for believing in Purple Dragon. He is our newest shareholder, and we welcome him to our family. Our shareholders are helping us in multiple ways to grow. If you would like receive a prospectus and learn how investors also get great travel benefits, just go here.

The Leftovers

♥ Leave Your Headache at Home, Please. A large pharmacy almost next door  to Purple Dragon's office building sells a tantalizing selection of potions, pills and pastes. Want to stop smoking,  get a testosterone boost, get your clinical depression or high blood pressure under control, or even satisfy your craving for opioids, you can walk out with bags full of goodies without a prescription. Resident hyp0chondriac Douglas contributes handsomely to their bottom line there every Friday. Last week he needed to replenish his baby aspirin. "You better stock up, " the clerk told him. "On January first you are going to need a prescription for aspirin." No matter how long you live here, there will be things you will simply never be able to understand. Add this to the list. But bring your own aspirin if you visit and think you might need some after a crazy night at Soi 4 and DJ Station.

♥ Juthamas Siriwan Sentenced to 50 years. We like this story so much we think we might keep repeating it until Juthamas gets out of jail. The former director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand has been sentenced to fifty years in prison for her part in a corrupt contract-awarding deal for a film festival. Juthamas presided over Tourism Authority of Thailand when it participated in raids of our offices and the phony prosecution and deportation of two directors of what was then Utopia Tours. (Story Here*) Hope you enjoy the food and the ambiance, Juthamas. We would love to send John Howard to keep you company.

♥ Low Cost Airfare War. Low Cost Carriers here look to be gearing up for a price war in early 2019. Jetstar Asia announced that some passengers who buy a one way ticket get the return ticket for free: https://www.jetstar.com/th/en/home

♥ Peak Season Discounts in Patong? Five-Star La Flora Hotel on Patong Beach in Phuket yesterday sent us a promotional notice for high peak season bookings through January. Rates are just about half of our normal contract rates, which is something of a first. But we're not complaining. If you want a last minute holiday in Phuket between now and the end of January, shoot Purple Dragon an email.

♥ Cheese Deadline.  If you are in the US the last day to order cheese for delivery by Christmas is 19 December, Rogue Creamery has notified us. This has nothing to do with us except that Douglas likes to see cheese mentioned in the newsletter once in a while. I have to admit, their hand-made Oregon cheeses are extraordinary. Their orgasmic Rogue River Blue is one of the best cheeses in the world. http://www.roguecreamery.com/store/.

♥ Keep Watching This Space.  We are going to continue to add high/peak season bargains when we hear about them.
 

Purple Dragon pioneered gay Asian travel

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