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The Softening Baht
Once upon a time there was a tiny kingdom with a currency that got into big trouble. Banks had made billions of dollars in "questionable" loans in the years leading up to 1996, revealing structural weaknesses in Thailand's banking system. If you could sign your name, chances are, you could get a loan backed up with foreign deposits that were yielding high interest rates to depositors. At one point exports began to fall short of expectations. The baht had been pegged to the US dollar at 25 to one through a system of buying and selling dollars. But when the kingdom's exports did not meet their targets, foreign investors began to move their money elsewhere. Thailand became less and less able to buy US dollars to prop up its own currency. Foreign investors began to worry about whether they were going to get back $1 for each 25 baht they had poured into the country. And so the selling panic began. At one point we remember the baht fell to 53 against the dollar. Major construction projects around Bangkok came to a halt, leaving hulking concrete skeletons on the city's skyline.
Since Purple Dragon quotes prices in dollars, pounds, and Euros in addition to baht, we have to pay close attention to currency exchange trends. In July of 2013 the baht was trading at 31 to to the dollar. During the last week of July 2015, it finally passed 35, a six year low. It is not yet clear what is behind this steady descent, but the good news for those who spend US dollars is that prices (which have not increased significantly in the last year and a half) are lower in Thailand than they have been in a very long time. So if you are in the mood for great pad Thai, a massage, a shopping spree, or a few days on the beach, this would be a good time to make your plans.
If you have a passport issued by the UK, Germany, France, Spain or Italy, congratulations! You are now able to enter Vietnam without a visa for up to 15 days. Multiple entry visas for Vietnam were particularly tricky (and expensive) for those who did not realize they needed one if they landed in Saigon, continued to Laos or Cambodia, then returned to Vietnam for their departure flight.
Honestly, visas for Vietnam (and Myanmar, and China) are a huge hassle. You can get one on arrival in Laos and Cambodia. (The really only want your money.) We are not sure how India is handling visas this week. It seems to change constantly. Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong are visa-free for most nationals. We hope Vietnam adds more countries to the list and that some countries where Purple Dragon works make it less complicated to go to their country for the purpose of spending money. If you have questions about visas Purple Dragon has a handy page on their website: www.purpledrag.com/visas.htm
Wow! A New Thailand Visa
Thailand's junta has not produced a lot of brilliant strategies for anything. We learned last week, for example, that youngsters in Bangkok who have piercings and/or visible tattoos would not be allowed in public schools. (Presumably this is because they identify with organized crime and other bad elements in society, which putsDouglas in the "gangster" column. But earlier this week some rocket scientist at the Tourism Authority of Thailand came up with a brilliant idea to stimulate tourism: A six month multiple entry visa. Over six months you can come and go as often as you--or not go at all. The cost is THB5,000 (US$142/130 Euyros/GBP92/AU$192). You will be able to get this new visa in October.
Mekong Cruises On Sale
You might have seen the delicious cruises between Saigon and Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) on PurpleDragon's website. We can offer Club Sanook Members very special prices during August.
You can sail on the Jayavarman from Saigon on August 8 or 22, or from Siem Reap on August 15 or 29. Superior single or double cabins are just $1,860.
Special rates on the Jahan apply to sailings from Siem Reap on August 15 and 29 and from Siem Reap on August 22. Superior Cabins are $2,340.
You can upgrade to a better cabin (if available) for $60 per night. Prices do not include port taxes, beverages, gratuities or visa fees. Prepayment is required to confirm your cabin, no amendments or cancellations are allowed, and space is subject to availability. This is a great deal on two beautiful ships. Operators are standing by.
Honestly, it is a pretty big deal when Douglas gets around to blogging. With the political situation in Thailand pretty calm for the time being, he has been concentrating on other things. In February he wrote about his ten day adventure in Bhutan, which you will find very entertaining if you have not read it already. Just days ago he wrote about his "month with Bhutan Boy." It's a very sweet story about his special friendship with a charming and handsome tour guide. You'll surely want to read it here. We have books about Bhutan in our book shop. Click the image on the right to see them.
Winds of Change in Myanmar
We have been pleased to see Myanmar recover from the isolation it suffered for years at the hands of people who thought traveling there was a sin. For almost a decade Purple Dragon got hate mail from well-intentioned folks (most of whom listened to The Burma Campaign) who tried to convince us to stop sending our customers there. Douglas often said that he "got so many that we could have papered a wall with them." The stampede following the country's return to something like democracy is slowing as the tourism industry there begins to improve its infrastructure. We knew well that many things in Myanmar would change quickly, and the changes have begun. We received notice in the last few days of the first massage spa for men opening in Myanmar. In case your interested it is called Paradise Spa and can be found at 108, 72nd Street, between 32nd and 33rd Street, Chan Aye Thar Zan Township, in Mandalay.
In a past newsletter we asked the question: "Can Starbucks and KFC be far behind?" That was very a prophetic question indeed, and now there is an answer. People lined up for hours last month to dine at the country's first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Yangon. KFC followed Starbucks, which opened its first store in Yangon earlier this year. We have also learned that 7-Eleven has plans to enter Myanmar in a big way and MacDonald's has set up a Facebook page that may be hinting at its plans. A gay hotelier we know has hinted about opening a property in Mandalay
So what does all this mean? Cultures change constantly and much of Asia has become homogenized. Bangkok has traffic jams, crime, fast food, super highways and about a third of the people speak English. Or was that Los Angeles? I forget. Anyway, Myanmar has always been a country with a vibrant and mostly-unspoiled culture that still has deep roots in tradition, and the past. But things are changing. And if you are after an authentic experience, don't wait to go there until it has changed too much unless you can't stand to go places where you can't get a burger and fries.
If you are interested in a Myanmar visit we recommend planning at least six months in advance (nine for December and January). The average stay for a first-time visit is one week and includes Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. If you are curious about what Purple Dragon offers, check it out: www.purpledrag.com/myanmar/
Like to Save $$$? 2015 High Season and 2016 Low Season Gift Certificates Available Now
Purple Dragon has a clever benefit for Club Sanook Members who want to save money but who have not yet made up their minds about future travel. If you have decided you want to make a trip to our part of the world some time in the next 18 months but have not chosen a destination or firmed up dates, you can buy a Gift Certificate and give it to yourself!
For the sixth year in a row we are offering Club Sanook Members an easy way to save on future travel, even if they are not sure where or when they will travel. You can buy gift certificates in denominations of $1,000 to $10,000 at a discount. You can use them during October 2015 through March 2016. You do not have to use Purple Dragon's gift certificates as gifts--you can use them yourself to take up to 16% off (or 18% if you pay by bank transfer) anything Purple Dragon offers except for airfares, India, Bhutan or Nepal. You can begin making your plans whenever you like, as far in advance as you like. You can even pay for a portion of the cost by redeeming points you have already earned. To learn more see our Member Specials page. We have extended the deadline for purchases of Gift Certificates to be used during high season 2015 to 30 August 2015.
Justice At Last. Maybe.
Douglas plans to be in the courtroom to applaud when a judge sends Juthamas Siriwan away in chains. Juthamas was the head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) during the darkest time in the history of this company, which many of our long-time customers still remember well. (If you do not know the story about how Utopia Tours became Purple Dragon a decade ago, it is worth reading this: http://tinyurl.com/nh7tbl5). Among other things the company was persecuted by the TAT, and the only director who was not in custody was made to appear at a fake hearing about the cancellation of the company's license that was laced with virulent homophobia. With the help of her daughter, Juthamas allegedly accepted 60 million baht (US$1.7 million at today's exchange rate) in exchange for giving an exclusive movie festival contract to an American couple in 2010. Justice has already been served in the U.S. Gerald and Patricia Green were sentenced to six months house detention and a $700,000 fine in 2012. However, Juthamas, who had strong ties to two overthrown governments, has never been prosecuted. At last, however, she has been indicted and will be tried. "It's about fucking time," was Douglas' only comment.
New in Bangkok: Two Hotels & and the Return of Your Youth
At last Purple Dragon has broken its "We'll Never Do That" rule by adding a Holiday Inn and one in the Sukhumvit area to its collection of Bangkok hotels:
Holiday Inn Silom. We never thought we would ever use a Holiday Inn. After all, "Holiday Inn" (the hotels, not the film) makes many of us think of stale, dodgy rooms decorated with plastic and vinyl. So we were mighty surprised to walk into a grand lobby with marble and chandeliers and classy, contemporary rooms. This Holiday Inn has everything you would expect from a big city chain hotel. You can swim, eat, sweat, shop and be entertained in this 700 room property on Silom Road. The hotel has one of the better Indian restaurants in the city. Skytrain is just a short walk away, and gay nightlife venues down the street are just 5 to 10 minutes away by taxi, depending on traffic. In the immediate vicinity you will find art galleries, great restaurants, a Hindu temple, and the most valuable piece of real estate in Bangkok--occupied by mega-cemetery. (It's actually worth a visit as it is more than a century old.) We think it is a good value, too.
Attention people who need a little freshening-up, we have also found a great new clinic that provides all kinds of outpatient aesthetic procedures, including Botox, fillers, laser procedures, and Thermage and other well-known "lunch time facelift" procedures. They also have one of the best deals on thread lifts. For just 40,000 baht you get up to 70 threads plus free Botox. What a deal! There is a lot of competition among clinics in Bangkok. We like this one because their injectable products are 100% real. Some clinics use counterfeit products from China, so you cannot be confident about what is being injected into your face. If you would like to make an appointment for an evaluation,email Douglas. He knows all about this stuff and will take good care of you. He also had a very bad experience with fake Thermage, so he wants to see you in the right hands.
Dream Hotel Bangkok, our new low-cost hotel option, is located on a leafy block not far from Sukhumvit Road on soi 15. It is "boutique in style, not in size," and occupies two buildings. Rooms are fresh, contemporary, and enhanced with blue light therapy from beneath the beds that makes you feel like your bed is floating on a cloud. You will get things at Dream Bangkok that you would expect in more expensive hotels, like large flat-screen TVs. They have a swimming pool, restaurants, a bar/night club, and free shuttle transportation to the nearby Terminal One mall and its adjacent Skytrain station. Skytrain makes Sukhumvit a practical option for those who enjoy nightlife but don't want to be in a congested, noisy environment.
Give the World Travel Awards a Piece of Your Mind
We are not 100% sure (actually, we are not even 39% sure) who is behind the World Travel Awards, but they have been at it since 1993 and they have gala awards ceremonies at which people wear gowns and tuxedoes. A dazzling number of hotels, airlines, and tour companies have been nominated for the 2015 awards. While we are bewildered by some of the nominees, we did find a some hotels we use frequently among them. First, our #1 favorite hotel, Shinta Mani in Siem Reap is one worthy of an award. Other nominees we are excited about include the Imperial inDelhi, Umaid Bhawan in Jodhpur, Hotel by the Red Canal in Mandalay, Inle Princess in Inle Lake, the Caravelle in Ho Chi Minh City, the Metropole in Hanoi, and The Scarlet in Singapore. You can cast your own vote for your favorite and we encourage you to consider that gay-friendliness matters. Purple Dragon was not nominated again this year, and we weren't expecting to be. But what the heck, if they get enough email from our friends they might make us famous.
Share This Newsletter With a Friend
No "footprint" this month. But if you enjoy reading this newsletter and have friends who might enjoy it as well, please share. We have made it easy by semi-automating the process. Just click here to send an email. (We will not receive a copy.)
The Final Word
A certain someone at Purple Dragon, who shall remain nameless, lays in bed reading the news for about two hours beginning around 05:00 every morning. About half of that time is spend with the New York Times, probably the world's finest and most respected newspaper. Their mobile app also includes short videos on news topics, cooking, mobile apps, fashion, cars and travel. He was recently tickled to see a "36 Hours in Siem Reap" video about the town where he spends a lot of time. It even including interviews with two of his friends there at Phare Cambodian Circus. He hopes you will take three minutes to enjoy the video yourself HERE.
And finally, this hilarious video from Thailand (with English subtitles): "Gay husbands are a golden treasure." Are there any real females in this one? Have fun and thanks for reading.
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