The newsletter of PurpleDragon Ltd's private travel club.

April 2018

Editor: missfu@clubsanook.com

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Recognition and Punishment

Purple Dragon Gets Recognition

Reed Exhibitions, the world's leader at producing events like trade shows, conferences and conventions, will launch a new annual event in June 2018 called "Proud Experiences" at London's Saatchi Gallery. It will be the world's first global gathering of leaders in LGBTQ tourism, including meet-ups between global suppliers (airlines, hotels, tour operators, government tourist offices) and buyers like travel agencies and tour companies, and the media. The three-day event will also include eight master classes on timely tourism topics especially for the LGBTQ market, like working with transgender and millennial customers, circuit parties, sex tourism as well as meat-and-potatoes topics like customer service and building revenue.

Our Douglas has been invited to present a master class called "Somewhere Over the Rainbow--Is Asia Open For Business?" The idea is to introduce people in the industry to the exciting things happening Asia and also to shed some light on how to tap into growing LGBTQ consumers in countries like India, China and Thailand. He will also be a panelist in another master class. While this is quite an exciting opportunity for us to meet new friends, we also see it as major recognition of Purple Dragon's leadership in tourism in our part of the world. Douglas promises to wear ruby slippers.

You can read more about the event on their website (www.proudexperiences.com). However, attendance is limited to people involved in the tourism and hospitality industries. If you do decide to sign up please let us know.

Purple Dragon Gets Punished

GodUnless you are reading this newsletter for the first time you already know that we (well, Douglas and Nueng mostly) have been giving the Purple Dragon website an extensive renovation that has lasted more than six months already. Most of the changes are in all that stuff in the background that makes pages appear the way they do. We want to give people a more rewarding experience when visiting www.purpledrag.comand also please the Search Engine Gods.

 One thing we have not been able to do yet is to create "responsive" pages that look better on mobile devices. That's coming soon but we are still busy bringing the code, the content and the photos up to date.

Well, the God of Search became impatient. A major algorithm change was rolled out in October and God threw the virtual book at us. We normally get about 250 unique visitors a day, averaging about seven pages each over 20 minutes. Comparatively, that's pretty great. In early November our traffic began to drop dramatically, meaning November sales were down to about 15% of what they would normally be. On one day in December the site had only six visitors. In several respects, including financially, this was catastrophic.

It did not help much that a tour guide in Israel copied the entire first paragraph on our main entry page, substituted "Israel" for "Gay" and posted it on about ten websites, including all of the TripAdvisor sites, Viator, Tours by Locals and Get Your Guide. You may not know it, but Google punishes websites when it finds "duplicate content." So we all got punished. Since the other sites are many times bigger than we are, they barely noticed.  If you happen to be practicing law in Israel, Douglas would love to sue this guy for the $75,000 that never found its way into our bank account.

The guys have stepped up their work and are implementing new technology that will please The Lord, including things like "Schema" and "structured data" that is maddening to learn but essential to the coming era of voice search. When all the work is done the whole site will be exported to either Joomla, which will automatically make pages "responsive." We are also considering Wordpress.

Our traffic is slowly returning. On some days we reach 180 visitors. On April But this has been a painful and costly experience that, at one point, clouded our future.

What can you do? Popularity counts. God will hear your prayers if you spend 15 or 20 minutes on our site and view more than 7 pages. And if  you see anything that looks wrong you might win something! If you can send us an email that points out five or more typos, misspellings, missing images or links that dont work you will be entered into a drawing for a $100 gift certificate. Just send Douglas an email. If you have an opinion about Wordpress vs Joomla, or if you are a wizard at something called "Rich Snippets," let Douglas know. He would love to feel better about this whole thing.

You can also become a Purple Dragon shareholder so we can afford to pay someone better at this than Douglas to do this. (More about that below.)

MedicineExpedia Invents a Disease

Experiencing malaise? Fatigue? Mild depression? According to Expedia this has nothing to do with problems at work or at home, clinical depression, traffic, the economy, substance abuse, lousy weather, or an individual with early onset dementia living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Don't waste your money on medical help or counseling. You are suffering from "Vacation Depravation."

Expedia's annual "survey" found that nearly half of those questioned presented symptoms of advanced Vacation Depravation. At 82%, the population of South Korea have the highest infection rate in the world. This apparently has nothing to do with their neighbors to the north. The survey sample was about 15,000 working adults in thirty countries.

Expedia claims to be "dedicated to ending Vacation Deprivation once and for all." Even though we do not like them (or other hotel booking sites for that matter) very much, we applaud them for their bravery in bring attention to a worrisome and growing public health emergency that could eventually eclipse the opioid crisis. We stand with Expedia and promise to do our best to help control and eventually eradicate this alarming threat to the future of our species.

Our "Forgotten" Destinations: Kep & Bokor Mountain

The Casino on Bokor MountainIn the 1960s the seaside hamlet of Kep  Sur Mer was filled with weekend homes owned mostly by French colonists looking for a place to beat the heat and boredom of Phnom Penh. Other foreigners built homes atop Bokor Mountain, where a church and a lavish hotel/casino was also built. All of this came to a sudden end when the Khmer Rouge were swept into power. In a matter of days these settlements were completely abandoned. The Khmer rouge stripped them of not only of their household goods but of plumbing and electrical wiring. Buildings were left to the mercy of the elements.

In addition to practically all of the most-visited places in our part of the world, Purple Dragon also offers some more unusual destinations, chosen for their charm, appeal, and cultural value. Some are not really all that unusual, although they seem to be ignored by many other tour companies and some of our customers. We have decided to feature one of these in each edition of our newsletter so readers have a better idea what they can add to a more mundane itinerary. This time we explore Kep and Bokor National Park in the southern Cambodia.

 Today Kep and Bokor stand as 20th century archaeological sites in a country that is home to one of the world's most extensive 10th to 12th century structures left from the Angkor Empire. Kep is still a tidy little town with a few charming hotels and some of the world's most expensive real estate. You can dine on seafood fresh from the fishing boats that anchor along the Corniche. Bokor is now a national park. The road to the top had completely disappeared when Douglas explored this area 15 years ago. However, it has since been repaved and will take you through three distinctly different climates as you pass through old trowth rainforest on your way to the top. The casino is still there, overgrown with lichens. It's empty, of course, but you can easily imagine it during its glory days.

Purple Dragon offers Kep, and Bokor as a three-night round trip from Phnom Penh. (www.purpledrag.com/cambodia/kep.htm).You can easily take a detour to Sihanoukville for a couple of nights on your way back. This part of Cambodia is still quite unspoiled, and you won't see very many (if any at all) other visitors at Bokor. We think this is one of the best trips  we offer for those who think they have seen and done it all.

And the Winner Is....

You should have received an email from me about one week ago inviting you to find the Easter eggs in our website. We have left them there temporarily for you to have a look in case you did not find them all. We folded up all the email entries we received and drew a winner from a big styrofoam ice box. And the winner is (ta da!) Frank G., who lives in Bangkok.

In case you did not find them all here they are:www.purpledrag.com/bhutan/ultimatebhutan.htm,www.purpledrag.com/myanmar/mountpopa.htm andwww.purpledrag.com/vietnam/phanthiet.htm. We decided to leave them online until 15 April so you can see for your yourself.

Absolutely nobody found the 4th "solid gold" egg. It was pretty hard to find: www.purpledrag.com/india/rajasthan. htm. It's actually pasted into one of the photos in the sidebar. One of our clever entrants thought it might actually be one of the water jars in another photo on the same page. Close, but no cigar.  This was fun so we plan to do it again next year. We promise to make the golden egg a little easier to find.

Phuket Wants To Keep An Eye On You - Tell Us What You Think

According to a story in The Nation newspaper, some of Thailand's brilliant leaders want to issue wristbands to visitors to Phuket so they can be tracked 24/7. The system would be linked to the island's CCTV system, which would be equipped with facial recognition software. They do not say whether this is voluntary or not, or how they can differentiate between holiday-makers or people arriving for other reasons. In the past those seeking visas have been asked about social network usage. (Yes, Dorothy, that means your Facebook page. Connect the dots.)

Tell us what you think. We would like to know how you feel about this proposal, and whether it would affect your choice of beach destination to visit in Thailand. We will choose up to ten representative responses without revealing who sent them. We will send all of the responses we receive to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (also anonymously). To give us a piece of your mind just CLICK HERE. Don't hold back!

Dreaming of Bhutan in San Gabriel

If you live in San Gabriel, California and you visit our BetterBhutan.com website practically every day, we are getting to be curiouser and curiouser about who you are. You began your visits on 9 January and you have not left the website yet. In other words, you have been logged into BetterBhutan.com for about four months. On 120 days you have viewed multiple pages, totaling more than 260 pages by the time you read this. Thanks for helping to improve our search engine rankings. And we are flattered that you really enjoy Better Bhutan. We'd love to start a conversation with you.

Dreaming of Bhutan Yourself? We've Got a Fun Money-Saving Group for You!

Ura, BumthangPurple Dragon does not offer group tours. However, some times we break our own rules about that. If you are dreaming of Bhutan, don't want to travel alone, and want to save some money, we have an opportunity for you. A small group of customers who happen to be friend with each other, are planning a Bhutan adventure beginning on the third week in November and have agreed to allow us to add up to four Purple Dragon customers join them. These guys are well-traveled professionals who are fun to be with.

This 11  day/1o night itinerary will include Paro (where you visit the oldest temple in Bhutan and the iconc Thaksang Monastery, two nights in Thimphu, the world's only capital city with no traffic lights, Punakha (one of the country's top three temples/monasteries), Pobjhikha, an idyllic valley that is the winter home to the Black Necked Cranes, Trongsa, and four nights in Bumthang, in Central Bhutan. There, you'll see some extraordinary scenery, enjoy unspoiled air and water, see some remarkable places, enjoy a festival or two, and watch the buckwheat grow.

Space is extremely limited. We'll help to get you to Paro from Bangkok, Delhi or Kathmandu. If interested, shoot us an email: info@purpledrag.com

Bargain Bhutan for Aussies

Bhutan celebrates 15 years of friendship (diplomatic, at least) with Australia with a "Bhutan-Australia Friendship Offer" for holders or Aussie passports. Travel June through August and you can forget about the government-set daily minimum and the US$65/night "royalty" paid to the government, and also the $30/night "small group surcharge" for fewer than three people traveling together. Selected hotels are offering preferential nightly rates up to 50% off. Some special airfares are also available, we're told.

This is good on any itinerary, regardless of length. The end result is a fabulous adventure in Bhutan for between 40% and 50% off what you would normally pay. So you should be able to get ten days in Bhutan for the price of six. A real rip snorter of a deal! Interested? You are not the only one, so rattle your dags and give us a yell (hurry up and contact us soon).

Own a Piece of Purple Dragon--and Join a an Elite "Club" With Benefits

Purple Dragon SharesDouglas is putting half of his shares in Purple Dragon up for sale to finance expansion over the next two or three years, including two new websites, rewriting a travel-related app, adding a sales manager to the staff and quite a bit more. He wants to build the business so that brands can be sold to the benefit of all investors. There are travel related benefits to most shareholders. Some investors will get Jewel Memberships free.

He has recently sent letters of invitation to some of our customers. Since then, he has gotten better advice about some facets of the offering and share prices. If you would like to download an updated copy of this information, just go HERE.

In TAT's Surprising New TV Commercial They "Out" Themselves

The Tourism Authority of  Thailand, the Kingdom's national tourist office, has not historically thrown the "g" word around cavalierly. We visited their marketing people the first time around 15 years ago and the idea of gay tourism got a very chilly reception. Their New York office openly embraces our market and even has a gay website (http://gothaibefree.com/). Yet, the folks in the "home office" have never been very enlightened. However, a brand new promotional video produced by BBD&O Advertising's Bangkok office for TAT shows a new direction. "Diversity" is mentioned several times, and the cast includes two young men who look awfully friendly to each other.

We took notice of this video before ITB, the world's largest tourism trade show that takes place in Berlin annually. The 2018 event concluded at the end of March. Much to our shock and surprise, TAT appeared as a "Presenting Partner of ITB Berlin 2018 LGBT Travel." In normal English that means they have actually given LGBTQ folks  a welcoming embrace. We think that's pretty fabulous. While TAT has been openly hostile to us only once (see the item in "The Leftovers" below), the people in Bangkok's main office have made it clear since we opened our doors nearly 20 years ago that weren't planning on using the "g" word. Whether this was just an overseas PR stunt that is unseen at home or whether TAT will finally recognize Purple Dragon's contributions to responsible LGBTQ tourism remains to be seen. Honestly, we think we deserve an award for nearly 20 years of developing LGBTQ tourism almost single-handedly under very difficult circumstances.

More Idiots Abroad

In January we shared the story of two bare-assed gay men from San Diego who dropped their drawers at Wat Arun and the Grand Palace. Tasteless public behavior, however humorous, is not acceptable in our part of the world. They posted their photos online and were arrested, fined and deported.

Cultural stupidity is by no means restricted to frisky gay men. In late January 87 millennial heterosexuals were arrested in Siem Reap following a "party" that included "pornographic dancing." Dancing couples, although fully clothed, simulated various sexual encounters. Video of this revelry was posted online. This shocked Cambodian authorities because it happened in the shadow of Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious building. (Yep, bigger than Saint Peter's.) It is still considered by Khmer people to be a holy place. After several foreigners posed nude at Angkor Wat and posted pix online last year, local authorities passed strict regulations regarding the behavior of visitors.

Of the 87 ten were jailed and charged with crimes. Ultimately, only one of those arrested was held and only one was put on trial, and he received a one year suspended sentence.

Some people should really stay home.

More on Pommes de Terre

Bhutan green chiliDouglas sent me a salad by Kerry Transport, Thailand's domestic version of FedEx and DHL. Nobody has ever expressed me a salad before.  "You gotta taste these," the note in the box said, along with assembly instructions. I actually had to slice the tomatoes, crumble the goat cheese myself, and tear the basil leaves. I also had to supply my own salt and extra virgin olive oil, which is always a staple in my kitchen.   (It's great for your  hair and complexion, too.)

My toil was rewarded with a toe-curling lunch. He sent seven or eight different kinds of tomatoes in multiple colors, ranging from the size of a small melon to the size of a pea. After suffering from years of tasteless Thai tomatoes, this plate took me back to my childhood, when my family l lived for several years in the California  wine country, which is also very much tomato country. The little yellow pear-shaped tomatoes were brilliantly sweet. One pale yellow tomato had vivid pineapple tones. The larger tomatoes had flavors as bright and complex as their colors. A simple tomato salad should be as rewarding to the eyes as it is to the palate, and I think that's what Douglas and his "tomato team" are going for. One orange-colored tomato weighted 1kg (2.2 pounds) and was so sweet and meaty that I ate it like an apple.

The "Tomato Team" project now has a   website: www.Hot-Tomato.com. And on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/TomatoTeam-1505910469457555/.

That's not a photo of a tomato, of course. They're also growing Bhutan chilies. Almost all of the green chilies that everyone in Bhutan eats at least once a day and often at every meal in ema datse ("chili cheese"), the national dish, come from India. For almost a year the Bhutanese government have refused to allow Indian chilies into the Kingdom because of pesticide levels. Tomato Team is hoping to have enough fresh 100% organic chilies grown from seeds collected in Bhutan. They plan to make boxes of those spicy fruit available to Bhutanese people to take home from their shopping trips to Bangkok.  They are also growing the gloriously-hot dallay khursani chilis, and some boutique veggies. And they have been noticed by several of Bangkok's Michelain-starred kitchen celebrities.

Maekhlong TrainA Couple More Videos We Fell In Love With

Something Fake, Something Real

One of  Bangkok's most popular side trips is the Damnoen Sudak Floating Market. If you are considering adding that to a Bangkok visit there are a few things you need to know. First of all, it's not "just across the river." Actually it's a two hour drive in each direction from Central Bangkok, so it takes most of a full day. The other thing you need to know is that the Floating Market is a piece of theatre cooked up for tourists. It's not a real market in the sense that locals go there to buy mangoes or tourist trinkets. The market was dreamed up to rake in tourism dollars to boost a local economy that would probably be pretty poor without it. It's interesting. It's photogenic. It's even almost fun. But  it's fake.

We like to add something very real to a day trip to the Floating Market. Maeklong Market is very real. It is spread along both sides of the rails a commuter train passes through nine times a day. When a whistle is heard in the distance the whole market packs up and moves far enough away from the passing train to avoid death or injury. It's pretty remarkable, as you will see in this video from the BBC.

How to Tie a Khroma

A "khroma" is the ubiquitous scarf that practically everyone in Cambodia wears every day. In this video,  a tour guide (who does not yet work for Purple Dragon) shows just how versatile a fashion accessory it is and how useful it is for more than keeping your neck from getting sunburned.

Jeff and Mark in Angkor

Jeff & Mark Loved Angkor (Again... and again)

We've been Purple Dragon fans almost as long as we can remember. Angkor Wat was our first trip with you guys in 2005. We just returned from our 27th Purple Dragon trip, eleven of which have included Angkor Wat and surrounding areas. Angkor is not the kind of place you should visit only once. Obviously we have found plenty of things that are completely new to us to keep us busy. This photo was taken at the north gate of Angkor Thom. Our guides usually find some temple sites that are off the beaten track and fairly unknown to tourists. We love to have places like that all to our selves.

Neither one of us can take long vacations because of our jobs, so we travel twice a year from San Francisco to spend about ten days in Purple Dragon's hands. We've been to Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, India, Bhutan and some beach resorts in Thailand. We're considering Bhutan again, as well as a taste of Sri Lanka and some spots in Myanmar we missed the first time.

We use Purple Dragon because it's almost effortless for us. We love the service and their outstanding guides. We always have a day in Bangkok no matter where we plan to go, and in 27 visits Peng, our favorite guide, has always managed to find something or some place new. That's a real accomplishment! Compared to people we know who are "DIY" travelers, we get a lot more for our money. We can't imagine traveling as far as we do to spend precious time wandering around with a copy of (popular guide books) and trying to figure out what we are looking, like some people we know. Thanks for taking such great care of us.

Sharing is Good Karma

We get between 10 and 15 new Members a month. That's not bad, but we think we deserve 50 to 75. You can help us by sharing this newsletter on socal media. (You can use the handy buttons we have provided on the right.) We also hope you will invite your friends to join, whoever they might be. Not all of our Members are gay or lesbian. They joined because they like what we offer and find our newsletter entertaining, informative and of value. Our sign-up form includes a question  about how new Members heard about us, and to give us a name if it's a friend. We love that! When it happens often it results in real good karma and a very special thank-you from us.

During April 2018 every Member who refers 10-14 new Club Sanook  Members will get a $50 Club Sanook Gift Certificate, or a $100 Gift Certificate for 15+ new members. New Members must enter your name below "Did another Club Sanook Member suggest that you join? If so please tell us who so that say thanks!"

Cambodia PrideThe Leftovers

♥ Cambodia Wears Pink. Cambodia launches its first national Pride celebration this year with events in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh between 11 and 21 May. Unless you have been there to experience the Khmer Kingdom yourself, you may astonished how gay it really is. Cultural attitudes are very relaxed and there are plenty of gay-owned/managed businesses and venues, including some of our favorite hotels. You might even see a contingent from Purple  Dragon there! For more info click on the poster on the right to open a larger version.

♥ We're famous.  Again. http://leisuregrouptravel.com/7-tour-operators-specializing-in-lgbt-travel

♥ 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.

♥ Faster Mynmar Visas Online. Myanmar now guarantees visas online within 24 hours: www.purpledrag.com/visas.htm

♥ Bangkok Street Food. Our lovely junta decided some months ago to ban street food. There was a predictable uproar and suddenly the PM became a huge street food fan. According to a story in the New York Times the street food that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year may still be in jeopardy again. Read the story to find out where you can find the best before it's too late. Or, you could ask Douglas.

♥ Suvarnabhumi Airport Delays. A year ago we published a notice about delays due to runway repairs that were due to go on for about three months. Depending on which newspaper you read, the runway work is either just starting or has just finished. We are not sure what kind of magic trick is being performed here, but we can see with our own eyes that half of one of Suvarnabhum's two runways is still blocked off. Expect delays, However the messy immigration lines of last year seem to now be under control. If  you are over 60, disabled, pregnant, or all of the above you can use the diplomatic/crew queues at the far right when you enter immigration. It's worth buying a cane to take along. And if you really don't want a hike through a kilometer-long shopping mall to get to your gate, tell your airline that you have mobility problems and you'll free wheelchair transportation and get priority boarding.

♥ Songkran Fever. Over the past week there hhas been a mass exodis of Thai residents to saner places,  and an even greater number of visitors to Thiland to experience the annual Songkran Festival holiay. Little do many visitors know that many restaurants and shops will be closed, they should not wear leather (wallets, belts or shoes), carry a computer bag, a mobile phone or paper money. If you're planning to be here for your first Songkran, you will probably have lots of fun, but bring zip-lock bags for phones, cash and anything else that should not be thoroughly soaked. Pickup trucks roam the streets with water cannons and we are reminded that guns don't make people wet, children make people wet. Have a fun time but don't bother making your hair look too gorgeous before you step out for the day. Happy New Year!

Purple Dragon pioneered gay Asian travel

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No animals were harmed in the making of this newsletter.