A Staff Postcard from the Field: Laos Travel

Laos travel notes from Eric Kareus, Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Travel Specialist

River trip from Muang Khuam to Nong Khiow | Jonathan Whelan

River trip from Muang Khuam to Nong Khiow | Jonathan Whelan

Greetings from Laos. Traveling overland from Northern Thailand to Luang Prabang has afforded some amazing cultural experiences, including visits to many minority villages including Lantean, Khamu, Hmong, Akha and Tai Dam. It’s much more traditional and unvisited than anything I have seen in Northern Thailand and very similar to remote areas of Shan State in Burma, but with much better access.

From Thailand we crossed to Ban Huoy Sai and then drove to Luang Namtha to spend the night. From here, we drove to the Muang La Resort which was our base for the next 3 days. There are numerous villages to visit via 4WD or hiking and biking excursions. The resort is phenomenal. With only 6 rooms, it’s very intimate in an area not frequented by many travelers. It has a riverside hot springs, ‘hot tub’, that they fill up each evening. From here you can observe children play and fish, while families come down from the hillside after working to bath and swim. If you were to take a picture in black and white you could pass it off as a scene from a century ago. The food is interesting and for the most part extremely tasty, except on the occasion that they attempt to introduce you to some traditional Laos specialties like frog, fish heads and snails.

From Muang La you can drive directly to Luang Prabang, however, we drove Northeast to Muang Khua. From here we enjoyed a 3-hour private boat trip down the Nam Ou River to Nong Khiow. The scenery is absolutely stunning with limestone mountains and primary growth jungle for a good portion of the journey. We also stopped in a couple of villages (Khamu and Tai Lu) that have no road access and were very pristine. One in particular wove beautiful textiles that were available at a fraction of the cost that you’d find them for once reaching Luang Prabang.

After spending a night in Nong Kiow, we drove to Luang Prabang where I am now heading off for lunch at L’Elephant and a bottle of Louis Jadot Beaujolais.


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A Staff Postcard from the Field: Australia

Notes from the Antipodes from Marilyn Downing Staff, Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Founder and President

Austraila travel – The Great Ocean Road

Austraila travel – The Great Ocean Road

I have just returned from adventures in Australia. This journey began as both the quintessential ‘girlfriends’ trip and a journey of exploration to shores unknown.  My dearest friend, who I had met long ago when, post college, we were both traveling in Latin America, called one day to suggest a nostalgia trip.  Remembering how much fun we had long ago? Our kids are now grown and we finally had time to sneak away to rekindle a dear friendship, within the framework of adventure.

Travel to Australia is a huge undertaking, so we decided to bite off a manageable chunk:  Melbourne, The Great Ocean Road, the Barossa Valley wine country and a few days in Sydney.  The perfect road trip.

Melbourne’s sophisticated charms captivated us from the beginning, as we spent a lazy weekend exploring the markets, craft fairs, admiring the architecture both Victorian and oh, so contemporary and watching the Sunday rowers on the Yarrow River.

Leaving Melbourne, our first few kilometers on the road toward the coast were memorable, mostly for the sheer terror of driving on the left side of the road.  But, alas, even Americans can be quickly retrained and within a short time we were comfortably cruising like the locals.

The Great Ocean Road will forever loom large as one of the World’s great road trips.  Quaint coastal villages, spectacular ocean vistas, bronzed surfers, charming cafes, friendly people all along the way, koalas, kangaroos and (oh, should we mention?) great shopping.   We had days were we achieved record low distances covered. We stopped at every sight, drank coffee in each café and visited with countless, interesting people.  Watching the sunset over the ocean from the sheer cliffs at the Twelve Apostles rock formations will stay with me forever.

Eventually, with time drawing short, we begrudgingly picked up the pace and arrived in the Barossa Valley, Australia’s premier wine region.  Quaint and charming don’t begin to describe. Closely resembling California’s Napa, this valley produces some of the world’s fine wines and has an outstanding food and art scene, as well as world class accommodations, including The Louise with it’s award winning Appellation restaurant.  We could have stayed here forever, but Sydney and home beckoned.  Will we return?  Absolutely!

View Marilyn’s Australia travel photos on our Flickr site >>

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A Staff Postcard from the Field: Mergui Archipelago

Mergui-1I am sitting atop the Mermaid 1, somewhere in the Andaman Sea along the Mergui archipelago, watching the sun set after another incredible day of snorkeling and beach walking. The late day sky looks like a watercolor in muted shades of pink and orange.

We were all up by 6 a.m. today and instead of the morning beach walk we all opted to snorkel before breakfast. The Zodiacs took us to a fabulous spot where the water was calm and so clear, it was truly amazing. This morning we saw beautiful fields of table coral and so many colorful fish. It was like swimming in an aquarium.

Every time I go in the water I see something new. This morning I saw the biggest puffer fish ever, just hanging on the bottom. It was nearly three feet long, light blue with dark spots. It seemed quite oblivious to all the masked creatures hovering over the little guy, us! There was a countless school of large parrot fish, so vibrantly colored, and every time they munched on the coral you could actually hear them dining. After about an hour and a half we came back to the Mermaid and had a fabulous breakfast, then on to more snorkeling and island discoveries.

We were recently on Lampi Island, which is rumored to have wild elephants inhabiting it. And while we did not see any elephants, we did see their relatively fresh scat, so the rumors are a reality!

We always saw various birds on our beach walks, from sea eagles to bramminy kites and collared kingfish, which are a brilliant turquoise blue. We also saw a multitude of reef heron on Steward Rock.

Another day in paradise!


View Donna’s photos at our Flickr site >>

Donna is our Controller and joined our World Wildlife Fund trip, Snorkeling Thailand and the Mergui Archipelago. This trip sells out fast every year. Our 2010 departure is set for February 28. Learn more at our site.