From Delhi, we have been whisked away to the magical kingdom of Rajasthan, worlds removed from the urban hustle bustle of India’s capital. If Delhi still retains images of a colonial empire, Rajasthan sweeps you back in time to a land honed by its harsh desert conditions—an agrarian landscape painted in shades of gold and ochre and dusky red sandstone. Veiled women drift past, gracefully balancing water bowls on their heads, small children tucked protectively under their arms. At long last, I gaze upon the sacred cows of India, omnipresent, unattended and uninterested in anything or anyone around them. They can be found wandering into homes or shops or splayed out asleep on busy streets as cars swerve to avoid them and pedestrians politely sidestep them. What can possibly be going on in their bovine brains? “Hey, let’s check out the action at the local wadi. Omar the ox is pulling that wooden wheel around and around in a circle!.” “Nahh, think I’ll take a nap.” If there was ever a lucky gene pool for animals, the sacred cows of India have scored big-time. Chickens? Not so lucky…
Just wanted to let you know we are having a fabulous time so far in Laos. Our national guide is absolutely delightful, knowledgeable, and a real pleasure to travel with. Our local guide today was also outstanding. It was fascinating to walk through the different ethnic villages and talk with local people.
We loved La Residence Phou Vao. It is spectacular. And we are enjoying Muang La Resort.
But I mostly wanted to thank you for arranging the command performance at the National Ballet Theater. Wow!!! We so enjoyed the production which ran 90 minutes. The main ballet was a representation of a Lao story that we happened to discuss at length the day before with Pon, as it was captured in a mural on a wall at Wat Xieng Thong.
Suffice to say that your careful attention to detail have been most
Susan and Lawrence embarked on a custom Asia trip, discovering: Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos. Their custom itinerary was planned by Asia Travel Specialist, Eric Kareus. This was their first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys.
Our trip has been incredible! We are in Hong Kong now until 3/3, but we are
done with the whole part you helped plan. And I want to tell you that
everything you said was true. :-)
Having you/your company take care of all the arrangements was a major plus
factor, and as you had said, if we could afford it, it was well worth the
money. This type of travel, flying from point to point with passport
controls, hotels, languages, etc. is very wearying, and we feel that the
reason it was less so was because we were met in each country. This took
some of the foreignness out of the experience.
For us, having the cruise to break up the being on the move format was
delightful. Of course, the sightseeing was superficial being in each place
such a short time, but we mostly like the ship life of having everything
there and easy. We would have done better to have had you arrange for land
tours for us from the ship, as you suggested. Many of them were silly
stopping at different factories, etc.
Here is a little feedback, which I think you would want, but honestly you
are hearing from some EXTREMELY satisfied clients.
The guides were excellent; they were all such nice people, friendly, and
eager to please. The one in Myanmar, her name is Toe Khin Khin, was far and
away the best. And having her fly with us to Bagan (our favorite place)
made things so easy. She had lots of information, laughing and so much
fun to be with, sensitive about what her clients like to do, and the most
rare quality she has is fitting in with the exact mood that is called for.
For example, when we were in a temple and feeling spiritually connected or
watching a sunset, she laid back and just enjoyed that feeling with us. She
pointed out special opportunities that we just lucked into: seeing the
children’s novitiate procession in Bagan and also attending her coworker’s
Hotels were beautiful. One thing that amazes me is that none of them had
more than 2 dresser drawers for clothing. We sometimes had an additional
little cabinet brought to the room. Of course a cruise ship spoils us all,
since every nook and cranny is outfitted with more drawers and closets than
you could use. The pool in Siem Reap was fabulous – gorgeous, huge, warm –
although the room was quite tiny. The pool in Laos was not heated, and with
the 30 degree drop in temperature at night, it was unusable. The charming
manager Eddie said they have a plan to heat the pool in the future.
Tom, the choice of places to go, how much time to spend in each place, the
sequence of when to go where — was just about perfect. We appreciated your
info book encouraging clients to speak up and tell their guides what they
like to do best. When Toe told us that our second day in Bagan was going to
be spent on a 3-hour drive each way to Mt. Popa, we said NO WAY. We could
not tear ourselves away from the spiritual other-worldly experience of just
being amidst these pagodas. So we stayed in the area and found marvelous
things to do.
Thank you so much for the work you put into making this a trip of a lifetime
for us. We will never forget it and hope we have a chance to recommend you
to others in the future.
Lenore & Peter,
New York, NY
Lenore and Peter embarked on a custom Asia trip, discovering: Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Singapore. Their custom itinerary was planned by Asia Travel Specialist, Tom Lastick. This was their first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys.
An amazing extension you planned for us…we loved it.. Huot was a really good , sensitive and knowledgeable guide…he mother henned us and informed us and was open to talking abt Khmer Rouge days ..He was understanding of our need for rest and cooling down !!! Do submit our recommendation for him.
The Koh Ker Beng Melia extesion was a fantastic wonderful surprise…to feel like Henri Mouhot with no one , virtually there…. FANTASTIC !!!!
Connected with Thuzar tho all too briefly as the hotel botched up room numbers and left her sitting in the lobby. Alas. but got to see her wedding pix and cute crawler baby pix.
Our Cambodia time felt like a whole other trip …wonderful.
Many thanks for all your planning. We enjoyed the other couples as well though being younger they had a whole lot more energy.
Took in the Angkor theater also… very nicely done in air conditioned comfort.
Many thanks once more,
Sandra is an Asia Transpacific Journeys travel veteran. This was her eight small group trip, arranged by Asia Travel Specialist, Rebecca Mazzaro. We continue to look forward to helping her plan her next big journeys!
To learn more about travel to Asia, or to begin planning your journey with a Travel Specialist, please call 800-642-2742.
Howard and Miriam S. recount their experience with a custom Vietnam luxury travel package from Asia Transpacific Journeys:
We were very satisfied with the itinerary that you helped us develop for our twelve days in the country. Our days were very full. Most nights we fell asleep before 9 o’clock P.M., tired, satisfied and still a little jet lagged. I suppose we would have enjoyed the luxury of having a couple of half days with nothing scheduled so we could rest and catch our breath. Nevertheless the full days allowed us to see and experience many incredible things.
Our three guides, Lan, Hung and Vu, were excellent. Each man met us at the airport and took us where we needed to be without any problems. They were always on time. They were friendly, knowledgeable and spoke freely with us about all kinds of issues, including government corruption, the War, religion, family structure, etc. We definitely learned more from our guides on our custom trip than had we been part of a large group tour (of Vietnam).
Sometimes we enjoyed going off script with our guide. In Hanoi, we told Lan that we wanted to more closely experience life in the city. Lan took us on a meandering walking tour of the flower district near central Hanoi. That was a great detour for us. Then, at our request, Lan took us to a gritty local restaurant he knew well, that served some of the best pho’ in Hanoi.
We thoroughly enjoyed our brief stay at the Sofitel Hotel in Hanoi. The room was luxurious and the service was superior. We enjoyed waking up to the sumptuous breakfast buffet every morning.
While waiting for Lan to pick us up one rainy morning, we saw a taxi back up into a woman speeding along on a scooter. She appeared to be hurt but help came right away. Otherwise, we were amazed how motorists were able to maneuver around each other without regard to traffic rules, without running into each other. This is one of our lasting impressions of our Vietnam experience.
In our one full day in Hanoi, we saw Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, the One Pillar Pagoda, Ho’s home, the Museum of Ethnology, Hoa Lo Prison, and capped off the day with a wild cyclo ride in the French Quarter. The day was rainy and hazy which only added to the experience.
The next day we drove 3 1/2 hours through numerous small towns to Ha Long Bay. Our time spent at Ha Long may have been the highlight of the trip. We received a warm welcome from the Paradise Cruise people. We were escorted to our ship, the “Paradise Luxury,” which lived up to its name. The accommodations were luxurious, the food was wonderful. We thoroughly enjoyed a rowboat tour of a fishing village and the next morning enjoyed a hike through a large cave on one of the islands. The air was misty, just like every photograph of Ha Long that we have ever seen. We probably would have enjoyed spending one more night and day cruising around the islands of Ha Long Bay.
We flew to Da Nang and were met at the airport by our new guide, Hung. From that point we were with Hung for nearly five days. We enjoyed every moment with him. He exhibited a deep understanding of Vietnamese history and culture. He is an amateur photographer with a wonderful eye for beauty.
We were very satisfied with our accommodations in Hoi An at the Life Heritage Resort. We liked how we could take a few steps from the calm of the resort and find ourselves surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Hoi An’s marketplace. We found a nice Vietnamese lady who washed all of our clothes, same day service, for $5, whose business was three steps away from the hotel.
We have many, many exquisite memories of our time with Hung in Hoi An and Hue. The morning of our first whole day in Hoi An, Hung led us through a 16-mile bicycle loop past lovely neighborhoods, new beach front hotel developments, shrimp farms, pig farms, a spice village and finally, the center of Hoi An. Hung met us that morning, promptly, with excellent quality mountain bikes and helmets for everyone.
Along the way, we were fortunate to call on Rod Sims, an American Vietnam War veteran from Georgia who has returned to the Hoi An area to live out his days. Apparently Rod has lived with extreme feelings of remorse and guilt over his involvement in the Vietnam War. He expressed to us that he is now devoting his life to doing good deeds for the Vietnam people, including raising money for children with birth defects. We felt honored and inspired to spend 30 minutes with Rod in his home.
We spent a long day driving over 400 km to see some rather notorious historical sites associated with the Vietnam War. Hung noted that it was rare for Americans to ask to be taken to such out-of-the-way places. For many years I have wanted to visit My Lai. We drove a long way to get there. When we arrived, we viewed a short documentary of the massacre and toured the small museum, which did not shy away from presenting every horror that happened that day. We saw foundations of the homes that were burned to the ground which had signs listing the names, sex and age of every occupant who was killed. We are both so glad that we visited My Lai. We went inside the Vinh Moc tunnels (these are the ones where a person can almost stand up). We stopped at fire support base Camp Carroll and later visited the marine base at Khe Sanh. These were meaningful stops. We were able to appreciate the densely forested mountains that surround these places, which helped us appreciate where and how the War was fought. We crossed the rebuilt bridge spanning Hien Long River at Dong Ha, in the DMZ. It was incredible to stand where so much history has been made.
Hung took us to My Son to wander among the Hindu Temples. Apparently, the original 70 temples have been reduced in number to a mere 20. We arrived at My Son on a drizzly late afternoon after all of the tourists had left. I think we both felt a little like Indiana Jones. We both felt the magic that I have felt a few times in my life when standing in a sacred place.
We decided to drive over the mountain pass rather than through the tunnel on our drive from Hoi An to Hue. Glad we did. The views of the coastline were spectacular. We took a full afternoon to explore what’s left of the Forbidden City in Hue. While much of the site was destroyed and badly damaged at the Tet Offensive, what’s left still left us in awe. We wandered from building to building, through lovely ornate gates bearing images of dragons and the phoenix. We were able to sense the grandeur of the Imperial Court as it existed in the 19th Century.
A word about the Pilgrimage Resort where we stayed while we were in Hue: The resort itself is reason enough to visit Hue. The bungalow-style suite, eco-friendly landscaping and pool were beautiful beyond words. We would have been very happy to stay there for a few extra nights.
We felt particularly close to Hung, liked him a great deal and had a bit of an emotional farewell at the airport in Hue. We were met by our third guide, Vu, when we arrived at HCM City. We had a busy day shopping in the frenetic market place, stopping for lunch at Pho’ 2000 (where Bill Clinton also stopped for lunch), touring the Reunification Palace and visiting the War Remnants Museum. At this point, I think my wife, Miriam, had had enough of unexploded bombs, photos of human tragedies caused by the War, etc.. Still, these displays were informative (notwithstanding the propaganda) and deserve to be seen.
Our accommodations at the Caravelle Hotel were very satisfactory. We enjoyed the central location which allowed us to wonder away from the hotel for dinner and to explore the historic neighboring hotels, City Hall and a somewhat incongruous upscale mall.
We took a long drive west toward the Cambodian border with Vu to visit the fascinating Cao Dai Pagoda. We saw a religious ceremony in progress. We then visited the Cou Chi Tunnels. We could not resist the temptation of disappearing in the tunnels ourselves to experience real claustrophobia. As much as anything, experiencing the tunnels impressed upon us the strength of the Vietnamese people, their love of country and their will to survive.
We left HCM City for Phuket, Thailand, where we rested and relaxed for eight days. Our trip was a perfect combination of intense activity, followed by a chance to replenish ourselves.
As you know, I had had some prior experience visiting Southeast Asia in my trip to Burma in 1999. For Miriam, however, this was baptism by fire, because she had never before been to Asia. This was an unforgettable adventure for both of us. We felt as though we really saw and experienced a great deal, although Hung was quick to point out that we had merely “scratched the surface”. Still, we had a very rich experience indeed. We saw first hand, an ancient culture rooted in tradition which finally has a chance, in peace, to develop fully into a modern nation. Life in Vietnam seems to play out right on the street. Lots of contradictions, but a place that we would relish the chance to return to.
Perhaps we’ll talk in a year or two about planning an adventure to Laos and Cambodia. Our thanks to you, Lesa and your staff for orchestrating such a memorable and smooth adventure for us.
Howard & Miriam S.
John H. of Wisconsin recounts his experience with one of our group trips to Vietnam:
Linda and I returned home this afternoon after a great trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Bali.
We had a fascinating time and all the arrangements couldn’t have been better. Thanks to you and your Asia Transpacific Journeys colleagues for helping make this such an interesting and memorable trip.
The guides and drivers in each country were all helpful and informative and went out of their way to help make our visits outstanding. The hotels were excellent, and the detailed itineraries interesting and very well geared to our interests.
In short, we had a terrific time, and more than once turned to each other and said “Asia Transpacific really has done a great job!”
Thanks for making this a trip we’ll treasure.
Mineral Point, WI
Learn more about custom or small group trips to Southeast Asia by speaking with a Travel Specialist today, 800-642-2742.
I’m in Maldives. Reluctant to say it with a day to go, but barring any unforeseen injury or incident… this is the best trip I’ve ever taken. Not just with you guys but overall… and I’ve been a lot of places at this point. It’s been truly extraordinary on every level. Thanks again for all of your help.
I’ll check in with you later in the week from NY.
Mark traveled through Sri Lanka and Dubai on a custom trip arranged by Asia Travel Specialist Eric Kareus. This was his third trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys. We look forward to helping Mark plan his next trip to Asia.
Asia Transpacific Journeys has introduced three new Asia tour packages, offering exotic winter getaways. These new packages offer travelers unprecedented access to sacred sites and centuries-old rituals, face-to-face meetings with formerly endangered wildlife and Asia’s secret island hotspot.
India: A Jungle Book Journey
India is famous for its dazzling cultural treasures. What is less well-known of the subcontinent is that it is home to some of Asia’s greatest wildlife. This extraordinary, 17-day journey departs December 3, 2011 and March 3, 2012. It features naturalist-guided travel by foot, elephant back and 4WD to three of India’s most important preserves; havens for the once nearly extinct, magnificent Bengal tiger as well as species as varied as one-horned Indian rhino, clouded leopard, wild Indian elephant, jackal, fox, bison and myriad bird species. Additional features of India travel itinerary include:
- Gorgeous eco-lodges and upscale hotels
- Excellent chance of a wild tiger sighting
- Elephant-back rhino safari
- Access to remote areas of national parks
- Special meetings and discussions with conservationists
- Rickshaw ride through Old Delhi
- Magnificent fortresses, mosques and UNESCO sites
- Witness cultural performance within temple grounds
Sri Lanka: A Journey with the World Wildlife Fund
In its new adventure to Sri Lanka, Asia Transpacific Journeys teams up with the World Wildlife Fund to offer a wildlife tour to Sri Lanka, a seldom-explored spot that is considered one of South Asia’s best-kept wildlife secrets.
Few destinations as geographically small as this island nation offer so many cultural treasures and such great wildlife biodiversity. Sri Lanka is considered a “super hotspot” for endemism and contains many unique plants, birds, reptiles and mammals. In fact, new species are still being discovered here. With a focus on the central and southern highlands, this March 2012 journey takes you to several national parks, and onto the calm seas off the southern coast.
This 14-day itinerary with departures beginning March 10, 2012 features the following components for a well-crafted wildlife tour of Sri Lanka:
- Explorations of four national parks, including an in-depth visit to Yala National Park to search for the elusive leopard.
- Several opportunities to see wild elephants.
- Whale-watching expeditions to look for blue and sperm whales, which congregate in high concentrations along the Sri Lankan coast at this time of year.
- Visits to important cultural spots, including the Rock Fortress at Sigiriya and the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.
The mountain kingdoms of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, thousands of feet above sea-level, hidden amidst the world’s highest peaks, stand literally and figuratively above the rest. A trip highlighting three UNESCO world heritage sites is ideal for those seeking adventure and spiritual perspective.
Departures for this 20-day excursion begin April 5, 2012 and travelers will enjoy an itinerary that includes:
- Tour leadership by an expert on Asian culture.
- Meet monks in remote monasteries.
- Sacred lake amid spectacular Himalayan vistas.
- Drive along the Friendship Highway, border crossing from Tibet to Nepal.
- Witness Hindu ablution ceremony at sacred river.
- Medieval towns housing preserved temples.
- Visit fertility temple where hopeful couples make offerings.
Learn more about once-in-a-lifetime trip to Asia by speaking with an Asia travel specialist today at 800-642-2742.
The huge, penetrating eyes, staring into mine through the low brush of the jungle remain my most powerful memory. Perfectly set in the striped-moon of a face, the tiger’s eyes froze on me. Simultaneously astonished and paralyzed by fear, my mind raced.
Could the cat clear the short distance between us in a single bound? Would it want to? Could the unarmed rangers protect me from harm? But, by the next instant all thoughts were pushed aside as I was captivated by those giant golden eyes.
We had been looking for game for a couple of hours in a national park in India not known for tiger sightings. With only 10 tigers in a 500 square kilometer conservation area, there is rarely human contact. It was not among our expectations to even catch a glimpse. We had seen forest and savanna landscapes, Indian gazelles, antelope, sambar deer, langur, macaque and an astonishing array of early morning birdlife. We were heading in for the day, satisfied that we had seen what the park had to offer.
Then, from a quick whisk of a tail, our guide spotted the big cat crossing ahead of us. We sped up and caught the large female as she was stopped dead in her tracks to have a look at us. As humans rarely see tigers, tigers rarely see humans and we were both equally riveted.
Wilderness and India are two words rarely found in the same sentence. However, those in the know recognize India as one of the world’s leaders in conservation of wildlife and in successfully integrating human and animal communities.
Panna Tiger Reserve is one such place. Deep in the heart of the monsoon forest of the Deccan Plateau, this huge area has been set aside for the preservation of wildlife populations. To experience one of these parks is to experience an India far from the teeming crowds – an India of bird songs, clear skies, crystal rivers and starry nights. And, to just possibly have the moment of a lifetime staring deep into the eyes of a creature both mesmerizing and profoundly terrifying. An unforgettable moment, indeed.
– Marilyn Downing Staff, Founder and President, Asia Transpacific Journeys
Marilyn stayed at the Taj Safaris Wildlife Lodge, where she was able to experience luxury and extraordinary wildlife at the same time. If you want to see tigers for yourself, join our India – A Jungle Book Journey Small Group Trip, or customize your own India trip by speaking with an Asia Travel Specialist, 800-642-2742.
Miu and her husband Truc are masters of their craft. Graduates of the Hanoi Music Conservatory, they are now keepers of the art of Vietnamese traditional music, played on their personal collection of historic, handmade instruments.
Operating out of a small studio, in their modest home on a narrow back street in Saigon, to make a living they open their home to curious visitors for intimate performances. I was delighted to experience the passion and artistic perfection that they bring to their craft.
Playing a variety of instruments, including a natural stone marimba, bamboo xylophone, the haunting, Vietnamese single stringed zither, the dan bau, and a remarkable instrument made from large bamboo pipes that is played by clapping hands in front of each bamboo tube.
As the performance progressed, I was caught up in an appreciation for Vietnamese music, as never before. Truly masters, and able to convey a love for the music across cultural and linguistic barriers, Mai and Truc are cross cultural ambassadors extraordinaire, creating a new level of appreciation for the complexities of Eastern music to my Western ear.
-Marilyn Downing Staff
Marilyn Downing Staff, Asia Transpacific Journeys Founder and President, spent this Fall touring Southeast Asia. During her travel in Vietnam, she was able to expand her appreciation and knowledge of Vietnamese music and culture.