Postcard From Our Traveler: A Guide Beyond the Ordinary

Zaw Zaw Aung, Myanmar guide extraordinaire

Zaw Zaw Aung, Myanmar guide extraordinaire

When we first discussed traveling to Myanmar, we stressed that the most important thing to us would be the quality of our guide. We wanted a guide who was knowledgeable about culture and history, who would be able to guide us through important historical and religious sites and also be our escort into authentic, remote tribal villages. We wanted a guide who could communicate well in English, and would be very good company.

In matching us with Zaw Zaw Aung, you gave us all we requested and much more. The time we spent in Myanmar was truly exceptional because of Zaw Zaw’s many skills, both professional and personal.

As a guide, Zaw Zaw knew where to take us and when to take us there to have the most rich and authentic cultural experiences. He found a Nat Festival and took us there. He found a celebration of young men from prominent families dressed as princes on horses and elephants prior to becoming monks and escorted us there. If we passed the home of the widow of an important tribal leader or some traditionally tattooed ladies or “long neck women,” Zaw Zaw arranged to have us welcomed into their homes. When there was an English class going on, Zaw Zaw arranged for us to meet with students and teach a class. Zaw Zaw knew what time to visit each place to see not only the sights themselves but also the local people and their customs. Zaw Zaw was knowledgeable about history and current events and offered us deep insights into his country.

In addition to being enriching and informative, time spent with Zaw Zaw was also heartwarming and fun. Zaw Zaw is one of the most open and caring people we have ever met. We invited him to join us for many meals because his company was so delightful that we didn’t want to part when the touring was done. He was kind enough to spend some of his well-deserved rest time visiting with us.

When we requested a change in our program, deciding to skip a visit to Kalaw and spend an extra day at Inle Lake, Zaw Zaw made sure the change in itinerary went smoothly. Every request we made during the trip was accommodated graciously and, what appeared to be, effortlessly (although clearly Zaw Zaw put much effort into making it seem so).

When either of us did not feel well, Zaw Zaw was compassionate and helpful, going above and beyond anything we would have expected to make us comfortable and at ease. He was very sensitive to our preferences, noting what we liked to eat, how we liked to pace ourselves, the kinds of experiences we liked to have, even that we liked to have cleaning wipes on hand wherever we went. Without us ever asking, he took care of all of those things. He was always generous with his time, connections, insights and resources.

We cannot thank you enough for finding us such a wonderful guide and person to spend our time with.

– Miriam & Robert

Miriam and Robert recently returned from a Custom Journey of Myanmar (Burma). Asia Travel Specialist, Chris Dunham, planned their itinerary. This was their first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys.

Our Travel Inspiration, Dec. 30

After a wonderful week off for the holidays, we’re glad to be back for another week of Our Travel Inspiration. Please follow along with us each Monday for our carefully-curated selection of current Asia and travel-related news stories.

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Share-worthy pieces on Asia this week:

Travel tidbits that caught our fancy:

We’d love to hear your feedback—please comment below. And please come back next Monday for more of Our Travel Inspiration!

Our Travel Inspiration, Dec. 16

We’re glad you’re back to join us for another week of Our Travel Inspiration. Please follow along with us each Monday for our carefully-curated selection of current Asia and travel-related news stories.

VaranasiQuote
 

Share-worthy pieces on Asia this week:

Travel tidbits that caught our fancy:

We’d love to hear your feedback—please comment below. And please come back next Monday for more of Our Travel Inspiration!

Expect the Unexpected in Myanmar

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Simone Farbus, Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Air Travel Manager, recently traveled to Myanmar (Burma) courtesy of Orient Express. She was kind enough to share the following account of her recent journey:

“Last spring when I was reading The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason, I had no idea that I would soon have the opportunity to travel to Myanmar where the novel is set. Based on my enthusiasm for the book and my enduring love of Asia, I jumped at the invitation from Orient Express to join the maiden voyage of their new Ayeyarwady Experience Cruise on the Orcaella.

It’s easy to leaf through a catalog or read an itinerary online and think you know what to expect. However, as with all things Asian, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. It was these surprises that truly made this a memorable trip.

Being managed by the Orient Express, I anticipated that the food would be varied and superb.  The unexpected was having the chef come to greet us all personally and to let us know that if we wanted to mix and match anything on the menu she would happily do so. Every day, vegetables and fruits were bought fresh from the local village markets and prepared into absolutely delicious dishes, thanks to the deft hand of Chef Ban.

Having traveled to Asia many times before, dirty shoes after long days of exploration are a given.  But another unexpected perk of traveling on the Orcaella was that after each excursion upon returning to the boat, the crew immediately took our footwear for cleaning, returning them within the hour.

With the turbulent history of Myanmar, I had expected our guides to be limited in what they could discuss politically. But recent changes within this country and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi enabled our guides to refreshingly express an opinion of any subject we asked about.

An unexpected delight, and my favorite memory of this journey, happened one evening as our group wended its way back to our bus after visiting the crowded Shwesadaw Pagoda during a full moon festival. All of a sudden, a little hand took mine. Her mother held her other hand and I received her nod of approval. We three walked along in this manner for several blocks without a word being spoken, until, with regret, I had reached my destination.

After 20 years of being a member of the Asia Transpacific Journeys team, I have had the opportunity to appreciate the welcoming smiles and genuine enthusiasm of many Asian countries—and Myanmar was no exception. The crew of the Orcaella and the wonderful people of Myanmar exceeded all of my expectations.”

Start planning your trip to Myanmar (Burma) today!

Postcard From Our Traveler: A fabulous time in Myanmar

First, your itinerary was well-crafted to allow us to see as much as possible in the available time. We could tell that you had given considerate thought to maximizing our experience in Myanmar. I realize that there is always more one can see and that there were important sites that time and weather precluded our visiting. Nevertheless, we felt that we had a varied and comprehensive experience.

Secondly, we want to let you know that our guide, May, was wonderful. We have been on many trips and have had a number of good guides and others over the years. May is the best we’ve had in part because we didn’t feel as if we were just another pair of tourists to squire around. She made an effort to determine what we were interested in accomplishing (seeing the country, talking to and learning about the people and understanding the culture as well as using all the available time productively) and then working hard to make this happen. For example, she took us to umbrella factories, boat yards, tiny villages, school visits, medical clinics, orphanages, gold pounders, silver smiths, paper makers, palm sugar/moonshine factories, lotus thread weavers, private homes to name just a few extras. She even bought a decorated birthday cake for Adele. Most days we included several events which weren’t on the official itinerary. This was precisely the type of trip for which I was looking. We had many laughs with her and our drivers and were made to feel like part of the family.

Thanks again, Bill & Family

Bill and Adele embarked on a custom Asia trip, discovering Myanmar. Their custom itinerary was planned by Asia Travel Specialist, Tom Lastick. This was their first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys.

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Postcard From Our Traveler: Loving our trip to Laos

La Residence Phou Vao

 

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
appreciated.

Thank you!
– Susan

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.

Postcard from Our Traveler: Our Time in Myanmar was Utterly Fantastic!

Elise R. recounts her experience with a custom “travel to Myanmar” package from Asia Transpacific Journeys:

Hello!

Our time in Myanmar was utterly fantastic! Loved every minute.

Our guide, Win Htoon, was the BEST GUIDE EVER.  She had a expert grasp of English, a broad knowledge of everything Myanmar and beyond and a wealth of insider places to take us, off the “beaten track.” Further, she is a clothes horse– she was styling in a different wonderful Myanmar fabric every day… looked fantastic!  By the end of the trip, she was just another family member traveling along and enjoying the moments with us… laughing all the way.  We even taught her to snorkel at McCloud island!  And, at Sharon’s super wonderful surprise birthday party at the Green Elephant (how can we ever repay your generosity?), Gregg gave her his Kindle (about 35 books loaded on it).  We tipped her well.  Can you get her a visa to visit us?  She was superb.

McCloud Island was heaven.  Our own deserted island in paradise.  The bungalows were spacious, beautiful mosquito netting, immediate hot water, sheets and towels changed every day, great food.  Our cabana had a more modern air conditioning unit than Gregg and Ken had … oh well.  The snorkeling was fantastic.  There were only 11 guests.

Unlike Khao Lak Resort (however, great room again, dude!) which was full to capacity–mostly with grumpy dumpy Germans and sequestered serious Swedes.  They all looked out of their comfort zone at a beach scene.

As far as I am concerned, it was a total waste of time to go to Phuket.  But I was out voted and Sharon insisted I make a compromise (Gregg and Ken wanted to end their vacation at a beach Resort–they still have to work for a living and wanted down time).  It was time I would have preferred spent exploring more of Myanmar! But what’s done is done.

I would like to return and do some more tribe exploring in Kachin State and Kayah State.  But I suppose there are too many places to go in the world and I probably will never return.  We’ll see.

It was all so superb and remarkable. And changing rapidly!!!!!  We were mostly vegetarians on the trip and Win ordered for us— great, sumptuous feasts of food.

Good bye for now,

Elise R.
Corte Madera, CA

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Elise is a veteran Asia Transpacific Journeys traveler, this being her fourth journey. She traveled on a custom trip to Myanmar and Thailand.

There is no better time than now t0 travel to Myanmar. Find out why and begin planning your custom journey or small group trip today, 800-642-2742.

Postcard from Our Traveler: We Had a Fabulous Time!

Just a quick note to let you know that we had a fabulous time! It could not have been more engaging, fun, enlightening. Even the flooding in Bangkok was interesting. The guide Nyi Nyi Naing was with us the entire time and was absolutely fantastic!

This was the best trip we’ve ever taken. Will try to call you this or next week. Thank you.

Regards,

George B.
Belvedere, CA

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George and his family ventured on a custom trip to Myanmar and Thailand. This was their second trip to Asia, planned by Travel Specialist, Eric Kareus. Learn more about custom Asia trips by speaking with an Asia Transpacific Journeys Travel Specialist, 800-642-2742.

Journey Beyond the Ordinary–Ideas for Custom Travel To Myanmar (Burma)

The Taunggyi Festival–Myanmar

The Taunggyi (pronounced Tawn-gee) Balloon Festival takes place on the full moon in November in Myanmar’s Shan State. Tribal villagers come from all over the area with their handmade paper balloons in the shapes of animals like elephants and roosters, releasing them into the sky during the day. They range in size from that of a car to a house. Music and traditional dancing go on all day and late into the night.

As the night progresses more balloons are released, these often resembling a normal hot-air balloon and decorated with thousands of votive style candles. Most impressive, the balloons carry a payload of fireworks. The candles are lit and the balloon releases to cheers and dancing. At some point the paper catches fire, and the balloon incinerates in flaming ball. The fireworks are lit in the inferno, and the air explodes in a massive pyrotechnic display.

Postcard from Our Traveler: Travel to Burma

February 28, 2011

Dear Rebecca,

You are right – the Burmese people are lovely, and it is like going back in time to visit Myanmar.

Joel (Kyaw Thu), our guide, is an incredible person.  He is smart, passionate about his country’s heritage and artistic traditions and their current political plight, thoughtful and compassionate.  He was flexible with our program, sent meds to Inle Princess when P was under the weather, was gracious with carrying extra bags to lighten our load—excellent in all ways!! We loved the casual lunches under a thatched roof, sitting by the river and enjoying Burmese curry and stir-fried veggies.  It was great having Joel with us the whole time. I’m not feeling articulate at conveying how special I think Joel is, but we were very fortunate to have him lead us through his country. He tutored me in understanding and analyzing lacquer, antique and new. He also helped me begin to understand Buddhism. The graciousness and kindness of the Burmese people are all the more lovely and poignant in light of their political climate. They are all building good karma by being so gracious to foreigners now!

Loved the ruins, but my heart breaks for the want of preservation and help from Unesco. One of my best memories was in the 12th-century temple in Bagan with the amazing frescoes.  When Joel showed them to me with the electric torch, I felt like Juliette Binoche in the Italian chapel in The English Patient.  Also loved the musicians at the Gitameit, and got a kick out of their big “Aaron Meyer” poster.

I especially enjoyed the visits to the monasteries and Buddhist schools. We had a lovely interaction with kids in the village near Inle Princess. Hit lunch break at the school, so had fun teaching them to blow bubbles, then giving out lots of Matchbox cars and little animal finger puppets.

The time travel aspect was fascinating. In those tiny villages I kept thinking of Orwell’s John Flory, and how he identified with the native people, and how isolated and frustrated he felt among the narrow-minded Brit colonials. When I saw the wheelwrights, the ox carts, the clay water vessels, and one-room bamboo huts, I could empathize with the isolation those Brits must have suffered among the medieval way of life of the natives, though.

Inle Princess was wonderful.  Best spa I’ve ever indulged in!  Loved the silk weaving factories, especially the ikat fabric.  P had some gorgeous outfits made, but my splurges were a painting in Yangon and lacquer in Bagan.  Joel deciphered a date on a betel box that turned out to be the year I was born!  Auspicious sign, so I had to get it, of course—sort of like seeing Burmese Lessons in the new books at the library the day we first discussed the possibility of this trip. The box was made in that 4-generation shop and I got to meet the daughter and great grandson of the maker.

Loved the Gov Residence and Inle Princess.  We didn’t get the ocean front cottages at Sandoway, which was a disappointment, but still loved being there.  I took some amazing beach walks by the light of the full moon, and loved walking on the beach at dawn and sunset.  That beach is gorgeous and so unspoiled!

Thank you for the note regarding my brother Chuck’s trip with you, and the 1000 Places book.  Those were nice surprises to find in the mail pile, as were your two catalogs.  Almost addictive, like travel crack. Vietnam or India?  Turkey or Laos?

I loved the Arun Residence in Bangkok, too.  Wonderful food at “The Deck,” their restaurant.  Turns out it was written up in an article in the NY Times that I had with me. The extra amenities at the Royal Orchid Sheraton were good for P, and we enjoyed it as a place to recoup at end of day.  Our guide, Wow, was very good with the logistics of our shopping.  We flipped at the big Jim Thompson outlet!   Turns out they print for big English fabric houses such as Colefax and Fowler and Zoffany.  I loved the Jim Thompson house, too, and touring Ayuthaya.  Bangkok traffic was the pits.  Four Seasons could get addictive.  I’d consider a return trip to Bangkok on way to Laos or back to Inle Lake.

As always, you thought of every detail and left us eagerly anticipating our next trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys.

Many, many thanks for creating a magical experience for Penny and me.

LIZA GUSLER
Virginia