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.

Expect the Unexpected in Myanmar


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: The Power of a Tour Leader

I have no doubt you have heard this many times before, but we wanted to share our enthusiasm about our Tour Leader, Suzanne Noakes! We were greeted at the airport like this was her first group tour! She focused in on each individual’s special interests, was always available for extra bird walks, always had a sense of humor and always kept us fully informed about up-coming activities and all the extras that were added. She was a natural for special touches for special needs—she would say to the local guides, “SPEAK LOUDER, I am hard of hearing!” when in reality, it was my husband Bob who was hard of hearing.

She went out of her way to ensure the safety of all group members, especially on the walks on slippery mud paths—she was always right there to assist. She always made sure to do a personal re-introduction to the chief villagers, before we intruded on their territory, and it was obvious they loved her greetings. And, very best of all, she never rushed us out of any village visit. She gave us plenty of time to explore on our own. We felt the itinerary was an ideal mixture of destinations and cultures and to end up in Tufi was spectacular. We are so glad to have had the extra days—the snorkeling was awesome!

One of Suzanne’s comments really stuck with us. When a bridge was destroyed on our way to the airport in Mt. Hagen, in no time at all, she had a Plan B. We knew we were in good hands when she said “leave the worrying and stress to me—thats what you are paying for!” LOL! Suzanne made the trip exceed our expectations! Thanks so much for this adventure of a lifetime!

– Sue and Bob

Suzanne & the Huli

Sue and Bob embarked on our Small Group Tour Papua New Guinea: Island in the Clouds – Tumbuna
 with a Custom Extension to Tufi to relax and explore the beautiful coastal environment. Asia Travel Specialist, Tom Lastick, planned their itinerary. This was their first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys.

Postcard From Our Traveler: The Journey Continues in India

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…

Follow along on the Journey…..

Postcard From Our Traveler: Our Passage to India

We arrived in Delhi from Singapore, where we had been for a few days, and so we awoke our first morning un-jet lagged, fired up and ready to go!  We had prepared ourselves, somewhat trepidatiously, for what we had been told by one and all would be an “assault on the senses”. We were girded for the crowds, the cows, the abject poverty, the dazzling sights and sounds, the smells of tumeric and cumin wafting in the air: exotic and overwhelming Delhi in all its past glory and present chaos of humanity swarming in all directions.

What always makes a trip special is the unexpected, the unplanned that burnishes the memory and stays with you years after when the visit is but a distant memory. For us, it was something both whimsical and endearing, followed by something powerful and life affirming.

Read more of Molly’s story here: Our Passage to India Journey

A Staff Postcard from the Field: Virtuosos in the Backstreets of Saigon

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.

A Staff Postcard from the Field: Travel to Papua New Guinea

I Am Wontok

Papua New Guinea travel notes from Kirsten Louy-Nasty, Operations Manager at Asia Transpacific Journeys

Papua New Guinea Travel

My Trip to Papua New Guinea

Twenty-two years ago, when I was in college, I was fortunate enough to travel Papua New Guinea to visit my parents who were living there, working on various developmental projects. They lived in Port Moresby for over 3 years; I was able to visit them twice.

I’ll never forget my first night when I peered out my bedroom window and saw a man—who I was later to find out was our security guard—creeping through the backyard with his bow and arrow, barefoot. This was Papua New Guinea….However, the reason I was there was to be with my parents, to be “home,” because home was anywhere they were at the time. While we did do some exploring ourselves such as river rafting, accessing some remote tribal communities in the highlands, visiting small villages outside of Madang and testing our will for the taste of beetle nut, I was really there to be with family, to touch base, to go to the market with my mom, to celebrate being together and to reconnect. Papua New Guinea, in essence, became a home for me, because that is where my family was.

Twenty-two years later fate played its hand and I was presented with another opportunity to travel back to Papua New Guinea for business. I was invited by Papua New Guinea Tourism and Myriad Marketing to represent my company, Asia Transpacific Journeys (ATJ), to explore the lodges, the itinerary possibilities, observe a very local sing-sing (celebration or festival), travel by boat on the Karawari River and to meet our ground staff and reconnect with our tour leader. All in an effort to bring updated travel information and knowledge about travel in Papua New Guinea back to our team in Boulder, Colorado.

As the chosen representative of my “tribe” I took the opportunity with open arms. I vowed to bring back vital information, what was happening, how have things changed and what remains the same.

As soon as we flew in to Port Moresby and glimpsed the landscape, the famed bird of paradise logo on the black and red flag, I knew I was home. I came home to the level of comfort offered by the lodges amidst tribal structures and guarded negotiations for bride price. I came home to the raw sense of people living their lives still somehow untouched by forces that fill our stress levels here in North America. I came home feeling at ease with a ‘community’ I somehow already knew. I came home to the smoky earthy smell of villages and people. I came home to the muddy thick earth beneath my feet. I knew the smell of hot fresh coffee from the plantation down the road each morning and I knew the feeling when I shook hands with the people greeting me and welcoming me to their village.  I knew by the smiles of those that I came in to contact with that we should be there, we should be observing and experiencing one of the most amazing still very tribal destinations on earth. I knew the value of a pig, a woman and of land (sometimes in that order) and how these three key elements play a vital role in the survival of its people, even today. And finally, I knew the meaning of “First Contact” and how the bulus, or airplane, has played a role in this rich and rugged landscape and still does today, delivering food, supplies, medical inventory, parts to machinery and the wonderful local beer.

Papua New Guinea remains the land of the unexpected and is a true mind-boggling adventure. Even after having been there some years ago, I am in awe of what I observed. Some things have changed but in a sense nothing has changed at all. I was saying goodbye to one of our business associates, who is from Papua New Guinea, the night before flying to Brisbane to begin my long journey home. She looked at me and said, “you are wantok” which means “one talk”— someone who speaks my language, part of my tribe, my relative.

I am wantok…and when we travel, we are all wantok too. We do become part of a global community, a force that is bigger than just you and I. We become part of a family of understanding, a family that crosses borders and offers forgiveness. I am wantok and every time you choose to cross time zones and borders or reach out to others and call a place home, even if temporarily, you are wantok too.

Contact us at 1-800-642-2742 or for information on joining one of our signature Papua New Guinea tours to visit this amazing area.

Postcard from Our Traveler: A FANTASTIC Guide on Trip to India

Hi Pat!

Just wanted to let you know we’re back from the South India trip. We enjoyed it very much (although the poverty in Mumbai was very troubling). It was an excellent itinerary. We particularly enjoyed the elephant festival (Uthrallikkavu Pooram Festival in Wadakkancherry). We were the only foreigners amongst thousands of Indians. It was quite an experience!

Our tour guide, Jairaj was FANTASTIC. He is truly an asset to your company. There wasn’t a question that he couldn’t answer. And he is incredibly thoughtful – went well above and beyond to make everyone as happy as possible. Richard and I would be most interested in being informed if he ever guides a trip in another part of India. We’d love to tour with him again!

Thanks for all of your assistance!

Cheryl Hillery
Sagamore Beach, MA

Note from Asia Transpacific Journeys: The elephant festival Cheryl visited was the Uthrallikkavu Pooram festivities in Wadakkancherry. Almost totally untouristed, this exuberant celebration features processions of lavishly decorated, caparisoned elephants in headwear of plated gold. Riders carrying white silken parasols ride in rhythm with traditional music, and local crowds gather to watch ritual folk art performances. Surrounding villages vie to outperform the others and dazzle the crowd. Celebrating this little-known local festival affords travelers an authentic, delightful and memorable experience.

Postcard from Our Traveler: Greetings from Vietnam & Cambodia

Hi Tom,

Vietnam VacationKara and Jim here – coming to you from Hoi An, Vietnam.  First, you must know that we are having a wonderful trip.  Our two guides – in Hanoi and Hoi An – have been fantastic.  In case you are interested, we are keeping a little blog of our trip so that our family and friends know we are perfectly fine.  It is

We leave for Siam Reap, Cambodia tomorrow. Regards and thank you for arranging such a wonderful adventure!

Kara & Jim Macdonald
Chicago, Illinois

Postcard from Our Traveler: Travel to Vietnam

Hi Rebecca,

I wanted to drop you a note to tell you our trip to Vietnam went off without a hitch. We had a very nice time and a very unique experience, one which we will long remember.

A special thank you to you, Asia Transpacific Journeys and your local Vietnam agency. I can’t think of one thing that was not perfectly arranged, on time and on schedule.

Also I would like to mention that our guide in Hanoi, a young man (Mr. Phi), was just fantastic. He had great knowledge always upbeat and most important a lot of fun. Please pass on our favorable impression of him along with our recommendation for him for your other clients.


Chris O’Brien