Postcard From Our Traveler: Our Trip of a Lifetime

Travel to Asia

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
wedding reception.

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.

Kind regards,
Lenore & Peter,
New York, NY

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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.

A Postcard From Our Traveler: Fantastic Extension in Cambodia

Cambodia

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 L.
Cambridge, M

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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.

A Postcard from Our Traveler: An Unforgettable Adventure

 

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.

Sofitel Hotel

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.

Halong Paradise Cruise

Halong Paradise Cruise

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.
Miami, FL

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This was Howard’s second trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys, and his wife Miriam’s first. Begin planning your next unforgettable custom trip today, 800-642-2742.

A Postcard from Our Traveler: A Trip We’ll Treasure

 

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.

Best regards,

John H.
Mineral Point, WI

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John embarked on a Custom Southeast Asia trip organized by Asia Travel Specialist, Chris Dunham. This was John’s first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys.

Learn more about custom or small group trips to Southeast Asia by speaking with a Travel Specialist today, 800-642-2742.

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.

Asia Transpacific Journeys Explores Sacred Himalayan Kingdoms and Wildlife in India and Sri Lanka

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.

Indian Tiger

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

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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.

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Sacred Mountain Kingdoms: Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan

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.

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Learn more about once-in-a-lifetime trip to Asia by speaking with an Asia travel specialist today at 800-642-2742.

A Staff Postcard from the Field: Wild Eyes in India’s Jungle

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

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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.

A Staff Postcard from the Field: Clean Water Brought To You By Asia Transpacific Foundation

Clean Water Initiative

I LOVE  Burma. LOVE LOVE LOVE it. If you’ve never been you HAVE GOT to go. There are many wonderful places in Asia, but Burma is special. It’s amazing! The people are so kind and gentle.

The last time I visited in 2011 I dropped by the factory that makes ceramic filters that produce clean water for locals. It’s funded by our very own Asia Transpacific Foundation and I highly recommend a visit to any of our travelers! It’s located in the village of Twante which has been a pottery center in Burma (Myanmar) for centuries.  It is a two hour drive from Yangon, along the red mud banks of the Irrawaddy River. It was a thrill to finally get to visit this village. It has been functioning like a well oiled machine for over four years.

As I arrived the local supervisor, wearing his best shirt and the traditional longyi (men’s sarong), flashed a huge grin in my direction and came to meet my vehicle.  He and his crew had been anxiously awaiting my arrival. I clasped my palms together in the traditional greeting and they all did the same. Then they presented me with tea and snacks. After this warm welcome I was invited to see the progress at the plant and meet the workers, who take great pride in their jobs.  The kiln was precisely built, and had been used to fire many loads of filters. As a matter of fact, filters were everywhere, in various states of finish.  Some were being pressed from raw clay that had been mixed with rice husk to create the required post-firing porosity, some were being dried in preparation for firing, some were being unloaded from the kiln and being tested for flow rates, others were being painted with colloidal silver and being packed for shipping to surrounding villages.  There were at least 30 people working diligently at all this.

All this is a huge success story for the people of this area! Clean water is virtually non-existant in many parts of rural Burma. Asia Transpacific Foundation and donations from our travelers have generously funded this effort. I was happy to see the diligence and dedication that the workers bring to their jobs, the clean drinking water that each filter provides and the income that this project provides for the workers and their families.

Later that day as my driver and I headed down the dusty red dirt road, I looked back to see all thirty of the employees smiling and waiving a warm good bye. The warmth of the Burmese people once again touched my heart.

~Rebecca Mazzaro, Asia Travel Specialist

Rebecca in Burma

The normally non-smoking Rebecca Mazzaro, Asia Transpacific Journeys Travel Specialist Extraordinaire, throwing caution to the wind in an effort to connect with locals in Mandalay, Burma

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Rebecca became hooked on travel after spending a year of high school in a small Spanish province bordering Morocco. She studied Environmental Biology earning her degree at CU Boulder. A musical streak culminated in a performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and a penchant for travel manifested itself in years spent guiding around the U.S.

She fell for Asia during extensive travels in the region, where she expertly captures its people and places in photos. She revels in sharing her deep first-hand knowledge and was named a Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist for 2007. Rebecca was also named one of the World’s Top Travel Agents by Travel + Leisure magazine in 2011.

Peace and Progress in Vietnam

Vietnamese Women

I first traveled to Vietnam in 1990.  Just emerging from the war, visas for foreigners were scarce, but I applied and was granted the privilege of a short visit.  Residing in Thailand at the time, it was just a short flight from Bangkok to Saigon, but it was indeed a world away.

Greeting me on that first trip were wariness, sadness and a lack of optimism about the future.    Vietnam’s strongest connections were with the Eastern Block, and that part of the world was beginning to crumble.

Personal consumer goods were almost non-existent.  Hand soap and basic cosmetics were treasures. Even pens and pencils were scarce.  I had purchased some of these precious commodities in Thailand with the intention of gifting them, as appropriate, to people I met on my journey.  I will never forget the gratitude with which some of these simple gifts were received.

Because of the long post war embargo, at that time virtually the only vehicles in the country were old American cars left behind as we left in defeat after the war.  Tenaciously maintained with hand made parts, it was not uncommon to see a 1950’s Studebaker, being used as a taxi, overloaded with passengers, poultry hanging from every window on the way to market.

There was almost total uniformity of dress.  Women wore the elegant ao dai, and men and women alike wore the conical hat and black, baggy pants of the peasant farmer.

This past week, as I arrived in Saigon once again, I experienced a very different place.  Industrious and thriving, the Vietnamese people have made their way quickly into the modern world. Saigon is now a city of contemporary architecture reaching for the sky.  Cars are modern, sometimes luxurious.  It is not uncommon to see BMWs, Mercedes and other luxury vehicles on the street. Brightly lit department stores carry Jimmy Choo shoes, Coach handbags and Armani designs. Italian gelato shops, American coffee houses and fast food abound.  The streets are clean, bustling, and the mood is upbeat.   Though certainly not everyone is well to do, there are possibilities now that were not even dreamed about in those dark, post war years.

As a long time observer of Vietnam, and their challenges, I stand in awe of their remarkable entry into the modern world. But, don’t let the modern façade fool you. Traditional Vietnamese culture is alive and well and readily shared, to the delight of this visitor.

-Marilyn Downing Staff, Founder and President, Asia Transpacific Journeys

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Discover the uniquely modern yet traditional culture of Vietnam for yourself with one of our group tour packages or luxury custom tours to Vietnam. Download a complimentary catalog or itinerary or speak with an Asia Travel Specialist to begin planning your trip to Asia, 800-642-2742.