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: 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

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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: 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.

Postcard from Our Traveler: Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Laos
Honestly, the entire trip totally exceeded our expectations and was absolutely amazing. Wanted to thank you guys SO much for the best trip/experience I’ve ever had. We absolutely loved it and really appreciate all your hard work and patience :)

Just want to give a shout out to 3 of our guides that were really fantastic and went above and beyond the call of duty. They were absolutely amazing!

Qin from Guilin
John from Hanoi
Siphon from Luang Prabang

These guys were by far the best of the trip and made each destination so much more memorable.

Thank you so much again! It went by way too fast!

Lindsey P.

La Jolla, CA

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Lindsey explored China, Laos, Mongolia and Vietnam on a custom Asia trip arranged by Travel Specialist Jarrod Hobson. This was her first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys, but we look forward to working with her again on her next big journey.

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.

See Another Side of Papua New Guinea

Asia Transpacific Journeys offers once-in-a-lifetime tours to Papua New Guinea, taking travelers to remote tribal villages, sing-sing celebrations and wildlife explorations. Although there is much to discover on land, travel to Papua New Guinea and you’ll find a wealth of incredible uninhabited islands some of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world.

On True North’s Adventures in Paradise cruises, travelers are able to relax on a series of isolated deserted islands, such as the Lusancay Islands, that are ideal for swimming, snorkeling and fishing. Travelers also have the opportunity to embark on thrilling helicopter flights to the Isurava Memorial on the Kokoda Track and then discover the wrecks of WWII ships, planes and submarines while snorkeling in the shallow waters of Kavieng.

The True North’s Adventures in Paradise cruise is a wonderful add-on to any of Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Small Group Trips to Papua New Guinea. For a traveler who wants to experience the land, the people and the sea of Papua New Guinea, there really is no better way to go.

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Learn more about Asia Transpacific Journeys‘ trips to Papua New Guinea and True North cruises by speaking to a Papua New Guinea Travel Specialist at 800-642-2742.

Postcard from our traveler: One of the best trips we’ve had

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

I have to say that our Australia trip was one of the best trips we’ve had. We were able to see so much in so little time. Every place we went to was different. We keep on saying to each other that Tom did a great job planning the itinerary. Everything went smoothly. Everyone was punctual.

We were quite skeptical about Tyroconnell Outback Retreat but were won over by the charm of the place and the hospitality of the family. It is sad to know that they are planning to sell the place but they are doing it to spend more time with their children. My husband really enjoyed the Great Barrier Reef and didn’t want to leave.

The only thing that we were disappointed with was the cancelled tour with the Aboriginal guide. We could have learned so much.

Extras that we did on our free days were – the Bridge Climb in Sydney (amazing), bi-plane over Fraser Island, helicopter ride at the Great Barrier Reef, the Sky rail and Railway tour in Cairns, climbed Ayers Rock, and the Sound of Silence dinner at Ayers Rock (I was sitting between two heaters and didn’t even need a jacket!)

We were quite shocked by how expensive everything was. We spent a lot of money there, but I can’t think of a better way of celebrating my 40th. Thank you so much for the bottle of champagne that was sent to our hotel room. We met a lot of great people that we would keep in touch with. We will definitely return to Australia with our kids in the future. But we would like to travel to Vietnam with them first, probably in 3 years. Thank you so much for putting together an amazing trip.

Sincerely,

Theresa P.

San Ramon, CA

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Theresa and her husband embarked on an Insider’s Australia Custom Journey which was arranged by Travel Specialist, Tom Lastick. This was their second trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys, and we look forward to planning more adventures for their family in the future.

Postcard from our traveler: A once-in-a-lifetime trip to Bali

Travel to Bali

Travel to Bali

We just returned from our trip to Indonesia which was an absolutely terrific experience for the entire family. We so appreciate all of your guidance and collaboration together with our travel agent Roselyne at WorldView Travel. I especially wanted to point out that the guides Komang Wardiapa in Bali and Subur on Sulawesi were outstanding in every way – professional, knowledgeable, sensitive to Western needs and limitations and a pleasure to get to know. Amertha and Jabeki were a dream and we miss the kind caretakers Made and Ketut at our little Bingin hide-away.

The itinerary and accommodations were perfect with a couple of tweaks.

The Pare Pare hotel was very run down. Although the long stretch from Makasar to Toraja begs to be broken up, given the downturn in tourism and lack of proper accommodations, you really have to grin-and-bear the drive since there is neither much to see nor a decent place to stay on the way north to the heart of Tana Toraja. Luckily everyone was a good sport and we thought of this ‘simple’ hotel as part of the adventure.

Overall, it was a once-in-a-lifetime, fabulous experience enjoyed by all of us.

So again, many thanks and best regards,

Fiona B.
Solana Beach, CA


Fiona traveled to Indonesia with a custom Bali vacation package which was arranged for her by Travel Specialist, Jarrod Hobson. This is Fiona’s first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys. We hope to see more of her in the future.

Asia Transpacific Journeys wins Travel + Leisure World’s Best Award: A letter from our Founder

2011 World's Best Awards

Dear Colleagues, Clients and Friends,

As the Founder and President of Asia Transpacific Journeys, I wanted to personally announce that we have recently been named a Top 10 Tour Operator on the 2011 World’s Best list by the readers of Travel + Leisure. Asia Transpacific Journeys is the only company specializing in Asia to win that coveted award.

The honor is particularly gratifying for being democratic in nature—as you may or may not know, winners are not picked by an editor, but rather determined by people who have actually traveled with us. Our sincere gratitude goes out to our travelers and industry colleagues for their vote.

This acknowledgement is not just a feather in our cap. It is an inspiration to us, and a challenge to deliver on the promise of extraordinary travel to Asia on into the future.

We look forward to creating many more journeys with you.

Warm regards,

Marilyn Downing Staff

Marilyn Downing Staff, Founder and President

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Asia Transpacific Journeys’ 2010 Client Photo Contest Winners

Our clients crossed time zones, date lines, and oceans to experience the farthest reaches of  Asia—where many found a fabulous photo opportunity around every corner. We asked our travelers to submit photos of their travels to Asia.

We started with 216 beautiful entries and our staff narrowed it down to 50 semi-finalists. Then Asia Transpacific Journeys Founder & President, Marilyn Downing Staff, selected the first, second and third place winners of our 2nd Annual Client Photo Contest.

Following are the winning entries and Marilyn’s commentary on the photos.

1st place, Train Station Vendor, India © Dimitra Stasinopoulou

“Captures the optimism of this young train station vendor and the magical light of India. A lovely environmental portrait.”

2nd place, Rice Planting near Hue, Vietnam © Joseph Lambert

“Beautiful composition. The millennia-old rhythm of women planting rice–the essence of life in Asia.”

3rd place, Angkor Wat, Cambodia © Gene Hollander

“Interesting, edgy and a foray into using technology as a portal into another way to see our world.”

This year we also presented a People’s Choice Award, and held the voting on our Asia Transpacific Journeys Facebook page. Our fans and travelers cast their votes, selecting Bob Fink’s photo of two girls in Laos as the People’s Choice winner.


Congratulations to our winners and thank you to all who participated. These photos truly define a Journey Beyond the Ordinary™.