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!

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: 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.

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.

Dreaming of Myanmar (Burma)

Black Friday is here and the chaos has just begun. How many times will we be reminded:  “there are only X more shopping days until Christmas” in the coming days? TV commercials and mailings from corporations pushing their trinkets daily…

Being Myanmar travel enthusiasts, we’d rather be shopping in a Shan State Tribal market—a fascinating hodgepodge of brightly colored flowers, flopping fish and tribal people, each in their distinctive traditional dress. It is a feast for the senses and there are photo opportunities galore.

Or at sunrise we’d rather float quietly over the amazing stupas of Bagan (Pagan) in a hot air balloon. During its golden age in the 12th century, Bagan was known as “the city of four million pagodas.” While Kublai Khan and several massive earthquakes have reduced that inflated number drastically, what remains is quite incredible, and one of the greatest sites in Asia.

Or better yet, we’d rather spend an afternoon aboard a boat exploring the beautiful Inle Lake. There are so many sights to see: the famous Intha fisherman rowing their fishing boats with a swirling move of their leg; floating gardens where villagers actually grow tidy rows of vegetables on the lake’s surface; and a weaving village to see locals hand crafting traditional wares.

That sounds more like it!

If you would like more information about organizing travel to Burma, please contact one of our Myanmar travel specialists at 800-642-2742.

Postcard from Our Traveler: The Reluctant Traveler in Burma by S. Jay Keyser

The author on one of his many reluctantly taken journeys, with his wife and friends.

The Train from Maymyo, Burma

George Orwell spent a year in Mandalay as a police officer, including time in Maymyo (42 miles east of Mandalay) where he trained with the Burmese army. Even today a large military presence permeates the town thanks to its being the home of the Defense Services Academy. Oddly, Orwell’s Burmese Days doesn’t mention Maymyo, although the town appears briefly in Homage to Catalonia:

Mentally you are still in Mandalay when the train stops at Maymyo, four thousand feet above sea level. But in stepping out of the carriage you step into a different hemisphere. Suddenly you are breathing cool sweet air that might be that of England, and all round you are green grass, bracken, fir-trees, and hill-women with pink cheeks selling baskets of strawberries.

Maymyo was to be the British home away from home. You can see this when you visit the Maymyo Botanical Garden. It is both lovely and pathetic.   It is beautifully laid out and is surely a pleasant promenade on Sunday afternoons. The pathos lies in its having been created on the advice of a Kew Gardens landscaper brought over for the express purpose of making Maymyo more like England. It never quite works, of course; hence, the overwhelming sense of loss that hangs over the garden. It must have been like spending holidays in a waxwork museum.

There is a train that travels northeast from Maymyo to Naung Hkio. It is a ride worth taking. If you stay on it long enough, you cross a 109-year-old bridge, the so-called Gokteik Viaduct, just outside of Naung Hkio. When it was completed in 1901, the bridge was the largest of its kind. Sir Arthur Rendel, an engineer with the Burma Railway Company, supervised the construction. The Pennsylvania Steel Company manufactured the parts. The point of the train ride is to cross this ancient trestle—all 2,260 feet long and 1,200 feet high of it. When the train reaches the bridge, you can stand at the end of the car and with the outer doors open look down into the gorge. You could never do that on an American train. This is the train that Paul Theroux writes about in The Great Railway Bazaar. Composed of fifty-year-old Japanese rolling stock, its appointments are old, worn out and for the most part no longer working.

At every stop vendors walk up and down selling things to eat and drink; noodles, bananas, sweet cakes, even cups of water. Over the years the window ledges have become encrusted with the detritus of these transactions. This has its attractions for, for example, a mouse that scampered up and down the carriage like a cartoon conductor.  It stopped every so often, looked around as if it wanted to gather an audience, then scurried on. He reminded me of Mr. Jingles in the Stephen King novel, The Green Mile.

Someone asked if it was a trained mouse.

“Well, of course, it is,” I said. “After all, we’re not riding on a bus.”

Since retiring from his prestigious post at MIT, Dr. Keyser has been following his wife around the world and documenting his experiences on his blog, The Reluctant Traveler. As he says: “The blog came about when I realized that I was married to an inveterate traveler and that I, an inveterate risk avoider, was psychologically unable to let her travel without me.”

An excerpt from his travel journals appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, May, 2000 under the title “Faint of Heart in the Heart of Darkness.”  His latest travel book, I Married a Travel Junkie (2010), is available online at the Harvard Book Store or at Amazon.com as a Kindle book. We’ve read this book—and his witty commentary has sent a round of chuckles through the office.

We’ve had the honor of arranging travel for Dr. Keyser and his wife to Burma, Laos, Thailand, Australia, Bhutan, and Burma, and hope to have them travel with us again soon!