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

_________________________________________________________________________

Photo of the Week :: India Travel Photo Contest

This week’s photo was taken by Andrea Perullo.

“I had just walked out of the Taj Mahal and was greeted by these women in their colorful saris.  I think the colors of the saris with the Taj Mahal as the backdrop is absolutely breathaking.  It actually brought tears to my eyes!” – Andrea Perullo

Photo: Andrea Perullo (c) All rights reserved

If you’ve captured that one-in-a-million shot on a recent trip to India then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contest” and you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

See all the other wonderful India travel photos that have been submitted on our Online Photo Contest Album.

Deadline for submission is July 31, 2010. Winners will be announced by August 31, 2010.

Postcard from Our Traveler: Violinist Aaron Meyer’s Musical Trip to Myanmar

By Aaron Meyer, Asia Transpacific Journeys' Traveler

I returned to Myanmar, 14 years after my last trip to Myanmar when I spent 6 weeks there in Dec 1995/Jan 1996 as a backpacker. Big changes had occurred in this isolated and amazing country. I joined my parents on a very well organized tour by Asia Transpacific Journeys; in fact my sister and Asia Travel Specialist, Rebecca Mazzaro, planned our entire trip, which was amazing!  I am a violinist by profession and specialize in combining world music with my contemporary/progressive original music. I bill myself as a Concert Rock Violinist, whatever that is…(www.aaronmeyer.com). I mentioned to my sister that I would like to visit any schools and reach out to students and share my music with them and also learn about any local music. My sister suggested that I visit a local music school in Yangon where students were learning to play western instruments.

I arrived in Yangon a few days after my parents and visited the music school. I performed for students at a very unique makeshift music school. Instruments were limited but there were approximately 10 violinist, 3 violists, 4 cellists, and 2 bass players. The quality of the instruments was very poor and the students lacked strings and other supplies but they played nicely and seemed to enjoy performing. Most importantly they lacked regular teachers to teach the students. I had an instant connection with the students. They wanted to learn as much as they could. It is not very often that they get to meet a professional musician from anywhere outside of Myanmar. It was really exciting to share music with the students and hopefully inspire them. I know the students were very interested in my style of music and how I incorporated the violin in a band with drums, percussion, and electric guitar. All I could think about was, I need to come back here and spend a month with these students. I plan to do this in the future. The people in Myanmar are amazing—so friendly and inviting.

Off I went to Bagan, the land of many temples, to connect with my parents and start our journey together exploring Myanmar. On my second full day of travel in Bagan, our guide, Golden, told me that they had organized an opportunity for me to perform for some children in an orphanage. The children were bussed into the town of Bagan and I played several songs for the children. These are the opportunities that really get me excited. I love connecting with local people wherever I go and music is a bridge between cultures. Music has no barriers and certainly crosses the language barrier. The children were bopping their heads to the music and looking at the violin as they had never seen a real violin before. I learned later, that one of the older orphans, 14 years old, was learning to play the guitar. When I heard this, I was again inspired to return and work with students who want to learn more about music in Myanmar.

Our next stop was a trip to Inle Lake, one of the most magical places in the world, where villages of people live out in the middle of a huge lake in the Shan State surrounded by beautiful mountains. The easiest way to get around here is by boat. We pulled up to a school over the water in our water taxi where I would perform for about 200 young Inle students in a small classroom on stilts over the lake. None of these kids had ever heard or seen a violin before. When I pulled out my violin, they had no idea what this unidentified object was. I played 3 songs for the kids and their favorite part was clapping at the end of each song. All I could think about was this is history in the making—for me a National Geographic moment. The most exciting part of the program was when I gave the violin to my father, a very accomplished violin teacher for young students in Philadelphia, PA. My Dad played Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and as he played all the children started singing the alphabet song. It was so neat hearing the children from Inle Lake sing along with an American violinist. And this song and the English alphabet was something that the children had already learned in their classroom. Then he played a classical introductory violin song, at first very boring with no emotion. He then played the same song, where he added more character to the music by changing the volume and adding crescendos.

He told the children he was going to try to scare them with the music by playing very soft, then really loud. As he proceeded to play, the children totally picked up on what he was doing and started laughing hysterically. We had so much fun with these students through music. It was a total magical experience. We really didn’t need any words to communicate with the students because we had the music. No matter where one goes in this world, music is the universal language.

I have performed several times in Southeast Asia including 2 solo appearances with the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra in Thailand. I do plan to travel to Myanmar this coming December and January and spend some time working with violin students. I would encourage anyone to visit Myanmar for the people and the natural beauty. Asia Transpacific Journeys was a tremendous help in setting up our trip and these amazing magical musical opportunities.


To learn more about trips to Myanmar, visit Asia Transpacific Journeys’ website or contact one of our Asia Travel Specialists.

A Staff Postcard from the Field: Discovery in China

China travel notes from Chris Dunham, Asia Travel Specialist


Ni hao from China!

I’m currently on a whirlwind visit to cover 9 cities in 17 days. It’s amazing to see all the changes that have occurred within China since my last visit. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Yunnan Province, which is new for me and I would fully recommend you visit Kunming, Lijiang, Dali and Zhongdian if you are looking for something different from the traditional tourist track in China. Yunnan is very tribal and while many parts of China are predominantly of the Han majority, Yunnan’s population is comprised mainly of ethnic minorities such as Naxi, Tibetan and Yi Peoples, to name a few.

My favorite experience so far was in Zhongdian, which is about as close to resembling Lhasa, Tibet as one can get without actually traveling to Lhasa. As a side note to this story, my fiancée, Ali, is back in the US and she is constantly on my mind as we are getting married in about two months, but she couldn’t take the time off to travel with me this time around. On this particular day in Zhongdian with my guide, I hiked up to the top of Dabao Monastery just on the outskirts of Zhongdian, where I lit Yak Butter Lamps for my future with Ali as well as all of my family. Then, I was blessed by the Chief Lama of the Monastery and given some lovely prayer beads, which I am still wearing. Finally, I purchased Tibetan prayer flags from a local woman and wrote down my wishes for a good life with Ali on the prayer flags and then hung them in the sea of prayer flags on the side of Dabao Mountain. Our names and wishes for a good life are still blowing in the wind on those prayer flags. I will always cherish the time I spent in Zhongdian and I look forward to my next opportunity to return to this gem nestled along majestic mountains and beautiful countryside.

My account above is just one of the amazing, beyond-the-ordinary experiences I’ve had while in China. Time is fleeting, so keep traveling!

Zai-jian,

Chris

Interview with Traveler and Award-Winning Photographer Dimitra Stasinopoulou

Among the things that make our jobs so rewarding are the special people who travel with us. Dimitra Stasinopoulou has been to Asia four times with Asia Transpacific Journeys, and photography is her means of connecting with local cultures. She has traveled with us to India, Bhutan and Papua New Guinea and has published books about her travels. But the books are not for sale—Dimitra gives them away. She has given away nearly 10,000 books so far.

We called Dimitra in her native Athens to talk travel, photography, and how she finds joy in “giving the books away.”

ATJ: What drove you to begin photographing people and producing such beautiful books?

DS: “Five years ago I was 52, I quit my job at Chase Manhattan Bank in Athens, in order to be involved in the pharmaceutical business my husband has in Romania. This was a big change in my life. I was feeling depressed there until I bought a camera and began taking pictures, mainly of the local people and their life. I had never photographed anything before. This was like opening a door for me, to really see the people. I published a book called Romania of my Heart. In this book I tried to express my love for this country that has moved me with its genuine character, its beauty and its boundless hospitality. The 4,000 copies printed have been offered as a gift both in Greece and Romania. For this book they gave me the UNESCO prize, since, as they said, it has deepened the friendship between our two countries. The book was officially presented to Greece by the President of Romania. After distributing the book I received many letters, but what I cherish the most is the Romanian people, who, as they told me, felt again proud for their country. It was a labor of love and they understood it. It changed my life.”

ATJ: In your book, Bhutan—Smiling Faces From the Roof of the World you take many portraits and seem to have a gift for engaging people. Can you comment on that?

DS:  “Communicating with people for me is the most interesting and rewarding experience. In Bhutan my eyes opened to a completely different world. It is so peaceful and the people are so innocent and welcome you wherever you go. I believe they understood that I really liked them and that I wanted to communicate with them. It was very special.”

ATJ: How do you go about getting someone’s permission to take their photo?

DS: “I never ask. I just engage. If you ask, then they freeze, everything changes. With my photography I try to really see the person. I smile and they smile back. That’s the permission. My camera does not come between us, it helps me to really see their heart. They feel this too.

I don’t look for perfect light or position. I don’t know how to adjust the camera for this type of thing. I just try to communicate with people.  Even if I knew I wouldn’t have time enough to adjust the camera since it is only a second that you capture.”

Dimitra Stasinopolou © All rights reserved | Girl at Pushkar, India

ATJ: You also just published an amazing book of photographs called India—Unity In Diversity. Can you highlight some of the differences and similarities between photography in India and Bhutan?

DS: “Bhutan is unique. There are so few people living there. They have had very little contact with outsiders. India is quite different, India has a billion people, it can feel overwhelming at times. But, everywhere I went in India, I met an unparalleled cultural heritage and magnificent people, sometimes sad in their poverty, but always positive and peaceful within. Hindu people are the most compassionate, sweet and calm people anyone can come across. Violence is never part of their emotions. It is these people, with their disarming innocence, in reality, that represent the biggest treasure of the country. Take the slums—the people are smiling, beautiful, clean and hard working. I decided to attempt to capture with my lens the human dignity of the Indian people, their sweetness and their optimism. The qualities of these people are so strong that conditions of life are a secondary matter.  I am really exhausted after the India project but I will always remember Indian people and their smiles.”

ATJ: Do you have a favorite place or destination for your photography?

DS: “It’s very difficult to say. Every country has its own beauty. Bhutan is special, very quiet and calm. The people are smiling all the time. You must be there to feel the peace. It’s one of the happiest places on Earth.  India is also exceptional, Papua New Guinea is unique.  Every place has its own beauty.”

ATJ: Do you use all digital technology or also film?

DS: “I only use digital. That’s how I started and I think it is unique, if a person like me that knows absolutely nothing about cameras is able to take good pictures.”

ATJ: What type of camera do you use?

DS: “Canon. I started with a Canon EOS 30D, 50D and now I shoot with a Canon Mark II 5D. I am used with them and also very pleased. I don’t think I will ever change.”

ATJ: Can you give a tip or two to aspiring photographers?

DS: “Shoot from the heart. Don’t think about the quality of the picture. Engage emotionally.  Share with other people. Today’s technology is so huge, a picture can be fixed, but it should be as close to reality as possible. No Photoshop, don’t try to turn the sky blue. The technical things are not important to me.”

ATJ: Do you have any other books planned?

Dimitra Stasinopolou © All rights reserved | Boy in Mt. Hagan, Papua New Guinea

DS: “Maybe the next one will be for Papua New Guinea. I am also going to China’s Silk Road with Asia Transpacific Journeys in May. Maybe China will be the next one. I don’t know yet.”

ATJ: Where can someone buy your books?

DS: “They are not for sale. I give them away to people I love, to people I admire, to friends, so that they pass them on to their friends, and of course to people I meet while traveling—fellow travelers and local people. It’s the biggest gift to give myself, for me to be able to give to others. For example in Romania while I was at a diplomatic reception I gave a local woman who was attending the coat check the book Romania Of My Heart. She thanked me so sincerely, and said she had been working at that coat check for 30 years but no one had ever given her a gift before. When she said that to me she gave me a gift to remember and treasure for the rest of my life. She and I both made a friend that day.

It’s so personal. I put my soul in these books. I couldn’t sell them or connect them with money. I don’t think a professional photographer would spend thousands of hours putting a book with more than 950 pages together. It’s a huge effort, it takes months. It could never pay. A publisher is now asking me to reprint the Bhutan book and sell it to India. If that happens I will donate any money away to charity. I know I am very lucky I can do this and I also know that so many other much more talented photographers could have made an even better book if they had the means. I believe the most important things in our life are given free, so what I am doing is the minimum I can do. I am a happy person doing this now.”

ATJ: Thank you so much Dimitra, it has been our sincere pleasure to talk with you.

DS: “I want to make a comment about your company. I feel I am the luckiest person on earth to be able to discover Asia Transpacific Journeys out of so many companies existing. I really believe you are working in such an exceptional way that you are also the ones to be credited for the books, at least for Bhutan and India. You organize things in such a way that you made me discover the best of each country. The personnel is so friendly (especially Rebecca Mazzaro with whom I talk the most) and well informed and always understood what I am looking for and guide me accordingly. I am always traveling alone, and in the beginning I thought it wouldn’t be easy. Most of the times the rest of the group are Americans, but they all are so very kind with me, making me feel at home with them. These pictures are a wonderful keepsake of our trips together. I am honored to have traveled with them and feel so privileged to have them as my friends. I thank you from my heart for existing and enabling me to make my dreams come true.

Since English is not my native language it is not so easy for me to express what I feel but I hope you understand.”

Dimitra in Ladakh

Dimitra Stasinopoulou is the recipient of the International Aperture Award for her photography and the artist behind three books of photography. Her book on Romania was awarded a UNESCO prize. She picked up a camera for the first time five years ago.