100 years ago, Rudyard Kipling visited Burma and “thought it quite unlike any land you know about.” We truly agree! Based on the 2013 political reforms, including the release and ascendancy of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma has opened up dramatically. Due in part to Burma’s self-imposed isolation, Western influence—particularly the grittier commercial aspects—are not to be found here. You will see few Burmese dressed in Western garb and you will see no Starbucks or McDonalds here (yet!). Irrawaddy river cruising, the sprawling temple complex of Bagan, lush, green, Inle Lake and historical Yangon are among the reasons why Burma is Bev’s favorite Southeast Asia destination.
Vietnam is truly a land of contrasts: wonderfully chaotic city markets, lush green rice fields, verdant jungles, charming historical Hanoi–perhaps representing Vietnam’s past–and bustling Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), epitomizing Vietnam’s high energy quest for economic development. When Bev and I think of Vietnam, we think of wonderful food, its most interesting contemporary history, and beautiful French-colonial architecture. You will love engaging with the genuinely friendly and kindhearted Vietnamese!
Among our favorite destinations are Hanoi (we love this city—Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum & Stilt House, a remarkable array of restaurants and leafy, green parks throughout the city), a 2 day/1 night luxury Chinese Junk cruise on Halong Bay, the former 17th century seaport town of Hoi An (a great place for custom tailored clothes) and Saigon/Mekong Delta. Time permitting, a 2 day excursion to the former French colonial hill station of Dalat is a nice respite from the heart of southern Vietnam. Bev, Zen and I also very much enjoyed riding the overnight train from Hanoi, northwest to the remote area of Sapa— home to several of Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups, including the Hmong, Dao, Tay and Muong.
In contrast to its entrepreneurial neighbor, Vietnam, Cambodia is a more laid-back, stoic Buddhist society. The various temples of Angkor represent the most amazing and enduring architectural achievement of any religious site in Asia. The temples, built between the 8th and 13th centuries when the Khmer civilization was at the height of its development, are spread out over approximately 40 miles around the village of Siem Reap. We particularly love Angkor Thom, Banteay Srei, and, of course, Angkor Wat!
Among our recommended activities in Cambodia: Helicopter fly-over of Angkor Wat, spiritually uplifting sunrise Wat Damnak Buddhist blessing ceremony in Siem Reap, countless altruistic opportunities to help the strikingly kind Camodian children (including New Day Cambodia and COSO Orphanage and water well donations—fresh water is so precious!). A visit to Phnom Penh’s Choeung Ek “Killing Fields” and Tuol Sleng Genocide (Prison) Museum, although somewhat grisly and sobering, is highly recommended.
The ancient royal city of Luang Prabang is a place where time seems to stand still. It’s mentioned by The New York Times as one of the 43 most interesting places to visit! My family and I have always felt Luang Prabang to be among our favorite hidden treasures in Southeast Asia. It’s a slow, sleepy town nestled on the Mekong River and rich in Buddhist culture. This former royal capital is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a fusion of monasteries, traditional Laotian dwellings and French colonial architecture. We just love the small, genuinely gentle and friendly Buddhist environment of Luang Prabang. Although many more tourists are now descending upon this tranquil place, Luang Prabang still retains its uniquely peaceful serenity.
Our favorite areas of Thailand include Bangkok, the cooler northern areas of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai (Golden Triangle), the beach resort areas of Phuket, Krabi and the various remote islands of the southwest. We freely admit the Amanpuri/Phuket is our preferred!
Sultry, sensual Bangkok is the home of the kingdom’s most impressive temples, museums and sights. As Bangkok’s waterways have long been a central part of the Thai lifestyle, a half-day kongs (canals) private tour is most stimulating (notwithstanding the increasingly polluted Chao Phraya River!). Yes, there are several note-worthy 5 star luxury hotels in Bangkok, but we feel the Oriental is the ultimate standard—the service is legendary. The Riverview State Rooms and Author Suites are our favorites.
Chiang Mai is also home to several hands-on elephant camps including Maesa, Pantara and Elephant Nature Park where you can feed, ride, bathe and draw pictures with the elephants. Tiger Kingdom offers unique personal experiences with small baby tigers – This is numero uno on Zen’s list for any visit to Thailand!
Bev, Zen and I rate the Four Seasons tag-team properties in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai as the best in all of northern Thailand!
The northern areas of Malaysia (Sarawak/Sabah) contain a rich variety of flora and fauna—over 1000 species of flowers and plants with over 58 mountain bird species alone! Among our top family experiences in Sabah is the extraordinary Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. For those who are more physically ambitious, there is always the trek/climb up Mt. Kinabalu.
Bali is our favorite island destination in the Pacific Rim. The beaches here are nice, though not nearly as impressive as the beaches in Hawaii or many other places. We do not recommend travel to Bali for the beach but rather for its beautiful lush interior, most unique Hindu-animistic culture and for its luxurious world-class, high-touch resorts. During our last Christmas visit to Bali, Bev, Zen and I enjoyed walking through the breathtaking terraced rice fields and villages near the artists’ enclave of Ubud. Religious festivals are held throughout the year and add a special dimension to any stay. The verdant Bali countryside is quite idyllic and surreal, mirroring all of the beautiful images you see in the various travel images.
UTC+5:30 TO UTC+9
Mainly tropical - hot and humid all year round with plentiful rainfall
Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hindu and Animist-Influenced Practices