Friday, 28 April 2017

Take a Pandaw Cruise on The Irrawaddy River

Myanmar at its Best!


If you are looking for a true Burmese Experience, consider the Pandaw Cruise from Mandalay to Pagan or reverse.  I strongly recommend this as it is one of the best ways to see the emerging Myanmar.  This cruise is on a intimate,  smaller  30 cabin (60 passenger) ship built in Vietnam in 2008 with all the luxuries of a larger ship.  Everything from the quality linens to the daily turndown service is meant to please.  This ship is not for the general cruisers so keep in mind that this is Experiential travel meant for those who are looking for something new and adventurous. There are no shows at night and no casinos on board. It is all about experiencing the culture.
This cruise allows you to visit villages along the river and immerses you in the local's daily lives.
With the friendly Burmese staff, incredible food and the guest lectures, this holiday adventure will leave you with a lasting love for this beautiful country. Please visit it now before it becomes a tourist trap!

Tag on a two day visit to Inle lake with a stay at the beautiful Sanctum Inle Resort and your satisfaction will be complete..
http://sanctum-inle-resort.com


Deluxe_01


Image result for inle lake

A day in Yangon and Mandalay on either end is enough to experience these large Asian cities.


http://www.travelfortravellers.com/travelgroup-mjoel/itinerary/mandalay-pagan-packet
http://glpworldwide.com/itinerary/exotic-myanmar-hong-kong
http://myanmar.travel




Canadian citizens require a passport valid for 6 months after the last date of travel in Mynamar as well as a visa.  Visas can be obtained online in advance by visiting the Myanmar Department of Immigration.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The Practice of Phajaan with Elephants


I have just learned about a disturbing tradition called Phajaan, practiced in Thailand and several other countries, that use elephants as part of their tourism draw .  I had originally felt that riding elephants was not such a bad thing to do, especially if you rode them bareback. We did this while in Thailand and it was one of the highlights of our trip.
  I have now changed my mind about this after reading the article below, and watching a documentary on television recently.  It is not so much the riding of the elephants that is so bad , because elephants are really strong and actually seem to enjoy the  short ride, which eventually leads them to the water hole and to a bath.  The problem lies in getting these elephants to be submissive enough, (being the wild animals that they are ) to allow many different humans to ride them.  This starts at a very young age when they separate them from their mothers, beat them and starve them so that they appreciate their mahout that is assigned to them.
Many of the elephants that are used for riding in the sanctuaries have actually been rescued off the streets of Chiang Mai and Bangkok and lead a much better life in these sanctuaries. I've seen elephants in places like Koh Lanta, chained to a stump with a big sign advertising elephant rides.  The elephant is clearly there for profit. 
   I do get it that the sanctuaries need money to feed and care for the animals and one of the lures that brings in money is the ride.  However, I realize that we have to educate ourselves that this is not really ethical and if we are really concerned about these majestic beasts, we can visit the sanctuaries, take part in the care and donate to them, without going for a ride.  It is just as rewarding.


Read the article below and let me know your opinions.  The places that they recommend in this article are the ones that I will be recommending in the future. 
http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/breaking-the-spirit-of-elephants-for-use-in-the-tourism-industry/
Image result for free elephant images in sanctuaries
 



Thursday, 17 September 2015

FIRST TIME TRAVEL TO CHINA!

What an interesting country, culture and people!

I’ve been travelling to Asia for 30 years but had spent very little time in China, so my plan for this trip was to cover the highlights and fine tune my sense of what is most important for a 1st time visit to China. 
Beijing is an 11 ½ hr flight from Vancouver, so checking with your travel agent about all the options like premium economy and upgraded seats is a good idea. 

Standards may be different than expected.  Hotels should be chosen carefully, some claim 3-4 or even 5 star ratings may not be what we normally expect.  Some inconvenience may be necessary to experience the unique culture.

Homes along the River



Beijing is the capital of China and home to 11.5 million people.  I think you need a minimum of 3 days to visit the highlights.  We started at Tiananmen Square which stood out mostly for the extreme crowds of Chinese tourist.  Across the road, the Forbidden City is much more interesting but expect long queues and a lot of pushing.  Pushing is like a national sport, done in good humour.  Despite that, the Forbidden City is worth the effort and a truly impressive World Heritage site. 
Check out the following links.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square 
 http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/beijing/tianan.htm
I really enjoyed the Temple of Heaven, a temple in a large park.  I especially liked watching all the elderly people practice Tai Chi.  The park is very well used and a must visit.
We visited the Badaling part of the Great Wall.  This is one of the most popular sections of the Wall and painfully busy.  Climbing the Great Wall is a moving experience but I’d recommend a tour that visited some less popular section. 
The busy, busy Badaling section of the Great Wall



















The Bird Nest Stadium and the Water Cube Aquatic Center were also on our itinerary.  Both are impressive buildings but sadly they aren’t used and are saved to proudly show tourists.  I thought it was a waste of time.
A Pedi cab ride through Hutong was interesting.  The homes are several hundred years old, simple and clean but worth millions because they are in the heart of Beijing.  I found some very good tours that can be booked in advance and include the Pedi cab ride as well a visit to one of these most interesting family homes.
Visiting an old home in Beijing


The food in Beijing was really good, especially if you avoid the restaurants catering to large tourist groups. We liked the jianbing pancake, a must try street vendor food and a Beijing specialty found in many places in China. It’s a very thin large crisp fried crepe stuffed with eggs, fried wonton, cilantro and several other ingredients plus hoisin and chili sauces cooked on a large cast-iron grill.



We took a 2 hour flight to Yichang to join our Yangtze River ship.  Our cabin was nice, on the third deck with a nice balcony.  They called it a 5 star ship but I’d give it 4 if I was being very generous.  The food was OK and the variety was good.  The 7 days cruise was fascinating.  We visited a different city or new site every day including the huge Yangtze River Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydroelectric project in the world.  Though an incredible feat, the tour is unbelievable annoying because of all the individual tour leaders, yelling over megaphones to describe the dam.  It is worth doing but be prepared for throngs of tourist and incredible noise.  Going through the three river gorges was a real highlight of our trip.  Seeing ancient coffins hung on the cliff walls displayed cultural meaning dating back over 2,000 years.  It was also amazing to find out how many people were displaced and seeing the new cities constructed on the river banks, with many empty condos waiting for people to come to live.
A view along the Yangtze River


A model of the dam
























Panda in the Chongquing Zoo


After disembarking our ship we took a bus to Chongqing and the zoo to see the pandas.  It was even better than I expected.  The animals were in great shape and there was lots of natural habitat.  Chongqing is a beautiful mountain/river city with lots of vegetation and flowers.  It’s hard to believe it’s a city of 34 million people.

We flew to Shanghai and were met by our guide for the 1 ½ hrs drive to Suzhou.  We visited Tiger Hill with its leaning pagoda and the Lingering Garden and really enjoyed both. 
Our final destination was Hangzhou and we stayed out of the downtown core in a walkable neighborhood to better connect with the local culture.  We took a boat ride on West Lake and visited Lingyin Monastery; both were extremely busy and commercialized.  Finally we visited a green tea plantation, where the famous “Dragon Well” green tea is grown and harvested.  The Chinese take their tea seriously and the visit was interesting and the tea delicious.
Back in Shanghai we spent our last night walking The Bund and enjoying the incredible view of this very modern city, a stark contrast to Beijing.
Touring China is physically demanding and demands that you accept large crowds of people almost everywhere.  It is a destination where a good travel agent can make the difference between a good and a great experience.


A walk along the Bund in Shanghai




LOVING THAILAND!







Thailand is a “hot” destination right now, especially with Millennials and Baby-boomers looking for unique experiences.  Rather than just doing the standard touristy things, consider going off the beaten track.  Outside the big city, local people are friendly and charming.  You’ll feel safe and relaxed.


On our recent trip we flew from Bangkok to Krabi, which serves as the launch point for long boats and ferries to link to the idyllic islands of the Adaman Sea.  From there we drove and took a ferry to Koh Lanta Island, notable for its unspoiled beaches, National Forest, great restaurants, and laid-back atmosphere. 
Koh Lanta National Park

Further north in Chiang Mai, we loved the great street food in the old town, walking along the lovely tree-lined moat, and visiting Buddhist temples. We were happy we booked a cooking class in advance.  First we shopped for supplies at the local market and then cooked delicious dishes such as pad thai, spring rolls, mango sticky rice, and Tom Yung soup.

Tom Yung Soup made at cooking class
The famous stinky Durian fruit famous in Thailand

Going to an elephant sanctuary is a must and was a highlight of our trip.  You must book this in advance, as the best sell out early.  There are 19 within 50 km of Chiang Mai.  Typically, the elephants have been rescued from zoos and private owners. 
Bathing our Elephant


We also visited Chiang Rai, known for its incredible Wat Rong Khun White Temple and mirror-glass mosaics embedded in cement.  Just 90 minutes away is the town of Mae Soi, a foodie’s paradise located near the Myanmar border. 


The Golden Triangle 

                
The Village of the Long Neck Tribe (whose name is self-explanatory) was another highlight. These are a beautiful, gentle people who sell excellent silks and woven crafts, far better than you’ll find in the cities.
A beautiful little girl from the Long Neck Tribe

South of Bangkok, we skipped the busy Pattaya Beach in favour of the small island of Koh Samed where we enjoyed its simple lifestyle and beautiful, clean beaches.
While it is hard to avoid Bangkok, gateway to Thailand; there are off-the-beaten path tricks here too.  To escape the heat and clamber, we jumped on a public canal boat for a different perspective on this chaotic city.  The best thing about Bangkok is its night markets and street food.  In fact, food is a highlight throughout Thailand.  We found amazing variety and very low prices.  That, along with the fascinating mosaic of cultures, makes Thailand an unforgettable adventure.
Laundry hanging at the homes on the river





Monday, 3 March 2014

HOW WELL ARE YOU COVERED WHEN IT COMES TO TRAVEL INSURANCE?


With so many sources selling travel insurance these days, Canadians are under the impression that they are fully covered for any medical or other risks and  emergencies when they travel to the USA and abroad.

 

Whether you are going overseas, to another province or just crossing the border for milk and gas to Bellingham or Buffalo, here are some real reasons to purchase travel insurance for your trip:

 

Your employee benefits plan coverage may be limited. Some do not cover a spouse or dependents and some limit the number of travel days covered and the amounts payable. Some also limit the number of claims in one calendar year.

 

Your credit card coverage may be limited.  Your coverage may only apply to trips purchased on that particular card or may be limited to less days than what you are traveling.

 

Your government health insurance will more than likely not cover all emergency expenses.  Out of country insurance can be costly and the government plan will only cover the basics. 

 

 

Purchasing full coverage from your travel agent, will more than likely offer you unlimited coverage for eligible medical expenses. As well, Up-front payment of these expenses whenever possible and a 24 hour, multilingual medical assistance with a toll free or collect phone call to help you through the process.

 

There is always a chance that your mode of transportation is delayed or cancelled.  Your luggage may be damaged or lost, or you may have to cancel your trip or return earlier or later than expected due to a family emergency.

 

Your travel advisor can help you understand the necessity of purchasing insurance as well as which insurance to purchase.

 

As travel counsellors, we see on a weekly basis, where insurance has helped people in their most sensitive times and when there was nothing that could be done, without a huge charge, when insurance was not covered.

 

Did you know that there is insurance that will cover you if you have purchased a business class points ticket and have to return earlier or later than expected due to a covered emergency? Can you imagine how hard it is to get your ticket changed to a new points seat when an emergency occurs, especially a business class points seat? With an upgraded insurance, for only $5.00 above the regular cancellation/interruption insurance price, you would be covered to fly back on a paid business class seat on whatever airline gets you home.  Really consider purchasing this insurance the next time that you fly, even if you have not purchased your points ticket through an agent.  They are happy to help you out with the insurance at any time.

Monday, 24 February 2014

SHOOT TO KILL POLICY IN AFRICA



 

 

What do you think of this policy that Botswana has adopted against poachers?

Though it may be somewhat extreme it seems to be helping in this beautiful country that relies heavily on tourism.  Botswana has a great team that looks after animals in danger and follows and tracks them, to try to cut down on this horrid practice that runs rampant throughout Africa.

 


 

Even though there is no medical proof that rhino horns offer medicinal benefits, a rhino horn in Asia can result in a windfall for whoever sells it.

 

 

Some wildlife organizers are now employing drones, previously used in Afghanistan to track wildlife.  The problem is, Africa is big and it is a guess as to where to place the drones at night.

 

Other organizations are putting transmitters in the horn’s of the rhinos. In order to do this, they have to catch the animal and tranquilize them.  Quickly, a hole is drilled in the horn, the radio transmitter embedded and then the hole is stuffed with putty.  This allows them to track the animal and monitor any strange behavior.  If they can send a ranger out as soon as they notice suspicious activity, there is a chance that they might catch the poacher.  Unfortunately, there are times when the rangers may be part of the poaching problem.  However, in the interesting article here shows how former poachers have actually become part of the solution.  http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/elephant-poachers-are-becoming-park-rangers-in-the-congo

 

Send me your stories on new and innovative ideas that are in the works to combat poaching in Africa.

 


 



Friday, 14 February 2014

INCREDIBLE TANZANIA


 

 

I look back on my trip to Tanzania and it still feels like it was only yesterday that I was there.  It is so hard to comprehend, just how much a trip to Tanzania stays in your heart, days, months and years later.


If I could, I would return there tomorrow.   When I returned, someone said to me “ I guess seeing the game in Africa is a bit like seeing the game in our Canadian Rockies, eh?”.  As much as I love our Rockies and all that they have to offer, the quantity of wildlife you see on a safari is about 10,000 times more.  Unimaginable until you actually see it.



I remember driving through the Serengeti http://www.serengeti.org   in a jeep and out of the blue a female giraffe walks the road beside our vehicle. Then 5 minutes further down the road, is 1000 wildebeests and zebras crossing the road.

 

A little further along is a watering hole with 20 lions rolling over in satisfaction, having just consumed most of a Cape Buffalo, with the remains left for the vultures or the hyenas.



lazy lioness after a feed

 

 

It was a bit comical because by the end of our safari, when our guide pointed out a herd of elephants at Ngorongoro Crater http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/39     , we dismissed the stop in pursuit of something we hadn’t yet seen.  I am not sure what that was as I think that we saw almost every bird, reptile and mammal in Tanzania.

 

Our week in Zanzibar was also a real treat after a busy safari.  Stone town is certainly worth at least one day of your time to roam the streets. We were quite surprised at how safe we felt as we wound our way through the alleys and narrow streets.  It tested our imagination of what it was to live in the 1700’s in this unique and Arab city when Royalty lived in the palaces and mansions.

 



Beautiful sunset at Spice Island Resort Zanzibar

 

 

What are some of your memories of Tanzania and Zanzibar that stood out?