Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

My wife, 22-year-old daughter, and I visited Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia during the last two weeks of January. We worked initially with Sandy but most of our interaction was with Ethan. We were very pleased with them. They were responsive, on top of everything, provided high-quality guides, and gave us frequent updates/reminders as the trip neared. Prior to our trip, we received a detailed packet with everything we needed to know, including our itinerary and guides, cultural information and practical tips about each country. We felt fully prepared. The local guides arranged by their office in each country were all very good. They were knowledgeable, eager to take family pictures for us, and easy to work with as we tweaked some of the details of our itinerary as our trip progressed.

Our itinerary: We started in Chiang Mai, Thailand, then took a short flight to Luang Prabang in Laos, then another flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia, then a flight back to Bangkok for 2 days before returning home. Sandy and Ethan arranged our 3 flights within Asia and our airport transfers, which were all smooth.

January is a good time to visit SE Asia. It’s the dry season and not too hot; it was almost cool in Laos, although Bangkok was quite hot and humid. The majority of farmers haven’t yet started to burn their fields so there wasn’t a problem with smoke/air pollution, which we had heard from friends is a problem in the early spring.

Here are some of the highlights we recommend to other travelers:

In Chiang Mai we went on a beautiful 2-hour hike on the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail in the Doi Inthanon National Park. There was a river with multiple waterfalls along the way. We were led by a local naturalist who was very friendly, engaging and knew everything about the flora and fauna. The hike ended at a pretty farm in the hills with water buffalo roaming around, where we had a cup of locally grown coffee and a nice lunch at a small restaurant. Speaking of food, the Khao Soi curry in Chiang Mai was one of our food highlights.

In Laos, our guide had excellent knowledge of Buddhism and relationships with local Buddhist monks, so we spent time with the monks learning about their religion, sitting with the monks as they chanted, and participated in the custom of giving alms (making merit) where we provided the monks with their morning breakfast before sunrise. It was unique and educational. Our guide also hosted us at his family house for a wonderful dinner and Buddhist ceremony attended by numerous members of our guide’s extended family. We also visited some villages to see how local farmers and craftspeople live, including talking with women making papadam and men distilling local moonshine, both of which we tasted. We also had a lovely and relaxing and scenic private boat ride down the Mekong River returning to Luang Prabang from the Pak Ou caves as the sun gradually set. The final highlight in Laos was the MandaLao elephant sanctuary, a truly unique experience that allowed us to get up close to feed and touch the elephants and to meander with them through the jungle.

In Siem Reap, Cambodia, we attended the roughly hour-long Phare “circus,” a high-energy, very entertaining, and unique experience, and it’s for a good cause. Of course, we visited the massive ancient Angkor temples, which are incredibly impressive, and each one was different. The Ta Prohm temple with the massive trees growing on it is a must-see. One of our more special moments in Cambodia was when our excellent guide arranged to take us out on two small boats (just a bit bigger than large canoes) on one of the “moats” (really a manmade lake) just before sunset. A local paddler gently moved the boats across the calm waters as our guide mixed gin and tonics for us and provided snacks. We were the only ones there, drifting through the lily pads watching the birds and sunset. It was beautiful and peaceful. Finally, we went to Villa Chandara for dinner. It is entirely outdoors in a lovely rural setting. We started with cocktails and a foot massage. The staff was very friendly, and the food was all excellent. Unfortunately, we had to leave a bit early before the end of the meal because one person in our party started to have a modest allergic reaction to something, which was unusual. We were in the middle of nowhere and didn’t know if the reaction would get worse, so we deemed it prudent to head back to the hotel where we had Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to calm the reaction, which it did. Lesson learned, keep Benadryl in the backpack, not just the hotel room!

Wrapping it up in Bangkok, even though we were a bit “templed-out” by the end of the trip, the huge golden Buddha and reclining Buddha are both worth seeing. And one must spend a little time wandering through the massive night market to fully appreciate the huge size and energy of Bangkok. Another way to experience that energy is to stay along the Chao Phraya River, with the constant flow of commercial barges, ferries/taxis, and party boats.

The travel plan/package Ethan and Sandy put together for us was amazing. Great hosts, fun tours, delicious food & drink, beautiful countries, and most of all, amazing hospitality!

I can’t say enough.

The only problem is that I’m having Tom Yum Goong withdrawal.

My wife Lee and I had a great trip to southern Vietnam over the holidays. I loved working with Sandy Ferguson and Ethan Crowley. We actually planned and revised this trip three times, first with Sandy for 12/20, then rescheduled for 12/21 (both canceled b/c of Covid) and finally with Ethan. Both Sandy and Ethan are very knowledgeable, and both really listened to our likes, dislikes and idiosyncracies, and helped craft a trip that was great for us, even when some of it was probably different than what most of their clients would want. I also really liked their approach of having a suggested itinerary, but the flexibility to make last-minute changes, depending on the weather, how we felt, what we’d heard, etc.

As for unusual experiences, I’d recommend (1) the Vietage train ride, a luxurious 6-hour train ride from Danang to Qua Nhnon; (2) the evening Vespa tour to local restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City; and (3) Bai San Ho, a relatively new resort in a remote, gorgeous area. Amanoi is also exceptional, but that’s pretty well known.

When we decided we wanted to go to Vietnam over the 2023 year-end holidays, we immediately turned to Sandy, who had planned a fantastic family trip for us to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos 10 years ago. And, just as before, we made the absolutely right choice!

We started planning in early 2023, knowing that it could be busy at year end. Both Sandy and Ethan provided valuable input at the outset. Our ten-day trip started in Hanoi and worked its way south to Ho Chi Minh City. We had three different guides covering the north, central and southern areas. All were terrific, knowledgeable and accommodating to our needs and tastes. Highlights included an overnight on Lan Ha Bay (Ha Long Bay is very crowded so this was a better alternative), lunch with a local family in Hue, a fun private cooking class in Hoi An, a 4:30 am trip to see the fishermen bring in their night’s haul for sale to local market merchants and an amazing New Year’s Eve vespa/food tour in Ho Chi Minh City.

We had four days of rain in Central Vietnam and had to cancel several activities. Nevertheless, Ethan and Sandy made some adjustments to our itinerary that worked out perfectly. The weather did not dampen our fun!

Ethan and Sandy are great to work with — their tremendous knowledge and love for SE Asia and their desire to share that with clients made them the perfect choice for our trip…again!

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