My husband and I spent 5 days in Malta with another couple in September, 2018, on a trip organized by Jason and Damon. There is a lot to see in Malta, covering 1000s of years of history. Jason did an excellent job of listening to our interests over several conversations prior to the trip. We were very happy that we had an organized schedule. Although Malta is small, roads are also small and travel is slow. To see as much as we did, you need a well planned, well executed schedule. Each day in Malta, we had private visits, but our favorites were the private after-hours visit to St. Johns Cathedral, the Ta Frenc Shopping, Cooking & Lunch on Gozo, the Palazzo Falzon in Mdina with Curator Caroline & also in Mdina, a tour by Contessa Manduca of her private home, and Hagar Qim, a megalithic temple complex older than Stonehenge. Unbelievably, there were still several “experiences” that couldn’t be arranged due to our timing. Well have to go back! If we go back, however, we’ll be staying in Mdina which is far more charming and less crowded than Valletta.
They did a very good job planning a travel agenda, securing a guide that spoke good English, and arranging the logistics of our trip. Our first day was unremarkable but the next several were quite memorable. We realized once we arrived that we overbooked activities and it took them a little while to adjust to that. Overall, a very good trip.
My husband, David, travels ~50% of the time for work and I travel a lot too. We still love adventure and leisure travel- we just don’t want our vacation travel to feel like “work”. We need and want to see and experience lots, but also want time to relax, watch nature, sit by the pool, or read a book. A lot of travel agents who are used to booking clients wanting to “do and see the most possible in the shortest time possible” don’t “get” us. Joshua Clayton, a member of Andy Booth’s team, did.
We had some ideas about where we wanted to go (SE Asia) and one thing we really wanted to do (Mekong River cruise on the Aqua) but otherwise were open to suggestions/guidance. We were presented with options to chose from when there were several great ones (hotels in Siem Reap) and got firm recommendations when needed (just “do” one country-Cambodia and specific sights not to miss). Some of the activities did not sound like something we’d like to spend our time on, and the first version was still a bit too “busy” but we quickly came to a great plan.
In the end, we got everything we wanted and a few delightful surprises, like the architectural walking and cyclo tour in Phnom Penh. I was a bit worried at the start when the guide simply pointed out the buildings on a square and their original purpose-could have been a lo-o-ong 2 hours. But very quickly we were climbing up back stairs of a colonial era grand hotel that was now inhabited by squatters, going through hidden passageways to go inside the only church that survived the Pol Pot regime- nearly hidden and also now inhabited by numerous families- and took a death-defying trip in mid-day traffic on a cyclo. A hike in rural Cambodia to visit remote temples only accessible on foot was also a highlight. We had many experiences we could not have possibly done or even found on our own.
Siem Reap was magical. Our guide there was fabulous and the connection to the countryside and its people was tangibly authentic. Andy’s team has developed relationships with local individuals and families who host events at their home. We had mid-morning high tea in the front yard of a woman who lived steps outside of a large temple complex. She was a single elderly woman for whom this relationship was invaluable. Similarly, we sipped coconut juice and created woven crafts at the home of a grandmother raising her grandchildren. The company has a private villa in the countryside that you reach via a private boat over a lake created in the 12th century. It was a truly wonderful last night of our trip. Pre-dinner “entertainment” includes music, ox-cart rides, passionfruit and lemongrass mojitos (with mixology lesson if you want), and then there were the foot massages followed by a multicourse gourmet meal under the stars. Magical! David and I think that Phum Bataing resort is perhaps the nicest place we’ve ever stayed. The property is pastoral, serene, service oriented and the accommodations were just lovely.
We had several issues during our trip, one dealt with completely satisfactorily, the others not so much. We are vegetarian and supposedly all plans were made to account for this. We were particularly disappointed when our “special” New Year’s Day lunch, which was billed as “pre-ordered to save time”, had not one vegetarian option in any course (even the salads had meat or fish) and the staff were completely unaware of our dietary request. The on-the-fly vegetarian substitutions were uninspired (stir fried veggies for one course replaced the lobster and beef options). We let Joshua know. He was very apologetic and arranged a wonderful vegetarian meal in Siem Reap.
A bigger issue was the fact that on arrival to Siem Reap there was no one to greet us. We waited 20 minutes then called the team’s “emergency” number, only to have the person answering being unable to find our file, then finding it and saying he’d call us back. We never got a call so, then after another 20 minutes we just took a cab to the hotel (the cab driver got lost). We felt abandoned and were just praying that we’d have a hotel room (and that the cab driver would find the hotel). The time from landing in Siem Reap to hotel was longer than our flight….and should be only a 10 minute ride when the driver doesn’t get lost. We were met by our guide at the hotel who had been given the wrong arrival time by Andy’s team and I got a sincere apology the next day, but I think it was a big gaff- I really don’t understand why, after he mistake was discovered and he knew we were waiting outside the airport that we NEVER got called back by the staff person that night. And while the taxi service was not expensive, no reimbursement or other reparations were provided.
Response from Ethan Crowley
It is so good to hear that Sharonne enjoyed her time in Cambodia with us overall, and I want to thank her for the review, which I hope will help future Wendy Perrin travelers. I am glad she enjoyed her hotel in Siem Reap, and I especially enjoyed reading of her surprise with the walking tour in Phnom Penh (Sokhary is so good at exceeding expectations on that tour); additionally, her description of our Villa in the countryside was very kind—it is a passion project of ours and so it is lovely to hear positive words.
However, I must apologize deeply and personally for the oversight with her arrival into Siem Reap. With her travel dates falling on the single busiest week of the year, the volume of travelers on the ground taxes our systems and the city’s infrastructure, and so the chances of such a lapse does jump between the 25th of December and the 4th of January. Of course. there is no excuse for this oversight—it appears it was human error on the part of our team. Just yesterday we were penning an email to Sharonne to discuss the particulars of refunding the cost of the taxi to cover her personal outlay.
To be transparent, the oversight regarding her vegetarian New Years’ Lunch falls entirely on the hotel: Sharonne’s dietary requests were very clearly communicated to the hotel’s Food and Beverage team and discussed with their management, but were still missed. They had assured us of their ability to offer a good menu, and they are a world-class 5-star hotel with whom we have a long and productive relationship, so this was as surprising to us as it was to Sharonne.
Working in a developing country is always guaranteed to bring unexpected surprises and challenges, which cannot always be anticipated even after years of arranging travel here.
It was a pleasure hosting Sharonne’s trip in this amazing country, and I hope our oversight did not diminish the memories of her time in Cambodia with us. We have used this as an opportunity to review and revise our procedures to ensure in the future such oversights are avoided.
From soup to nuts my experience with the Andy Booth and his team was exceptional. During the planning portion of the trip, the staff was responsive with both emails and phone calls. They listened carefully to my interests and requirements and put together precisely the trip to Laos and Cambodia I had envisioned.
The hotels were all excellent (winning the most over the top “Lives of the Rich and Famous” prize was the Nam Kat Yorla Pa resort in Oudomxay). The 5 local guides and the drivers were the “secret sauce” for my experience. They all possessed an encyclopedic of knowledge of the region (Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap, Pakse and Luang Prabang/Northern Laos) were friendly, flexible and attentive.
I am a very experienced and highly independent traveler who seeks out diving deep into the local culture/history/nature/politics and food with an emphasis on “off the beaten track”. This trip checked all of the boxes and was my first foray into a “supported trip”.
I have a new appreciation for having a driver and guide that not only provide extensive local insight (cold towels and perpetual water too) but also are a friendly face at the airport to pick you up, ensure you are settled into your hotel and the drop off at the airport or next destination is equally seamless.
Highlights of my trip included (not necessarily in rank order):
-meeting one of only 2 living survivors from the Tuol Sleng prison
-seeing the endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins
-biking in Angkor from Srah Srang to Ta Prohm and then Ta Nei (savoring the entire experience pretty much with just myself and my guide)
-spontaneous invitation from locals to party with their extended family during the Luang Prabang boat festival (a very special meal including LOTS of Beer Laos, dried and raw water buffalo and dried crickets)
– spending half a day at a no ride/no wash elephant sanctuary.
In summary, if you are looking for a Southeast Asia travel experience customized to your needs and interests Andy Booth and his team will make it happen.
Our thanks to Andy’s team—Joshua, Ethan, and the entire staff—for designing and implementing our recent trip to Southeast Asia. It was wonderful in every way. They arranged for us to stay in outstanding and diverse lodgings. These included French Colonial era gems in Hue (La Residence d’Hue) and Phnom Penh (Raffles Le Royal), a one-of-a-kind B and B in Battambang (Bric A Brac), and a resort/hotel in Siem Reap that could pass for an art museum (Shinta Mani Club). Our guides were knowledgeable, flexible, and open. They took us to the “must-see” sights and, at our request, way off the tourist trail. They helped us learn about the beauty and diversity of the people and cultures of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and the challenges that these people and cultures face. The centerpiece of our trip was Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor. We spent five days there, and each day was packed with marvelous adventures. Given Andy’s expertise in knowing when it is best to visit each facet of the Angkor complex, we were able to experience this majestic place with minimal crowds. We were even able to spend almost an hour at the top level of Angkor Wat, and, at times, we had the courtyard we were into ourselves. In sum, Andy and his staff helped us to see and experience the wonders of Southeast Asia and to learn about the people and cultures of this fascinating corner of the world.
We used Andy and Ethan on his team for our family summer trip last year. They were responsive and knowledgeable and planned exactly the trip we envisioned. We were a group of 5 families with lots of teens and we asked for ADVENTURE throughout Bangkok, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia. Everything from the guides who treated us to a spiritual morning feeding the monks, to riding elephants bareback & bathing them, to the exciting nighttime Vespa tour of Hanoi, as well as all the history to be taken in there, to trekking through the jungles of Cambodia on bicycles, culminating with Angkor Wat at dawn. They heard us loud and clear and gave us an experience we will never forget. Hotel highlights were the Siam (Bangkok) & Phum Baitung (Cambodia).
We traveled last summer with Andy Booth from AboutAsia to Siem Reap and Hanoi. Our trip was phenomenal. With the exception of Angkor Wat Temple we almost never felt the crowds. We saw and did more than we ever could have imagined. We traveled in August and while it was hot, we had a steady stream of cold towels and cold water. We loved our hotels in both cities with my favorite be the Raffles Hotel in Siem Reap. This hotel was a great location and a quick $3 ride from downtown. The grounds of the hotel were amazing and the staff welcoming. Andy’s team listened to all our concerns, wishes, and requirements and curated a perfect trip. The price was extremely reasonable for what we received. We shopped for art & antiques, crafts, ate amazing local cuisine, learned about the local life and customs and visited more temples that we had planned. I cannot say enough about Andy’s team. We hope to use them again to return to the area.