Tag Archives: Asia

boat in Halong Bay Vietnam

WOW Asia: Reviews from our Travelers

This is Asia’s moment. As one of the last regions to open after Covid, Asia hasn’t yet seen the tourist crowds that you’ll find once again in Europe. Our travelers were among the vanguard to return to Asia, aided by the local intel of our Trusted Travel Experts. Read on to learn what it’s like to be there now. And here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.

India: “One of our favorite stops was the Dera Amer camp, an animal sanctuary and home of elephant rescues…”

Travelers and the elephant at the Dera Amer sanctuary in India.

Michael and Lisa Riggs with new friend Rangmala at the Dera Amer sanctuary.

“As with every WOW List specialist we have worked with over the past five years, we found that Victoria had everything planned and arranged to perfection. Any glitches were handled and fixed immediately. Most notable, after I left a packing cube with my husband’s polo shirts in the Delhi hotel, Victoria’s team managed to retrieve them and get them to us, via a variety of drivers and tour guides, at a later destination. Meanwhile, our guide Vanch suggested we get some shirts made, which was fun, inexpensive, and quick. A great souvenir from India, whether or not you lose yours.

The hotels were 5-star, gorgeous, and even historic. At The Imperial in New Delhi, the site of many historic meetings, we enjoyed sitting at the same table Gandhi did!

In Agra, we were surprised by our WOW Moment: an authentic Hindu marriage ceremony for us! We participated in the rituals, learned a lot, and enjoyed the experience of ‘renewing our vows’ in a different culture. Now we will be together for 7 lifetimes, the priest told us. Luckily, we’re good with that.

Our WOW celebration continued with an excellent dinner of Mughal tandoor cuisine, with a traditional Santoor musician, at the highly rated Esphahan restaurant in our hotel, the Oberoi.

It was wedding season in Rajasthan, and it was fun to see things even more ornately decorated than usual, including horses, elephants, vehicles in the streets and our hotel, The Taj Rambagh Palace (a former Jaipur Maharaja’s palace). The elaborate Mughal gardens were the site of a large and lavish wedding reception, all day and into the night. It was fun and interesting to witness. Even the staff was impressed.

One of our favorite stops was the Dera Amer camp, an animal sanctuary and home of elephant rescues. We fed and took a walk with Rangmala and her mahout, and she allowed us to pet her and pose for photos.

We saw sunset and sunrise at the Taj Mahal and were thrilled to tour the inside of this monument and many other historic forts, temples, mosques and palaces. It was a beautiful trip to a most interesting country.” —Lisa Riggs

Read more reviews of India trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 


Southeast Asia: “We were the only ones there, drifting through the lily pads watching the birds and sunset. It was beautiful and peaceful.”

Panorama of ancient stone door and tree roots.

Ta Prohm temple ruins in Angkor, Cambodia. Photo: Shutterstock

“My wife, 22 year-old daughter, and I visited Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. The local guides arranged by Sandy and Ethan 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.

In Chiang Mai we went on a beautiful two-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. 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 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.

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.” —Joe Coco

Read more reviews of Southeast Asia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 


Bhutan: “Peaceful, calm, clean, welcoming, safe and fascinating, with people full of warmth…”

Herbal bath with a view at Gangtey Lodge, Bhutan.

An herbal bath with a view at Bhutan’s Gangtey Lodge. Photo: Traveler Wendy Tucker

“My husband and I just returned from a fantastic two-week-plus trip to India and Bhutan. We have been lucky enough to travel to many places, but we both declared at our return that this was our favorite destination. Sanjay planned a perfect trip and we are so grateful to him and his local agencies for their knowledge, punctuality, kindness and seamless handling of everything. When I initially contacted Sanjay, our plan only included Bhutan. There are no flights to Bhutan from the US or Europe—you need to go through India or Thailand. We had never been to India, so Sanjay suggested that we fly into Delhi (one of the cities you can access Bhutan from) and spend a few days to see the Taj Mahal. We were so glad we took his advice.

Overall, we found Bhutan to be peaceful, calm, clean, welcoming, safe and fascinating, with people full of warmth, interest and kindness. We stayed at four incredible properties, each with their own flavor, beauty and charm. My favorite was Gangtey Lodge. Gangtey Lodge was the furthest east we traveled and is high above a beautiful valley. It snowed when we were there, so we enjoyed herbal baths gazing from the tub out over the valley.

We filled our days with visits to fortresses, nunneries, temples and monasteries—we loved them all, although our favorite was Gangtey Goenpa Monastery. We spent almost three hours there participating in a tea ceremony with the monks and discussing Buddhism and life in a monastery with a senior monk.” —Wendy Tucker

Read more reviews of Bhutan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 


India: “The weather was perfect, the guides were flexible and kind, and India is truly a magical place.”

Girls tasting jalebi, a traditional Indian sweet.

Tasting jalebi, an Indian sweet, during a tuk tuk tour. Photo: Traveler Mary Ko

“Our family has been on many trips. We usually use Wendy Perrin’s List because all the companies offer flexibility and we travel with young kids (ages 11, 9, and 5). We went to India February 28th- March 9th, and it was our best family trip to date. I know part of this was because we finally don’t have a kid under 4 with us, but the other part was Victoria—and Narji, our guide. We went to Agra, Jaipur, and Udaipur. There was so much to offer for everyone.

The kids’ favorite parts of the trip were the shopping, the block printing, feeding peacocks at Taj Rambagh, and seeing elephants at the Sanctuary. My husband and I loved the Oberoi hotels, the gems, the Taj Mahal, the love of Western travelers we felt, the tuk tuk ride, the historic sites, and so much more. The weather was perfect, the guides were flexible and kind, and India is truly a magical place. We have already purchased the things needed to try to make our own jalebi, and we loved the tea!!!

We hopped airports a bit to quickly jump cities, and our driver would drive our luggage so we only had a backpack and snacks, making flying headache-free. What I love about Victoria is that we had flexibility with kids—meaning, if we cancelled something because they needed downtime, it was fine, or if we had to change things quickly, it was no big deal. An amazing adventure!!” —Mary Ko

Read more reviews of India trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 


Sri Lanka: “Wonderful experiences including a cooking class, a mask carving and painting workshop, and visits to a cinnamon plantation and to a tea factory…”

Travelers surrounded by village kids on their Tea Trail hike in Sri Lanka.

Jan Heininger and husband Jamie Reuter meeting village kids on a Tea Trail hike.

“We had a three-week trip to Sri Lanka planned by Miguel. This very interesting trip covered almost the entire country from the Cultural Triangle with its archaeological ruins, cave temples and Buddhist sacred sites, its historic capitals of Anuradhapura and Kandy, its largest national park (Yala) famed for its leopards, its gorgeous Indian Ocean beaches, its colonial past displayed in the Galle Fort, and its myriad of agricultural products, especially tea and cinnamon.

Miguel’s skill in putting our trip together started when he built in an extra day of rest after our arrival. I agreed to add in the day, in spite of not thinking it necessary—until it was. A snowstorm delayed our departure from DC, causing us to miss our connecting flight in Doha. We ended up with a 9-hour airport layover and didn’t get to our hotel until 4 am. We were very grateful to sleep late the next morning and snooze by the pool that afternoon.

Miguel also ensured that we had a flexible schedule. Our driver, Thissa, could say, “Let’s stop and see that bird,” or we could stop and taste a Golden coconut or visit a local market where we were introduced to many unfamiliar vegetables and fruits that are essential elements of Sri Lankan cuisine.

Miguel had us stay in wonderful places, including two Aman resorts on the south coast. At Amanwella, we took one of the best cooking classes we’ve ever had with the Executive Chef. At Amangalla in Galle Fort, we went for a bike ride in the countryside (beware of heat exhaustion), toured the Fort with a terrific local guide, and had a workshop making and painting traditional Sri Lankan masks. Miguel also booked us into Castlereagh, a five-room, former tea plantation manager’s bungalow. We were told to treat it like our home—just tell them what we wanted to eat and when.

Miguel set up wonderful experiences including the cooking class, a mask carving and painting workshop and visits to a cinnamon plantation and to a tea factory. He had us hike a segment of the Tea Trail where we interacted with women tea pickers and with kids and villagers we encountered along the way.

We could not have planned this trip by ourselves. Miguel has access to unique experiences. We spent an afternoon in Kandy with an artist and his artist daughter. Miguel directed us to accommodations he knew would meet our not-even-known-to-us needs. The night before we left Sri Lanka, we were lucky to have dinner with Miguel and his lovely wife. It was a treat to meet with and talk to the man who was behind our trip.

What makes Wendy’s trip specialists stand out from the usual run-of-the-mill travel agents is that they—and Miguel—listen carefully to what you’re looking for in a trip. They have access to experiences you could never find on your own and include things you had no idea you wanted and end up delighted you experienced them. The mask my husband carved from a block of balsa wood and the two we painted are off being framed right now and will always be physical reminders of our time in Sri Lanka.” —Jan Heininger

Read more reviews of Sri Lanka trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Southeast Asia: “The diversity of the trip was amazing and included fabulous street food adventures in several of the cities, ringside seats in Bangkok…”

Ingredients in bowl for preparing Vietnamese rice noodles.

A bowl of Vietnamese rice noodles with beef and other ingredients. Photo: Shutterstock

“Just back from our third trip booked through one of Wendy’s fabulous travel arrangers. In this case we worked with Dan for a 3 ½ week itinerary that started and ended in Singapore, with Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, Saigon, Hue, Hoi An, and Hanoi in between.

Dan and his team did a great job attending to all of the details, especially the VIP arrival treatment in the many airports we traversed. The diversity of the trip was amazing and included fabulous street food adventures in several of the cities, ringside seats in Bangkok for Muay Thai boxing, a cruise on the Mekong river from Luang Prabang to the Pak Ou caves (with a stop at a whisky distillery whose bottles contained snakes and scorpions—a bit too much for my taste), sunrise at Angkor Wat, incredible acrobats at the Phare circus, thrilling rides in several cities on cyclos, tuk-tuks, and scooters, and various museums and places that are etched in memories of those of us that grew up in the Viet Nam war era. Lots of lessons to be learned from that time.

But perhaps the most interesting part of our visit involved a dinner and musical performance at the Ben Xuan Garden House. When we saw this on the agenda, we thought ok, that could be a nice evening. Well, the host, Camille Huyen, is six generations removed from the emperor and is an incredible artist. She designed the home using bricks from the rubble of the destroyed Imperial Palace area, has her paintings on display throughout the home, and provided vocals alongside some fabulously talented musicians whom she personally selected and developed from the local university. After the performance we were treated to an amazing dinner and wonderful conversation with Camille and Ngo Truong Dinh, her husband and a former banker during their time in Switzerland. This evening was one of the more remarkable events of many years of travel around the world.” —Mike and Marilyn Modak

Read more reviews of Southeast Asia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Sri Lanka: “We saw beautiful Buddha temples…hiked mountains with spectacular views, went on a jeep safari…”

Travelers on Peradeniya Botanical Garden's Avenue of Royal Palms, Sri Lanka.

Pam Greenstein and family on Peradeniya Botanical Garden’s Avenue of Royal Palms.

“We had an incredible vacation to Sri Lanka over the Christmas holidays with our two daughters, ages 21 and 18. We had just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and wanted to do something special with them. We were there for 2.5 weeks and stayed in 9 different boutique hotels. They were all fantastic! Our guide was absolutely outstanding. He added so much to the trip by getting us into various cultural events, restaurants, markets, and experiences. We never had to wait in line! He was also very caring with our girls when they were tired and needed a break. His passion for the country was instrumental in our learning about the culture and history, and eating incredible food.

We saw beautiful Buddha temples, rode the famous train to see the incredible topography, learned all about tea country, hiked mountains with spectacular views, went on a jeep safari and got up close elephants, leopards and water buffalos; rode bikes through rice paddies, had a wonderful massage and sauna, toured a gem mine to see how they make beautiful jewelry, and swam with the sea turtles. The highlight was our farm-to-table cooking class, picking fresh vegetables at the market and then making Sri Lankan rice and curry dishes with local chefs. It was fun and delicious.

We had various anniversary cards, cakes, and champagne when we arrived at our hotels, such a warm and caring gesture from the staff. This was our third trip working with Wendy and her team, and as usual, they did an outstanding job planning every detail.” —Pam Greenstein

Read more reviews of Sri Lanka trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand: “Walking in the cities (other than Bangkok) was an adventure, as motorcycles and cars do not stop for pedestrians…”

Busy daily traffic with stream of motorbikes and cars.

Motion view of a busy street with scooters and cars in Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I traveled to Southeast Asia for 25 days in December 2023 on a trip designed by Sandy and Ethan. While Vietnam was the centerpiece, given the journey required to get there, we included three other countries as well—Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. Walking in the cities (other than Bangkok) was an adventure, as motorcycles and cars do not stop for pedestrians. You just walk slowly and steadily across the lanes of traffic, and the vehicles go around you—not for the faint of heart. And walking on sidewalks is often not possible, as vehicles park on them and vendors set up shop.

Our favorite experience of the trip was the visit to the elephant sanctuary in Laos, where we got to feed the elephants and spend an hour walking with them in the woods. Such beautiful creatures. In Laos, our lovely local host Paan educated us about Buddhism, a religion we were quite unfamiliar with. We enjoyed a delightful evening at her home with her family and neighbors where we participated in a blessing ceremony.

Another highlight was arranged by our wonderful local Hanoi host: We got to meet a former North Vietnam fighter pilot trained to fly in Russia. He shot down the first American fighter in the War and was later shot down by an American pilot. The 3 met in the 1990s and still remain in contact. We met in his home, where he showed us pictures and we learned not only about his war experience but about his family and his life post-war.

In Cambodia our passionate and delightful local host Sokros delved into the Cambodia genocide with us, as we had requested. We visited the “prison” Pol Pot established in a high school in Phnom Penh and the associated “killing field” a few kilometers from the city. We discussed the recently concluded judicial inquiry into the genocide crimes and met one of the 7 (out of 20,000) survivors of those imprisoned in the prison.

We finished the trip in Bangkok, where local host Kat was a treasure. She guided us on an enjoyable walk from the grounds of the royal palace to the Chinese market. We enjoyed two wonderful lunches with her where she chose a variety of delicious Thai dishes for us to sample and shared stories about life in Thailand.” —Linda Shorey

Read more reviews of Southeast Asia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Thailand: “The stories behind some of the elephants were heartbreaking, but it was good to know that they could live out the rest of their lives being well taken care of.”

The Elephant Nature Park outside Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The Elephant Nature Park outside Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo: Traveler Bruce Tylock

“With a short lead time of about two weeks due to my last-minute China business travel, we decided to use Wendy Perrin’s travel service. We were matched up with Dan and Obb. We wanted to focus on food, culture and markets. We had a great time experiencing the street food of Bangkok. Thailand street food is amazing. We also loved our longboat tour to see the sights in Bangkok from the river. From the water, we saw the Wat Paknam giant buddha that was incredible.

From there, we were off to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. We loved our guide, Yawan, for this portion of the trip. We loved our hike through the tea and coffee fields in Chiang Rai. Yawan knew all the different types of plants along the way, and it was very interesting to see all the different herbs, fruits, and vegetables growing along the roads. We had a great stop at the Elephant Nature Conservation Sanctuary Park outside of Chiang Mai. The stories behind some of the elephants were heartbreaking, but it was good to know that they could live out the rest of their lives being well taken care of by the staff at the camp.

We were then on to the final leg of our trip in Phuket—and Dan and Obb saved the best activities for last! Our guide, Pong, gave us a great overview of Old Town Phuket and took us out for some delicious food at some local favorite restaurants. The next day was our favorite excursion of the whole trip: The John Gray sea kayak tour. Everywhere we looked was incredibly beautiful, and we will forever remember the night kayaking where we made an offering to the water goddess and got to see the luminescent phytoplankton, which was an amazing sight!

It was tough to follow up the sea kayaking, but we also had a great time at our cooking class the next day. Chef Pui at the Brass Wok was so much fun to talk with about food and restaurants, and she showed us how to make several delicious Thai dishes. I’d always been intimidated by Thai cooking. However, when I arrived back home the following week, I headed to the Asian grocery store for supplies and was able to reproduce the same delicious dishes that Chef Pui taught us to make.

It was very thoughtful that our guides in the different areas communicated with each other so that it felt like the guides already knew us when we arrived. When we told Dao in Bangkok that we were interested in getting some makrut lime leaves to take home with us, she contacted Yawan in Chiang Mai, who gave us a bag of dried lime leaves from the tree at his home.” —Amy and Bruce Tylock

Read more reviews of Thailand trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Japan: “We often had our room category upgraded, no doubt due to his relationship with the hotel…”

Aman Spa at Amanemu Resort, Japan

Aman Spa at Amanemu Resort, Japan. Photo: Amanresorts

“We wanted to be a bit “off the beaten path,” so Scott designed an itinerary that included not only Tokyo, Kanazawa, Takayama, and Kyoto, but Kamikochi National Park, where we had an amazing day of hiking, Matsumoto in a beautiful ryokan, and a stay at the beautiful Aman resort in Ise Shima. His hotel/inn and restaurant recommendations were spot on, and we ate some amazing food. We often had our room category upgraded, no doubt due to his relationship with the hotel.

We have learned that the quality of a guide can make or break a trip. Our guide, Tomo, was wonderful—knowledgeable, kind, and fun. She went out of her way to understand our interests and show us the non-touristy side of the places that we visited.

The train network in Japan is great, but some of the transfers can be intimidating (Tokyo Station at rush hour is an experience!). As part of their service, Scott’s office arranged for us to be met by their representative as we got off trains to guide us to our next transfer or accommodation, which made the travel completely stress-free. Scott and Tomo provided perfect suggestions for spending our time alone in Kyoto and Tokyo, which helped us plan our days without a guide. Thank you for recommending Scott!” —Cathy Green

Read more reviews of Japan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Oman and Jordan: “All was well and safe…”

Our travelers, Amy Evers and her husband atop a rock arch in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

Amy Evers and her husband atop a rock arch in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

“Our trip to Oman and Jordan October 14th- Nov. 1st, 2023, was extraordinary! Even with the slight unease regarding the war, while in Oman and Jordan, all was well and safe. There did seem to be some extra military presence in Amman but that didn’t interfere with our trip. We are very happy we did not cancel!

Out trip planner, Daniel, did a wonderful job talking through everything with us ahead of time. He was honest about his thoughts about things that are worth it and that aren’t. Some of the highlights of our trip were:

Oman: Eating and drinking dates and Omani coffee with locals, dinner with a local family in Muscat, learning about the culture, talking with a local at the Grand Mosque to learn more about Islam, swimming and exploring Wadi Shaab and Wadi Bani Khalid, dune bashing in Wahiba Sands, the via ferrata course in Jebel Akhdar, biking down the mountains in Jabel Shams, the random barber shop experience for my husband to get his beard trimmed (hilarious and wonderful cultural experience), and the balcony hike in Jebel Shams.

Jordan: Petra during the day/night and the back door hike in, SCUBA diving the wreck in the Red Sea (not organized by Dan), ‘soft’ canyoning in Wadi Al Mujib, floating in the Dead Sea (so unique and funny!), and discussions about current issues with our guide.

I feel very lucky to have experienced this trip, especially in today’s political climate. It is always good to learn more, have more awareness and to become better global citizens. Thank you!” —Amy Evers

Read more reviews of Oman and Jordan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Vietnam, Cambodia & Hong Kong: “Being able to enjoy sunrise at the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat…”

Photo of Angkor Wat temple complex taken by the traveler.

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex is filled with intricate carvings. Photo: Traveler Joe McBrine

Ethan and Sandy put together our 2.5-week trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Hong Kong. Without them we would have been hard pressed to have the amazing variety and depth of experiences which allowed us to really experience Vietnamese and Cambodian culture. In Vietnam we watched a water puppet show in Hanoi, biked on Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay, took a speedboat along the Mekong Delta to a remote village where we biked again, dined with a welcoming Vietnamese family in Hue, and had a private nighttime Vespa food tour of Ho Chi Minh City. Each experience forced us out of our comfort zone as passive tourists and made us engage in the best possible way. We travel to see the world, experience other cultures, and meet those who live like us but only differently. Sandy and Ethan provided us with the opportunities to do that. And from these experiences the best type of memories are made.

As far as unique experiences there were too many to count. Two stand out. The Vespa tour of Ho Chi Minh City was beyond. At first I was a bit anxious at the thought of getting on a Vespa. It was hot and I was worried we might have a collision—or worse—I’d fall off. However the drivers were expert and put us instantly at ease. Once we set off and felt the breeze against our skin, took in the beautiful twinkling lights, and smelled the aromas of this city—including all the delicious food we tried at the three different restaurants we stopped at—we were in heaven. One particularly memorable moment occurred as we zipped down a small alleyway passing by residents cooking their evening meals, eating, and socializing—a site familiar no matter where one is in the world. Amazing. Additionally the flower market was also especially beautiful at night. After the food we stopped at an intimate bar for wonderful live music, and then capped the evening with a visit to famed local chocolatier Maison Marou for probably the richest and most delicious hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

In Cambodia one of the highlights of our trip was getting up before dawn and being able to enjoy sunrise at the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat. Seeing this beautiful and immense temple complex appear out of the mist as the sun rises is an experience too ethereal and intense for words. Along those lines we visited a Cambodian Buddhist monastery for blessings and prayers with a young Buddhist monk. Our guide in Cambodia, Thuy Silen, was beyond lovely and informative during our travels there. I won’t forget her smile and laugh.

Truly a trip to remember and we owe that to Sandy and Ethan. Bravo.” —Joseph McBrine

Read more reviews of Southeast Asia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Indonesia: “An exceptionally beautiful country, with interesting history, gorgeous art and relics, and incredible food….”

Chris Kloes

Chris Kloes and her family in East Java, Indonesia, viewing Mount Bromo and its caldera at sunset.

“Our trip to Indonesia vastly exceeded our high expectations! We thought Indonesia was an exceptionally beautiful country, with interesting history, gorgeous art and relics, and incredible food. And the people were unfailingly kind everywhere we went. We are grateful for Diane’s help. She helped shape this trip from the initial concept to the finished itinerary and also deftly managed a curveball along the way. She’s deeply knowledgeable and unflappable, exactly what you want from a travel planner. Highly, highly recommend her!

Our family trip (me, my husband, and my 12-year-old son) was 3 weeks long and had 4 distinct chapters, which flowed very well.

Mt. Bromo
Diane helped us navigate a curveball at a destination we had initially planned to visit after the hotel was hit by lightning and had limited electricity as a result. Diane suggested a couple of alternatives and we decided to change that leg of the trip entirely. We are so glad we did and are so happy we went to Mt. Bromo! The Plataran Bromo was one of the best hotels we’ve stayed at in the world (and we’ve been to fabulous hotels in over 50 countries), both the facility, but especially the exceptional level of service. We met so many kind people there and ate truly delicious food. The staff went over-the-top to help our son, even going as far as to take him horseback riding while we enjoyed a massage. This was definitely our favorite of all of the lovely hotels and places we stayed. Our excursions were also very memorable. I mean, we rode horses across a sea of sand and climbed an active volcano! We especially appreciated the sunset tour of Mt. Bromo and the caldera. We were virtually alone to watch the sunset and had some unparalleled views.

Diane connected us to a local guide, Emmanuel, who was amazing. His English was excellent and he had a wealth of interesting info to share with us. We loved the sunrise breakfast at the hotel overlooking Borobudur, and especially appreciated the talk by the local guide who ran the breakfast. That guide had a deep knowledge of Borobudur and shared details about the history and importance of the temple. We also loved visiting the temple — it is truly amazing and so beautiful. We had an excursion and our son really enjoyed learning how to make batik. The people who worked at the batik shop were all very patient and sweet to him as they showed him the multi-step process. Plataran Bromo was again an exceptional property. We lucked into an incredible room, with a private pool overlooking Borobudur. It was incredible to look out as the sun set, the bats dipped in and out of our pool, and the numerous calls to prayer competed in a hypnotic melody. The villa was excellent, with our master bedroom and a comfy large cot in the adjoining room for our son. We enjoyed seeing Yogyakarta, touring the Water Castle and Sultan’s Palace — we took local rickshaws, which was a ton of fun and a great way to see the area.

Gilli Trawangan
Diane helped us with the overview of this island, but we managed most of the details here ourselves, as we had a rental home. We are glad that we stayed at the north end of the island, close to Turtle Beach. It was stunningly beautiful and much quieter than the east side, which is more of a party area. Being able to snorkel at the beach right across from our villa was amazing, and we saw many sea turtles, which was a magical experience.

This felt like the most authentic leg of our stay. Diane recommended the gorgeous Hotel Tugu Lombok, which is rich with antiques and local art. We had a magical room, with the private pool overlooking the beach. The location is fairly remote, but we took advantage of the hotel’s bikes to explore the local area. Everyone was so welcoming!! My husband and son took a walk down the beach by the local public beach area, which was cute as they met some local girls who were especially interested in talking with our son. Our local guide was able to help us pivot after we decided we wanted some changes to the planned activities, and we visited a fantastic local market that was only about 1 hour from the Tugu. We also took a cooking class arranged by the hotel, which we all really enjoyed. We cooked local specialties and then ate our creations at a feast of a lunch.

Overall, this was an incredible trip and we highly recommend going to Indonesia and using Diane to help plan your trip!” —Chris Cloes

Read more reviews of Indonesia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Japan: “A cooking class at the home of a chef with an amazing history, visiting a sword maker, and a sake (actually nihonshu) tasting class…”

A traditional onsen ryokan hot spring inn Japanese hotel in the middle of nature.

A traditional onsen ryokan Japanese hotel. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our family of 6 (mom, dad, and four 20-something kids) recently got home from a 16-day trip in Japan created by Scott’s colleague Jason. Jason helped us shape a trip that worked well for our family and really took into account our interests and preferences. We started in Tokyo with our guide Narumi, who stayed with us for the whole trip. Our guide met us the first day and suggested we go ‘off itinerary’ for a special local event, the Kanda Myojin Shrine Parade, and we watched hundreds of people from many neighborhoods celebrate and dance with their shrines. We also saw all the major sites and had a few special and memorable experiences: our favorites in and near Tokyo were a cooking class at the home of a chef with an amazing history, visiting a sword maker, and a sake (actually nihonshu) tasting class. For the rest of our trip we had fun finding and ordering sakes of different types.

We next visited Kanazawa to see several UNESCO World Heritage Sites that were beautiful and interesting and stayed in a fantastic onsen ryokan that gave us a taste of hot-spring bathing and provided more of a Japanese feeling than traditional western hotels. In Kyoto, we visited temples—some with amazing views—a bamboo forest, a building housing 1,000 Buddha statues from the 1200s, and some terrific shrines. We had a Taiko drum class—a real hoot for the whole family—and had a moving and relaxing Zen Buddhism experience. We saw many gorgeous meditative gardens where we could have spent hours. Our daughter also found a ‘Pig Café’ (think ‘Cat Café’ but with little pigs) which was…different and fun.

En route to Kyoto, one of our kids left a phone on the train and our guide did a great job of working the (impressive) Japanese systems for finding and reclaiming lost items—far, far different than it would have been in the U.S. And yes, we got it back three days later before leaving the area.

We specifically requested a stop in Hiroshima, which we found particularly moving and profound and such a testament to the evil of nuclear weapons and resilience of the Japanese people. A local specialty, an Okonomiyaki dinner, was a real treat—never had anything like it. Another favorite location was Naoshima, which was completely Jason’s suggestion. We’d never heard of it. We’ve told several friends about ‘the art islands’ since we’ve been back. We could have easily spent an extra day or two, and the art and experience was truly memorable.” —Andy Kaplan

Read more reviews of Japan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Indonesia: “As special as Bali is, Flores Island/Komodo National Park (a 1-hour flight from Bali) was the highlight of the trip for our family.”

Komodo National Park is an island's paradise for diving and exploring. The most popular tourist destination in Indonesia, Nusa Tenggara.

Komodo National Park in Nusa Tenggara. Photo: Shutterstock

“Overall our trip to Bali and Komodo was absolutely amazing, and I can’t thank Diane enough for her guidance in planning. As special as Bali is, Flores Island/Komodo National Park (a 1-hour flight from Bali) was the highlight of the trip for our family. The experience of trekking around Rinca and Komodo Islands to see the Komodo dragons was incredible. And very little trekking needed to view them, really—there were several of the giant lizards cruising the pier and beaches when we arrived by speedboat at Komodo! Later on, snorkeling at a beautiful pink sand beach was literally like diving into the world of Finding Nemo, and we also marveled at the giant fruit bats, emerging from their roost in the mangroves at sunset.

Truly magical and I only wished we had allotted more time to explore this beautiful area, which is about to explode with tourism, given the Indonesian government’s plan to promote the region. Several new hotels are under construction—go now while it’s still somewhat quiet!” —Karen Dalton

Read more reviews of Indonesia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Japan: “Through the Japanese Alps, through the Kiso Valley and its enchanting post towns and fairytale villages untouched by time…”

A small stream turns a motion blurred wooden water wheel next to beautifully restored stone steps on the historic Nakasendo trail in Magome, Kiso Valley.

Japanese buildings and restored stone steps in Nakasendo trail in Magome, Kiso Valley, Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted a mix of urban and rural life, so Scott made a number of recommendations that would fulfill my desires. Besides vibrant Tokyo and Kyoto, we included a trip through the Japanese Alps, through the Kiso Valley and its enchanting post towns and fairytale villages untouched by time, to the charming towns of Takayama and Kanazawa.

The trip was topped off with a two-day stay in beautiful Hakone. And the WOW Moment! Made even more special by the happy coincidence of Scott being in Kyoto for business. So he was able to join us at the incredible multi-course dinner at the Michelin-star French/Japanese restaurant Motoï, a beautifully atmospheric restaurant with divine food, made extra special by the talented chef visiting us at our table.

This trip exceeded my wildest imagination due in great part to Scott’s magnificent knowledge and love of Japan and our incredible guide, Makiko. I feel so fortunate to have found Scott through Wendy. A truly priceless experience.” —Roseanne Horn

Read more reviews of Japan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos: “I flew by helicopter to the even more remote and off-the-radar locations of Preah Vihear and Prasat Banteay Chhmar…”

Jeannie Mullen

Aerial view of temple ruins by helicopter. Photo: Jeannie Mullen

“On a lark, and with spot-on advice and counsel from Wendy about where to go on short notice, I booked a trip to Southeast Asia. Wendy put me in touch with Sandy and Ethan and, just as she said they would, they were able to turn on a dime.

I don’t think I’ve been to that many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in one single trip, ever. Every planning detail, including Fast Track airport service (where available) for arrivals and departures, was taken care of with great care and attention.

Siem Reap, Cambodia—the place around which the entire trip was planned—was phenomenal. Traipsing in and around the temple complexes and experiencing sunrise at Angkor Wat was a major bucket-list item. Major shout-out to Silen, my guide and Ethan’s friend, for her attention to every detail and working our way into and out of the temple complexes in such a way as to avoid other tourists. She was also a master at pacing the day so as to provide relief from the heat and humidity.

Surpassing those experiences was the day that I flew by helicopter to the even more remote and off-the-radar locations of Preah Vihear and Prasat Banteay Chhmar with Po-Thai Khan, a renowned Cambodian archaeologist. Walking these temple complexes with Thai was one of those pinch-me experiences … he was so interesting, engaging and affirming. And the temples were totally without tourists. Something I will never forget. On the way back to Siem Reap, as we skirted a massive thunderstorm, we flew through a full circle rainbow …how did Wendy manage THAT wow moment?

Thank you so much to Sandy and Ethan, and all of their family and friends in Southeast Asia, for turning a spur-of-the-moment trip idea into a reality for this solo wanderer.” —Jeannie Mullen

Read more reviews of Southeast Asia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Japan: “We met 5th-generation kimono silk artists, indigo dyers and gold leaf artisans…”

Elegant female travelers wearing traditional clothing dress kimono standing in front of old wooden house door outside.

Traditional kimonos in Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

“I worked with Scott to plan our itinerary.  All the logistics were flawlessly executed. Because Ian, the man I have lived with for 35 years, is a furniture designer and maker, with Scott’s help meetings were set up with Japanese ‘makers’ as well as an architect who took us on a tour through Tokyo’s incredible streetscape. These meetings were phenomenal. We met 5th-generation kimono silk artists, indigo dyers and gold leaf artisans, plus a gallery owner who is an authority on artisanal pottery. We visited the museums, temples, shrines and quaint historic areas that deepened our connection to Japanese culture.  Working with Scott was an absolute pleasure and I would enthusiastically recommend his office to anyone wanting to take a spectacular trip to the amazing country that is Japan.”—Diane Stone

Read more reviews of Japan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Dubai & Abu Dhabi: “What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite, a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset…”

Diane Thormodsgard

Diane Thormodsgard’s grandsons enjoy their private pool at the Al Maha desert resort.

“My husband and I took our grandsons (ages 14 and 13) to UAE at the end of July for 10 days. We told our grandchildren many years ago they could pick any place in the world for a trip. Dubai was the choice! Although we were skeptical about going there during the summer when it is very hot, Nicholas designed an itinerary that suited all of us perfectly. He listened to our desire to give the boys an unforgettable experience and delivered.

We started in Dubai with a stay at Atlantis the Palm, including exclusive Imperial Club access, after being met with VIP service at the airport. The boys enjoyed Aquaventure and the pool. We also had a Dubai historical tour, visited Museum of the Future, went to the “top of the Burj Khalifa,” had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise with a crew of four that provided excellent service.

After leaving Dubai, we ventured to Al Maha, a luxury desert resort. What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite (boys had their own Bedouin suite), a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset, early morning falconry presentation for the grandparents, and excellent food. Our only regret is we wished we would have spent more than one night there so we could have enjoyed other activities like archery, more time in the pool and watching the many gazelles and rare Arabian Oryx on the property. As the boys said, “this is really cool!”

The next stop was Abu Dhabi, where we stayed at the WB Hotel by Hilton, which is conveniently located near many of the theme parks. After touring Abu Dhabi, which included a tour of the Grand Mosque, we finished our trip with visits to Warner Bros. World, Ferrari World and the recently opened (May) Sea World. All of the parks are covered so the hot weather was not an issue. The new Sea World is absolutely incredible. Ferrari World was the highlight, however, with an individual Ferrari car ride on nearby roads with a professional driver for each grandson.

The trip was a nice mix of history, amazing architecture, and entertainment. The guides and drivers were always early, very professional and top-notch. They readily adjusted our tours (like less shopping time) to cater to our interests. Nicholas was available during the trip for any issues or questions we had. He started working with us to plan the trip 7 months before we traveled and never hesitated to make himself available.

I would highly recommend Nicholas and staff if you are planning a trip to UAE. It was very obvious he has strong relationships with local service providers and is very knowledgeable about the area. We were definitely able to experience a “trip of our lifetime” for our grandsons and us!”—Diane Thormodsgard

This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.

Ask Wendy

Thailand and Cambodia: “A way of life that we couldn’t have imagined…”

Jeff Lonsinger

Floating Market near Bangkok. Photo: Traveler Jeff Lonsinger

“Several friends and I volunteered at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. After our week there, we wanted to spend more time traveling on our own, so we called Dan. Our instructions were minimal: A leisurely pace with some hiking and biking, and small, beautifully designed hotels.

Taking it from there, Dan and his experience planner, Bank, put together a perfect itinerary with just the right amount of activity. They suggested three nights in Chiang Rai, three nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the last three nights in Bangkok. In northern Thailand, we hiked through coffee and tea plantations, through rice paddies, and cherry orchards. A highlight was a visit to the Royal Villa and Gardens in Doi Tung. Learning about Mae Fah Luang, the princess mother who developed this area, was fascinating as well.

Next it was on to Siem Reap, where we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat, along with several other temples. The town itself was a surprise, with upscale hotels and sophisticated restaurants. We really enjoyed our visit to Theam’s Gallery, where Cambodian artist Lim Muy Theam and apprentices are reestablishing Khmer art and culture.

In Bangkok we stayed at a lovely small hotel right on the Chao Phraya River and within walking distance of the royal palace. We loved our morning bike ride through neighborhoods and temples in an area of the city not often frequented by tourists. In the evening we enjoyed a tour of the local food scene, with many opportunities to try unusual fare! Fermented fish, water beetles, and live shrimp, if you are brave enough! Our last morning was spent at a floating market about an hour outside of Bangkok. This was very touristy, but a lot of fun… a way of life that we couldn’t have imagined! That evening we celebrated our wonderful adventure with drinks and dinner on the 59th floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel. Dan and Bank created the perfect trip.” —Jeff Lonsinger

Read more reviews of Thailand and Cambodia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Sri Lanka: “We felt perfectly safe at all times…”

Elephants bathing in the river in Sri Lanka.

Elephants bathing in the river in Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock.

“There were many highlights of our trip. One of them was a general lack of other tourists, which is bad for the country but was excellent for us. We would highly recommend Sri Lanka as a destination and would encourage others to visit without hesitation. While there was some political unrest last year, we felt perfectly safe at all times.

Our two nights that Miguel and Donovan arranged for us in the high tea country were a definite highlight, as was a fabulous private farewell dinner, arranged even though the venue has a seven-to-eight-month waiting list for reservations.” —John Schroeder

Read more reviews of Sri Lanka trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Thailand & Cambodia: “We never felt like we were part of a mob—closer to private viewings…”

Grand palace in emerald buddhist temple green grass tree field sightseeing travel in Bangkok, Thailand

Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were really very glad we worked with Dan and his team when planning our trip to Thailand and Cambodia. They are particularly adept at scheduling to avoid crowds. We never felt like we were part of a mob—closer to private viewings. They are also highly flexible as you go through a day: If a venue is unexpectedly jammed, or traffic is more (or less) than expected, our guides re-arranged the days, suggested alternatives that would be less frantic, and generally worked with us to make sure we got the most out of every day with the least frazzlement or annoyance.

We traveled to hill towns that are not widely visited and saw unusual small local temples, markets, fields, schools—not just the cities. We got a real sense of the huge diversity of these countries. It was wonderful.” —Jody Kreiman

Read more reviews of Thailand and Cambodia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Sri Lanka: “We found so much to enjoy: history, tea country, food, and nature…”

beach at Nilaveli, Trincomalee Sri Lanka shutterstock

Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

“We spent two weeks in Sri Lanka and loved it. The unrest caused by the economic crisis has subsided to nothing and tourist infrastructure is protected by the government….We could easily have spent another week and plan to go back at some point. We strongly recommend the destination for travelers, of all ages, who want to experience more of Asia.

The millennia-long historical connection to India is apparent, but it is definitely not India. India overwhelms; Sri Lanka seduces. We found so much to enjoy: history, tea country, food, and nature (beautiful scenery, hiking and wildlife), and of course, the warm and friendly people, many of whom speak English. It is a place that one could navigate on one’s own, but you would miss so much!” —Rebel Rice

Read more reviews of Sri Lanka trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia: “Kayaking in Halong Bay, boating on the Saigon River, biking through Hoi An…”

Halong Bay islands in Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam. Photo: Journeys Within

“We just returned from a fabulous three-week-plus trip to Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam, and Cambodia, organized for us by Sandy. While we have traveled a great deal, this trip was among the best, if not THE best, trip we’ve taken. The diversity and specialness of our experiences made it stand out.

Like Napoleon’s army, we travel on our stomachs, and the food we had on this trip was extraordinary. One evening in Laos we went to the home of our guide, who Sandy has worked closely with for years. We helped prepare dinner, were blessed by the family elders in a Baci ceremony for success on our journey, ate the delicious food we had helped cook, and danced and sang with the family. Another night in Cambodia, we ate at a local village restaurant. With travel to Cambodia down due to the pandemic, it’s a great time to visit, and we were the only people at the restaurant. After a foot massage and passion fruit mojito, we were escorted to our table overlooking vibrant green rice fields while being serenaded by lovely music. In Hanoi, we went to Bun Cha Sinh Tu and had the famous soup it’s known for. It was table-pounding good. And our Vespa food tour of Saigon, which Sandy had strongly suggested, was both delicious and terrifying. Driving a motorbike in Saigon should be an Olympic sport, and we just rode!

Our excellent guides in Laos and Viet Nam shared with us the experiences of their families during the War and recounted working with American veterans who returned years later, as well as a reporter who had covered it. These personal and moving stories touched us and helped us better understand the profound effect of the War on the people who lived through it.

In Cambodia, we went to a Buddhist temple at 5:30 in the morning and meditated. Afterward we were showered with lotus petals as part of a blessing ceremony and had breakfast at the monastery as the sun rose. Early one morning in Laos, we gave sticky rice to saffron-robed monks who extended their begging bowls to us. Through this daily ritual, the monks demonstrate their vows of poverty and humility. Our guide took us to a quiet place where her family normally gives alms, avoiding other tourists.

It’s hard to encapsulate all we saw and did because there was so much: seeing the temples of Angkor, kayaking in Halong Bay, boating on the Saigon River, biking through Hoi An. Part of what made this trip so good was the flexibility we had in determining what we would do and not do each day. We had great guidance and suggestions from Sandy, but he emphasized this was our trip. Thoughtful planning and flexibility helped make this the trip of a lifetime.” —Catherine Mathis

Read more reviews of Southeast Asia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Indonesia: “Experiences that have enriched us forevermore…”

Bali, Indonesia

Robyn and Dan Needham on their WOW trip through Indonesia in fall 2022. Photo: Robyn Needham

“Our trip to Indonesia planned by Diane started with nine days in Bali to begin our cultural immersion with visits to Hindu temples, a Balinese cooking class, treks to a beautiful waterfall and through idyllic rice fields, a visit to a village healer, and witnessing a traditional Balinese wedding. We also got to participate in a cleansing ceremony with a Hindu Brahman to celebrate our 17th anniversary.

From Bali we flew to Flores and traveled by speedboat to Komodo National Park to search for Komodo dragons. What an incredible sight! We saw a rare baby, juveniles, and adult Komodo dragons. An incredible animal that needs to be protected for future generations to see. We also hiked to the tops of islands to amazing views, including a view of both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and had a snorkeling adventure with huge manta rays in pristine blue water.

The last leg of our trip was to Yogyakarta, on the island of Java, home to Borobudur and Prambanan, archeological wonders that are over 1,200 years old and iconic sites of extreme religious significance. All along the way, Diane arranged for us to have life-changing cultural experiences.

To experience the Indonesian people in their daily lives, the happiness, the religious convictions in many different religions all tolerant of one another, and the caring and generosity, are experiences that have enriched us forevermore. And to think that all of this didn’t happen on a pristine beach, but in local villages and towns. We recommend you to seek Indonesia in all its glory through its people. You will realize the importance of relationships, family, and the simple things in life that we often forget. Thank you, Diane!” —Robyn and Dan Needham

Read more reviews of Indonesia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Vietnam and Cambodia: “We are lucky to have been able to see Vietnam and Cambodia before the masses of tourists come back…”

Ancient statues outside South Gate of Angkor Thom at sunset in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo: Shutterstock

“If you’ve considered a trip to Southeast Asia, do it now! We are lucky to have been able to see Vietnam and Cambodia before the masses of tourists come back. Daniel listened to our goals and worked these ideas into our itinerary. For example, we like to try all the foods. Throughout the trip we went to various markets and even stopped randomly on the side of the road and had a lot of fun trying some very interesting things! When I said I really wanted to find mangosteens, we did, even though they were out of season.

We ate at wonderful restaurants, street food, market stalls, and in the homes of local villagers. One of my favorite experiences was a hot pot lunch at a local’s home near the Chinese border in Bac Ha. We bonded with the local hosts, chatting with facial expressions, hand movements, and of course our guide translating, all the while drinking home-brewed plum wine.

We wanted to have some suits made for my husband, so for three days in a row, we made time to go to the tailor for fittings. We wanted to experience everything we could so, even when a torrential downpour interrupted the end of our street food scooter tour, instead of taking a taxi back to the hotel, we rode through the streets of Saigon in the rain on the scooter….so much fun and we were soaked!

I decided last minute that I really wanted to see Angkor Wat at sunrise. No problem, done! And we learned so much more about the Vietnam War. We met a Vietnamese pilot that shot down two American planes during the war. What an interesting and moving interaction that was.

And then, the surprise for me was our WOW Moment. We had a special tuk-tuk ride to a boat ride on the river. On the boat we had cocktails, appetizers, entertainment with a traditional singer and a musician playing the dan tranh (which we got to try our hand at), and even lit lanterns. All of that was followed by an incredible multi-course dinner at a beautiful restaurant where our musician was playing another instrument. Everyone involved was amazing. Thank you, Wendy!” —Amy Evers

Read more reviews of Vietnam and Cambodia trips. Learn how to get your own WOW Moment. Or use our trip questionnaire (reached via the black button below) to start a WOW trip.


Japan: “We were taken back in time, eating traditional kaiseiki and taking in the hot spring waters…”

Kaiseki Dish, Japan.

Kaiseki Dish, Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

“We had a 5-week journey/itinerary with Scott’s team. We were visiting our son, who lives in Osaka and whom we had not seen in 3 years because of the pandemic. It was our first trip to Japan ever and was my husband and myself, plus our adult “kids” coming and going out of Narita, Osaka, Tokyo…. All went so smoothly and with guidance and direction that was so helpful as they navigated a foreign country.

WOW. The team’s arrangements at Mandarin Oriental could not have been more beautiful, and the restaurants they chose were EXPERIENCES!  Cooking lesson with chef Kyoko??  No words for that experience (WOW), after cooking with her, we became family.

WOW. The ryokan experience in Kanazawa. We were taken back in time, eating traditional kaiseiki and taking in the hot spring waters….they could not have been more lovely.

WOW. All the transportation that was arranged over 5 weeks!  No glitches, no hiccups…always on time, professional, friendly and helpful! And there was a lot of people to move around!
Scott’s office facilitated a trip of a lifetime for us and we cannot say thank you enough. They are absolutely deserving of the WOW designation!” —Maureen Partynski

Read more reviews of Japan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


India: holy cities, ancient bazaars, swimming in the Ganges…

View of Ganga river embankment, Lakshman Jhula bridge and Tera Manzil Temple, Trimbakeshwar in Rishikesh.

The sacred city of Rishikesh, on the Ganges in India. Photo: Shutterstock

“My trip with Victoria was superb. As you may recall, she created a flawless itinerary for my first trip to India several years ago. This time, it was a solo trip focused on Haridwar, Rishikesh, and Jaipur.

Haridwar was the most “off the grid” I had been thus far. It is one of the most sacred cities in Hinduism and lacks the foreign tourism one finds in Varanasi. I was one of only two international travelers I saw during my time there. My hotel, Haveli Hari Ganga, was located within the bazaar and had its own private bathing ghat. I swam in the Ganga and was able to participate with only two other guests (from Delhi) in a private Aarti ceremony. And I had my own Havan pooja the next morning with the pandit. Extraordinary.

In Rishikesh I had asked to stay within the town, as I wanted to experience the spiritual scene in town amidst the hippie seekers and the yogis. Victoria got me a balcony over the Ganga. It was exactly what I wanted. My guide in Rishikesh, Divya, was superb. She and I spent three days together, exploring everything on my list and adding to it. We had the best place to sit at each Aarti ceremony, we met with the head pandit at every mandir, I had the best guide and a private boat when I went river rafting–and swimming in the Ganga, again.

Post Rishikesh I went to Jaipur and stayed at the Samode Haveli. My first time in Jaipur I had stayed at the Rambagh Palace. My thinking is: Go big or go Samode. That is, stay at the Rambagh because there is NOTHING like it, or stay at the Samode because it is charming and heritage and much, much cheaper than the other palace hotels.

Victoria thought I could benefit from the expertise and guidance of India Beat’s Jaipur manager, Diggi, in the bazaars. She was right. There is no way that I could have seen the things I saw in the bazaars, eaten the street food, or bought the treasures I did without Diggi’s help. He took me everywhere and introduced me to everyone. We spent an entire day, at my request, choosing fabric and having dresses made, shopping, praying, speaking in Hindi, and eating lots of samosas, sweets, and faloodeh. Victoria also arranged lunch at the new Villa Palladio (I LOVE exploring hotels) outside of town. I was met by Barbara, the Italian owner, and toured the property with its manager. Gorgeous. As was lunch on the verandah overlooking the gardens.

And, just like that, two weeks had flown by and I was headed home. I recommend Victoria to your travelers without reservation and with great enthusiasm and I urge them to trust her judgment and instincts. She delivers way more than she promises.” —Jennifer Black

Read more reviews of India trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 


Bali: rafting, hiking, live Balinese music & dancing…

Uma by Como, Ubud, Bali

Uma by Como, Ubud, Bali. Photo: Como Resorts

“Our trip to Bali and Singapore was postponed several times due to Covid–in that time of trying to put together this magnificent trip Diane was always gracious, helpful, and responsive. Having never been to Indonesia before, we told Diane the types of activities we enjoyed and she devised a custom itinerary that suited us perfectly. We spent an exciting day rafting down the Ayung river in Ubud and enjoyed a scenic guided hike to two beautiful waterfalls in the northern part of the island.

We also enjoyed a visit to a Balinese farming village where we got to sample Balinese cuisine and meet the lovely Balinese people who call this area their home. A highlight we’ll always remember is the live Balinese music and dancing which were performed for our enjoyment. We were shy, to be honest, at first. But by the end of the performance we actually got up there and played the drums and cymbals! These are the types of experiences that make travel so worthwhile. We’ll never forget it—and we have Diane to thank for that!” —Joe McBrine

Read more reviews of Bali trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Teen-friendly Thailand and Cambodia: food tours, kayaking, mud skiing with monkeys…

A woman in front of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo: Shutterstock

“We contacted Dan to plan a two-week vacation in Thailand with an itinerary geared to teenagers (minimize temple visits, etc.). We wanted to see Thailand, not sit on a beach, so we opted to skip Phuket and the islands. Instead we visited Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai, with an amazing side trip to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. We were incredibly lucky in that this area of the world is just re-opening from Covid, and many typically very crowded sites (Grand Palace, Angkor Wat, etc) were relatively empty, so we were really able to explore. The lack of crowds was good for us, but these countries rely on tourism, so hopefully things will pick up with the lifting of restrictions.

The teen-friendly activities included food tours, kayaking in Cambodia, bathing and riding elephants in Chiang Mai, and mud skiing with the monkeys outside of Bangkok. The kids would say that we still visited too many temples but will admit that the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) in Chiang Rai is a fun one to see. I think the highlight of any trip to Thailand is the elephants in Chiang Mai—do not miss! —Wendy Minocha

Read more reviews of Thailand and Cambodia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Cambodia & Vietnam: Angkor Wat at sunrise, street food tours, even sand worm pancakes…

Angkor Wat

David Wertheimer and friends at Angkor Wat in Cambodia during their WOW trip

“Our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam from January 21st to February 6th, 2023, was spectacular. We started in Phnom Penh, and traveled from there to Siem Reap, the Angkor Wat temple complex, Saigon, Cu Chi, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.  Andy‘s team prepared our itinerary and arranged for personal guides at each of our stops. The guides were knowledgeable, friendly, and provided both historical information and personal stories that placed the horrors of the eras of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the U.S. military activities in Vietnam within the context of our visit and our understanding of current life in both nations.

Our guides also provided us with street food tours that allowed us to sample some of the most unusual dishes we’ve ever eaten. (The sand worm pancakes were delicious!)  We had postponed our trip for three years because of COVID, and felt safe and comfortable traveling, especially because the tourist crowds are still minimal. There were multiple “wow,” bucket-list moments, including Angkor Wat at sunrise (get there early!) and Ha Long Bay, to name just two of them.” —David Wertheimer

This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.

Ask Wendy

India: a “perfect itinerary,” with new friends made along the way…

Agra Fort - Medieval Indian fort made of red sandstone and marble with view of dome at sunrise. View of Taj Mahal at a distance as seen from Agra Fort.

Agra Fort, with a view of Taj Mahal in the distance. Photo: Shutterstock

Sanjay made our trip truly the trip of a lifetime. We could have never ever on our own crafted such an amazing itinerary and been connected to such wonderful local guides and great rooms at hotels without him.

As context, I started trying to plan this India trip by myself, but got a bit overwhelmed by how to pull it all together—drivers, tours, what’s good, what’s not? That’s when I reached out to Sanjay and felt a weight drop off my shoulder. He intimately knew the area and was wonderful about talking us through each piece of the itinerary. There happened to be a large Buddhist festival happening in a more remote town in the region while we were visiting. There is ZERO chance we would have found out about it just through our own Internet research—Sanjay was chatting with a friend on the ground there who knew about it—and it was incredible. Seriously, a few of our local guides are folks we’ve already stayed in touch with and feel like friends.

In addition to the perfect itinerary and people we were matched with, Sanjay was great at helping us adapt on the fly when my husband got sick (through no fault of the itinerary!). Sanjay was always thinking a few steps ahead and had us feeling very calm during what could have been a stressful situation.” —Megan Evans

Read more reviews of India trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Mongolia: photo ops of deserts and steppes, adventures in wildlife spotting…

Ger yurt tents at Three Camel Lodge in Gobi Desert of Mongolia at sunrise

Three Camel Lodge in the Gobi Desert. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

“What a fantastic trip to Mongolia! As so many other people I knew were fighting the crowds in Europe, Mongolia’s beautiful deserts and steppes were wide open for exploration without the jockeying for position. With my wonderful guide and driver, I spent eight days looping through multiple stunning landscapes on the hunt for photos of wild horse (takhi), Argali sheep, and magnificent birds. Between the nights in the ger by Khustain National Park, the relaxed pace of camping near Ikh Nart, and the wonderful luxury of Three Camel Lodge, I had a fabulous trip and was so grateful to be out in nature after a long pandemic. Mongolia is not for the faint of heart! We did a fair amount of driving, since intra-country flights are not quite back to pre-pandemic levels, but the landscapes were breathtaking and the wildlife spotting was an adventure.” —Katie Stiner

Read more reviews of Mongolia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Vietnam: best tables, best hotel rooms, private sunset boat ride on the Perfume River…

Wonderful view of the East Gate (Hien Nhon Gate) to the Citadel and a moat surrounding the Imperial City with the Purple Forbidden City in Hue, Vietnam. Hue is a popular tourist destination of Asia.

East Gate (Hien Nhon Gate), Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband, Armand, and I just returned from a truly memorable trip to Vietnam planned by Sandy.  Our guide, Aster, introduced us to the religIous, political, and economic history of Vietnam in a marvelous, storytelling fashion. She introduced us to delicious “street food” at casual restaurants and secured the best tables (balcony tables with views) at more upscale restaurants. We learned about Vietnamese family life too, and Aster shared her own family’s history.

One particular highlight: a delicious homemade lunch with a Vietnamese couple in their home. They were in their 60s (my age) and in one of our conversations they talked about their experiences during the “American war.”

Another highlight: our own private sunset boat cruise in a lovely boat down the Perfume River in Hue. Seeing sights from the water always gives a different perspective, and the cruise was romantic as well.

Sandy also secured the best rooms in our room category in each of the hotels where we stayed: the Azerai La Residence in Hue, and the Four Seasons (heavenly!) outside Hoi An. Our rooms had great views, were quiet, and were in the primo locations at each hotel.” —Nancy Rieger

Read more reviews of Vietnam trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Thailand, Laos & Cambodia: swimming in crystal-blue waterfalls, making merit with the monks before daybreak…

Kuang Si Waterfall in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Kuang Si Waterfall in Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our two-week trip to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia was a wonderful first visit to the region. There were so many highlights! Starting in Chiang Rai, our favorite stops were the White Temple, any food from street vendors, the Golden Triangle, and the Princess Mother’s Villa and Garden. And then sunset at a tea plantation was so picturesque. In Chiang Mai I highly recommend the 137 Pillars House hotel, a beautiful oasis in the center of town. The street food, markets, cooking school, mountaintop temples, and hikes were all amazing. Northern Thailand has so much to offer that we could have spent our whole two weeks there.

In Laos, during our incredible two nights in the UNESCO city of Luang Prabang, we enjoyed an up-close walk in the woods with the elephants at the MandaLao sanctuary, swimming in the crystal-blue Kuang Si Waterfalls, and a special dinner and blessing ceremony with our guide’s family, and making merit with the monks before daybreak.

Sandy’s guides, who have all been with him for many years, truly made this visit come to life. Their adeptness at crafting exciting, varied activities each day, sharing their own stories, and imparting the countries’ history and culture made for an excellent trip. When I look back at our itinerary, I am amazed at how many experiences we enjoyed, yet it never felt rushed or harried. We would have never been able to craft such a rewarding itinerary on our own.” —Susan Fields Bailey

Read more reviews of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Indonesia & Singapore: surfing, volcano hikes, island cruise, happy smiling locals…

Hindu temple gates Bali, Indonesia

Hindu temple gates Bali, Indonesia. Photo: Shutterstock

“With our younger teenagers happily engaged at sleepaway camp, my husband and I were able to spend precious quality time with our older son in Singapore and Indonesia before he left for college. Diane was amazing to work with, and our trip was a wonderful mix.

Two days in Singapore was perfect to see and experience the multi-cultural city state. Then we stayed at the Four Seasons in Jimbaran Bay, Bali, so our son could surf with a local surfing expert. Next was the 4-day sightseeing/cultural portion of the trip from Ubud. Our days were full of temples, rice terraces, village and market visits, a cooking class, and a volcano hike. One of the most unique and memorable days was visiting our guide’s village, seeing his home, meeting his family, and playing traditional instruments with the community.

Finally, we loved the 7-day Seatrek cruise from Flores to Bali through Komodo Island National Park that allowed us to see more of Indonesia’s islands, people, and fauna without the usual logistical issues. The small ship, Ombak Putih, was beautiful, the crew fabulous, the food delicious and activities amazing. We visited local, traditional communities, snorkeled, swam with whale sharks and visited uninhabited islands. I will never forget the gorgeous landscapes, sunsets, and happy, smiling locals.

Indonesia is a beautiful, geographically interesting country with warm, happy people who are eager to share their culture with visitors. Thanks to Diane, this trip was by far our most rewarding, in terms of connecting with locals and having authentic experiences.” —Tracy Reller

Read more reviews of Indonesia and Singapore trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Vietnam and Cambodia: Invited into the homes of former North Vietnam soldiers, sharing tea and rice wine…

small rowboats in Halong Bay Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock

“We had a terrific trip to Vietnam and Cambodia arranged by Sandy. We were among the very first American travelers to arrive in Vietnam after two years of Covid closure. They were very happy to see us. We went to Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Hue, and Saigon, and then to Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Having come of age in the Vietnam War protest era, we were especially interested in history. Although our guides were born after the War, they shared family stories and experiences with us. We were also invited into the homes of former North Vietnam soldiers, sharing tea and rice wine. Their perspective was that the war was between governments and not people. As with all of our WOW List travels, the guides were intelligent, educated, interesting and personable. It was a pleasure to get to know each one of them and to have an ongoing information exchange about our respective countries and cultures.

Being the first tourists was mostly a good thing. A few things were closed, but we had many places practically to ourselves. Angkor Wat draws thousands of visitors daily during normal times, but we were able to see the temples with just a handful of others. Sandy and team did a wonderful job of coordinating everything and juggling the few Covid-related snafus (couldn’t fly into Siem Reap, so we were picked up and driven five hours from Phnom Penh).” —Lisa Riggs

Read more reviews of Vietnam and Cambodia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.



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Airplane travel

Ask Wendy: How to Compare Long-Haul Business Class Flights


Wendy, we have booked a trip to Sri Lanka in January with your Trusted Travel Expert.  American Airlines and Etihad are having a challenge with our business-class reservation, so we are considering Cathay Pacific.  Are Etihad and Cathay Pacific business-class seats/service about the same? —Jeanne

This was my business-class seat on Cathay Pacific from Newark to Hong Kong. Note the size of the TV screen.
But it was hard to take my eyes off this: the northern lights outside the plane window, somewhere over Siberia.
As you can see, Cathay’s business-class seats are pretty spacious.
The in-flight amenities kit
The late-night supper menu
The wine list
Business-class snacks on demand include this won ton noodle soup, Black Angus burgers, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream.
Doug checks out the view from one of Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong airport lounges.
The lounge’s coffee and tea bar
I ordered up a crême brulée cappuccino. It tasted as good as it looked.
Flavors of JING tea served in the lounge include Flowering Jasmine & Lily, Whole Chamomile Flowers, Whole Peppermint Leaf, Lemongrass & Ginger, Organic Jade Sword, Traditional Iron Buddha, Jasmine Silver Needle, and 1990’s Royal Loose Cooked Pu-Erh.
Airport lounge pre-flight comfort food: Won ton noodle soups from the lounge’s noodle bar and Hong Kong-style milk tea.
Condiments in the noodle bar for spicing up your won tons
The lounge was so comfy we didn’t want to leave!
As lovely as the lounge was, though, the highlight of our whole experience was still the northern lights out the airplane window.


Jeanne, I flew Cathay Pacific to Sri Lanka myself last December—via Hong Kong, the airline’s hub—and I can assure you that business class on Cathay is very comfortable and highly civilized, with flat-bed seats and gold-standard service, not to mention won ton noodle soup whenever you like. Cathay’s premium-class cabins rank among the world’s best, as do its fabulous Hong Kong airport lounges, but here are two ways you can compare Cathay’s seats with Etihad’s:

First, you can compare seats on different aircraft by using SeatGuru’s airline seat comparison charts. On the appropriate chart (in your case, the Long-Haul Business-Class Comparison Chart), find the two aircraft you are choosing between and compare their seat width, seat pitch (which indicates legroom), amenities such as on-demand TV and power ports, and other features. Second, you can use Routehappy to find out the pros and cons of any two flights on the same route. Type in your origin and destination cities, and the site will compare the different airlines flying that route and tell you the smartest choice.

You should also know that Cathay’s Black Friday sale, happening now, is offering astonishing bargains to Hong Kong and Asia. Business-class airfares from U.S. gateways to Hong Kong start at just $3,187 roundtrip. The travel window is January 1 – May 23, and your deadline for purchase is November 29. Here’s a link to the business-class sale. Cathay is offering similarly steep bargains in premium economy too. Prices start at just $1,185 roundtrip to Hong Kong. Here’s the link to the premium-economy sale.

Cathay’s premium economy to Hong Kong, I can tell you from first-hand experience, is surprisingly comfortable, thanks to the seat width and degree of recline, the leather-padded footrest (to make sleep comfier), and snacks on demand.  When my family flew from Newark to Sri Lanka last December, the kids sat in premium economy on the Newark-Hong Kong leg, and the fact that they could have instant noodle soup in a cup whenever they wanted was huge. Between the four of us, we actually ended up experiencing four different cabins on our flights to and from Sri Lanka (there’s a long story behind that)—economy, premium economy, business class, and first class—and even economy (which I flew most of the way back to Newark, as I gave my 14-year-old my bu

young monk prepares a water blessing at Phnom Krom Pagoda Cambodia

WOW Experience: Sunrise Ceremony with Cambodian Monks

sun rise over the Tonle Sap Lake valley Cambodia
After our private ceremony with the temple's monk, we watched the sun rise over the Tonle Sap Lake valley. Photo: Billie Cohen
young monk prepares a water blessing at Phnom Krom Pagoda Cambodia
A young monk prepared a special water blessing for us at Phnom Krom Pagoda in Cambodia. Photo: Billie Cohen
beautiful pagoda at Phnom Krom outside Siem Reap Cambodia
Another beautiful pagoda at Phnom Krom. Photo: Billie Cohen
temple painting at Phnom Krom pagoda outside Siem Reap Cambodia
The pagoda was painted with intricate medallions. Photo: Billie Cohen
Phnom Krom temple ruins atop a small mountain outside Siem Reap Cambodia
The Phnom Krom temple ruins atop a small mountain outside Siem Reap are more than a thousand years old. Photo: Billie Cohen
Phnom Krom Cambodia outdoor shrine
The Phnom Krom mountaintop complex is dotted with statues and shrines. Photo: Billie Cohen
buddha statue with monks and a banyan tree at Phnom Krom temple in Cambodia
A statue of Buddha sits under a real-life banyan tree. Photo: Billie Cohen
tamarind juice and lotus yogurt breakfast in Cambodia
My favorite parts of our picnic breakfast: tamarind juice, lotus and bean yogurt, and croissants. Photo: Billie Cohen
pink lotus flower in a field near siem reap cambodia
Bright pink lotus flowers stood out in a field of green, outside Siem Reap. Photo: Billie Cohen


Travel often involves a lot of running around. In an almost compulsive effort to see, do, eat, and experience as much as we possibly can, we go all out, nonstop. But on one wonderful morning in Cambodia, I was reminded of the immeasurable value of sitting still. And, ironically, it took one of the most accomplished travel planners in Southeast Asia to make it happen. Sandy Ferguson has lived in Asia for most of his life and he’s been planning people’s trips throughout the region for more than four decades. Maybe that long-lived experience is what helps him think past the usual sightseeing checklists and identify the intangible wonders that his longtime home has to offer. It’s definitely what helps him know where to find them.

In this series of articles on “WOW Experiences,” we spotlight the special-access opportunities you can look forward to when you book a trip via a WOW List expert. If you’ve taken a trip arranged by Sandy, please add your review to help other travelers.

The What:

A sunrise meditation at Phnom Krom Pagoda in Siem Reap. The early-morning drive to the temple takes you through a lovely village, then up a winding road to a hilltop overlooking the Tonle Sap Lake and miles of fields. The temple complex includes pagodas, terraces, some working buildings used by the monks, several statues and artworks, and the preserved ruins of a ninth-century temple, similar to what you’d see in Angkor, but in a very different (and very tourist-free) context.

The Where and When:

Phnom Krom Pagoda is about a half-hour drive outside central Siem Reap. The experience is available year-round; since sunrise is generally the same no matter when you visit (around 6am), you’ll be picked up at your hotel at approximately 4:30am.

The WOW:

I am a frequent solo traveler. I like to explore by myself, at my own pace, and on my own schedule. But by no means am I a solitary traveler—I talk to everyone: The gentleman scooping my gelato in Locarno, the young woman running a wool shop in Lisbon, the ticket taker at the La Chaux-de-Fonds history museum, the playful little kids from Dubai in my train car, the Azerbaijani family on the funicular at the Reichenbach Falls. I’m a sponge, and my main goal (and joy) when I travel is to soak up everything else and everyone else.

So I admit I was a little nervous about the morning activity Sandy Ferguson recommended for me during my stay in Siem Reap: meditating with the monks of a historic temple at sunrise. He met the former abbot of this mountaintop temple back in 1989, very soon after tourists were first even allowed into Cambodia, and it’s one of the exclusive experiences he’s able to offer as a result of such relationships (which he’s developed extensively in Asia over the years, in addition to all his family and friends). His excitement was contagious, but nevertheless I was daunted. Sure, watching the sun come up over the valley of the Tonle Sap Lake after a morning of meditation sounded lovely in theory, but I was already feeling my legs twitch and my restlessness get the better of me. How long would I have to be silent for? What if I couldn’t sit still for the whole time? And I have to wake up when?

Despite my trepidation about our 4:30am pick-up time, I ended up feeling wide awake as the car drove through the pre-dawn darkness. Around us, Siem Reap was silent and unmoving; it was such a rare view of a destination that is usually buzzing with people and activity.

When we arrived at the hilltop complex, the early morning was still dark, and inside the pagoda, all was quiet. A young monk was already kneeling on a rug in front of a giant golden Buddha statue, waiting for us next to a pile of fresh flower petals and a bowl of water. The scene was beautiful, serene, and also a little thrilling. The world hadn’t woken yet, but here we were on top of a mountain. We settled ourselves on the rug and, through our guide’s translation, learned some background about the monks’ lifestyle and traditions, how to sit for meditation, and about the upcoming water blessing ceremony, meant for purification and good fortune. And then it was time. The monk showed us a few options for how to arrange ourselves comfortably and what to do with our arms and legs, and we began.

You know those times during a trip when you’re hyper-aware that this is a moment and you know you should try to imprint every detail on your brain so you can remember it forever? That’s what was going through my mind as we crossed our legs and closed our eyes and tried to concentrate on our breathing. Of course, the pressure of the moment was exactly what kept popping my eyes open; I was so eager to look around, to take in the murals on the painted walls and the shapes of the statues, to observe my fellow travelers, to watch the intriguing young monk who yawned once or twice himself. I had so many questions about what I was seeing that I spent the first few minutes just cataloging them in my brain so I could ask them afterward; there was so much to see and learn that shutting my eyes seemed (to the reporter in me) like a waste of an opportunity. And then my guide caught me with my eyes open, and I felt like a kid who’d disobeyed the teacher. He smiled knowingly (he must see this stubbornness in so many of his guests) and gently motioned for me to try again.

So I did. Honestly, my compliance was more out of duty and respect than anything else, but as my eyes finally relaxed and breath finally steadied, I became more and more surprised by what I’d been missing:

I heard the roosters crowing outside.

I sensed the growing lightness in the room as the sun rose.

I heard the shuffling of my fellow meditators as they too struggled, and I felt a kinship with them.

I felt the stillness of our leader who despite his very young age had so much more practice at this.

I felt my head clear and my breath even out, and for a brief second, I allowed myself to let go of the constant pressure to experience everything. A pressure I didn’t even realize I was putting on myself so heavily.

When I opened my eyes, I was refreshed—and no one was more dumbstruck than I. Because somewhere in that pre-dawn temple, as the sun rose through the windows, I realized the gift I’d just been given: the opportunity to simply stop. On a trip where I’d done nothing of the sort for weeks on end, this was a pretty powerful revelation—a reminder to experience the destination around me, rather than trying to wring an experience from it. I laughed to myself, because obviously Sandy knew this.

Once we completed the meditation, I sat in wonder as the monk intoned a blessing, sprinkled each of us with water and flowers and tied a string around our wrist while he chanted in Pali, the language of Cambodia’s Theravada Buddhism. The string, which is traditional throughout the region, is a way to take the monk’s blessing with you, to remind you of it no matter where you are. “Everything that comes out of the temple is designed to be a blessing,” Sandy explained to me later. “Whether they’re feeding people or teaching people, that’s the prime drive.”

The sun had started to come up, and we strolled outside and around the complex to watch the sun rise and enjoy a picnic breakfast next to thousand-year-old temple ruins. From the hilltop we could see all the way to the horizon—field after field after field, dotted with villages that were now waking up below us.

As we drove back through the now-bustling village, we saw residents preparing food and decorations for a wedding, and we stopped at a lotus field to admire its hot pink flowers. That afternoon, we returned to our more active pace of sightseeing, but the peacefulness of the morning never left me. I’d been given an uncommon glimpse into a key part of Cambodian culture, and a reminder to slow down enough to truly experience it.

How to Make it Happen:

This experience is organized exclusively by Sandy Ferguson, who is one of our Trusted Travel Experts for Southeast Asia; you can read his Insider Guides to Southeast Asia, to Bangkok, and to Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and the Best Beaches, and read reviews by travelers who’ve used him to understand the caliber of trips he arranges. To be marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler and get priority attention and special benefits, request your trip here.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’s reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Tam Coc-Bich Dong, Vietnam.

A Trip to Asia:
Start with our Questionnaire

This pandemic has unleashed unprecedented travel hurdles, as well as opportunities, and we’re monitoring them all. Are you seeking a private, easy, custom-tailored, top-quality trip that minimizes the risk to you and others? We’ll recommend your smartest options and the best trip-planning fixer for your specific situation, and we’ll ensure you get VIP service. Here’s how it works:

1. Answer the questions below. Your information is kept private.
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3. Expect a reply within 24 hours (or 48 hours on weekends).


Musicians in Mongolia. Photo: J. Doyle

Why Is Everyone Talking About Mongolia and What Do You Do There?

One of the most sparsely populated countries in Asia, Mongolia has an exotic, wild mystery to it. There are more horses than people, wide-open landscapes, desert, mountains, crystal clear skies, nomadic tribes, and even a modern sprawling city.

In the few short years since it was named the fastest growing economy in the world in 2013, Mongolia has attracted more and more attention, popping up on travel websites and blogs with stunning photos of reindeer, colorfully garbed tribesmen, and rustic yurts. In 2016, the National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year won that prestigious contest with an image of one of Mongolia’s horsemen galloping through the snow.

It’s a country of dichotomies, says Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Mongolia, Jalsa Urubshurow, a Mongolian-American who was among the first to offer highly customized trips there and who also created one of the country’s original guide-training programs. “There’s a modern city, and then an hour outside of the capital, you see the nomadic lifestyle, where people are still living this pastoral existence,” he says.

As the country is attracting more and more sophisticated travelers—and the infrastructure to cater to them, with Shangri-La recently opening Ulaanbaatar’s first five-star luxury hotel—we asked Jalsa to explain what travelers can expect from a well-planned trip.

Discover one of the world’s oldest cultures.

Mongolia nomads. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Mongolia nomads. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

“Mongolia is home to the last horse-based nomadic culture—30 percent of the population. It’s a trip back in time,” Jalsa says. By visiting them in their gers (traditional yurts or tents), you can immerse yourself in the culture of one of history’s largest empires. “People are still living and utilizing the same tools they did during Genghis Khan’s time.”

Dig up paleontological treasures.

Travelers can go back even farther in time on a paleontology dig. Mongolia has seen some of the most famous dinosaur fossil finds. In the late 1970s, the “Fighting Dinosaurs” fossil was discovered in Tugrugiin Shiree, and the first dinosaur eggs were unearthed at the Flaming Cliffs in the Gobi Desert.

See unspoiled nature.

Mongolia's landscape with a rainbow. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Mongolia’s landscape with a rainbow. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

At about 1,500 miles long (half the length of the U.S.), with only 3 million people, Mongolia is largely untouched. “I think Mongolia offers what people are seeking today: a true chance to get away from things and unplug,” says Jalsa. “It’s a place that inspires unavoidable reflection and a meditative, transformative experience for people.”

To facilitate that inspiration, Jalsa works with organizations like the World Wildlife Fund to create unique experiences that enable visitors to see Mongolia’s natural beauty at its best. For instance, the second-largest concentration of rare snow leopards in the world lives in the Gobi Desert (about 26 to 32 adults), and on Jalsa’s Snow Leopard Quest tour, travelers get to trek with WWF biologists to set up cameras and help conduct other research in the Altai Mountains. Even cooler: Jalsa’s company donates 100 percent of the proceeds from the trip back into snow leopard research.

He also has an astrophysicist on staff at his remote luxury inn, the Three Camel Lodge, to lead a 3-D presentation on the creation of the solar system. “Then you go outside with her and her telescope,” he says. “I call it our five-billion-star hotel.”


Bactrian camels in Mongolia. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Bactrian camels in Mongolia. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Explore a new city balancing ancient culture with modern growth.

“When Mongolia became a democracy in 1990,” Jalsa explains, “Ulaanbaatar went from 600,000 to 1.5 million with no urban planning.” So when you visit, you’ll see the old and the new juxtaposed: an ancient Buddhist monastery from the 1700s next to a modern 26-story skyscraper, gers all around, lots of cars, and now the city’s first five-star hotel, the Shangri-La.

Ulaanbaatar is also vibrant with culture that draws from new and old: There are museums showcasing ancient tribal costumes, next to galleries featuring young Mongolian artists; you can see modern performing arts, or attend morning services with monks at the oldest monastery in the country. (One of Jalsa’s special experiences is to arrange a private dinner and performance in the Fine Arts G. Zanabazar Museum, amid the institution’s beautiful Buddhist sculptures.)

All that and stellar shopping too: Ulaanbaatar is known for its exceptional cashmere, along with traditional felt slippers and fur hats.

Participate in unique traditions.

Horse riders in Mongolia. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Horse riders in Mongolia. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Jalsa’s travelers get to experience some of Mongolia’s most fascinating traditions and events. One of them is a festival Jalsa created himself, October’s Golden Eagle Festival, which his guests can attend. “In 1998 I rode with the golden eagle riders,” he says of the Kazakhs, Mongolia’s largest ethnic minority, who live along the western border and practice a centuries-old tradition of hunting with trained birds. “There were only 40 of them left in the world.” Jalsa explains that the riders’ activities were suppressed by Stalin during the country’s time as a Soviet satellite, but after the launch of the festival in 1999, there are now 400 families that have eagles. The festival celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2019.

Sleep under the stars without giving up creature comforts.

The inside of a luxury ger, Mongolia. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

The inside of a luxury ger, Mongolia. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

Mongolia’s remote nature and rugged landscapes don’t mean that travelers have to rough it to get the most out of the experience. Jalsa’s team has you covered. In an effort to introduce visitors to the beauty of the Gobi Desert and its nomadic culture, he opened the luxurious Three Camel Lodge in 2002. Since then, the solar-powered eco-lodge has won various awards. While staying there, you can explore the desert, watch the stars with an astronomer (Jalsa once counted 43 shooting stars in one night), meet nomadic families and local herders who share the property’s wells, enjoy a performance by local school kids, or head to the Flaming Cliffs for a sunset dinner.

Even if you’re not staying at the lodge, Jalsa’s team can set up mobile accommodations all over the country, and get you to them by small aircraft or helicopter. “From the high Altai Mountains to the Mongolia tiga, we can set up in the most remote places a sumptuous experience—with luxury gers, portable toilets and showers, field chefs and kitchens, and even a butler if you need it.”

For more on Jalsa and his unique approach to Mongolian travel, check out his Insider’s Guide to Mongolia or contact him through our site to be marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP.



Children in Mongolia. Photo: M. Dunlap

Children in Mongolia. Photo: M. Dunlap

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

The city wall and gate of Old Dali, Yunnan Province China

What Crowds? Yunnan Is the Secret China Has Been Keeping

We’ve all seen pictures of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Beijing. The flashy skyline of Shanghai, the crowds and traffic of Beijing, the touristy waterfront light show in Hong Kong.

Those modern cities are what a lot of people think of when they think “China”—and unfortunately, that thought is usually followed by the specter of crowds, noise, and pollution. But there’s a very different world just beyond those buzzing cities, and it might change the way you think about traveling in China.

In Yunnan Province you can experience an alternate version of the most populous country in the world—a version where nature rules over crowds, the food is farm-to-table fresh, the air is clear blue and clean, and the people invite you into their homes instead of elbowing you out of their way.

With the help of Mei Zhang, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for China, I had the chance to dive into Yunnan Province, specifically the region of Dali where Mei grew up, to experience a very different side of China. Here are ten reasons why it should be included on any itinerary to the country.

1. You will learn that Yunnan’s “rural” is different from American “rural.”

Farmland is right up against people's homes in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Farmland is right up against people’s homes in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Photo: Billie Cohen

In the U.S., farmland is a wide stretching expanse of planted ground. If people live on it at all, they live far apart. But in China, people live in rows of houses along what looks, for all intents and purposes, like a suburban street. And directly across from their house is a small plot of land, which they farm. They might have other family plots around the area too.

2. You will find the natural beauty astounding.

Hiking Cangshan mountain, overlooking Dali, Yunnan, China

Hiking Cangshan mountain, overlooking Dali. Photo: Billie Cohen

A short drive from the hotel took us to the base of Cangshan mountain range, where we hiked a rock-paved trail up past temples, tucked-away altars, waterfalls, a tea plantation, beautiful vista points, and even a few historic family grave sites, which led to fascinating conversations about cultural traditions and beliefs.

3. You will meet people who surprise you.

Cangshan mountain hike

On our hike, Mr. Tian pointed out flowers, leaves, and plants commonly used in local cooking and medicines. Photo: Billie Cohen

The hike was led by botanist Mr. Tian, a former hotel-uniform designer who’d been successful in Beijing but had retired and moved to the countryside to teach environmental awareness to kids. As we walked, he pointed out flowers and leaves used in traditional cooking and medicines, and our guide Frank (a passionate flower-gardener himself) added his own personal stories eating those foods in his childhood home. Even though Mr. Tian didn’t speak any English, there was rarely a lull in the conversation—and we had plenty of laughs too. My favorite part: Despite some shyness on this particular topic of conversation, I discovered that both Frank and Mr. Tian had hidden talents. Frank has a beautiful voice and we convinced him to sing us a folk song as we walked through the woods. That loosened up Mr. Tian, who later revealed that he is a talented artist who draws Audubon-like illustrations of flora and fauna. He showed us some artwork he had on his phone and let drop that he was holding his first exhibition in a few weeks. Sadly, I was going to be gone by then.

4. You will eat well—and healthily.

Dali Yunnan China local lunch woman cooking

The ingredients at a local lunch spot were so fresh because they were farmed nearby. Photo: Billie Cohen

It is a myth that all Chinese food is greasy and oily. In Yunnan, where the food is truly grown locally and served farm-to-table (you’ll pass farms wherever you go), everything I ate was fresh and healthy. Mixed vegetables and meats are often simply sautéed with a little bit of oil (rapeseed is what’s most commonly used) and a lot of delicious spices and flavors. As a vegetarian, I was able to eat well and deliciously—lots of tofu, lots of greens, and several new vegetables to try.

5. You’ll eat like a local.

Eating like a local in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Eating like a local in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Photo: Billie Cohen

After our hike up Cangshan mountain, and the bonding it encouraged among our little group, we decided to change plans and eat at a local village spot recommended by Mr. Tian, where we found a crowd of regular folks digging into their daily lunches. At the counter, we picked out our main ingredients (a variety of vegetables and meats) and then headed upstairs to dine like locals, on low benches at a low table, sharing the dishes family-style. Pro tip: The typical way of eating is family-style, right down to the practice of allowing everyone to serve themselves from each platter with their personal chopsticks. If that’s going to bother you, it’s absolutely fine to ask for a serving spoon—no one will mind. (Though my new friends were impressed that I didn’t.)

6. You will meet artisan craftsmen who don’t live in Brooklyn or have beards.

Mr. Yung is a third-generation potter living and working in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Mr. Yung is a third-generation potter living and working in Dali, Yunnan Province. Photo: Billie Cohen

One of the many interesting artisans that Mei knows in Yunnan is a local potter who lives in the hills above a tiny village. After a ten-minute easy walk through winding streets, we reached Mr. Yung’s pottery compound, a few earthen shacks arranged next to a long dirt ridge that reached quite far down the hill and turned out to be, as he called it, the Dragon Kiln. That kiln could fire 1,000 vases at once. Mr. Yung’s work is that in-demand.

Mr. Yung is a third-generation potter and although his rustic studio didn’t look like much from the outside, it turned out to be a small museum when I walked inside—packed with beautifully shaped vases and bowls, some in progress and some finished. Make sure you ask for a lesson at the wheel. Mr. Yung (who doesn’t speak any English) lit up when I asked and we shared quite a laugh when my bowl turned out lopsided. If you have enough time in Dali, you can even take your creation home.

7. You can prepare and eat lunch with a Bai family.

Bai minority woman cooking lunch in Yunnan Province China

Yang Mama prepared lunch with us in her own kitchen. Photo: Billie Cohen

Mei and our local guide, Frank (who also grew up in Dali and nearby Kunming), arranged for us to have lunch with a local Bai family. There are 56 ethnic groups in China; the Han people make up about 92% and the rest are small pockets of minority groups, including the Bai people, who number about 180,000. They live primarily in the Yunnan province, and you can see them going about their business in various markets that your guide will lead you through. In one special afternoon, after shopping for greens in the local Dali market, we took them to a Bai family’s home where Yang Mama (pictured) cooked them up in a giant wok heated by bricks, along with other regional dishes. Ask to help, and you’ll get the chance to try out the wok. After lunch, Yang Mama prepares three different kinds of teas, each with a symbolic meaning. And yes, the Bai women wear their colorful costumes all the time—not just for the tourists. However, we did learn from Frank that they’ve modernized a little bit. Look for the braided lanyard pinned near their right shoulder and hidden in a chest pocket; it’s usually connected to glasses or a mobile phone.

8. You’ll get to see handicrafts up close and learn how they’re made.

Visiting a small embroidery school in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Visiting a small embroidery school in Dali, Yunnan Province, China. Photo: Billie Cohen

The Chinese government has funded some traditional handicraft schools to help keep those arts alive. With Frank, we got to visit two: an embroidery school and a batik school. Though we did run into another tour group at the silk embroidery school, my experience still felt separate: The big group did not get a private meeting with the woman who ran the small school (of only a dozen students), nor a guided tour through the gallery—and no matter where we went, there was never any pressure to buy anything. (Check out the baskets in the picture: They’re full of silk worm eggs!)

Dali Yunnan Province China embroidery school

The baskets are filled with silk worm eggs! Each produced miles of silk that is dyed and used for embroidery by the students at this school. Photo: Billie Cohen

9. You’ll learn about local architecture from the inside out.

Inside a local's home in Old Dali, Yunnan Province China

Inside a local’s home in Old Dali, Yunnan Province. Photo: Billie Cohen

Thanks to Frank’s and Mei’s deep roots in Dali and the time they’ve spent building relationships with interesting people, we were able to stop into a few local homes to see what they looked like, say hello, and even glimpse some behind-the-scenes real-life moments (like a pair of tween boys watching TV while their mom did laundry, or a wife cooking dinner as the husband led us around). This was so much better than having architectural details pointed out from the street as we walked by, as I saw other tourists doing.

10. You’ll have WOW experiences that weren’t even scheduled on your itinerary.

Undoubtedly the most “wow” moments of WildChina’s Yunnan itinerary were the ones that happened organically: The teachers at the handicraft schools who dropped surprising factoids in response to my many questions, the fascinating botanist Mr. Tian, the Bai woman who cracked up when I threw back a shot of spicy tea way too fast, the potter who laughed with me when I failed miserably at the potter’s wheel, and, most of all, our guide Frank.

Frank certainly didn’t have to tell us stories about his adorable young daughters (named after flowers) or show us pictures of all the plants he and his wife have stuffed into their home, or sing two folk songs for us (we had to beg for a few hours to make that happen). He was just a nice guy, with the unique local insight that comes from living in a place your whole life and wanting to find ways to help visitors see it the way he sees it, with all its wonders.

Those seemingly random human moments are the ones you end up talking about most when you get home. Ironically, though, they don’t really happen entirely by chance, do they? They happen because of the connections you make when doors are opened for you, and because someone with exceptional local knowledge put all the people and pieces in the right place and then stepped back to let the magic happen. That’s what Mei can do. Without all those people, Yunnan still would’ve been amazing and worth a stop on any China trip, especially as a fascinating juxtaposition to the country’s bustling cities, but the region and culture wouldn’t have opened up to me the way they did.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.



*Disclosure: WildChina provided me with a ten-day trip through China, mostly free of charge (we split the cost of domestic China airfare, and United provided the long-haul flights). In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, coverage was not guaranteed and remains at our editorial discretion. Our goal in taking sponsored trips from travel specialists is to evaluate the services we recommend for our readers and ensure that they remain up to Wendy’s standards. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and WildChina here.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbu

Istanbul Airport Layovers: The Best Way to Spend Them

An airport layover doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck in the airport. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular hub cities recommend sightseeing itineraries for every time frame.


If you’re passing through Istanbul, don’t miss the opportunity to get a glimpse of this city of two continents. The folks at Context Travel (a company on Wendy’s WOW List that runs cultural walking tours in cities worldwide) gave us ideas for how to spend a layover there. Just one word of warning: The hypnotic views of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn from a rooftop restaurant may make you miss your connecting flight—but would that really be the end of the world?

The Basics

U.S. citizens need a visa to enter Turkey, which you can obtain online before arrival.

How to get out of the airport: There are several ways of getting to and from Ataturk airport (IST), the international hub on the European side of the city, about 12 miles from its center. The first is the M1 metro line, which connects to other metro lines at Yenikapi, a district close to Sultanahmet. The ride takes 35 to 40 minutes and costs 4 Turkish liras (about U.S $1.35). The second option is to use Havatas, a private bus line from the airport to Taksim; buses leave every half-hour and cost TL 10-13 ($3.50-$4.50); the ride is approximately an hour. By taxi, it takes 45 minutes to an hour to get to the city’s historic center, depending on traffic. If you have limited time, a taxi is a good option, and costs around TL 40 ($14) each way, assuming that the meter is on and properly set. There are always a number of liveried taxis waiting at the airport’s international arrivals exit.

What to do with your luggage: IST offers luggage storage on the arrivals floor of both the international and domestic terminals. The daily fee is TL 20 ($7) for a suitcase, TL 30 ($10.50) for oversized bags.

Check with your airline before planning a layover in Istanbul: Some offer complimentary tours, shuttles, or hotel rooms for their passengers.

Sunset over Sultanahmet, Istanbul.

Sunset over Sultanahmet, Istanbul. Photo: Context Travel

If you have a 4-hour Layover

With fewer than six hours, it’s not worth attempting to get into Istanbul itself, but there are a couple of nearby neighborhoods where you can enjoy a meal. Atakoy Marina has several cafes and restaurants with a nice view of the Marmara Sea, including outposts of local chains Big Chefs, Midpoint, and Mado. The easiest way to get there is by taxi, for TL 10-15 ($3.50-$5).

If You Have a 6-Hour Layover

Start in the Sultanahmet neighborhood to see the Hagia Sophia; Topkapi Palace, where the Ottoman sultans lived and ruled; the Blue Mosque; and Sultanahmet Meydani (Sultan Ahmet Square, once the Hippodrome of Constantinople), home to the Serpent Column, the Column of Constantine, and the Walled Obelisk. Yenikapi is the closest metro stop to Sultanahmet, or you can switch from the metro to the tram at Aksaray, and get off the tram at the Sultanahmet stop, right near the Hagia Sophia. If you’re interested in the singular atmosphere of Istanbul’s colorful markets, don’t miss the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. All of these sights are walking distance from each other, but it takes at least two hours to explore each one—more if you really want to get a feel for the place.

If you have enough time and energy, or if you’ve been to Sultanahmet before, spend the day wandering around Galata and Karakoy, whose winding streets are home to local designers’ shops, art galleries, and an excellent museum, the Istanbul Modern. Galata not only has a rich history but, along with Karakoy, it’s the new hub of entertainment in the city, and perfect for a flavor of up-and-coming Istanbul. (The Karakoy tram stop, three past Sultanahmet, leaves you at the bottom of the hill under the Galata Tower.)

If You Don’t Have Time to Leave the Airport

The international departure floor has many cafes and restaurants with a range of cuisines. There are a number of lounges, some of which grant day-use access for around TL 100 ($35), including snacks, alcoholic and soft drinks, WiFi, and newspapers.


More Layover Solutions:

Tokyo Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Adventurous, Exotic Travel with Young Kids: It Is Possible

Having a baby changes everyone. One of the biggest adjustments for me was putting away my passport. I went from visiting three continents in my first six months of pregnancy to managing nothing more exotic than Cabo San Lucas during the first four years of my son’s life—and all-inclusives certainly weren’t going to scratch my travel itch. That’s when I called Andrea Ross and April Cole, two of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Southeast Asia. Andrea had raised her kids in Cambodia and traveled with them all over the region. I asked her: Could I have the sort of enriching trip that I longed for—but one that my four-year-old son would also enjoy, not just suffer through? Not only did she assure me that it was possible, Andrea told me she’d plan it, crafting a two-week itinerary that got us to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, in Cambodia, plus Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, and Saigon in Vietnam.

Let me be honest: The trip wasn’t all smiles and cooperation, like the Facebook feeds of those friends you envy (appearances can often be deceiving). We probably averaged two tantrums a day, which is definitely higher than the at-home norm for our reasonably mellow kid. But am I happy we went? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Of course—now that I’ve had a few months to recuperate. Here’s my advice for those wanting to travel adventurously with small kids in tow:

A Vietnamese family played their collection of traditional instruments for us in Saigon

A Vietnamese family played their collection of traditional instruments for us in Saigon. Photo: Khoa Nguyen

  • Book with a Trusted Travel Expert. I’ve done plenty of independent travel. But leaving the planning to Andrea this time meant that I could focus on my family rather than rustling up that night’s hotel confirmation or figuring out how to get from A to B. And having done it all with kids herself, Andrea could anticipate our needs, choosing hotels with truly useful perks (free laundry at Siem Reap’s Unique Boutique), kid-friendly guides, and cultural experiences that we never could have booked on our own, such as meeting a Vietnamese family who played their collection of traditional instruments for us—and then invited our son, Zeke, to bang away on them to his heart’s content.
Halong Bay vietnam with kids

By building anticipation about our Halong Bay boat trip before we left home, Zeke was thrilled to hop on board when the time came. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Build anticipation. Andrea advised us to look at maps with Zeke, borrow books about Southeast Asia from the library, and discuss the itinerary with him. This also helped prep Zeke for the most unfamiliar moments of the trip: While he was initially reluctant to sleep on a boat in Halong Bay, I talked him into it by showing him photos of our junk online, and explaining that he’d be the only kid in his class to have spent a night on a boat. By the time we got there, he was thrilled to hop aboard.
  • Don’t look to your bucket list for inspiration. Since you probably won’t get to every place worth visiting (see Rule of Four, below), this isn’t the time to fulfill that lifelong dream of seeing Machu Picchu or experiencing the Australian Outback. It is, in fact, a great time to revisit a place that you already love. I’d been to Siem Reap eight years earlier—even stayed at the same hotel—and so everything felt familiar. This made it easier for me to get around with a kid, and to accept that I’d be spending my afternoons at the pool rather than poking around town.
  • Follow the Rule of Four (or more). At least four nights in each location, that is. Andrea set a quick pace so that we could see all the major highlights of Vietnam; the downside was that we had to spend only one or two nights in several locations in order to squeeze it all in. If I had it to do over again, I’d stick to just two or three destinations and stay in each longer. After our fourth night in Siem Reap, Zeke was finally getting comfortable with our surroundings and the hotel staff—just in time for us to move on.
  • Help your child create a “Things that Are Different” or “New Things I Tried” book. This brilliant advice came from Andrea, who devised it as a way to turn potential negatives into positives, and to engage kids in really seeing what’s around them. Before we left, Zeke helped pick out a blank Moleskine notebook; during the trip, he drew tuk-tuks and trees on its pages, and dictated stories about houses on stilts and shops without doors. I left pages blank so that I could add photos from each day, and I plan to use the same notebook on our next trip—thus creating a journal of Zeke’s early travels.
  • Don’t focus on the flights. Long-haul flights are to family travel what diapers are to early parenthood—the thing that feels like it’s going to be a huge deal, but really isn’t. Stay tuned for an upcoming article with my tips on making the best of a long flight with a young kid; in the meantime, rest assured that however distant your destination, the flying time is a small fraction of your overall trip (I say this even after spending almost 38 hours in the air over the course of our two-week trip).
Presidential Palace in Hanoi Vietnam with kids

Zeke plays outside the Presidential Palace in Hanoi. Toys can be helpful for when your kid just doesn’t want to walk through another museum. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Don’t skimp on toys. Andrea cautioned me not to pack light with a kid in tow. How I wish I’d taken her advice and brought more to keep Zeke occupied during our downtime. Next trip, I’ll pack a new small toy for each day, which I can bring out for that moment when Zeke doesn’t want to walk through another museum, or when I simply need a rest. Balloons are also great: They’re small and light for packing, and a quick distraction when blown up.
local artist and kid sketching in Mekong Delta

The highlight of the trip was the day we spent in the Mekong Delta, during which Zeke got to help cook puffed rice, make rice paper for spring rolls, and sketch a truck with a local artist. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Prioritize doing, not seeing. Interaction is key to a kid’s enjoyment of the trip. Anything we did that allowed Zeke to participate was a hit. The highlight of the trip was the day we spent in the Mekong Delta, during which Zeke got to help cook puffed rice, make rice paper for spring rolls, and sketch a truck with a local artist. Andrea warned me that the experiences she had planned for us there were a bit more touristy than the biking or walking tours she arranges for adults—but taking part in all the local industries was right up Zeke’s alley. Another highlight for him was the Artisans d’Angkor silk farm and workshops in Siem Reap, where he got to finger spider-web-fine threads of silk and take a crack at carving soapstone. When Zeke got bored wandering around yet another ancient temple, simply handing him our camera to take photos bought us another half-hour of happiness.
Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre, Siem Reap Cambodia

To break up temple visits, we stopped at the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre in Siem Reap. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Plan at least one thing each day for the kids. Use that activity as a motivator to get through the rest. When Andrea wanted us to see several smaller, less crowded temples outside the Angkor Wat complex, she sweetened the day for Zeke by adding a stop at the fabulous Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre.
  • Schedule downtime. Even kids who don’t nap at home will need to rest each afternoon, given the added stimulation of a foreign country. On the days that we failed to make this happen, we paid the price with an extra-cranky kid. Andrea also wisely planned two days at the Hoi An Beach Resort in the middle of our trip, which were essential for all of us to recharge. A bag of sand toys bought from a roadside stand for Zeke, umbrella drinks for my husband and me, and we were once again a happy family.
  • Gather playground intel. In cities, where your hotel room is bound to be small, you’ll need somewhere to burn off energy. Public spaces dedicated to kids are largely a luxury of the developed world; in Hanoi, when Zeke voiced his displeasure with the city tour we had planned, our guide brought us to Tini World, a play area inside a high-rise mall. Sure, we missed Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the Fine Arts Museum, but we still got to chat about contemporary Vietnamese culture with our guide while Zeke played in the ball pit and painted a ceramic crocodile.
  • Employ a private driver. The money you’ll spend is well worth it. We could have hired a tuk-tuk to drive us around steamy Angkor Wat—but taking breaks inside our air-conditioned van, with cold towels and icy drinks at the ready, kept Zeke’s energy from flagging and meant that we were able to do more touring. It also allowed us to leave a bag in the vehicle with spare clothes, water, toys, and other in-a-pinch supplies, carrying in my backpack only the essentials (which for us included sunscreen, tissues, and tangerine-scented hand sanitizer—which Zeke would sniff as we strolled through pungent Asian markets).
  • Don’t push unfamiliar food. So much about being in a foreign country is overwhelming to kids; let them find some comfort in their meals. English menus with a “western food” section? It’s the last thing I’d want in a restaurant when traveling alone, but my first priority with a kid. Be proactive about keeping blood sugar high—if ever there was a time for unlimited quantities of whatever you limit at home (in our case, bread and ice cream), this is it.
  • Manage your expectations. I went into the trip imagining that Zeke would emerge from his bubble of relative plenty and discover how much less most other kids make do with; instead, Zeke focused on his own deprivations. Let me tell you, it’s humbling to have your kid whine for sparkling water and insist on being carried when you’re surrounded by children whose parents have sent them onto the streets to sell postcards and trinkets for a living.
  • Bend your parenting rules. Travel with young kids is hard. Cut yourself some slack, whether this means offering unlimited screen time or resorting to bribery. (Zeke often ended up on our shoulders midway through a temple visit. With the promise of a single packet of M&Ms, I got him to walk on his own through all of Banteay Srey.) Don’t worry about setting a bad precedent; children understand that things will go back to normal once you’re home.
  • Splurge at the end. Through most of our trip, my husband, son, and I were fine with sharing a single room. Early on, it would have been a waste to have a suite, as jet lag was waking Zeke up at night. But by the end of the trip, my husband and I were starved enough for adult time that we tried to sneak out after putting Zeke to bed (a Skype call from laptop to smartphone serving as our baby monitor)—only to find that our hotel’s bar had been taken over by a cruise-ship group for a loud performance. As we gulped down our drinks on our room’s cramped balcony, I vowed to end our next trip in a suite.
At the Artisans d’Angkor silk farm and workshops in Siem Reap, we got to take a crack at carving soapstone

At the Artisans d’Angkor silk farm and workshops in Siem Reap, we got to take a crack at carving soapstone. Photo: Ryan Damm

  • Keep your eyes on the prize. If your main goal is to relax, this isn’t the right kind of trip for your family. But if you want to foster a love of travel in your kids, and a curiosity about the world and all its differences, it’s best to start young. I had to remind myself many times that the goal of our project was to expose Zeke to new things—which doesn’t have to be enjoyable to be worth it. Zeke still talks about our “big trip,” even mentions Cambodia and Vietnam by name. They’re now his touchstone for a part of the world where things are different. And that, to me, is worth everything.

What lessons learned have you learned from traveling to exotic places with young kids? Share your own tips below.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Disclosure: April and Andrea and their partners provided most elements of the writer’s trip (hotels, intra-Asia airfare, guides, ground transportation, and sightseeing entry fees) free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for coverage on their part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read our sponsored travel agreement here

Harajuku, Tokyo

Tokyo Airport Layovers: The Best Way to Spend Them

An airport layover doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck in the airport. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular hub cities recommend sightseeing itineraries for every time frame.


Since U.S. citizens don’t need a visa to enter Japan (unless you’re staying longer than 90 days), it’s not hard to do a bit of sightseeing during even a short layover. We talked to the Tokyo team at Context Travel (an in-depth walking tour company on Wendy’s WOW List), to find out where to go, how to get there, and what to do—even if you don’t have enough time to leave the airport.

The Basics

How to get out of the airport: The Narita Express (N’EX) runs from Narita Airport to Tokyo station in an hour, with some trains also running to Shinjuku, which takes about 85 minutes. Trains run from Narita terminals 1 and 2 every 30 minutes from 7:30am to 9:44pm; trains run from Tokyo station back to Narita every 30 minutes from 6:18am to 10:03pm. Tickets from Narita to Tokyo are ¥1,500 (about $13) for foreign passport holders; the return trip is the normal price of ¥3,020 (about $25). If you will  be traveling extensively by train through Japan later, it makes sense to buy a JR (Japan Rail) pass; they’re available for seven, 14, or 21 days starting from ¥29,110 (about $250), and can be used to ride the N’EX.

The Kesei Skyliner runs from Narita Airport to Ueno station in 41 minutes. Trains from both airport terminals to Ueno station every 40–60 minutes from 8:17am to 10:30pm. Trains run from Ueno back to the airport every 20 minutes from 5:58am to 5:45pm. Tickets are ¥2,470 each way. Several trains on the Kesei line stop in Narita; the ride is around 10 minutes and costs less than ¥300. Get yen before you leave the airport or at 7-11 at JR Narita station. In Narita, you can utilize the Narita City Round Bus to get around (it also stops at the airport).

The train stations in Tokyo are very large; when heading back to the airport, leave yourself plenty of time to get to the correct platform.

What to do with your luggage: If you haven’t checked your baggage through to your final destination, stow it at one of the left luggage counters, which are on the first floor in Terminal 1, and the first and third floors in Terminal 2; the cost is ¥520 ($5) for a medium-sized suitcase.

If You Have a 4-Hour Layover

With four hours, you don’t have enough time to see Tokyo, but you can explore the city of Narita a bit. From the Narita train station, stroll down the main street, Omotesando, where you can pick up fruit, rice crackers, and other local snacks, as well as souvenirs like chopsticks and cookware. If you continue down Omotesando, you’ll come to Naritasan Shinshoji, a large Buddhist temple that sits at the top of a hill. The surrounding Naritasan Park is lovely, particularly when the trees are a fiery red-orange or when the cherry blossoms are out. Dotted with ponds, statues, and fountains, it’s a welcoming, shady place to stretch your legs. (If you happen to be there at 3pm, you can watch the Goma ceremony, during which priests take votive sticks left by visitors and burn them as an offering.) There are plenty of places to eat along the main road and the side streets. One of the most common traditional dishes is unagi, broiled eel in a sweet sauce, served over rice. Takoyaki (fried octopus balls) are another popular snack, especially during cherry blossom season, when they’re eaten at picnics under the trees. Most restaurants only have Japanese menus, but also colorful plastic models of each of their set lunches, so you can just point to what you want.

If You Have an 8-Hour Layover

Tsukiji market, Tokyo. Photo: Context Travel

Tsukiji market, Tokyo. Photo: Context Travel

If you have eight hours, you can go into Tokyo, but be sure to allow yourself an hour’s travel time on each end.

Start off with a walk around Tsukiji outer market, a maze-like warren of food and cookware shops. (To get to the market from the airport, take the Skyliner to Keisei-Ueno station, walk the short distance to Ueno station, and take the Hibiya Line, toward Naka-Megura, to Tsukiji station.) Browse the stalls, grazing on tamagoyaki (sweet rolled omelet), assorted pickled vegetables, rice crackers, and other small bites. Grab a plate of super-fresh sashimi, and then move on to a bubbling bowl of ramen—or, if it’s summer, cool soba. For dessert, cleanse your palate with matcha (green tea) soft serve or taiyaki, a fish-shaped cake filled with red bean paste (or sometimes chocolate or vanilla). From Tsukiji train station, take the Hibiya line toward Nakameguro; at Chiyoda, transfer to the Chiyoda line to Yoyogi-Uehara and get off at Meiji-jingumae station. The 20-minute trip will bring you to Harajuku. Ogle the bright, out-there fashions on pedestrian-only Takeshita-dori, then find serenity in lush Yoyogi Park. To get back to the airport, take the Chiyoda line from Meiji-jingumae station to Tokyo station and hop on the Narita Express.

Alternatively, if you are interested in getting a peek into Tokyo subcultures, then a walk through the Akihabara neighborhood is a must. Otaku—enthusiasts of anime (cartoons) and manga (comics)—are the main theme of this tour. (To get here from the airport, hop on the Skyliner to Nippori station, change to the Keihintohoku line toward Isogo, and get off at Akihabara station.) Try your luck in one of the neighborhood’s arcades, wander through the busy streets, and even enter a maid café and see costume play (shorthanded to “cosplay”) in action. From Akihabara station, take the Yamanote line to Ueno station, which will bring you to Ueno Park, home to the beautiful Shinobazu Pond and a number of interesting shrines and museums. To reach the airport, exit the park from the south and jump on the Skyliner from Keisei-Ueno station.

If you don’t want to go it alone, Context Travel offers three-hour scholar-led walking tours in Tokyo and can organize custom walks based on your layover timing.

If You Don’t Have Time to Leave the Airport

There are a slew of nearby hotels that offer reasonable day rates. Nearly all have breakfast included, and several have pools, including the Hotel Nikko. Within the airport itself are fantastic facilities for passing the time: You can visit the dentist, get a haircut, go for a manicure or a massage, breathe deeply at the oxygen bar, take the kids to one of the playrooms, or book some time in a dayroom or shower. The shopping and dining options are excellent; if this is your only stop in Japan, you’d be remiss not to sample some ramen, sushi, and soba.


More Layover Solutions:

Amsterdam Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Beijing Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Barcelona Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Great Paris Hotels for an Airport Layover at Charles de Gaulle

London Heathrow Layover: Great Hotels for a Stopover at LHR

Madrid Airport Layovers: How to Make the Most of Them

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Tokyo, Japan

A Trip to Japan:
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boat in Halong Bay Vietnam

How to Tip in Asia: When, Who, and How Much

Sure, you can navigate tiny airports in far-flung locations, gesticulate wildly with locals to find your off-the-beaten-path hotel, and breeze past would-be scammers without so much as a flinch. But when the bill arrives at a restaurant, even the savviest of travelers can feel like a novice with no clue. Should you tip? If so, how much? In this series, we’re asking our Trusted Travel Experts to share their local knowledge for regions around the world. Read on to find insider tipping advice when traveling in China, Southeast Asia, and more. Have useful insight to add? Tell us in the comments.


Uma by Como, Ubud, Bali

Uma by Como, Ubud, Bali. Photo Courtesy Como Resorts

Service is included at almost every restaurant and hotel in Indonesia. However, even the locals throw down whatever loose change they have when they dine out—anywhere from 500 to 5,000 rupiahs (from 4 to 40 cents). Diane Embree, Trusted Travel Expert for Bali

Read Diane’s Insider’s Guide to Bali


Aman Summer Palace, Beijing.

Aman Summer Palace, Beijing.

Tipping is not a day-to-day part of the culture in China, but it is becoming expected in fine hotels and in the travel industry in general. The guides and drivers who work in English generally do expect a healthy tip of around $25 per day for the guide and $15 per day for the driver. Mei Zhang, Trusted Travel Expert for China

Read Mei’s Insider’s Guide to Beijing


Paro, Bhutan

Paro, Bhutan. Photo courtesy Antonia Neubauer.

A service charge is typically included in restaurant bills, but adding 2 to 5 percent on top of that is customary when you’re happy with the service. Antonia Neubauer, Trusted Travel Expert for Bhutan and Nepal

Read Antonia’s Insider’s Guide to Bhutan


Kohker, Cambodia

Kohker, Cambodia. Courtesy Journeys Within

Though it may be surprising, Cambodians these days expect tips. We recommend tipping just as you would at home. Guides are used to $10 to $20 per day, and we recommend a dollar or two for the bellboy or for your tuk-tuk driver. In a country where the average income is so low, this small gesture means a lot. Andrea Ross, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia

Read Andrea’s Insider’s Guide to Cambodia


Rambagh Palace, Rajasthan

Rambagh Palace, Rajasthan. Photo courtesy Rambagh Palace.

Ten percent in restaurants is considered normal. You should tip in the local currency (Indian rupees) and not in foreign currency. Bertie and Victoria Dyer, Trusted Travel Experts for India

Read Bertie and Victoria’s Insider’s Guide to Rajasthan

Sri Lanka

Sunset in Tangalle, Sri Lanka.

Sunset on a beach in Tangalle, Sri Lanka.

At hotels the easiest way to avoid the stresses of tipping every waiter, porter, and bellboy is not to tip anyone on the spot but instead to ask for the “tip box” when checking out. You need not feel awkward when the bellboy brings the luggage; simply say thank you and mention you will leave a tip in the tip box at the end of your stay. Always smile. A good tip is $10 to $20 per room per day. Miguel Cunat, Trusted Travel Expert for Sri Lanka

Read Miguel’s Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka


Bangkok Banyan Tree Thailand

The Vertigo restaurant at the Banyan Tree Bangkok..

Tipping in restaurants is not necessary, since a 10 percent service fee is usually included. In a taxi, round up to the nearest 100 baht;, so, if the meter reads 250 baht, give 300. If you have a guide for the day, the standard is 300 to 500 baht per person per day and drivers get half that, but tipping is at your discretion. Sandy Ferguson, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia

Read Sandy’s Insider’s Guides to Bangkok and Thailand


Tilla Kori Medreseh, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Tilla Kori Medreseh in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo courtesy Zulya Rajabova.

Tipping is customary in Uzbekistan. Restaurant waiters get 10 percent; guides and drivers should get $15–$25 per day, depending on your satisfaction with their services.Zulya Rajabova, Trusted Travel Expert for Uzbekistan and the Silk Road

Read Zulya’s Insider’s Guide to Uzbekistan


Tam Coc-Bich Dong, Vietnam.

Tam Coc-Bich Dong, Vietnam. Photo courtesy Andrea Ross.

Travelers are sometimes surprised at the level of tipping in Southeast Asia, but as life in the cities has gotten more expensive, guides and drivers increasingly depend on tips. We recommend $10 to $20 a day for a guide and about half that for the driver. For hotel staff, we recommend $1 or $2 for porters, and the same per day for room staff. Andrea Ross, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia

Read Andrea’s Insider’s Guide to Vietnam

The Great Wall of China

Rookie Travel Mistakes to Avoid in Asia

Rookie travel mistakes happen more often than you think. In the excitement of preparing for a long-dreamed about escape or a last-minute getaway, even the savviest of globetrotters can forget the basics. A common one is not thinking about the best time of year (or time of week) to experience a destination; another is failing to allot enough time to visit each point on your itinerary. To be sure you don’t fall into any traps (tourist or otherwise) during your own adventures, we asked our Trusted Travel Experts to weigh in on the most important things to know—and the most common rookie mistakes to avoid—when traveling to China, Japan, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia.

What would you add? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.


Expecting idyllic white-sand beaches. Bali’s beaches are mostly too rough for swimming (but good for surfing), and the quieter ones have little or no sand. I listen carefully to what every client is looking for in a beach—and tell them if they’re better off in the Caribbean. —Diane Embree, Trusted Travel Expert for Bali

Read Diane’s Insider’s Guide to Bali


Paro, Bhutan

Paro, Bhutan. Photo courtesy Antonia Neubauer.

Not knowing that there is only one east-west road in the entire country, meaning that every tourist (and there are many, despite what anyone else says) who is not trekking is driving back and forth along that same road. —Antonia Neubauer, Trusted Travel Expert for Bhutan and Nepal

Read Antonia’s Insider’s Guide to Bhutan


Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Photo courtesy Molly Fergu

One big rookie mistake that travelers make is assuming you’ll ride through the jungle on an elephant and “discover” Angkor Wat! It’s best to be realistic that this is a major international destination and plan accordingly. You can avoid the crowds and have a more special experience if you get an early start and begin at the back entrance to Angkor Wat, or visit lesser-known temples. If you head in unprepared, you’ll be in the middle of packs of tourists and you won’t really get to see anything. —Andrea Ross, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia

Read Andrea’s Insider’s Guides to Angkor Wat and Cambodia


Dragonback Rice Terraces, Guangxi, China

Dragonback rice terraces, Guangxi Province. Photo courtesy Lian Lodge.

Seeing only the famous sites, such as the Great Wall and the Terra-cotta Warriors. China has so much to offer, and major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an are only a slice of the entire country—and an overdeveloped, crowded, and sprawling one at that. I urge you to spend from five days to a week focusing on a lesser-known province, such as Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, or Guangxi. Visit some smaller villages, enjoy the beauty of terraced rice fields, and get away from the most popular places and the wonderful diversity of the culture will come to life. —Mei Zhang, Trusted Travel Expert for China

Read Mei’s Insider’s Guides to China’s Big Cities and Small Villages, Yunnan Province, and Beijing

Cruising in Asia

Sunset over Bagan, Myanmar.

Sunset over Bagan, Myanmar. Photo courtesy the Cruise Professionals.

A rookie mistake is planning to board the ship the same day you fly into port. You’ve probably booked an Asia cruise because you want to pack a lot of destinations into a single trip—so why waste your time and money spending the first few days of your itinerary jet-lagged? Even if the ship spends the first night in its departure port, arrive a few days early so that you can properly acclimate (and not risk missing the ship due to airline or weather delays; Hong Kong in particular can get fogged in). —Mary Jean Tully, Trusted Travel Expert for Cruises

Read Mary Jean’s Insider’s Guide to Asia Cruises

India: Agra

Taj Mahal Reflection, Agra, India

Taj Mahal Reflection, Agra, India. Courtesy Sanjay Saxena

A rookie mistake is forgetting to buy tickets to the Taj Mahal in advance. Tickets are not sold at the entrance: The ticket office is actually located in the East Gate parking lot about a mile from the monument entrance. Tickets to the Taj may also be purchased at any of the other monuments in Agra—but be sure that the date stamp is for the day that you will be visiting or is an open-ended ticket. —Sanjay Saxena, Trusted Travel Expert for India

Read Sanjay’s Insider’s Guides to Delhi and Agra and the Taj Mahal

India: Rajasthan

Amanbagh, India

Amanbagh, India. Photo courtesy Amanbagh

Travelers to India—and especially to Rajasthan—love to shop for fine jewelry because the prices are so good, but you need to go somewhere reputable, otherwise you may be sold glass instead of diamonds. (One of our favorite shops is the Gem Palace in Jaipur.) —Bertie and Victoria Dyer, Trusted Travel Experts for India

Read Bertie and Victoria’s Insider’s Guide to Rajasthan


Monk and flowers, Nepal.

Monk and Flowers, Nepal. Photo Courtesy Toni Neubauer

Not paying attention to altitude gain when trekking! People like to believe they are immortal and want to rush up mountains, but they need to study the rules for altitude acclimatization and follow them carefully. Altitude sickness is no joke. —Antonia Neubauer, Trusted Travel Expert for Nepal and Bhutan

Read Antonia’s Insider’s Guide to Nepal

Sri Lanka

Sunset in Tangalle

Sunset on a beach in Tangalle.

Sri Lanka looks small on a map, but it can take hours to get from place to place, and there are definite no-nos. For instance, don’t try to travel from Kandy to Yala National Park in one day, or from the Cultural Triangle to the beaches of Tangalle, or from Jaffna to Colombo. On the map (and on Google Maps), distances and approximate travel times are misleading. Sri Lanka offers great diversity and looks like you can tick all the boxes in one week—you can’t. If you want to speed things up a little, try flying on certain segments. Two local operators offer scheduled flights around the country: Cinnamon Air and Helitours. —Miguel Cunat, Trusted Travel Expert for Sri Lanka

Read Miguel’s Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka


Grand Palace, Bangkok. Photo by C Kennerly.

Grand Palace, Bangkok. Photo by C Kennerly.

Visiting Bangkok first. This sprawling metropolis of some 18 million people can be overwhelming, so I don’t recommend it for your first encounter with Thailand. It’s much more enjoyable to recover from jet lag someplace relaxing and traditionally Thai, such as Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, or Sukhothai. By traveling upcountry (or to the beach) first, you’ll experience traditional Thai culture, have time to acclimate to the time zone, and appreciate Bangkok much more when you visit it at the end of your trip. —Sandy Ferguson, Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia

Read Sandy’s Insider’s Guides to Bangkok, Southeast Asia, and Thailand

Uzbekistan and The Silk Road

Tilla Kori Medreseh, Samarkand

Tilla Kori Medreseh in Samarkand. Photo courtesy Zulya Rajabova.

Some travelers opt to fly from one Silk Road city to another, and there is a high-speed train from Tashkent to Samarkand, but travel by car is most rewarding. There are many cultural, architectural, and archaeological treasures to find outside the main cities, as well as rural villages to visit, the ancient towns of Jizzakh Province, local bazaars, and amazing photo opportunities. —Zulya Rajabova, Trusted Travel Expert for Uzbekistan and the Silk Road

Read Zulya’s Insider’s Guide to Uzbekistan


Do you have tips on avoiding rookie mistakes? Share your advice in the comments.