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.
Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia: Saigon by Vespa, Buddhist blessings, circus performances…
“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. Afterwards, 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. We did make last-minute adjustments. For example, on the spur of the moment we decided we wanted to see the Bamboo Circus in Saigon and our guide helped us get tickets four hours before the performance. (I would, however, recommend booking earlier.) 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: from a Balinese wedding to waterfall treks to Komodo dragons…
“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: Riding scooters, finding mangosteens, meeting a Vietnamese fighter pilot…
“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: cooking lessons, traditional kaiseki, a ryokan with hot springs…
“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…
“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…
“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…
“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…
“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
Read more reviews of Cambodia and Vietnam trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.
Nepal: outdoor living, child-friendly experiences, “terrific value”…
“Toni helped us plan an amazing trip to Nepal that would have been difficult for us to pull off, even with family living in the country. Nepal is not an easy country, so if you’re on the fence, this is one of those times when paying for more support is the smart move because on vacation, you want things to be easy, not hard!
Nepal surprised us with how much of life is set up for outdoor living—something you want in COVID times. We traveled in mid-May 2022, with the monsoon season approaching. Having an air-conditioned bus for the five of us (two grandparents, two adults, one four-year-old) was indispensable. Sanjeeb, our guide, was super-knowledgeable and unflappable: We had to reschedule a few things due to weather and local events that would have meant overcrowding, and he handled it all on our behalf. Our 4-year old loved Suresh, Sanjeeb’s assistant, and we were so grateful that Suresh was willing to give our 4-year old shoulder rides when he got tired of walking. The pre-monsoon heat was ferocious at times, but instead of meltdowns, there was Suresh!
Toni delivered terrific value, and the experiences she picked out for us were memorable—the highlights of the trip. Even the grandparents, who are locals, loved participating and learned something new. Our time in Dhulikel was special, and we were grateful for the upgrade we received at Dwarika’s Resort there. It was seriously one of the nicest places we have stayed on any of the six continents we’ve visited.” —Kimberley Liao
Read more reviews of Nepal trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.
India: a “perfect itinerary,” with new friends made along the way…
“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…
“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…
“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…
“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…
“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…
“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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