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.
Sri Lanka: “We saw beautiful Buddha temples…hiked mountains with spectacular views, went on a jeep safari…”
“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
Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand: “Walking in the cities (other than Bangkok) was an adventure, as motorcycles and cars do not stop for pedestrians…”
“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
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.”
“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
Japan: “We often had our room category upgraded, no doubt due to his relationship with the hotel…”
“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
Oman and Jordan: “All was well and safe…”
“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
Vietnam, Cambodia & Hong Kong: “Being able to enjoy sunrise at the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat…”
“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
Indonesia: “An exceptionally beautiful country, with interesting history, gorgeous art and relics, and incredible food….”
“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.
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.
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
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…”
“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
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.”
“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
Japan: “Through the Japanese Alps, through the Kiso Valley and its enchanting post towns and fairytale villages untouched by time…”
“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
Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos: “I flew by helicopter to the even more remote and off-the-radar locations of Preah Vihear and Prasat Banteay Chhmar…”
“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
Japan: “We met 5th-generation kimono silk artists, indigo dyers and gold leaf artisans…”
“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
Dubai & Abu Dhabi: “What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite, a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset…”
“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.
Thailand and Cambodia: “A way of life that we couldn’t have imagined…”
“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
Sri Lanka: “We felt perfectly safe at all times…”
“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
Thailand & Cambodia: “We never felt like we were part of a mob—closer to private viewings…”
“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
Sri Lanka: “We found so much to enjoy: history, tea country, food, and nature…”
“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
Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia: “Kayaking in Halong Bay, boating on the Saigon River, biking through Hoi An…”
“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
Indonesia: “Experiences that have enriched us forevermore…”
“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
Vietnam and Cambodia: “We are lucky to have been able to see Vietnam and Cambodia before the masses of tourists come back…”
“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
Japan: “We were taken back in time, eating traditional kaiseiki and taking in the hot spring waters…”
“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
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
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
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
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
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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