Trip Report: Bentwood Inn, Jackson Hole, Wyoming – January 2016

Staff Members: Robin Paschall
Travel Dates: January 2016
Destinations Visited:  Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jackson Hole and the Bentwood Inn are a great destination for all seasons!

Jackson Hole Ski Resort

Town of Jackson

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2016 Inca Trail Permits on Sale in January

Inca Trail Trek PeruInca Trail Trek permits for 2016 will go on sale in early January.  Last year, the permits for all of April, May, and June sold out within days.  It is also common for permits to sell out 6 months in advance.  If you are interested in hiking the Inca Trail next year, contact us as soon as possible to get on the list for permits!

We have group departures every Wednesday and Sunday on the 5-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu and on the 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  You can start a private trek on any day of the year.

You can also upgrade to the luxury 5-day Inca Trail Trek.

Inca Trail Trek

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Travel and Make A Difference in 2016

Climb Kilimanjaro with Make A Difference

If you want to “travel with a purpose”, Make A Difference is offering two great charity trips this year.  The February Patagonia trip is sold out, so contact us right away if you are interested!

Tanzania: Kili, Safari, & Volunteer
July 12-24, 2016

Visit the School, Climb for Education, and Go on Safari 

Join MAD on a fundraising climb and safari that will change your life and truly make a difference in the lives of vulnerable youth. The first week will be spent learning about the local Chagga culture and at the children’s school. The second week will be spent climbing Africa’s highest peak, followed by a safari.

Itinerary in Brief:

DAY 1 / JUL 13: Arrive Kilimanjaro International Airport, transfer to Moshi, overnight MAD Guest House
DAY 2-3 / JUL 14-15: Volunteering with Make A Difference Now, overnight MAD Guest House
DAY 4-10 / JUL 16-22: 7-Day Machame Trek
DAY 11 / JUL 23: Rest Day, overnight Bristol Cottages
DAY 12-13 / JUL 24-25: 2-Day Safari to Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater, overnight at Kudu Lodge, drop off at Kilimanjaro Airport


  • Cost of Climb and Safari: $2500/person
  • Fundraising Goal: Minimum of $1500/person

Nepal: Everest Base Camp Trek
October 4-20, 2016

Make A Difference in the Lives of Children

Join MAD on a 17-Day grand adventure. The trek begins with a beautiful flight to Lukla. The trek passes through the picturesque Sherpa village of Namche Bazaar culminating in the “ascent” of Kala Patthar from where classic views of Everest and the surrounding peaks are available. There will be plenty of time to enjoy the culture of the Sherpas, visit ancient monasteries and learn how Lamaistic Buddhism influences Sherpa life. We shall stop at any of the numerous teahouses, sip a glass of sweetened tea or Chang (millet beer) and get a taste of hospitality unique to the Sherpas. Beautiful, multi-hued prayer flags, prayer wheels and intricately carved mani stones line every hilltop, rock wall, and trail-side, singing prayers to the gods with every breeze and every passing traveler.

Itinerary in Brief:

DAY 1 / OCT 4: Arrive Kathmandu Airport, transfer, overnight Hotel Tibet
DAY 2 / OCT 5: Morning Kathmandu City Tour, afternoon meet with guide and prepare for trek, overnight Hotel Tibet
DAY 3-15 / OCT 6-18: 13-Day Everest Base Camp Trek
DAY 16 / OCT 19: Free Day, overnight Hotel Tibet
DAY 17 / OCT 20: Depart Kathmandu


  • Cost of Climb and Tour: $1845/person
  • Fundraising Goal: Minimum of $1000/person
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Lake Natron: East Africa’s Desert Paradise

Lake Natron

One of the highlights of our small-group 7-day Group Safari in northern Tanzania – an incredible value at just US$2,495/person in 2016 –  are the two nights we spend in rugged Lake Natron, at Natron Halisi Camp, exploring this incredibly stark land. Situated along the Kenya border, in between Arusha and the Serengeti, Lake Natron itself is a huge Rift Valley alkaline lake ringed by desert hills and known as the breeding ground for all of the lesser and greater flamingos of East Africa. In fact, over half of the world’s lesser flamingos (between 65-75%) are born here, raised and protected on isolated islands within this shallow, highly caustic lake.  The best time for the flamingos is July through November but the region has a number of other amazing attractions that beckon truly adventurous souls June through March.

120,000 year-old footprints after a recent rain in Lake Natron

120,000 year-old footprints after a recent rain in Lake Natron

A high point at Natron Halisi Camp is visiting the little-known but nearby Engaresero Hominid Footprints, a stunning archaeology site discovered only in 2006. Here you carefully walk among 120,000 year-old fossilized footprints of early man and the animals that thrived here. It’s something truly surreal to be standing right next to where you know an ancient man walked inconspicuously across the mudflat, while you are breathless at the idea that here we can connect with a world so distant and far-gone as to be well beyond the reach of nearly all Western history.

Photographing Lake Natron flamingos

Photographing Lake Natron flamingos

From the footprints, we hiked with our Maasai guide across the rocky plain to the lake, past grazing Maasai donkeys and the resident gazelles, crossing a stream and onward towards Lake Natron where we slowed down on the approach to the amazing sight and sound of thousands upon thousands of flamingos. An occasional bright chirp would rise over the steady guttural whir of the massed flamingos.

Lake Natron nature walk, with Ol Doinyo Lengai in background

Lake Natron nature walk, with Ol Doinyo Lengai in background

In the distance across the water, mirages would create flamingos that looked like shimmering 9-foot tall birds, while close by, the flamingos gracefully swept their beaks in the water looking for food. Suddenly a few birds would leap into the air and then thousands would join that bird in a spiraling cloud of pink dashing against the blue sky. In six previous safaris to Africa, I’d never experienced anything like this.

Kids at a Lake Natron school taking a break

Kids at a Lake Natron school taking a break

We hiked back to the Land Cruiser, maybe a mile away, and drove to the nearby modern village where the local school, health clinic and bar were located. Here sun-wrinkled mud homes line the dusty “streets” with the sparkling lake in view. We visited the clinic, where we spoke with the head nurse about local health issues and toured the facility. From there, we spent time at the bustling school, where kids were having their lunch break and eating in the shade or showing off their smiles to us in the bright classrooms. We finished with a walk past a long line of colorfully-dressed women cooking over open fires to the local open-air bar where we had some laughs with each other and the locals over a bottle of Kilimanjaro.

Staring the hike into Ngare Sero Gorge at Lake Natron

Starting the hike into Ngare Sero Gorge at Lake Natron

One of the highlights of any Lake Natron trip is the challenging 1/2 day hike through the Ngare Sero Gorge all the way to a couple of beautiful waterfalls. The first waterfall you reach by hiking along the base of steep cliffs, occasionally scrambling over boulder outcrops, threading the needle along thin footholds just above the river, using whatever handholds you can find.  The landscape reminded me a lot of some of the deeper, more rugged Utah canyons I’ve backpacked through.

The first set of waterfalls at Natron

The first set of waterfalls at Natron

Once you reach the first waterfall you’ll switch from hiking to swimming (i.e. hike with your swim gear on).  Here there is a nice pool to relax and cool off in at the base. I forgot the mention that Lake Natron is hot, with temps that easily feel around 90-95-100 degrees (F) during mid-day. So the cool rushing spring water feels utterly refreshing. But once in the river, you’ll want to press on, through the first cascade, and under a massive rock overhang and into the next pool and waterfall, where the water is deeper and the swimming fun, as you can try to swim through the rapids at the top of the pool and casually drift back  to the main eddy in a classic slot canyon.

Ol Doinyo Lengai looms in the distance

Ol Doinyo Lengai looms in the distance

The three serious hikers in our party chose to climb nearby Ol Doinyo Lengai (10,450 feet), one the most unique volcanoes in the world since it is the only one in the world that spews Natrocarbonatite lava.  It’s also the third highest mountain in Tanzania. While it may be a day hike, it’s a very difficult climb suitable only for tough, experienced mountain hikers. The elevation gain is over 5,000 feet, mostly at a steep 45 degree angle, with lots of exposure, through loose volcanic grit and rock and at higher elevations, thick sulfuric fumes. The trip starts at 11pm with the drive to the base, and at about 12 midnight, you join your Maasai guide for the push up. It will take most of the morning to make it up the very slender summit – part of the crater wall – and back. The mountain hike is an optional activity at Natron Halisi Camp – just let us or your AWR guide know well in advance if you are interested. Remember there are no gear rental shops here, unlike at Meru or Kilimanjaro, so you’ll have to bring all of your own mountaineering gear – poles, gaiters, boots, rain/wind jacket, fleece, hat, etc.

Maasai at Lake Natron

Maasai at Lake Natron

Instead of hiking the volcano, I chose to sleep but I did wake up at 5 am to join our AWR guide for a trip to a nearby Masai settlement to check out Maasai life and see the morning milking. The contrast of their colorful clothing and jewelry against the harsh tans and browns of the landscape was striking. Women milked cows and goats, while curious kids milled around.  We were invited into a home and sat around the fire pit, listening and learning about how remarkably different domestic life is like for the Maasai compared to us. After about an hour and a half, we returned to camp to get ready for our departure to the Serengeti.

Standard tent at Halisi Natron

Standard tent at Halisi Natron

On a typical 2-night stay in Natron, you can have all the above experiences. It’s amazing but this is a harsh region, making even a short stay very unpleasant if you are not up for the heat and dust or if you are a luxury traveler. The area is best for adventurers, keen photographers, and tough, open-minded cultural travel enthusiasts. If you come, we recommend staying at Lake Natron Halisi,  in fact this is our standard choice on the 7-day group safari. Natron Halisi is a modest, 10-unit mobile-camp semi-permanently situated in a Maasai grazing area where there’s welcome shade from huge trees. Amenities are few, but all standard tents come with a comfy bed with full linens and en-suite private bucket shower and chemical loo; the food is simple but very respectable; and the views are wonderful of the desert mountains dotting every horizon. Astounding star gazing and interesting bird watching add to the delights. All-in-all, Natron is a place no one will ever forget!

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Succeed to the Summit: Advice for Kilimanjaro

Nothing beats reaching the top of Africa

When considering Kilimanjaro, I definitely had reservations. I have arthritis and a few other physical issues, I’m only modestly physically fit and maybe most concerning of all, I live in Wisconsin, and like a lot of areas in the world, the landscape is relatively flat here so it’s hard to simulate the hiking conditions trekkers will face on Kili. But I did the trek anyway (a customized 6-day Rongai trek with Mawenzi Tarn Hut), and I summited Kilimanjaro! While I found the mountain to be a challenge, it was not the overwhelming one I had feared. With a little planning and research, I think most physically-OK travelers with an adventurous spirit & a commitment to success can summit the peak. Here are some suggestions (in no particular order) regarding things that helped me reach the top of Africa – I hope they help you too!

Note: We always recommend that a traveler obtains direct medical advice from his or her own personal physician before they go on any adventure. The suggestions in this post are only that, just suggestions, and they do not replace professional medical guidance. They also do they constitute any kind of guarantee for summit success. We just hope these suggestions help as one small but helpful part of the planning & summiting process!

Train before you go. In Wisconsin, it can be hard to find anywhere with any significant elevation gains to prepare you for Kilimanjaro, but I made a point to go outside and walk every day for 6 weeks before I left. I found places with some elevation gain. In Wisconsin, they included Devil’s Lake State Park, certain trails at Governor Dodge State Park, like the Pine Bluff trail, among other places, like Owen Conservancy, right here in Madison, and parts of the Ice Age Trail nearby.  Just about every state has a few places like these. I’d repeat hikes that gave me some solid ups and downs. I’d walk upstairs instead of taking the elevator, etc., etc. Previous blog posts have covered this (training for Kilimanjaro >>) in much greater detail and this idea is nothing new, but I can vouch 100% that this pre-trip effort made a huge difference.

Rashid - having a good guide on Kilimanjaro is a must

Rashid – having a good guide on Kilimanjaro is a must!

Have a good daypack. Any old duffel bag or large backpack will do for your portaged gear, but for the daypack you carry yourself, be sure to have one that fits you, and ideally has several little features like a strong chest strap, a decent padded hip belt,  easily accessible pockets for Nalgene bottles and multiple zippered enclosures to organize different gear. I bought and used a 32 liter Osprey Skarab 32 EX with 2.5 liter water reservoir. Note: like with training, we’ve covered what to bring before (e.g. in this blog post, What to bring on Kilimanjaro >>,  and our excellent Kilimanjaro Packing List >>) so these are just some truly notable items that helped me.

Ibuprofen.  I brought some ibuprofen for relief of minor aches and pains but found it particularly useful for easing headaches at high altitude, especially summit day.

Hand warmers. I brought 2 pairs of Yaktrax hand warmers, though I only used one on summit morning. I also brought a pair of toe warmers that I didn’t use. As long as you keep your feet moving that helps keep the toes warm.  But having the toe warmers handy as a back up plan gave me a psychological boost.

Diamox. Per my travel doctor’s recommendations, I took about a third of the maximum dosage daily starting on my first day of trekking and up to summit day. My route, the Rongai, is a very good trek for acclimatization so I’ll never know if the Diamox really helped or not but with the lower dosage I didn’t see the negatives and my nausea was slight. Some people report bad nausea and while I don’t know for sure, I think the Diamox helped with that. My oxygen levels (through Oximeter readings from my guide) were good throughout the trek.

One of the countless waterfalls you'll pass on Kilimanjaro

One of the countless waterfalls you’ll pass on Kilimanjaro

Drink lots of water.  I brought 2 Nalgene bottles and the water reservoir in the daypack. I found this worked very well and felt like I always had plenty of water. The waiter on my mountain team always sprinted into action on every request I made morning or night for more drinking water.

A good pair of mid-weight waterproof boots.  I hiked Kilimanjaro in Vasque Talus Trek Ultradry boots. These were really reasonably priced (about $150) and the break-in time was maybe a month, but they were very comfortable from almost the beginning. Be sure you have room in the front of your boot on downhills – it pays off to be patient, test out different pairs, and find the right boot and size for you.

Thick high quality hiking socks. These can be surprisingly expensive, at $25-30/pair. I brought along two really good new pairs of thick hiking socks (Smartwool heavy trekking socks) to go along with my older socks, saving one fresh new pair for summit day.

This blue monkey didn't mind the rain on Kili

This blue monkey didn’t mind the rain on Kili

A good quality rain jacket. Like the rest of your gear, this doesn’t have to be top-shelf or Mt. Everest quality. Just something that is good quality. I brought along a Marmot Minimalist Shell and it worked wonders on my November trek. The first three days were constant rain and I was comfortable the entire way.

A bottle of liquid bandage. I brought special bandages for blisters but I never needed them, since I used the liquid bandage to coat hot spots each night with 1 or 2 coatings. I never developed blisters. Most of my medical kit was unused in fact but just having certain things along, like Ace bandages, made me feel more comfortable pushing my limits.

Drink mix for water. I used Propel, grape flavor, but any of them would do (Emergen-C, etc.).  If you have any unused packets left over at the end you can give them to the porters.

Stretching multiple times a day. I would do about 10 minutes of good leg and back stretching each morning and that really helped my joints. I’d also do a little stretching on the trail and when we reached camp, really whenever needed. Learn and try various stretches before you go if you aren’t an practiced runner or stretching expert, or take some yoga and learn a few good poses from the instructors.

Fitover sunglasses. I have high prescription eyeglasses and a problem with my eyes that means I can’t use contacts. So I brought 2 pairs of polarized fitover sunglasses with 100% UVA/UVB protection, one for daily use and the other as a back up in case they were scratched. there is sharp volcanic grit everywhere that can easily scratch glasses, be alert. Also, if you are like me with a high prescription, bring a second back up pair of eyeglasses.

Hand sanitizer. Your hands will get dirty on the mountain. I brought 2 small travel bottles and used almost all of both on the 6 day trek. I also brought a small package of wet wipes.

A big bag of peanut M&M’s. Indispensable. But bringing any of your favorite snacks, a little for each day, is a good idea.

Bring a good (paperback) book. Indispensable. I brought the 400 page Ready Player One by Earnest Cline and read the whole book during the 6-days. I also brought a small journal to doodle in and jot down notes and observations.

Porters on Kili do the hard stuff yet they are so good-natured all the time

Porters on Kili do the hard stuff yet they are so good-natured all the time

Request/reserve a second sleeping mat. One mat is fine but 2 will almost feel like a nominal bed.

Request/reserve a folding chair with a back. We include a folding stool on all of our treks but requesting a chair with a back is a good way to go for extra lounge-ability.

Purify water. Bring water purification tablets or a steripen or reserve our Katadyn filter for your group. While our mountain staff always boils water for your use, at the highest altitudes, sometimes reaching a rolling boil can be a challenge making an extra level of purification a reasonable idea. Note: one easy way to get all of the last 3 items is to reserve our Luxury Kilimanjaro package add-on >>, a package of special features that you can reserve for any trek with us.

You can also look over our page full of Kilimanjaro trekking advice >> from our past travelers for more ideas. But the best possible advice I can give is be sure to reserve your Kilimanjaro trek with a caring, reputable, professional outfitter like Adventures Within Reach. We may not be the least expensive company, but we are not the most expensive either. We take great pride in treating mountain guides and porters equitably, making sure you get good, safe food to eat on the mountain, and that you have excellent mountain staff to care for you on your trip and high-quality gear for the trek. Climbing Kilimanjaro may sound like hard work, but it actually felt more like a phenomenal vacation to me, one of the best I’ve ever had!

Posted in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Trekking | 2 Comments

Spotlight on the 5-day Tanzania Group Safari

The open roofs on our Land Cruisers provide great vantage points and shadeOn a recent site inspection in Tanzania, I was reminded just how great a value our 5-day group Tanzania safari, at US$1,845/person, really is. We have scheduled departures throughout the best times to go, including December through February, which is migration time in the Serengeti, plus June through October, when the peak elephant migration in Tarangire National Park happens.

Taking a break at Halisi Serengeti

Taking a break at Halisi Serengeti

While the group safari size is limited to 6 travelers max, the trips often run with only 3 or 4 people, making the safari almost a private experience, which is excellent for wildlife viewing and photography. That kind of experience is incomparable, making the value especially stand out. The minimum group size is only 2 travelers, so all it takes is just one couple to book a departure and it will run.

The accommodations can be characterized as budget or mid-range but they are so superior to basic camping and much less expensive than private luxury safaris, making them a perfect compromise for value-minded travelers looking for quality accommodations (e.g. en-suite bath, hot showers, good beds, proper linens,  etc.) but not needing the frills of luxury camps and lodges. Lodging is such an important part of any safari and not everyone can afford Klein’s CampGibbs Farm or Tarangire Tree Tops,  luxury options offered by Adventures Within Reach. On our 5-day group safari, you’ll be staying in Endoro Lodge, Serengeti Halisi Camp, and Rhino Lodge, all excellent choices for the money.

Standard room at Endoro Lodge

Standard room at Endoro Lodge

On Day 1, after the game drive in Lake Manyara or Tarangire (whichever park has better wildlife viewing at the time), we overnight at Endoro Lodge. With just 20 chalets, the lodge feels very cozy and intimate. A welcome sight can be the pool, which is a great place to relax with a drink in hand after a day out in the bush. Lush green views of the Ngorongoro highlands envelope the hills around the lodge. It’s a serene, quiet place with the primary sound being birdsong. It’s easy to imagine spending more time at the lodge but wildlife viewing is most definitely the priority on the group safari.

Taking it all in - a standard tent at Halisi Serengeti

Taking it all in – a standard tent at Halisi Serengeti

From there we move on to the famous Serengeti and overnight at Serengeti Halisi Camp. My first sight on reaching my tent was a cute family of elephants in plain view just 200 yards away, reveling in a mud patch, coating each others’ hides and taking in the mineral-rich soils. I watched this for about 30 minutes from my front porch! The camp offers a classic mobile-tented experience which is something not to be missed on a safari. The feeling of being in a comfortable, fully-catered tented camp surrounded by the sounds and sights of the African bush is a must for every passionate international traveler.

Attractive views abound at Rhino Lodge

Attractive views abound at Rhino Lodge

After 2 nights at Halisi Serengeti camp, the group has options to visit famed Olduvai Gorge and an authentic Masai village before reaching the Ngorongoro Crater. Our clients can choose to upgrade for a nominal fee to the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge or Pakulala Safari Camp, but I was impressed with the Rhino Lodge, which is the standard lodge on the safari. From the back deck of one of its 24 rooms, I watched a huge lone buffalo grazing in a bush maybe 20 yards away. In front of the property, a herd of waterbuck lazed in the grass. The views of the vibrant green highlands were all around us as we relaxed in the spacious public areas having a cold drink. Colorful flowers line the paths. The rooms were large and whatever they may lack in top-shelf decor is more than made up in the professionalism and friendliness of the Rhino staff.

Rama, one of our top Tanzania safari guides

Rama, one of our top Tanzania safari guides

Your guide on the 5-day group safari is also going to be excellent, and that’s another vital part of a great safari experience. Each of our highly trained guides has years of guiding experience yet they are as enthusiastic the day they started. That kind of enthusiasm mixed with professionalism and experience is invaluable for a successful safari.

In 2016, we’re making a great value even better through our close partnership with Halisi Camps by extending a $100 per person discount on the 5-day and 7-day group safaris. (The 7-day group safari is very similar to the 5-day safari, with the extra 2 days being spent at adventurous Lake Natron).  Alternatively, if you book a Kilimanjaro trek along with a 5- or 7-day group safari, you’ll save $150 per person. There is still space on most of our 2016 trips, so we hope you discover the real Tanzania on a real value safari with Adventures Within Reach!

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Summer Special in Myanmar: Yangon, Bagan, and Inle in 10 Days (March, April, May)

Bagan Temples at Sunrise

Bagan Temples at Sunrise

The summer dry season in Myanmar, which runs March through May, is a wonderful time to visit “the land of the golden pagodas.” While temperatures are highest at this time of year, reaching above 100 F at times in the mid-day in some places, it is also the driest time to visit the country. Locals are out and about and active, making cultural encounters all the more common and illuminating.  We’ve designed a 10-day special Myanmar tour to see three of our favorite places: Yangon (famously formerly “Rangoon”), Bagan, and Inle Lake – all of them treasures for the passionate international traveler. After the trip, travelers can choose to return home or extend to another country in the region or hit the fabulous untouched beaches of Ngapali. Like all of our private custom Myanmar tours, you can start this trip any day. This is an excellent trip for photographers, lovers of Asian foods, history buffs, and adventurous travelers.


Day 1: Yangon arrival – welcome to Myanmar!

On arrival in Yangon International Airport, meet your guide and driver for a private transfer to your hotel. The balance of the day is free at your own leisure.

  • Smart option – Overnight at the East hotel – deluxe
  • Luxury option – Overnight at the Strand hotel – deluxe suite

Day 2: Yangon | Spiritual Shwedagon Pagoda | Yangon Heritage walk (Including classic high tea at Strand Hotel)

Spiritual Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Temple

Shwedagon Temple

So what’s behind the golden façade of the Shwedagon Pagoda? During this interactive half day tour, we take you through the back door and show you the full history of the pagoda, the daily life of all people living in the immediate surroundings of the pagoda, a deeper insight in the Buddhist religion, and how the spiritual belief is mixed with the belief in nats – the Myanmar spirits. An intriguing half-day tour starting from the bottom of the hill and passing the workshops, markets and monasteries that will be useful or even essential to understand more of the country during the rest of your journey. The tour includes a traditional Burmese breakfast, offerings to monks and the pagoda, a visit to a fortune teller, and a Burmese lunch.

After lunch, your guide will take you to downtown Yangon for a great walking tour of its alluring highlights.  Yangon downtown is unique with much of its colonial-era architecture still standing. You find one of Asia’s most impressive collections of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century buildings, religious and secular. Starting after lunch, this walking tour will take you through downtown Yangon, focusing on its old colonial buildings. Your guide will walk you through the back streets in a relaxed tempo and explain to you the history of each building: some of them empty, some getting restored and some used for different purposes than when built. This walk along the streets of Yangon will, at least architecturally, take you a step back in time; also a high tea at the famous Strand hotel will make you feel like being back in colonial time. After the tour you will have time to enjoy a drink at Rangoon Tea House, a cosy new restaurant on lower Pansodan street, where many of Yangon’s expatriates of today meet up for a drink or a meal.

Meals: B, L

Day 3: Yangon | Yangon’s vibrant Indian Town – half day walking tour (morning) | Free afternoon

An excellent privately guided walk through Yangon operated by Yangon Walking Tours. A specialized, private guide tells you the history of this part of town; we’re sure you’re going to love this vibrant neighborhood.

The Western Downtown Walk takes you into the Indian Quarter of old Yangon. You will go inside heritage buildings and walk through a morning outdoor street market and visit a mixture of colonial buildings, churches and mosques. You will visit a Kali Hindu temple, as well as the beautiful French-designed St John’s Catholic Church. You will go inside an old colonial mansion that has seen better days, the only Jewish Synagogue in Myanmar, plus a fantastic 100-year old indoor food market. The most impressive thing about Yangon is its vibrant street life with lots of market stalls and teahouses. This is a very easy walk through the vibrant streets of Yangon.

The trip starts at 08:30 from the Sule Shangri-La hotel. Your guide will be waiting for you at the big cane chairs in the lobby (transport to the Shangri-La on own). The trip ends at Rangoon Tea House where you enjoy a great lunch of hygienically-prepared, typical teahouse dishes from all around the city. Lunch & drinks are included in the tour price – simply choose from the menu whatever you like, we suggest the Ohn Noe Kaukswe and the Samosa Salad for their great taste and because they are the kind of dishes that are not usually on the menu at any other restaurant. Trip includes professional guide, snacks on the way, local donations, an excellent map of Yangon, and lunch at Rangoon Tea House.

Meals: B, L

Day 4: Fly Yangon – Bagan

Transfer to the airport and take the flight to Bagan.

This is Bagan! – A full day orientation tour of this world-class archaeology site



A full day tour by air-conditioned car, with an experienced guide, through Bagan will show you the best known temples of the area. We start the day climbing a pagoda to get a first impressive view over the whole area. From here, the guide plans his way to some of the other amazing temples that have been here for hundreds of years. Places like Ananda, Dhammayangyi, Sulamani, and Thatbyinnyu will certainly impress you. Lunch will be taken at a local restaurant and, around 4pm, we continue the tour by horse cart to Pyathagyi pagoda for sunset with some refreshing drinks served! Oh . . .  we forgot to mention the best part of this tour: whenever you see a temple you like, just ask your guide to stop to have a look at it – simply pick your own favorite temple.

  • Smart option – Overnight at the Zfreeti hotel – deluxe
  • Luxury option – Overnight at the Bagan lodge – villas

Meals: B, L

Day 5: Bagan | Jeep Safari through the dry zone: a visit to local villages off the beaten track | A picnic in Minnanthu

An early start, 4×4 driving out of Bagan, meeting local women carrying firewood, etc. for the market while the sun rises behind them. Nyaung Gyi is the first village visit and we stop to see a blacksmith work shop. In Se Ywa village we visit several local workshops to view plum purifying, cooking oil producing, and wooden slipper making. Then, we continue to Taung Kong village where the majority of the people are farmers, but they also make pottery. (2 hr drive each way by jeep or Pajero). A great trip for photographers and anyone interested in daily life of local people.

Minnanthu is probably the favorite temple area among frequent Bagan visitors and you know why? It’s quiet, it’s a beautiful area, and the temples here are often completely deserted. The guide brings you by car to this forgotten part of Bagan and will spread out a blanket and serve you a great picnic lunch in this historical setting before or after visiting 2 or 3 ancient temple ruins in this area.

Meals: B, L

Day 6: Bagan | Bagan food! | Sundowners on a Sandbank – sunset tour

It’s all about fine food this morning! The last king of Bagan was famous for his enormous appetite and he ordered that every meal should include 300 different dishes! Today you are going to discover what kind of food he must have eaten. We learn more about herbs and greens at the market in Myinkaba, visit home-based cottage industries where products like tamarind paste or candies are made, and we visit Mingalazedi pagoda which was built by this last king. Try the different tastes from sweet to bitter of typical Burmese ingredients in a local monastery and end the excursion with a meal like the last king of Bagan would have savored it; just a bit more moderate – with “only” 30 different dishes to try.

We’ve decided that you have to stay at least 2 nights in Bagan; one to see the sun go down from the top of an ancient temple, the other one to take a boat ride on the mighty Ayeyarwaddy River and have some sundowners on a sandbank in the middle of the river (if the river is not too high). A private boat tour on the river during sunset time will hopefully show you a spectacular sunset while your guide will be serving cocktails and some snacks.

Meals: B, L

Day 7: Fly Bagan – Heho – Inle Lake

On arrival at Heho airport: Thaung Lay Lone to Indein ruins by bike!

Transfer to the Bagan airport and fly to Inle Lake by way of Heho, where your guide is ready at the airport for you to start your relaxed bike trip in the fresh air to Inle Lake.  Biking is certainly the most fun way to arrive at the lake. On arrival at Heho airport (or from Kalaw or Pindaya), we drive you by car to the starting point of this leisurely bike ride from Thaung Lay Lone to Indein.  It’s a leisurely 3-hour bike trip – mainly flat – passing sugarcane and garlic fields, Khaung Dine village, along with some beautiful views of Inle Lake.

On arrival in Indein, we’ll enjoy a brief visit to the famous ruins (we’ll return here tomorrow) and continue by motorboat to your hotel. A fun and easy way to start your Shan State adventure!

  • Smart option – Overnight at the Thanakha hotel – deluxe
  • Luxury option – Overnight at the Sanctum Inle resort – Cloister deluxe

Meals: B, L

Day 8: Inle Lake

On and around the lake, traditional markets are held in different villages according to a 5-day rotating schedule and today we will take you to visit a colorful market frequented by Shan and Pa O people living nearby. Continue sightseeing to Indein.

The ruins of Indein & home cooked food with a local family & boat trip / floating gardens

Classic scene on Inle Lake

Classic scene on Inle Lake

South of Inle Lake, the ruins of Indein are certainly worth a visit. Partly covered by vegetation, the area looks like a “pagoda forest.” We will walk about 1 hour to enjoy a fantastic view over the lake. A home-made cooked lunch is served in a local house. We continue towards the Nam Pan village for a very interesting trip, going local with a small canoe or, if you are not up for padddling, straight to the motorboat. The paddling is easy though, whenever you are tired of paddling yourself, we continue by motorboat back to your hotel.

We will certainly also visit a local cheroot factory (where Burmese cigars are made), floating tomato gardens, Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, an Intha house where a traditional Intha lunch is served and, if wanted, we visit a weaving factory.

Meals: B, L

Day 9: Inle Lake | Pa O Hill Tribesman for a day – full day trekking (or relax by the lake)

One of the most distinctive hill tribes from Shan State are the Pa O, a people known for their navy blue clothes and colorful red or orange turbans and their excellent farming and trading skills. During this day trekking you get to know life as the Pa O live it and will visit their villages in the hills, eat their food and have the chance to dress like a Pa O (fun, at least for the picture!). We start with a 15 minute horse cart ride from the hotel in Nyaung Shwe (or a boat ride from your hotel on the lake) and begin with a 2.5 hour walk (a bit uphill) to arrive in a Pa O village where you have time to talk with the monks, visit a local school and where you will be invited to wear the traditional dress. Continue about 30 minutes (mainly flat) and arrive in a village where a traditional Pa O lunch is served with dishes like ginger soup, pumpkin leaf salad and sukini leaf salad. Time to relax and prepare for the afternoon walk which is about 2.5 hours with stunning views of the lake and plantations with crops like ginger, garlic and turmeric. Just before boarding the boat to bring you back to the hotel, we stop for a last beautiful view over the lake and the end of the Pa O experience.

Meals: B, L

Day 10: Fly Inle Lake – Heho – Yangon

Transfer to the Heho airport and fly back to Yangon, where you are met by your guide.

Pampering / R&R prior to flight – with option to buy gifts before departure

An excellent half-day tour at the end of your trip to Myanmar starting (or ending) with a lunch at Sharky’s restaurant, owned by a local entrepreneur who is growing organic vegetables and producing locally made “French” cheese, ham and other delicious food. A 1-hour foot massage by blind or deaf people, trained by a local charity, is what you deserved after a long trip to Myanmar. Our specially selected shopping guide will bring you to whatever shop you like to find your final souvenirs to bring home, perhaps a longyi (local sarong), umbrellas, old books, gold leaves, a trishaw (bicycle taxi), or a contemporary painting – our specialist knows where to find it! The rest of the day, the car and guide are available for additional visits until 6 pm if wanted.

Meals: B, L


NOTE: Prices include land arrangements and all internal airfare in USD per person based on sharing a double room for travel anytime between March 1 – May 31, 2016.

*** Smart properties option

  • 2 travelers: $ 1995/person
  • Optional: Single room supplement: $ 295

*** Optional – Luxury properties option

  • 2 travelers: $ 2495/person
  • Optional: Single room supplement: $ 845


  • All airport transfers
  • All ground transportation including any train or internal flight tickets as noted
  • All accommodations (taxes included)
  • Services of private professional, local English speaking guides and professional drivers
  • All touring as noted
  • All meals as mentioned (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner)
  • All entrance fees on tours
  • Taxes
  • Services of local office staff with 24/7 support


  • International flights
  • Optional travel insurance
  • Personal expenses (laundry, etc.)
  • Meals not mentioned
  • All drinks
  • Visa fees and/or visa authorization
  • Tips
  • Late check outs or early check-ins at hotels


  • All internal air tickets are given to you in country by your guide on the transfer to airport or delivered electronically prior to your trip.


Myanmar has some of the most pristine, beautiful beaches remaining in Southeast Asia. If time and budget allows, we highly recommend extending your trip to the beach for 4 nights since we have a special allowing you to stay 4 nights but just pay for 3 at the following beach properties in Ngapali Beach:

  • Bayview resort (luxury)
  • Pleasant View Resort (budget boutique)
  • Ace Hotel (budget boutique)
  • Thande Beach Hotel (budget boutique)

Please contact us if you are interested in an extension – like the rest of the trip, we can arrange any and all necessary internal flights and transfers.

Posted in Myanmar, Southeast Asia | Leave a comment

Affordable Myanmar (by bus): Visit Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay-Inle-Yangon

sule-pagoda-yangonToo often we’ve seen solo travelers wanting the professional services and security of booking a custom trip with a tour company only to be rudely awakened by the sobering costs of solo touring. In magical Myanmar, we’ve created an attractive solution, offering a special affordable 7-day “Best of Myanmar by Bus” tour with reasonable pricing for solo travelers. You can start it any day of the year so it has all the benefits of a custom tour without the steep prices. Instead of expensive internal flights, on this tour you’ll travel via scheduled bus services within Myanmar, traveling in comfortable modern buses with fully reclining seats, bus attendants on board, air-conditioning, and blankets.  Please contact us for more details, to make your reservation and/or to check availability for you.

This Best of Myanmar by Bus trip can easily be combined with an affordable custom Best of Thailand 5-8 day tour or a trip to Angkor Wat (3-4 days).  You can also easily extend this Myanmar tour with 3 nights on a Myanmar beach too – the beautiful beaches in Myanmar are quickly gaining more publicity – the secret is out!


Day 1: Yangon-Bagan by comfortable overnight bus

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Try to arrive in the morning, otherwise we’d recommend adding a pre-tour night in Yangon. On arrival at the international airport, you will be met by your guide. Experience Yangon’s highlights including the old colonial-style buildings in central downtown Yangon, the gilded Sule Pagoda, dating back over 2,000 years, and shopping for Myanmar specialties within hundreds of stores (closed on Mondays) including rare gem shops. We’ll visit fabled Shwedagon Pagoda , the world famous golden stupa, and enjoy the sunset there. Take the evening bus to reach Bagan overnight.

Day 2: Early Morning Arrival Bagan



Tour the best Bagan highlights, including the Gubyaukgyi temple to see the original 12th century Mural paintings, frescoes and base-relief works; Ananda temple – the best preserved masterpieces of Mon architecture and nearby brick monastery, one of the few that survived from the Bagan period. We’ll also visit the Thabyinnyu temple – the highest monument of universal science, and Gawdawpalin – one of the largest and most imposing monuments in Bagan, plus Dhammyangyi – known for its unique double images of Buddha and the Shwesandaw temple  – for a panoramic view of entire ruins. Stay overnight in Bagan Zfreeti Hotel.

Day 3: Bagan-Mandalay by day-time bus

Take the morning bus at about 8 AM, absorbing the colorful sights of the countryside en-route, and arrive into Mandalay about 3 PM.  Your local guide will pick you up at the bus station and transfer you to the hotel. The balance of the day is at your leisure. Overnight at Mandalay Royal Power Hotel.

Day 4: Mandalay Sightseeing

Mandalay Palace view

Mandalay Palace view

Start your day in Mandalay by sightseeing Amarapura, U Bein Bridge, and other tour highlights including: “the largest book” at Kuthodaw Pagoda where the entire Buddhist canon, Tripitaka, has been recorded on stone tablets totaling 729 in number; Shwenandaw “Golden Palace Monastery,” the ex-palace complex of former Myanmar kings, to observe finest Myanmar wooden architecture; and Kyauktawgyi Pagoda, a large Buddha image carved out of single block of marble. After this great day of seeing Bagn’s best sites, you’ll take this evening’s overnight bus from Mandalay to Nyaung Shwe.

Day 5: Inle Lake Sightseeing by boat

Inle Lake2

Inle lake by boat

Arrive in Nyaung Shwe in the morning where your guide will meet you to board a traditional long motorized boat for a sightseeing tour of famed Inle Lake. Traveling on the lake is an exhilarating experience for nature lovers and a chance to observe the unique traditions of the Intha people. Wonder at unique leg rowing fishermen, floating farms, houses, and monasteries on the stilts. Visit the floating village of Ywama; the lake’s downtown; 11th century Phaungdaw Oo pagoda housing five sacred Buddha images; the weaving village of Inpawkhon, famous for traditional silk-weaving; Se Gaung Village, famous for the blacksmith work; and Nan Pan Village with cheroot making and boat-building dockyards. After a visit to famous Ngaphechaung, a museum-like monastery where the belongings of many old monasteries are restored, stay overnight in Nyaung Shwe Paradise Hotel.

Day 7: Inle-Yangon by Bus

Inle Lake3

Inle Lake fisherman

Free day in Inle Lake. You can spend a day photographing the locals going about their everyday lives or enjoy an optional tour, from biking in the countryside to sea kayaking on the lake. Later in the evening, take the bus overnight from Nyaung Shwe to Yangon.



Day 7: Yangon Departure

Arrive Yangon in the early morning and then transfer to the airport in time for your departure flight or remain in Yangon for more sightseeing.

2016 PRICES: 

  • Solo traveler (single occupancy): US$1,495
  • 2 or more travelers (twin or double occupancy): US$945/person

Price includes:

  • All accommodations including breakfast
  • Private car with air-conditioning/driver for station transfers and sightseeing
  • Bus tickets
  • Private professional local English-speaking tour guides
  • Touring as indicated
  • Entrance fees on scheduled tours
  • Boat for Inle Lake visit
  • Services and support of the local office


  • International flights
  • Lunches and dinners
  • Visa fee
  • Departure airport tax
  • Optional tours / extra days / extra nights

See all Myanmar Tours >>

Please contact us for more details or to check availability for you. We hope you can find a way to join Adventures Within Reach for beautiful Myanmar!

Posted in Myanmar, Southeast Asia | Leave a comment

Beach Getaways: Thailand’s Many Islands

Thailand long boat

Thailand long boat

It’s no secret that Adventures Within Reach is primarily in the adventure business, specializing in treks, countryside biking, and guided explorations of the amazing archaeological sites, cities, villages, cultures and landscapes of Southeast Asia. But many of our travelers also appreciate some quality down-time on the beach, to unwind and relax, and in Thailand, beaches are never really far away. And everyone knows how beautiful the beaches are. While many coastal areas have been overwhelmed by development, there are just as many that are still incredibly beautiful and worthy of your time, whether it’s a quick 3 days or a full week. Many of the nicest ones are on islands, so we’ll touch on a number of the better- and lesser-known islands in this post. It’s easy to add beach time to any custom AWR trip in Thailand, just ask!


This is the most famous island in Thailand and probably the #1 choice for most of our travelers. It’s super easy to get to from Bangkok, with numerous flights daily. Unfortunately the island gets a bad rap because it can be quite the party place and sometimes can seem overloaded with Russian tourists on certain beaches. However the reality is that about 90% of American travelers to Thailand will stay on Phuket (or Krabi) at some point in their trip. We help our travelers avoid the crowded party beaches and put you in places that are more quiet and relaxed. There are a ton of accommodation options so you can stay in everything from backpacker guesthouses to 5-star elite places in Phuket. The real plus here, besides its beautiful beaches and compelling beach hotels, is that there’s a lot to do here activity-wise, so if you are not strictly a beach lounger, you’ll have loads of fun things to do and see. I’ll outline a few of the best excursions in Phuket and sites in and around.  We can carefully arrange guides and transportation in advance or you can simply wing it while you are there:

  • If time allows, be sure to enjoy a stroll on the enchanting long and empty beach at Thai Muang situated about an hour drive’s north of Phuket in Phangnga province. Travelers always ask for long deserted beaches and this one works to perfection. It is a wild, protected area, with sea turtles arriving to lay eggs from December to February.Gibbon-rehabilitation_Phuket
  • Hiking in the Khao Phra Taeo forest, the island’s last surviving rain forest, can be a magical experience. The forest here is home to hornbills, macaques, assorted snakes and the rare white palm, considered endemic only to Phuket.
  • The Gibbon Rehabilitation Center in the Khao Phra Taeo forest reserve rehabilitates gibbons that have been used as photo props for tourists. Here they are gradually rehabbed and released into the surrounding primeval forest. This is one of the most successful primate projects in the world with scores of releases over the last 20 years.
  • Travelers can hire a long tail boat and take a day trip to the island of Koh Yao Noi from the small local pier at Bang Rong on the northeast side of Phuket. Here the rugged green vista of Phang Nga Bay opens up, with its towering limestone outcrops rising straight from the sea.
  • This may be a little further afield, but well worth considering for nature lovers is a guided day trip from Phuket to Khao Sok to visit the oldest rainforest in Thailand. The highlight of the trip is Cheow Lan Lake with its towering peaks, peaceful green waters and quaint floating houses. It’s only a few hours’ drive north of Phuket.
  • Phuket-food-market

    Phuket food market

    Closer in, right in Phuket, is the fresh market on Rassada Road. We’d suggest an early morning visit, maybe around 7 am or so, when it is bustling with action. The sights, people and smells are sure to surprise even the most well-seasoned traveler. Not terribly far away is the unique amulet market in the small soi (side street), just opposite of the Shrine of Serene Light (Thai Saeng Jao Tham) on Phangnga Road in Phuket town. At the market, amulets can be “rented” either for luck or protection. Located above a small klong (canal), the market is one of the hidden gems in town. The Shrine of the Serene Light is itself a pleasure. It is one of the oldest shrines in the city and is the place to ask the Chinese gods what will happen to you in the future. Then on Thalang Road in Phuket town, you can check out the Nguan Choon Tong Herb Shop (look for the sign, “Oldest Herbs Shop”). This is the oldest traditional pharmacy in town. They have been creating potions and remedies for over 70 years. Just tell them what you need and they will prepare a custom-made medicine or tea based entirely on natural products. The shop is living history.

Ko Samui

Emerald Lake, reached from Ko Samui

Emerald Lake, reached from Ko Samui

The most popular of the islands on the east coast of Thailand. Typically it’s most popular with our travelers when Krabi and Phuket are in their monsoon season, which is generally June, July, and August. Samui is great because you can fly directly there from Bangkok or take an easy ferry from Surat Thani. A ton of amazing hotels are located on the beaches with a nice variety of water-based activities including snorkeling Ang Thong Marine Park, sunset cruises and sea kayaking.

Ko Tao

Thailand offers fantastic underwater diversity

Thailand offers fantastic underwater diversity

This island is best known for its diving resorts. A lot of people come here primarily because it’s a cheap place to get your dive certification. Located off the east coast of Thailand, it’s primarily the haunt of backpackers looking for cheap accommodations and divers, so we rarely send travelers here. Another minus is that it’s the furthest island of the three main ones of the East Coast Islands and there’s really not much to do activity-wise here other than diving.

Ko Lanta

This is a much quieter and laid-back island compared to a popular tourist island like nearby Ko Phi Phi. Most people who travel here are luxury clients who stay at Pimalai Resort and Spa and Layana Resort and Spa. This island is much more easily accessible from Krabi and most people go there to have time free at their leisure to explore the sights on their own. Lanta is not nearly as busy as Phuket or Krabi but one should also bear in mind that there’s also much fewer choices in restaurants, bars, etc.

Ko Phangan

Most notable for its “Full Moon Party,” it’s heavy on the backpacker and party scene. While not popular with our travelers, there are some really beautiful resorts for the high-end American travel market. It’s located in between Samui and Ko Tao.

Ko Yao Yai

Most often reached by boat from close-by Phuket with Yao Yai resorts usually organizing the service, like a private water taxi. This is a quiet, relatively undeveloped island with stunning beaches and nice views of nearby karst islands. There are almost no cars on the island. You are probably more likely to hear the sounds of fisherman setting and lifting nets. This is a great island to “unplug” and get away from it all. Ko Yao Noi is nearby and another nice island to visit, though a little more developed.

Learn more about our customizable trips to Southeast Asia >>

Posted in Southeast Asia, Thailand | 1 Comment

Last-Minute Galapagos Specials 2015

Galapagos Cruise Specials 2015Great last-minute specials for November-December 2015!  We also have availability on two boats for Christmas. 

Contact Us to Book >>

Galapagos PetrelPetrel – Half Price

  • Dec 4-7 (4 days) $2245/person
  • Dec 7-11 (5 days) $2695/person
  • Dec 11-18 (8 days) $3995/person
  • Plus FREE Galapagos flights

Galapagos CormorantCormorant – 10% Off

  • Nov 25-28 (4 days) $2645/person
  • Nov 28-Dec 5 (8 days) $5595/person
  • Dec 9-12 (4 days) $2645/person
  • Dec 12-19 (8 days) $5595/person
  • 4 Days: FREE 1 hotel night + 2 transfers
  • 8 Days: FREE 2 hotel nights + 4 transfers

Galapagos Ocean SprayOcean Spray – 10% Off

  • Nov 21-24 (4 days) $2645/person
  • Nov 28-Dec 3 (6 days) $2995/person
  • Dec 3-8 (6 days) $2995/person
  • Dec 8-12 (5 days) $3545/person
  • Dec 12-19 (8 days) $5595/person
  • Jan 2-5 (4 days) $2795/person
  • 4, 5 & 6 Days: Free 1 hotel night + 2 transfers
  • 8 Days or more: Free 2 hotel nights + 4 transfers

Galapagos MajesticMajestic – 2-For-1

  • Nov 30-Dec 3 (4 days) $2340 for 2 people ($1170/person)
  • Dec 7-14 (8 days) $4740 for 2 people ($2370/person)
  • Many 2016 dates at $500/person off

Galapagos GalavenGalaven – 2-For-1

  • Dec 18-22 (5 days) $2540 for 2 people ($1270/person)
  • Many Feb-Mar dates $500/person off


Galapagos CachaloteCachalote – Discounted

  • Nov 27-Dec 2 / Dec 16-23 / Nov 25-Dec 2 (8 days) $2795/person
  • Nov 20-25 / Nov 27-Dec 2 / Dec 18-23 (6 days) $2095/person


Galapagos EricEric & Letty – 5% Off

  • Jan 10-17 (8 days) 5% off regular prices
  • Feb 7-14 (8 days) 5% off regular prices
  • Regular Prices: $5145/person Dolphin Deck, $4775/person Booby Deck, $4295/person Iguana Deck, $4095/person Triple Cabin

Galapagos IntegrityIntegity – Discounted

  • Dec 12-19 (8 days) $4695/person



Galapagos AnahiChristmas Cruises

  • Anahi – Dec 18-25 (8 days) $4195/person
  • La Pinta – Dec 18-25 (8 days) $6495/person

See All Galapagos Tours >>

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