Trip Report: Enchanted by Adventure in the Brazilian Amazon

Brazil Amazon

Taking off in a prop plane to explore the Amazon

Falling asleep to claps of thunder and waking up to howler monkeys calling in the canopy outside my window, were just fragments of the beautiful dream I stepped into while spending almost 3 weeks in the Brazilian Amazon.

Brazil Amazon

Evening storms brewing on the horizon

Brazil Amazon

Squirrel monkey family

Each morning, as the sun slowly reared its mighty head over the lush horizon, I woke up to run along miles of trails that wound in and out of the exotic jungle. Running before the intense heat of midday meant comingling with families of squirrel monkeys, dodging sleepy caimans and watching majestic white herons take flight.

Brazil Amazon

Canopy climbing in the Samauma trees

Brazil Amazon

Swimming with pink dolphins

During the day we ascended ropes into the dense canopy to gain a new perspective from the tops of ancient Samauma trees and swam with powerful pink river dolphins. We paddled in the quiet off shooting rivers and lakes as the sun started to set and watched as the Milky Way painted the sky.

Brazil Amazon

Paddling at sunset

Brazil Amazon

Amazon from above

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Amazon is untamed, raw and stunningly beautiful; it is humbling, as every aspect of it dwarfs the human form and leaves one feeling exposed and simultaneously entranced. The air is thick and the perfumed heat carries notes of bromeliads and orchids as it leisurely snakes its way across the massive and mighty Negro and Solimoes Rivers.

Brazil Amazon

Flying over the Anavilhanas Archipelago

Brazil Amazon

Jumping into the meeting of the waters

My time in the jungle ended with a breathtaking prop-plane flight above the Anavilhanas Archipelago, the largest in the region, and an invigorating plunge into the legendary meeting of the waters where the Solimoes and Negro rivers become one in the same: the beginning of the Amazon.

Brazil Amazon

Taking off in the prop-plane

To learn more about Adventures Within Reach’s new Brazil adventures to Brazil and the Brazilian Amazon, check out:

Or, for more information about travel to Brazil in general, contact me!

Your friendly Brazil expert,

Gretchen

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Why You Should Be Planning Your Trip to Brazil Now

During the past year, I had the mind-blowing opportunity to spend almost two collective months on adventure trips in Brazil. Between sleeping in the Amazon canopy, working with local communities, trail running with monkeys, experiencing the Pantaneiro (cowboy) lifestyle in the wetlands, spelunking into caves, snorkeling in crystal clear rivers, admiring vibrant street art over a few cold cervejas with locals in the hip urban centers and trekking through ancient mountains and small villages lost in time, Brazil quickly stole my heart and has become one of my new personal favorite destinations.

pantanal brazil

Boating at sunset in the Pantanal

Brazil Amazon

Boarding a prop plane in the Amazon jungle

Brazil Amazon

Anavilhanas Archipelago from the sky. Brazil Amazon

This massive country has so much to offer and has somehow managed to fly under the radar for far too long. This summer (May-September) is the ultimate chance for travelers hungry for unrivaled adventure to come and see what Brazil is all about (and it’s a lot more than Carnival and Rio de Janeiro!). Whether you travel to Brazil in search of adventures, wildlife or culture, there is a region to appeal to every interest!

Bonito Brazil

Swimming in waterfalls in Bonito

Sao Paulo Brazil

Street art in Sao Paulo

Pantanal Brazil

Jaguar tracking in Pantanal

Why Visit Brazil NOW?

  • The US dollar is the strongest it’s ever been in Brazil right now at an exchange rate of between 3.5-4 Reals to the Dollar.
  • Roundtrip flights from the US to Brazil are as low as $450 for May – August.
  • There is still hotel and lodge availability in many of the highlight destinations for May – August.
  • Brazil is an untapped adventure hub brimming with opportunities for trekking, kayaking, snorkeling, tubing, zip lining, wildlife viewing, surfing and more!
  • Brazil is one of greatest cultural melting pots in the world (did you know that the largest Italian and Japanese populations outside of Italy and Japan call Brazil home?)
  • Cutting-edge gastronomic journeys offer excellent supplementary experiences to daytime active excursions.
Chapada Diamantina Brazil

Trekking in Chapada Diamantina

Pantanal Brazil

Sunset in quaint town of Corumba, Pantanal, Brazil

Green Coast Brazil

Trekking along the Green Coast

Where to go?

Salvador Brazil

Gorgeous historic downtown of Salvador

Amazon Brazil

Meet Elias, one of the last artists that still works with rubber in the Amazon

Rio de Janeiro Brazil

Stop for a refreshing cerveja (beer) in Rio

Travel Tips:

  • Travel with an open mind: Brazil is roughly the same size as the continental US and is extremely varied in its local cultures, landscapes, traditions and customs.
  • Safety: in urban centers, just like in any large city, use common sense and good judgment. You can bring your camera, iPhone, etc with you (I ran by myself every morning alongside Copacabana beach when I was in Rio, iPod in hand, and felt 100% safe); don’t call unnecessary attention to yourself and don’t wander into areas of the city that are obviously not soliciting an outsider’s presence.
  • Money: Where some countries in South America will accept US dollars as payment, in most Brazilian restaurants, shops, markets and bars they will only accept Brazilian Reals. Credit Cards are widely accepted and another option for payment.
  • Tipping: Dollars are happily and readily accepted as tip (due to the favorable exchange rate currently).
  • Uber: Just like in the US, is a great way to get around in Brazil when in larger cities and going out at night.
  • Know your facts: Though Spanish is spoken in most of the rest of South America, Portuguese is the official language spoken in Brazil.

Want to plan your summer escape to Brazil? Contact us!

Your friendly Brazil expert,

Gretchen

 

Posted in Brazil, Kayak, Travel Advice, Trekking, Trip Journals, Trip Photos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adventures Within Reach Introduces Brazil !

We are extremely excited to announce that Adventures Within Reach will now be offering our newest travel destination: Brazil! Adventure to the glittering Iguazu Falls, swim with pink dolphins and tree climb in the canopy of the Amazon, trek along ancient sand dunes and bathe in hidden lagoons in Lencois de Maranhenses, snorkel and rappel into caves in Bonito, trek past table-top mountains and swim under waterfalls in Chapada Diamantina, track jaguars and see some of the continent’s rarest birds in the Pantanal, or dance the night away to the samba beats in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil has something for everyone- come enjoy this treasure trove of adventure in the heart of South America!

COME CHECK OUT OUR TOP NEW TOURS TO BRAZIL:

Brazil Pantanal

Jaguars in the Pantanal

1) 7-Day In the Footsteps of the Elusive Jaguar

The Pantanal, the largest flood plain on the planet, is an exotic and extraordinary wildlife reserve. There is a huge variety of birds, fish and other species such as caimans, deer, capibaras, anteaters and even jaguars, all in plain view. In this expedition we will travel across the northern part of the Pantanal to fully enjoy its ecosystems. We will get to the end of the Transpantaneira where we will understand why the Pantanal is a Natural World Heritage Site.

Chapada Diamantina

Trekking in Chapada Diamantina

2) 6-Day Trekking the fantasy world of Chapada Diamantina

Near Salvador we find the most important trekking spot in Brazil: Chapada Diamantina. Large quantities of rivers are born in this spectacular region, forming over the years, beautiful streams, bubbling waterfalls and clear, natural pools. Some natural attractions include the Cachoeira da Fumaça, with its free fall of 380 meters, or the dazzling cave, Poço Encantado. Throughout the trek, the marvelous natural landscape will continue to surprise and amaze.

Green Coast Brazil

Trekking on Brazil’s Green Coast

3) 6-Day Trekking Reserva da Joatinga: Wonders of the Green Coast

South of Rio de Janeiro, the Green Coast is a unique combination of mountains, tropical rainforest, crystal water lagoons and untouched tropical islands. In this region, we can still find small fishing villages where the electricity has not yet arrived and where they still use traditional fishing techniques. The Ecological Reserve Joatinga is one place we’ll where we will learn from several fishing communities their lifestyle and customs. At the end, we will also visit the beautiful colonial town of Paraty and its romantic and cozy atmosphere.

Brazil Amazon

Amazon Boat Expedition

4) 5-Day Complete Amazon: Boat Expedition

The remote and unexplored Amazon is the largest rain forest and home to the highest population of indigenous people in Brazil. With few exceptions, the jungle is relatively untouched and we will have abundant opportunities to experience a fascinating adventure observing the region’s flora and fauna while learning from our local hosts. The best option for exploring this lush region lies in this expedition of five days that includes hiking, nocturnal observation of caimans, piranha fishing, swimming with the pink Amazon dolphins, a jungle survival tour, a visit to the caboclo communities and canoe trips along the igarapés and the igapós. It is a truly unique and unparalleled experience.

Brazil Bonito

Swim and snorkel in the waterfalls and rivers of Bonito

5) 4-Day River Snorkel and Waterfall Walks

Bonito is a town in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, world famous for its ecotourism. The main attractions are its magnificent natural landscapes, especially the water attractions; crystalline rivers with great variety of wildlife where you can go floating or scuba diving. Besides the beauty of its rivers there are also totally or partially flooded caverns, formed thousands of years ago in the stone. It’s an ideal place to do nature activities like snorkeling down the river, visit caverns and enjoy hiking around.

Lencois Maranhenses Brazil

Trek along sand dunes and hidden lagoons in Lencois Maranhenses

6) 4-Day Hidden Pools and Dunes of Lencois Maranhenses

The name of this park makes reference to the immense dunes that look like a bed sheet (lençóis) spread across the land. Near São Luis, this park is divided into Grandes Lençóis and Pequenos Lençóis, separated by Rio Preguiças. The zone contains beaches, mangrove swamps, lagoons and dunes, and it was declared a National Park in 1981. This experience takes us across the shifting dunes of fine white sand and crystal clear blue lagoons that seem to glow under the sunshine or the moonlight; a true spectacle for our eyes.

Rio Brazil

Visit Rio like a local

7) 4-Day Rio de Janeiro Essentials Adventure

Over its nearly 500 years of history, it has been the spring board for all the country’s principal cultural exports, and the port of entry for major international art exhibitions or musical events bringing top names from the classical to the contemporary. Rio’s architecture embraces churches and buildings dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries, blending with the world renowned designs of the 20th. In the South Zone, along the sea front, the city preserves the memory of names such as Tom Jobim and João Gilberto, who wrote the first chords of the Bossa Nova.

Brazil Amazon

Amazon Jungle Lodge Adventure

8) 4-Day Amazon Immersion: Jungle Adventure

On the banks of the mighty Amazon River, we find our jungle lodge. Here, it is possible to take part in hikes through the jungle, go bird watching, visit typical dwellings of the caboclas communities, fish for piranhas, observe the nocturnal habits of the caiman and canoe along the river at sunrise and sunset. During the visit, it is also possible to see the famous “Encontro das Águas” (Meeting of the Waters), where the Solimões River and the Rio Negro meet without mixing their waters.

Brazil Iguazu

Iguazu Falls

9) 3-Day Iguazu Falls Discovery

Iguaçu River wriggles in a western direction for 600 km, picking up along its way the waters of dozens of tributaries. The river widens and flows majestically through forests before descending into the various levels of the famous Iguazu (Iguaçu) waterfalls. They consist of 275 waterfalls that occupy an area more than 3 km wide and 80 m tall. They are wider than Victoria Falls, taller than Niagara Falls and more beautiful than both. There are neither words nor photographs that can properly describe them, you simply have to see and hear them for yourself.

Don’t see what you want? We can customize any itinerary or work with you to build your own dream Brazil adventure.

Want to plan your next Brazil adventure? Contact us!

Your friendly Brazil expert,

Gretchen

 

Posted in Brazil, South America, Travel Advice, Trekking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Peru Family Adventures

Come explore Peru with your family on one of our uniquely crafted tours, designed with your kids in mind! Our family-designed tours are based on our own experiences traveling with our own kids to Peru and around the world. We choose routes that maximize time in the field, in sight of ancient Incan ruins, ziplining and biking while minimizing time on the road.

Peru family adventure

Ziplining near Machu Picchu

We take care of all the planning while you deepen your appreciation for nature, culture and adventure in Peru. All tours are escorted by private local naturalist bilingual guides who also do the driving so you can sit back and enjoy the cloud forest, alpacas and llamas!

Want to bring a babysitter along? Grandma? Your sister and her kids? Peru is excellent for multi-generational travel and small groups.

Biking Peru Family

Biking in the Sacred Valley for all ages

Depending on the ages and skill levels of family members, we can always add in more high paced activities such as whitewater rafting, longer treks, ziplining, horseback riding, overnights in sky capsules or in tree houses, standup paddling, kayaking and more!

Kayaking Peru Family

Kayaking in the Sacred Valley

Three of our very best multi-generational itineraries are:

1) 7-Day Machu Picchu by Train

This itinerary is highly flexible and can be tailored to best fit your family’s specific interests and needs. For multi-generational groups, we can offer a couple different activity options each day so everyone can enjoy what Peru has to offer while remaining in their own appropriate comfort zones. Add on extra time after Machu Picchu and spend the night in Tree Houses. At night, kids design and cook their own pizzas from scratch while the family enjoys around the camp fire. In the morning, rise early and do as the monkeys do- follow an epic (and safe) set of zip lines through the cloud forest!  For brave at heart, add on a night in your very own Sky Capsule and spend the night hanging from a cliff above the Scared Valley!

Peru Family Zipline

Champions of the trees getting ready for action!

2) 5-Day Luxury Lodge to Lodge Lares Trek

Choose your own adventure on this adventurous trek that successfully balances exhilarating activities with meaningful cultural experiences. This lodge to lodge experience is wonderful for multi-generational families or for families with varying interests. Each day all travelers will have the chance to choose from easy, moderate and more challenging excursions. Everyone gets to decide on the spot what they want to do depending on how they are feeling; no one has to make any choices before the trip (all activities are included in the pricing).

Family Peru Lares

Learning about ancient Inca traditions

Family Peru Lares

Culture and physical activity are equally balanced on the Lares Trek

3) 3-Day Amazon Rainforest

Head to the Peruvian Amazon with the family and climb in the towering canopy amongst howler monkeys, sloths, and colorful macaws! Our favorite lodges for families are Reserva Amazonica and its sister lodge Hacienda Concepcion. At the lodges, guests have a whole excursion menu to choose from every day (all excursions are included in the rate). Pick and choose what best reflects your interests and do what you feel like doing each day to make the most of your time while in the Amazon.

Peru Family Amazon

Hacienda Concepcion Lodge, Amazon

Peru Family Amazon

Experience the Amazon canopy up close

Want to design your next family Peru vacation? Contact us!

Your friendly South America expert,

Gretchen

Posted in Family Travel, Machu Picchu, Peru, Travel Advice, Trekking | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trip Report: Thailand: January 2017

Here is the end of Tina C.’s trip journal – covering the Thailand portion of her multi-family group’s trip (11 people) to Southeast Asia.  We customized our 16-Day Southeast Asia Explorer: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia trip for these clients. Many thanks to Tina C., who agreed to allow us to publish her trip report.

Traveler: Tina C.
Travel Dates: January 6-12, 2017
Destination Visited: Thailand

DAY 13 – Bangkok

[T]he W’s and the W’s took off for Bangkok!  Our wonderful guide….can you guess his name…wait for it…VING (after Vong, Phong, and Cong) met us and was a delicious shift from our last one, as we could understand his English very clearly, and he had lots of great stories.  Surprised again, by the modern feel of the highways from the airport…and thankful to be staying in the older part of Bangkok…with that third world feeling!  Our first FAMILY SIZE hotel room was DIVINE, and the Nuovo Hotel had a rooftop pool and gym…awesome sauce (maybe I could do a workout and burn a grain or two of the vats of rice I’ve consumed in two weeks!  😬🙄😂).  We checked in and head out for a DELICIOUS meal just around the corner of our abode…oh my…Thai may be my favorite cuisine of this trip!  I ordered a glass of house white (NO SELECTION if by the glass), and as G. said…what they make up for in quality, is handled in QUANTITY…as my VASE OF WINE arrived.  Cute neighborhood we were situated in…:-).

DAY 14 – Bangkok (Walking Tour & Canal Boat Tour)

Ving met us after breakfast and we engaged a walking tour of Old Bangkok.  We water-taxied to the Grand Palace, several temples, ate Taro ice cream, and watched monks pray in the palace temple.  Ving was a great tour guide…he shared much knowledge and had lots of fun anecdotal stories.  Lunch was in a small resto in the back of a market area, and Ving ordered some spectacular Thai fare for us to enjoy.  Afterward, we got a private motorboat (motored by a gargantuan Diesel engine!), sat forever through the locks, and got a fantastic ride through the back canals of Bangkok!  Very cool to see the housing, and watch the locals embrace life on the canal.   Far more interesting to me to see the culture and how it functions, than more temples (although they were possibly the most beautiful of the four countries).  We also learned about the salience of the monarchy in Thailand, and how the King had just died on October 13…many locals were still in black to show respect. It seems if you utter a negative word about the king, you could go to jail! 

After some AWESOME downtime at the pool (including 20 laps), we took off by taxi for our evening adventure!  ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK, INDEEEEEED…😉😁👀!  Ving recommended a resto called CABBAGES AND CONDOMS, located in the downtown core, where their motto is “We promise our food will NOT make you pregnant”!  We hailed two taxis to take us into the newer, corporate, and red light district of the city.  Our cabbie spoke ZEROOOOOO ENGLISH, and the boys and I were feeling VERY ANXIOUS about our ride there, when he seemed clueless about how to LEAVE OUR NEIGHBORHOOD, TURNING THE WRONG WAY AND TRYING TO DRIVE THROUGH AN OPEN-AIR RESTO!  We found it eventually, and enjoyed a nice evening, very good food, and yummy dessert, and received a dozen condoms with the bill (like mints)!  The idea behind the concept is population control and support in Thailand’s rural areas, such that condoms are as readily available as cabbage in the market!  Very cool and important community work…and fun to see condoms EVERYWHERE…statues, table decor, etc…made for a good chuckle. 

The fun didn’t end there, as we meandered through the red light district searching for a taxi.  WOOOOOOOOWWWWW!  A FEAST for the senses INDEEEEED…👀😳😂👯!  Heaps of peeps, nightclubs galore, loud music, women (“some of whom propositioned the boys, but not the men!), “women”, and tons of “massage” offerings…you name it, it was for sale!  Found a taxi that agreed to drive us the 10km back, but only discovered after driving a few blocks that he had no meter and was demanding over TWICE the amount the last metered taxi charged.  When he refused to budge on price, or put on his meter, G. yelled “Get out now!” at a red light!  I thought the guy might grab his arm when we didn’t leave him a cent, and felt TOTALLY BADASS about running out on a main downtown boulevard…😈!  NEGOTIATE IN ADVANCE…WE FORGET THIS ONCE EVERY HOLIDAY!!!

DAY 15 – Chiang Mai (Temple & Sunday Walking Street)

G. and I got up for a rooftop treadmill run before heading out to the airport for our last town…Chiang Mai! . . . Mui Mui, a lovely, warm, enthusiastic guide, met us at the airport and we took off for some town exploration.  Ventured to the mountains, and climbed a couple of hundred steps, alongside heaps of Thai folks and visitors to the area, for a temple built in the 14th century.  It was pretty cool to be in the mountains overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, and enjoying the more modest temperature.  We watched some monks praying in the temple, and I got blessed with water and another string tied around my wrist.  The Thai people came from other areas of Thailand to this temple in order to receive blessings for the New Year. We then checked into our hotel…essentially, the least satisfactory venue of the whole trip…with questionably clean bathrooms, “too hot” running water and very poor wifi!  The rooms were actually traditional and attractive, but there were a few disappointments.  No biggie. 

Headed out on foot to the “Sunday Walking Street“…a lively, bustling night market with hundreds of stalls, heaps of yummy street food, and lots of action.  We bought a few things, and then found a resto for our dinner meal…where apparently “stir-fry means “deep-fry”…but was I really going to argue in THAI?!!!  L., D. and I continued shopping and wandering after dinner, while the boys and G. headed back (quelle surprise!). We eventually walked home carrying a street-cooked waffle (for R.) and coconut hot cakes for the famjam…PAS FACILE through SUPER dense crowds and a lengthy walk back I can tell ya 😅!

DAY 16 – Baan Chang Elephant Camp & Thai Cooking Adventure

Our last full day!!!  We drove an hour out of town with 8 others to Baan Chang Elephant Camp…a rescue for Thailand’s threatened elephants.  The Thai government has imposed huge fines for poaching, but some continue to kill elephants for their tusks…😢.  As such, most of Thailand’s elephants are domesticated and cared for in camps.  They are highly respected, and treated very well.  We had a fantastic day embracing the life of a mahout and enjoying these fabulous creatures…they were soooooo sweet!  Smart, social, caring, protective of one another…I fell in love. We first fed them a huuuuuuge snack of plantains and sugar cane.  It was adorable having them take food from our hands with their sweet trunks, and consume an entire bucket!  We learned that they never load them with any bench seating (for humans, as they do elsewhere (e.g. India)), as it hurts their spines, and they’re treated kindly and respectfully.  They taught us not to tease them when feeding, and how to ride, command, wash and brush them.

We had a great lunch of soup, pad Thai and pineapple, and LOAO when hip-deep in brown water as large balls of poop floated around us during our “bathing the elephants” experience!  Thankfully, showers and towels were provided to clean up…NO CLOROX BLEACH HOWEVER (as memories returned of pouring cups of bleach in the bathtub when baby pooped in there…and here we were ESSENTIALLY SWIMMING IN IT!!!).  It was a really novel experience for us…a highlight of Thailand.  THANKFULLY, I did NOT FALL OFF THE BAREBACK ELEPHANT…although I DEFINITELY THOUGHT I MIGHT A FEW TIMES…particularly when walking downhill!  T’s typical “Aaaaaah”s and “Oh my”s were heard nearby…I’M SURE THE B’S WOULD HAVE BEEN FLOOOOOORED TO HEAR THEM HAD THEY BEEN HERE…😬🙄😳😂!

In the late afternoon, we hung out by the pool with the W’s and heard about their awesome Thai cooking adventure.  Then went out for our final evening in SE Asia, to a beautiful, delicious resto recommended by the cooking teacher…WHOLE EARTH.  We walked through Chiang Mai to this stunning venue, with lovely tables set up outside, white string lights and colored paper lanterns hung about…and enjoyed a spectacular Thai meal (red prawn curry was my FAV!).  We toasted E. for his 18th birthday, and walked back through the vibrant night markets, purchasing a couple of wooden elephants for the boys to remember their trip to Thailand. 

DAY 17 – Chiang Mai (Local Market Tour & End of Tour)

After breakfast today, we made a final tour through a local market . . .

[If Thailand has caught your fancy, you may be interested in our Thailand Tours.  To read more about Tina C.’s group trip, follow the links below:

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Posted in Family Travel, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Trip Journals | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Trip Report: Vietnam: January 2017

Here is the continuation of Tina C.’s trip journal – covering the Vietnam portion of her multi-family group’s trip (11 people) to Southeast Asia.  We customized our 16-Day Southeast Asia Explorer: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia trip for these clients. Many thanks to Tina C., who agreed to allow us to publish her trip report.

Traveler: Tina C.
Travel Dates: January 1 -January 6, 2017
Destination Visited: Vietnam

DAY 9 – Hanoi, Vietnam (Old Town District)

Phong met us in Hanoi, and our first impression of Vietnam’s roads was “This feels like the Trans Canada Highway”!  The airport was brilliant, the roads were fabulous, and I couldn’t be more shocked by its modern feel…UNTIL we got to the Old Town district where we were staying…phew!  Old Town was more third world and where the action was…and as we approached, I started to feel much more like I was in SE Asia.  Hustle/bustle, tuk tuks and scooter traffic, density, noise, tons of peeps…LOOOOOVE!  I was soooooo excited to be here…the piece de resistance of this trip, albeit Cambodia and Laos had already FAR exceeded expectations.  We checked into our hotel and Phong took us immediately for a walk about town, to our evening dinner venue.  OMG…what incredible stimulation for the senses!  It was wild…lots of peeps sitting on tiny stools outside restaurants, eating, drinking, and happy, loud music, honking horns, dense traffic…I was seriously in my HAPPY PLACE!  Love. That. Scene.  😁

We had a great meal for less than 40$ per family, and wandered back afterwards, with some ‘The North Face’ and ‘Old Propaganda Poster’ shopping en route!  Off to bed and already feeling that we hadn’t booked enough time here!  This trip has just been one awesome experience after another…and the time was starting to fly!

DAY 10 – Hanoi (West Lake, City Tour, Hanoi Hilton, & Bicycle Rickshaw Ride)

Up early to meet Phong and embrace a run/walk around West Lake…a beautiful lake and park situated a block from our hotel.  Tons of city folk were up and at ’em with their morning exercise routines…tai chi, line dancing, yoga, walking and running.  One group of women was sporting dark capris and fuschia tshirts…matching my outfit exactly…but I missed the photo opp by joining them!  We then went through some markets and Old Town on foot, and got THE BEST COFFEE YET…ICED COFFEE WITH SWEET CREAM!!!!!!   What’s THAT you might ask???  It’s flipping CONDENSED MILK IS WHAT!!!  AND I COULD EAT IT OUT OF A BUCKET IF ONLY IT SPARED MY WAISTLINE!!!  O. M. G…they REALLY should not have reintroduced CONDENSED MILK to me…childhood favorite treat on white bread…eh Mom???  LOOOOOOVE.

Returned for breakfast, and then spent over three hours walking around Hanoi with Phong.  Super cool capital city, with tons of government buildings and history. We got a lesson on Vietnam history, and contemplated their communist government, which, seemed largely only so in title…the reality didn’t seem sooo red!  Asked about 6 guards for a photo before one said yes, however, as they are likely watched and may be reprimanded for not being adequately serious.  We saw the area where John McCain was shot down, as well as the remains of a B-52 bomber…and enjoyed a coffee at the B-52 Cafe (apparently, the BEST COFFEE YET according to G.).  Phong told me that they’re allowed FB and have their own version of Tinder, called Zalo.  When I queried whether Psychotherapy was a thing, he said most people just listen to radio psych talk shows or use the net to discover themselves or work out their problems.  Hmmmmm…seems I’d be outta business here!

We made our way through the city, around several lakes and over to our lunch spot…for Bu Cha!   A densely packed, 4-story resto with a gajillion people, bench seating, and serving only one dish!  Rice noodles with pork and broth…and if you’re lucky, some fried prawn spring rolls!  It was where all the locals eat Bu Cha, originally on the street…but now popularized by Obama’s visit six months prior!  With very low expectations, we were shocked to discover it was DELISH and we polished it off pretty dang fast!  . . . 

After lunch was a sobering visit to the Hanoi Hilton, the prison where many many soldiers were tortured, beheaded and kept during The American War (in Vietnam, they refer to it differently)!  Remarkable tour of an experience that wasn’t so long ago.  We were left somewhat depressed and somber, just as we had left the Khmer Rouge museum and prison.  Lots of recent history in SE Asia, and very intriguing for all of us. 

. . . continued our evening activities.  First stop…a BIG shopping expedition at a shop selling lacquered paintings.  G./M. and I bought several pieces and we . . . shipped the dang art!  Hope he likes ’em cuz his first question was “Are they TACKY?”!!!  IIIIIIII DON’T THINK SO, BUT…😬😬😬!

We stopped at a railroad track that ran right through a small alleyway, with flats and shacks right ON TOP OF IT!  Soooo cool…but can you imagine the noise and jarring vibrations with every train?  Yikes!  Pretty cool to see people’s laundry hanging right off their shacks, likely skimming the passing train cars…AMAZING! 

We were then set up for a FANTABULOUS BICYCLE RICKSHAW RIDE through old town!  Ten chariots in a row took off for a 45-minute ride around The French Quarter and Old Town…soooooooo cool!!!!  Love seeing the sights this way!  We were dropped off at our hotel for a quick freshening up and made our way out for dinner.  Very nice resto recommended by Phong, followed by some more shopping at The North Face and Poster Shop!  Far too short was our stay in the lovely city of Hanoi…but we definitely made the BEST of it in this sensation-seeking, jam-packed, stimulating day!

DAY 11 – Halong Bay & Ho Chi Minh City 

After an early breakfast and checkout, we headed off to the port 4 hours away, for our houseboat adventure in HALONG BAY.  May I just say…

WOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOW!

O.  M.  G.  !!!!!!!!!! 😳😁😍❤️😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎😎!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

WOW. WOW. WOW.  Halong Bay was my image of Vietnam when it became a bucket list venue…but it far exceeded expectations!  Absolutely spectacular vistas were EVERYWHERE!  Holy Moly Batman…I was sooooo excited I coulda jumped up and down ALL DAY LONG!  I think I might’ve done my HAPPY DANCE a weeeeeee too much for my kids’ liking!  It was soooo breathtaking!  We were all in awe!  We had few expectations (the PLUS SIDE OF NOT PRE-READING THE ITINERARY OR GOOGLING FOR PICS!  Ha!), and could not have been more blown away!  Our houseboat was far larger than the one we enjoyed in Kerala, and we each got a full room and bath. We were served fresh meals, embraced a kayaking or Sanpan excursion on the bay, swam off the dock, tried squid fishing off the boat, did tai chi at 6am, and had a super fun cooking lesson and competed for best spring rolls!  Our guide Sun was a hoot . . . ‘

[T]he next morning we visited the largest cave we’ve ever seen, via tender.  Back for brunch, a gajillion more photos and we had to say goodbye to Halong Bay…until next time my friend…❤️. . . . 

Arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and were floored by its Las Vegas or big city/big lights feel.  Ten million in this city…the largest in Vietnam, with a Starbucks and McDonalds right outside the airport!  Our hotel was situated just beside the largest market in town, hosting heaps of peeps.  We were met at the airport by our guide…you’ll never guess what his name is…CONG (after Vong, and Phong)! . . . 

We made our way out for dinner and sat beside a pimp, his madam, and two of his young ladies!  Yikes…and so very sad at the same time.  We ate very interesting food (I’m sure G’s meal had internals!), and were charged for the wet napkins we were delivered at the table when we sat down…definitely a first!  Strangest dinner venue yet…but cheap…our dinner for four was under $20!!!  We roamed the sidewalk markets on our walk back, and L. and I got thoroughly confused when contemplating the cost of a couple of scarves…just can’t wrap my head around the exchange when we’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of Dong!  “One dong at a time” has always been my motto…😂.

DAY 12 – Ben Tre (Bike Tour, Canoeing the Mekong Delta, & Jeep Ride Through Jungle) & Saigon (Motorbike Food Tour)

On the agenda today is a 2-hour ride to Ben Tre, a small town in the countryside of HCM city.  We had little expectations for the day, perhaps because we had left utopia in Halong Bay and entered THE BIG CITY.  Thankfully, however, we were LEAVING LAS VEGAS and took off for a series of spectacular surprises, that turned into another favorite day of the trip!  We got on some pretty oooooooold and rusty bikes upon our arrival in Ben Tre, and rode through traffic to enter what seemed to be a rural bike path.  It turned out to be a winding narrow road through dense foliage, with shacks and a small canal on its neighboring sides.  We were literally riding in the jungle…super cool experience!  Shared the road with a few scooters and found ourselves at the home of an older man who literally HOARDED HUNDREDS OF ANTIQUES!  I was sooooooo hot and sweaty by the time we got to his house, that I barely listened to Cong’s translation of his story, and history.  IT WAS SOOOOO HOT…AND THIS WAS WINTER!!!  He was a wonderful man, and a lovely host.  He showed us how he scaled the coconut tree using some natural twine to grip the tree with his feet…you could see why at 64 he was in fabulous shape. C., K., M., K. and R. all followed suit, and gave the large, slippery tree a go at its coconuts!  Not easy to climb!  And just behind it was a very brown canal that they could easily have fallen into…God knows I PROBABLY WOULD HAVE…😩!

We then sat down to some yummy sugared coconut and coconut water.  The host showed us the powder derived from some nut found in the forest, which he wrapped in a leaf and chewed, before spitting out the leaves and red fluid.  The effect was of a natural high…so D., C. and G. all gave it a try!  Interesting effects…red heated ears, shaky legs, and lightheadedness.  Apparently the older women of the community sit around enjoying these leaves quite frequently!  We took off on bikes again for another ride through the jungle, and found our beautiful, outdoor restaurant oasis along another trail!  We sat down to a full service meal of fresh Elephant Ear fish, that arrived ‘standing up’ on a platter, head and tail intact, and its unusual bony scales along its cooked body!  We were given rice paper, vegetables and sauces and expected to roll fish spring rolls with the cooked fish…delicious!  We also got some deep-fried banana fritters and jumbo prawns to enjoy, and fresh pineapple for dessert.  K. and I just looked at each other with that “Can you flipping believe we’re eating AGAIN?” look!

We took a walk down the path and climbed onto, what seemed like WARTIME canoes (turned out they were only FOUR YEARS OLD!), for a guided ride down The Mekong Delta!  It felt a lot like the canoe ride we had done off the houseboat in Kerala, and somewhat like a smaller Amazonian canal…SUUUUUUPER COOL EXPERIENCE!  There were water coconuts that lined the canal and fisherman using nets to capture their evening meal.  Surreal.  Small, rundown old shacks equally lined the canal.  Hard to imagine actually living here! 

Upon leaving the canoes, we hopped on two motorbike-driven pickup trucks for a WILD, SPEEDY, WICKEDLY FUN RIDE THROUGH MORE OF THE JUNGLE!  O. M. G. It was a hooooot!  We were dodging low-laying branches and giggling at speedy near-misses as we head off oncoming traffic on this narrow road!  Too. Much. Fun.  And soooooo unexpected!  We stopped at a carpet-weaving family and marveled as this 150-year-old woman squatting so flexibly for 12 hours a day to weave a straw carpet…WE HAD TO BUY SOMETHING!  I wanted to give her my firstborn she was so dang adorable!!!  Then we longboated up the canal to a coconut candy-making shop, where we bought more souvenirs, were served coconut tea and many fresh fruits, and were serenaded by two musicians and three lady singers.  I gotta say…Vietnamese tunes ARE AN ACQUIRED TASTE!!!!!  😝  I think they may just beat Indian singing in agonizing pitch!  We got back on the longboat for a ride back to the bus, and our 2-hour drive back to Saigon.  Oh my…what an amazing day…sooo full of surprises!  And our motorbike food tour is yet to come! 

O.

M.

G!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wow!  What a huuuuuuuge surprise this evening turned out to be!  Again, not having really investigated our itinerary too KEENLY, none of us had any real awareness that we were EACH getting our own motorbike for a food tour of Saigon!  It was PHENOMENAL!!!  Eleven young university students met us at our hotel, kindly introduced themselves, and took us out on the back of their motorbikes for a fantastic ride around this incredible city. We stopped at 4 different restaurants to sample local fare, and rode through 4 city districts, including the “locals” district we would never have seen on our own.  We had BBQ and beer at one venue, sitting outdoors on little stools, whilst our hosts barbecued various meats (including goat udders!), seafood and vegetables on tiny little tabletop grills!  We had fabulous chats with these awesome young peeps during our buzz about town.  They were such a lovely group of young people…they truly MADE THE EXPERIENCE DELICIOUS!!!  My driver, Michelle (the tour leader), talked to me about life in Vietnam, being a bit rebellious and desiring to go abroad, and what living with a communist government was really like…fascinating!  IT WAS SOOOOOO DANG AWESOME TO RIDE A BIKE AND SEE THE CITY THIS WAY!  TRULY EXHILARATING!  None of us will ever forget tonight…a TRIP HIGHLIGHT, amongst so many!  Dan and AWR…YA DONE GOOD!!!

DAY 13 – Cu Chi Tunnels

Up early for our last day with The B’s…😔….will miss them a ton!  Headed out to see The Cu Chi Tunnels, about two hours outside of Saigon.  Fascinating experience to walk through the “jungle”, and learn of the Viet Cong’s presence, tactics and life over the course of the Vietnam war.  It was very different to hear the perspective from Vietnam, rather than the usual U.S. point of view we are always privy to.  We imagined the lives of the soldiers as they lived within the 250km tunnel system, and squeezed through a length of the tunnel ourselves.  A highlight for the guys was an opportunity to target shoot with an authentic rifle!  Continuing the tour after that was far less evocative for the four young men…we should have saved the REALTIME CALL OF DUTY GIG for the last hoorah! . . . After the Cu Chi experience, we went out for our last lunch together in a beautiful pagoda on the side of the canal.  As per our experience here, everyone got their meals at different times…but very yummy, fresh fare…so all good! . . . 

[If the Vietnam portion of this trip appeals to you, we invite you to explore our 9-Day South Vietnam trip and our Vietnam tours page.  To read more about Tina C.’s group trip, follow the links below:

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Trip Report: Laos: December 2016-January 2017

Here is the continuation of Tina C.’s trip journal – covering the Laos portion of her multi-family group’s trip (11 people) to Southeast Asia.  We customized our 16-Day Southeast Asia Explorer: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia trip for these clients. Many thanks to Tina C., who agreed to allow us to publish her trip report.

Traveler: Tina C.
Travel Dates: December 29, 2016-January 1, 2017
Destination Visited: Laos

DAY 6 – Luang Prabang, Laos

At the airport, we said our goodbyes to Damveeth, and took our flight to Luang Prabang, Laos for our next adventure. . . . We arrived in Laos in the evening, and were met by our local guide Vong, and his driver Ham.  It was waaay cooler in Luang Prabang, and far less crowded with a small town feel.  We got to our VERY QUAINT AND CHARMING hotel Villa Maydou, in the dark, but the lovely, lush grounds were sooooo inviting and beautiful, I was instantly excited and happy about our three-night stay here.  We got our rooms and head out on foot, in search of a resto for dinner.  The town was located on a peninsula and had the feel of a ski village, rather than a third-world, densely populated, country.  We ate our first Laotian meal on the terrace of a nice restaurant. . . .   We walked back to our hotel and enjoyed (tolerated) Laotian karaoke en route, and called it a night!

DAY 7 – Luang Prabang & Kuang Si Waterfalls

Oh my…far cooler here, as we embraced breakfast outdoors at our sweet resort. . . .  We went out with Vong to see the Buddhist temples of Luang Prabang, and learn of the local history. . . . We walked across the bamboo bridge and got some great pics with the local monks-in-training!  After lunch we were driven an hour outside of town to the Kuang Si Waterfalls, where the guys all jumped into the shallow river, and gave Mommy heart attacks as they walked over rocks with gushing streams of water…😬😬😬!  We were very excited to see the W’s as they were arriving upon our return from our day…yay!!!  Lots of hugs and good cheer seeing them, followed by drinks around the pool at the lovely Villa Maydou.  Out for dinner together at L’Elephant, a French cuisine resto for a little change of pace, and a yummy meal! 

DAY 8 – Luang Prabang (Monk Ritual, Sidewalk Market, Mekong River, Buddha Cave, & Traditional Buddhist Blessing)

NEW YEAR’S EVE!!!

Today we got up BEFORE THE CRACK OF DAWN (wth with these early mornings?!!! 😩)  Just joooooooookes…love love love the experiences they offer…😁!  We were participating in a community ritual that takes place daily at dawn…the offering of cooked sticky rice and packaged sundries for all the monks, and monks-in-training (i.e. young boys) of Luang Prabang.  The rice is prepared in steamer baskets early that morning by the families of the community and packaged cookies and biscuits are gathered in small baskets, next to a small, plastic stool, on which we sat, lining the roadside (talk about WHITE CARB LOADING!).  200 monks walked by with a silver bowl strapped across their shoulders, and we dropped small balls of sticky rice into each bowl along with a package of cookies.  They eat only twice per day, breakfast and lunch, forgoing the dinner meal (perhaps I should try this and coin it THE MONK DIET…think it’ll catch on?  Maybe if instead of dinner, you got wine???).  Families also prepare vegetables, meats and curries and bring them to the temples for their consumption.  It was positively surreal to be lined up by the side of the road, offering a slew of barefoot and serene monks, their food for the day…WHAT A LIFE EXPERIENCE!  I took note of a very young, poor and barefoot girl, who sat roadside with her own basket (in prayer hands), hoping to receive some offerings from the monks.  It was incredible to be a part of this community exercise, and a definite highlight for all of us.  I think we all took note of our good fortune.

Afterward, Vong took us through a sidewalk market, where people bought their food for the day or week.  Another incredible experience for the senses…DEEP-FRIED BATS, RATS, and just about anything else you can imagine IN nature, or ON THE BODY of nature!!!  Coconut hot cakes were sampled…coulda had SEVERAL OF THOSE!!!  We returned for breakfast and proceeded to get ready for…can you guess…wait for it…LUNCH!  Ack…hoping my scale is busted at home!  We went to Auntie Pheng’s home for a homecooked lunch in her garden!  We were served soup, steamed rice, a fantastic whitefish marinated and cooked in banana leaves, salad, and other vegetables, and lovely fresh fruit for dessert.  The family had a beautiful home with lots of the local teak furniture and flooring, common to the area.  Neato!

Afterwards, we drove out to The Mekong River…(HOW OFTEN DO WE SAY THAT?) to board longboats for our riverboat cruise and cave explorations.  We jet-boated up THE MEKONG (!!!) to see these caves that held thousands of Buddhas over many centuries.  People took refuge within the caves during the war, and have been bringing Buddha sculptures there for years.  On the way back, we stopped at a silk shop/restaurant along the river . . . .  Back at the hotel afterward to prepare for another truly epic cultural experience…and our New Year’s Eve dinner!

Our guide had coordinated a traditional, Buddhist blessing by a Vietnamese family and their elders, in their home.  We were invited into their humble home, and sat in a circle on small stools, as they sat on the floor before us.  There was a large tray holding many flowers, fruits, and other sweets, as well as a large collection of white cotton strings.  The main elder said many prayers and then every member of the family tied a white string to each of our wrists, whilst saying a prayer.  It was absolutely fascinating to take part in such a ceremony…performed on auspicious occasions and during milestone moments in their lives (marriage, first home, new baby, moving out, etc.).  Afterward, they poured pure moonshine from water bottles into small glasses for us to toast…a surreal experience! 

Off to our New Year’s Eve dinner at Tamarind…a resto recommended by our guides, and booked for an early dinner.  We toasted the New Year and enjoyed a nice dinner with best friends…I couldn’t have felt happier. ❤️  After dinner, we walked over the bamboo bridge in search of our table on THE MEKONG for drinks.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be as they had given away our large riverside table to another group, despite reservations.  So we walked back to our beautiful resort, and enjoyed drinks around the pool…all good!  While many turned in well before midnight, K., R. and C. threw each other in the pool, and G. and I enjoyed a nice chat.  Since I was still up at midnight, I ran out to the pool deck to wish my 3 boys (C. is now officially a third son) a Happy 2017!

DAY 9 – Luang Prabang

We essentially had the day free until our late afternoon departure. So after a leisurely breakfast, and checkout, we took off by large tuk tuk (effectively a pickup truck with bench seating for 11!), in search of a riverside resto for lunch.  It was raining for the first time since we’d arrived in SE Asia, and I looked RATHER STYLISH in my rain gear, multiple layers, rain cap, and sunglasses!  A-MAZED that my kids walked anywhere NEAR ME that afternoon…oh wait…where were they?!!!  We found a nice place after some searching (11 is a BIIIGGGG table), and had some awesome green and red curry and other yummies before high-tailing it back on foot to catch our ride to the airport.  Bye bye Laos!  HELLLOOOOO VIETNAM!!!

[If Laos appeals to you, please visit our Laos Tours page.  To read more about Tina C.’s group trip, follow the links below:

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Trip Report: Cambodia: December 2016

We recently planned a trip to Southeast Asia for a large multi-family group – 11 people in all, ranging from 15 to 52 years old.  We customized our 16-Day Southeast Asia Explorer: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia trip for these clients.  One of our travelers, Tina C., wrote an amusing account of their incredible trip, and we thought you might like to read her journal, which gives a first-hand account of traveling in Southeast Asia.  Many thanks to Tina C., who agreed to allow us to publish her extensive trip report.  We’re publishing her trip report by country.

Traveler: Tina C.
Travel Dates: December 23-29, 2017
Destination Visited: Cambodia

We set the stage for another bucket list adventure trip with awesome friends in early 2016, with a decision to engage Adventures Within Reach once again.  They had done a fabulous job coordinating our trip to Peru in 2014.  They offer custom tour packages all over the world, with knowledgeable and friendly guides and drivers, and seem to know precisely the experiences that active families will enjoy.  Dan [Crandall], our tour coordinator, had the patience of a saint, as three families changed dates several times, and exchanged a gajillion emails with questions, requests, and important travel and visa information.  Seriously…he was fabulous! . . .

DAY 1 – Phnom Penh, Cambodia (Killing Fields, Khmer Rouge Prison)

Arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, engaged the visa process, and waited for our friends in the small outdoor airport courtyard.  My heart skipped a beat when I saw the crowd of locals, the night sky, felt the humidity, and saw the billboards, tuk tuks and scooters that reminded me I’d entered another world…LOVE.  Roth, our fabulous guide, met us and suggested we get a cool drink while we waited for the others.  So….what’s the first thing to retain about the third world?  Don’t drink the water, ice cubes, or untrustworthy fresh fruit/veg…right?  With my brain on slo-mo, I immediately fetched us all FRUIT SLUSHES from the only open vendor in that small courtyard!  Only after first sips all around, does it dawn on me…HOLY CRAP, IS THIS ICE WATER SAFE???????  Let’s ask ROTH…she said “yes…SHOULD be ok”, rather unconvincingly, I feared. By then the others had arrived and we’d all shared the potentially unsafe slushies…YAY!  Memories of 4.5 days of travelers tummy in Mumbai came gushing back (pun intended).  Aaaaaaand we’re off to a great start…!😂

The hotel had fantastic, large, clean rooms . . . we went to sleep (well…the non-insomniacs did!)…about 32 hours after we’d departed Montreal.  We met for breakfast (and surprisingly good coffee . . . ) which took about 90 minutes to complete due to the VERY PERSONALIZED, BUT ONE-AT-A-TIME SERVICE by the hotel staff!  Roth then met us to begin our tour of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh.  We took off to see the central market…a large, bustling, everything-edible-including-creepy-crawly-creatures-BBQed-under-the-sun city market where the locals bought their food.  We looooooove visiting third-world city markets, and have seen our share of surprises/smells/visuals in India and Peru.  Pretty early on, we discover a vat of crickets and silkworms, and just-fried tarantulas…yummmm.  When in Rome, yah?  G. has taught us all to EMBRACE THE EXPERIENCE WHEN IT’S OFFERED TO YOU…AS THAT’S WHAT THESE TRIPS ARE ALL ABOUT!  So, I broke off a tarantula leg and bit right in, as did K. and G., whilst C. and R. went straight for the spider CORE…ewwwwww!  I also went for the silkworm (as did G. and others), and was quite revolted by the squishy texture (crunchy is far better-received than squishy in bug cuisine…don’t you agree?).  Finally, we popped entire deep-friiiiiied crickets into open mouths 😳…and that concluded our critter-tasting for the day (and hopefully, a lifetime)!

The markets were super cool as we tasted all kinds of Cambodian specialties, and yummy exotic fruits (thanks to Roth) including jackfruit, lychees, rambutan, and several others I’ve already lost my recollection of!  We wandered through a second city market and soaked in the local scene, including the tastes, smells and visuals of this really cool city.  We ate lunch at a restaurant called FRIENDS, which offers challenged and under-privileged youth an opportunity to learn the service and restaurant trade.  We sampled sticky rice, fish amok, eggplant and various other local specialties.  We then went to one of the killing fields, where 17000 Cambodians were tortured and killed in mass graves by the Khmer Rouge, between 1975-79…a very sobering experience!  Our tour guide’s father and grandparents have vivid memories of the era.  The day ended with a tour of the Khmer Rouge prison in the city of Phnom Penh… :-(.  We walked through the former school, where prisoners were housed, starved and tortured for years…truly unbelievable, particularly given the recency of the events. 😔

Upon return to the hotel, the adults went for a Khmer Traditional Massage at the hotel.  Quite the surprise to us when these young Cambodian women jumped right up onto the table, straddling our largely naked bodies, and pounded away for a good hour!  The guys were especially surprised when they were uhuhmmm “adjusted” accordingly (say whaaaa?).We LOAO later as we contemplated the experience of said massage for three teenage boys (young, attractive Asian beauties offering MASSAGE?)…hahaha!   We decided to eat at the hotel that evening, despite reservations at a resto, as everyone was quite pooped!  I made the huuuuuge mistake of ordering a glass of red wine…as it had likely been opened three months earlier and sat in the hot sun!  Note to staff…WINE IS NOT LIKE WHISKEY!!!  Ewwwww…  All in all, a great first day in Phnom Penh!

DAY 2 – Koh Dach (Bike Tour & Silk-Weaving Family Shop)

. . . I was going to be in my ultimate HAPPY PLACE today…and on Christmas Day yet…in our tour of Koh Dach, an island off the mainland ON…WAIT FOR IT…BIKES!  SERIOUSLY?  Cycling in rural Cambodia, with young village children running up to us on dirt roads to say “Hellloooooo!” and offer high-fives???  Could T. BE any happier?  I think not…:-)! . . .  We got ourselves all set up with HIGH-QUALITY mountain bikes . . . 

We took off by ferry to the island, where we began our journey on dirt roads, through small villages, huts, stalls, and occasionally highly elaborate homes that we speculated were owned by traffickers!  IT WAS SOOOO FLIPPING COOL!  O.  M.  G.!!!!!!!!!  I was exhilarated riding along, as young children ran up to our bikes with big happy smiles and bare feet, to say hi and slap our hands.  It was absolutely surreal!  I couldn’t have been happier on Christmas Day . . .

The best part of the day was our discovery of a small school, where we heard some amplified rock music, and discovered a few teens jamming.  G. (bless his heart for taking the initiative) got them to invite K. and R. up on stage to play a tune.  UNFLIPPINGBELIEVABLE!  Here we were, in the middle of a rural village in CAMBODIA, listening to our sons play for the local community…WHAAAAA?!!!  Too freakin’ cool, man…I was on a cloud…proud Mommy…:-).

We stopped for snacks at a silk-weaving family’s shop, enjoyed fresh fruits and water…and I  purchased some lovely scarves.  Continued our journey with a slight detour by the guide in a very wet, muddy patch of road. . . . 

The afternoon saw lunch in a restaurant back in Phnom Penh, followed by a brief tour through a museum.  We ended the day SPECTACULARLY with Cambodian massage for all!  Roth took us to a spa in the city, and the five guys and three girls were separated into two rooms, and offered an oil massage on low beds, with tiny little towels!  Quite the novelty for the three teenage boys, and as well for the Dads, as they (the adult men) were stripped down for the experience!  LOL…when in Cambodia…:-).  The exhilaration continued when we tried to walk back to our hotel in the evening traffic.  O. M. G. !!!!  We were on SPEED, weaving our way through dense, insane, scooter/car/tuk tuk/pedestrian traffic, with the city’s utter lack of road rules, respect, or order!  It was an absolutely BRILLIANT EXPERIENCE…only rivaled by the stress of crossing the street in India, and a definite highlight for all of us!  Looooooove the crazy intensity of this city!  We grabbed dinner at the BBQ place next door, renouncing reservations at The Ambassador’s Club, as the traffic was simply not conducive to getting there easily.

DAY 3 – Siem Reap (Night Market)

After breakfast (several for boys!), we took off for the airport, with a pit stop at a local shop to purchase high-quality Buddha statues.  We were heading to Siem Reap for three nights, and the most spectacular resort of the entire trip…Shinta Mani. . . .  We were served so kindly by the staff, enjoyed their glorious pool and grounds, and its ideal location so close to the action downtown, during our 2.5 day visit to Siem Reap.  After settling in, we all gravitated to lounge chairs around the large pool and courtyard, cocktails and appetizers in hand…and BOB WAS DEFINITELY MY UNCLE!  HAPPY Mama I was…:-).  Took off on foot towards the night market seeking a dinner venue, weaving between vendors and their stalls selling their touristy wares, tuk tuks, scooters, and loads of other pedestrians.  The town was lit up (probably not just for holiday season), active, and had a fun beat.  We sat on the balcony of the second story of a resto, with a view of the night market, and laughed as the power went out every half hour during our meal.  They were using ALL THE ELECTRICITY at the night market! . . . 

DAY 4 – Siem Reap (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, & Bayon)

Up today BEFORE the crack of dawn, to meet Damveeth for a visit to Siem Reap’s Jewel…Angkor Wat as the sun rose behind it.  We sat on the wall of a nearby canal and essentially, observed the day get brighter in a cloudy sky…so much for the hues of the morning sun (and our reason for a 4:30 am alarm!). A tour of this 7th Wonder (on some list, somewhere) began with another SPECTACK (said weeth a FAHRENCH ACCCENT) show…watching a few tourists play foolishly with their fate as they chose to feed the local monkeys (can you spell DUMBASS (DA)?)!  These little wild beasts are SAVVVYYYYY at grabbing your bag of food, and will TAUNT you with their aggression if you dare come near…yet DA after DA choose to do so…???

We toured, we climbed, we photoed, and WE SWEAT…oh my, what a scorcher today! . . .  Angkor Wat, built in the 15th century, was very cool, and the premiere reason why people visit Siem Reap. . . . 

We had a delicious lunch at Chanrey Tree back in town (and a chance to cool off).  Afterward,  we headed back out to see more temples and structures, including Angkor Thom and Bayon…walked through, climbed up and sweat sommore. . . . The wooded areas that surrounded the temples and parks were beautiful, and we got to see more monkeys, as well as the animals they were teasing/photographing…hahaha (I kill myself…😂).  As we boarded the van to return to our oasis, despite only ONE DAY of touring, we were all TEMPLED-OUT!  I suppose one Buddha/peaked roof/stone carving starts looking like them all, yah?  Honestly, they were very impressive structures, and pre-dated Angkor Wat by 500 years…ALWAYS very cool to stand in places of previous civilizations and imagine their lifestyles.  Learned about how they carved the stone and transported large palettes to create the walls and foundations of these massive structures…pretty cool. . . .

When we returned to the hotel (yessssssss!), G. took off via tuk tuk for another massage . . . , the boys went off for treats and pool time, and the girls went for cocktails in the bar…G. also embraced his favorite treat…napping!  We decided to eat dinner at the hotel tonight, as we’d had a long day starting at dawn! 

DAY 5 – Tonle Sap Lake (Kampong Kleang & Visit to House on Stilts)

Today we set off on a long bus ride to the village of Kampong Kleang, a rural fishing village on Tonle Sap Lake.  We stopped midway to sample sticky rice and beans in Bamboo cooked over a charcoal grill, and met three local Mommies and their infants…too sweet 💕.  The ride was fabulous as we got to see the countryside and the homes, shacks, and stalls that lined the road.  We arrived at the village and walked around a little, prior to boarding our boat for a ride down the river.  WOW!  What a spectacular, moving, experience!  All the homes lining the shore were on stilts as the rainy season raises the water level substantially and families must move most of their outdoor belongings to higher, dryer land. We boated for about an hour, and saw school children run up the steps of their home on stilts, all smartly dressed in uniform and carrying backpacks, removing their shoes outside.  We rode all the way up to the larger lake and saw the floating village, whereby only boats could access the homes.  Super cool and reminiscent of the floating villages in Iquitos, Peru we had visited two years prior.  We were hosted by a LOVELY family in their home on stilts, for cool drinks and snacks.  The father spoke English and shared that he was an IT major from Siem Reap, but married and opened a homestay for travelers to the region, with his wife and in-laws.  K. and I enjoyed their 8-month-old infant son in giggles and cuddles during our short visit, whilst the three boys took to their hammocks for a little lie-down (cuz their lives are so EXHAUSTING)!  The host had set up the internet for the community!  It was surreal to be there, particularly in the home of a local family…to be treated so kindly and to share our common humanity. Super cool!  Afterward, we walked through the tiny village, saying hi to the local children and observing their lifestyle, fishing paraphernalia and basically, life on the dirt road of this small village during dry season.  DEFINITELY A FAVORITE AND MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE FOR ALL OF US! 

We swapped our lunch in Siem Reap for dinner, at Viroth’s restaurant, as we weren’t going to make it back on time, and FINALLY FELT A HUNGER PANG!  This could be named the ARE-YOU-FREAKING-KIDDDING-ME-WE’RE-EATING-AGAN-TOUR?!!!  Damveeth took us to another set of ruins (it’s truly all a blur as I write this now), for a sunset experience.  We climbed to the top and found hoards of tourists all waiting for nightfall behind a large tree that would surely block the view that few would have had, anyway. G. remarked that we’d watch the sky grow darker at 5:45 (sundown) and at 5:46 clamor to climb down with hundreds of tourists in the heat…SUPER FUNNNNN!  So we opted to IMAGINE said sunset over said temple instead, and headed back for some downtime before dinner.  Yay…we be dem smartr toursits!  Lovely dinner out at a nice resto, followed by some good times exploring the night markets, the local scene of street parties, and called it a night.  Love this town!

DAY 6 – Siem Reap

. . . We then took another walk around town, shopping for souvenirs and having another FIRST TRAVEL EXPERIENCE!  Ever had your feet eaten by fish for a pedicure?  WE DID!  Ewwwwww…I never thought I could do it, and indeed it is initially HIGHLY DISTURBING, but we all sat around a roadside tub while hundreds of small fish ate the dead skin off our feet, legs and (if you desired) hands!  FREAKYYYYYY!!!!!  But yet another WHEN IN ROME moment, so we had to!  Returned to fetch our 1kg for $2 laundry, packed, and I went for a manicure to deal with my dry hands. 

O.  M. G….Can we return to Cambodia just for the MANIs???  What an awesomely pampering treat!  Got served lemongrass tea, a gentle exfoliation in flower water, then was said to LIE DOWN WHILST CUSHIONS WERE PLACED IN STRATEGIC POINTS FOR UTTER RELAXATION, HANDS WERE MANICURED AND THEN HEAD AND BACK WERE MASSAAAAAAAAGED…ALL OVER 90 MINUTES and $18!  Simply…WOW.  😌

[If what you’ve read appeals to you, you should check out our 7-Day Cambodia Tour or our Cambodia Tours.  To read more about Tina C.’s group trip, follow the links below:

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Difference Between the Salkantay and Lares Lodge-to-Lodge Treks

Salkantay

Salkantay

Trekking in Peru is one of the best and most sought-after adventure opportunities in South America. To elevate your trekking experience, there are currently two lodge-to-lodge luxury trek options to Machu Picchu: The Salkantay Trail and The Lares Trail.

Lares

Lares Lodge

What is the difference between these two distinct trips?

The Salkantay Luxury Lodge to Lodge is 7 Days along the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu. This trail is very scenic and is an old Incan Trail (not to be confused with THE Inca Trail. THE Inca Trail is the most famous Inca Trail because it links the most consecutive Incan Ruin Sites). The Lares Luxury Lodge to Lodge Trek can be 5 or 7 days. It is also along an old Inca Trail but is a more culturally-based trek. On the Lares Trek each day guests get to choose your own adventure. Pick from easy, moderate to more challenging hikes or excursions while following the trail to Machu Picchu. On this trek travelers have a lot more interaction with locals. Please note both of these treks can also be done camping (budget option).

Lares

Lares Trek

Salkantay

Salkantay Lodge

Can I compare prices?

Pricing is as follows:

Salktantay:

Low Season (1-31 March, 1 Nov-14 Dec): $3,235 per person

High Season (1 April- 31 Oct, 15-31 Dec): $3,745 per person

Lares:

5-Day: $2,395 per person

7-Day: $3,095 per person

Lares

Lares Trek

Salkantay

Salkantay Trek

Want more information on either of these treks? Want to book your next Peru trekking adventure?

Contact us!

Your friendly South America expert,

Gretchen

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Travel Advice: How to Pack for The Atacama & Patagonia In One Trip

Atacama

Atacama Desert

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine, Patagonia

 

Chile is an overwhelmingly gorgeous landscape of contrasts: mountains and sea, urban and rural, and, most famously, the Atacama Desert and Patagonia. When planning an epic adventure that encompasses these famous juxtaposing sceneries it is important to know how to pack effectively without taking your entire winter and summer wardrobes with you. We have gone ahead and done your homework for you and put together the best list and tips for what you should consider when packing for the Atacama Desert and Patagonia.

The key to packing the right clothes for the Atacama Desert and Patagonia, though very different environments, is layers. Both places have dramatic temperature changes that can occur very quickly, often without warning.

Torres del Paine W-Trek

Gretchen on the W-Trek in Torres del Paine

Valle de la Luna Atacama

Gretchen trekking in Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert

In Patagonia, having a good base layer with moisture wicking for trekking is an important start. You should always have a fleece and windbreaker/light rain jacket in your day pack as well for unexpected showers and the famous Patagonian winds. At night in Patagonia you will want a warmer jacket (such as a puffy) that you can layer on to stay warm if you go outside to look at the stars in Torres del Paine or to go into the small mountain towns in Argentina.

W-Trek Torres del Paine

Even when it’s cold, having layers to take off and put on is essential when you’re working hard

In the Atacama, though it is desert, you are at altitude. The days are usually warm but the nights are quite cold. Some of the typical excursions travelers do in the Atacama go to even higher altitudes (such as the Tatio Geysers) where you will definitely experience colder temperatures as well. I would recommend lightweight pants or shorts for your days in the Atacama (jean pants if you will be horseback riding) and lightweight long sleeve shirts for the days to protect your skin from the sun. For layering, I recommend a fleece and windbreaker as well. For excursions at higher altitudes, especially if done early in the morning, you will want an even warmer layer with you (such as a puffy).  At night, you will want long pants a warm base layer top and warmer outer layers.

Atacama

For warm, lower altitude days, shorts and light long sleeve shirt are great

Atacama

For cooler, high-altitude mornings lightweight trekking pants and a good base-layer long sleeve top are important

For both the Atacama and Patagonia, you will want to bring sturdy shoes for trekking (shoes with ankle support are best) and I highly recommend Smart Wool socks. Finally, make sure you have sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat of some sort for both destinations as well.

HERE is a link to our packing list for Chile (this same packing list goes for Argentina as well: Salta and Patagonia).

Want to start planning your next adventure to Chile? Contact us!

Your friendly Chile expert,

Gretchen

 

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