For Burma, however, it’s the cultural aspect that’s the big selling point, Markwell says. “It’s just the fact that it is still so untouched. You’re really immersed when you’re there. You really can very easily be walking down the street and be the only Westerner on the street. There aren’t too many corners in the world where you can do that. It is really fascinating for that reason.”
Still, he adds, even though that sense of immersion is probably the most unique selling point of being in Burma right now, “I expect that to change because we’re building another ship for Burma, which we’ll be positioning over there, and another company is building another ship. We all see that’s where it’s going and it will evolve. But for the next year or so, I think it will still feel very special.”
asia transpacific journeys The political problems in Burma, or Myanmar, did hurt sales for a long time, but as Asia Transpacific Journeys points out, with the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in November 2010, many travelers now feel more comfortable visiting Myanmar, and the company says bookings to this intriguing country have almost tripled year over year. The company has been organizing travel to Myanmar for the past 15 years and is the hands-down Burma expert in the industry.
Marilyn Downing-Staff, Asia Transpacific Journeys’ founder and president, says, “It’s a golden moment to see Myanmar and take a step back in time to the Southeast Asia of old. The country still moves via ox cart, water buffalo plough the fields and smiling children run to greet the traveler.” She also points out there’s no better place to immerse one’s self in Asian culture than Burma, adding that the country offers tremendous value, with comfortable to luxurious accommodations and attentive service. English is also widely spoken, making it easy for travelers to interact with the locals.
But they also have several other current programs that hold special appeal to those travelers seeking a true, exotic Asian travel experience. The 19-day On Asia’s Frontiers: Laos, Cambodia and Thailand departing Oct. 8, and Jan. 7 and Oct. 7 in 2012, with travel to Bangkok, Chiang Rai, and Chiang Saen in Thailand; Luang Namtha, Muang La, Muang Khua, Nam Ou River, Nong Khiow, and Luang Prabang in Laos; and Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea, Kompong Kdei, Sambor Prei Kuk, Koh Kong and Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
Guided by a veteran tour leader and recognized expert on Asian culture, travelers will visit unique destinations that have only recently become accessible, including secluded hill tribe villagers who still practice their traditional ways of life. They’ll also immerse themselves in local activities such as a northern-Thai cooking class; learn about the work of mahouts (elephant caretakers) at an Elephant conservation park in Laos, and enjoy an elephant ride into the beautiful Laotian countryside.
“Our typical profile for really all of these trips are people who’ve been just almost everywhere and these are programs that are still on their list, quite adventuresome and a bit culturally challenging. These are usually not taken by first-time travelers,” Downing-Staff explains. “And the other thing, too, is—particularly on the Papua New Guinea trip—that it’s a little bit more expensive, so people tend to be a little bit more well-heeled, which often means a little bit older. Our profile on this would be the 55 to 70 set, generally speaking.”
The 15-day Papua New Guinea: Kundu Festival program is truly a unique adventure where travelers have the opportunity to take part in an exotic festival on a remote coast of New Guinea. “What’s different about this trip from other Papua New Guinea trips, which generally focus on the highlands, is that the festival we attend is in the far southern coastal region. So it’s a different culture—it’s a coastal culture which is quite distinct from the highlands tribes—with everyone arriving by canoe.… It’s a very remote coastline and these are tribal people who paddle for days to get to this event,” Downing-Staff says.
Travelers on this program also attend local festivities where hundreds of tribes assemble for a spirited and colorful celebration and competition of dancing, costumes, and other tribal arts. Later, they’ll go on to meet the exotic Huli Wigmen, explore sacred “spirit houses” and cruise the legendary Sepik River to venture farther into this mystic country. Cultural interpretations by an expert on local customs, wildlife and conservation, combined with birding opportunities, tribal art and the country’s best eco-lodges round out this tour.