tales of travel

Stories, insights, recipes and more from all over Asia.


We asked some of our ATJ travel experts to share their favorite family experiences in Asia. Are you and your family ready to change the way you vacation forever? To learn more about all that Asia and the Pacific offer, please get in touch with one of our travel experts today.

Mom and daughter holding a US passport with airplane tickets. The Mom is Jen Boyd.

Jen Boyd – ATJ Travel Expert

My most recent trip was back to Southeast Asia, an area I’ve traveled extensively and love.  Only this time, I took my then six year old daughter, Brooklyn.  It was a three-and-a-half-week mommy-daughter adventure through Laos and Vietnam and one of the most meaningful journeys I’ve ever taken.  My daughter has always understood and appreciated my career and the fact that for my career, I have to travel…without her.  But after my last extended trip to Sri Lanka (the fourth trip to this destination in just two years), my daughter struck a deal with me and said, “Mommy, this time I’ll let you go, but next time you are taking me with you.”  So I did just that!

In June 2018, Brooklyn and I set out on what would soon become known as our “Mommy-Daughter Asian Adventure of 2018”. We traveled to Luang Prabang, Laos, where we offered alms to monks, visited a Living Land Rice Farm where we learned all about rice cultivation, spent time at MandaLao Elephant Conservation Center, where we were able to get up close and personal with these gentle giants, took a Laotian cooking class among many other fabulous experiences.  

Then we headed to Vietnam, where we spent a good deal of time exploring the city of Hanoi, including the wide array of street food delicacies there, took the overnight train to Sapa where we visited ethnic villages and tribal markets, took an overnight cruise on a traditional “Junk” on Halong Bay, explored caves and beautiful rock formations in Ninh Binh, visited the Imperial Citadel and Forbidden Purple City  in Hue´, enjoyed the beaches and quaint UNESCO World Heritage Old Town of Hoi An and explored the Mekong Delta and the vibrant city of Saigon including the Presidential Palace and touching War Remnants Museum.

Traveling through the eyes of my six-year-old child gave me a much broader perspective of myself as a world traveler and as a mom, but it gave me a glimpse into the world of this incredible little person I was raising. We took this journey because I wanted Brooklyn to see that the world is a small place at the end of the day.  I wanted to break down any barriers that might be forming.  I didn’t want her to grow up being fearful of differences in people.  I wanted her to understand that people are people, no matter how different they look or talk or their culture.  I wanted to open her eyes to the incredible world that we share with so many others; that is exactly what we did together.  This was much more than a trip…this was a “beyond the ordinary” mother-daughter experience. 

close up selfie of two sisters and one man on a small covered boat.

Cory Smith – ATJ Travel Coordinator

This last July I was fortunate to travel with my sister to Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand on an ATJ-designed trip. My sister and I have traveled extensively to Europe and Latin America, but this was our first time traveling together to Southeast Asia. It was a true treat to share my work and passion for Asia with my sister as it can be hard to fully explain the type of work that I do at ATJ located in Boulder, Colorado when the result takes place on the other side of the world.

Most of our 16-day trip was spent in Vietnam and Thailand, which I selected as they are two of ATJ’s most popular destinations and involve two of ATJ’s longest local office partnerships, approximately 20 years. The trip was seamless from start to end, and our guides were one of our favorite elements as they quickly became friends and welcomed us into their lives. From a Vespa foodie tour in Saigon and exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels used by the Viet Cong to hiking from hilltribe to hilltribe in Chiang Dao and finally navigating the canals of Bangkok, we experienced and learned more about these countries than we could have ever dreamed or learned in a book.

4 people smiling at the camera in a long hanging bridge. The woman in the image is Julie Getzel.

Julie Getzel – ATJ Travel Coordinator

Traveling abroad with our two children (now ages 7 and 10) has always been a priority for our family. We’ve enjoyed the wildlife and beaches in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica, explored Roman ruins in Italy, and inspected 1,000-year-old temples in Cambodia. This year our family decided to again focus our travels on wildlife. Indonesia and Australia were high on the list but ultimately, we decided to go to Borneo to see orangutans and pigmy elephants in the rainforest. Knowing that so many unique and amazing animals, particularly the orangutans, are rapidly headed for extinction, we knew there was no time to waste. 

We arrived in Kota Kinabalu to adjust to our new time zone then headed straight to the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley, an area that has grown into the premier rainforest research center in Borneo. Steep terrain teeming with towering Shorea trees, densely shrouded in mist primary forest can only be described as magical! Within a few hours of our arrival, we had seen three species of monkeys, courtly hornbills, and a family of orangutans. Canopy walks, day hikes, river tubing, and night tours introduced us to a multitude of wildlife, including civets, fire ants, mouse deer, bearded pigs, leopard cats, flying lizards, and deafening cicadas. 

After three nights, it was time to move on to Kinabatangan River, which stretches nearly 350 miles through lowland forest, mangroves, and heavily logged stretches of land that have now become palm oil plantations. Despite the encroachment of industry and deforestation, this area is surprisingly flush with diverse landscapes, including oxbow lakes, dipterocarp forest, and mangroves. Touring in the area is almost exclusively by boat, where we were lucky to see incredible white-bellied sea eagles, hundreds of proboscis monkeys and macaques, baby crocodiles, gibbons, monitor lizards, and more orangutans. One of our most unforgettable experiences was watching a herd of 25 pigmy elephants, including several babies, cross a stream and “dine” on fruits and leaves from a nearby palm plantation. We spent nearly an hour watching these majestic animals forage through mud and tall grasses until they finally wandered deeper into the forest.

Thinking that there was no way to top our elephant experience or having seen orangutans nearly every day of the trip, we were once again blown away during our overnight trip to Selingan Island. This tiny island located about one hour by boat outside of Sandakan, is a turtle conservation area and safe haven for endangered hawksbill and green turtles. We spent the day snorkeling along its pristine beach examining sea cucumbers, colorful fish of all types, sea urchins, corals, and giant clams. The grand finale of our day had us watching a massive green sea turtle lay over 80 eggs into her nest. Carefully monitored by conservation scientists that live on the island, our resident guide gathered the eggs to be taken to the nearby hatchery where we watched them be counted and buried into their new nest safe from predators. Since other baby turtles had hatched that day, we then took the forty or so baby hatchlings to the sea where my two kids could gently put them on the beach and make sure they made it safely into the ocean. To be part of the important conservation efforts here in Malaysia will forever leave a lasting impression on our family.

Our trip finished in Sepilok, a small area on the outskirts of Sandakan, where we explored the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, the Sun Bear Sanctuary and the Rainforest Discovery Centre. Though Sepilok lacked the drama of seeing these endangered animals in their natural, unfettered environment, understanding Malaysia’s conservation efforts to preserve these beautiful creatures was worth the stop. For the intrepid family willing to handle some serious humidity, sudden downpours of rain and a few leeches, traveling to Borneo should rank high on your bucket list. We befriended a handful of international families along our route. We made lasting friendships that will forever tie us together after witnessing such magnificent beauty and wildlife in such a wonderful country.

a 'family' of 6 people white water rafting, a young girl is screaming.

Tom Lastick – ATJ Travel Expert

This summer (2018) it was my privilege to host a multi-generational family trip to Indonesia. The trip was for me and my daughters ages nine and six, my mother, my aunt, and their life partners.  Seven of us in total ranging in age from six to 71.  While I am a 25-year veteran of taking and arranging these types of trips and experiences, it was the first trip of this style for most of my family.  It was a special joy to experience that first-time anticipation and wonder through their eyes. 

I selected Indonesia for many reasons.  Firstly it is an ideal summer travel destination.  Much of South and Southeast Asia can experience monsoon rains and extreme heat in our North American summer holiday months.  Lying in the Southern Hemisphere, the opposite is true of Indonesia with our summer being the driest and generally coolest, most pleasant time of year to travel there.  Indonesia also provides an incredible array of experiences and people.  Made up of over 16,000 islands (realistically, there are about a dozen most tourists would visit), Indonesia covers a vast range of geography. It rightly should be split into many, if not dozens of different countries based on regional and ethnic factors.  Technically it already is in various world traveler logs and record books like the Traveler’s Century Club for example.  It is only Dutch Colonialism and, more recently and tenuously, the divergent distribution of natural resources and population that created the modern Indonesia we know today.  From nature and wildlife; tribes and headhunters, exciting cities; gentle villages; amazingly manicured gardens; rice terraces; beaches and coral reefs; ancient temples; culinary wonders…Indonesia truly offers something for everyone.  Our adventure included interaction with toddler orangutans, horseback riding to the crater rim of an active volcano; whitewater rafting; hand-feeding elephants; beaches; hikes; schools; villages; earthquakes (yes, earthquakes); and too many special interactions with the gracious and beautiful local peoples to mention.

When asked, my daughters said whitewater rafting was the trip’s highlight for them.  In a strange way I think it was for my Aunt as well.  She is a semi-famous pastry chef, a two-time cancer survivor, a 70-year-old uptown city woman from Chicago, and a rafting rookie.  Her anxiety about the trip overall, but particularly the rafting, was palpable.  The rafting required walking down over 600 steps from the Ayung River Canyon Rim to the launch point on the river almost 1,000 ft. below.  After two hours of thrills downstream on the jungle-clad Ayung River, another 400 steep steps up were required at the end.  Both were very difficult undertakings for my Aunt.  Additionally, the rafting itself was almost continuous rapids and thrills like passing under waterfalls, bouncing off and over large boulders and rocks, and generally getting head to toe soaked and chilled to the bone.  

The smile on my Aunt’s face when she made it through the rafting and then up to the top of the canyon after was so heart warming to me.  Her attitude and outlook on everything seemed brighter and better from that point of the trip onward. Later in the trip, I watched her move to tears by the music of Gus Teja, a young and talented traditional/modern flutist who painstakingly makes and crafts his own instruments by hand using natural materials.  We were treated to a private concert in his home in a quiet garden setting outside the artists’ center of Ubud, Bali.  Gus was a friend of our lead guide extraordinaire on Bali, Mr. Komang Wardiapa.  Pretty much anyone worth knowing on Bali is a friend of Komang’s.  Check out Gus Teja on iTunes.  He is already a local star and soon to be an international one.

In closing, transformational family travel is about becoming closer to each other by trying new things, sharing new experiences, and pushing our limits to whatever those may be. The stories and memories created are priceless and last a lifetime.  Watching my close family, particularly my young children experience all this with me for the first time was a payoff greater to me than any financial reward could ever be.

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