Mention Cambodia, and most travelers' first thought will be of the amazing temple complexes at Siem Reap. Yet there's much more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat. "It's a country that's just getting on people's radar, and it's definitely worth going to see," says Myths and Mountains President Toni Neubauer. "It has fairly good infrastructure and varied ecosystems and people. I think it should be up there on the hotlist."
There are wonderful beach and jungle resorts, luxury tent safaris to magnificent but little-known temples, opportunities to see diverse wildlife, and of course a fascinating and welcoming culture. Yet most U.S. travelers experience only a fraction of Cambodia's diverse attractions.
"You just don't see a lot of American tourists doing any of this," Neubauer says. "They're missing out."
High on Neubauer's list of Cambodian favorites is the beach resort of Song Saa. One of Asia's premier luxury resorts, Song Saa is set on two private islands in the pristine Koh Rong archipelago. "If you're looking for a truly unique and beautiful beach experience you just can't beat it. A tropical nirvana," she says. Although expensive, the resort is good value because it includes all food and drink, as well as excursions and activities.
Starting this fall, arriving into Quito, Ecuador, will get a little bit more interesting. Currently, if you fly into Quito (airport code UIO) like most of our travelers, you'll land right in the middle of the city, making access to most hotels in town an easy 15- to 20-minute drive away. The new airport, scheduled to open in October or November, will be located about 45 to 60 minutes (possibly as much as 90 minutes during heavy traffic) outside the city in a more rural setting. Since most flights from the USA arrive after 8 pm, this may mean rethinking your options. Here are a few ideas:
Book earlier flights into Quito. If possible, try to fly into Quito as early as possible. Although you might have to leave home earlier in the morning than you usually prefer, you'll be happier to settle into your hotel room at a reasonable hour.
Go straight to Otavalo instead. This is a great alternative if you are arriving a few days before your cruise departs. What used to take two hours (from the old airport to the world-famous Otavalo Market) will now take about 75 to 90 minutes.
What about Guayaquil? Flying into this tropical coastal city would mean missing out on the Andes, but it's a warmer option than Quito, at a much lower elevation. All flights departing from Quito to the Galapagos automatically stop over in Guayaquil anyway, so you'll eliminate one leg of the journey to the islands.
Quito's new airport has been a long time in the works. When UIO was built, it was located to the north of Quito, but the city has long since grown to surround the airport. As a result, there is no room for expansion to accommodate increased air traffic or larger aircraft. In addition, the high altitude and mountainous terrain make the present airport riskier to operate than the new one, which will be located at a lower elevation and in more open terrain.
From 1969 to 1970, Mike Close served a year-long tour of duty in Vietnam. Five months ago, he revisited the country for the first time since the war, in a trip that turned out to be as much about change as it was about memories.
When Mike and his wife Chris decided to make the trip together with a friend from Mike's unit, John Berend, and his wife Marjorie, they turned to Myths and Mountains, with whom the Closes had previously traveled to Peru. "If I'm going to do a trip to an out-of-the-way place, I'm not even going to talk to anyone besides Myths and Mountains," Mike says. "They really do this out-of-the-way stuff well."
Mike and John had both served as pilots in Vietnam's Central Highlands and wanted to revisit the places they had flown in and out of every day. For logistical reasons they decided to do the trip by car, so Myths and Mountains President Toni Neubauer - whom Mike calls "basically a walking encyclopedia of Vietnam" - laid out a clockwise itinerary starting in Saigon. She also booked one of Vietnam's best guides, Le Van Cuong, to accompany the group.
Unfortunately John and Marjorie had to cancel at the last minute, so Mike and Chris ended up making the trip alone. Early on, it became clear that Vietnam in 2012 was very different from 40 years ago. Dalat, part of the no-fire zone during the war, was "one of the prettiest cities I've ever seen," Mike says. Further north, Buon Ma Thuot saw some of the heaviest American bombing in the country. Now, "it's a thriving little city. There's not a sign of the war left."
The town of Pleiku, site of an American base during the war, had grown beyond recognition. "I lived in Pleiku for seven months and couldn't even find within a half a mile where I lived, it's changed so much," Mike says.
Money often presents one of the biggest challenges in preparing for an international trip. Will your credit card work overseas? Can you use your ATM card? Should you carry lots of cash? It's always best to be prepared, so that you don't find yourself in a foreign country without the financial resources you need. You can count on Myths and Mountains to make sure you have all the information you need before you go.
In Bhutan and other Asian countries, things operate very differently than in North America. Just because the ATM in your bank at home works, does not mean that the ATM in Bhutan will accept your card. In fact, it won't. Just because you have a platinum American Express Card does not mean that the antique store in Thimphu will allow you to buy that beautiful basket. In fact, it won't. Bhutan will sometimes accept Visa, but no other credit cards, and travelers cannot use local ATMs. Myanmar does not accept any credit cards and has no ATMs at all. In other countries such as Nepal sometimes the ATM works - but invariably, when you need it most, it doesn't!
For countries such as these, the best thing to do is to bring dollars in cash and change them into the local currency. If you are nervous about carrying a lot of money, break it into two packets and put them in separate parts of your travel gear. Then hope you remember where you put everything!
Ethical Traveler's 13 Tips for the Accidental Ambassador
Travel is most meaningful - and least intrusive - when you approach your destination with openness, respect, and a willingness to adapt and learn. If you behave in an informed, culturally sensitive manner, you'll not only come away with truly memorable people-to-people experiences, but you'll also leave behind a positive impression with your hosts. As guidelines, we present these 13 tips from our friends at Ethical Traveler (www.ethicaltraveler.org).
Be aware of where your money is going. Patronize locally owned inns, restaurants, and shops. Try to keep your cash within the local economy, so the people you are visiting benefit directly from your stay.
Avoid giving gifts directly to children. Give instead to their parents or teachers. When giving gifts- everything from pens to pharmaceuticals - first ask what's needed, and who can best distribute these items in the community.
Learn basic greetings. Learn to say "please," "thank you," and as many numbers as you can. It's astonishing how far a little language goes toward creating a feeling of goodwill
Remember the economic realities of your new currency. A few rupees one way or another is not going to ruin you. Don't get upset if a visitor who earns 100 times a local salary is expected to pay a few cents more for a ferry ride or an egg.
Bargain fairly and respectfully. The final transaction should leave both buyer and seller satisfied and pleased. Haggling is part of many cultures, but it's not a bargain if either person feels exploited or ripped-off.
Learn and respect the traditions and taboos of your host country. Never, for example, pat a Thai child on the head, enter a traditional Brahmin's kitchen, or open an umbrella in a Nepali home!
Curb your anger, and cultivate your sense of humor. Travel can present obstacles and frustrations, but anger is never a good solution. It's perversely satisfying, but won't win respect or defuse a bad situation. A light touch, and a sense of humor, are infinitely more useful.
Arrive with a sense of your host country's social and environmental concerns. Our site will direct you to good profiles of many popular travel destinations. It's also very useful to read the political background section in your guidebook, and the local English-language papers.
Learn to listen. People in other nations often feel underestimated or patronized by travelers from the developed world. This fosters anger and resentment. Be aware that good listening skills and respect help shape the world's view of your country.
Practice conservation. Never be wasteful of local resources - especially food and water. Your efforts at conservation will be noted and respected by your hosts, and will set a good example for your fellow travelers.
"Can you please help me?" This is the most useful phrase travelers can learn. Rarely will another human being refuse a direct request for help. Being of service, and inviting others to express their kindness, is what the phrase "global community" is all about.
Leave your preconceptions about the world at home. The inhabitants of planet Earth will continually amaze you with their generosity, hospitality, and wisdom. Be open to their friendship, and aware of our common humanity, delights, and hardships.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s best line is worth remembering. "Strange travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." Go with the flow, and give free reign to your sense of adventure!