What To Bring Or Not Bring To Someone’s Home In A Foreign Country

What To Bring Or Not Bring To Someone’s Home In A Foreign Country

“What you consider gross—dead rats—I consider considerate gifts.” Jarod Kintz

I’m a person who always likes to bring the right gift so having dinner in foreign country at someone’s house always requires a bit of research for me.

To the Japanese, gift giving is a way of communicating respect, friendship, and appreciation. It is good to be ready for the gift giving ritual that has been deeply rooted in the Japanese culture for centuries. Everything should be beautifully wrapped and ripping open the paper is bad form. Downplay the importance of the gift. This is typical in all Asian cultures. Always present the gift with two hands.

Do not give wine as a hostess gift in Argentina because it is considered common. Champagne or hard liquor is fine. Don’t bring scissors or knives because that means you want to sever the relationship.

What can you bring to someone in China? They make everything there. First off gift giving is not easy. They don’t open their gifts in front of you and they refuse them several times. You have to be persistent but not pushy. It’s a delicate balance. Again no knives or scissors to break the relationship. I am missing something. When people in these countries get invited for dinner is the go to gift a pair of scissors? Why do they have even have to say that? Also no clocks or anything in sets of four. Four is an unlucky number in Chinese because it sounds like death. This is true in most Asian countries. Avoid white chrysanthemums because they are used at funerals.

In Malaysia pay attention to the Muslim culture. Avoid pork, knives, alcohol, and highly personal gifts. Present gifts in the right hand only. In Indian sections of Malaysia, avoid black and white colors. Instead, opt for yellow, red or green which symbolize happiness.

Israelis have a tendency to overdo gift giving and put a lot of thought into choice and presentation. If you are going to the home of Orthodox Jews or Muslim Arabs remember that the gifts must not violate any of their religious beliefs. Candy, flowers and gifts for the kids are always appreciated.

If you are invited to a Quechua home in the mountains of Peru, coca leaves are an acceptable gift. Coca leaves have always been present at all important moments of community life. Today, the history and traditional use of the coca leaf in Peru are a solid part of ethnic and national identity.

In Korea, generosity is a highly valued personal trait. Give expensive gifts if possible.

When invited to a home in Russia, bring something other than vodka. If you bring flowers only present them to a woman. Avoid yellow flowers (unless you picked them yourself in the countryside). White flowers should be given with caution. Same with red as they usually mean love. Fine chocolates are always appreciated.

In Italy, it is nice to bring cakes for coffee when invited to dinner. The cakes have to be of a special kind, bought in a pasticceria by weight. These delicious cakes are placed in intricate patterns on a golden paper tray and wrapped in paper nicely folded with carrying handles After opening the present the hosts and the other guests will take pains to point out which cakes, they each do not like. In the end the cakes are pushed aside in the assumption that nobody can eat another bite after having partaken of a full delicious meal.

You must bring a gift if you are invited to someone’s house in India. Chocolates or flowers is acceptable. Different flowers have different meanings in India so always check with the florist about what is a proper choice. When in doubt red roses usually work. If they have children (and many do) it is nice to bring something for them. If you are visiting during a festival always carry a box of sweets with you. Be cautious in giving leather as a gift. The cow is sacred in India and many Hindus are vegetarians.

In Ethiopia a traditional gift if you are visiting someone’s home is coffee. However a chicken from the market may be well appreciated. They cost anywhere from $5-12. The average weekly wage is around $25 a month in a government job. So a chicken is quite a gift. If they have room the family may keep it for eggs. If not then it will make the next meal. To transport them, just pick them up by their feet. When chickens are upside down they do not move or make noise. They are very easy to handle. See this is where they lose me, I feel bad to carry an upside-down chicken around.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Ta Prohm, Cambodia – The Tomb Raider Temple

Ta Prohm, Cambodia – The Tomb Raider Temple

“Indiana, we are simply passing through history. This… this is history.” Raiders of the Lost Ark

I know – wrong movie but it was such a good quote for this. Yes, Ta Prohm is the temple where Angelina Jolie played Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Disturbingly many more Americans probably know where Angelina Jolie is right now and do not know where Cambodia is. Some may know the Tomb Raider temple is in Cambodia. (The Tomb Raider tree)

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Ta Promh has been left the way it was originally found.

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The jungle had completely engulfed the entire complex when it was discovered in the last century.

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It was amazing to see how the massive trees have grown around and atop the structures, their roots seemingly strangling and holding up the temple’s towers and other buildings.

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At Ta Prohm you can start to appreciate what the first explorers saw when they re-discovered these temples.

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It is easy to relive the emotions of the French naturalist Henri Mouhot when he came across it hidden in the jungle in 1860.

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Ta Prohm was dedicated to the family of Jayavarman VII as shown by the inscriptions on the stele ( stone monument) The inscription lists many of Jayavarman’s ancestors, as well as giving details of the construction. Perhaps most compelling though is the information the stele gives about the people whose lives revolved around this site. Nearly 80,000 people were involved in serving the temple, coming from over 3,000 surrounding villages. The stele also mentions that there were 102 functioning hospitals in the Kingdom. Numbers like this give a fantastic insight into the sheer scale of the Khmer empire at that time.

The structure measures 145 by 125 meters and has a maze of courtyards and galleries, many impassable because of the dense overgrowth of creepers and roots.

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I had to put this photo in of a Cambodian butterfly at Ta Prohm Temple. Thanks for taking this Kim. I needed to use at least one of your “National Geographic photos”. Most of the photos atTa Prohm were taken by Wong Kimsian.

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The “jungle temple” is best visited early in the morning when everybody else is at Angkor Wat to get your best photographs of the ongoing battle between nature and architecture.

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Fly Safe,

JAZ

Walking In New York With My Mom

Walking In New York With My Mom

“Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.” Rebecca Solnit

I moved in with my mom in my very early twenties because I wanted to save money for traveling. It wasn’t my first choice of places to live but spending summers in Greece was much more appealing to me than paying rent in Manhattan.

Her passion was theatre. There was not a lot of money but she knew every way to get free or discount tickets to the theatre, ballet, symphony and opera in NY.  It was pre – internet and a lot harder to find things out. My mother went out six nights and three matinees a week. Theatres in Manhattan are dark on Monday nights. My mom saw the previews, pre closings, dress rehearsals, hits, flops, shows that never opened and shows that ran now and forever. We called it “her ticket business” though she never made any money from it. Most of the time there were many free tickets which she could not let go to waste. Hours were spent calling people. My mother felt that if she was in possession of these tickets, it was her job to bring joy to as many people as possible and fill up the theatres. I found it very annoying but I was twenty-two and everything that wasn’t about me was annoying.

Sometimes we would go to a matinee together. We would walk from East 18th st to West Broadway somewhere in the forties. Those of you familiar with cross town traffic in NY know that walking is usually faster anyway. It was an opportunity to spend time together and learn to relate to each other as adults.

My mother was legally blind from the time she was seventeen so walking with her was always interesting. We walked up Second Ave passed a small NY park (one square block of green). People were shooting up, selling drugs, smoking pot or exposing themselves. ”Aren’t we lucky to have this beautiful bit of green in the midst of all these tall buildings?” she asks. I tell her what she is missing. She laughs and says “Sometimes it’s good not to see.”

We walk up 23rd st near the School Of Visual Arts where the arty kids are hanging out in interesting street wear and hairdos. They are photographing. drawing, and taking notes. We continue passed the many discount stores that used to be there. We called them yoyo stores (because they sold anything they could sell cheaply – from apples to yoyos.) We see a large group of deaf children. They are signing. My mother sighs. “I feel so sorry for deaf people. They can never hear music.” I said,“Don’t worry about them, they feel sorry for you.” She laughs again and tells me I am a rotten kid.

On Third Avenue a boy is playing the violin on the street. She gives him a dollar .“Thank you so much. I love Mendelssohn’s  Concerto in E major“. He is so pleased that someone knew what he was playing. I was impressed. I have a hard time remembering the names of classical music.  She explained to me that she is now finished with her charity for today.” I put a dollar in my pocket every day and I give it to the first homeless person that asks me. It is my way of helping the homeless in our city”. I wasn’t sure that he was homeless but I did not tell her that.

She stepped off the curb about to cross the street at the red light. I gently hold her back. It always worried me when she would do stuff like that because I don’t know how she got across the street alone. She said that she went with the crowd and was never hit by a car in 91 years so I guess it worked.

My mom was a really good listener. She was my rock who I ran to when I was confused. I talked about whatever problems I was having that week as we walked up to Park Ave. She always knew what the right thing to do was and could sort out my problems and mess of emotions. I stopped to buy a pretzel with mustard from a cart on the street. “If you walk a few more blocks east, there is a woman who sells fresher pretzels.” I don’t ask how she knows this because she doesn’t usually eat pretzels.

At 34th st, we come to the Empire State Building. “You never wanted to go up to the top,” she said. “I still don’t,” I said in my grown up voice. The Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world for forty years. Now it is the fourth tallest building in the world and a cultural icon of New York City. Years later my mother would take my four year old son to the top without me.

We passed the NY Public Library at Fifth Ave and 42nd st. Two stone lions guard the entrance. Though originally named Astor and Lennox (after the library founders) Mayor Fiorello La Guardia renamed them Patience and Fortitude during the Great Depression. The huge Beaux Arts structure opened in 1911 and was the largest library at that time.    My mom speaks. “We are so lucky to have this beautiful building in NY.  The Rose Reading Room is so lovely. They have a wonderful collection of books on tape and they are so helpful with recommendations. I am reading Deepok Chopra.” I remembered when they didn’t have books on tape. She listened to operas and symphonies a lot. I guess that is how she knows Mendelssohn.

She tells me about the play in preview she has seen the night before. It isn’t going to open because the play needs work but the music was beautiful and the acting was fantastic. My mother could never say anything bad about a “show.”

We get to Rockefeller Center and see the imposing bronze statue of Atlas holding the heavens on Fifth Avenue. We cut through and pass the gold statue of Prometheus bringing fire to mankind, throngs of tourists and fourteen art deco buildings from the 1930’s. We passed Radio City Music Hall built in the 1930s with 6000 seats. It was called Radio City because that is what the complex of NBC and RCA studios that housed the Music Hall was called in the days of radio. The renovated interior is a great example of art deco design.

We are going to the Circle In The Square Theatre on Broadway but first she has to drop off tickets at the Longacre Theatre on 48th st and the Ambassador Theatre on 49th. Her friends are all ages and always waiting for her. “Look for someone in a green coat.” she says to me.  I steer her in the right direction. When they see her, they come toward her.   She proudly introduces me. I smile. They are all avid theatre goers and are planning what they are going to see that night.

We finally walk into the theatre. She takes out a very large Hershey Bar from her purse and says to the usher,“You looked so tired the last time I was here I thought you might need this.” She asks the usher where her seats are (even though she knew the location of every seat in every theatre in Manhattan). The usher says “I think we can do better.“ She brings us to the excellent house seats. “It’s good to be nice to people,” my mom tells me and takes out her binoculars as the curtain is going up.

Fly safe Mom,

JAZ

Ten Things That I Don’t Travel Without

Ten Things That I Don’t Travel Without

“He who must travel happily must travel light” Antoine St Exupery

Packing properly is an art form. Some travelers strike the perfect balance and bring just what they need. I’m not one of them but this helps me. Pick your ten most important things and then add to them. Socks, bathing suit, a long skirt,hat (or I buy one when i get there), underwear, makeup, toilet articles, medicine, umbrella, mini flashlight and few changes of weather appropriate clothing are a given for me to add in and then I’m done.

1. A Moleskin notebook and a cool pen. This is my homage to Hemingway – even though I also usually have an iPad.

2. Hanes wife beaters.  I hate the name but love the 100 per cent cotton.

3. Asthma medicine – I have asthma.

4. Lucky jewelry. I used to wear a red string bracelet when I was into Kabbalah.  I do like a red bracelet for flying (Asian lucky color) or an evil eye on a chain or bracelet. A necklace  made from a shell, piece of glass or a full circle charm is always good. I bring cheap beaded bracelets from other trips in the hopes of finding more.   I like wearing something that looks like I might have found it on beach or has some lucky meaning from a different country – something that looks valueless to anyone but me.

5. Two cameras, extra memory card and battery.  I have bad camera luck.

6. iPod and good sound canceling headphones. I like Bose.  I dont like small planes and they block out the noise.

7. A few pair of leggings or jeggings. This is something I never wear at home but packs well, can be dressed up or down,  layered for warmth. or rolled up if its hot.

8. Flat shoes. Also something else I never wear at home and sneakers something I do wear.

9. Jelly Bellys.They are my favorite superfood. I love finding them in the middle of the jungle in my suitcase. I also bring Protein Bars because I get low blood sugar.

10. Lots of glasses and sunglasses –  because I need them.

My big problem is resisting that last-minute urge to stick other things in if I have room – extra t-shirts, shoes, another skirt or sweater – I never end up wearing them and I’m always repacking them. I’ve learned from the French to always throw in some scarves . They can be decorative or functional.  Now if I only I can learn to tie and drape them in the way that only the French can. From my photos, I can see that I now have a travel uniform. Whatever works.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Phu Quoc, Viet Nam

Phu Quoc, Vietnam

“To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me.” Isaac Newton

By the time I arrive on the island of Phu Quoc, I had traveled for a few weeks and covered a lot of interesting sites. Phu Quoc island is located in the Gulf of Thailand and closer to Cambodia than Viet Nam, It is not a very well-known destination outside of Viet Nam.

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The sky was blue and it was hot. There was a beach with lounge chairs and umbrellas, clean water to swim in, a book about the Viet Nam War that I wanted to read and a beachfront restaurant and bar.

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Though there were things I wanted to see on this island, I suddenly had no pressing need to go anywhere.

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I mustered up the energy to walk down the beach and explore my surroundings. I was in the tourist area.

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There were many hotels. In fact, I got lost on the way back and had to ask which one was mine, There were a lot of tourists but I did not hear any American English. The non-English speaking Vietnamese waiters would say things like “‘wunderbar or nostrovia when appropriate. They were used to throngs of German and Russian tourists.

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Beds were set up along the beach competing for cheap massages, manicures, pedicures, threading, (hair removal – which hurts by the way).

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It was really funny to do that on the beach.

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There was definitely a separation of tourists and locals on this resort beach. In a few years I fear it will run the risk of being another “anywhere beach.”

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Five star resorts do a really good job of separating you from the culture of a country. There were all kinds of resorts in all price ranges on this beach which gave it a funky quirky atmosphere.

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Further south on the island there are quiet beaches with local fishermen, white sand, kids , crabs and shells that are easy to get to by boat.

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The hotel I stayed at was La Veranda. It  is a French colonial style hotel on the beach. A lot of the staff doesn’t speak English but they are so charming and helpful. The front office deals most efficiently with the language barrier. It’s nice to stay at a hotel that gives jobs to the local people .

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I think it is the staff which makes La Veranda so wonderful. From the moment I arrived Lian was making sure all my requests had been taken care of.

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I had the best morning yoga classes on the beach and best massage of a vacation ever with Tham from the spa.(going to yoga 7am)

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Definitely book him advance when you go.

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The manager is always visible talking to guests, getting feedback and making sure everyone is having the best experience there. The level of care at La Veranda is amazing.

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Watching the sunset on Phu Quoc, I can really feel the miracle of a day. I am grateful that I lived these days on a beautiful beach.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

The City – New York

The City   –   New York

“New York City has finally hired women to pick up the garbage, which makes sense to me, since, as I’ve discovered, a good bit of being a woman consists of picking up garbage.” Ann Quindlen

The city was what one called it if you lived in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, New Jersey or Long Island. If you were a certain kind of girl growing up in Brooklyn, everything in the city (Manhattan) was better. I rode the subway for an hour to get my hair cut at Bergdorf Goodman.  I would come home and rewash it and blow dry it the way I wanted it to look. I was sure that anything I did in the city would make me chic and cool. A hamburger in the city just tasted better to me.

I knew that if I lived in the city all my problems would be solved. I got my wish. My parents got divorced and we moved to the city. We were no longer bridge and tunnel people or the family we were before. I still had my Brooklyn accent but I was ready for my life to completely change.

I would finally be a grown up. I would kill water bugs and cockroaches without screaming for help. I would not be afraid of crazy homeless people. I would shop at Gristedes, Dean and Deluca and Zabars instead of Waldbaums or the A and P.  I would walk to theatres, museums, restaurants, clubs, bars, Bloomingdales and Bendels.  I would take taxis everywhere.

I actually stopped riding the subway when I lived in Manhattan. Growing up riding the efficient yet terrifying crime ridden NY subway daily has left me with a fear of subways. (Pre Mayor Guiliani who cleaned up the city). Commuting is a way of life for every New York kid. I was commuting to school from the time I was eleven years old. I saw muggings, heard gunshots, dealt with the tough kids, gropers and saw people drunk, violent or crazy on a daily basis.The bystander’s avoid eye contact indifference I have from growing up in NY is something I still work on. The street smarts I learned there help a lot when traveling in foreign countries.

But I love everything about Manhattan. I love crowded streets, vertical architecture, beautiful well dressed people, whistling obscenity yelling construction workers, downtown black uniforms, the pace, the lights, skyscrapers, pretzel carts, noise, Chinese food, coats, Sunday Times, different languages all talking simultaneously, unfriendliness, Broadway, cultural activities,  galleries, museums, coffee shops, not pristine streets and the anonymity.

Living in New York City is not an easy, comfortable life. You fight the elements daily – traffic, crime, crowds, weather and indifference. You do not have the sensation that you live in a protected bubble.  You are always aware of potential dangers out in the world. It is not for everyone.

You may not be able to keep the world out, but you get the entire world. You are exposed to people of every type, kind and ethnicity, who teach you about how many different ways there are to live this life. You have access to great opportunities as a result of your location. You never feel there is a place in the world where more exciting things are happening than where you are.

A place does not change your life. It is what you do with it and how you react to it which causes change. There are certain places where it is easier to find out who you really are and what your uniqueness is in the world. For me New York was such a place. I look back at it fondly because it was the place where I was so young and anything was possible.

Fly Safe,

JAZ

Hoi An, Viet Nam

Hoi An, Viet Nam

“My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been” – Diane Arbus

Hoi An is one of the most charming cities in Viet Nam.

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It was a commercial district for Japanese and Chinese traders in the sixteenth century and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

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Hoi An’s Old Quarter is lined with two-story old Chinese buildings that now house shops with elaborately carved wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs.

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Colorful guildhalls, founded by ethnic Chinese from Guangdong and Fujian provinces, stand quietly as a testament to the town’s trading roots.

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The Japanese Bridge was originally constructed to connect the Japanese community with the Chinese quarter – separated by a small stream of water – as a symbolic gesture of peace.

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The food market reminds visitors of another era when it was filled with goods from all over the Asia. (mangos, rambuchan, snake wine)

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Hoi An is a place where you can get clothes and shoes made at a reasonable price as long as you have a picture.

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There is a plethora of tailors and cobblers to choose from.

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It is also one of the best eating cities in Viet Nam and known for cooking classes and especially delicious food. (Mango Rooms – yes everything has mango, White Rose dumplings at Cafe De Lys – only one Hoi An family has the recipe, and thus a monopoly on their production– rose-shaped shrimp dumplings topped with fried garlic and onions.)

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Away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Hoi An, the Nam Hai all-villa resort, sprawls on quiet Hoi An Beach. The contemporary architecture is welcoming and eye-catching as feng shui mingles with strong modern lines.

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The Spa at the Nam Hai is truly something wonderful. Composed of 8 villas, floating around a lotus pond, it is the ideal location for a relaxing massage, steam shower and herbal tea! The people who work there are most helpful and always want to practice their English.

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Hoi An has a lantern festival every full moon.

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All the lights are extinguished and the town is lit with lanterns.

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You can buy water candles from children on the river and make a wish and set them afloat. Incense is burned everywhere for the dead ancestors.

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Hoi An is a photographer’s city.

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You respond to a face of an old woman under her triangle hat walking to sell her fruit or the way the light hits the old Chinese buildings or the lanterns lighting up the city at night.

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You move on to your next destination and your photographs become a testimony that you were there.

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I have to truly thank Ms. Anh Mai (Jina) from Trails of Indochina for helping me plan this trip. You have no idea how many emails I have sent her.  I do a lot of pre research about what cities i want to visit and made many changes  (including countries) till we got it right. Many people take cruises through Viet Nam but after going I would recommend doing it on land because you miss a lot. Jina never made me feel like I was a bother and always answered my questions politely and offered her own suggestions. Once in Viet Nam and Cambodia everything was taken care of beautifully. It is my first time traveling with this company and I was very impressed. I will definitely use them again and highly recommend JIna and Trails of Indochina for Southeast Asia. anh.m@trailsofindochinagroup.com

Fly safe,
JAZ