A visit to Myanmar topped off a year of travel firsts for Managing Editor Janeen Christoff. // © 2013 Janeen Christoff
In 2012, I traveled to some new destinations, visited some old favorites and crossed off some items on my bucket list. I began in India where I visited the Taj Mahal, discovered my inner cowgirl at a Wyoming dude ranch, escaped the summer heat in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., and saw the famous maori on Easter Island. I ended the year with a cruise to Southeast Asia where I got to visit Myanmar, a destination that is on many people’s must-visit lists, as well as Thailand, somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a long time.
Traveling to India is overwhelming and inspiring at once. The country’s vibrant atmosphere is seen in its people, its historical sights and its stunning landmarks. My visit with ITC Hotels included stays in some of the country’s most luxurious properties such as the ITC Mughal and the recently opened ITC Grand Chola, Chennai.
During my stay in India, I had the opportunity to visit the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. We went sari shopping in Bangalore and toured Delhi and Mumbai. While the Taj Mahal was even more amazing than I thought it would be, I’m a notorious shopper and markets in Delhi and Mumbai did not disappoint.
Adventures by Disney took me and my 5-year-old daughter to the Wild West on what I was sure was an ill-fated trip to the country. I envisioned cowboys, rodeos and dirt. What I found were gorgeous hiking trails, leisurely horseback rides and a little girl who left L.A. a princess and came back a cowgirl. The trip instantly became a favorite for me because not only was the scenery gorgeous, hotels fantastic and the tour amazing, but the guides were so on top of the needs of the group that everything felt effortless. Not only were they knowledgeable about the destination, but they also paid special attention to the kids, allowing adults to stop for extra photos and to have time to appreciate where the location rather than having to chase after the little ones.
Summer in the Sierras
No matter what, there will always be a special place in my heart for Mammoth Lakes, Calif. I don’t know if it’s because I spent so many weekends there as a child or if it’s the majestic peaks of the Eastern Sierras that keep drawing me back, but this small town always seems to offer a relaxing retreat as well as something new to do.
This year, our trip was a last-minute getaway to beat a seemingly endless heat wave that had triple-digit temperatures roasting the San Fernando Valley. We hit the road and headed to the Westin Monache with its well-appointed suites and — most importantly — a pool nestled among the pine trees. In addition to relaxing by the pool, we hiked around Lake Mary, and my children, ages 3 and 5, played at the Adventure Center where there was a EuroBungee, a climbing wall and a zipline for all ages.
Crossing off places on my bucket list became a trend for me this year, and next on my list was Easter Island. I never thought that I would see the famous maori statues on the island and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit — especially when it meant a stay at Explora, Rapa Nui, an all-inclusive retreat that features guided tours during the day at an environmentally sustainable, luxury property with views of the Pacific Ocean. Tour offerings are extensive and guests have the opportunity to delve into the history of the maori and form their own educated opinions of how the giant statues were created. Guides help guests choose their excursions each evening and tailor them to each individual or groups’ activity level.
All Around Asia
My final trip of the year took me to Southeast Asia onboard Azamara Club Cruises’ Azamara Journey. The 11-night voyage sailed to the Andaman Islands, Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore and was packed with both tropical and off-the-beaten-path destinations.
I found Myanmar (Burma) to be one of the most intriguing destinations of the cruise. Local dancers and city officials were on hand to greet the Journey with much fanfare. Shore excursions gave guests an in-depth look at the local culture, religion, politics, cuisine and more. I took an overnight shore excursion to Bagan to see the city’s famous temples and stupas. Everywhere I looked the small religious monuments glittered on the horizon. The sight was even more spectacular during sunrise and sunset.
After Myanmar, Phang Nga Bay in Thailand added some tropical fun and sun to the trip. I’ve always wanted to see the towering karsts that jut out of the emerald green waters of Phang Nga Bay, and there was no better way to experience it than with a sea cave canoe tour and an afternoon at the beach. We even scored a home-cooked Thai meal.