Monthly Archives: May 2017


The Tea Horse Road linked Tibet and South-East Asia for over a thousand years. Heavily-laden mule trains would trek for months from the subtropics to Lhasa, crossing some of the most challenging terrain on earth en route. And for why? All for a cup of tea…

Just outside the village of Shaxi in Yunnan, a bridge arches over the Heihui River. Its flagstones have been worn smooth by generations of travellers’ feet, and it is a beautiful addition to the landscape, but it didn’t really catch my attention until someone told me that the bridge was part of the Tea Horse Road.

It was my first trip to Shaxi, and I had barely heard of the Tea Horse Road, but there’s something about trade routes that inevitably tugs at the imagination. Epic travels over mountain ranges, across deserts and seas, all in order to exchange luxuries like silks or spices – they’re the quintessential overland journeys.

The Tea Horse Road was a network of trails that snaked from the gentle tea-growing hills of southwest China across eastern Tibet to Lhasa and beyond. Many things – goods, ideas, genes – made their way along the route, but tea was first and foremost among them.

This tea came from its original home, the humid forests that sprawl across today’s southern Yunnan and northeastern Burma. Here, you can still walk into the woods to see gnarled tea trees that have been tended by Aini, Blang and Jinuo farmers for centuries. The leaves were – and are – steamed and packed into bricks or discs along with the caffeine-and tannin-rich stems and stalks, making the tea easy to transport for the long, tough journey ahead.

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The route ran north, out of the subtropics and uphill to Dali, which, at the time of the first tea caravans, was the capital an independent kingdom, Nanzhao. Carried by man and by mule, the tea changed hands with each shift in the terrain; The challenges of adapting to the geographical variation en route would have been insurmountable for a single set of mules and muleteers.

Instead, the tea passed from one people to another as it worked its way north. From Dali, Bai and Hui traders took over, before handing their precious cargo over to Naxi and Yi caravans. Occasionally, the tea would reach the edge of Tibet, where lados (Tibetan muleteers) took over for the longest and most perilous stretch across the mountains of Chamdo to Lhasa.

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It was tea that bound the links of this chain together. Along the route, sharing tea was considered as binding as a signature or wax seal, creating trust as it was sipped. Tea also connected the traders to the communities that hosted them, bartering tea balls for access to pasture or supplies.

And yet, while the tea itself was undeniably important to the communities The Tea Horse Road passed through, the mule trains bought something less tasty but even valued with them; Information and news of the world beyond. For many villages along the trail, the muleteers were a vital link to the wider world. When this trading route was bypassed by highways in the mid-twenty century, these links were forgotten, lost.

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The Tea Horse Road existed for trade but it meant more than that. The journey might have been a relay, but it was also a bridge, connecting quite different groups of people to one another, with all working together for a common goal – the humbled and most refined pleasures, a cup of tea.

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For those interested in reading a first-hand account of a modern journey along the Tea Horse Road, we thoroughly recommend occasional On the Road Experiences host, Jeff Fuchs 2008 book, “The Ancient Tea Horse Road”.


Our journeys on Tea Horse Roads… 

YUNNAN THROUGH A LENS: TEA HORSE TRAILS

Capture memories as beautiful as the landscape on this photographic journey through northwest Yunnan…

Kunming – Xizhou – Lijiang – Tacheng – Shangri-La – Kunming

What you will discover

  • •  Explore this region’s incredible diversity of plant and animal life, and the large number of ethnic minorites
  •  •  Wander cobbled streets in well-preserved old towns and feel through you and your camera are traveling back in time
  • •  Photographer Ron Yue will be on-hand to coach you through a series of masterclasses and workshops during this journey

 

Journey Dossier

View here

 
Travel Dates

Nov 3, 2017


SEARCHING FOR SHANGRI-LA

A beautiful back road journey through Yunnan’s less well-known village treasures.

Kunming – Xizhou – Shaxi – Tacheng – Deqin – Shangri-La – Lijiang – Kunming

What you will discover

⦁ Discover a region of northwest Yunnan which can lay a reasonable claim to being the home of James Hilton’s fictional Shangri-La!

⦁ Enjoy the perfect combination of adventure and luxury; often you will find yourself in the middle of nowhere and yet every evening you will be in charming hotels

Journey Dossier

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Travel Dates

Nov 17, 2017


 

FROM SHANGRI-LA TO THE LANNA KINGDOM

Cross the borders of three countries within a journey!

Where do we go?

Day 1: Arrive in Kunming
Day 2: Shangri-La to Lijiang
Day 3: In & around Lijiang
Day 4: Lijiang to Xizhou
Day 5: Xizhou to Dianchi Lake
Day 6: Dianchi Lake to Menglun
Day 7: In & around Xishuangbanna
Day 8: Menglun to Luang Namtha
Day 9: Luang Namtha to Chiang Saen

Day 10: In the Golden Triangle

Day 11: Chiang Saen to Chiang Mai
Day 12: Depart from Chiang Mai

What you will discover

⦁ One of the most beautiful driving holidays in Asia
 
⦁ Luxury, comfort and adventure all in one!

Journey Dossier

View here

Travel Dates

Dec 22, 2017

 

 

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Given that the basic ingredients are so similar (noodles, broth, herbs, meat) you’d be forgiven for confusing South-East Asia’s noodles. To do so publicly, however, would be to invite debate, if not argument. Each country and region is downright passionate about its own take on a humble bowl of noodle soup.

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Whichever side of this culinary debate you fall on (and this is something that is well-worth researching), one thing the dishes below have in common is that they are simultaneously exotic and comforting, and – most importantly – utterly delicious…


1. Khao Soi from Chiang Mai

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 9.42.07 AMTake a bowl of yellow egg-and-wheat noodles. Add a ladle of thin curry – chicken or beef is traditional, a drizzle of coconut cream, and top with a handful of crunchy deep-fried noodles. Serve with pickles, sliced shallots and wedges of lime, preferably in Chiang Mai. This is the essence of khao soi.

Not to be confused with a totally different Laotian dish of the same name, this is a noodle soup that inspires devotion. Its roots may lie across the border in Burma, but Chiang Mai has adopted khao soi wholeheartedly. The dish is served in simple canteens across the city, with flavours split along broadly religious lines; Halal khao soi joints use a mild curry, while Buddhist-run noodle shops tend to use a much spicier soup.

Once you’ve tasted your first bowl, it’s easy to see why khao soi is one of Chiang Mai’s most famous culinary exports. As chef Andy Ricker puts it, “It’s exotic without being weird and, most important, completely delicious.”

 

 

 


Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 9.43.48 AM2. Pho Bo from Hanoi
According to an old Vietnamese saying, ask nine people where to get the best pho, and you’ll get 10 different answers. Perhaps the best-known South-East Asian noodle dish after pad thai, Vietnamese pho bo – flat rice noodles served in clear broth and topped with thinly sliced beef brisket and spring onions – are a national obsession. Add a crisp banh quay (deep-fried dough stick) to dunk in the broth, and you have a dish that feels both wholesome and indulgent all at once.

Elsewhere, bowls of pho are served with baskets of fresh herbs, though not in Hanoi, pho bo’s original home. Condiments are sparse too, and limited to garlic vinegar, chillies and – maybe – a wedge of lime. With very little to detract from the flavour of the broth and the cut of the meat, the quality of both is allowed to shine, or not, as the case may be – fortunately, someone’s already done the footwork for you and rounded up the best pho bo spots in Vietnam’s capital.

 

 

 


3. Khao Piak Sen from Luang Prabang
Before dawn each day, noodle shops across Laos fill with the sounds of cooks preparing khao piak. Fresh, thick and round, like Japanese udon but with a little more bounce and bite, these noodles are the core ingredient of khao piak sen.

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 9.45.10 AMEaten for breakfast and lunch, khao piak sen is Laotian comfort food – chewy noodles, cooked in chicken broth spiked with with lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves, topped with juicy poached chicken or pork ribs and deep-fried shallots.

This is just the starting point however. A good soup noodle spot will also serve up a mountain of fresh herbs (mint, sweet basil, sawtooth herb, coriander) and raw vegetables (snake beans, watercress, pea shoots, cabbage, lime wedges and birdseye chillies). Tables also groan under the weight of condiments – you’ll see locals working their way methodically through white pepper, sugar, pickled ginger and garlic, soy sauce, white vinegar, fish sauce, sweet chilli sauce, Maggi seasoning and shrimp paste. By the time you’ve finished, your khao piak sen may look nothing like it did when you started, but that’s no bad thing.

 

 


4. Mohinga from Mandalay

Bringing together flavours and ingredients from the Subcontinent, China and South-East Asia, mohinga is an apt metaphor for Burma as a whole. Widely considered the country’s national dish, mohinga is served up in teahouses and sold by street vendors across Burma each morning.

ab12cecb-f574-4cd9-8db4-f691e8ff750dRice noodles, either thick or thin, are covered in fish broth thickened with chickpea flour, and flavoured with banana blossom, onions, turmeric, lemongrass, garlic and chilli. Toppings add crunch and interest – deep-fried chickpeas, courgette fritters, hard-boiled duck eggs, fresh coriander – making mohinga intensely moreish. Mandalay’s mohinga is less soupy than the Yangon version, leaving more room for those delicious toppings, as well as for a second helping.

 


5. Num Banh Chok from Siem Reap
Cambodia’s quintessential breakfast dish is num banh chok or ‘Khmer noodles’; fresh rice noodles served in a mild fish curry and topped with crisp raw vegetables –cucumber, banana blossom, crunchy water lily stems and fresh mint.

The noodles are made from fermented rice, giving them a slightly tangy flavour, and the curry is flavoured with turmeric – a nod to the long Indian influence that underlies the Khmer language, script and religion. Here in Siem Reap the dish is spiked with more garlic and coconut milk than the original version, and comes with a sweet sauce, tik pha em on the side.

ac5a30d9-c3bb-46a1-9eb5-9c7377d04578Legend has it that, long ago, a man called Thun Chey was exiled from the Khmer Empire to China. Forced to make a living, he set up a stall selling num banh chok. The dish was so warmly received that Thun Chey was eventually invited to meet the emperor, whom he offended and had him sent back to the Khmers, but not before giving China the inspiration for its own bowls of noodles, which deserve a whole post of their own…

 

 

 


Enjoy Southeast Asia’s Noodles with our cross border journeys…

bb0b90b7-904f-473a-a7f6-e3cb5d89cc20Summit to Sea: From Yunnan to Vietnam will take you on a drive will drive from the edge of Tibet and one UNESCO world heritage town to another right by South China Sea in Vietnam.

  • 14-day journey
  • Kunming – Lijiang – Xizhou – Dianchi Lake – Menglun – Muang La – Dien Bien Phu – Mai Chau – Yen Cat – Dong Hoi – Hue – Hoi An
  • Journey Dossier

 

f17df14b-c049-4319-960d-90c5a4f64428Asian Border Lands: Yunnan, Laos, Vietnam is an exploration of the borderlands of China, Laos and Vietnam where minorities live and trade and coexist as if political borders didn’t exist…

  • 10-day journey
  • Kunming – Menglun – Xishuangbanna – Muang La – Dien Bien Phu – Ban Doi – Mai Chau
  • Journey Dossier

 

03411753-4cbc-459b-ac5b-4b150f4c5fb6Elephants & Parasols: From Vientiane to the Golden Triangle is a discovery of beautiful landscapes, natural splendor and local culture.

  • 9-day journey
  • Vientiane – Vang Vieng – Luang Prabang – Muang Xai – Luang Namtha – Chiang Saen – Golden Triangle – Chiang Mai
  • Journey Dossier

 

21510508-9913-4c9f-9df1-d150da3d4374Shangri-La to the Lanna Kingdom will take you from ethnically Tibetan Shangri-La to the tropical heart of the Golden Triangle, then on to Chiang Mai in Thailand – former capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom.

  • 12-day journey
  • Kunming – Lijiang – Xizhou – Xishuangbanna – Luang Namtha – Chiang Sean – Chiang Mai
  • Journey Dossier

 

2ca1f74b-3b80-4668-a5d5-204120293ff5Land of Silk & Snow: Luang Prabang to Lhasa is a discovery of the world’s most stunningly beautiful scenery: From subtropical Laos via Yunnan to the valleys and mountains of the Tibetan Plateau.

  • 16-day journey
  • Luang Prabang – Luang Namtha – Menglun – Lake Dianchi – Xizhou – Lijiang – Shangri-La – Deqin – Markham – Zogang – Rawok – Pomi – Bayi – Lhasa
  • Journey Dossier

 

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Faces from the Land of  Snows

Many of us are nervous when it comes to taking a stranger’s photograph, but portraits often provide the best memories – and the most striking images – from a trip. Professional photographer and our photography coach, Ron Yue presents some of his favourite portraits from Tibet…

 

When travelling on the Tibetan Plateau, one of the most striking things is how devout most people are. Their Buddhist faith decides and drives many aspects of everyday life.

The lady with the beautiful coral earrings (below) was pausing mid-kora (prayer circuit) on the Barkhor in Lhasa. To the uninitiated, the Barkhor’s foot traffic seems unceasing, but to Tibetans it is punctuated with holy places and tiny shrines, spaces to stop, reflect and pray.

The Barkhor is Lhasa’s religious heart, but the city is also ringed by great monasteries, each with its own tradition of learning. Here, at Sera, young monks gather each afternoon to debate scripture. Each point is illustrated with a dramatic flourish – the clapping of hands, the stamping of feet and the striking down of their opponent’s point.

These scenes are repeated – with local variations – acoss the Tibetan Plateau, from Yunnan to Ladakh. Below, a lady prays with a mala (a string of 108 prayer beads) wrapped around her fingers, in the dawn light outside the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery, a thousand kilometres east of Lhasa.

It is not just the elderly that follow Buddhist traditions. In fact, many pilgrimages are so strenuous that only the young can attempt them. Below, a  teenagerl prostrates herself on the Barkhor kora. After I shot this photograph she stood up, moved two paces forward and lay down again, measuring the length of the circuit with her body. She will complete the kora 108 times like this before her pilgrimage is complete.

Not all religious practices are so arduous though – for the onlookers at least! Below, a man picked from the crowd at Gyantse’s Saga Dawa celebrations is covered with flour by a clown. These clowns are tasked with keeping the audience amused, against a backdrop of solemn religious dances.

Far from Tibet’s towns and monasteries, a nomadic lady (below) welcomed us into her black yak-hair tent. Once common, nomads’ camps are becoming harder to find, as the government encourages the drokpa to move into permanent housing.

As a photographer, these final two images are among my favourites. A young boy in Shigatse shows me how it’s done…

…and a lady decked out in beautiful turquoise and coral jewelry takes a quick snap in Yunnan:

Each time I travel in Tibet I find new inspiration from its incredible landscape and wide open skies, but it’s the memories of connecting with people here that I always remember most fondly. What a special part of the world!

Our journeys in the Land of Snows…


From Lhasa to Mt. Everest Base Camp…

Where do we go?

Day 1: Arrive in Kunming
Day 2: Flying up to Lhasa
Day 3: In & around Lhasa
Day 4: Lhasa to Gyantse
Day 5: Gyantse to Shigatse
Day 6: Pelbar to Mt. Everest
Day 7: Back to Lhasa
Day 8: Lake Nam-tso
Day 9: Lake Nam-tso to Lhasa
Day 10: Farewell Tibet

What you will discover

⦁ Lhasa, the capital of Tibet with the Potala Palace and the holiest Tibetan temple, the
Jokhang

⦁ Visit the old towns of Gyantse and Shigatse

⦁ Drive along Lake Yamdrok and Lake Namtso, the two holiest lakes in Tibet

⦁ Enjoy an unforgettable view
over the Himalayas and drive
right to the Mt. Everest Base
Camp

Journey Dossier

View here

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Our ALL NEW, UNIQUE journey from subtropical Lao to the Himalayas…

Where do we go?

Day 1: Arrive in Laos
Day 2: Luang Prabang to Luang Namtha
Day 3: Luang Namtha to Menglun
Day 4: Menglun to Lake Dianchi
Day 5: Lake Dianchi to Xizhou
Day 6: Xizhou to Lijiang
Day 7: Lijiang to Shangri-La
Day 8: Shangri-La to Deqin
Day 9: In & around Deqin
Day 10: Deqin to Markham
Day 11: Markham to Zogang
Day 12: Zogang to Rawok
Day 13: Rawok to Pomi
Day 14: Pomi to Bayi
Day 15: Bayi to Lhasa
Day 16: Farewell Lhasa

What you will discover

⦁ Drive from charming Luang
Prabang to Lhasa in Tibet…

⦁ Highlights include: Luang Prabang, Xishuangbanna, Meili Snow Mountain, Ranwu Lake, Lhasa and much more in between

Journey Dossier

View here

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Our most magnificent photography trip in Tibet

Where do we go?

Day 1: Arrive in Kunming
Day 2: Flying up to Lhasa
Day 3: In & around Lhasa
Day 4: Lhasa to Gyantse
Day 5: Gyantse to Tingri
Day 6: Tingri to Mt. Everest Base Camp
Day 7: Tingri to Shigatse
Day 8: In Shigatse
Day 9: Shigatse to Damxung
Day 10: Damxung to Lhasa
Day 11: In Lhasa
Day 12: Farewell Lhasa

What you will discover

⦁ Lhasa, Mt. Everest, holy lakes, adventure, blue skies, snow-capped mountains, red-robed monks, the Jokhang, the Potala, open roads…a journey for *your* life time!

⦁ Learn how to see beauty and capture moments with Master Photographer Ron Yue and
share with you friends!

Journey Dossier

View here

Stories


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Wherever your itinerary takes you, travel in Burma is sure to provide a wealth of new experiences – whether you’re air-kissing at your waiter in a city teahouse or witnessing your first nat ceremony.

This is our guide to ten of the country’s best experiences…


a5758d9c-5ab8-4c2f-b93f-03d3acf66a231. Breakfast in a Burmese teahouse

 

Enthusiastic tea boys dodge between the tables, slopping tea into saucers and serving up deep-fried snacks. Patrons air kiss loudly to attract the staff’s attention, their eyes on the football match on TV and their minds on teashop gossip. From Mandalay’s traffic-choked streets to dusty village lanes, Burma’s teahouses are local institutions. Stop for a bowl of mohinga – the nation’s favourite noodle soup, or refuel with a char kway (a Chinese-style doughnut) dunked in a delicious cup of sweet, milky tea.

 


98f1fee8-f36b-43e9-a90f-399e057642172. Explore Buddhism’s quirky side

 

Myanmar’s Theravada Buddhism is shot through with a thick vein of mystery and magic, with enough off-beat sights and stories to revive the interest of the most jaded temple-goer. Meet alchemist monks searching for the secret to eternal life at Hpa-An’s crag-top pagoda; explore caverns filled with thousands of gilded statues in Pindaya; and see eye-to-eye with a ten-storey tall Buddha in Pyay.

 


ec6f342f-81f8-42d1-8ea7-1fda8462f3013. Revive yourself with tea leaf salad

 

Enthusiastic tea drinkers, the Burmese are one of the few cultures to eat tea as well, in the form of lahpet thouq or tealeaf salad. Fried garlic and broad beans, chopped tomato and whole green chillies are added to piles of deep green, slightly pickled tealeaves, creating something like pesto with a strong caffeine kick, making it a popular pick-me-up for sleepy students and flagging sightseers alike.

 


b3789182-14a8-4373-beab-f7642e3d9a4d4. Get wet during Thingyan

 

While in theory, Thingyan – the week-long Burmese New Year festival – is a time to solemnly reaffirm one’s Buddhist beliefs, to the outside observer it seems more like a raucous, countrywide water fight. As temperatures soar each April, everyday life grinds to a halt and children and teenagers take to the streets to soak each other and passers-by (foreigners are singled out with particular relish) with buckets and out-sized water pistols. Festivities reach fever pitch in Mandalay, where streets are lined with makeshift stages from which revellers hose down passing motorists to a booming soundtrack of local hits.

 

 


 

d6cfd5cd-0cf3-4f82-a914-cbb6dfd291c65. Nurture a jaggery addiction

 

Irregular, caramel-coloured lumps of jaggery are one of the great pleasures of a Burmese meal. Made from boiled toddy palm sap and jokingly called “Burmese chocolate”, jaggery is exceedingly addictive whether plain or flavoured with coconut shreds and sesame seeds. However unhappy it might make your dentist back home, cultivating a serious jaggery habit is certainly healthier than Myanmar’s other great tooth-rotting pastime – chewing kwoon-ya, lip-staining little parcels of betel nut, tobacco and slaked lime.

 

 


 

c92c4e48-5857-4dfa-ac63-f090999ac17f6. Go to market

 

Barefoot porters pad down crowded aisles shouldering crates of limes, stallholders lean against sacks of onions lazily smoking cheroots, while prospective buyers prod green mangoes and examine glistening fish. Go for a stroll through any messy morning market and you’ll discover something new, from the novel (Burmese herbal shampoo) and delicious (crispy bein moun pancakes smeared with jaggery syrup), to the malodorous (shapely piles of ngapi fish paste speared with smoking incense sticks).

 


2ddd4da0-d0dd-4aeb-b3f1-519928c91b547. Join a nat ceremony

Transvestite natkadaws ply a middle-aged lady with cigarettes and whisky as she gyrates to music from a traditional orchestra. Members of the audience tuck 1,000-kyat notes into her clothing to propitiate the nat who has possessed her. Although Burma’s indigenous belief system – that the world is suffused by a collection of unruly spirits that require frequent mollification with alcohol, music and money – contrasts sharply with Buddhism’s emphasis on restraint and quiet reflection, many Burmese people happily believe in both. The best place to see ceremonies is at Mount Popa, the country’s most important centre of nat worship.

 


dd2210ba-f9a9-4fe5-a7a1-fb7450ca78cc8. Try thanaka

Each morning Burmese women and children daub their cheeks with powdery yellow swipes of thanaka, a natural sunblock and cosmetic made from the ground bark of the wood apple tree. However you feel about its beautifying abilities – that tawny shade of yellow isn’t for everyone – freshly applied thanaka is wonderfully cooling, and makes your face smell great for hours.

 

 


 
 
41232168-00cb-4181-bbfb-0082a734bf4f9. Try on a longyi

Once you’ve sorted out your thanaka, the natural next step is to get yourself a longyi – a tube of fabric worn by men and women across Burma. The male version (known as a paso) is often nattily checked or striped, and tied with a knot in front, while the female version (a htamein, as shown in the photo) is more richly patterned, and tucked into a fold around the waist. Pick out your favourite design and take it to a tailor, who will sew it up for you (though one size essentially fits all) and you’re all set – just ensure that it’s tied tightly enough to avoid any inadvertent flashing…

 


10. Take it easy

d5122575-f322-4aa7-a710-955e9cf802c4Wherever your itinerary takes you, something about a trip to Burma invites you to tackle life more slowly, whether you’re following a bullock cart down a country road or spending an afternoon lazily looking out over the Andaman Sea from a hammock. Slow travel at its most natural, and best!

 


Experience the best of Burma with us…

A BURMESE JOURNEY: From the Lanna Kingdom to the Bay of Bengal

This journey is a discovery of Burma’s beautiful scenery and traditions.
This spectacular itinerary will take you from Chiang Mai, Thailand, former capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom through Burma – the “Golden Land” – to the Bay of Bengal

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  • 12 or 17 Day-journey (Please note that while the full journey is 17 days, we also offer a shorter version. Please contact us for details.)
  • Chiang Mai – Mae Sot – Hpa An – Taungoo – Inle Lake – Pindaya – Mandalay – Bagan – Magwe – Pyay – Ngapali
  • Journey Dossier 
  • Travel Dates: Nov 3 – Nov 19, 2017 /Nov 24 – Dec 10, 2017/Jan 9 – Jan 25, 2018/Feb 8 – Feb 24, 2018
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