Charging rhino in Tanzania

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Excitement in Tanzania! Thanks to our recently returned traveler for sharing this photo and story: Our final portion of the safari was Ngornogorno Crater, with its 25,000 plus animals living deep within the 2,000 foot walled caldera of an ancient volcano. It is like a miniature of the Serengeti. And there we finally saw black rhinos. Four adults and one baby. We even had one charge our vehicle, only to back off at the last moment when the Land Cruiser didn’t react to his aggression.

The elephant that sat on a car

Destination Specialist Kerina Rowley recently returned from a visit to Thailand, where she was immersed in two different programs aimed at helping elephants.

You might have heard about the elephant who, in January 2015, was all over the news for crushing a car in Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park. Authorities dismissed the incident, saying the elephant was acting out because it was mating season.

While in Thailand, I was fortunate to meet Soraida Salwala, the woman who started and runs Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE), an elephant hospital in Thailand. Soraida didn’t believe it was simply a ‘mating incident.’ She believed the elephants were being tormented by being on display day and night. After the January incident, she went to Khao Yai National Park administrators to demand that they end night safaris and close the park from 6pm to 6am to give the elephants some peace and quiet. She fought for six weeks, and finally, around the time of my visit, the authorities agreed.

It was a victory for Soraida, but she still has a long way to go to protect these majestic creatures. In 1993 Soraida founded FAE as the first elephant hospital in the world that cares for sick and injured elephants. Costs to run the hospital are very high—about $33,000 USD each month. Donations come in from all over Thailand, but it’s barely enough to cover the expenses so she is limited in how many elephants she can help.

During my trip, we also stayed at Chai Lai Orchid, which is a resort that works to serve the local community. In addition to programs aimed at helping women and families, and protecting the culture and environment, Chai Lai Orchard has a program specifically focused on elephants. While staying at Chai Lai Orchid, we were able to play with, care for and ride elephants.

One of Chai Lai Orchid’s goals is to purchase the elephant camp next to their Eco-Resort so they can create happier, healthier lives for the elephants and their mahouts (trainers).

It was fascinating to stay at the lodge on the Chai Lai property. The accommodations are basic, with a mosquito net over your bed. But what you won’t find anywhere else are the elephants… the lodges are surrounded by them! In fact, there was an elephant standing right in my cabin’s backyard. It was an awesome feeling to see these gentle giants roaming about.

On a Journeys trip to Thailand, you can visit one or both of these elephant sanctuaries, supporting their efforts through your trip. But even if you aren’t able to visit, you can still help by sending them donations. To learn more, visit them online:

You can also donate through the 501c3 charitable arm of Journeys International, the Earth Preservation Fund. On your donation be sure to indicate that it’s for support of one of the charities noted above.

Temples, mountains and baseball in South Korea

Britta and her brother, with their orange rally caps during the baseball game

In March 2015, Journeys International launched its first trip to South Korea. Here, traveler Britta Blodgett shares her experiences in this magnificent country.

South Korea hadn’t been on the top of my list, but because my brother was living in Busan it was the perfect excuse to venture halfway around the world.

View of Busan from the top of the hike

South Korea is a stunning country. It has an amazing array of city activities, excellent restaurants and jjimjilbangs (Korean spas), plenty of cultural activities such as museums and historic sites, and an abundance of outdoor activities and beaches.

My favorite part of the trip was hiking with my mother and brother. Busan offers dramatic views, with the city located directly between ocean beaches and the mountains. From my brother’s apartment, we were able to walk to a large park right on the edge of the city. The three of us hiked up a mountain for about four hours — the view of the city and the ocean below was lovely. On the way down we missed a few turns and inadvertently took a rather steep route. Our accidental shortcuts turned a four hour hike up into a one hour hike down.

At the Busan Giants game, with the mountains in the background.

Another highlight was going to a Busan Giants baseball game. With an energetic crowd, a view of the mountains from the stadium seats, and squid and octopus for snacks, it would have been hard not to get into the spirit of the game. We were also given rally caps — orange plastic bags to blow air into, twist shut, then hook a handle over each ear. In my book, looking goofy while singing songs and watching baseball is an afternoon well spent.

I was surprised by the large percentage of the people we met who spoke English, making it easier for us to navigate the country. Also, while hiking, we often encountered an impressive number of older people on the trails, which spoke to the country’s culture of physical activity and appreciation of natural resources.

For anyone planning a trip to South Korea, I would encourage visiting Busan for all the variety it offers. My one regret is not visiting Seoul; next time it will definitely be on the itinerary.

Britta is a nonprofit communications specialist living in Brooklyn, NY. Next on the agenda for Britta is a trip to Turkey to see hoodoos in Cappadocia.

(P.S. This month, Journeys announced its first ever trip to South Korea. Visit the website to learn more and see the full itinerary.

Now Some Gifts for You

Journeys International’s president Robin Weber Pollak (above left, sharing pastry with a Journeys traveler in Jordan) reflects on launching the new Summit Club, an alumni rewards program. As daughter of the company’s founders, she has been traveling with Journeys since age 4.

We are so appreciative of the many world travelers who come back over and over again to take trips with Journeys International. I, personally, feel lucky to have the chance to serve such a generous, interesting, curious bunch of people. It has been a blessing to get to know you, to hear about your adventures, and even to share the trail with several dozen of you.

You, our Journeys travelers, have given me so much over the years, including:

  • An introduction to Indy car racing
  • A short-lived obsession with R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books in the early ’90s
  • Tips on the least painful foods to eat with braces
  • Connections to the (first?) Clinton administration
  • Some new dance moves
  • Lessons on how to pack chocolate so it doesn’t melt (and when not to even try)
  • A lime green hand-me-down t-shirt from The Gap that I wore until it shredded
  • A side-splitting concept for an episode of The Simpsons about climbing Mt. Everest
  • Advice on when to do laundry in the sink and when to pack enough for the whole trip
  • Understanding of the necessity – and value – of rolling with the inevitable changes in a day’s plans
  • Gallons of shared sunscreen and bug spray
  • Invitations to your homes
  • Role models of what engaged and responsible travelers look like
  • Companionship in learning
  • Stories of lives lived in other places, at other times, and from other perspectives
  • Borrowed eyes through which to see the world

…and a lot more, too. I know that each person who works here could make their own list like this one.

The point is, we’re really excited to launch the Summit Club rewards program to thank our travelers. We want to give you some extra benefits to say thank you for choosing to travel with Journeys – and to thank you for sharing your adventures and experiences with us.

FISH MARKET: A tour of Japan

Asia Specialist Kerina shares tales from her travels in Japan.

Asia Destination Specialist Kerina Rowley recalls her recent trip to Japan, starting with a famous fish market and reflecting on various highlights of this fascinating country.

Not too long ago, a handful of other adventurous Journeys travelers and I took our first trip to Japan. On day #1, we visited the Tsujuki Fish Auction, possibly the largest fish market in the world, with a stunning variety of seafood available. The fish market stuck with me throughout the trip, so here I give you an overview of what I did in Japan… which all started at the fish market.

At the Tsujuki Fish Auction

F is for fish, specifically the Tsujuki Fish Auction. They had large frozen tuna lying in rows on the floor. Men would come up to the fish and inspect them by looking at their cheek and tails. Then an auctioneer would start belting out the amounts in a melodious tone. Men on little carts whizzed by at every turn.

I is for Inari, the god of rice. The Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is dedicated to Inari, where thousands of torii shrine gates make a labyrinth of bright red tunnels along the mountain paths.

S is for the Shinhotaka Ropeway, a double-decker gondola that allowed us to soar above the clouds at an altitude of 2,156 meters in the Hotaka Mountains.

H is for Hida Takayama, a very charming old-style town. There we took a walk through the local farmers’s market, stopping to sniff the in-season root vegetables, cabbage, persimmons, and apples. We walked through the old residential area, which had traditional Japanese-style homes. We ended at the Hida Takayama shrine.

M is for the Matsumoto Castle, one of Japan’s premier historic castles. The building is also known as the “Crow Castle” due to its black exterior.

A is for Asakusa, where we visited the Senso-Jin temple. The shops at the temples were decorated in fall colors. From here we boarded a large ferry boat and took a ride on the Asakusa river.

R is for the Ryoanji Temple, built in 1450 as a Rinzai Zen temple. Its main attraction is its garden, built in Karen-Sansui style.

K is for Kiyomizu Temple, a historic eighth-century Buddhist temple. The structure was built entirely without the use of nails and offers impressive views overlooking the city. To get to the temple, we walked through Ninenzaka, a preserved historical district of Kyoto.

E is for the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which contains life-sized re-creations of cultural activities and ways of life during the Edo, Meiji, and early Show periods.

T is for thatch-roofed homes, the traditional abodes of Shirakawago, a traditional old town with interesting narrow streets and ancient customs.