Alyssa Hiller: Elephant Trekking in Chiang Mai

As you’ve likely seen on most of your friends’ post-Thailand Instagram feeds, elephants are a must. But, we didn’t just take quick pictures; we spent the entire day with the elephants, bathing, feeding and riding our gentle giants as their dedicated caretakers for the day. Needless to say, we couldn’t recommend this experience enough if you travel to Chiang Mai. First and foremost, do your research before selecting an organization; many companies do not promote safe and fair treatment of the animals. If your elephants are performing circus tricks or have rigid equipment on their backs, think twice. Additionally, book far in advance! Many people travel to Chiang Mai solely for this experience, and space is limited. We selected Patara Elephant Farm, Thailand’s only elephant breeding farm, based on its incredible reviews and mission. At 7:30 a.m., we were picked up from our hotel in a comfortable vehicle, alongside eight other passengers. After a one-hour drive through a rather precarious, Jungle-Book-like winding path, we entered an open, lush setting near the mountains of Hang Dong Valley, with several elephants hanging

10 Things You Need to Know About Cuba

UPDATE: On June 4, 2019, the US State Department implemented additional travel restrictions on Cuba travel for US citizens. Group educational and cultural trips are banned alongside cruise ships, yachts, and private planes. Despite this news, please note that commercial airline flights remain unaffected, and Ker & Downey’s Support for the Cuban People programs are still permitted. Ker & Downey has been partnering with travelers to create their own journeys to Cuba since August 2015. Recent policy changes on American travel to the country have stirred up questions about traveling to Cuba and the future of visiting a place that is so close but was once too far out of reach for many. The good news: Cuba is not out of reach with Ker & Downey. What Do the Policy Changes Mean? In short, the style of travel offered by Ker & Downey and our in-country partners is not impacted, for the time being. The changes will impact self-planners, group tours, cruise ship passengers, yacht charters, and private plane travelers the most. Arranging a journey on your own that avoids

Alyssa Hiller: 3 Things To Do In Koh Samui

Koh Samui is Thailand’s second-largest island after Phuket, known for its palm-fringed beaches, coconut groves and dense, mountainous rainforest. And, some of the most colorful sunsets we ever did see (purples and pinks and golds – oh my!). The most popular areas to stay in Koh Samui are Chaweng and Lamai in the east of the island. On the upside, they offer the most nightlife; on the downside, the respective beaches can get quite crowded with tourists. If you’re looking for calmer, quieter environments, look into Bophut or Maenam. We stayed at a stunning beachside resort in Chaweng. While the nightlife is not as crazy as Phuket’s, there are three major hot spots in Chaweng Beach: Green Mango strip, Soi Reggae and ARK Bar. Even if you’re not looking to party, they’re at least worth the people watching. But, be advised, ladies: Hold onto your men… The famous (or infamous) Green Mango strip comes alive at night with pubs, dance bars and go-go bars. For the latter, you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into at the onset by way of

Santiago Chile: Uncorked

Nature’s beauty paired with great wine and food makes Chile’s wine country a memorable destination. I had the pleasure of traveling to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Santiago, Chile, a few years ago.  While in Santiago, I was fortunate to find Uncorked Wine Tours which gave us an unforgettable experience. We had a great time in Buenos Aires, taking several walking tours and enjoying the wine, the steaks, and, most of all, the pizza!  Yes, Argentine pizza!  If you are a pizza lover and have not had Argentine pizza, I strongly suggest you do so! Wine Country Excursion After a few days in Buenos Aires, we took a flight to Santiago. Unlike Buenos Aires, which is a fabulous city to walk around, Santiago tends to be more spread out, so we decided it would be best to book a couple tours, including a visit to wine country.  We were really fortunate to learn about Uncorked Wine Tours, which is highly-rated on TripAdvisor. Uncorked Wine Tours is a wine-tourism agency with nine years of experience.  With Uncorked, we scheduled a trip to

Bogart, Bromfield And A Farm For The Stars

I have a dim memory of a visit to my grandparents in Tullahoma, Tennessee, when I was a child. In the memory, incandescent lights deepen the yellow of the pine paneling, with its knots that at times looked like the face of Jesus to my grandmother, or so she claimed. The television is on: Humphrey Bogart’s face broods in silver and shadow. I can perceive that same dry-passion of a little but powerful man in the face of my grandfather. The scene simmers-fades-flickers in my mind like a film itself. I am not even sure if it ever happened. But the essential truth of it—of men capable and answerable to the hard decisions quintessential to the fighting of world war—looms and insists with staid and immovable presence. Another image invades. My grandfather again, this time outside in mid-spring at Morris Ferry Dock near Tullahoma, the water full of green reflection. His thin body merely makes a hanger for his coveralls and tweed fedora. He is lying on the boardwalk while my father (his son) and I fish. Radiation has made


If you read my introduction to Vietnam, you’ll know that we mistakenly booked only 48 hours in Ho Chi Minh City. And, one full day was dedicated to the Mekong Delta. So, here we were, challenged with consuming all our desired items in ONE DAY. Vietnamese food incorporates the freshest ingredients, with complex, complementary textures, yielding one of our all-time favorite cuisines. You’ll also come across many exotic dishes in Vietnam, like balut (fertilized duck egg with the embroyo still inside), silk worms and shark fins. The country does not waste anything when it comes to cooking, and if you dig deep enough, you’ll realize that many of your favorite dishes have some not-so-common ingredients within. Do NOT ask questions if this will ruin the experience for you. Also, in the North, dogs, cats and rats are commonly available at street-side stalls. We fortunately didn’t encounter this during our short time in the south; household pets (and rats) are so not our thing. Here’s how we maximized our consumption in a day – totaling 10 stops. And please note: this is

Aladdin-Inspired Adventures

As the debut of Disney’s Aladdin draws near, we’re growing excited to see the story unfold. Filmed in Jordan, the live-action version of one of Disney’s most beloved animated features takes inspiration from the tales of One Thousand and One Nights and from many different countries and cultures. Our journeys throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia showcase a treasure trove of Aladdin-inspired adventures; hop a carpet and fly with us to explore them all. The Cave of Wonders A secret passageway through narrow cliffs leads to a forgotten, abandoned city carved directly into the rocks. It’s not a legend: it’s Petra, the ancient Nabataean city hidden in Jordan. Deserted in the third century BCE, this UNESCO-listed wonder remains one of the most visited sites in the world. Ker & Downey also brings our clients to Little Petra, a nearby sister city that is less frequented, but no less fascinating. Magical Palaces Brightly tiled facades, turquoise cupolas, and geometric patterns are hallmarks of architecture throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Registan Square in the city of Samarkand,

Understanding Legal Travel to Cuba

Frequently Asked Questions About Traveling to Cuba Am I allowed to travel to Cuba? Yes. US residents and citizens are able to visit Cuba, but there are restrictions on the type of travel and the businesses in Cuba a traveler is permitted to work with. How can I travel to Cuba legally? With Ker & Downey you will be traveling to Cuba under one of the 12 travel categories authorized by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Department of Treasury. Specifically, our organization supports the Cuban people by using private local entities to provide your full schedule of activities. This general license falls under OFAC travel category CFR §515.574. You can review more about OFAC regulations around travel to Cuba at this link. What constitutes a full schedule of activities? The US Department of Treasury requires that U.S. residents and citizens traveling under the general license mentioned above participate in a full-time schedule of daily activities that support the Cuban people and strengthen civil society. In order to ensure you are compliant, and to meet Ker & Downey’s

The Top 10 Must-Dos in Croatia

Traveling to Croatia checks off so many of our European must-haves: sparkling coastlines, historic walled cities, and delicious food. But in case you need more reasons to travel to this Eastern European getaway, we present our top ten must-dos in Croatia (including more food). Walk Through Dubrovnik Rise and shine to a view of the old town’s red tiled roofs, baroque buildings, and narrow, steep limestone streets. It’s a vision that will be familiar if you watch Game of Thrones. Like us, author George Bernard Shaw was enchanted by Dubrovnik, describing it as “the pearl of the Adriatic.” Once a powerful seafaring republic, Dubrovnik has survived the tides of time and remained one of the most beautiful cities on earth. UNESCO thinks so too: the Old City is listed as a World Heritage Site. Sample Local Culinary Creations Global connoisseurs probably already have Croatia on their menu. The entire region is known for its fantastic food and wine, and the best way to sample it is in a charming family-owned restaurant. When you’re planning a custom trip to Croatia, the Ker

Eat Your Way through Bangkok

Adventurous foodies unite, and allow me to introduce you to the best dining destination in the world: Bangkok. If you first read my overview of the capital, you’ll know that the city doesn’t sleep. In fact, I’m pretty convinced it also never stops eating. The food options are endless, and we only had two full days to taste the city. This is torturous to foodies, but we accepted the challenge with rigor. Here are our eating recommendations, beginning with the most worthwhile contributor to the scene, quintessential to your Bangkok experience: street food. STREET FOOD If you’ve caught wind of the “street food is being banned” buzz this past spring, fear not: The Tourism Authority of Thailand quickly released a clarifying statement, assuring us that street food will prevail. With that, street food is just about everywhere in Bangkok, at every hour. The one exception is Monday, during the day, as official street cleaning takes place and street stalls resultantly take a quick hiatus. Plan accordingly to avoid disappointment. And hanger. The (unofficial) street food mecca of Bangkok is the