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Show the Swiss Family Robinson how it’s done in your clan

Two-week family adventures in Asia start at $820—airfare’s not included, but one kid comes for free
/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

Forget Disney or the beach. For your next family trip, why not ask the kids if they might enjoy, say, riding an elephant through the Thai jungle or hanging out with wild moneys and tigers in India. Perhaps they might like sleeping on a boat amidst the jade waters and humpbacked islands of Vietnam’s Halong Bay, riding a camel across a desert, or climbing the Himalayas.

InsertArt(1950811)HAVING ONCE been a kid myself, I’d wager the answer just might be “yes.” Don’t worry, though, mom and dad, because these Asian adventures only cost $820 to $1,000 per person for two full weeks. What’s more if you book by Aug 31 (for any trip departure) one of the tykes gets to come along absolutely free of charge if you invoke promotion number 792.

This familial extravaganza comes courtesy of one of our favorite low-cost Asian tour operators, Intrepid Travel ( This Australia-based company that eschews tour buses and large groups, and fancy-schamncy international chain hotels focusing instead on the kind of genuine travel usually reserved only for, well, intrepid backpackers—only instead of feeling your way blindly along, you’ve got experienced guide who knows just how to make everything work and where to find the perfect guesthouses and local diners.

This also means riding public transportation (from trains and city buses to tuk-tuks, rickshaws, bicycles, ferries, planes, and, yes, elephants and camels), staying in family-run guesthouses and on overnight trains, and otherwise experiencing the Asia that huge tour groups never get to see (Intrepid trips have from six to a maximum of 15 people on them).

I checked out all four itineraries of this first round of Family Adventures tours, and they seem a perfect balance of sights and cultural pursuits (heavy on the ones that will appeal even to youngsters) with plenty of family fun activities—reef snorkeling, elephant rides, aquariums, river rafting, crafts lessons, even a day at the Saigon Water Park—that a purely sightseeing tour might ignore in favor of squeezing in just a few more temples or golden Buddhas. Plus, this truly is a families-only affair. Adults aren’t allowed to play unless they have at least one kid in tow. Children must be over the age of six (age eight for Nepal), and there’s a maximum of two children per adult.

InsertArt(1950809)Here are the highlights of each itinerary, all of which have departures starting Dec 27 or 28, 2003 and running one to two a month or so through 2004. Prices are per person, and cover all sightseeing and transportation (except, again, transpacific airfare and anything noted below), lodging, and most breakfasts, plus two to three lunches and dinners (the company will tell you how much to bring to cover other meals, but in inexpensive Asia it’s usually about $130 per person for the two weeks). There’s no single supplement.Thailand ($890) 15 days—Boisterous Bangkok (including a longtail boat ride through the city’s canals), the temple-ridden city of Chiang Mai, hot springs soaks, trek to visit a hilltribe and ride an elephant back down, exploring bat-filled caves, the ruined ancient city of Ayuthaya, and three days on the beach at Koh Samet (including a boat trip to snorkel the Koh Talu reef).Vietnam ($1,000) 15 days—Hanoi, cruising the emerald waters of Halong Bay amid thousands of limestone isles (and you sleep on the boat), the old Imperial capital city of Hue (see the Emperor’s tombs and cruise the Perfume River in a dragon boat), fishing villages, the ancient city of Hoi An, China beach, visit an orphanage, hang out on a private beach for two days at Nha Trang, the pirate-ship aquarium of Hon Mieu island, Ho Chi Minh City by cyclo and a trip to the Saigon Water Park. (Add $80 per person for one internal flight.)India ($960) 15 days—Delhi, the majestic Taj Mahal, cycle rickshaw through Agra, a day at Ranthambhore National Park with an evening safari to spot deer, birds, monkeys and maybe even a Bengal tiger (they’re shy), the bazaar of Bundi, the holy lake at Pushkar with a camelback trip into the desert and a night under the stars, and the palaces of the Pink City of Jaipur.Nepal ($820) 14 days—Kick back in Kathmandu (visit the monkey temple, tour a Buddhist stupa, and glimpse the Living Goddess), raft the Trisuli River, Royal Chitwan National Park (elephant rides to seek out rhinoceros), a two-day trek along the Seti River to the village of Bandipur, Sarangkot and Pokhara, paddle on the lake or cycle to visit Tibetan villages, the resort of Nagarkot with its horizon-sweeping views of the Himalayas, walk though the forest to the Changu Narayan Temple, and the ancient city of Bhaktapur.

{Editor’s Note: Ever taken the whole clan on an Asian adventure? Have you traveled with Intrepid before? Do you have a good hint, tip, or story to share that would helpful to other readers? We’d love to hear it and possibly reprint it in our letters to the editor column. Simply click here to send a letter to our editors.}

Copyright © 2003 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.

Associate Editor Reid Bramblett writes travel guidebooks for Eyewitness, Frommer’s, and the Idiot’s and For Dummies series (yes, both of them). He joined the Budget Travel staff in 2002.