May 1st, 2015 by Ambrose Bittner

Nepal is like a second home to me having done several treks and mountain climbs there and being on the board of the Mitrata-Nepal Foundation for Children, which supports education for needy children.  I and Red Lantern Journeys are working with 2 organizations in Nepal to help the earthquake relief efforts.

1. Immediate Relief to Those in Need through Mission Himalaya and Dooley Intermed

Our trekking partner in Nepal, has an NGO called Mission Himalaya. Their main project was to build and run an orphanage, in Panauti, Nepal. However, they also work together with Dooley Intermed International Foundation based in New York to run medical treks to treat locals with vision problems in remote locations.

They are now working together on immediate earthquake relief and Red Lantern Journeys is supporting them. We ask that you please join us in that support by making a donation via the Dooley Intermed International Foundations web site.

They are now providing free hot meals, free medical services, distribution of rice, vegetables, biscuits, snacks, instant noodles, soap, and toiletries. They also are making available a water purifier for drinking water, buckets, mugs, etc. All this is for approximately 300 people. With your help it can be for many others!


2. Long Term Help for Education through the Mitrata-Nepal Foundation for Children

Red Lantern Journeys is the organizer of the Climb for Himalaya Children, a fundraiser of the Mitrata-Nepal Foundation for Children. You can donate to Mitrata directly or sponsor a climber attempting to climb Mt. Rainier in July. They anticipate increased funding needs to support the over 100 children that they are currently educating.


February 27th, 2015 by Ambrose Bittner

Mt Rainier Climb for Himalaya ChildrenPlease join the Climb for Himalaya Children, an annual benefit climb of Mt. Rainier in Washington State put on by the Mitrata-Nepal Foundation for Children to benefit their programs in Nepal. Red Lantern Journeys is proud to be the organizing sponsor of this challenging event.

This year, the climb will take place from
July 16th to 18th.  There are two ways to participate:

1. Climb the Mountain

CHC Climbers climb the mountain over the course of three days. They will be trained on how to use technical mountaineering gear like ropes, harnesses, ice axes and crampons during their ascent. It’s a physically challenging endeavor, but if you get in shape for it, most people can be successful. No prior mountaineering experience is required. Read the Red Lantern Journeys web page about training for for the climb.

2. Be a “Sherpa”
CHC Sherpas are those who don’t have the time or inclination to actually climb the mountain, but want to join in the fun on a less committing basis by helping to carrying some of the climber’s group gear like tents and ropes to or from the Climber’s high camp at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. The non-technical hike to high camp is done in a day and takes about 4 to 5 hours up and 2 hours down. To participate, Sherpas register to raise a minimum of $300 and can participate by carrying a piece of gear up to high camp on day 1 (Thursday, July 16), or down from high camp on day 3 (Saturday, July 18), or both.

For more information
on key dates, how to sign up, and preparing for the climb, visit the Red Lantern Journeys web site.

Register as a Climber or Sherpa Here

Photo by Bill Harrison

Photo by Bill Harrison

Your participation will help ensure that the children of Nepal have access to education in a country where at risk children are constantly subjected to the dangers of malnutrition, child labor, and prostitution. Your contribution will make a big difference in the lives of these children. One hundred percent of the money you raise will go to the Mitrata-Nepal Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that supports children’s educational causes in Nepal.

Prize for Biggest Fundraiser: a trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp in Nepal!

April 7th, 2014 by Ambrose Bittner
In Our Bhutanese Wedding Garb

In Our Bhutanese Wedding Garb

I’ve pictured in my head a thousand times what it was like for Princess Wen Cheng when she married Tibetan King, Songtsan Gampo in 641 AD. I’d kill for an opportunity to go back in time and see how the Chinese princess reacted to the strange ancient rituals and loud musical instruments that didn’t play a tune.  What did she think of an army of Tibetan lamas chanting to the clashing of cymbals and drums beating to loud bass-toned trumpets? Was she terrified of the dark temple chambers lit remotely only by yak butter lamps that smelt strange?

Most of all, did she ever finish a full cup of yak butter tea? Silly question I know. But for those who have not tasted this special tea, I can only tell you it’s an acquired taste and not even a durian loving Chinese like me can handle that tea!

I visited Tibet in 2006 and sobbed from overwhelming emotion as I stood in front of the Potala Palace. It was like winning the lottery because I finally joined famous explorers who made it to the once forbidden city of Lhasa. I had the biggest goose bumps of my life when I entered the Potala. Suddenly everything felt familiar as though I had lived there before—it must have been Princess Wen Cheng reaching out to me.

I also spent an entire day watching and photographing faithful pilgrims prostrating nonstop in front of the Jokhang Temple. This temple is still the most sacred in Tibet and was built in honor of Princess Wen Cheng and the other Nepalese bride of King Songtsan Gampo. I finally had a faint taste of what Wen Cheng experienced, the ancient prayers and rituals were probably the same as what she saw back then.

Seven years later, never in my wildest dreams would I believe a fantasy would come to life. Yes, I’m talking about retracing the steps of Princess Wen Cheng’s wedding!

I don’t have royal blood and my groom is not an exotic Tibetan King. Nevertheless, my white American husband and myself were treated to an impromptu traditional wedding ceremony in Bhutan when we visited last month.

Bhutan was never a part of Tibet, but their religion shared similar features. Our local partner in Bhutan and his wife had kindly arranged the high lama from the Paro Dzong and some monks to conduct a blessing ritual for us in a small 14th century temple.

I was dressed up in a full-length silk kira, a typical Bhutanese robe for ladies, and it required two people to wrap it around me to form a full length dress. Then I was covered in a silk jacket pinned with a delicate broche. As my host laid a hand-woven silk scarf over my shoulders, she said only a princess was allowed to wear it this way. My last ornament was an exquisite necklace with precious stones. I was ecstatic beyond words, definitely feeling some blue blood rushing up my head.

Ambrose, my groom, was also wrapped in typical national costume called a gho.  He had a bright yellow, knee-length robe held at the waist with a belt, then finished off with a raw silk scarf tied across.  He looked really handsome with his $1 haircut by a professional Indian barber in Thimphu. It was the best haircut I had ever seen on him!

Days later in a weaving village, I learnt that it can take up to one and a half years just to weave a half silk kira, and it can cost about US$1,500. Their weaving technique was probably the most intricate ones I had ever seen.

From our changing room, we entered the temple’s main worship chamber with two monks blowing the kangling (Tibetan long style trumpets), another one on the gshang (flat bells) and two others on the drums. Sitting on a raised platform was the high Lama leading the monks in chanting. The sounds were typically Tibetan and I was feeling the same tingling sensation when I entered the Potala Palace in Lhasa.

My heartbeat quickened as I glared at the grand spectacle before me. I was finally experiencing an ancient Tibetan-style ritual and I was going through it with the most important man of my life. The scale of this ceremony was nowhere close to Princess Wen Cheng’s. But I definitely saw the moment through her eyes.

We commenced by prostrating three times to the high lama to show our respect, followed by another three to ornate statues of their deities. A Bhutanese prostration involves putting your palms together, holding them first above your forehead, followed by face and chest, then kneeling down with both palms and head touching the floor.

While I prostrated, I suddenly felt a strong bonding between me and Tibet that none of my readings or travels ever gave. I knew instantly this would never take place in Tibet and I was eternally grateful to Bhutan for granting me this special experience. Sharing that moment with Ambrose just made it even more personal and precious.

While the lama and monks continued chanting, we were seated on the floor next to them. I was so high and lost in my own thoughts by now, brought back to reality only when I tasted the butter tea and sweet rice served during break time. The acquired tastes awakened my senses instantly. Sadly, I have to admit I really can’t live on these and I bet Princess Wen Cheng couldn’t get use to them too.

We were then handed a small statue wrapped in a silk scarf which each of us had to place above our foreheads. The monk also dripped some holy water on our palms which we dapped on our lips and hair. The ceremony ended with more chanting followed by last three prostrations, each to the high lama and the deities.

Ambrose and I are very grateful to our Bhutanese hosts for this unforgettable life time experience. It tops my list of my unique travel experiences for now and I can’t wait to see what else unfolds before my life.

A week after we left Bhutan, I wore another Bhutanese kira at my Chinese wedding reception in Singapore. It was a farewell gift from my kind hosts, and I was proud to combine their beautiful culture to mine.

Who says time travel is not possible? You just have to be at the right place, at the right time, with a big open heart.

June 20th, 2013 by Ambrose Bittner

There are a couple of free and convenient options for creating passport photos from your own pictures that you take with your digital camera or phone.

PassportPhoto4You is completely free. On their web site, you upload a photo you’ve taken, edit it, then download it as a .jpg file that you can print yourself. It’s fairly easy to use with good instructions. However, they make their money by trying to trick you into clicking on ads on the download page that install some kind of image editor or .pdf viewer that probably has all sorts of malware associated with it.  They also make you wait 120 seconds before the insconspicous, non-malware download link appears….They say you can bypass that time limit by clicking the Google+ link, but it didn’t work for me. will print the photo for you and mail it to you for a fee, or you have the option to download the photo for free as a .jpg.  After the editing step, they try hard to get you to share your post on Facebook, but there is a faint link below that allows you to bypass that.

Tip 1:  Copy the .jpg file into a Word document and print from there to make sure you get the size correct.

Tip 2:  Test print the photo on regular paper, then print the real thing on good quality photo paper.


June 13th, 2013 by Ambrose Bittner

DSCN0673According to Indian industry minister, Anand Sharma, Myanmar has granted India’s airlines the right to run services between the two countries. So far, SpiceJet has applied for rights to fly the route from New Delhi to Dhaka to Yangon.  Air India has already been fliying to Yangon non-stop from Kolkata, but only twice per week. So most traverlers would fly through Bangkok. Expect more airlines to follow with flights from other Indian cities.


June 7th, 2013 by Ambrose Bittner

Mt Rainier Climb for Himalaya ChildrenJoin us to climb to the top of Mt. Rainier this July 18 to 20! Several spots are still available. Click here for more information and to register.

The Mitrata-Nepal Foundation for Children and Red Lantern Journeys team up every year to raise money for children’s causes in Nepal by climbing 14,411-foot Mt. Rainier in Washington State. The climb takes place over 3 days from July 18th to 20th…if weather conditions permit!

Please consider sponsoring one of our climbers with a tax-deductible donation. Your support, no matter how small, goes a long way to provide food, clothing, a home, and education to children in Nepal who need it to become productive members of their community.

Please visit the Mitrata web site to learn more about the great work that they do.


December 10th, 2012 by Ambrose Bittner

Great news for those traveling in Myanmar. CB Bank Ltd., has now installed ATMs where you can get local currency using a Mastercard, Maestro, or Cirrus debit card. They currently have 36 ATMs in Myanmar in the towns of Yangon, Mandalay, Bago, Taungoo, and Pyinmana. They’ve also just installed one in the arrival hall of the Yangon Airport!

Changing money to local currency has always been an issue as you’ve needed US$ cash in preferrably $100 bills. Many places would not change bills unless they were crisp new notes without any signs of wear, like fold marks.

The transaction fee to use the ATM is 5,000 Kyat, about $6, which is comparable to the cost of using an ATM in Thailand, but expensive by US standards. Point-of-sales terminals will also become available to merchants, so expect to start to be able to use a Mastercard in shops soon.

Here’s the link to the Mastercard press release.


December 5th, 2012 by Ambrose Bittner

It appears that India has come it’s senses and removed the requirement for a minimum 2-month gap between visits to India by a foreign national (except those from China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Bangladesh — effective immediately.

The original restriction was a poorly implemented policy that created a lot of confusion in the first place. It had been revised so that tourists could visit neighboring countries like Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka for a short time and still return to India if you had an itinerary that showed this, but now there will be no confusion — especially by airport immigration officers in communicating to foreigners.

This will probably benefit international business people the most.  Thank you India! I hope that you also implement a visa-on-arrival for more nationalities soon!


November 19th, 2012 by Ambrose Bittner

I wrote an article a few years ago about the process for getting custom-tailored suits made in Bangkok. Here’s a much more insightful article on the Travel Impact Newswire blog with from with tips from one of Bangkok’s best tailors, Raja Gulati:

Tips from Bangkok’s Best Tailor: Defining Factors to Look Good in a Suite



November 12th, 2012 by Ambrose Bittner

The lunar new year takes place at a different time every year typically between late January and late February. In 2013, it is on February 10th. TET is a family holiday and most Chinese and Vietnamese will travel to their hometown during this time, usually taking the whole week off. As a result, most hotels and other companies operate on a barebones staff and many local restaurants will be closed.

In fact, all over Asia during that time, expats take advantage of this time to take their vacations around the region. As a result, hotel space is at a premium, especially in places like Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Bali….even though these countries don’t celebrate the Lunar New Year. So, if you want to travel in Asia during this time, plan early to get your hotels and local flights. You’ll be glad you did.