Savvy, seasoned travellers are beginning to realise that there’s much to discover in our backyard, and we don’t need to travel far to experience some of the most fascinating places in the world. Asia has its fair share of history, culture, scenic routes and off the beaten track gems of a find, and fabulous experiences. It’s all there waiting to be explored; just that over here, we probably need to poke around a bit more to get the information we need to plan our adventures.
Thankfully travel agencies are catching on to our increasing wanderlust and are offering some pretty off the beaten path experiences which allow us to really soak in the richness of the cultures around us.
Eco-Excitement In Rural Vietnam
Done HCM City and Hanoi? Take a 4D/3N Northern Vietnam Off the Beaten Track trip (US$395 per person) and discover a little known part of rural Vietnam. Start off predictably in the Old Town and French Quarter of Hanoi first — it has loads of charm even if it is crawling with fellow tourists. Then be whisked off to the relatively new ecotourism destination of Ngoc Son Ngo Luong Nature Reserve several hours’ drive southeast of the city. The scenery here is touted to be a ‘fairyland’ with jungle-covered peaks, rice terraces, cascading waterfalls and tranquil rural settings. Accommodation is in traditional stilt houses, and meals are with resident minority ethnic Muong people. The itinerary includes Ninh Binh to see its lush green valleys and impressive karst cliffs (said to rival those of Halong Bay), being rowed through Tam Coc, known as the region’s most beautiful valley, then finish off your stay at an exclusive eco lodge to wind down.
The Ultimate Bhutan Adventure
Another great trip in the bosom of Mother Nature is the 6-day Scenic Heli-Adventure in Bhutan with ultra-luxe accommodation in COMO Uma Paro (4 nights) and COMO Uma Punakha (2 nights). Expect to splash a whole lot of cash, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Bring good hiking boots for some walking through pine forests, valleys, past farms and rice paddies; see temples (lots of!) and lakes, even try riding a yak, and keep an eye out for Himalayan wildlife like marmots and blue sheep. The main highlights are the two helicopter rides from one hotel to the other, taking you over Bhutan’s stunning scenery and a visit to the Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest Monastery — one of Bhutan’s most important pieces of architecture — which requires a two hour scenic hike. There’ll be plenty of down-time to relax in the two hotels too. It’s not cheap but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it includes all the tours, meals, transfers, literally everything…including yoga and a spa treatment.
Indigenous Flavours in Bali
So this is not really roughing it out but it is an elegant culinary adventure by luxury resort Alila Manggis in Bali. Limited to only one party a day — be it a couple or a family — guests who have arranged for it are transported to the home of Pak Gede, a resident of Tengenan, a pre-Hindu era village in East Bali, and home of the indigenous Bali Aga people, ” believed to be descendants of the aboriginal Balinese that existed long before the Hindu-Javanese Majapahit migrated to the island”. They get to dine at Pak Gede’s beautiful, museum-like home with high walls and separate structures for kitchen, sleeping and living areas, etc. The meal is served at a bale on a low table. Comprising Bali Aga delicacies, the seven-dish meal is cooked by his wife on over a coconut husk fire pit, with the help of the butler and a chef from Alila Manggis. Wine and champagne adds to the enjoyment of this experience even if it is does veer far off from the traditional culture of the land. Meanwhile, you get serenaded by a Balinese musician playing the rindik, a traditional bamboo instrument. Pak Gede himself is quite the artist, and specialises in woodcarving, Balinese calendar and Sanskrit writing on palm leaves, and tableware crafted from pandan leaves. His wife creates Geringsing, too — a traditional woven textile made using a special weaving technique known as double ikat.