In this special first-episode piece contributed by guest blogger, avid traveller and a lovely engineer of tailor-made itineraries to some of the world’s most exciting destinations, Cristy Elmendorp, we cover some of the travel connoisseur’s favourite handpicked travel experiences in the northern hemisphere of Asia. Team Expat strongly advises expats living and/or working in Asia NOT to miss out on these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities—since inspiration galore lies in their new backyard!
Taking the big step to move abroad consumes so much energy, commitment and dedication that surely, it warrants you some “reward” time to chill, venture outside and satisfy your burning desire to explore the strange and exciting neighbourhood! Wanderlust is in every expat’s DNA. Sourced from The Hedonist Review and endorsed by Cristy, here are some of our collective top unique staycation picks:
1. INDIA’S ULTIMATE TRAVELING CAMP
Whether you are a first-timer to India or a well-seasoned traveller, the country’s diversity of cultures, landscapes and cuisines will keep enticing you to come back for more. The second most populous nation in the world, there are innumerable ways to explore India’s diverse regions that range from jungles, desserts, beaches, dramatic landscapes and unexplored rural surroundings.
SEE: Ladakh ‘Little Tibet’
For those seeking to explore India’s Himalayan region head over to Ladakh, also often referred to as ‘little Tibet’. The largest province in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh exemplifies a high-altitude desert defined by craggy, barren cliffs and plateaus. Bound by the Karakoram and Himalayan mountains, Ladakh’s landscape provides the ideal backdrop for a number of adventure activities such as mountaineering, white water rafting and trekking. Treks can range from short day walks to long trans-mountain treks that involve weeks of hiking and camping in the wilderness.
EXPLORE: Crossroads of Historical Silk Route
Ladakh’s capital city, Leh, lies near the eastern parts of Jammu and Kashmir at the crossroads of the historic Silk Route from Sinkiang to West Asia and the plains of India. The ancient monasteries of Shey, Hemis, Alchi, Thikse and Lamayuru feature sacred relics and shrines that offer a unique glimpse into the religious traditions of the region. Ladakh also celebrates a number of monastic festivals held primarily during wintertime providing a portal into the pageantry of Ladakh’s centuries-old culture, traditions and folk heritage.
STAY: The Chamba Camp in Thiksey
The best way to experience this region is to stay at Chamba Camp, which belongs to India’s finest luxury tented experience called The Ultimate Travelling Camp. These luxury camps recreate an old world charm and are surrounded by ancient monasteries, cobalt blue lakes, snowcapped mountains and nomadic tribes. Choose to watch a game of polo, raft down the River Indus, explore monuments and monasteries or enjoy perfect picnic lunches in scenic locations along the riverbanks. Take advantage of the rich architectural heritage of the city and explore the magnificent Leh Palace, or wander and get lost amidst the magnificent ancient monasteries of Thiksey and Hemis.
The Chamba Camp offers a serene retreat in custom-designed tents with en-suite bathrooms, private decks, fresh linens and your very own butler. Enjoy delicious family recipes and hear enlightening stories from specialists during fire-lit evenings.
2. MYANMAR’S GOLDEN LAND OF PRECIOUS WANDERINGS
Myanmar (Burma) is home to some of the early civilisations of South East Asia and being one of the last remaining countries to open up to the modern world you will still find a way of life that has been left untouched by western influences for centuries. A country that continues to fascinate and intrigue Cristy, here are her personal insider’s tips for when travelling in Myanmar, also known as the Golden Land.
Whether you choose to fly into its former capital Yangon and wander between its colonial buildings, take a hot air balloon over the more than two-thousand ancient pagodas and temples in Bagan, experience the river cruise down the Ayarwaddy River from Mandalay to Bagan, to visiting the Shan, Danu, Pa-o, Tuang-yoe and Inthar tribes along the peaceful Inle Lake, Myanmar offers a wealth of experiences for every traveler.
SEE: INLE LAKE—The Local Market Experience at Dawn
Take an early morning sunrise boat ride to one of the markets and wander between the local people and hill tribes who exchange food and other basic necessities before the rest of the tourists arrive and traditional market stands are replaced with touristy souvenirs.
EXPLORE: A Day Hike Around INLE LAKE
Have your hotel organise a day hike where you have a chance to visit the local villages and experience their way of life. Take a visit to the local meal production factory, stop at the local rice wine distillery, or taste the fresh cooling sugar cane juice taken straight from the plantations.
STAY: Inle Princess Resort
For a true serene experience stay at the Inle Princess Resort. Surrounded by spectacular views of the blue mountain ranges and rice paddy fields and designed according to the traditions of the Shan and Intha people, this resort complements the beauty of Inle Lake and its natural surroundings.
3. NEPAL’S ULTIMATE HIMALAYAN DREAM LODGE
If you are thinking of visiting Nepal then make sure to stay at Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge, a charming ecolodge situated on a spectacular hilltop ridge a thousand feet above the Pokhara Valley. Offering panoramic views of Machhapuchhre and three of the world’s eight-thousand meter high Himalayan peaks, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, and Mansalu, Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge is a great place to be based as you explore its numerous enchanting nature trails.
The main area of the Lodge has a cosy central fireplace and there are some great day walks that are led by local experts. Only a short 30 minute flight from Kathmandu, Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge has always been a great place to go for a retreat from the lively activity of Nepal’s capital or makes an ideal base for nature lovers to explore the various hiking options around the Pokhara region. The founders of Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge were one of the first pioneers to develop ecotourism in Nepal long before the concept of ecotourism came into being and they are still actively participating in conservation-based wildlife tourism and social development projects.
The ecolodge is currently run by Marcus Cotton, originally from England but has made Nepal his home for more than two decades.
4. CHIANG MAI’S CULTURAL AND CURIOUS CHARM
Surrounded by mountains and home to more than three hundred temples, Chiang Mai is the largest and most significant cultural capital of Northern Thailand. At the centre of this charming northern capital is an ancient moated walled city that embodies both a rich cultural heritage alongside a more modern environment. From ancient ruins and temples, to chic boutique hotels, trendsetting shops, and great hiking trails, here are some of Cristy’s personal recommendations of things to do and see when travelling to Chiang Mai.
STAY: Pillars 137
A gorgeous colonial boutique hotel, this private residence has been converted into a hotel that reflects the heart of Thai culture. The name is based on the 137 pillars found in the charming old wooden teak house which is a great place to lounge and explore their extensive library on the history and art of Chiang Mai and other international favourites.
SIP TEA: Vieng Joom On
Also known as the Pink Tea House for its distinctive pink coloured walls. They have a wide selection of teas from all over the world and are especially famous for their exquisite desserts. A great place for an afternoon tea or just to relax and meet up with friends. A cozy lush environment with great outside seating along the Ping River.
DETOX: The Spa Chiangmai
Cristy highly recommends the wide selection of healthy foods offered at The Spa Resorts and checking out their flagship in Chiang Mai. The resort itself is inspired by the northern Thai Lanna architecture and is spread out over 80,000 sq. meters of gently sloped hillside. The Spa has their own mango groves, lush rice paddies, and organic farm. The owners, an American-Thai couple, opened the first spa resort in Thailand thirty years ago and are internationally known for their excellent detox and therapeutic spa programs.
SIP COFFEE: Doi Chang Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is famous for their locally grown coffee. Cristy’s favourite coffee in Thailand is Doi Chang’s organic coffee beans which is run by local hill tribe families who came together to create their own coffee company. Frustrated by having coffee dealers blend their premium beans with inferior coffee beans, they decided to specialise in their own premium single-estate organic Arabica coffee. Today the Doi Chang Village and neighbouring areas is home to eight-thousand people within eight-hundred families who all live and work together to create and cultivate their coffee.
SEE: Opium Hall Museum
The border areas of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar is called the Golden Triangle and known as one of Asia’s two main opium producing areas. As a way to educate the public on the opium trade there is an excellent museum that will give you a comprehensive insight into the history of opium.
DO: Zip Lining!
It is a great way to experience the jungle and get some nice views.
STAY: Authentic Tree House Experience
When you are in Chiang Mai, an absolute must is to visit the small town of Pai, known for its great hiking trails. On the way spend the night in one of the three charming tree house.
5. ANGKOR WAT’S EXOTIC APPEAL
Explorers, adventurers, missionaries and emissaries have recorded visits to the temples of Angkor Wat for well over eight hundred years, describing the monumental remnants of what was once a thriving culture that spread from the Mekong Delta to the north of Laos and occupied most of modern day Thailand.
This Cambodian empire has left some of the greatest buildings and sandstone carvings depicting the religious figures of Vishnu, Shiva, Uma, Hanuman and their epic deeds. Built in the first half of the 12th century (113-5BC) by King Suryavarman II, the Ankor temples was dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu.
The Angkor Wat is the largest monument of the group of temples and the best preserved. Its composition, balance, proportions, relief’s and sculpture make it one of the finest monuments in the world and a magnificent architectural masterpiece.
What gives Angkor Wat its religious significance is that it’s a miniature replica of the universe in stone and represents an earthly model of the cosmic world. The central tower symbolises the mythical mountain, Meru, a mountain believed to be the centre of the universe. Its five towers correspond to the peaks of Mount Meru and the outer wall and moat make reference to the mountains and oceans at the edge of the world.
To visit this magnificent UNESCO Heritage Site, travel deep to the north west of Cambodia where you will find Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and Banteay Srei.
STAY: The Samar Villas
A great place to stay at since The Samar is conveniently situated just 1 kilometre from the entrance of archeological site of Angkor Wat.
The Samar is a blend of traditional Khmer architecture and contemporary design and with only nine bedrooms, this property offers an intimate experience and a sense of refinement and warmth typically found in a beautiful family home. The hotel also has an adjacent restaurant, The Fou Nan, which serves a superb Cambodian cuisine.
Photo credits: The Hedonist Review
Cristy Elmendorp is the founder of Soma Journeys. If you’d like a special tailor-made itinerary to any of the above destinations, visit www.somajourneys.com and apply for your free consultation.