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Our Team Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writers Konrad Clapp Samantha Pereira Creative Director Lynn Ooi
It's official. Travelling (and tourism) is a booming industry, and one that seems to be immune to the global financial crisis. With no sign of it slowing down (tourism development is rife in many countries), this issue is dedicated to the 'art' of travelling. As they say, travelling is not just about the destination – it's the journey that matters.
Our 'Journeys' issue covers a wide spectrum of travel, ranging from classic itineraries to new travel darlings, whether it's an epic expedition cruise or hiking on well-trodden trails. This issue, we feature the isolated Edens of Sabah's Danum Valley, Maliau Basin and Imbak Canyon; some of these forests are older than the Amazon and hold countless treasures - from rare plants to endangered wildlife - that are worth the hardy trek and a few leech bites. Those who love river journeys should not miss the Mekong - meandering its length (by kayak or boat) gives you a snapshot of the diversity that lies along its shores. Then there's the incredible landscape that ranges from tablelands drizzled by waterfalls to waterways dotted with islands and sunken forests. We then head to the rugged Mountain Province of northern Philippines and discover the lost tribes and ancient burial sites that are surrounded by miles of World Heritage-listed electric green terraced rice fields . In India, we rediscover some of its most classic itineraries - from Rajasthani desert outposts to the tea fields of Darjeeling - as a reminder of the diversity of this beguiling country. We then cross to the north into Tibet - a high altitude home of hardy folks who practice their unique annual equestrian events. Railway lovers can check out our centrefold for some of Eastern Europe’s most epic rail journeys – these include Hungary and Czech Republic. If these aren't enough, we've also compiled a list of 'Journeys of a Lifetime' that roughly outlines some of the most amazing journeys and trips to be had around the world. Whether you decide to have a year-long round-the-world adventure or a shorter sojourn to these amazing sites, there's never a shortage of places to go and things to see.
Until then, Happy Trails!
Designer Marilyn Wong General Manager Aaron Stewart
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UPDATE ON OUR PROJECT LOVE SNEAKER DRIVE More than 1,200 pairs of used sneakers were gathered during our Project Love Sneaker drive in collaboration with Running Lab and Garuda Indonesia. The shoes will be shipped to our beneficiary, the East Bali Poverty Project. A big thank you to all who’ve donated their pre-loved sneakers, and those who didn’t have time to contribute this time can look forward to our PLS drive next year!
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Tucked in the heart of Sabah is a 1,330sq.km area of protected rainforest reserve known as 'DaMaI' (an acronym for Danum Valley, Maliau Basin and Imbak Canyon). Managed by Yayasan Sabah, the entire area is twice the size of Singapore, containing the richest repository of flora and fauna in Borneo, and is home to rare endemic species like the orangutan and pygmy elephant. A trip to this area involves long drives on dirt tracks, and are seldom visited by tourists, hence their pristine conditions. Due to their remoteness, locals often regard this region as spiritual ground.
130-million-year-old virgin rainforest Covering 438sq.km., the compact rainforest in Danum Valley is older than the Amazon forest (60 million years old), and is one of the richest conservation areas in the world, with over 200 species of tree per hectare, housing a myriad of Borneo's endangered wildlife like the Sumatran Rhino, Sun Bear, Benteng and Bay Cat (an endemic species only found in Mulu and Danum Valley). Most visitors overnight at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge, which is a good base to access jungle trails and participate in a night safari drive which happens every night at 8.30pm, when jeeps with spotters bring visitors into the jungle to spot nocturnal wildlife. Depending on luck, you may spot flying squirrels, mouse deer, bearded pigs and Sambar deer.
CONTRIBUTED BY Murphy Ng (www.mysabah.com)
Jungle Trails To better appreciate the pristine jungle, over 50km of boardwalks and trails network the Danum Valley. One of the most recommended is the 2.6km View Point trail, which will take about 5 hours, with plenty of interesting sites to stop by. Tackling the trail in the morning mist, you can spot orchids, lichens, lianas and mushrooms along the trail, with the call of hooting gibbons as a soundtrack. About 40 minutes into the trail is an ancient Kadazandusun burial site, a cliff-side location with a collection of Dusun Supan (the local tribe) coffins, some over 200 years old. The trail continues onto View Point â€“ a wooden platform from where you can get a breathtaking bird's-eye view of the rainforest below. For a cooling post-hike dip, you can drop in on the Fairy Waterfall (27m) and the Jacuzzi
Pool where you can swim and enjoy a bit of fish spa for your feet. Another attraction in Danum Valley is the Canopy Walk, which is ideal for bird-watching as this 300m-long bridge is suspended 27m high amidst the tree cover. As recently as 2008, a new bird species (Spectacled Flowerpecker) was discovered here. Danum Valley is one of the few places in Malaysia where you can find 8 species of hornbill, along with over 290 other bird species; the most prized view is one of the Bornean Bristlehead (found only in Borneo). Getting There Danum Valley is 97m west of Lahad Datu via gravel road, and as the most sophisticated of the 3 reserves (which include Maliau and Imbak), there is luxury accommodation available at Borneo Rainforest Lodge.
highest point is 21m, making it ideal for birdwatching.
The Maliau Basin is set in a 25km-wide semicircular crater that was formed about 5 million years ago. The crescent-shaped outer rim – with steep slopes and cliffs ranging from 100m to 1,600m high – creates a natural barrier that isolates the basin from the outside world, hence its moniker 'Sabah's Lost World'.
The Trek The Maliau Basin trek begins with an 8.8km 4WD transfer to the first camp in the basin proper, Agathis Camp, which has its own 1km nature trail.
Sabah's Lost World
The Maliau Basin Conservation Area is 588.5 sq.km (nearly the size of Singapore) and houses at least 12 forest types; over 1,900 species of plants have been identified, along with at least 69 types of mammals and 290 bird species. Due to its hilly terrain and network of rivers, the basin has the densest number of waterfalls in Malaysia (about 20 discovered so far). A full loop of the basin takes about 5-6 days, overnighting at 3 camps along the way. Getting around Maliau is challenging; porters are available to cart your supplies to the various camps. The major base is the Maliau Basin Studies Centre (MBSC) – a large complex with a hostel, basic shop and gallery – where you can organise a night safari drive. The nearby Skybridge canopy walk (10 mins drive away) is the second longest canopy walk in Sabah at 294m long, straddling 8 towering trees along the way. Constructed in 2007, its
SABAH'S HIDDEN WORLDS
From Agathis, the strenuous, hilly 9km jungle trek traverses a forest of towering 50m-tall trees. The dense canopy creates a very damp, leaf-littered floor that is home to a variety of critters, including leeches. After 7 hours of trekking, you'll reach Ginseng Camp, where you can access Ginseng Waterfall (27m) about 500m away. The next morning, you can visit the famous 7-tiered Maliau Falls via a strenuous uphill 4.8km trek. Along the way back to Ginseng Camp, a stop at Lobah Camp (a helipad) gives you a panoramic view of the basin. Throughout Maliau, you may see (and definitely hear) Bornean gibbons as well as redleaf monkeys (an average sq.km. of Maliau Basin hosts about 35 individual primates –
the highest density in Sabah). The distance from Agathis Camp to Nepenthes Camp (Camel Trophy Camp) is 7km (5-6 hours), trekking through elevations from 566m-1,000m with the air getting cooler the higher you go. The trek brings you through a botanist's paradise: a heath forest housing 9 varieties of pitcher plants (they can be found almost everywhere in the forest), along with rhododendrons and wild orchids.
The 2-storey Nepenthes Camp is the oldest permanent camp in the basin, with a 33m-tall observation platform on top of an Agathis tree. From the camp, you can access the multi-tiered Giluk Falls and TakobAkob Waterfall (the tallest in Maliau Basin at 38m), at 2km and 3.5km away respectively. The loop of the Maliau Basin ends with a (mostly) descending trek back to Agathis Camp (7.5km) before a 4WD ride back to the MBSC. Getting There The Maliau Basin is about 190km west of Tawau, and a drive takes 4-5 hours. It is also accessible from Kota Kinabalu from where you drive southeastwards for 160km, taking 5-6 hours.
Canyon; some visitors still cross the river by 4WD for the fun of it.
Situated north of Maliau Basin is the Imbak Canyon, a 3km-wide valley flanked by sandstone ridges up to 1,500m high. Carved by the Imbak River over thousands of years, the dense forest here is more than 100 million years old and is home to plenty of wildlife including pygmy elephants, sambar deer, sun bears, Sumatran rhinos and a whole host of birdlife.
Tampoi Base Camp (aka Tampoi Research Station) is the headquarter of Imbak Canyon and the main camp before venturing out to other sub-camps; thereâ€™s basic accommodation and facilities as well as a campsite for larger groups.
Borneo's Green Canyon
Home to lowland rainforest and heath forests (abundant with native orchids and endemic pitcher plants), over 70% of the canyon is unexplored, and is considered by many to be high in pharmaceutical and biotechnological potential. The journey to Imbak Canyon is through prime 4WD territory, as it is only accessible with modified trucks due to the rough and varied terrain. Kampung Imbak is the last settlement before crossing the new bridge that has been built over the river, into Imbak
Ten kilometres away (1 hour by 4WD, plus 1-hour trek) is the canyon's famous Imbak Waterfall, stretching 80m wide. The Kangkawat hanging bridge overlooks this majestic fall, and leads to the Big Belian Camp with its 45-minute jungle trail. As with Maliau, Imbak is dotted with many waterfalls, including Kuli Falls, Majau Falls and Pandan Falls. There is a clockwise trail circuit of the canyon. From Imbak Falls, you can trek to Kapur Camp (17km, 6-8 hours), Pinang-pinang Camp (5km, 2-3 hours) and Bukit Beruang Camp (4.2km, 6-8 hours) before returning to Tampoi Base Camp (4km, 4-6 hours).
Kuli Camp, about 1.5 hour's drive plus a 1hour trek from Tampoi Base Camp, was built for scientific research (although visitors are allowed), with 5 major trails of varying difficulty around the camp, ranging from river trails to steep scrambles on muddy tracks. The Kuli Falls is easily accessible from the camp along a riverine trail. Gazetted as a Class I protected forest reserve and therefore requiring a permit to enter, Imbak Canyon is less developed than Danum and Maliau. Visiting groups are normally attached to research, although the canyon is also open to visitors on custom itineraries. Getting There The remote Imbak Canyon is accessible via a 300km drive (over 6 hours) from Kota Kinabalu, most of it on gravel and mud tracks.
JOURNEYS OF A
When it comes to journeys of a lifetime, a few classic adventures often pop up – like Machu Picchu, Mt. Everest, Trans Siberian or the QEII. If you're planning for your next big trip, here are some ideas for some of the world's highlights – from world famous sites to lesser known sojourns, you can pick one or string a few together to create a round-the-world adventure via any means necessary.
EUROPE & AFRICA The cradle of Western civilisation, the landscape of Europe's nearly 50 countries are as varied as its people, from the fjords to Alpine mountains. And while hiking trails like the 10,450km E4 ambitiously link the continent, Europe's famously efficient network of roads and rail puts everything easily in reach. From bustling markets to migrating herds and vast savannah, Africa is steeped in history, as can be witnessed at the historic churches of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). To the south, wildlife dominate the landscape that ranges from the arid Kalahari to the wellirrigated Okavango Delta.
CENTRAL ASIA & MIDDLE EAST Linked by their centuries of shared culture, history and religion, Central Asia and the Middle East form a vast region of deserts, mountains and grassland stretching from the Mediterranean to the edge of China. For all those similarities, they also remain vastly different destinations, something easily appreciated crossing the Central Asian steppe via the Trans-Siberian or along the ancient Silk Road, juxtaposed with the Middle East and its indigenous Bedouin culture, Egypt's ancient temples or camel safaris and dhow cruises in Oman.
ASIA & OCEANIA
Covering nearly half the world, from mainland China and the Russian Far East to the far-flung islands of the Pacific, Asia and Oceania boast a huge diversity of cultures and landscapes. From the barren beauty of crossing the Outback, to the fjords and glaciers of New Zealand, the region couldn't be more diverse. Something that's easily appreciated even on foot, simply by taking in the stark difference of different trails, from the epic Kokoda Track to the ambling, historic Basho Trail.
Encompassing Canada, the USA, Central and South America, the landscape is superbly varied, ranging from soaring snowcapped mountains to dry desert plains, evergreen forests and more. Traversing the vast continents can get pretty wild – whether you're summiting the Rockies and Andes, or riding across the Santa Fe desert or trekking through the Amazon forest.
THE AMERICAS B A
CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR RAIL (USA) Route: Chicago, Illinois to Emeryville, California Duration: 51 hours Distance: 3,900km Price: fromUS$713
NORTHERN EXPLORER (CANADA) Route: Calgary, Alberta to Vancouver, BC Duration: 16 days Distance: 3,000km (est.) Price: from CAD$4,399
Following the footsteps of pioneer settlers in the American West, the Zephyr travels 3,900km through 7 states, passing the Colorado River canyons on the western slope of the Rockies, the deserts of Utah and Nevada and the mountains of the Sierra Nevada before ending in the lowlands of California's Central Valley. This Amtrak route also crosses the Continental Divide via the 10km-long Moffat Tunnel.
The glacier-fed lakes, majestic mountain ranges and raging rivers of the Canadian Rockies can be enjoyed onboard the luxury Rocky Mountaineer, a 2-day rail journey. This is followed by a 7-day Alaskan cruise of the Inside Passage, visiting Juneau (whalewatch, kayak, hike or fish), Skagway and Glacier Bay. Also on the itinerary are Icefields Parkway, Whistler, Yoho Park, as well as Jasper and Banff.
SANTA FE TRAIL ON HORSEBACK (USA) Route: Boonville, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico Duration: 1 week Distance: 1,290km
Once an important 19th century commercial and military highway, the 1,290km trail takes you through a portion of American frontier history. The best way to explore it is on horseback (you can also drive, hike or cycle) along the companion trail (which is alongside the fragile original trail), as you ride through dramatic desert highlands past a smattering of preserved Trail-era buildings and ruins.
PATAGONIA (CHILE/ARGENTINA) A natural wonderland of majestic fjords and glistening glaciers, Patagonia is South America's southern frontier where barren and beautiful open spaces are dotted with jagged peaks, pristine forests and a network of backwaters. Highlights include Los Glacieres National Park and Torres del Paine National Park – go hiking, horseback riding and canoeing for an all-round adventure. Separately, the waterways of Chilean Patagonia on the country’s southwest coast are ideally tackled on a sea kayak, taking you past bays with whales and icy fjords.
EPIC SOUTH AMERICA EXPEDITION CRUISE Route: Trinidad, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina Duration: 38 days Distance: 5,000km (est.) Price: from US$34,730 This epic voyage through 8 countries allows you to explore the best of South America's east coast, including riverine and rainforest habitats, virgin beaches, charming colonial towns and vibrant cities. Spot wildlife along the jungle rivers like the Orinoco and Amazon, kayak through the ecowonderland of Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, explore quaint Parati town or relax on pristine beaches – all in the company of National Geographic photographers and naturalists.
EUROPE & AFRICA NORWAY IN A NUTSHELL (NORWAY)
© Flam Tourism
Route: Oslo to Bergen (or reverse), Norway Distance: 300km (est.) Duration: 14 hours
The popular itinerary takes you through some of the most amazing landscapes ranging from fjords and pretty villages to soaring mountains and valleys drizzled with waterfalls. Starting from Oslo on the scenic Bergen Railway, the route takes you to the scenic village of Flåm via the famous Flåm railway (it loops inside a mountain to descend to the valley) before you board a ferry to Gudvangen through the picturesque Sognefjord. The last portion involves a bus ride to the town of Voss, a centre for adventure sports, before ending the journey at UNESCO-listed Bergen by rail.
ALPINE ROUTE (GERMANY) Route: Lindau to Lake Constance, Germany Distance: 480km Duration: varies The Alpine Route is a classic European drive, which is a designated scenic route that twists and turns along the edge of the Bavarian Alps. From the island town of Lindau (with its old gabled houses in a maze of narrow streets), the route follows a winding road through scores of small towns and villages – including 25 castles, palaces and abbeys as well as 21 mountain lakes and 60 spa resorts – with lush Alpine meadows, snowcapped peaks and ancient forests as a backdrop.
E4 TRAIL (EUROPE) Route: Spain to Cyprus Duration: variable Distance: 10,450km (est.) One of the most formidable European hiking trails, the E4 links Europe's long distance footpaths connecting Spain to Cyprus (the Romanian and Bulgarian portions are not yet defined). Much of the trail are ancient village paths, with mountain huts to break the journey along the way. The E4 traverses Spain's Sierra Nevada and Pyrenees mountains, before crossing the Alps (France, Switzerland, Austria) where some portions are for experienced hikers only. It then traverses Hungary's 'Blue Way' – with a break in the trail in Romania/Bulgaria – and continues into Greece and the Greek Islands. A ferry journey continues on to Cyprus before ending at Larnaka through the Troodos mountains.
COPTIC CHRISTIAN CHURCHES (ETHIOPIA) Route: Addis Abba to Lalibela Distance: 650km Shedding its 1980s hard-luck image, Ethiopia today is known for its ancient Christian churches. Having developed in isolation for centuries, the stone churches of Lalibela are the holiest site in the Ethiopian Coptic Christian faith. Comprising vast catacombs, halls, and whole streets carved directly in the living rock, UNESCO-listed Lalibela includes Biete Medhani Alem – the largest monolithic stone church in the world. A pilgrimage site year-round, the most lively time to visit is during Coptic Christmas (7 January).
Attractions: Okavango Delta, Game Reserves, Kalahari Desert Landlocked Botswana is a country of contrasts – in the north, the Okavango River flows from Namibia to form the Okavango Delta, while in the south is the semi-arid expanse of the Kalahari Desert. The most stable of the subSaharan African countries, the largely roadless wilderness and vast open spaces means plenty of opportunities for safaris at reserves like Moremi (with the lush Okavango delta where mokoro cruises bring you close to hippos) and Chobe (home to the world's largest concentration of African elephants).
MIDDLE EAST & CENTRAL ASIA K
SILK ROAD Route: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan to China Duration: Up to 3 months Distance: 6,437km (est.)
TRANS-SIBERIAN Route: Moscow to Vladivostok Duration: 7 days Distance: 9,250km
The world's first super-highway, the "Silk Road" is not one, but a series of east-west routes that historically connected Rome with Beijing. Today's main tourist route winds through Central Asia, crossing Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, passing ancient desert cities – or caravanserai where traders stopped to trade their wares – like Bukhara and Samarkand before crossing into China, ending in Beijing via the Taklamakan Desert and the ancient capital of Xian.
The longest, and arguably most famous rail journey on earth, the Trans-Siberian crosses the whole of Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok across 7 timezones through Russia's vast steppe, via Yekaterineburg, Irkutsk and nearby Lake Baikal, and the Buddhist enclave of Ulan Ude, reaching the Pacific in 7 days. The railway also connects to the Trans-Manchurian and TransMongolian (via Ulaanbaatar) branch lines that lead to Beijing. A rolling vignette of classic Russian life, the train runs yearround both directions (May-August being most popular due to the long daylight hours and mild Siberian summer).
While there is no one itinerary linking the entire route, most of Central Asia is accessible by air, road or rail, making getting around easy.
THE NILE (EGYPT/SUDAN) Route: Cairo to Aswan Duration: One week or more Distance: 885km
It's undeniable that travelling the Nile by boat remains a classic travel itinerary. While ships regularly depart from Alexandria on the Med to Lake Nasser on the Sudanese border, the trip is also possible from Cairo. Following the narrow green corridor that's tied all life in Egypt to the course of the river for millennia, ships stop over at ancient sites including the Temple of Karnak, the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Horus, before generally cruising scenic Lake Nasser. While it's possible to continue on to Khartoum and beyond, the most popular route (due to the sights) is LuxorAswan (210km, 3-8 days), with other boats plying the full Cairo-Aswan (880km) route.
OMAN Attractions: Desert safari, dhow cruise, wadi, ancient cities and villages The latest travel jewel in the Middle East, Oman offers a myriad of traditional experiences that are undisturbed by frenetic skyscraper development. As Oman is 80% desert, you can experience Bedouin culture (camp in a tent) on a desert camel safari and visit rolling sand dunes that are home to the Arabian oryx. Dhow cruising is possible in the Musandam Peninsula, which is made up of fjords (khor) surrounded by steep mountains dotted with isolated villages. There are also colourful souqs in cities, and traditional villages – in square mudbrick architecture – that dot the harsh yet beautiful landscape.
ASIA & OCEANIA P
Route: Tokyo to Kyoto Distance: 2,400km (est) Duration: varies One of Japan's classic historic walks, the Basho Trail traces the route of the 17th century poet through some of the country's most iconic scenery. Starting from old Tokyo, the route enters the beautiful Tohoku region in the north before crossing mountains to the rugged west coast, ending at the cultured capital of Kyoto. The walk is along quiet country lanes and mountain footpaths, passing historic and scenic sites like Nikko (with its temples), Matsushima (a picturesque pine island), Hiraizumi and Sado Island, with opportunities to overnight at traditional onsen resorts.
RUSSIA TO JAPAN VIA FERRIES Route: Russia-Korea-Japan Duration: 2-3 days Distance: Varies With few commercial flights departing the train's eastern terminus Vladivostok, weekly ferries to/from Takaoka in Toyama (40 hours) make an interesting alternative. Another trip connects Sakaiminato in Tottori, via Donghae City (Gangwondo, Korea) to Vladivostok. Departing weekly and taking just under 40 hours, it's possible to disembark, spending a week in Gangwon for hiking or rafting en route.
BASHO TRAIL (JAPAN)
THE HOBBIT TRAIL (NEW ZEALAND) The movie sets along New Zealand’s 'Hobbit Trail' take you through lush green countryside, forbidding mountains and beguiling caves. From the North Island at Waikato, see 'Hobbiton' (and the 44 hobbit holes) and abseil in Waitomo caves before kayaking down the Whanganui River (or 'Mordor'). On South Island, go horseriding at Golden Bay in Nelson before heading to the Mt Cook Mackenzie region and Queenstown's Pass Burn Track (a 3-4 day trek) and Treble Cone Ski Area for an idea of the 'Misty Mountains'. Explore the spectacular rock formations of Central Otago, and end at the scenic Fiordland National Park (for fjord cruises).
Route: Port Moresby to Kokoda, PNG Duration: 3-12 days Distance: 96km
THE STUART HIGHWAY (AUSTRALIA) Route: Darwin, NT to Port Augusta, SA Duration: One week Distance: 2,834km
© Gilbert van Reenen / TNZ
THE KOKODA TRACK (PNG)
A main highway from Darwin in the north to Port Augusta in the south, the Stuart Highway cuts straight across Australia's vast Outback. Linking remote cattle stations and distant desert towns, it connects to scenic Katherine Gorge, the aboriginal centre of Alice Springs, the opal-mining town of Coober Pedy and mountains of Wilpena Pound. This epic road trip, taking a week or more to complete through the arid desertscape of central Australia, can easily detour at worldfamous Kakadu National Park and Uluru.
Crossing the Owen Stanley Range, it was part of the WWII-era footpath connecting Port Moresby with the opposite coast. It's one of the world's most rugged, yet accessible non-expedition treks. Originally made famous by Australian and Japanese soldiers who fought there, today it hosts the Kokoda Challenge Race, as well as thousands of trekkers annually who come to test themselves along its raging rivers and knife-edge cliffs. Virtually impassable outside of the April-September dry season, it ranks among the world's greatest trails.
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Lombok | Indonesia Part of Indonesia's West Nusa Tenggara province, the island of Lombok has often been hailed as an unspoiled version of its more famous neighbour, Bali. The rich and enduring culture of the indigenous Sasak people add to the charm; the Sasak language is more widely spoken here than Bahasa. Capped by the mighty Gunung Rinjani â€“ itself a trekking mecca â€“ in the north of the island, Lombok's coastline is a drawcard for plenty of visitors who come to dive, snorkel or surf. Although it's blanketed by lush greenery, its climate is dramatically drier than neighbouring Bali, making it an attractive option during the October/April rainy season.
RECOMMENDED NUMBER OF DAYS: 4 DAYS MUST SEE
> GILI ISLANDS: A trio of islands (Gili Air, Gili Meno, Gili Trawangan) scattered along the northwestern shore of Lombok, they are popular with divers and backpackers. The turquoisetinted, warm waters are home to deepwater coral reefs that teem with sharks, rays and turtles. The laid-back islands (especially Gili Trawangan) are slowly gaining notoriety in the luxury resort circle, while Gili Meno is still a good setting for Robinson Crusoe adventures.
> TRADITIONAL VILLAGES: Dotted around Lombok are a number of Sasak villages that produce a variety of traditional handicraft. Unique pottery can be bought in the famous villages of Banyumulek (West Lombok), Penujak (Central Lombok) and Masbagik (East Lombok), while weaving villages of Sukarare (West Lombok), Puyung (Central Lombok) and Pringgasela (East Lombok) offer colourful textiles.
PRINCIPLE ACTIVITY: HIKING, DIVING, SURFING (more than the Great Barrier Reef). Lombok's better diving spots are situated around Gili Islands and Blongas Bay (South Lombok). Gili's underwater topography combines slopes, drop-offs and plateaus that house a large variety of marine life including morays, turtles and angel fish. Blongas Bay has a lot of currents and swells, where you can spot large pelagic like sharks, rays and mackerels.
> SURFING: The warm, turquoise waters off South Lombok's coast draw plenty of international surfers. Huge waves with barrels that run forever and challenging surf can be had at Bang-Bangko (southwestern tip), while the most popular spot for casual surfers (as well as those learning to surf) is around Kuta. The best months to surf are between Sept-Dec and Feb-May.
> SOUTH LOMBOK: An agrarian region of Lombok, the undulating, low-lying hills are blanketed with rice paddies and tobacco fields. Noticeably drier than the rest of Lombok and more sparsely populated, villages here are supported by traditional weaving, pottery and handicraft production, while offshore, the small fishing industry is supported by seaweed and pearl harvesting. Most visitors come for the legendary surf waves, which are bordered by massive headlands and sheer cliffs.
> WATERFALLS: Located near Senaru on the slopes of Mount Rinjani is the picturesque Sindang Gila falls, which is beautifully framed by rich verdant forest. You can swim here, or head 1 hour further up to Tiu Kelep falls, where there is a natural water slide in the deep pool at the top.
> DIVING: Thanks to the protection from the fierce swell of the Indian Ocean, Lombok's dive sites are suitable for all levels of divers. The Lombok Strait between Bali and Lombok is rich in underwater life, housing over 3,500 different marine species
> HIKING: The second highest volcano in Indonesia, Gunung Rinjani (3,726m) dominates Lombok's landscape. Surrounding the mountain is Mount Rinjani National Park, which is heavily forested and thrives with birdlife including honeyeaters, cockatoos and green parrots. The (still active) mountain is a major draw for trekkers, and a trek to the top passes thick forests and picturesque waterfalls. Many make it only to the crater rim (with amazing views of the crater lake, Segara Anak), as the further 1,000m ascent is more challenging. An organised 2D/1N trek is the easiest option (the park stipulates the use of a certified guide), although longer 3-4 day treks can also be had. The best time to hike is between April - November. THERE There are direct flights from Singapore to Lombok via SilkAir, taking just under 3 hours. Alternatively, Garuda Indonesia also has services to Lombok via Jakarta.
Located in northern Philippines in the Cordillera Administrative Region (the north central area of Luzon) are the neighbouring provinces of Ifugao and Mountain Province. A mountainous region surrounded by lofty peaks, sloping ravines and hilly terraces, both provinces are renowned for their centuries-old cultural practices and local indigenous tribe, the Igorots.
IFUGAO Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras Undoubtedly the biggest lure of Ifugao are the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras. Dating back almost 2,000 years and reaching up to 1,500m, the rice terraces are living proof of the Igorot’s ingenuity and engineering prowess; the entire landscape is carved by hand. Thanks to the inaccessibility of the mountains, the region has preserved its authentic tribal culture away from colonial influence. By mastering the power of irrigation, the forests above the terraces serve as a natural water supply for the rice saplings, while the streams and springs are channeled into irrigation waterways that run through the terraces. Recommended months to visit the area are between April to August when festivals and rice cultivation take place. Rainy season is from July to January while cool months are from November to February.
TEXT BY Prabhu Silvam PHOTO BY Gunther Deichmann
This UNESCO World Heritage Site covers an area close to 10,360 sq.km. of mountainside, and actually includes 5 sites: Batad, Bangaan, Mayoyao, Hungduan and Nagacadan. Two notable rice terraces are the Batad and Mayoyo sites. Batad Taking the shape of amphitheatre are the Batad rice terraces, which can be viewed from the village that’s a 40-minute hike from the nearest road. A 2 hour hike from the village will take you to a high viewpoint from where there are excellent views of the terrace, while about 30 minutes away are the 70mtall Tappiyah Waterfalls where you can go for a swim. Mayoyao Situated 40km east of Banaue are the Mayoyao rice terraces, situated in a valley encircled by high mountains. These terraces are not as easily reachable as other sites and thus, are the best preserved of the lot. The only mode of transport is via local jeepneys that travel up a loosely marked
gravel path. The unique feature of this site are its flat stone-tiered dikes which still retain their original structure. Other attractions include dome-shaped Abfo’or Burial Tombs, which house the bodies of the town’s ancient warriors and elite, as well as sturdy tetrahedron or pyramid-shaped village houses, perched on wooden posts. Mt. Napulawan As the last refuge for the Japan Imperial Army during WW2, Mt. Napulawan’s diverse flora and fauna is its greatest draw among hikers. Standing at 2,642m, Napulawan boasts some of the most difficult trekking routes in the region, taking hikers 7-8 hours to reach the summit. Sightings of deer, wild boars and musang are not uncommon near the lower reaches of the mountain, while several caves, as well as stoned-walled trenches and foxholes remind hikers of its history. Because of its thick foliage and winding routes, hiring a guide is advisable.
FESTIVALS As rice was a prestige crop, there is a complex array of feasts and festivals linked with taboos and agricultural rites. Tungoh Ad Hungduan The Igorots get together and commemorate the end of planting season by celebrating Tungoh Ad Hungduan every third week of April. Different tribes from around the province engage in a 4 day celebration where locals and visitors engage in a variety of performances, demonstration of indigenous practices and ritual feasts.
Gotad Ad Hingyon Held in the last few weeks of April, the 9-day Gotad Ad Hingyon festival is celebrated by Ifugao royalty as a show of gratitude for an abundant reap. Locals get together in the preparation of rice, brewing of rice wine and sacrificing of poultry.
IFUGAO & MOUNTAIN PROVINCE
MOUNTAIN PROVINCE Hanging Coffins of Sagada With a population of around 11,000, Sagada is a small town that’s famous for its 2,000year-old tradition of suspending coffins of the deceased on cliff faces hundreds of feet above the ground. Though the last known burial of this kind occurred in 1992, many burial sites still
remain, most dating back to almost a century or more. The locals believe that placing the coffins on cliffs bring the deceased a step closer to heaven – the higher the coffin, the higher their regard for the deceased. The 5day long burial ritual – accessible only to those who died a natural death and have grandchildren – begins with the hollowing out of a log, which is then suspended on the cliff with rope before the body can be placed in it. Because of the high cliffs onto which the coffins are placed, most of the burial sites can only be reached via an exhaustive trek. Most visitors take a short hike to the Lumiang Burial Caves, where about 200 coffins have laid for over 500 years, stacked neatly along
the cave wall, before forging onwards to Echo Valley where the hanging coffins are. Mt. Amuyao The highest point of Mountain Province, Mt. Amuyao (2,862m) boasts an unrivalled panorama of the surrounding towns. Amuyao attracts hikers of various experience levels because of its easy to moderate climbing path. Hikers can reach the peak in 3 - 4 hours. Certified local guides provide extensive hiking tours up Mt. Amuyao, and are able to show a wholly different side of the mountain. Wide cemented walkways line most of the route; with parts where gravel tracks are the only way up.
CORNER 1: KERALA
India’s Four ‘Corners’
A narrow strip of land sandwiched between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, Kerala is India's idyllic southern resort area. An easygoing socialist state, coastal Kerala is dotted with Ayurvedic retreats and charming colonial architecture. While the jewel of Kerala is its network of backwaters – plied by houseboats – that’s lined with coconut groves and rice paddies, a trip to the mountainous Ghats brings you to the rolling tea fields of Munnar and hills that are home to exotic wildlife.
WESTERN GHATS The Western Ghats mountain range creates a green wall separating Kerala and neighbouring Tamil Nadu. A totally different landscape from the sleepy backwaters, the rolling highlands are home to hill stations, tea plantations, waterfalls and some important national parks. Stretching from south to north are important townships like Thekkady, Munnar and Wayanad, each with its own attractions.
Kerala receives rain for 7-8 months of the year, resulting in a landscape that is a maze of lagoons criss-crossed with rivers, small lakes and canals separated by narrow strips of sand banks. Dotted with bucolic villages, these coconut tree-lined canals are ideally explored on a kettuvallam, Kerala’s traditional handmade houseboats.
Thekkady is home to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, centred around the manmade Periyar Lake that was created by the British in 1895. Home to bison, elephants, sambar, langur and the Malabar Giant Squirrel, it is the small and elusive tiger population that drives visitors in droves to this park, most of whom opt for a leisurely lake cruise to view the wildlife. A guided jungle hike (a day trip or an overnight trek) takes you away from the crowds, and gets you up close and personal with many of its wildlife denizens.
As backwaters are strewn across southern Kerala, you can organise a cruise along these liquid roads from the towns of Alappuzha (Kerala's version of Venice), Kottayam (with its 16th century churches and seminaries) and Kollam (an ancient trading town by the Arabian Sea).
With its manicured tea estates, Munnar's rolling fields are dotted with pretty lakes and waterfalls. This British hill station is close to the Eravikulam National Park (where you may be able to spot the endangered Nilgiri Tahr), which is home to Anamudi Peak (the tallest point in the Ghats at 2,695m). There
are a number of great hikes in the area, including one to Kolukkumalai (the highest tea plantation in the world at 2,400m) and along the rolling ridgeline of the Western Ghats. Misty peaks and undulating hills are a constant feature, with hikes commonly ending at a tea estate where you can enjoy a locally-brewed chai. Located at the base of the Western Ghats is the birder's paradise of Salim Ali (Thattekkad) Bird Sanctuary, home to plenty of endemic species including woodpeckers, hornbills, parakeets and frogmouths. Further north towards Wayanad is the Silent Valley National Park (or Indira Ghandi National Park), considered one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the world. Home to the endangered Lion-tailed macaque, it is also a great place to spot other wildlife like the Nilgiri langur, fishing cat, Indian pangolin and more.
GETTING THERE Kerala has airports in Kochi and Trivandrum (with flights to/from Southeast Asia). Located in the centre of the state, Kochi is ideal for trips to the backwaters around Kumarakom and inland towards Munnar and the Western Ghats. Trivandrum gives access to southern backwater towns like Kollam and the beaches of Kovalam.
From soaring snowcapped mountains to tranquil backwaters, bustling bazaars to soul-stirring temples, India is a spectacularly diverse land. Whether you’re here to experience the bustling festivals, partake in a Himalayan trek, or simply to immerse yourself in the country’s rich history and culture, here are 4 of the country’s main adventure destinations, all accessible via the 3 main international gateways – Delhi, Kolkata and Kochi.
Cut off from the outside world between November and May, Ladakh is bound by sheer walls of rock and ice that divide it from Tibet, Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. This rugged mountainous terrain – much of it over 3,000m – is home to one of the last bastions of Tantric Buddhist populations on earth, evidenced by stunning medieval monasteries precariously perched on rocky outcrops overlooking rivers that drain from mountain glaciers. LEH The capital, Leh (3,500m), is a bustling town along the Indus Valley – an old city of timber and mud bricks dominated by Leh Palace, a 16th century, 9-storey building resembling the Potala Palace.
Two of the biggest monasteries are the redand-gold Hemis Gompa (the largest in Ladakh, built in 1672) which is famous for its annual Hemis festival; and the layered, whitewashed Tibetan-style Thiksey Gompa located on a rocky outcrop.
Numerous festivals take place annually throughout the monasteries, when monks break out in brass music and masked dancing (cham) to celebrate local holidays.
ACTIVITIES River Rafting The Indus River is ideal for rafting between June and August when the meltwater levels remain high. Organised 1-5 day tours navigate several stretches of the river (ranging from Class I-V depending on the segment). Popular easier stretches include Phey to Nimo (an easy run passing tiny hamlets and old monasteries) and from Hemis to Choglamsar, a 3-hour trip passing Shey and Thiksey. Experienced rafters can tackle the route between Alchi and Khaltsey, taking in long rapids. Seeing fewer visitors, the Zanskar River is also popular for rafting, and poses challenging rapids averaging Class III-IV. The northern sections – from Chilling to Nimu – are popular, where you pass dramatic gorges dotted with monasteries like the picturesque Lamayuru.
Trekking Ladakh's canyons and rugged mountains can be explored on various trekking tours called 'tea house treks' where hikers spend the night in villages and tents en route. Treks range from the easy 2-3 day 'Baby Trek' of Sham Valley (with low-altitudes and less walking hours) that takes in monasteries like Rizong and Lamayuru, to the popular Markha Valley Trek which is an 8-day hike through striking cold desert valleys, river crossings and rocky canyons, passing the beautiful Hemis National Park and isolated Buddhist villages. While the main trekking season is in summer (June to September), one famous trek takes place only in winter (February): the Chadar. Between November and March, the Zanskar River freezes over, creating a centuries-old ice route that connects the remote villages of the Zanskar Valley with Leh. Starting from Chilling, you can take a strenuous 70km (79 days) trek along the frozen river to reach Padum, overnighting along the canyon walls.
GETTING THERE From Delhi, there are regular flights into Leh. Alternatively, you can take the overland approach from Srinagar (434km away) or from Manali (473km away), both traversing a number of high altitude passes.
Final Frontier LADAKH
CORNER 2: LADAKH
Buddhist monasteries (gompa) can be found dotted around Ladakh's valleys. Overlooking the Indus River, there are 4-5 major monasteries along the road from Leh to Thiksey, which contains Ladakh's biggest chorten fields with hundreds of whitewashed shrines across the desertscape.
Other important monasteries include Spituk Gompa, with its gilt-roofed shrine and a collection of mudbrick buildings that tumble down on a steep hillock; Stok Gompa, which has one of the oldest chapels in Ladakh; and Shey Gompa, which together with Shey Palace, are located on a hillock with a giant copper Buddha statue.
India’s Four ‘Corners’
CORNER 3: RAJASTHAN
Romance of the Desert Rajasthan is a land of contrasts, where miles of ochre sand dunes give rise to colourful towns topped with imposing ancient forts housing intricately-carved havelis and a hodgepodge of buildings. This colour-laced state showcases a romantic India – where you'll find women in riotously-coloured saris alongside magnificently mustachioed camel traders – that recalls an era when Rajput warrior clans ruled with gilt-edged swords. EAST RAJASTHAN Gateway to Rajasthan, Jaipur is the state's capital that's buzzing with bazaars, worldclass hotels and tourists. Chaotic as it may be, the “Pink City” (buildings were painted to imitate red sandstone) is home to the massive Amber Fort, within which is the extensively-mirrored interior of Sheesh Mahal. Other attractions include the sprawling City Palace (home to Hawa Mahal, a 950-window structure built for royal ladies to discreetly observe the outside world) and the Jal Mahal that floats in the centre of Man Sagar Lake. Nearby is the UNESCO site of Jantar Mantar, an 18th century astronomical observatory. To Jaipur's east is Pushkar, a picturesque pilgrimage town that bursts with visitors and
camel-obsessed traders during the annual Pushkar camel fair. Ranthambore – one of India's premier tiger parks – is located just south of Jaipur.
WEST RAJASTHAN Home to 3 of Rajasthan's gems – Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner – the western edge of Rajasthan is also a good place to launch a camel safari into the Thar Desert. The town of Jodhpur looms into view with the imposing Meherangarh Fort that's perched on a huge rocky cliff over this “Blue City”, so named due to its chaotic collection of blue-hued buildings that lie within the 16th century old city. Founded in 1458, the grandiose structure is the largest fort in Rajasthan, housing a few palaces (like the extravagant Phool Mahal that was built for the Maharaja's pleasure), temples and gardens. Jaisalmer is known as the “Golden City”, thanks to its proximity to the yellow sand dunes of the Thar Desert. Dominated by the Jaisalmer Fort (the only working fort in India), visitors can experience the lives of the people working within its walls. Inside the fort lies the famous Patwon-ki-Haveli (a magnificent collection of havelis with honey-coloured carved stonework) and a collection of interconnected sandstone Jain temples.
Bikaner, to the north, is a vibrant dustswirling desert town with an outpost feel and a fabulous fort. The rickety old walled city with its medieval maze of narrow streets is home to more red sandstone havelis and exquisite Jain temples.
SOUTH RAJASTHAN More relaxed than the rest of the state, southern Rajasthan still packs in ancient forts, bustling towns and temples. Nicknamed "Venice of the East", Udaipur is a collection of shimmering white buildings nestled along the city’s interconnected lakes. The crown gem is the City Palace; floating on Lake Pichola, this marble and granite structure houses palaces, gardens, temples and high-end hotels. To the west of Udaipur, Mt. Abu – with its wooded valleys and Alpine beauty – is a cool retreat from the heat of the baking plains. A Jain pilgrimage centre, its cluster of stately temples rivals most in India.
GETTING THERE Rajasthan is easily accessible from Delhi by road (in 4 hours) and train services (to Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Bikaner). The luxurious Palace on Wheels is a week-long train journey through Rajasthan (Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, etc) from Delhi.
India’s varied geography ranges from soaring mountains and high altitude deserts of the Himalayas in the north, to lush green forests and white sand beaches in the south. The northern regions – from Ladakh in the west to Darjeeling in the east – are outdoor adventure meccas dotted with Buddhist temples and monasteries, while Kerala in the south is ideal for a spot of R&R with a hint of adventure in the Western Ghats. The desert state of Rajasthan – with its explosive colours – rounds out India’s diverse offerings.
Tucked in a corner of northeast India, Darjeeling is the archetypal British-era hill station, draped over a steep mountain ridge, surrounded by tea plantations and dotted with colonial mansions, churches and bungalows. Backed by the mighty Himalayas, superb treks can be had in the surrounding area, and up to neighbouring Sikkim, with its dramatic Buddhist culture. COLONIAL HERITAGE Built in the 19th century as a Victorian hill station, some of the original buildings in Darjeeling (2,045m) include several mock Tudor residences and Gothic churches lining the main square of Chowrasta. However, being close to Sikkim, the town is also a melting pot of peoples, where Sikkimese, Nepalese and Indian culture come together, creating a bustling, colourful town. You can also hike through rolling tea plantations, dotted with colonial bungalows, and enjoy a cup of Darjeeling tea (some plantations are open to visitors).
THE HIMALAYAS On the summit of Ghoon, Tiger Hill (11km from Darjeeling) is a famous point where you can get spectacular sunrise views of Mt. Khangchendzonga (8,598m) and the Himalayan range on a clear day. Thanks to its proximity to Sikkim and the Himalayas, Darjeeling is a good launching point for trekking trips, and plenty of Sikkim treks are accessible from Darjeeling. There are 2 trekking seasons: the first is from midMarch to June, when the flowers are in bloom, and from end-September to December when occasional snow may be expected. One of the most popular treks is one to Sandakphu (3,658m), which traverses the Singalila Ridge that forms the natural border between Sikkim and Nepal. The 4-day trek starts from Darjeeling and heads north into the neighbouring state of Sikkim, taking you through Singalila National Park (with its spectacular fields of wildflowers between April and May) and mountain villages, with amazing views of the Himalayan range – including 4 of the 5 highest peaks in the world (Everest,
Steeped in the Hills
Khangchendzonga, Makalu and Lhotse). Those who want to know more about the history of trekking in the Himalayas can visit the prestigious Himalayan Mountaineering Institute which was founded in 1954 by Tenzing Norgay. It provides training for some of India's leading mountaineers, and the complex also houses a fascinating museum tracing the history of climbing Everest. You can also explore a decidedly more Buddhist culture in neighbouring Sikkim (accessible by road), with plenty of Tibetan-style Buddhist monasteries and avenues of colourful prayer flags almost everywhere you look. Set amidst plunging mountain valleys and lush forests, Sikkim (where plastic bags are banned) is a byword for adventure. A popular trek in Sikkim is the 10-day Goecha La trek, a high altitude trek that takes you through rhododendron forests and flower meadows and past the electric blue Samiti Lake, with the looming presence of the Himalayas along the way.
GETTING THERE From Delhi or Kolkata, you can fly to Bagdogra which is about 2.5 hours by road (96km) to Darjeeling. Alternatively, you can take the train from Delhi or Kolkata to Siliguri (New Jaipalguri) from where you board the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
CORNER 4: DARJEELING
The crowning jewel is the Glasgow-built Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (nicknamed the "Toy Train"), a narrow-gauge steam railway completed in 1881 from Siliguri to Darjeeling (86km). This World Heritage Site takes
passengers through a series of loops and zreverses as it gains height along the mountain. Of particular interest is the Batasia Loop, where the train completes a steep full circle.
TEXT BY Samantha Pereira PHOTOS BY Gunther Deichmann
Considered to be the ‘roof of the world’ – the Tibetan Plateau is elevated roughly 4,500m above sea level – the high altitudes of this region make way for plenty of rugged terrains, from towering glacier-capped mountains that are the highest in the world, to expansive deep river valleys and grasslands. Dotted throughout and adding character to the harsh landscape are colourful communal settlements that are highly regarded as loyal guardians of Tibetan history and heritage.
LHASA Serving as the capital and the main point of entry for most visitors, Lhasa (3,650m) is a collection of Chinese-influenced architecture and Tibetan’s vernacular designs. The eastern end of town around Jokhang and the Barkhor is prominently traditional Tibetan, while the western end is more Han in character.
Dalai Lama – a centerpiece in many of the past uprisings, is also a sacred symbol to Tibetans. Often seen as a pilgrimage destination as the it houses tombs of past Dalai Lamas, the hilltop palaces contains Tibet’s most revered statue of Arya Lokeshvara, tucked away in a corner in Phapka Lhakang (one of the two chapels found in the palace).
Perched on top of a valley, the UNESCOlisted Potala Palace is the spiritual abode of
Sitting at the foot of the Nietang Mountain (20km from the city), this brightly coloured,
GETTING THERE There are direct flights from Singapore to Lhasa with China Eastern Airlines and Silk Air. Another option is to fly to Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, and take the QinghaiTibet railway to downtown Lhasa. Travellers will require a China visa in addition to a Tibet Travel Permit, both of which must be applied prior to travel. If travelling to remote parts of Tibet, an Aliens' Travel Permit is required as well.
Nagchu Namtso Lake
immense stone statue (8m) engraved on a hill is a depiction of Sakyamuni sitting under a bodhi tree waiting to tame the evil present.
YUMBULAGANG Perched on the summit of the Jormo Zhaxi Ceri Mountain just southeast of Lhasa, Yumbulagang was the first palace in Tibet. Built for the first Tibetan King by Bon believers in the 2nd century, it was designated as a temple of the Old-Yellow Hat Sect by the 5h Dalai Lama.
25 NAMTSO LAKE
Surrounded by lofty peaks like Nyianchentangula (7,162m), Namtso Lake is sprawled across high altitudes is nestled in a prairie about 112km northwest of Lhasa. With its clear waters mirroring the blue sky, banks dotted with flowers and snow-clad mountains blanketing the backdrop, the lake is one of Tibet’s sacred lakes, as it’s said to personify the Buddha of Five Directions.
Lying in a valley and straddling the Friendship Highway – which connects Kathmandu and Nepal to the capital – Gyantse is noted for its organised architecture of neat rows of white-square buildings interspersed with high red-walled compounds and golden domes.
In summer, the wide open space surrounding the lake is dotted with tents of local nomads that graze their livestock of sheep and cattle, with wildlife – like wild yaks, hares and migratory birds – congregating along the shores in search of food.
NAGCHU Perched at 4,800m above sea level, the town of Nagchu is one of Tibet's highest towns. Known as the coldest and windiest town in Tibet, it doesn’t offer much for visitors but it comes to life every August during the annual horse racing festival.
A tiered monument that is regarded as a Buddhist symbol – the towering Kumbum (35m) that’s a chamber of numerous chapels covered in Buddhist sculptures and murals – is Tibet’s most famous stupa (as visitors are allowed in).
Relatively quiet, Gyantse is 245km from Lhasa, and its main attraction is the distinctive dzong (fortress) that can be seen throughout the region. The Gyantze Dzong is a military fort sitting on a hill, giving it a bird’s-eye view of the town’s rugged landscape. Characterised by steep and rocky terrain, trekking up the hill is quite tricky as there are not many wellmarked trails present.
HORSE FESTIVALS Horses are synonymous with Tibetan culture, which are seen as sacred companions as well as important modes of transport. Horse festivals are widely celebrated throughout Tibet, and are key folk events. Popular festivals include the Gyantse Damar Festival (or Horse Racing Festival) and the Nagchu Horse Race Festival, where welldressed horsemen with their finest horse compete in thrilling horse races and other equestrian events. Other Tibetan games – like archery and wrestling – are also involved, along with Tibetan Opera, music and dancing, track and field, and ball games. It’s a time when villages to come together to celebrate their culture, and an opportunity for Tibetans from different regions to don their traditional costumes. There is often an open market, with authentic Tibetan crafts and foods.
The Nagchu Festival is held every August, while the Gyantse Festival is held during the
4th lunar month of the Tibetan calendar (usually around July).
PACKING FOR YOUR PACK When it comes to packing for the trail or long-term travel, it's always best to bring multipurpose gear to save space and weight. Bandanna: sift silty water, makes a basic mask in smoky conditions, makes a makeshift bag/wrap and emergency bandage. Garbage bag: acts as backpack cover in the rain, can be made into emergency bivy, separate dirty laundry, or used as fuel for fire (it's flammable). Cord: with a sturdy paracord, you can create shelter, hang food, repair your pack, and make a splint for first-aid. Vaseline-soaked cotton balls: used for starting fires, can be used as salve for wounds or chapped lips and dried skin, and as lubricant for sticky zippers. Iodine tablets: prevents water-borne maladies and sterilises wounds. Toilet paper: apart from the obvious, it's also a great firestarter and trail marker. Ziplock bag: a waterproof way to keep toilet paper (or tubes of liquid), or filled with iodine solution to irrigate wounds. Duct tape: used for everything from repairing packs and jackets to sealing wounds from water. Also flammable.
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GEAR GUY: Ken Berg
The right gear is always critical for any trip or adventure but it becomes even more critical on a long journey. If you have a sleeping bag that is a bit too thin for an overnight trip, you might have one chilly night to deal with; if you choose wrong for a long journey, it could ruin your entire trip.
Ken grew up on the doorstep of the Canadian wilderness, backpacking, paddling and rock climbing in this rugged land. Armed with a degree in recreational studies, he has been working at Canada's premier outdoor retailer for over 10 years, putting gear to the test whether it's cycling in -35ºC winters, running marathons or travelling to the far reaches of the planet.
MAMMUT Creon Pro (fr S$349)
WEIGHT/DURABILITY In general, most lightweight gear has the trade off of being less durable, but at the same time broken gear can ruin your trip. So where can you safely save a few grams? Most packs fail in the same spot: the zipper. So don't shy away from a bag that has lighter materials; look at the high wear areas (usually the bottom and corners) – if they have thicker nylon there, you’re probably fine. Packs with zippers all around are very convenient for finding items but that big zipper is the problem spot (and adds weight). Top loading bags are more durable but are more difficult to find things in, so decide whether you'd rather have the convenience or durability. The same goes with straps and compartments; in theory the more basic the bag the lighter, more durable and inexpensive it should be. Many of the same philosophies apply to jackets. Light nylon or polyester on most of the
jacket is fine but if it’s for something like an alpine adventure with high amounts of wear, look for thicker material on the shoulders and elbows. For most adventures, a jacket with a highly breatheable and lightweight material like Gore’s Proshell is ideal. The extra comfort and weight savings make them appropriate for a variety of activities.
THE SMELL FACTOR When you’re on a long trip, you don’t want to smell (for everyone’s sake). So, when you can’t wash your clothes, what can you do? Merino wool tends not to absorb odour as much as synthetics and is useful over a wide range of temperature ranges. Similarly for boots, leather tends to absorb less odour than synthetics. Silver-embedded clothing work but research has shown that this wears away quickly and has a greater environmental impact. Some homemade remedies to reduce the smell of clothing before you leave include covering it in baking soda before washing, adding a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle to cut through the grease and hanging
clothes to dry so that the sun takes care of the bacteria on your clothes. For shoes, some suggest putting them in the freezer overnight to kill the odour-causing bacteria.
SHOES Take the time to find the right shoes/boots for the adventure that you’re going on. Get backpacking boots for backpacking (as opposed to, let’s say, running shoes); if a particular pair of boots feature Gore-Tex lining but other boots fit better, you’re better off with the better fit. To get a proper fit, spend a lot time trying on several different pairs and brands. You should allow yourself enough time to properly break in your shoes – you won’t need much time for light trail shoes (from a few hours to a day) but for backpacking boots, wear them for about a week and try different sock combinations. HI-TEC Flagstaff (S$139)
EPIC HIKES When it comes to getting to know the spirit of a country, there is no better way than to tackle an epic hiking trail that takes in history, culture and landscape. If you love exploring at a slower pace (or if you’re feeling fit and adventurous), here are some epic trails around the world that are worth visiting for the journey alone.
TIBET Mount Kailash For spiritual enlightenment Considered sacred to 5 religions, the perfect pyramid of this 6,638mtall mountain remains unclimbed, although the 51km surrounding it is an important pilgrimage path (kora) that draws plenty of pilgrims seeking enlightenment. The trail encompasses waterfall meditation sites, sacred caves and a 5,670m mountain pass. After completing the circuit, a dip in nearby sacred Lake Manasarovar (4,590m) completes the Kailash pilgrimage. DISTANCE: 51km WHEN TO GO: April to September
ICELAND Laugavegurinn/Fimmvorouhas Pass For volcanoes and Icelandic wilderness The trail through this visceral landscape – with ice caps of 2 glaciers and raging coastline – takes you along lava fields, volcanic rocks and craggy mountains. The trail is ideal for taking in the twin steaming craters of Magni and Mooi and ravines filled with countless waterfalls, and should Katla erupt, the trails could be closed or changed. Plenty of wellmaintained huts line the trail. DISTANCE: 77km
SOUTH AFRICA / LESOTHO
WHEN TO GO: late June to mid-September
North Drakensberg Traverse For amazing views of dramatic cliffs The highest mountain range in South Africa, the vertiginous escarpment is crowned by Amphitheatre – regarded as one of the most impressive cliff faces on earth. The hiking trail begins with a set of chain ladders to reach the plateau of Mont-au-Sources before crossing the high plateau past rock formations, huts (some used by Sotho herdsmen), waterfalls and archaeological caves to reach the Cathedral Peak Hotel. DISTANCE: 64km (round trip) WHEN TO GO: March to May
Hayduke Trail, Utah & Arizona For red-rock and desert hikers looking for a challenge
Queen Charlotte Track For idyllic hike with plenty of options The coastal Queen Charlotte Track takes you through the sunny hills of the Marlborough Sounds following the narrow dragon's back ridge that separates the turquoise waters of Queen Charlotte Sound from the Kenepuru Sound. Start from Ship's Cove (by water taxi from Picton), and finish at Anakiwa, camping the whole way (3-5 days) or luxe it out at lodges. The breathtaking track is also open to mountain bikers.
The Hayduke traverses 6 national parks of the Colorado Plateau – including Arches, Canyonlands and Grand Canyon – climbing up to 1,830m and plunging to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Highlights include the Grand Staircase and secret ruins in Dark Canyon. The trail is mainly unmarked, and is split into 14 sections; those pressed for time can try the 76km-long section between the Colorado River and the Needles District. DISTANCE: 1,300km in 14 sections WHEN TO GO: Spring and fall
DISTANCE: 70km WHEN TO GO: Year-round
SOUTH GEORGIA ISLAND Shackleton's Route For explorers and history buffs The traverse of this route – which includes travelling across perilous glaciers and snow-capped mountains – takes you past black-sand beaches teeming with penguins and elephant seals, along with plentiful seabirds like albatrosses and terns. A guided tour is recommended (the marine navigation is perilous), and the British government has limited visiting groups to 100 people thanks to its popularity. DISTANCE: 35km WHEN TO GO: mid-December to mid-March
The mighty Mekong begins its life on the Tibetan plateau in China's Qinghai province before flowing southeast through – and often forming the liquid borders of – Myanmar, Laos and Thailand before emptying into the South China Sea via Vietnam’s complex Mekong Delta. Stretching 4,350 km, the Mekong has the third highest diversity of riverine fish in the world, and feeds Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. For centuries it has been a vital artery that provides both transportation and food to the countless riverside villages, and a sinuous thread that connects Indochina's myriad cultures.
Life on the Mekong, however, is changing at a rapid pace; China has been – and still is – constructing dams on the upper reaches of the river, and Laos is slated to build the controversial Xayaboury Dam in 2019. All this will deeply affect not only the flow of the river, but also the countless livelihoods and wildlife that depend on it. That means there is no better time than now to visit the Mekong, to take kayaking excursions using the river and its many tributaries as your route, witnessing a way of life which has remained unchanged for centuries.
Ziplining in the Bolaven Plateau
Lanten tribal woman on Ha-Tha River
LAOS Golden Triangle to Luang Prabang A good place to start is the Golden Triangle, the meeting point of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos – an area once notorious for its major opium production. A Mekong River journey starts from Ban Huay Xai (in Laos) where you take either a luxury Luang Say river barge or a local slow boat for your ride downriver. Both options overnight at Pak Beng village before continuing to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Luang Prabang. Along the way, the scenery evolves from green lowlands to grey limestone cliffs that rise from dense jungle as you reach the dramatic Pak Ou caves, which are crammed with images of the Buddha in all shapes and sizes. The lower cave is entered directly from the river. Just downriver, Luang Prabang (Laos’ former royal capital) is a patchwork of traditional Lao wooden houses, bits of European architecture, royal palaces and ochre-roofed temples with spectacular images of Buddha. Many visitors come here to witness the daily morning alms ceremony, conducted by saffron-robed monks.
Apsara at Wat Phou
Luang Prabang to Vientiane A 6-8 hour bus ride takes you to Vang Vieng – a backpacker hangout – where you can go rock climbing and explore the limestone caves that pierce the jagged landscape. From here, you can take either the road or river kayak option – the latter runs along the Nam Lik River which has some rapids of Class II-IV (in rainy season) – to the capital, Vientiane. Lao authorities prohibit Mekong River travel between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. Vientiane to Si Phan Don Vientiane (capital of Lao PDR) is a former colonial town that's home to the That Luang stupa (the symbol of Laos) as well as a smattering of cafes and restaurants. From here, the Mekong skirts the dramatic limestone karsts of the Khammoune Range, which is honeycombed with countless caves, some steeped in human history. A highlight would be the 7.5km-long Kong Lor Cave, a gigantic limestone tunnel formed by the Hinboun River. Further downriver is a ‘lost’ valley that once housed a town; now the only sign of civilisation are the ruins of an old Buddhist temple set amidst the jungle.
PHOTOS BY Steve van Beek (www.stevevanbeek.com)
South along the river is Pakse – access to the remarkable Bolaven Plateau and the sublime Si Phan Don (4,000 Islands). Bolaven is famous for its cool climate, highgrade coffee plantations, ethnic villages and especially its collection of dramatic waterfalls that punctuate deep forests where you can zipline or abseil. Just south of Pakse is the UNESCO site of Wat Phou, a collection of historic Angkorian temples at the base of Mt. Phu. Two hours farther south by road, the Mekong River stretches up to 14km wide and is dotted with thousands of islands and islets; a handful of the larger islands are inhabited year-round, including Don Khong (for travellers looking for better lodging), Don Det (a backpacker haven) and Don Khone. Further south, the river tumbles into a lower basin, forming a formidable wall of waterfalls including the mighty Khone Phapheng (the biggest waterfall in Southeast Asia with the volume of water surpassing that of the Niagara Falls). Further navigation is blocked, although experienced kayakers can sometimes be seen tackling the whitewater here.
the Khmer Rouge rule.
Stung Treng to Phnom Penh The Laos/Cambodia border is home to rare Irrawaddy dolphins and the fantastical waterscape of the flooded forests of Cambodia’s Stung Treng Ramsar Wetlands. Continuing into Cambodia by a relaxing slow boat from Stung Treng, one reaches Kratie, a picturesque French colonial town famed for its population of Irrawaddy dolphins (fewer than 80 of these are left in the area). From Kratie, the route continues southwards – either by bus or along the river on 'bullet boats' – to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, notable for sites like the Royal Palace, as well as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, both of which vividly document the travesties of
In contrast, Phnom Penh has also reinvented itself as a beautiful city with colonial heritage and a nice riverside promenade. Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City Fast boats run from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City. You can stop by the Vietnamese colonial town of Chau Doc, gateway to the Mekong Delta, where you can take short sampan trips to visit ethnic Cham villages and catfish farms. Once in Vietnam, the Mekong fans out into a 40,000 sq.km. delta which provides half of Vietnam’s fruits and vegetables, creating a huge network of canals and backwaters that are home to floating markets, riverbanks dotted with farms and ancient Khmer temples.
Known as Cuu Long (or Nine Dragons), the waterways can be explored on kayak tours (operators can be booked from Ho Chi Minh City) where you stay in small guesthouses along the way. For those wanting a bit of luxury down the Mekong, Pandaw Cruises offer a 3-4 night cruise from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh on board a classic colonial-era teakwood steamer. Along the way, you'll visit Cham villages and floating markets, and explore the backwaters of the Mekong Delta on a sampan.
CAMBODIA & VIETNAM
Upper entrance to Konglor Cave
On the Hinboun below Konglor Cave
OCHINA FROM NORTH TO SOUTH Below Khone Prapheng
PRACTICALITIES If you plan on navigating the entire river from northern Laos to Vietnam, allow at least 3 weeks for the trip. It is also easy to break the trip up into several manageable portions, starting from cities like Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Kratie, Phnom Penh or Ho Chi Minh City. A 15-day kayak tour with Steve Van Beek (www.stevevanbeek.com) takes you from Vientiane through the Khammoune Mountains to Si Phan Don, where you paddle through caves, trek remote valleys and visit far-flung villages. If you’re pressed for time, a shorter 5-day kayak tour of Si Phan Don and the flooded forest is also available. The best time to explore the Mekong is between November and January during the dry season, as it’s the coolest time of the year.
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From snowcapped mountains to tranquil lakes and magnificent ancient sites, the journey alone wonâ€™t be the only thing to take your breath away. With the new Tourist visa-on-arrival facility for citizens of Singapore, India is now so close to home. Be there to discover the charms of Incredible India. India Tourism, #01-01 United House 20 Kramat Lane, Singapore 228773 Tel: (65) 6235 3800 Fax: (65) 6235 8677 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org