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Mountain Issue

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For a list of our distribution outlets, visit Sports + Travel Singapore is a publication of Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd (Singapore). All articles published are in good faith and based on bona fide information available to The Publisher at the time of press. The Publisher accepts no responsibility other than that stipulated by law. The Publisher also accepts no responsibilty for unsolicited manuscripts, transparencies or other materials. All rights are reserved and no part of this publication may be reproduced in part or full without the previous written permission of The Publisher. Neither can any part be stored or recorded, by any means. The opinions expressed in The Publication are those of the contributors and not necessarily endorsed by The Publisher. This publication and the name are owned solely by Lennox and Ooi Media Pte Ltd, 19A Lorong 41 Geylang, Singapore 387830. Email: enquiry@sportsandtravelonline. com. Sports + Travel Singapore is published bimonthly and distributed throughout Singapore. Trademarks and copyrights for all other products, logos and depictions contained herein are the properties of their respective trademark and copyright owners. All colour separation and printing by Stamford Press Pte Ltd. Singapore MCI (P) 142/07/2017

Uphill Struggle

Our Team Editor-in-Chief May Lynn Writer Konrad Clapp Creative Director Lynn Ooi

It’s time for our Mountain Issue! From low-lying mountains to soaring peaks, we’ve got them all covered. Plus, in addition to trekking, we’ve got a variety of activities you can do at some of these mountainous locales – from cultural explorations to nature watching and more, we’ve got them covered. We kick off in Thailand – with the northern hub of Chiang Mai. Here, the spectacular mountains, ancient culture, and a relaxed vibe blend together to create a character that’s unique to a region once known as the Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields, or “Lanna” in Thai. Then we head to Wales, a country that’s famous for its slate mines and mountainous regions with romantic names like Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons. Over the last decade, Wales has reinvented itself to become a top MTB destination, thanks to its hundreds of high quality MTB trails that sluice through its gorgeous landscapes. Closer to home, we feature a classic Indonesian islands itinerary that involves climbing two volcanoes on a liveaboard tour that stops at famous Komodo National Park en route. The coloured lakes of Mt. Kelimutu in Flores, and Bali’s Mt. Batur with its famous summit views, are on the agenda. On the other side of the world is Banff, Canada’s mountain playground. As the country is celebrating its 150th birthday, access to all parks is free, making this year a great time to visit. We highlight a number of signature itineraries that make Banff a mountain haven, including horseback riding, canoeing, snowshoeing, and of course, dog sledding. Heading south of the equator, we hit Ecuador. Long known as a nature’s paradise, we go straight into its cloud forests which are home to some of the rarest wildlife, including newly-discovered species. It’s a hotspot for birders, noted specifically for its hummingbirds. We then drop in on Sarawak for a quick tour through Mulu National Park. Renowned for its soaring stone pinnacles, what lies under them are caves that are some of the world’s biggest; you can easily go on a cave safari to explore an underworld wonderland. We end with Concordia, a classic trekking itinerary that takes you into the heart of Baltistan. Trekking here is no easy feat – with snowcapped glaciers and sandy trails to conquer – but what makes the effort all worthwhile are the sublime mountain views. Visit our website for our blogs, or drop us a line if you want to give us some feedback or contribute a travel story! Until then, happy trails!

Junior Designer Shilpa Suresh General Manager Aaron Stewart

Media Rep Lennox & Ooi Media Pte Ltd 19A Lorong 41 Geylang Singapore 387830 Tel 6732 0325 Sports and Travel Limited Rm. 1104 Crawford House 70 Queen’s Road Central Hong Kong Tel +852 2861 8746

Advertising Sales Singapore Aaron Stewart, General Manager Hong Kong Hylda Low

Contributors Eugene Soh, Julian Rosario, Kaixiang Liang

Special Thanks Banff & Lake Louise Tourism Sarawak Tourism Visit Wales and many, many others!

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South America is undeniably vast, boasting adventures from the Amazon to the Andes, and everything in between. It is no surprise it’s also home to some of the world’s most iconic destinations, like the lofty ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, and Chile’s otherworldly peaks, the Torres del Paine.

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Tackling the Inca Trail With its storied past and impossible setting, high in the Andes the lost city of Machu Picchu is unquestionably one of the world’s must-see destinations. While it used to be remote, it remained undiscovered by the invading conquistadors for over a century, today its perfectly preserved ruins are reachable via the iconic Inca Trail. One of the most popular trips in the region is the four-day Inca Trail trek, which rises to nearly 4,200m through stunning

alpine scenery, high above the Urubamba Valley. After cresting at Dead Woman’s Pass (4,198m) the trek descends to the aptly-named Sun Gate at dawn, taking in Machu Picchu amidst a morning sea of clouds for the ultimate photo; after that it’s a scenic mountain train ride back to Cusco. The 7-day itinerary combines the cultural highlights of the Sacred Valley where you can interact with locals at a women’s weaving co-op and check out the Incan ruins of Ollantaytambo.


Offering 88 unique itineraries across the globe, National Geographic Adventures allows discerning travellers greater exploration, insider access, and the freedom to roam – all without sacrificing comfort. Explore Ecuador and Peru The 16-day journey starts in historic Quito and the famous indigenous market town of Otavalo, before spending multiple nights at an Amazonian jungle lodge (accessible via motorised canoe), then departing along the Avenue of Volcanoes before returning to Quito. From there, it’s on to Lima, and the road to Machu Picchu through the Sacred Valley, returning via Cusco to Lima. This National Geographic Journeys itinerary has guaranteed departures throughout the year, inclusive of accommodation in historic haciendas and jungle lodges.

Torres del Paine - The W Trek Situated at the southern tip of Chile’s epic 4,300km coast, the rugged Torres del Paine is where Patagonia’s rolling plains meet the jagged fjords of the Pacific. Lying closer to Antarctica than the equator, it’s one of South America’s final frontiers. Of the many routes through the region, one of the best is the W Trek, packing all the punch of the legendary 11-day Full


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Circuit into a less gruelling yet no less epic 6-day return trip via Puerto Natales. Highlights include the alpine lakes, the famous French Valley, Grey Glacier, numerous caves, and of course the famous Torres themselves. Trekkers cover an average of 15km per day over 4 days, under the watchful gaze of guanacos and the occasional Andean condor.

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Since 1990, G Adventures has delivered some of the world’s top travel experiences and best active adventures. Offering over 650 itineraries across all 7 continents, it specialises in sustainable tourism, trekking, trains, cycling, cultural and multi-sport trips to unique destinations worldwide, from Machu Picchu and the Amazon, to the African Savannah and the Arctic. Contact Scenic Travel for bookings. Tel: 6226 3611 | Email:

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Once the ancient capital of Thailand’s Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai’s history dates back over 700 years. Today it’s a bustling city of over 200,000, but its historic Old City centre remains dominated by dozens of ancient stupas and temples, all overlooked by the golden spire of the famous Wat Doi Suthep, towering over the town from the nearby mountains.



Chiang Mai is undeniably the cultural capital of Northern Thailand, given its incredible density of historic sites and famous temples. Over the centuries its fortunes ebbed and flowed, as Lanna fended off neighbouring rivals, before eventually being subsumed into the Kingdom of Siam. Yet throughout, Chiang Mai’s retained its own unique culture, architecture, and even language – an estimated 80% of locals (by birth), still speak Kam Muang (the Lanna language), and practice local, Lanna-style Buddhism. Some of the best places to experience Chiang Mai’s distinctive, living culture is its myriad markets. One of the best places to experience Chiang Mai’s living culture is its myriad markets. Some of the best include the twice-daily market at Chiang Mai Gate, as well as Kham Tiang flower market, and neighbouring “JJ” market, specialising in Lanna handicrafts. On Saturday and Sunday, the Night Walking Street Market lines the main road of the Old City, offering an assortment of clothes, food and souvenirs.


Thanks to Chiang Mai’s strong traditions, numerous locations are nominated for UNESCO status, within the Old City itself covering an area of less than The Old City The Old City’s boundaries are marked by its ancient moat and wall, largely still intact thanks to strict conservation policies, making the wall itself one Chiang Mai’s most significant sites. Ostensibly for defense, it also served a spiritual purpose with its 5 pratu (gates) and 4 jaeng (corners) aligned to the cardinal directions, and its central “navel” intended by its founder, King Mangrai to channel karmic energy into the city. Today the walls are landmarks, with the northern gate, Pratu Chang Puak, considered the most important. The Old City has hundreds of historic buildings including dozens of temples.

Wat Phra Singh Founded in 1355, its full name is Wat Phra Puttha Sihing, but shortened to Wat Phra Singh – a nod to its prominent singh (lion) statues. Originally named for its famous Phra Puttha Sihing (Buddha) statue, it’s one of Thailand’s most important temples. It’s also notable for its artwork, including the exquisite murals in its annex: Viharn Lai Kham.

Wat Phan Tao An impressive all-wooden temple set amidst quiet gardens, it’s often overlooked by large groups. Beside the ancient teak temple, there’s a bamboo grove, pond, and Buddha statue under a Bodhi tree, where monks often chant or meditate in the evenings. Wat Chedi Luang The massive complex was constructed in the 15th century in honour of the famed Phra Kaew (aka “Emerald

Buddha”), which is now housed in Bangkok’s Grand Palace. Once rising over 80m high, it was the tallest building in Chiang Mai for 500 years; despite losing its peak after an earthquake in 1545, it’s still 60m high and visible across the city. Its huge grounds are dotted with massive Buddha statues, as well as the Lanna campus of Mahamakut Buddhist University (founded by King Rama IV), with daily sessions where novice monks

practice English, chatting with visitors. Wat Chiang Man The city’s oldest temple, Wat Chiang Man was built in 1296, shortly after Chiang Mai’s founding. In addition to a tranquil lotus pond, its central tower, Chedi Chang Lom (meaning “Elephant Chedi”) is named for its 15 life-sized elephant statues.


Thanks to its location at the base of the Khun Tan Mountains, and good road connectivity, Chiang Mai is an ideal jumping-off point for adventure activities in the surrounding mountains, including trekking and wildlife watching.

Elephant Parks Most of Thailand’s elephant camps are situated around Chiang Mai, and some of the best ones include Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary and Elephant Nature Park. Elephant Nature Park is the most respected elephant camp in Chiang Mai, where you can watch elephants roam freely and help scrub them during their daily baths. Further afield, Boon Lott’s visitors stay overnight in one of 3 traditional teak guesthouses and the elephants are free to roam around the property, with visitors shadowing them from a distance.

sites in Thailand, accessible via 309 steps (or cable car) which are flanked by huge Naga (dragon) statues. Another landmark is Bhubing Palace, the royal winter residence. Constructed in 1961, it’s open to the public (except when the royal family is in residence), with the gardens being ideal for birdwatching.

Doi Suthep-Pui National Park The park, which consists of evergreen and deciduous forests, has both hiking and cycling trails that access several waterfalls. Its biggest attraction, however, is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple located atop Doi Suthep mountain. At 15km from Chiang Mai, the site overlooks the city. Dating from the 14th century, the temple is said to have been founded by King Nu Naone, after a monk brought him a relic (reportedly Buddha’s shoulder bone), which a white elephant then carried to what became the wat. Today it’s one of the most important religious

Doi Inthanon National Park Doi Inthanon (2,565m) is Thailand’s tallest peak. Also known as Doi Luang (“Big Peak”), it’s one of Thailand’s most iconic spots; many hikers pose beneath its famous “Highest Spot in Thailand”

sign. Other icons in the park include the twin pagodas in honor of the King and Queen, surrounded by spectacular gardens. While the summit does not have good views (due to constant mist and dense forest), views from the pagodas go through the next valley into Mae Hong Son province. Situated in its namesake park, Doi Inthanon is heavily forested and mist-shrouded year-round. Just below the summit, the Cloud Forest Boardwalk, while short, lets you experience the moss-covered forest up close. The park is also Thailand’s premier birdwatching destination, with numerous colourful species like redstarts, forktails, and sunbirds flitting about. A variety of hiking trails also lead to numerous waterfalls and indigenous villages of the Karen and Hmong people. Easily done as a day-trip from Chiang Mai (1.5 hours, 100km), temperatures in the park range from 20ºC, to 0º in winter (December-January).



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The PacSafe Vibe 40 anti-theft backpack 40L is designed for city living and features a large internal Velcro pocket for internal organisation, a top quick access pocket and 1 side stretch pocket. The bag meets most major airline maximum carry-on standards and has padded adjustable shoulder straps, back support and internal and side compression straps. The Vibe 40 also integrates several PacSafe securities including PopNLock security clip, eXomesh slashguards built into the bag’s fabric, RFIDsafe blocking pockets and material and puncture resistant ToughZip. Available in black and grey camo in all The Planet Traveller stores and Boarding Gate at S$233.

Black Diamond’s Storm Headlamp is a rugged, fully waterproof (withstands immersions up to 1m for 30 mins) headlamp that features 350 lumens of power and 3 different coloured night vision modes. The redesigned lighting profile offers improved peripheral lighting for close-range activities like

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Mystery Ranch’s broadshouldered, slim-waisted 40L Coulee day pack offers quick access with its 3-zip design. It features exterior, stretchwoven pockets – two on the front and two (waterbottle-ready) on the sides – for convenience and 420D nylon fabric for toughness. Designed with light, fiberglass frame stays for stability, the fully adjustable trail yoke affords a customised fit, featuring a fully-cushioned, contoured waist belt with zippered pockets. Available at Outdoor Life at S$426.



Powertraveller’s new Extreme charger paves the way for battery and solar combination chargers. Underneath the tough, rugged, waterproof casing of the unit lies a massive 12,000mAh lithium battery. Unlike most portable chargers, it features both a 12V DC output – suitable for charging bigger devices such as SLR cameras – and a 5V 2A USB output for smaller devices such as smartphones, plus a bi-directional USB-C socket. The kit includes a 5-watt solar panel which outputs 5V 1A via USB and opens to 210º; the solar panel charges in low light conditions. Now available at Adventure 21 at an introductory price of S$229.90 (U.P. $259).

Ideal for longer runs, the Lightflite Hydro belt pack is big enough to hold what you need, and lightweight enough to feel invisible, thanks to its well-balanced design and padded, sweat-wicking back panel. There’s an external, elasticated water bottle holder (with a bungee tie and bottle included), all secured between two top-loading zip pockets large enough for a shell or light base layer, as well as two external mesh stash pockets for instant access to items like snacks. Available in 3 colours at S$58 from

From the craggy peaks of Snowdonia to the lush green hills of the Brecon Beacons, Wales may not have soaring mountains, but its undulating landscape does have it all when it comes to mountain biking. As such, there are between 500km to 600km of purpose-built spectacular singletracks all across Wales, complete with all-weather trail centres, freeride hotspots, bike parks, and wild natural

tracks. It’s definitely a hotspot for MTB riders.

MTB, offering everything from visitor services to rentals and lessons.

While many of these awesome trails are certified gnarly, there are plenty of gentler trails for beginners – there are over 11 green and blue trail centre routes across Wales (and more in the pipeline) where you can hone your skills – these Mountain Biking Centres are purpose-built and dedicated to

There are plenty of Mountain Bike Centres all over Wales, with some of the most exciting collections of trails located in Snowdonia in the north, and around Brecon Beacons – accessible via either Cardiff or Swansea – in the south.

©VisitBritain/ Stephen Spraggon


to the Y Wal trail which is a swooping 24km (mainly) singletrack loop with epic views and breathtaking descents, to a couple of rookie trails in the heart of this forest park.

One of the most popular MTB centres lies in Afan Forest Park in Neath Valley near Swansea, which has over 130kms of trails across 64sq. km. of woodland clinging to the side of a steep, narrow valley. This easily accessible park has 6 superb trails ranging from 7km to over 40km along flowing singletracks threading through the forest, as well as wide open trails with amazing views. Together with a Bike Park, it offers some of the longest all-weather singletracks in Wales.

There’s also the specially-built, multi-purpose track of the red-graded White’s Level Trail (15.2km), the most technical of all the trails at Afan which starts with a challenging singletrack climb that flows into a trail roller coaster with rock drops, step sections, berms and cliff traverses.

Your ride can vary from the 46km-long Skyline Trail, which features a 2km climb and hundreds of metres of highs and lows,

You can combine it with the Y Wal and W2 trails to make it into a 44km epic ride that mixes stunning views and some of the

most demanding descents and singletrack sections in the UK. The parks also has easy trails ranging from flat yellow trails to novice green- and blue-graded trails that are ideal for families or novice riders. The park’s Afan Valley Bike Shed offers MTB tuition for anyone needing lessons, as well as bike rentals and repairs. The best part is once you’ve paid for parking, you’re pretty much free to go about as you please. In addition to a bike centre, there is also an Alpine-style retreat called Afan Lodge Hotel just a stone’s throw from the park entrance.


The latest addition to Wales’ mountain biking scene is BikePark Wales, located under 50kms from the centre of Cardiff. Built in the heart of the South Wales Valleys, it offers challenging MTB trails for intermediate to pro-level riders, with over 28 descending trails organised in a similar manner to a ski resort etched across this 1,200 acre site. It’s the most comprehensive array of singletrack routes in the UK, and is not just for downhillers – it’s great for trail bikes, with its sweeping blues and rocky red trails mostly under 5km long. If you’re into jumps and are seriously skilled, you should tackle Enter the Dragon which features a series of MX-sized jumps, some of which are not rollable, that lead you to two-step downs that send you hurtling at warp speed into the woods. More giant leaps and massive berms complete this trail. If you’re into speed, the Vicious Valley is a very tight, very fast red-graded trail that has been surfaced to roll fast and be rideable in all weathers. For novice riders, there’s also the option to take it easy along the green-graded, scenic Link to the Taff trail that takes you all the way into Cardiff.

The best part about this park is that there are several points along the trails where blue, red and black meet up, so you can

swap according to your level of confidence. For example, you can ride the signature ‘Dai Hard’ black-graded trail (a flowy singletrack littered with roots and rock that bursts into the open and hits a series of drops and a whopper of a road gap) from the top and then easily switch onto ‘Rim Dinger’, a red-graded trail that’s 1.2km of rock gardens linked by berms, jumps, rock ladders and step downs which may have claimed more punctures than any

other trail in Wales. To access the downhill trails, you can ride up to the top of the mountain by road or via the uphill trail known as the Beast of Burden (4.6km) which is a singletrack XC climb to the peak of Myndd Gethin (491m), taking riders 20-40 minutes to climb. Alternatively, there is an uplift day pass, which is a minibus service that transports you and your bike up to the top, giving an average rider 8-15 runs in a day. BikePark Wales has a cafe, and provides rentals, repairs, and coaching courses designed to improve your skills on the trails.


Another popular mountain biking hotspot, the Brecon Beacons features an area littered with pre-planned routes that make it easy to explore the natural trail network within this outstandingly wild and beautiful region. Here, you can ride open forests, climb steep hills, weave down some exhilarating descents, or find the most challenging drops. From bone-shaking moorland or gentle spins through this countryside, you can find them at one of the 5 major mountain bike centres within the Beacons. These include Brecon, Sennybridge and Talybont-on-Usk which are great for novice riders, as well as Crickhowell and Talgarth which have mountain bike trails geared for expert riders. Uniquely, you can purchase a Mountain Bike Pack which contains 14 single track mountain bike route cards.


The slate mines of Snowdonia are famous for roofing houses the world over, and the Llechwedd quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog makes a dramatic backdrop to an MTB experience here. This former slate mining town has 7 trails – 3 black, 3 red, 1 blue – that are ideal for intermediate to expert riders.

steep fun roll with its beautifully crafted corners, berms, and jumps.

can book a single uplift (£5.00, subject to availability).

The only blue-graded track, the Jympar – a new addition – is smooth and less steep, and aimed at the novice downhill rider, with sweeping turns, flowy singletrack, and enough features to also entertain a higher level rider.

The Mountain Bike Centre offers coaching from the experts responsible for formulating these thrilling trails, as well as bike rental and a cafe.

The Y Du (double-black) trail is a premier downhill run which is super fast and flowy, featuring steep rock sections with big jumps, and carved turns that zip you down an open hillside.

What makes Antur Stiniog different is that all trails are only accessible by a van uplift service (it’s regarded as the best in the UK) that takes you up above Blaenau Ffestiniog, right opposite the famous quarry.

The red-graded Scrubadub is all about jumps, where you have the option to merge with the Wild Cart trail, a super

It’s recommended to book a full-day ticket (£32.50 on weekends) in advance which allows you up to 20 runs a day, or you


de Loop, which comprises 5 loops that link together to let you explore the northern end of the Clwydian Range.

Bike North Wales has a number of mountain biking areas in the northern region of Wales, with trails to suit all abilities from family jaunts to epic rides over 80km. The Ride North Wales website also provides trail profiles and pioneering 3D flythroughs to allow you to make sure the trail you choose meets all your expectations. One of the most popular areas to ride in this region is the Clwydian which has the most trails. The Clwydian Range forms part of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the best way to see the stunning scenery is from a bike. The 11 trails here range from yellow-graded seafront rides to the red-graded Loop

The 4 Village Tour takes you past four of the most picturesque villages within the area: Graianrhyd, Eryrys, Maeshafn and Nercwys. Along the way you can stop at one of the country pubs or locally run village shops. The 20-30km route incorporates some great singletrack descents, green lanes and forest trails. Mynydd Hiraethog translates as “The Mountain of Great Longing”, perfect for those cyclists who love a taste of the wilderness. It is a landscape of lakes, forest and rolling heather moors providing a varied and rugged mountain biking experience.

The hotels and guest houses of Blaenau are all geared to the needs of mountain bikers, chief among them a safe place to store their beloved (and often very expensive bikes.


was not only the original trail built here, but it was also the first purpose-built MTB trail in the UK. It’s a classic trail that’s rocky, twisty, technical, fast and will really test your skills and fitness. Another classic black trail is the MBR (18.4km), where you’ll be riding over bedrock, negotiating rocky climbs and descents, and flying down steps, dropping into sections designed to get your heart pumping, especially at The Cavity and False Teeth.

The black-graded Tarw Du trail (20.2km)

The Dragon’s Back is a classic, technical cross-country MTB trail with a challenging climb up to the top of Moel Hafod Owen, for amazing views over the park and the mountains of Snowdonia. Then it drops you on long, fast downhills on a section called the Adam’s Family – a series of descents with names like Morticia, Lurch, and Uncle Fester.

Situated in the heart of the stunning Snowdonia National Park, Coed-y-Brenin was the first forest in the UK to be developed for mountain biking and to this day retains its reputation as a premier MTB destination. It is home to an ever-increasing network of fantastic handbuilt all-weather singletracks ranging from easy green routes suitable for everyone to rocky technical trails for expert riders.

For easier rides, there’s the blue-graded MinorTaur (8km) which is built in 3 loops that get progressively longer, so you can choose your distance. There are


stone steps, tabletops and swoopy berms that make it one of the most popular trails here. Easier still is the green-graded Yr Afon (10.8km) with open forest roads and contoured hillsides, and scenic views of waterfalls on the Gain and Mawddach rivers, as well as the old Gwynfynydd Gold mine, the last source of Welsh gold. For those unfamiliar with tackling MTB trails, check out Y Ffowndri, which is a bike park that is a great practice ground for beginners through to experienced riders. Split into 4 areas – Training, Singletrack, Freeride, Drop-off – it lets you experiences varied levels of trails available out in the forest. What makes riding here spectacular is its scenery; surrounding the park is the breathtaking landscape in the heart of Snowdonia National Park, with views across glaciated valleys, wild untamed rivers, and an expanse of forest.

Established mountain biking trails can be found all over Wales, and the easiest way to get started is to check Mountain Bike Wales (www. to find a trail of your choice. Some mountain biking centres charge for entry and/or uplifts, although you can also find natural trails woven across the landscape that are free to use. As Wales takes cycling seriously, each major region has its own cycling base or centre which provides information on local trails and facilities.

As the Indonesian archipelago consists of 17,000 islands scattered along the equator, images of sun, sand, and sea immediately come to mind. However, as it sits on a tectonic fault-line known as the Ring of Fire, it is also home to at least 129 volcanoes, or 13% of the all the world’s volcanoes. Some of these are active (some very much so), while others have scenic volcanic lakes or craters that spurt fire. Some of the most spectacular ones are located around the Lesser Sunda Islands, which consists of islands like Bali and Flores. From lush jungle to arid savannah and pristine diving spots, these islands are also home to a number of scenic volcanoes.


PHOTOS BY Eugene Soh

FLORES: KELIMUTU When the Portuguese came here in the 16th century, they named the island Flores (‘flowers’) and converted most of the population to Catholicism. As a result, most islanders today are still Catholics, and churches can be seen dotting some towns. The island’s lush interior, smoking volcanoes, spectacular rice fields and hidden beaches have so far managed to hide themselves from large-scale mainstream tourism. It’s still a popular

island for liveaboard circuits that take visitors all the way to Bali, at the other end of the Lesser Sunda Islands. While many use the town of Labuanbajo as a jumping off point to nearby Komodo National Park, those who stay on the eastern end of the island can explore the magnificent Mt. Kelimutu. While not the tallest peak on the island (the honour goes to Mt. Kelibara at 1,731m), it is famous for its crater lakes.

Located in Kelimutu National Park – the smallest among the 6 national parks in the Nusa Tenggara islands – it’s accessible from a small town called Moni. Visitors come here to visit the three lakes that lie in the caldera of the volcano at 1,690m. Each of the lakes vary in colour, not only from each other, but also at different times. The name Kelimutu actually means ‘boiling lake’, and the lakes are believed to be the resting place of departed souls. Depending on when you go, the colours range from blue to green, and sometimes white, black, and even red. Scientifically, the colours of the lakes change due to several factors including the sunlight, microorganisms, reflections of the walls, as well as varying chemical compounds. Each lake has a name; the westernmost

Tiwu ata Mbupu (Lake of Old People) is usually blue, and lies 1.5km away from the other two. The Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) and Tiwu Ata Polo (Bewitched or Enchanted Lake) – which are separated by a steep crater wall about 50m-150m tall – are usually green or red respectively.

The best time to visit Kelimutu is during the dry season, which is May to September, with the ideal time being July or August (although it can get crowded). Most people like to visit it during sunrise for its dramatic atmosphere, which means getting to the main entrance by


A number of operators offer liveaboard itineraries that take you from Bali to Flores, which takes 3-4 days depending on the package (some include flights), with itineraries generally including stops at places like Komodo National Park.

4am (there is a small fee to enter the park). From the town of Moni, the easiest access is an 11km drive up – via a shared truck or motorcycle taxi (ojek) – to the main carpark, followed by a 1km walk (about 30 minutes) to the foot of the 127 steps leading to the edge of the crater. You can also walk the entire way up, which takes roughly 3 hours. From the summit, you’ll have an incredible, panoramic view of the three coloured lakes. There are also vendors at the top selling coffee and snacks in case you forgot water or need to warm up. The town of Moni has some accommodation options, which is the most convenient way to access Kelimutu. Alternatively, Maumere is a bigger town about 4 hours away, with regular flights to Bali.

BALI: BATUR The island of Bali needs no introduction – with its famous beaches, cultural offerings, terraced paddy fields, and volcanic landscape, it’s been a favourite of holidaymakers for decades. But if you’re looking to explore the island’s peaks, you can climb Mt. Batur. As it’s not as challenging as Mt. Agung, it’s certainly the more popular of the two. Situated on the northeastern end of Bali, Mt. Batur is considered sacred to the Hindus. As an active volcano, Mt. Batur has the largest crater lake in Bali. Located in the village of Batur in the Kintamani District, the mountain itself rises 1,717m. The hike is mostly via off-road trails and rocky terrain, and while it’s not a walk in the park, it isn’t too difficult to summit. The best time to climb is during the dry season, from April to September; climbs should be avoided in the wet season (January and

February especially). Local regulations require you to climb with a guide, and you are likely to get hassled at the foot of the mountain if you don’t have one.

pitch black, the rugged, rocky trail can get pretty tricky up the narrow switchbacks, so it’s advisable to bring your own head lamps.

Again, most people tend to opt for a sunrise trek which starts at 4am. As it’s

The average fit person will reach the viewing platform in about 2 hours, where most people wait for the sunrise. As the sun rises, climbers will be rewarded with a spectacular view. From the top, you can admire a panoramic view over Lake Batur and Mt. Abang and Mt. Agung in the backdrop. On a clear day, the view extends over to Mt. Rinjani on neighbouring Lombok. There’s a warung at the top where you can get hot drinks (it gets cold up there), and breakfast including eggs cooked on the steam vents.

Once the sun is fully up, there’s a second portion of the hike, which takes you along ridges where you can get close to the volcano’s craters. Guides will take you across the top of the volcano, where you can peer into some of the safer craters and see chunks of black rock and puffs of steam.

© Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka

DIFFERENT WAYS TO EXPLORE BANFF © Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka

Located about 130km west of Calgary, Banff is Canada’s first national park, designated in 1883 when natural hot springs were discovered on the slopes of the Canadian Rockies. Now one of Canada’s best mountain destinations, it’s a region of majestic alpine scenery. Open year-round, Banff has a lot on offer. The town of Banff (1,384m) and the hamlet of Lake Louise (1,540m) are the highest settlements in Canada. In terms of natural scenery, it’s home to Castleguard Caves (the largest cave system in Canada), over a thousand glaciers and plenty of glacier-fed lakes, as well as hundreds of historic hotels tied to the equally historic Canadian Pacific Railway. While summer is popular for hiking, mountain biking, photography, and climbing, the best time to view its seasonal colour is during autumn when

the larch trees – the only coniferous trees to lose their needles in winter – turn yellow. In winter, it’s a mecca for downhill and cross-country skiing with its 3 major ski resorts; ski season runs from November to May, and in addition to skiing, you can go ice walking, snowshoeing, and dogsledding. As Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, entry to Banff – like all of Canada’s national parks – is free. One of the easiest ways to explore the park is via the 25km Banff Legacy Trail, a paved trail for walking, cycling and in-line skating that incorporates scenic views along the Trans-Canada 1 (highway). It’s also a great opportunity to check out the ‘Canadian Signature Experiences Collection’, showcasing ‘once in a lifetime’ travel experiences found only in Banff and Lake Louise.

HORSEBACK RIDE IN THE ROCKIES One of the most iconic hikes in the Canadian Rockies is the Plain of Six Glaciers, which takes hikers along Lake Louise before ending up at the historic Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House at an elevation of 2,100m.

Another iconic way to get to the Tea House is to go on horseback with the legendary, real-life cowboy clan that has been part of Banff’s history for six generations.

The scenery along this 13.5km out-andback trail includes waterfalls, towering rock faces (where you might spot some rock-climbers), and of course, the six hanging glaciers whose flow created Lake Louise millions of years ago.

The Brewster family’s four-hour horseback ride through the Canadian Rockies follows in the footsteps of early explorers, traversing the ice fields of Victoria Glacier as you ride under jagged rock faces, across sweeping avalanche plains and into sub-alpine forest along the slopes of Mount Whyte.

The quaint Tea House was built in 1924 by Swiss guides employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a rest stop for mountain climbers making their way to Abbots Pass. It’s seasonally operated, but is usually open from June to mid-October depending on the weather.

Whether you hike or ride, you can expect to see wildlife like marmots, picas, and black-horned mountain goats.

WAPTA TRAVERSE One of Western Canada’s classic alpine traverses, the Wapta Icefields are a series of vast but gentle icefields that stretch for miles across the Great Divide of the Canadian Rockies. It showcases the stunning scenery of the Waputik Range, and is a destination for hiking and mountaineering in summer, and for ski touring in winter. Yamnuska Adventures offers a 3-day hut-to-hut hike across the Icefields, starting from Bow Lake and up to the Bow Glacier and Peyto Glacier, staying in 2 remote alpine huts en route. The hike averages 6-7km per day. The tour starts along an easy trail before negotiating steep trails with magnificent

views of the surrounding alpine peaks. The trek gets steeper as you pass old moraines then up through the forest until it opens out into a massive alpine cirque surrounded by peaks and glaciers. The final first-day ascent brings you to Bow Hut (2,350m) on the snout of the Bow Glacier. The next day is a traverse across the flat expanse of the Icefields to Peyto Hut. Standing on an icefield is like being on the ocean, where jagged peaks pop out of the ice, providing a surreal hiking experience. The traverse across the glacier crevasses involves ropes, axes, and steel-

toothed crampons strapped to your boots. Peyto Hut sits above the glacier, a fantastic spot where you can see glaciated peaks and icy colours in every direction. In winter, the Wapta Traverse becomes a classic Canadian ski traverse, where you can overnight at 4 huts along the way: Peyto, Bow, Balfour, and Scott Duncan. The 4-Day Classic Wapta Traverse starts from Bow Lake and finishes at Sherbrooke Lake just west of Lake Louise, and is a better option for intermediate skiers. There’s a 6-Day Extended Wapta Traverse which starts at Peyto Lake and finishes at Sherbrooke Lake, which is more suited for very experienced and physically fit skiers as the approach to the Peyto Hut is challenging.

© Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka

SUNSHINE VILLAGE SNOWSHOE in the Canadian Rockies; situated at 2,180m, it straddles the Continental Divide and the boundary between Alberta and British Columbia.

Sunshine Meadows is famous as one of the most stunning alpine settings

A snowshoe tour starts from the top of Mt. Standish at Sunshine Village Ski Resort (accessible by gondola, and then chairlift), and takes you through the untouched pow-

PADDLING THE LAKES Taking to the rivers and lakes of Banff National Park by canoe, kayak, or stand up paddleboard (SUP), are fantastic ways to experience the park and its surroundings by water. At 2.4km from Banff town is the Vermilion Lakes – a network of lush marshlands and expansive lakes in the Bow Valley with incredible views of Mt. Rundle and Sulphur Mountain. A popular place for sunsets, you can paddle across the serene waterways and spot wildlife such as elk, moose,

and the occasional bear that can often be seen close by. You can rent your gear from the Banff Canoe Club on Bow Avenue, and paddle down the meandering waters of Echo Creek and Forty Mile Creek into the Vermilion Lakes. You can also paddle in Lake Louise, with the striking Mt. Victoria in the background, and Moraine Lake which is encircled by the famous Valley of the Ten Peaks. Other idyllic locations include Johnson Lake and Two Jack Lake, which are sheltered from wind. If it’s adventure you prefer, you can take things to the next level at Bow River from Banff to Canmore. Or you can combine a hike into the Rocky Mountain wilderness with an inflatable board and paddle on pristine lakes.

der of the Sunshine Meadows which is flanked by some of the highest peaks in the Rockies, including Mt. Assiniboine, the Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies. The trip takes you towards the ice-covered Rock Isle Lake, along the path Canada’s First Nations people took to trade with neighbouring tribes. The approximately 3.5-hour trip from Sunshine Village base ends at Sunshine Mountain Lodge for a traditional Swiss-style cheese fondue. The trip costs CAD125 per person, and runs from November to April.

FORTUNE MOUNTAIN SLED DOG TOUR One of the most iconic ways to get around in Canada is on a sled dog tour. Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours runs an overnight excursion on the Ghosts of Fortune Mountain tour where you get to mush your own 6-dog sled team near Canmore in Alberta.

expedition tent under the crisp winter Alberta sky.

In addition to harnessing and feeding each dog, you get to drive your team across 80 kilometres of frozen lakes and drifted mountain trails over 2 days, passing the most remote areas of Banff National Park, as well as noteworthy sights such as the Spray Lakes, Canyon Dam and Goat Pond.

The best time to go is generally from November through April, but it’s operational as long as there is a good base of snow on the ground. It costs CAD3,500 for 2 people, including all quality meals and a guide.

At the end of the journey, you can visit the kennel facility where the husky pups are born and raised.

You get to camp in a warm fur-lined

GETTING THERE © Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka


Located 130km from Calgary, Banff National Park is accessible by car or tour bus. You can catch the ROAM bus from the town of Banff, a publicly accessible and environmentally friendly hybrid outfitted with wildlife information.

For a beautiful winter stroll, the Johnston Canyon Icewalk has a series of trails and steel catwalks that provide easy access into a deep, narrow canyon where you can see thundering waterfalls frozen by the chill of winter.

There are basically 2 waterfalls to explore – the Upper and the Lower. Allow 2 to 2.5 hours to do the return trip that takes in both the Lower and Upper falls (about 1 hour if you’re doing just the lower falls).

Along the way you can witness beautiful natural works of ice – they cling to rocks, cascade over cliffs, and freeze like billowing pillows at the bottom of a solid waterfall, making for some creative photography sessions.

The Johnston Canyon Upper Falls is the more scenic one, and home to the Cathedral of Ice; it’s not unusual to see ice climbers here.

The Icewalk trail is easy to tackle, although having some traction on your footwear will make a huge difference. The walk starts as a level trail through the forest, before you start seeing ice clinging to the canyon walls.

While you don’t need guides, you can opt for a special nighttime tour where guides explain the formation of the canyon, and pick out fossil corals in the rocks. With headlamps and uplights, the water-formed canyon showcases spectacular frozen rock walls.

Although relatively small in size, Ecuador has an incredible diversity of landscapes ranging from coastal plains to rainforests to the geological spectacle of the Avenue of Volcanoes in the Andes mountains. It is also one of the most biodiverse countries in the world – covering only 1.6% of South America, it’s home to almost 50% of the bird species on the continent. While many visitors come here as a jumping-off point for the Galapagos Islands, those who spend more time on the mainland can have the opportunity to explore Ecuador’s other wildlife haven: cloud forests, which are subtropical forests cloaking the Andean slopes from 900m to 2,500m.

The Chocó-Andean Corridor, located northwest of Ecuador, sits on the biodiversity hotspot of the Tumbes-Chocó-Darién, which extends along the western foothills of the Andes (there are only 28 of these hotspots worldwide, spread over 164 countries). Comprising about 125,000 hectares, only about 2% of its original forest is preserved today, but it’s one of the earth’s top three biodiversity hotspots. Various cloud forest reserves lie just a couple of hours north from Quito, including Maquipucuna, Mindo, Mashpi and Bellavista. These cloud forests are cool and damp, with dense forest covering the Andean mountain slopes.

Ecuador’s cloud forests are considered the single richest biodiversity hotspot on the planet, as it’s home to iconic species such as sloths, howler monkeys, jaguars, pumas, coati, tayra, and the last remaining short-faced ursine, the spectacled bear. It also contains approximately 15-17% of the world’s plant species and nearly 20% of its bird diversity – the reason both amateur twitchers and expert ornithologists alike make their way to Ecuador’s cloud forests.


Nestled in the lush cloud forest, Mindo started as a small outpost of scientific researchers, and while it remains a small community, it now features a variety of excellent accommodation options for visitors.

At about 2.5 hours from Quito, the cloud forest of Mindo is one of the best birdwatching spots in Ecuador, and even South America – it’s home to well over 400 colourful species, including trogons, toucans, tanagers, cock-ofthe-rocks, and of course, up to 120 species of hummingbirds (it’s considered a hummingbird haven). Mindo consistently ranks within the top three highest bird counts in the world, and the best time to spot the birds is very early in the morning. You can hire a birding guide to help spot these elusive forest denizens. In addition to birdlife, the forest is also home to very rare reptiles like the Pinocchio lizard (anolis

proboscis) that live in the forest canopy and found only in Mindo. The cloud forest is also home to a huge variety of orchids, which you can see on trees, moss-covered rocks, and on the ground. What’s amazing is the variety of scents they emit, which range from sweet vanilla to spicy cinnamon. In Ecuador, one out of every four plants is an orchid – with around 4,200 varieties in total. A popular site in Mindo is the Santuario de Cascadas, which is located at the top of a mountain with six different waterfalls that you can access via a hiking trail through the gorgeous cloud forest.

It’s a 7km uphill walk to the entrance followed by a tarabita (cable car) which carries a small group of passengers up across the treetops and over the Nambillo River. The hiking route takes about 5 hours to see all the waterfalls and takes in the aerial view of Mindo’s cloud forest – as you hike, the damp soil loosens beneath your feet and the mist rolls around you. You should also keep a lookout for birds. In addition to hiking, you can also go for a swim at the popular Cascada Nambillo which

has a natural water slide that drops into smaller pools. There is also tubing (a popular activity here) down 3kms of the Río Mindo, which can range from a leisurely float during the dry season to a more heart-pumping experience during the wet season due to the bigger rapids. Plenty of tour operators in town offer excursions, which involves six or more tubes tied together to make one big raft and each person sits toward the middle of the raft, grabbing onto ropes for safety (guides are there to assist in the navigation of the rafts down the river). You can also ride in the clouds on a mountain biking trip through the forest; there are bike rentals as well as guided MTB tours. Tours range from short rides to longer routes like the 52km (6 hours) trip that takes you from Nono to Mindo where you’ll get to cycle through various ecosystems, or longer rides like Mindo from Quito, which takes 3 days. At night, there is the ‘frog concert’ which is organised by the Mindo Lago


Located around 20 minutes uphill from Mindo, Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve is a private reserve with its own research station for students and scientists to study the cloud forest system.

and boasts wonderful views. There are 16 varieties of hummingbirds close to the lodge, and more can be found along the 10kms of trails nearby, which range from easy to adventurous; there are also four waterfalls in the area.

The Bellavista Cloud Forest Lodge, located at 2,200m in the Tandayapa Valley, is on the slopes of a mountain

Situated further from Mindo town, this private reserve is a bit more isolated, and tends to attract serious birders.

Lodge. It’s basically an introduction to the flora and fauna of the cloud forest, with an hour-long guided walk through the woods where you can hear the chirping of various frog species. At a considerably lower altitude than Quito, Mindo’s climate is milder, with temperatures ranging from 15ºC – 24ºC all year, with no real rainy or dry seasons, although it tends to be driest from May through September. Bear in mind that to access Mindo is chargeable, as are all the activities within it, including hiking and birdwatching. However, Mindo town itself makes for a convenient base to explore the cloud forest region. If you’re looking for a more intimate setting, a number of private reserves – with their own eco lodges – are spread across this entire region.


bears can be spotted just minutes from the lodge.

Set in the cloud forest at elevations between 900m to 2,700m, the private Maquipucuna Cloud Forest Reserve boasts 6,000 hectares of pristine Andean rainforest, complete with an ecolodge that hosts both tourists and scientists. It’s set up as a conservation initiative to protect the Chocó Andes Corridor. In addition to the 400 bird species and 50 mammal species found here, it’s also where the Hyloxalus maquipucuna frog was discovered. Maquipucuna is also the only reserve in Ecuador where you can spot the

Guests of the lodge can go on guided nature hikes in the cloud forest, join conservation efforts, or visit nearby community projects. On site, you can learn to prepare local products like coffee and cocoa. incredibly rare spectacled bear during the fruiting season of the ‘pacce’ trees which sprout wild avocado-like fruits that attract the bears. The fruiting season lasts between 4 and 10 weeks from November through December, and the

In addition to nature, there are remains – pathways, burial mounds, and ceramics – of a pre-Incan tribe of the Yumbos people who once inhabited this area. The area was also an important area as a source of salt for the tribal chiefs of Quito circa 1,500BC.


It takes over 1 day to fly to Quito from Singapore; the fastest route is via Amsterdam on KLM which requires only 1 stopover. Situated at an elevation of 2,800m, the UNESCO-listed Quito is actually the highest official capital city in the world, and it’s worth spending extra time here to acclimatise while visiting its iconic Old City.


Located 3 hours from Quito, Mashpi is a private wilderness retreat set in 1,300 hectares of cloud forest ranging in altitude from 500m to 1,200m. The Mashpi Lodge (950m) is situated between rainforest and cloud forests, where plenty of wildlife thrive; in addition to 36 endemic birds, monkeys and even pumas, it’s also home to myriad amphibians like the recently discovered white-green Mashpi Frog which is endemic to this very forest. The reserve is criss-crossed with waterfalls, accessible via a network of hiking trails that range from easy to hard. There are also plenty of biologist-guided trips into the forest, which can be done as muddy hikes or from high up in the tree canopy on board the ‘Dragonfly’ – an innovative gondola system that traverses the treetops via a series of

cables and towers. This 2km, 40-minute tour allows for a bird’s-eye view of the ecosystem. Another unique way to explore the treetops is via the Sky Bike, which is designed for 2 riders; one person pedals the ‘bike’ along a cable stretched over

a beautiful gorge. At only 200m long, a return ride takes 20 minutes. Constructed from a disused saw mill, Mashpi Lodge is a luxury eco lodge recognised as one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.

MOUNTAIN CITIES: EUROPE HUESCA, SPAIN Located in the north of Spain, Huesca is a gateway to the Pyrenees and an area rich in Romanesque architecture, ski resorts, and stunning mountain landscapes. Perched on a hillock with the rolling Pyrenees mountains as a backdrop, Huesca’s history goes back to over 2,000 years, with cultural highlights including the Plaza del Seminario, the Romanesque San Pedro el Viejo monastery, as well as the Huesca Cathedral, built in the 13th century on the site of a mosque. Not far from the city is the Cañones de Guara Natural Park which is popular for canyoning. Beyond the city, the most characteristic landscape is formed by summits and green valleys, dotted with national parks like Ordesa and Monte Perdido (a UNESCO site). Hiking is a great way to explore this landscape, which also includes the most southerly glaciers in Europe. Some of the best ski stations in Spain can also be found in the Huesca Pyrenees.

MONTREUX, SWITZERLAND Nestled in the sheltered bay of Lake Geneva, the town of Montreux is surrounded by vineyards set against the breathtaking backdrop of the snowcapped Alps. Famous for hosting the Montreux Jazz Festival, another popular attraction is the medieval Chillon Castle, located on a rocky island and featuring fortified walls and towers, the dungeons of which once held Lord Byron. Thanks to its mild climate, vineyards carpet much of the landscape between the lake and the mountains. The most famous of these is the UNESCO-listed Lavaux, the terraces of which are accessible by footpath and a purpose-built train. A little further afield is the winegrowing region of Aigle, with stunning Aigle Castle as a landmark. Montreux is also a good base for railway enthusiasts – ride the Rochers-de-Naye rack-railway, or the panorama train to the Bernese Oberland. Up in the nearby mountains is Glacier 3000, a year-round winterland where you can ski or toboggan.

VADUZ, LIECHTENSTEIN A tiny country – at 25km long by 12km wide – wedged between Switzerland and Austria, Liechtenstein may be famous for its banking and denture industry, but it does have other eccentricities. This mountain principality is governed by a prince who resides in Vaduz Castle perched high above the capital city, and on its national day, the prince’s family invites residents to have beer in the castle’s garden. In 2011, the whole country was available for rent at US$70,000 a night as part of a marketing scheme; hosting 150 guests, it involves customised street signs, wine tasting at the prince’s estate, and even your own temporary currency. Many visitors stop here for a short trip to get their passports stamped for a souvenir; those staying longer can explore the country’s great outdoors – there is a remarkable number of trails to hike and slopes to ski given the country’s size.

Europe is dotted with plenty of historic cities where unique cultures have thrived for centuries. Thanks to the mountainous landscape in certain regions, some of these cities are also set against dramatic snowcapped backdrops that offer visitors the chance to combine a cultural sojourn with an exploration of the great outdoors.

INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA The capital of Tyrol, Innsbruck is scenically squeezed between 2 impressive mountain chains. The jagged rock spires of the Nordkette (2,000m) are easily accessible from the city centre via a 20-minute gondola ride. Nordkette is Innsbruck’s mountain adventure playground; in summer, it’s a great location for hiking, via ferrata, and mountain biking – the Nordpark Singletrail is a renowned MTB freeride route. Come winter, there are several ski routes to tackle too. As it’s hosted the Olympic Winter Games three times, Innsbruck is a major winter-sports centre, where skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and ski mountaineering are popular. In addition to a number of surrounding ski villages, the Olympia Skiworld Innsbruck is a massive area with nine resorts. The historic city of Innsbruck is also not to be missed: check out the Altstadt (Old Town) for its Golden Roof, the Imperial Palace and the Cathedral of Saint James; in December the town hosts its famous Christmas market.

BOLZANO (BOZEN), ITALY The city of Bolzano (Bozen) is situated close to the mighty Dolomites mountain range; straddling Italy and Austria, the town itself is a quaint mix of German and Italian influences. The Dolomites is the birthplace of Via Ferrata, the routes of which were originally used by both the Austrians and Italians to bring soldiers and supplies around the harsh mountains; today these routes attract climbing enthusiasts from around the world. The Dolomites are also home to 20,000km of hiking routes and 1,200km of ski trails, with plenty of huts dotted around the landscape providing sustenance. Nearby Ritten is a popular area in summer due to its number of summer spas and hiking trails. There are over 350km of hiking routes, most offering panoramic views of the Dolomites. Themed hiking trails include the Ritten Theme Walkway and the Chestnut Way, which pass through Roman roads, Earth Pyramids, vineyards and pasture lands.


Sarawak is home to some of the most lush rainforests in the world, a green haven that’s home to over 1,000 species of fauna and 8,000 species of flora. One of the best places to experience all of this is at Gunung Mulu National Park. Known for its vast cave systems, dense rainforests and mountain treks, Mulu’s attractions aren’t only above ground. Its subterranean world reveals show caves, with adventure caving experiences on top of that. Those interested in trekking can tackle the famous Pinnacles; most of the treks will take 1-4 days and will thrust you into the heart of the Bornean rainforest.




There are a total of 5 show caves in Mulu National Park which have designated platforms for easy access. Although faintly lit, it is advised to bring a torch with you. Deer Cave Up until the recent discovery of Son Doong cave in Vietnam, Deer Cave was known as the largest cave passage in the world. It is still a magnificent natural structure (174m wide, 122m tall) which can be visited at a fraction of the cost. The cave is accessible via a 3.8km long boardwalk to conserve the natural environment from travellers, and travellers from leeches. The walk will take roughly 45-60 minutes. Its many water columns protruding from the ceiling allow you to grasp true scale of this cave. Deeper inside the cavern, all natural light disappears; at the end of the path is the Garden of Eden, a lush green opening with sunlight streaming through. Inside the cave, a constant squeak reveals the 3 million-strong wrinkle-faced bat colony who have made their home here. Every evening between 4pm and 6pm they exit the cave for feeding and you can catch see this bat exodus from a viewing platform outside of the cave.

Lang Cave A 100m walk from Deer Cave is the much smaller Lang Cave. What it lacks in size it makes up for with beauty, with a range of stalagmite, stalactites and rimstone pools. It’s much easier to spot wildlife, where bats, insects and even cave prawns can be seen. Entry to Deer & Lang Caves is RM35, which includes the guide fee.

Wind Cave A quick longboat downriver takes you to the base of Wind Cave, from where it’s a brief walk to the cave entrance. As the name suggests, at certain times of the day, strong wind blows into the cave entrance – this has helped to shape the cave over the last thousands of years. Deeper within, only a slight breeze can be felt as you walk between large formations of stalagmites and stalactites. This is a relatively short show cave and will take no longer than 60 minutes to complete.

Clearwater Cave Depending on the safety of the hiking route and weather, you may be able to walk to Clearwater Cave from Wind Cave; if not, it is only a 5 minute ride upstream. The base of Clearwater Cave runs straight into the river, with has an area sectioned off for swimming. To reach the mouth of the cave you must first climb the 200 steps to the top. Within the cave is a subterranean river which stretches over 170km of underground passageways. True to its name, the water within the cave is crystal clear with a section that allows you to dip your feet in. There is no swimming in these waters, as the currents are strong. Entry to Wind & Clearwater Caves is RM65 including the guide fee and boat transfer. The Fastlane This show cave implements some adventure caving aspects which will require your own headlamp. There is a pathway to follow which takes you through the 1.5kmlong cave. Look out for (non-poisonous) blue racer snakes, white crabs, bats and other cave fauna. Entry to The Fastlane is RM65 RM including the guide fee.


Lagang Cave (beginner/intermediate) This cave involves no difficult terrain to overcome. The whole experience will take roughly 3-4 hours to complete and will have you walking across the old river beds and boulders, as well as spotting interesting insects that have adapted to the nocturnal lifestyle. Racer Cave (intermediate) This cave is slightly more challenging, as you’ll be climbing up and down slopes

with the help of ropes. Within the cave you will find, alongside insects and bats, the racer snakes that have adapted to this subterranean lifestyle. Clearwater Revival (intermediate) After being guided through Wind Cave and Clearwater Cave, you take the plunge and step off the paths. Depending on the weather and water levels you will explore the deeper sections of the cave accessible only through the river.

Other intermediate caving includes the Drunken Forest Cave, Kenyalang Cave, Fruit Bat Cave, Garden of Eden Valley Walk and Stonehorse Cave. Clearwater Connection (advanced) This adventure cave takes between 6-8 hours to complete and requires a good level of fitness. It begins at the end of the Wind Cave and continues along to the subterranean river. Sections of this cave will have you traversing through tight squeezes, and areas which are too dangerous to free climb will have fixed ropes. At the end, there is a 1.5km river section where you float down to Clearwater Cave.


From Singapore, you’ll have to take a connecting flight from either Kuching, Miri or Kota Kinabalu. From the airport there are local shuttle buses as well as a private shuttle bus for those staying at the Marriott.


The Pinnacles The most picturesque of all the trails, The Pinnacles is a 3D2N trek to reach the towering stone spikes. After a longboat trip and an 8km hike, you will arrive at Camp 5 which is your base camp for the night (own bedding and food required).

At 7am the next morning, you make your ascent to the The Pinnacles which is only a 2.4km journey, although it ascends roughly 1.2km. The average individual will take between 4-5 hours to trek up. The descent back to Camp 5 will take another 5 hours where you will spend for one more night before hiking back to the boat.

The Pinnacles Trek is RM415 RM and includes a mandatory guide. The Canopy Walk A 480m walkway suspended above the treeline offers visitors another perspective on rainforest life. Delivering a peaceful escape from the insects below, you can discover treetop life from 20m above ground, crossing strong, but shaky suspension bridges along the way. The Canopy Walk costs RM45.

Described as the “throne room of the mountain gods”, Concordia – named after Place de La Concorde by Frenchman Martin Conway who was exploring the area in 1892 – is located near the border of Pakistan and China. Situated where the Baltoro Glacier and the Godwin Austen Glacier meet in a natural amphitheatre, it provides a 360° panorama view of four of the world’s 14 peaks above 8,000m within a radius of 21km. Access to this chain of mountains is best done from Baltistan, a mountainous region with an average altitude of over 3,000m, on the border of Pakistan and India in the Karakoram mountains just south of K2 – Gilgit lies to the west, Xinjiang to the north, Ladakh on the southeast, and the Kashmir Valley on the southwest. Baltistan was originally an ancient mountain kingdom inhabited by the Balti, a Tibetan people who converted to Islam in the 14th century. While a majority of the population follows Islam, millennia-old Tibetan culture, customs, and language still exist.


The main staging point for expeditions to this part of the Karakorum Range is Skardu, capital of Baltistan and the place where the Shigar River meets the mighty Indus. Although it’s an extremely mountainous area, it’s accessible via the famous Karakorum Highway (Pakistan’s N-35 or National Highway 35) which heads north via Chilas, or south from Xinjiang, China. There are also regular flights from Islamabad to Skardu.

The best way to get to Concordia is to hire a local guide, due to its remoteness and the ever-changing trail on the Baltoro Glacier. Plenty of operators are available from Skardu, although arrangements can also be made prior to arriving in Pakistan via most international operators. From Skardu, it’s a 4WD ride through the Shigar Valley to the town of Shigar, where mobile reception – along with tarmac – disappear. From here on, it’s a bumpy and precarious dirt track through the Braldu Gorge all the way

to the trailhead in the town of Askole. Depending on the current weather conditions, there may be flooding, rockfalls or washouts along the 6-hour journey. Askole (3,000m) is the last settlement, with a population of 500, before a trail leads to an alpine paradise where four 8,000m peaks – including K2, Gasherbrum I and II and Broad Peak – stand proud alongside hundreds of unclimbed peaks ranging from 6,000-7,000m. From here, groups can hire porters and mules to move supplies for the next 2 weeks.


From Askole, fully kitted-out teams trek up the valley, following the course of the Braldo River over several hours towards Korophon – a forested area and campsite at the terminus of the Biafo Glacier. From there, the route meanders to the junction of the Dunlordo and Biaho rivers, passing through thick patches of edible sea-buckthorn berries growing wild along the path, before reaching Joula (3,190m), the first overnight halt. Like most campgrounds along the route, it’s easily identified by its sprawl of cubicle toilets.

PHOTOS BY Kaixiang Liang


Being in the soaring Karakorum, one thing that becomes immediately obvious is that it messes with your sense of perspective, and merely going from one valley to another – despite how near it may look – requires a hard day’s hike. Another oddity specific to this day’s hike is that a significant portion of the route is on fine white sand, which is not the easiest surface to trek. This is because from Joula you go through the


The view from Paju takes in multiple peaks over 6,000m tall, while just an hour’s hike brings you to the base of the Baltoro Glacier. Ascending the uneven moraine to one side you will traverse the glacier – with astounding views of the Baltoro pinnacles and Paiyu peak – before descending to the opposite valley wall with loose rocks where the glacier has pulled away in recent years. This route brings you to Liligo, an open area that is

valley carved by the Braldo river, fed by the Baltoro glacier and many other lateral glaciers. From here, you enter into the real heart of Karakorum. Another common sight from Day 2 onwards are the army outposts along the Concordia route, the first of which you pass on the way to Paju camp (3,380m), a tree-lined oasis that marks the next night’s halt.

safe from rock falls, where most groups will stop for lunch. Three hours from here, most groups choose to overnight at Khorbutse (3,930m) on the far side of a lateral glacier flowing into Baltoro – a spot with excellent views of Uli Biaho, a soaring pinnacle of stone over 6,000m high. Alternatively, the next campsite is a 3-4 hour trek to Urdukas (4,050m) crossing 2 glaciers en route before ascending high above to a terraced campground overlooking the icefield. This last campsite is not actually on the glacier itself; it’s a historical campsite – established by the Duke of Abruzzi in the beginning of the 20th century – located on a grassy slope high above the Baltoro and commands one of the most intense mountain views in this world: down the Baltoro and up the glacier towards Concordia.


Leaving Urdukas, you head towards Goro, or “little rocks” in Balti, an apt name for the glacial debris you must cross as you hike along the Baltoro. In the lead-up to Concordia, the summit of Gasherbrum IV (7,925m) grows on the horizon over successive days. A good way to take reference of where you are is to make use of the mountains to your left and right to identify how far you’ve come along the glacier, with Goro 1 and Goro 2 being the day’s lunch stop and overnight halt; at Goro 2 (4,250m) you’re camping on the glacier, so it’s a struggle to find a comfortable, or even level tent site among the moraine and ice. However, you are rewarded with excellent views of Masherbrum


Trekking up to the base of the world’s second highest peak is physically demanding, and it’s best to have previous, high-altitude experience. While the situation in Pakistan can be highly changeable, Baltistan is a surprisingly peaceful corner of the country, with the added advantage of its stunning views of Karakorum and the warm hospitality of the Balti people.


There are several airlines flying to Islamabad – the fastest connection is via Bangkok, with a flight time of around 10 hours. Visitors to Pakistan need to apply for a tourist visa prior to arrival and would require a letter of invitation from a Pakistani host or tour operator.

(7,821m), which was once thought to be the highest mountain in the Karakorum range, otherwise known as K1. There’s also a good view of Muztagh Tower, an enormous rock tower with four sides stretching steeply into the sky; it’s perhaps the most difficult technical climb in the Karakoram.


From here, it’s an easy day’s hike to Concordia (4,650m), following the Baltoro to its confluence with the Godwin-Austen Glacier, where views open up with the final surprise being soaring K2 (8,611m) peeking out over Marble Peak (6,256m) on the left, just before reaching Concordia.

After 6-7 days’ hard hiking, you arrive at the “throne of the mountain gods”, with the reward being expansive views of four 8,000ers (Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I & II, and K2), as well as a view down the glacier at all that you have covered. From here, there are a few optional day trips to K2 base camp (5,100m), Gasherbrum base camp (5,050m) or Broad Peak base camp (4,850m). On the return trek, there is the option of going over the Gondogoro La pass (5,940m) which brings you around to Hushe (however, there have been periodic restrictions on crossing this pass). Alternatively, you can return the way you came and experience the route back with a different perspective over 3-4 days.

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Sports+Travel Singapore | Issue77  

Our latest Mountain issue is out now! This issue focuses on adventures you can do on mountains high and low, all over the globe. Pick up you...