Adventure travelers in general, and baby boomers in particular, have both ample appetites and ample budgets for vacations that mix up active adventure and involving cultural experiences, enhanced by expert guides and top-quality comfort, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association. And that’s where the growth market seems to be in the wide and wonderful world called Asia, where clients will find a host of different paths to exploring far horizons on journeys beyond the ordinary.
Nepal: A Many Splendored Place
Myths & Mountains is a prime-time curator of travel experiences that weave together cultures and crafts, religion and pilgrimage sites, environment and natural history, natural healing and traditional medicine into active adventure itineraries. We asked company president Dr. Toni Neubauer for her definition of adventure travel, and her answer says it all. “Adventure is in the eye of the beholder, although the basics include out-of-the-ordinary places, introduced by insightful and expert guides, leading small groups of travelers accommodated in high-end lodgings.” Expanding on this, she describes adventure travel as “new-discovery travel, full of different and unexpected experiences that force us to think differently.”
According to Neubauer, this product mix of active adventure and experiential travel is the “hot” market nowadays, as demonstrated by the company’s “huge repeat clientele, who do not always book a new destination, but fall in love with one destination and return to explore its diversity.”
This is true for Nepal, having a good bookings year with great interest in the 18-day Kalapatar and Everest Base Camp trek. It is here where Myths & Mountains “was born,” and where Neubauer founded a READ Global Library program establishing libraries in rural villages in Nepal, India and Bhutan (part of the company’s recent Legacy Award from Tourism Cares). It is here, too, where tour members taking the 12-day Nepal: Mountains, Monkeys and Books tour will have a chance to discover that Nepal is not just about climbing Himalayan peaks but about traveling from Kathmandu to Pokhara and up to the Thakali communities, then dropping down to the jungle to spend time with the local Tharus. Along the way, guests can ride a Tibetan pony to Tukuche with a visit to a READ library, and in Chitwan ride elephants, bathe them in the river, visit a breeding center and spot birds from a canoe. In Kathmandu, they’ll visit temples and monasteries, meet craftspeople, and shop for jewelry and rugs. Departures this year are Oct. 17 and 28, and in 2017 two departures each in April and October; land cost pp double starts at $3,275.
It is not hard to understand why exotic Borneo is a steady entry on the bucket lists of true nature-loving and adventure-seeking travelers. This mostly untamed island—third largest in the world—has enchanted adventurers since the days of the great Victorian explorers. And it’s still the spot to find the largest population of orangutans in the world, who keep company with other indigenous species such as pygmy elephants, clouded leopards and sun bears. However, “Borneo—a laboratory of evolution, along with the Galapagos Islands—is one of those destinations you’d better see while you can,” says Josh Cohen, director of Wild Planet Adventures, “for they are felling the oldest rainforest on earth as fast as they can. Tourism dollars are critical to establishing an alternative lifestyle to timbering, and right now, every traveler makes a difference and every traveler is rewarded with an outstanding experience.” For example, Cohen adds, “on our trips, guests see 11 of the 13 species of the Borneo primates and between 10 and 12 orangutans in the wild.”
From March through October, Wild Planet Adventures offers one or two monthly departures on its 12-day Weird & Wonderful Wildlife Ecotour, whose exclusive-to-the-company wildlife encounters include wildlife tracking by foot and electric boat to see wild orangutans, proboscis monkeys and Gibbons, and pygmy elephants in the wild; special expeditions seeking out Borneo’s famous flying lemurs and other gliding mammals; cultural interaction with the “River People” at Sukau; and nocturnal excursions to see tarsiers and slow loris—two of the world’s smallest and cutest primates. Starting in Kota Kinabalu, the tour also meets with scientific researchers and stays at award-winning lodges offering outstanding wildlife viewing—Sukau Rainforest Lodge, for one; the tour ends with a 2-night stay at the Sipadan Mabul Dive Resort. The 16-day version of this Weird & Wonderful Wildlife itinerary adds a visit to the sea-turtle island of Selingan and another exclusive: a 3-night stay in Maliau Basin, called the “Lost World” of Borneo; harboring the oldest rainforest on earth and home to the reclusive Bornean rhino. Tour costs start at $6,498 and $7,998 pp dbl, respectively.
Mekong Magic by Bike & Boat
While some of us are focused on Europe and North America for biking and hiking adventures, it turns out that Backroads, a pioneer in the active adventures market, began to hike and bike Asia 20 years ago, starting in Bhutan. Today, company spokesperson Liz Einbinder reports that Backroads’ leading destinations for biking, walking and hiking, and multisport trips are Vietnam and Cambodia, followed by Thailand, Bali, Bhutan, Myanmar and India. Einbinder points out that clients booking Asia for the first time will find that “in other parts of the world we are able to offer itineraries featuring both premiere and casual levels of accommodation, in Asia, our bikers and hikers stay only in premiere class. Yet, while we stay in great places, we don’t stay removed from that which makes the region tick. In the company of experienced trip leaders and local guides who have been with us a decade or more, we go deep into the local culture with options such as street food dining in local markets, blessings from monks we’ve known for years, warm welcomes in local homes.” Additionally, “varied road conditions in Asia require bikes to be specially fitted—often with upright handlebars—for comfort and control.”
New to the Backroads trip roster is the 9-night Mekong River Cruise Bike Tour, sailing and biking along one of the world’s most captivating rivers aboard AmaWaterways’ 124-passenger AmaDara, from Siem Reap in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. In addition to the AmaWaterways activities, Backroads groups, limited in size to 30, enjoy daily outings along special bike routes (around the Angkor Wat ruins and rice fields, to craft villages and Buddhist shrines) guided by Backroads trip leaders. This trip may be booked privately for eight or more guests. Priced from $6,398 pp dbl, departures in 2016 are Nov. 15 and Dec. 3. Also new to the company’s round-the-world products are Family Breakaway vacations, designed for families traveling with older teens and 20-somethings. In Asia, these 7-night bike trips are available in Bali, Bhutan, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Exploring a country via its rails gives travelers a different sense of the destination. And in India, where rail travel is such a quintessential experience, it amplifies the journey through this colorful and exotic destination tenfold. Here, trains with names like Palace on Wheels, Maharajas’ Express, Deccan Odyssey and Golden Chariot only add to the enchantment of the experience. Your clients can feel like a maharaja as they board these luxury trains and choose among an array of dazzling journeys. Take, for example, Maharajas’ Express’ 4-day Treasures of India itinerary that has passengers exploring Delhi, Agra, Ranthambore and Jaipur, visiting five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Rates start at $3,850 for a Deluxe cabin and include accommodations in double/twin bedded cabins with attached bathrooms; all meals, soft beverages, house brands of Indian wines, beer and spirits; butler service, complimentary tea, coffee and mineral water on board; guided off train tours as included in the journey inclusive of entrance fees, still camera fee, transport and services of a guide; and porter charges at stations. The Deccan Odyssey travels through the Deccan region on 8-day tours, although clients can also opt for the 14-night Deccan Odyssey with Golden Triangle tour, which covers the entire area under Maratha Empire including Mumbai, Ratnagiri, Ganapatipule, Jaigarh, and Sindhudurg, along with Goa, Kolhapur, Pune, Ajanta and Ellora caves, and also explores Jaipur, Agra, Taj Mahal and Delhi.
No matter which area of vast India your clients decide to explore, they are going to find a fascinating treasure trove of delights, but if we were to opt for a truly unique rail experience we’d go for the Hill Trains of India, which make their way to the country’s hill stations, some via so-called Toy Trains. These trains are, as the name implies, smaller in size and capacity than traditional trains, and as they usually run on a narrow gauge are not very fast, thus allowing passengers to truly take in the scenery. Visitors can choose the Darjeeling Toy Train, an 8-hour journey that runs between Siliguri and Darjeeling along a 51-mile stretch of rail, riding 7,000 ft. above ground across the magnificent mountain terrain of the Himalayas.
Adventurous clients can also opt for a Wildlife Tour by Rail; a Jungle Safari by Rail; or even a Desert Safari by Train. These and the aforementioned journeys are operated by India Rail Tours, with plenty of information on its website at indiarailtours.com.