Over the last few years, discerning travellers have turned their backs on guidebook itineraries, ferreting out pristine locations unsullied by commercial tourism instead.
The idea was to immerse themselves in the local culture, sample authentic, one-off experiences, engage in socially responsible activities, and return home to tell the tale.
Venturing off the beaten track has a certain appeal among intrepid travellers. For some jaded globetrotters, veering off-piste brings with it the chance to experience the occasional brush with danger. No risk, no reward, goes the mantra. Adrenaline surge aside, it is an opportunity to learn or enter a new realm of understanding.
CNA Lifestyle quizzed the head honchos of five bespoke travel agencies on their most unforgettable experiences abroad, as well as handy tips for thrill-seeking luxury travellers.
ANAND PEREIRA, MANAGING DIRECTOR, AMALA DESTINATIONS
I have had a number of unforgettable experiences on my travels, and if I had to pick one, it was in Sep 2018, when I was travelling on my own in Mongolia, exploring some off-the-beaten-path areas of the country.
This led me to Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, where I spent four days in this alien looking environment, located in the East Gobi. Getting here was an adventure that involved a six-hour train ride into the middle of nowhere, followed by a two-hour drive further into the middle of nowhere.
The area was unlike anywhere I have been, with rocky outcrops that seemed to stretch all the way to the horizon, and driving to our camp was like driving through a maze. I arrived in the camp to an amazing sunset and moonrise simultaneously, which was quite the sight.
What made the experience unforgettable was the days we spent hiking in the area, spotting the local wildlife. The park is home to the rare Argali Sheep and Siberian Ibex, which are extremely skittish and a challenge to spot. But with my guide, a pair of binoculars, and well-timed runs from one rocky outcrop to another, we managed to get pretty close to these animals.
It was a nice change from being in the city, going completely off the grid and searching for wild sheep.
For more information, visit Amala Destinations
JOSS KENT, CEO, ANDBEYOND
If you have not been to the Lower Zambezi National Park in Zambia then you simply have not been exposed to one of the finest safari experiences on the planet. And to explore it by canoe is the ultimate way to get up close and personal with the remote landscape, its magnificent wildlife and this majestic river.
Guided by one of the finest guides of his generation, Gavin Ford, my wife Sacha and I spent a few adventurous days canoeing down the river with a special mission to navigate the infamous Kazungula Channel. This particular section of the river is where the river guides choose to spend their days off … always a good sign. And it certainly did not disappoint.
Hippos slid underneath us and grazed the canoe as they plunged from shallow areas of the river to the safety of deeper channels. And lo and behold, around one bend we heard the most incredible battle being fought by two large herds of elephants right in the middle of the river.
As we tucked into the reeds to watch from a distance, imagine my shock when a bull elephant charged us from the bank, bellowing and roaring his displeasure at having his afternoon siesta disturbed. To this day, I remember being astounded by the size of his toenails (which were at eye level to me in the canoe) and the smell of his breath as he roared expletives at me from such short range!
For more information, visit andBeyond
NICO HEATH, CO-FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, LIGHTFOOT TRAVEL
Having spent a lot of time living and working in Africa, I have been lucky enough to go on multiple safaris, stay in fantastic luxury lodges and see incredible wildlife. However in May this year I experienced a completely different type of safari, searching for desert-adapted animals in the Namib Desert.
My wife and I left the children at home and spent a few days at Hoanib Skeleton Coast, a tented camp located in a remote area of the Skeleton Coast. With only eight tented camps in this remote part of Namibia, you truly get away from it all.
Gravel-strewn plains and dry riverbeds draw fascinating wildlife, and we went on daily game drives along the riverbed to spot desert-adapted animals. Guests are encouraged to learn more about the wildlife and how they exist in these unforgiving conditions.
The camp has a team of researchers who are often in the camp and are fascinating to talk to, especially about the vital work conducted by Dr. Philip Stander and his team studying the unique desert-adapted lion. That was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had: Spending time with the desert lion in a remote oasis on the Skeleton coast.”
For more information, visit Lightfoot Travel
CHANG THENG HWEE, ASIA CHIEF EXECUTIVE, SCOTT DUNN
In 2015 my family and I went on holiday to Antarctica, a destination I’ve always been drawn and one that I wanted my children to have the opportunity to experience.
One day we went whale-spotting on a zodiac boat. My three children decided to explore on kayaks and it was then that they experienced something others could only dream of – a pod of three whales frolicking in the water close to them, splashing about and showing us their tails.
What made the whole experience so exceptional was that this encounter lasted for about 30 minutes, so the kids got out their hot chocolate and just sat back and took it all in. Seeing them so excited at being able to witness something so spectacular, and for my wife and I to watch all this happening from the zodiac, is something that will always stay with me.
For more information, visit Scott Dunn
HAJAR ALI, FOUNDER, URBANE NOMADS
Once, in western Mongolia – a place where most people are ethnic Kazakhs – I was mistaken for a Mongolian the first night I was out for dinner with friends. I was flattered but the following evening I realised that this wasn't a good thing, especially for a girl walking alone.
One evening after dinner, I was out on my own. On my way back to the hotel, a car trailed me. The driver flashed his flashlight before rolling down his window, speaking in a language I assumed to be Mongolian. A little lost, I asked him for directions to the hotel I was staying at. That was when he did a u-turn and, from the other side of the road, leaned over and shouted, ‘Sorry!’ That was when I realised that he assumed I was a streetwalker!
Later on, another guy whom I had asked for directions tried to follow me to a quiet, unlit stretch of road. I tried to shake him off by shouting at him. That was when another driver pulled over and tried to take me by the elbow and pull me inside his car.
I later joked to friends about this being "Borat-style", but then learnt about the practice of bride kidnapping in Central Asia. I realised that this was a serious issue and stopped making that joke.”
For more information, visit Urbane Nomads
TOP TIPS FOR LUXE TRAVELLERS
“Be a traveller and not a tourist.” – Anand Pereira
“Get your children travelling early, expose them to the people, the food, the real culture of your destination. Don’t airbrush the experience. Travel can change their lives by opening up a new universe of learning. And through travelling there is better understanding.” – Joss Kent
“Book in advance, especially over peak periods. We have guests coming to us in October wanting to spend Christmas on Safari in South Africa or Chinese New Year in Niseko, only for us to have to tell them the lodges were booked up a year before.” – Nico Heath
“Remember to take time to see things with your own eyes. I see so many people who are transfixed on getting the perfect photo and as a result spend most of their time looking through a camera viewfinder. Holidays are precious, and we should cherish the time we’re given to spend with loved ones or friends. I believe you should come away from a holiday with amazing memories of the things you’ve seen, not necessarily a photo album.” – Chang Theng Hwee
“When it comes to adventure travel and off-the-beaten-track destinations, prepare for the unexpected. There will be frequent changes in the itinerary, and sometimes, even the dates of travel. Airport closures, civil unrest, inclement weather… the works. It's very important to communicate to your travel designer your priorities and constraints – if you absolutely need to be back at work by a certain date, if you're going to need a reliable wifi connection for the entire period of your stay etc.” – Hajar Ali