The Outside Trip-Finder: Asia and the Pacific

Outside magazine, February 1996

The Outside Trip-Finder: Asia and the Pacific
By Kathy Martin

AUSTRALIA: Sea Kayaking the Great Barrier Reef

    The Route: A three- to eight-day Coral Sea paddle along the coral atolls and palm-fringed islands of the Queensland coast, with overnights in beach camps and time to snorkel the reefs and bushwalk the cays

    When To Go: April-October

    Difficulty: Easy to moderate

    Travel Advisory: Pack a wide-brimmed hat, some long-sleeved T-shirts, and the stongest sunscreen you can find. Austrailia ranks first in the world in incidence of skin cancer.

    High/Low Points:

  • Drifting into the shallows to see two-foot-wide giant clams clinging to the coral
  • Suffering from a bad case of hot hands after a brush with fire coral

    Luxe Factor: Camping; Tourist hotels

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Absolute Asia / on demand / $400-$845
    Down Under Answers / 36 / $360-$820
    Mountain Travel-Sobek / 4 / $1,590
    Outer Edge Expeditions / 9 / $1,750
    Pacific Exploration Company / 13 / $675

BHUTAN: Trekking the Sacred Valleys of Bumthang

    The Route: A two- to three-week trip to the Land of the Thunder Dragon, including five to nine days of trekking in the bamboo and rhododendron forests of Bumthang, with visits to villages, temples, and forts

    When To Go: March-June, September-December

    Difficulty: Moderate

    Travel Advisory: Thanks to strict tourism controls, you'll fork over higher fees than you would trekking in Nepal--about a third of your trip cost goes directly to the Bhutanese government. But you won't see packs of tourists on your trek.

    High/Low Points:

  • Watching masked dancers whirl at one of many sacred festivals
  • Not being allowed to enter many of Bhutan's temples, which are usually off-limits to non-Buddhists

    Luxe Factor: Camping, Rustic lodging

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Bhutan Travel / 3 / $2,750-$3,490
    Geographic Expeditions / 2 / $3,195
    Himalayan High Treks / 1 / $2,950
    KE Adventure Travel / 1 / $3,200
    Snow Lion Expeditions / 5 / $4,200
    Top Guides / 2 / $3,990

INDIA: Tracking Tigers in the National Parks

    The Route:A 12- to 21-day wildlife safari in search of Bengal tigers, gibbons, sloth bears, and 370 species of birds in India's famed game parks, such as Ranthambhore, Bandhavgarh, and others

    When To Go: January-June, October-December

    Difficulty: Easy

    Travel Advisory: Unlike on East African safaris, you won't find herds of animals spread across the plains. Indian wildlife is much more elusive and difficult to see in the dense jungles and forests.

    High/Low Points:

  • Spotting one of only 40 Bengal tigers in Ranthambhore National Park lounging on ancient temple ruins
  • Playing chicken with kamikaze truck drivers on the two-lane highways near Delhi

    Luxe Factor: Camping, Rustic lodging, Tourist hotels

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Destination Himalaya / 4 / $2,850
    International Expeditions / 6 / $4,098
    International Ventures Ltd. / on demand / $3,195*
    Myths and Mountains, Inc. / 1 / $2,395-$3,075
    Nature Expeditions International / 3 / $2,890
    Top Guides / 2 / $3,590

Mountain Biking the World's Highest Passable Roads

    The Route: A ten- to 20-day bone-jarring ride up gravel passes and down the mostly paved mountain switchbacks of Ladakh, Sikkim, or the Garwhal Himalayas, where you'll take in views of the tallest mountains in the world from as high as 12,000 feet

    When To Go: May-September, November

    Difficulty: Strenuous

    Travel Advisory: Book your flights into Delhi, Leh, or Darjeeling early and leave yourself extra time for chaos at the airports during the July-August trekking season, when planes are grossly overbooked.

    High/Low Points:

  • Screaming down a 20-switchback, 5,000-vertical-foot descent
  • Getting grounded by a wayward monsoon (it happened in '95)

    Luxe Factor: Camping, Rustic lodging

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Asian Pacific Adventures / 3 / $3,701
    Bike Treks International / 2 / $3,100
    Destination Himalaya / 1 / $2,700
    Force 10 / 1 / $1,400
    Himalayan Mountain Bikes / 2 / $2,000
    KE Adventure Travel / 2 / $2,495

Sailing the Nusa Tenggara Chain

    The Route: A five- to 17-day island-hopping voyage aboard a tall-masted schooner or ketch to idyllic atolls east of Bali, including Flores, Rinca, and/or Komodo, home of the ten-foot lizard and the barking deer

    When To Go: Year-round

    Difficulty: Easy

    Travel Advisory: Scheduled itineraries are maddeningly flexible due to winds, treacherous currents, or invitations to attend native cultural ceremonies. Relax--you're in the islands.

    High/Low Points:

  • Toasting your crewmates with the fermented juice of island palm trees
  • Finding yourself in the path of a 300-pound Komodo dragon doing 30 miles per hour on two legs

    Luxe Factor: Boat accommodations

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Adventure Center / 4 / $1,640
    Bolder Adventures / 7 / $1,250-$3,395
    Forum Travel International / 31 / $745-$2,895
    Geographic Expeditions / 1 / $3,290
    Maluku Adventures / weekly / $625-$2,125
    Wilderness Travel / 3 / $1,995

NEPAL: Trekking to Makalu Base Camp and the Arun Valley

    The Route: A three- to four-week journey through seven ecosystems in Nepal's newest national park to a high camp on the fifth highest mountain in the world. Some outfitters trek from Makalu to the Everest base camp.

    When To Go: October-December

    Difficulty: Strenuous

    Travel Advisory: The Makalu trek doesn't carry the same icon value as Annapurna or Manaslu, but it's known as one of the most difficult hikes in the region (8,000 feet of vertical ascent) and one of the most beautiful.

    High/Low Points:

  • Ogling the singular view of four of the five highest mountains in the world from the Makalu base camp
  • Being turned back on day six by bad weather and deep snow

    Luxe Factor: Camping

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Geographic Expeditions / 1 / $3,000
    Guides For All Seasons / 1 / $2,450
    Himalayan Travel / 1 / $2,950
    Journeys International / 2 / $2,195
    Maluku Adventures / on demand / $1,115-$1,550
    Snow Lion Expeditions / 1 / $3,600

PAKISTAN: Climbing Nameless Tower in the Karakoram

    The Route: A six-week big-wall ascent of the soaring stone and ice of Nameless Tower, one of the Trango group spires, via the Kurteka Loretan route. The Towers are a staple for world-class climbers, but this is the first commercial climb.

    When To Go: July-August

    Difficulty: Strenuous

    Travel Advisory: Although the Kurteka Loretan route is rated 5.10-plus, it's relatively straightforward and the difficult stretches are fixed. However, you need to be a competent rock climber with big-wall experience.

    High/Low Points:

  • Bivouacking four to five nights on the tower on a portaledge at 18,000 feet
  • Sitting through the obligatory, propagandistic Ministry of Tourism briefing

    Luxe Factor: Camping; Rustic lodging

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Mountain Madness / 1 / $18,000

TIBET: Riding Horseback on the "Mysterious Plateau"

    The Route: A 20-day excursion into the newly opened Tibetan prefecture of Diqing, an autonomous region along the border of China and Myanmar, where you'll ride through deep canyons and wildflower grasslands on a 9,000-foot plateau

    When To Go: June-September

    Difficulty: Moderate

    Travel Advisory: Beginning to intermediate riding skills are fine. You'll spend four to six hours per day at a trot or a canter on a traditional cavalry saddle. The horses are tough and small--only 14 hands high.

    High/Low Points:

  • Befriending the noble nomadic Khampas, who spirited the Dalai Lama out of Tibet
  • Enduring the two-day cage-rattling bus ride on earthquake-prone dirt roads to Diqing

    Luxe Factor: Camping; Rustic lodging

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Boojum Expeditions / 2 / $4,000

Rafting the Chatkal River

    The Route: A 15-day, technical, Class IV-V run through three deep gorges in the snow-covered Tian Shan Mountains of central Asia, including optional side hikes to high alpine lakes and visits to isolated Muslim settlements

    When To Go: September

    Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

    Travel Advisory: This area is so remote that immediate evacuation is practically impossible in case of a medical emergency. But the river guides are trained as wilderness first responders, and there is usually a doctor on the trip.

    High/Low Points:

  • Catapulting through Waterfall, Red Upset, and four other big rapids--all in a raging one-mile stretch
  • Bathing in frigid streams for more than a week

    Luxe Factor: Camping

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Mountain Travel-Sobek / 1 / $3,150

Hiking among the Sapa Hill Tribes

    The Route: A five- to 16-day rural trek through the terraced hillsides, rice paddies, and maize and orchid fields of northwestern Vietnam, including visits to Hmong, Muong, and Thai villages

    When To Go: Year-round

    Difficulty: Easy to moderate

    Travel Advisory: Though not required for entry into Vietnam, an immune globulin vaccination for hepatitis A is strongly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    High/Low Points:

  • Watching Hmong tapestry weavers practice their intricate 2,000-year-old craft
  • Getting stuck at the airport behind greenhorns who haven't obtained their strictly required visa

    Luxe Factor: Camping; Rustic lodging

    Outfitters / Departures / Price
    Asian Pacific Adventures / 7 / $1,650
    Bolder Adventures / on demand / $750
    Geographic Expeditions / 1 / $2,190-$2,490
    Himalayan Travel / 8 / $895
    Journeys International / 32 / $650
    Maluku Adventures / on demand / $1,115-$1,525

* Includes airfare from U.S.

See also:

Trip Finder Directory

Copyright, 1996 Outside Magazine

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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