Away from it all Hong Kong-based adventure travel specialist Whistling Arrow will lead what looks like being a spectacular 17-day tour through part of the seldom-visited northeast of Nepal this Easter.
“The remote route will first trek through the lush, cardamom-coated Tamor Valley before ascending to the ancient Tibetan village of Olangchung Gola and traversing the exposed, snowy heights of the 5,200-metre Lumbasumba Pass,” expedition organiser Adrian Bottomley tells me. “On the other side, the upper Arun Valley awaits: a largely undiscovered sanctuary covered in large swathes of beautiful, primordial forest that overflows with cheerful birdsong and multicoloured rhododendrons.”
It all sounds very Lost Horizon, and James Hilton’s 1933 novel would surely be a worthy travel companion. Highlights include a visit to the 450-year-old Deki Chholing Gompa, which houses a trove of sacred Buddhist texts and ancient thangkas, and a concluding two-hour private helicopter flight.
The trip, which begins in Kathmandu on April 15, is priced at US$5,950 (not including international flights). For maps, itineraries and other details visit www.whistlingarrow.com.
EUROPE 101 In 1969, a film called If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium parodied American package tourists in Europe, with an amusing coach trip across the continent led by an English tour guide played by a young Ian McShane (Game of Thrones, Deadwood). This was also the year that Rick Steves (right) – a man who would be described by Time magazine as “perhaps America’s most accomplished European tourist” – first visited Europe, with his parents.
It was the beginning of a lifetime of travel that has made him a household name in the United States as the go-to guy for independent European travel information. Now in his 60s, the affable Steves’ ongoing mission has been to “teach Americans how to travel smartly” and get a true understanding of the world that they are “desperately lacking”.
If you’re not American, you may never have heard of Steves (who also, perhaps surprisingly, is a vocal advocate for the legalisation of marijuana), his television and radio shows, and many guidebooks (the first of which, Europe Through the Back Door, this year marks its 37th anniversary), which are mostly aimed at his fellow countrymen. And if you’re not a “Ricknik” – as his followers call themselves – you’re unlikely to own any of his signature range of luggage, or one of his catchphrase “Keep on Travelin’” range of T-shirts and baseball caps.
Everyone heading for Europe, however, should download the Rick Steves Audio Europe smartphone app (above left). Regularly updated, it contains guided, user-friendly, down-to-earth audio tours of sites across Europe – at about 50 destinations – with accompanying maps and written transcriptions. It also contains cultural talks with local experts and interviews with “notable travellers” taken from Steves’ popular radio show, including Bill Bryson, Joanna Lumley, Paul Theroux, Tony Wheeler, The Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan, Pico Iyer, Simon Winchester, Salman Rushdie and more.
The app and all its contents are free, and tours and talks can be downloaded in advance over a Wi-fi connection, so you don’t need data roaming. See www.ricksteves.com for downloads, somewhat goofy baseball caps and more.
Steves’ YouTube videos are also worth a look for a brief overview of many a popular European city.
OVERNIGHT SENSATION The Hokutosei sleeper train ran between Tokyo and Sapporo from 1988 to 2015, when it was finally replaced by the Hokkaido Shinkansen, or bullet train. Trainspotters will, however, be delighted to learn that many of the furnishings and contents of the Hokutosei carriages have been reclaimed and installed at the Train Hostel Hokutosei, which is connected to the JR Bakurocho station, in central Tokyo.
A mix of dormitory and private-room accommodation will let you relive the sleeper train experience from only 2,500 yen (HK$165) per night. For more information, reservations and links to the hostel’s social media presence, visit trainhostelhokutosei.com/en.
DEAL OF THE WEEK Online reviews are mixed for the Ibis Patong Phuket, but this is the hotel that gets Farrington Vacations’ two-night Phuket package off to a cheap start, from HK$2,950 until the end of March. Book before January 25 and you can stay two nights at the new Phuket Marriott Resort and Spa from HK$3,650.
Top-drawer resorts on offer include the The Nai Harn, where rooms are offered from HK$4,790 and the The Naka Phuket, on Kamala Beach, which starts from HK$5,690. These prices also cover flights with Cathay Dragon and daily breakfast.
For more hotel and resort choices, and reservations, go to www.farringtonvacations.com.hk.