The Akha of Northern Laos

Akha woman in northern Laos

The first time I went to Thailand in 1990, I had the opportunity to trek through portions of the North to visit many of the hill tribes. At that time, traditional clothing and culture were still very intact. Yes, there were already too many tourists, but there was still much to be seen and experienced especially in the remote regions along the borders of Myanmar and Laos. The markets of the Golden Triangle were filled with a mix of exotic hill people donning colorful garb buying and selling goods in a dozen languages.

The obvious stars of the markets were the Akha, a group whose unique culture, blood-red betel nut stained teeth, and over-the-top headdresses made them one of the most recognizable tribal groups in the world. I had hoped to share this amazing culture with Thomas during our visit to less developed Laos in 2010, but that proved a bit more challenging than I had thought.

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Komodo, Diver’s Paradise

Tony diving off the coast of Rinca

It’s not exactly a secret among experienced divers, but Komodo has some of the best diving in the world. While land-lubbers are more focused on the famous Komodo dragons, underwater fans realize that Komodo National Park protects some of the best-preserved coral and underwater life on the planet.

Why? As with Nusa Lembongan, deep channels with cold currents from the south seem to be protecting much of the coral from the hot water streams that have ravaged calmer Asian waters to the north. So far, bleaching seems to be less of a problem than in other parts areas of the tropics. Moreover, nature has gifted Komodo with wild ripping currents which make dynamite fishing difficult. Poachers can blow up the reef, but the strong currents drag all the fish away.

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The World’s Most Amazing Adventures

Thomas climbing to the Skylodge in Peru

Yes, these are crazy times. World travel has suddenly come screeching to a halt. From the isles of Oceania to the glaciers of Chile to sweeping sands of the Sahara, adventurers around the globe have had to buckle down and wait for Covid-19 to pass. Fantasies of exotic destinations will have to remain just that for the time being… fantasies.

Yet for those arm-chair travelers who still dare to dream, here is a list of 20 of our favorite adventures to put on your bucket list. Hopefully, the world will start up again in the not-too-distant future. Hang in there, people, this too shall pass.

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Gyantse – Jewel of Tibet

Monk at the Kumbum in Gyantse, Tibet

Gyantse is easily the most beautiful and atmospheric town in Tibet. There is so much to see, we could easily have stayed a week – but, unfortunately, our 17-day adventure to Mount Kailash allowed for only one day in the photogenic town. Sometimes, you just have to make due with what you have.

To take full advantage of our single day, we started early; in fact, we were up and out before sunrise. This may sound a little too early, but the sun doesn’t come up before 8 AM in Tibet – China can’t be bothered to introduce time zones. Having said that, sunrise was the perfect time to catch Tibet’s stunning morning light.

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Sagada’s Cave Connection

Tony enters a chamber while spelunking in Sagada

Sagada, a cool mountain station in north-central Luzon, is a restful escape from the tropical heat of the Philippines. The destination offers up forests full of pines and tree ferns, exotic burial rituals, a once grand head hunter culture, and gorgeous slopes filled with extreme rice terracing.

Our principle reason for coming here was to bone up on our spelunking skills by doing the famous Sagada Cave Connection, a four-hour cave crawling tour linking the Lumiang and Sumaging cave systems. This tour requires its participants to repel down vertical shafts, crawl, squirm, dangle off of ledges, slip, slide, wade waist-deep through underground streams, and clamber over wedding cake cave formations – in other words, it’s serious food for your inner child.

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10 Highest Mountains in the World

Tony backed by Everest at the Gokyo Ri overlook

Can you name the top ten highest mountains in the world? You can probably name Everest, and if you are clued in, maybe K2. But can you list any of the others? Most people can’t. That quickly changes for travelers to the mountains of southern Asia.

Yes, when it comes to spectacular peaks, you really don’t have to scour the world to find them. In fact, you could theoretically complete your collection with a visit to just two countries, Nepal and Pakistan. Throw in visits to Tibet and India, and you can take in all the best views.

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Wildlife along the Kinabatangan River

The Kinabatangan River is both tragic and miraculous at the same time. One of Sabah’s premier attractions, the river flows through a stretch of surviving secondary and tertiary forest sandwiched between the industrial-scale palm plantations of the Kinabatangan region.

Perhaps the strongest testament to wildlife’s ability to survive and adapt under desperate conditions, I can personally say that, in all my travels, I have never seen such a boxed-in forest region with so much wildlife and such diversity – it is simply incomprehensible. Continue…

The Complete Guide to Hiking Torres del Paine

UPDATED Nov. 2019: A lot has changed since we visited Torres del Paine in 2015. Trekkers doing the O and Q circuit can only hike counterclockwise, and all campsites and refugios need to be booked in advance including the free CONAF campsites. Note that Campamento Torres will still be closed during the 2019/2020 season due to maintenance. Read on for more details.

After several months of indulging in amazing luxury experiences in Peru and Argentina, Tony and I were craving a good challenge and decided to hike the O circuit around the Torres del Paine Massif. It had been way too long since we did a multi-day trek on our own, so hiking Patagonia without a guide was just what the doctor ordered. Continue…

Exploring Coron Island by Kayak

Thomas Kayaks near Coron Island

Sitting in our stilt house recovering from our spectacular wreck dives, the second major reason to visit the Philippine Island of Busuanga is clearly visible on the horizon. Dramatic and mysterious, Lonely Planet describes mystical Coron Island best when it says, “It wouldn’t be out of place in a King Kong film.”

Ominous walls of jungle-covered black karst erupt from the surrounding turquoise seas. Jagged and spectacular, Coron Island is the ultimate karst showpiece. As mountainous as Yangshuo, as labyrinthine as the Stone Forest, mid-ocean like Halong or Pang Nga, and as razor-edged as the spiky tsingy of Madagascar, Coron trumps them all. The place is Continue…

Camping in Antarctica

If there is one thing that’s guaranteed in Antarctica, it’s that there are no guarantees. We knew this when we booked our trip to the ice continent: all activities are very weather dependent. Mother Nature rules down here with a very raw sense of humor, and she sometimes likes to put humans in their place. Zodiac outings, landings, penguin viewing, hiking, every Antarctic activity listed in the brochures comes with an asterisk next to it clearly adding “subject to weather conditions.”

Everybody on board knew this, and we knew the most weather dependent activity of them all was camping in Antarctica. There were two designated days where the overnight camping excursion was possible. When we were told camping was not possible on the first night due to wind and rain, we all held our breath and prayed for Mother Nature to cut us some slack. Those prayers were answered the second night when it was announced that the camping excursion WAS ON! Cheers Continue…