I just had the privilege of watching this beautiful video of Laos. I came across this film on vimeo. Created by Vincent Urban for a series titled “In Asia,” this video on Laos is the third out of five films from his trip to Asia in the fall of 2010. The song playing throughout the video just might become one of your new favorites and the footage is beautiful and captivating. The video starts in a native village in Laos and from there, the scenes change. Luang Prabang, Phonsavan, Vang Vieng, Vientiane, Don Khong and Khone Phapheng are all explored and captured thereafter. Enjoy.
It’s not often that we write about adventure travel and cruises in the same story. It’s more like kayaking and Costa Rica, or cruises and buffets. But some extreme shore excursion offerings by a few cruise lines have raised the bar so high, others may not catch up for a good long while.
Forget the stuffy tour bus and all the challenges of moving 50 or 60 people at a time around an iconic destination; that’s not what these are. We’re talking combat aerobatics, Korean monks and the Holy Grail.
Crystal Cruises has what they call “experiential cruising” that features far-flung, destination-inspired adventures that are not the fare of a normal shore excursion menu and include hiking, trekking, hot-air ballooning, dog sledding and mountain climbing.
G-Force 4 Combat Aerobatics invites guests to take adrenaline-filled flight in a fighter trainer jet to experience G-Force 4 thrills as an expert pilot teaches combat aerobatics, including a wing over, loop, barrel roll, stall turn and flyby over the ship.
Crew on America’s Cup Winning Yacht– Auckland is home to Team New Zealand, the famed sailing team that won two consecutive America’s Cup challenges. Become a member of the crew for the day, sailing aboard Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup yacht.
Spend the Day as a Korean Monk has guests experiencing a day in the life of a Korean Monk discovering the ancient culture still alive in the country’s many temples. After a tour of a temple’s architecture and history, learn a Korean-style meditation or partake in the tradition of wish writing, all ending with a traditional tea ceremony.
Rescue Endangered Marine Animals in Barcelona
As part of Crystal’s “You Care, We Care” complimentary voluntourism program, visit the Barcelona Rehabilitation Center to participate in a dolphin rescue drill and learn how to manage the floating stretcher, handle the animals and introduce them to the support swimming pool.
Sail an Underground River with Millions of Glow Worms
The Waitomo Caves’ soaring ceilings and low passages have created breathtaking formations and, when one looks up, millions of luminous, blue-green worms decorate the ceiling. Guests float in pitch darkness and absolute silence (so as to not disturb the worms) along an underground river to observe.
VIP at the Monaco Grand Prix– Car lovers experience the fast cars and glamorous events of the Monaco Grand Prix. They can watch the world’s most prestigious automobile race from either the driver/team-prep paddock area, a residence above the famous Casino, or the best seats in the grandstands near the start/finish line.
Rub 100 Buddha Bellies has guests traveling much farther into Asia than the Bangkok port-of-call, including a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang, home to the famed Pak ou Caves. One hundred steps above, voyagers will find hundreds of Buddhas – all illuminated by candles. They say rubbing one Buddha Belly brings good luck, wealth and prosperity. One hundred Buddha’s? All the better.
These over-the-top experiences and other offerings by Crystal Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises and Disney Cruise Line are typical of what is happening right now in cruise vacations. Cruise lines are taking advantage of their mobile nature and addressing a traveler-charged desire to see more than the standard tours at destinations around the world.
Disney Cruise Line, masters in storytelling already, take that same ability to craft off-the-ship experiences that travelers are not apt to forget anytime soon. How about taking your children to a puppet show? … at the Villa Borghese in Rome. In Venice, visit textile and marble workshops where artisans create items for the Vatican and Dolce & Gabbana.
“On shore, we just take our storytelling skills and work with the locals to help tell our guests why we are bringing them to Venice or Croatia or Turkey,” Arnaldo Zanonato, Disney’s shore excursions manager said in a great, in-depth Travel Weekly report. “And when it’s appropriate we try to make it more fun, make it hands-on for the kids, make it a learning experience for everybody.”
At the ruins of St. John’s Basilica, the Apostle John is said to be entombed. Exclusive to Disney guests, an “archaeologist” leads them in a competition to find scattered pieces of a sacred symbol.
Travelers who have been to Rome before want something different and more experiential. Disney delivers with a San Clemente Basilica trip where guests can descend to the bottom of the three-tiered complex, which dates back to the first century.
No discussion about extreme shore excursions would be complete without mentioning Azamara Club Cruises, the tiny two-ship boutique cruise line that specializes in destination immersion like no other.
On board Azamara ships – just the right size to be comfortable ocean-going vessels but small enough to get to places big ships can’t touch – its all about the destinations. Rarely repeating itineraries, Azamara offers once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to experience the world in an up close and personal way that no stock tour bus can deliver.
Example: A 14-night sailing in April 2013 titled The Spice Route Voyage features three overnights in port and six days at sea allowing passengers to see how various cultures and customs merged along trade routes. The experience is entirely customizable too.
If exploring Singapore’s cuisine and shops is not enough, join a night safari at the zoo. Take a rickshaw ride through the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Georgetown or in Sri Lanka, explore Buddhist monasteries, cave temples, rainforest preserves and elephant sanctuaries. In India, check the Kerala backwaters near Kochi, the beaches, colonial architecture and spice plantations of Goa, and the boundless energy of Mumbai. This one even has an optional overland tour to Taj Mahal.
Look for other cruise lines to pay more attention to the quality and depth of their off-the-ship options too … but a wing over, loop, barrel roll, stall turn and flyby over the cruise ship? That’s going to be hard to top.
[Photo Credit- Flickr user Defence Images]
It’s only April, but many of us have already switched to iced coffee and put away our sweaters. Now’s the time to start thinking about summer vacation, whether you plan to explore a national park or soak up the culture in a city like Havana. When you’re a kid, summer is all about playing outside and staying cool, preferably with lots of ice cream and water projectiles. Today’s Photo of the Day by Flickr user ahalvoresen is from Luang Prabang, Laos, where some local children are beating the heat with every water source available. Makes me nostalgic for pool parties and Super Soakers, before summer became a time to complain about high electricity bills and humidity. Enjoy it while it lasts, we’ll soon be back to complaining about the cold.
The Kuang Si Falls near Luang Prabang, Laos, are a majestic 3-tier waterfalls that almost looks like a giant natural staircase (and could be, as you can climb the falls). The falls are surrounded by lush forest and myriad opportunities for hiking where you will come across various cascading pools of water, many of which are fine for swimming, as well as charming bridges and limestone cliffs.
Along with trekking through stunning scenery, visitors can visit the bear sanctuary, have lunch at the picnic site, and, my favorite, swing off a tree into the falls. Right next to the pool that the falls cascade into is a tree with wooden plank stairs leading up to a thick rope. You will crawl on all fours to the edge of a tree branch and will have to reach out without falling to grab the rope (while a bit scary, remember that you’ll only be falling into water). Once you grab it, you’ll be able to swing like Tarzan through the air and into the pristine waters below. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll hold on for two seconds and slide right off. Either way, it’s a lot of fun.
While the Kuang Si Falls area is a big site for tourists, my local guide told me that the place is considered sacred by locals, and I did see some monks wandering around. For this reason, I would recommend forgoing the bikinis and tiny swim suits and wearing capris and a t-shirt. While it may be a little uncomfortable, at least it’s respectful, and there are changing rooms so you can get right out of your wet clothes.
An added bonus is the fact that swimming in the waters below the falls is like a complimentary spa treatment. There are thousands of tiny fish that actually suck on your toes and get the dead skin off. Oddly enough, this is a treatment that some people pay big bucks to get at a spa. While I was a bit uncomfortable with how it felt, I will admit my feet were extra soft when I got out.
From Luang Prabang, getting to the falls will take you a little under an hour. You can take a tuk tuk, taxi, songthaew, motorbike, or, usually the cheapest option, a slow boat. Another possibility is to go with a tour company, although make sure you will get a few hours to spend at the falls as there is a lot to explore. The entry fee to Kuang Si Falls is about $1.
While traveling through South East Asia, I had the opportunity to explore myriad temples and religious sites. Wat Po in Bangkok, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, and Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang were all stunning sites of spirituality that I would recommend to other travelers. However, visiting the Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang, Laos, was an extremely unique religious site that left a deep impression on me.
The caves, visible through a jagged opening in the waterside cliff face, are located right on the Mekong River, making the views very scenic. Inside the Pak Ou Caves are hundreds of Buddha statues of all sizes, shapes, and conditions. Most of them are donated by locals, who consider the caves to be a very important spiritual site. What’s really amazing is that locals of all classes have been coming to the site for over 500 years to worship and pray, which is pretty apparent when you notice that some of the statues are literally crumbling apart. While the site has become quite touristy, it is impossible not to feel something while being surrounded by so much visible history and culture.
To get there, you can take a boat from Luang Prabang, which is about 15 miles away. There are two caves, a lower and an upper. If possible bring a flashlight, as it can sometimes be dark and you’ll want to be able to clearly see all of the Buddhas. Expect to pay about $2 to enter.