We are often led to believe that life today is simpler than ever, and in many ways it is. Within the timeframe of just a couple of decades, costly, time-consuming and inconvenient activities such as writing letters, placing long distance phone calls, and carting around impossible-to-fold maps have been rendered obsolete by the internet and smartphone apps.
We can instantly post images of far-flung expeditions on social media for friends and family to see, and the flavour of our Starbucks coffee is reliably consistent whether we are in Helsinki or Ho Chi Minh City.
Yet while few would assert that the convenience of modern life is a bad thing, people are increasingly recognising the need to regularly realign to a more visceral way of life.
For many, the idea of a vacation away from a reliable wifi network or mobile phone signal is unimaginable. Work emails have to be answered, friends, family or partners have to be updated, news has to be kept up with – or so the mantra goes.
Increasingly, however, a market is being established for guests who want to truly get off the grid and experience the true wonder of travel without the distracting crutch of constant connectivity.
“When you are in a place that has no internet or 3G… or actually any connection to the outside world for any length of time, it can certainly instil some initial panic! says Matt Blench, Director of Adventure, EXO Travel. “But as it sinks in and the realisation dawns that there’s nothing you can do about it, it is extremely liberating and you start to notice the wind, the sound of movement in the trees, the way the mist rises over mountains. It is letting go of one connection only to realise that you are already connected to something larger.”
By truly getting away from it all (with ‘all’ including the bleep of incoming notifications and the often insatiable urge to communicate with the outside world) guests can organise their thoughts, give their brains a rest and appreciate their immediate surrounds.
In Asia, smartphone culture is as strong as anywhere in the world. However, there are many adventures to be had in destinations where the tropical birds are the only ones Tweeting.
For example, a long-distance hike between Luang Prabang in Laos and Hanoi, Vietnam’s 1000-year-old capital provides ample scope to tune out from the static of life. While the two destinations that bookend the trip have plenty in the way of modern amenities, life in the remote mountains that separate them remains very much as it has done for centuries. During the epic journey, guests will encounter some of the most spectacular scenery in Southeast Asia, a dramatic patchwork of towering mountains, river-cut valleys and lush, plunging forests. They will also have opportunities to interact with the mosaic of ethnic groups that inhabit the region.
Another off the grid journey offering plentiful stimulus is cycling the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail between Hanoi and Hoi An. The former supply route for North Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War, the Ho Chi Minh Trail ran the length of Vietnam (with branches in Laos and Cambodia) through some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. Although it is impossible to follow in its original form, the new Ho Chi Minh Highway covers stretches of the old route, allowing guests an idea of its orientation. If the fabulous scenery isn’t enough, the journey also encompasses cultural treasure troves such as the cities of Hue, Hanoi and Hoi An as well as historic highlights like the Cham ruins at My Son and the Khe Sanh battle site.
In Indonesia, the island of Sumatra is one of the country’s most intriguing frontiers. Here, giant gunungs (volcanoes) stand guard over tranquil crater lakes and virgin rainforest provides shelter for a host of wildlife, including the Sumatran orangutan. For a truly rewarding encounter with the lovable primates, guests can take an extended hike into the Gunung Leuser National Park, learning about the medicinal qualities of jungle plants and the basics of “camp cooking” as they go along.
Thailand is one of the most social-media obsessed countries in the world, but there’s no scope for posting pictures or chatting with friends when you are hurtling down rapids on the rivers of Northern Thailand. A two-day journey along the Pai River may seem like a short period away from the rat race, but the thrill of rafting and the relaxed atmosphere at the remote jungle camp where guests overnight are sure to supply a short, sharp recharge.
As Myanmar continues to modernise, the trappings of globalisation are becoming more noticeable, especially in major cities such as Yangon and Mandalay. However, the ascent of Mount Victoria in the country’s Chin State is blissfully free of such distractions – the round-trip taking guests on a journey that encompasses unspoiled flora and fauna, unique animist culture, rugged scenery as well as the UNESCO-listed temples at Bagan.
“Adventure travel in its purest form is extremely addictive,” adds Matt. “People yearn to plug into something vast, something beyond, to find their limits physically and mentally and to discover what they didn’t know existed both in their surroundings and in themselves.”
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