Think outside the Box

A travel story which appeared in The South African

Think outside the box for your next travel experience

With some places in the world becoming tourist unfriendly because of the sheer number of visitors, and others feeling overcrowded when you get there, now may be a good time to think of travelling to somewhere new.

Image Credits: The Fortress, Sri Lanka; The Alpina Gstaad, Switzerland; Shinta Mani Angkor, Cambodia

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Excellent hotels, fabulous tours and exciting experiences are available in most destinations today. It just depends on you to make the most of the opportunities.

The following three destinations may not immediately come to mind when making travel plans but each will reward you with untold memories. I’ve also included some accommodation suggestions.

Sri Lanka

Those looking for new experiences in South Asia need to consider Sri Lanka. This has emerged recently as an interesting travel destination because of its beaches, wildlife safaris and adventure tours.

Along with its native land mammals – elephants, leopards and wild buffalos – the island is also a great destination for whale and dolphin watching. Sri Lanka also offers top-notch surfing and diving experiences, jungle treks, hikes and rock-climbing adventures.

Colombo is Sri Lanka’s capital and largest city. Stylish eateries, galleries and shops line shady boulevards and there are ancient temples, mosques, and colonial landmarks to see. Accommodation is diverse with everything from five-star to budget available. One place particularly worth a mention is Maniumpathy, a 19th–century jewel offering an oasis of serenity and luxury in busy Colombo but with direct access to art, shopping, entertainment, and dining.

Hill-enclosed Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka. It is a World Heritage Site and has a number of tourist attractions. The city is famous for the Kandy Perahara-a huge cultural pageant that takes place in the month of July or August. It is one of the most colourful processions in the world with thousands of drummers and dancers accompanying a parade of ornamented elephants. The Kandy House is a beautiful example of a luxury Kandy boutique hotel. In the gardens, a stunning infinity pool has been landscaped into the hillside with views of the paddy fields. With only nine rooms it provides a private escape.

Sri Lanka’s beaches are attracting world interest and most are focused on the south coast. Endless stretches of pristine, white-sand beaches and crystal-clear seas await you at the historic town of Koggala. Not far away is the UNESCO World Heritage Galle Fort, the best preserved fortified city built by European colonial powers in Asia. The fort is a small walled town which is home to about 400 houses, churches, mosques, temples, and many commercial and government buildings.

Once again, excellent accommodation is available. The Fortress Resort and Spa is fashioned in the style of a strong fortress, its walls enclosing verdant gardens and water features, a spa, a huge swimming pool, wine cellar, restaurants, boutiques and exquisitely appointed accommodation. The resort is a perfect place to enjoy the beach, the village and the history while providing a quiet escape when you need it.

Switzerland

Switzerland enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide as a country with a great tradition of hospitality. It probably started in the 19th century when the world’s elite started sending their children to be educated in Swiss boarding schools. Every visitor today can quickly see that the reputation continues strongly.

One of the secrets to Switzerland’s success is its diversity. You can visit an enchanted castle or a first-class museum, gaze at breathtaking glaciers and stunning mountains, pass palm trees and grottos, explore World Heritage Sites and enjoy unspoilt natural landscapes and easy-to-manage cities.

Many names are legendary – Geneva, Zurich, Zermatt and St Moritz – but the surprise is the interest to be found in places you probably have never heard of. Take Avenches as an example. Two thousand years ago it had 20,000 inhabitants, and stately mansions and temples protected by a five-kilometre-long, nearly seven-metre-tall wall with over 70 towers. Today you can see the eastern gates and a wall tower, the forum’s thermal baths, the amphitheatre with a capacity of up to 16,000 persons, and temple ruins.

Switzerland has some great modern hotels such as the Alpina Gstaad which opened in 2013 but I also love to experience the grandeur of the more classic properties. The 150-year-old Bellevue Palace in Bern, the Hotel Des Bergues in Geneva, founded in 1834, which is now a Four Seasons Hotel, and the Hotel Splendide Royal in Lugano which is celebrating 130 years, are three of my favourites.

Cambodia

For many people, Cambodia means Angkor, the remarkable Khmer city of stunning temples. I rate this as one of the better sites in the world but the country, of course, has much more than just this.

Phnom Penh is the country’s lively capital city which is blessed with a picturesque riverside promenade and lovely colonial buildings to make a quite beautiful city. From the contemporary restaurants and bars to crowded markets, museums and glittering Royal Palace, there is much to see.

The sparsely populated and wild district of Mondulkiri is rich in a stunning landscape with its valleys, waterfalls, jungles and rolling hills. The wildlife-viewing opportunities, great scenery and cool climate make this part of Cambodia a fascinating place to visit for trekking adventures. Kratie is rich in striking French colonial buildings along the length of the riverfront. This charming area is a perfect place to sit and watch the brilliant sunsets over the Mekong River.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s premier beach town is a place to unwind by the beach, enjoy the fresh seafood, take in a snorkelling or scuba trip, and generally slow-down, lay back and chill-out. In recent years, the islands off the coast of Cambodia have become a tourist destination in their own right with new accommodation being built on nearly all of them, along with a host of bars, restaurants, dive shops and so on.

Angkor, near Siem Reap, is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. Highlights include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat, the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom, and Preah Khan and Ta Prohm. All are wonderful examples of Khmer architecture.

Siem Reap has grown dramatically in recent years and now there are an amazing number of hotels from which to choose. If classy interiors, good service and closeness to places of interest are important to you, Shinta Mani Angkor, an upscale boutique property with a pool, soothing spa and dreamy swing-seat dining, may be for you. The hotel enjoys a tranquil and leafy setting within the French Quarter of Siem Reap.

Just a short walk from Shinta Mani you’ll discover Siem Reap’s rising arts’ and culture precinct. Kandal Village is home to a vibrant and eclectic new mix of around 25 cafes, galleries, arty homewares, shops, spas and cool fashion stores. Go explore!

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