Chase an eclipse, train to be a ninja and travel at random …
Time Out staff
Peru? Been there. Bunjee jumping? Done that. Running of the bulls in Pamplona? Bought the T-shirt. Are you searching for something new to do with you annual leave? Try one of these peculiar holidays. If nothing else, it will probably put you one-up on your mates …
Learn ninja skills in Japan
Black Tomato, a company that seeks out cutting-edge travel experiences for the brave and the adventurous, offers a week-long trip that’s bound to get hearts racing among fans of films such as Kill Bill and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: a trip to Tokyo to learn the ancient skills of the ninja – the legendary disgraced Samurai warriors who decided to train independently of a master rather than committing harakiri (dying with honour). Lessons with one of Japan’s renowned martial arts masters are arranged for you in Tokyo, as well as classes in the much gentler Zen skills of calligraphy, origami and ikebana (flower arranging) – which all help to train the mind. You’ll also get to experience one of the world’s most exciting, forward-looking and, at the same time, traditional cities. www.blacktomato.co.uk
Join an expedition
You don’t have to Christopher Columbus to do something extraordinary. It’s not easy to blag your way to the US base at the South Pole or meet natives in the unmapped reaches of Amazonia, but there serious-ish expeditions that ordinary travellers can join. Guilt4Good encourages people of all ages to take up the challenge of self-funded (through sponsorship) expeditions in the charity’s core destinations of Borneo, Nepal or South America – as both a way to increase personal empowerment, and to make a difference in the world by helping disadvantaged communities. www.guilt4good.com
Go to the end of the line on the Baikal-Amur Railway
The Trans-Siberian Railway, while epic and exciting, is ultra-familiar to seasoned travellers. Our friends have done it. Dozens of posh tour operators offer it. You can do it when you retire. To impress even the coolest trainspotter, head to Irkutsk to ride the Baikal-Amur line (often referred to as the BAM). Construction of the 4,324-kilometre-long broad-gauge track, laid on top of Siberian permafrost, was begun in the 1930s by Gulag workers but only completed in 1991. It connects Irkutsk with the empty wastes north of Lake Baikal, passing through dozens of remote villages before arriving at the Pacific Ocean in Vladivostok. Highlights of the trip include Irkutsk, the ‘Paris of Siberia’, a giant sculpture of a Worker with a Sledge Hammer and the ruins of deserted Gulags – and, of course, before you get on you should toast your trip with a finger of neat vodka beside beautiful Baikal. www.trans-siberian.su/baikal-amur.php
Brochures, websites, TV shows, guidebooks, illustrated atlases, trusty travel newsletters … we are all keenly aware that we’re overloaded with information, yet we still gobble up as much as we can before we set off on our travels. Why not approach your next holiday with some of the gusto of the early explorers and just spin a globe, point a finger and go there? Or, take a no-frills, no-hotel-booked flight to somewhere you’re deeply curious (or wholly ignorant) about. Haiti? Congo? Guam? Cameroon? Paraguay? Cardiff? Are they even on your ‘to do’ list? Travelling with no preparation (apart from perhaps checking the local embassy and consulate to prevent you from walking into a war zone) is perhaps the only way to really feel the buzz of a place. You may do well to go alone on such a trip: it’s probably the only way to expose yourself fully to the people and place and get outside all those comfort zones that dilute and dampen your experiences.
Chase an eclipse
There’s something about cosmic, myth-laden, uniquely dramatic events that moves our very being. Increasingly, travellers tired of the obvious are making their way to precise locations on earth to be there at the very moment when an eclipse takes place. These come in lunar and solar form, and can be partial or total. Which is the best? Well, a total solar normally does the job. You’ll need the dark glasses, of course, and a GPS is handy so you can record just where you were and geotag your photos. When darkness strikes, the birds stop singing and, for a brief moment nature is out of joint. In recent years, there have been memorable solar eclipses in the Russian Altai region (great because it’s generally cloud-free) and off the coast of China.
Do the ultimate detox
Many holidays seem to be about causing us as much physical damage as possible, whether its eating three lobsters a day aboard a cruise ship or pushing our filtering organs to the limit on oily, spicy food and drink. If your last few holidays have been less than models of health and moderation, it may be time for some serious plumbing, and there are plenty of holidays designed to help you de-stress and detox. One of the best established and extreme is Thailand’s Spa Samui Resort on the island of Koh Samui. Comprised of 24 air-conditioned bungalows, tropical gardens, a spa and pool, its seven-day ‘Clean-Me-Out’ programme aims to purify the bloodstream and colon through fasting (no solid foods are consumed); by taking diluted fruit juices, enemas and herbal intestinal cleansers to clear out the colon; and through light exercise and therapies such as yoga and massage. Toxins, mucous and debris that your body has been building up for years are flushed out, and by the end – as long as you don’t cheat – you’ll hopefully have increased energy, fewer aches and ailments, clearer skin and improved vitality. www.thesparesorts.net
Look out for mistakes at North Korea’s Mass Games
What most impressed those who saw the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games was the co-ordination and elegance of the massed dance routines. Well, compared to the Mass Games at North Korea’s Airang festival, the Chinese effort was a ragbag of hopeless dancers at a dress rehearsal. It takes old-school hardcore Communism and a closed society to really train people to behave this well. North Korea’s amazing spectacle, devised by politicians to help the little people celebrate the birthday of Kim Il Sung and, later, Kim Jong Il, involves tens of thousands of loyal citizens moving and chanting in unison; to the spectator, it looks like something very natural, one whole body moving seamlessly through complex steps and patterns, but requires huge amounts of individual strength and, above all, concentration from the quasirobotic performers. With only a few hundred visitors a year, North Korea is still out-there, and the Mass Games is its FA Cup, Derby Day, Henley and Christmas all rolled into one. www.koryogroup.com
Hide away on Scotland’s St Kilda
It’s July, the sun is shining and the seas, even around Britain, are a few degrees warmer. Just when everyone else is jetting off to a tropical island, get yourself over to the unique archipelago of St Kilda. It’s the remotest spot in the British Isles, lying 41 miles west of Benbecula in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, and the islands’ stunning high cliffs form northwestern Europe’s most important seabird breeding area. Since the evacuation of the native population in 1930, the archipelago – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – has been managed by the National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Ministry of Defence, who work together to protect St Kilda’s natural habitats and marine environment (its waters are crystal clear, making it one of Britain’s best diving spots). It’s not easy to reach St Kilda; many people visit as part of a cruise, or you can take chartered boats from Mallaig and Oban, with journey times varying between eight and 14 hours. www.kilda.org.uk
Stay at home
Argentinian author Julio Cortázar wrote a whole story about how to walk up a flight of stairs. The London-based School of Life – a sort of cod university and vehicle for philosopher Alain de Botton and his pals – has come up with a whole package for holidaying in your living room. But, what do you actually need for a holiday that takes you nowhere? Let’s say a decent holiday for one costs around £500. This means you can buy the best food you’ve ever had, three new books, a new T-shirt (holiday attire is useful to keep up the illusion) and pay the heating bill even if you crank the thermostat up to Tropical. That’s the basics. For the holiday element, dedicate your time to lounging in the garden, napping and reading, scribbling a journal or postcards-to-self, avoiding household tasks and mobile phone appeals, sunning yourself or cloudspotting (listening out for jets just to give your brain its airport fix) – and do make sure to take taxis when you go to the supermarket; holidays should not be spent on public transport. Internet means you can hook up with new friends all over the world, and flick through the CIA Factbook to get juicy, if hawkish, takes on all the places you’d love to visit. The world – at home – is an oyster. While we’re at it, buy some of them too… www.holidaysfromhome.co.uk
Go somewhere with a friend or relative
Life moves on. Relationships fragment and dissipate. One group of friends is replaced by another. Families decide – one day, at random – that it’s no longer necessary to travel together. But travel can be an opportunity to reconnect with a friend or parent or sibling and, contrary to received wisdom, can be a wonderful experience; even if it is sometimes trying, it will be an opportunity to bond, reflect and take time out. The best trips for this sort of long-view experience are overland epics – a big railway journey across Australia, a slow drive across Patagonia, a boat to Greenland, say – providing plenty of time to chat, slow down, and indulge in a bit of ‘do you remember?’ therapy. The new milieu may be just what the relationship needed to boost it – and if that sounds like a bit of free astrology, then so be it.
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Heba Hashem Jun 04, 2011 08:12 am
EXCELLENT recommendations. You have done it again Timeout dubai. This will be a list that I will refer to for years to come! Although I might embark on the detox one as soon as next week. Thanks for your brilliant efforts and keep it up!!