Happy marriage, cushy job, comfortable lifestyle—but still feel like there’s something missing? Here’s a suggestion: retreat to a place that’s nothing like the bustling city we call home, for rustic experiences that are completely out of your routine. Because sometimes it’s easier to find our bearings after we lose familiarity.
1. SECRET SEVEN, BALI
Tucked away in north Bali, three hours away from the maddening crowds and luxurious resorts at Kuta, is a village called Sambangan. ‘Sambangan’ is Javanese for balance, but no, this isn’t a place for yoga (or hot water showers). The few visitors who have heard of it call it the secret garden, the sacred garden, or “that secluded place near Lovina”.
To us, it’s the Village of Seven Waterfalls.
The most popular of the seven is Aling-Aling. To get there, you’ll be walking across paddy fields, through canopies of greenery, past handwritten signboards, up and down steep steps. The city-inclined part of you might be grumbling during the short trek, but these will be silenced once you see the picture-perfect view of the 35m-high twin Aling-Aling falls.
Nature’s playground awaits… at the end of the trail.
The best way to enjoy these glorious masterpieces of gravity however, is to get soaked. Within the area, you’ll find three smaller waterfalls designed for play. The most exciting is Kroya Falls, which we nicknamed the Waterfall Slide. Just slide down with the water, all 15m of it. Other nearby spots let you indulge in some waterfall cliff jumping, from heights of five to 15m.
This is nature’s playground. Before the days of bungee-jumping, skydiving and paragliding, this was how people got their adrenaline rush. The best part? It still works.
2. ELEPHANT PLAYDATE, CHIANG MAI
A trip to Thailand always involves elephants. For most tourists, they appear on bookmarks, purses and accessories. There’s also the comfy elephant pants, a staple in every backpacker’s… well, backpack. All of which require you to haggle at a market.
Getting up close and personal with these gentle giants means venturing out of the markets and into the jungle—into the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, an ethical tourism project in Chiang Mai. Here, their 25 resident elephants are our equals. That means no riding is allowed. But why ride elephants when you can hug them?
A day out with elephants elicits plenty of smiles, from both man and animal.
What’s a day out shadowing these elephants like? They’ll walk and wander. Eat and walk again. Get brushed and bathed (you’ll do the brushing and bathing). Play in mud. It’s pretty routine, but it is paradise. Especially since most of them had terrible pasts that resembled elephant hell.
At the end of the playdate, you’ll leave with a heavy heart and two souvenirs. One is a shirt that’ll forever smell of elephants and mud. The other is the creeping realisation that perhaps ‘a good life’ isn’t that complicated after all. Better than anything you’ll ever get at a market in Thailand or a shopping centre in Singapore? We think so.
3. LAKE LIVING, SIEM REAP
Tonle Sap Lake is alive. Not because there are around 80,000 people living on it, but because the lake grows six times bigger during wet season. That’s when it becomes the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. During the dry season, it shrinks to become… a large lake.
To understand how life on Tonle Sap Lake is like, take everything you’ll find in a typical village and add water. Floating homes, floating schools, floating coffee shop, floating gas stations, floating hospitals, floating karaoke bars, and even a floating basketball court. (Beware the floating orphanages though, many suspect they’re part of an elaborate scam.)
Lake living: just like village living, but with water?
That’s as far as the similarities go. There’s little walking, and plenty of rowing. No cars, just oars. Kids can’t just run off school whenever they feel like it. They’ll have to wait for their friend to pick them up. What happens when someone needs some alone time? Rowing away alone means leaving the rest of their family without a mode of transport.
The village sways with the currents and the coordinates of homes change with the seasons. Tonle Sap isn’t just the largest freshwater lake based on volume alone. It’s also large when you consider its impact on the lives of the people living there.
When your feet touch dry ground again, you can’t help but to wonder…if you had a choice, would you pick water or land?
4. MIGHTY MOUNTAINS, NEPAL
A skyline filled with mountain ranges isn’t always ideal. For one, it’s terrible for productivity. But if you’re willing to put everything on hold and trade skyscrapers for mountains, a trek to Poon Hill is perfect.
It isn’t easy, but the mountains will provide views to fuel you on. It’s okay to stare. In fact, we encourage it. Most people do the trek over 4 to 5 days, but by early afternoon on most days, you’ll be idling at your mountain lodge. Sipping Everest beer, reading, playing cards, re-evaluating life goals, whatever.
The highlight is, of course, the sunrise trek to Poon Hill. On the way up, it’ll be strenuous, crowded, and cold. It’s a good idea to sip on a cup of hot coffee or tea (yes, there’s a stall there) while you watch the sun cast her light on the giants, changing the view as she rises higher up the sky. It’s a magnificent show, one that demands to be admired.
Nature always puts on a good show. Especially at 3,210m high.
At the end of your trek, you’ll be acquainted with Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, and Machapuchare. You may not have scaled these peaks, but you would’ve seen them from many different perspectives.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, somewhere along the way, you would also have seen your own life from a different perspective. While your days of being unproductive will eventually have to end, that new perspective you’ve gained doesn’t have to.