Asia inhibits a hypnotising nature that enchants visitors and locals alike. When immersed in it’s rhythmic buzz you begin to move with it’s enchanting pulse and almost instantaneously question why you would ever choose to leave. And, although each time I have visited there has come a time to board my flight home, the anticipation of my return reinforces my enthusiasm to uncover the continent’s charm. There are no two countries, let alone cities, in the entire continent that offer the same appeal, even as seasons roll onwards, the opportunities for exploration are endless and ever changing. In spring, blush pink cherry blossom line the alleyways of Kyoto, but come autumn, it’s rust red and burnt orange avenues as the trees turn and prepare for the snow and chill of winter. The diversity of Japan over a year is just a slice of Asia’s year-round potential. Asian countries are blessed with soul- stirring landscapes and captivating wildlife. For me, even the flavorful cuisines are reason
enough to travel there. Sri Lanka’s coconutty curries and hoppers, Cambodian fish amok and kuy teav, Japan’s sushi and ramen noodle soups—all just touch the tip of the taste iceberg.
Having spent a large majority of my adult life pursuing the hidden corners and untouched horizons of the continent, I have come to the great realisation that the heart of what makes Asia so special lies away from the buzz of the crowds. This is the foundation of our ethos at True Travel, and therefore it is no surprise that we strive for unbeatable exclusivity and off-the-beaten path experiences that cannot be replicated. It is by partnering with guides that reflect our values that we are able to consistently deliver on our promise, and it is with their comprehensive knowledge that our guests can take home memories only they can hold.
These guides ignite curiosity, inspire learning and unveil authenticity through their own passion. If you’re looking for a truly unique Asia trip, this is the place to start.’
WHO: SILEN TRUY
Over a decade has passed since Silen first ventured into the world of guiding in the place she calls home, and now, she is one of the most knowledgeable and influential guides of the area.
Growing up in Cambodia, being engrossed in nature was an integral part of my childhood and to this day I continue to have a fascination with the outdoors, and, more specifically, with my home country. I have become overwhelmingly proud of where I live and truly want to share the authentic beauty of Cambodia with others, it is this that drives me to deliver extraordinary experiences that unveil local secrets for my guests. With no time to be wasted, we start the first day at around 6:30am for a cycling tour of the Temples of the Forest. If you have ever heard the saying ‘it is not just the destination that counts, but the journey itself ’, this rings true as we make our way to the collection of temples on two wheels. By swapping out the car journey for a peaceful sunrise bike ride, we get to witness the waking of the local village en route and observe the rhythmic patterns of morning life in Cambodia, otherwise missed on the main road. At this time in the morning, the temples will be free of crowds, giving you room to explore at your own pace and roam among the historic architecture of temples such as Srah Srang, Ta Prohm and Ta Nei. As the sun rises in the sky, we can stop for a light breakfast at a rustic coffee stop and chat to the charming vendor as he recounts the stories of his time watching the temples welcome visitors from across the world. We round off the morning at Ta Keo temple, also known as ‘the mountain with bronze peaks’ before returning to Siem Reap to sample a local delicacy at lunch.
As we re-group after lunch we head for the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom where you can take one of two routes. If you’re feeling adventurous you can brave the walk along the 8m high wall to Death Gate (it sounds more ominous than it is, I promise!), although there are alternative paths if necessary. As we spend the afternoon exploring Angkor Thom, renowned for being the world’s largest city in the 12th century, why not channel your inner Indiana Jones. I can arrange a scavenger hunt to explore the abandoned city in a truly unique way. It’s not uncommon for families to dissolve into their natural competitiveness and set among the mystic temples of Angkor Thom you really will feel like you’ve stepped straight out of the film!
Finally, as the day comes to an end and we have followed the sun from dawn to dusk, we head out on a sunset cruise along Neak Poun. Relax to distant chimes of birdsong and sip on a G&T as you get a front row seat to the hidden water systems of Khmer’s water systems, tucked away from the average passer-by.
No day is ever the same and I find unwavering joy in the surprises that we bear witness to along our journey. We may bump into a monk that has walked the same route we follow for decades, or come across a rare species of plant that has cropped up since my last visit. The true beauty of Cambodia is never predictable!”
4 nights accommodation in Siem Reap on a B&B basis with 3 days of private guiding and a driver from £2,470 per person.
WHO: CHAMIN DALUWATTA
WHERE: SRI LANKA
Having grown up in a small fishing village called Weligama in the south of Sri Lanka, in 2007 Chamin began taking guests on immersive travel experiences, unveiling the true colours of the island tucked in the Indian Ocean.
Beginning our journey in the city of Kandy, where the city hugs its central lake, we will seek out the hotspots of cultural heritage as I take my guests to view the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, built in 1595. This temple has great cultural significance to our community as it is home to the sacred tooth relic of the Lord Buddha, it is a keystone of the Buddhist faith and attracts thousands of devotees from across the world each year. Each year, in July and August, a festival, known as Kandy Esala Perahera, is held to pay homage to the relic. This colourful, lively and loud celebration is steeped in tradition, bringing the Buddhist community from all corners of the world together in a display of pride and faith.
Following on from the Temple, we can board a train to take us to the small town of Ella. This train journey is inarguably one of the most beautiful ways to travel through Sri Lanka as it weaves among rolling tea plantations, the dense Sri Lankan jungle and sweeping mountain scapes. We can hop on and off the train as we please so if you are craving a dip under a waterfall to cool off from the humidity of the day, or want to grab a bite to eat in a rural village en route, that is certainly something we can arrange.
Before we conclude the journey in Ella, I recommend we visit Nuwara Eliya, famously known as ‘Little England’ thanks to its notable tea production and colonial style architecture. Settle in for an afternoon cup of tea at one of the tea plantations and chat with the endearing locals as they recount stories from their time working and living among the Sri Lankan highlands. From here, we can stroll among the pastures to reach Lover’s Leap, an imposing waterfall that stands at 30m high.
Finishing the day in Ella, we can rustle up our own dinner with a cookery masterclass taught by an established local chef. Play with the flavours, spices and aromas of the different ingredients that make up one of the most intriguing cuisines in the world and enjoy a dish that is one of my personal favourites.
There is no end to the discovery we can encounter in Sri Lanka, it is truly my passion to share the wonders of my country and with that, each day welcomes a new story to be told, from me to you.”
4 nights accommodation on a B&B basis with a private driver guide throughout and 1st class train tickets from £2,350 per person.
WHO: MISH HADDAD
Having moved to Japan in 2003, Mish spends her time in pursuit of the perfect experiences for her guests. Her greatest joy as a guide is hearing her guests at the end of the day say “I see why you chose to stay.”
Kyoto is one of the most fascinating cities in Japan historically, culturally, and artistically, with plenty of striking architecture, nature, and gastronomy to explore. Though I recommend all my guests brave the crowds to visit the most famous sights in the first 1-2 days of their trip to get a basic understanding of the city, what I really look forward to is diving deeper with them on the third day. My favourite places to guide are the backstreets; there, guests can learn about the life of a Kyotoite, the everyday differences between Japan and the West, and the challenges Kyoto is facing today.
The day starts with a walk in an overlooked neighbourhood, making use of the houses to talk about your average person’s daily routine and lifestyle. Along the way we stop by various businesses, such as a small tofu manufacturer, a rice seller, and a prayer bead maker. We see small shrines and streetside altars, which are still tended on a daily basis despite most Japanese people not being particularly religious. In contrast to the shuttered schools (a feature in these old neighbourhoods that speaks to Japan’s ageing society) young children stop their playing in the streets to curiously share the few words they know in English and interact with our guests.
Kyoto is home to some of the best of Japan’s aristocratic cuisine, but on this day I always choose a small eatery serving home-made food called obanzai, rarely seen in restaurants outside of Japan. Kyoto prides itself on the unique kyoyasai vegetables featured in this sort of meal, and guests are often surprised to learn how rare they are outside the city. We will also take a break from walking at a trendy cafe along the route. These newer cafes are vital to reviving these areas, bringing in Kyotoites and travellers alike thanks to the power of social media.
Continuing our exploration, we encounter bathhouses and chat about the culture of public bathing and how that may be different from our guests’ own countries. We also visit some craftsmen and hear about the challenges they face in their quest to preserve time-honoured techniques through modern application. For example, a certain paper umbrella maker now creates light fixtures used in luxury hotels, while another craftsman specialising in stencils for kimono dyeing is now using those stencils for innovative contemporary art and practical uses such as iPad covers. Hearing their inspiring stories is a great way to see how Kyoto locals adapt to modern times without losing their traditional hearts.
The ancient capital of Japan is home to so many cultural and historical assets that it might sound like a giant outdoor museum, but Kyoto is a living, breathing city full of people working to preserve its unique atmosphere while also adjusting to the changing times. The stories behind the buildings, the shrines, the shops, and the restaurants are the ones that actually tell the story of Kyoto today, and that is what I want people to experience and remember long after their visit.”
4 nights accommodation in Kyoto on a B&B basis with 3 days of private guiding and a driver from £3,830 per person.
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