I don’t do yoga! The mention of the ‘downward dog’ leaves me in a rhapsody of laughter. I’ve even tried goat yoga but broke away from the ‘peace circle’ to play with the therapy animals. Meditation … an excuse to compile the weekly grocery list.
My pursuit of wellness is through travel. While Wellness Tourism – think yoga and meditation retreats – is worth $563b globally. At a growth rate of more than twice as fast as overall tourism expenditure (Global Wellness Institute), I find total relaxation through ‘off-the-beaten-track’ adventures. You’ll find me immersed in a Lama blessing in Nepal, over the confinement of a white room in the latest activewear any day!
When I travel internationally, I avoid tourist queues and follow trails that are safe, but culturally intriguing. Why invest in experiences I can do literally in my own backyard?
Here are a few ‘wellness’ highlights from my Asian explorations:
To remove the mind clutter there’s no better place than a night at a Buddhist monastery on Mt Koya in Japan. Koyasan is the home of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect, for over 1,200 years. Kongobu-Ji Temple, the head monastery of Shingon Buddhism is home to Japan’s largest rock garden.
As well as the Garan temple complex. Okunoin is Japan’s largest cemetery and holds the mausoleum of the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi. The 2km walk to the mausoleum takes you past 200,000 tombstones. Belonging to feudal lords, prominent monks and well-known Japanese companies.
An overnight in a monastery here is nothing short of silent bliss. It is tranquil, the food modest, but nourishing, there are no TVs, just an onsen, tatami mat room and my own cloud-like futon to snuggle down into. I sleep like I haven’t slept in years and rise early for morning prayers with the monks, an immersive experience in itself.
Nothing soothes the stressed soul like quiet time in nature.
Unlike some national parks, you are virtually guaranteed at the Bako National Park in Borneo, to see wildlife, such as long-tailed macaque monkeys and silver leaf monkeys, wild boars, squirrels and monitor lizards. You could even spot the rare and unusual proboscis monkeys against a sublime backdrop of coastline covered with small bays, coves and beaches.
There’s nothing more serene and peaceful than cruising along the temperate Kinabatangan River in Malaysia where you’ll observe wildlife along one of the world’s richest ecosystems – possibly sighting hornbills, pygmy elephants and orang-utans!
If you’re into history, visit the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam.
A massive war museum that offers a sneak-peek at the underground life of Vietnamese soldiers back in 1948. The Cu Chi Tunnels are just 70km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City. There are more than 120km of underground tunnels.
Several of them with trapdoors, living areas, kitchens, storage facilities, armoury, hospitals, and command centres. Vietnam is also a fabulous walking destination. You can unwind walking through the peaceful rice paddy-lined countryside in Northern Vietnam, or head to the Mekong Delta and take a cruise at Ben Tre and paddle freely through a maze of palm-lined canals for a glimpse of daily life.
For a more spiritual immersion in rich heritage, you should try a Baci Ceremony in Laos, which has been practised for hundreds of years.
The term commonly used is “Sou Khuan” which means “spirit enhancing or spirit calling”. The ceremony involves the tying of white cotton strings around person’s wrists and prays of personal well-wishing. Laos remains the most pristine and culturally-intact country in Southeast Asia.
I’d also explore the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city of Luang Prabang, the spectacular multi-tiered Kuang Si Waterfalls and the mysterious Plain of Jars, regarded by some as ‘Asia’s Stonehenge’. The capital, Vientiane, has exquisite temples which you can see on foot or bike.
Are you a traveller looking for something more than just the tourist trail and flop and drop beach breaks? I would encourage you to seek your own version of ‘Wellness’ through enlightening travel experiences.
With thanks to Michelle Grima from Australia PR