Four Seasons Resort, Chiang Mai

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Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai 1

This 98-room Hotel has spacious, Lanna-styled pavilions that overlook terraced rice fields and the mountains of the beautiful Mae Rim Valley. The Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai is situated close to Chiang Mai, with antique shops and art galleries just a short walk from the resort. The 5-star resort has an infinity edge pool that overlooks the property’s rice paddies. Guests can enjoy themselves with many recreational activities like taking a Thai cooking class or pamper themselves at the world-renowned spa. The on-site restaurant, Sala Mae Rim, offers upscale northern and vegetarian Thai cuisine and has a high teak wood ceiling and a sweeping view of the Mae Rim Valley.

Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai 2

Review: Very helpful staff in this luxury resort
We enjoyed our stay at the Four Seasons but there is a bit of upgrading work going on at the moment which is very disruptive during breakfast time – the banging of hammers can be quite noisy and is not so relaxing. We brought our 4 month old baby with us and the staff at the Four Seasons were very good at recommending activities we could do where our baby would be safe. We really enjoyed the ELE elephant life experience where we got to ride the elephants in a private setting while the staff took care of our baby.

Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai 3

Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai 4

Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai 5

Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai 6

*****

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Walking in the clouds

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An active volcano on the Indonesian island of Lombok, Mount Rinjani is definitely worth the arduous climb

Lombok - Rinjani National Park
Rinjani National Park

IT IS ALMOST noon and the midday sun is shining mercilessly down on my head so the quiet breeze that occasionally blows across the massive open dry hilly savannah on the foot of the majestic Mount Rinjani in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, comes as a welcome relief.

I’m on my own and relishing the quiet walk along the dusty dirt path at the foot of the mountain, recalling the journey I made here several years ago that ended in disappointment.

I was 19 when along with friends, I hiked up Rinjani, aiming to ascend its 3,726 metres-above-sea-level peak. Strong winds around the Crater Rim however forced us to return to our base in Sembalun village.

After resting for two days, we launched another attempt, this time from Senaru village. But we were already exhausted from the first attempt and called off our climb. Going back home, I made a promise to myself that I would come back to Rinjani — and perhaps reach its peak.

Lombok - Segara Anak Lake
Segara Anak Lake

So here I am, 18 years later, saying hello to an old and dear friend.

This time I am in a group of 10 – seven Czechs, one German, one French national and myself, the only local. Obviously experienced climbers, they are way in front of me and I find myself struggling to keep a steady pace.

Nazwan, the 35-year-old guide, told us that our first day of climbing would end at the Sembalun Crater Rim, a mere 2,639 metres up.

Starting at 10am from Sembalun village, we have a two-hour lunch break at Tengengean Post, and then set off for the Sembalun Crater Rim. The difficulty comes after Padabalong Post: seven consecutive steep hills in front of us.

Famously known as “The Seven Hills of Regret” as it is here that many trekkers begin to regret their decision to climb Rinjani, I recall ending up in tears on my last visit and almost giving up. Today though, despite the same level of exhaustion, I am simply grateful to be here. Life, it seems, has taught me patience and a greater sense of acceptance.

When I finally reach the Sembalun Crater Rim, the sunset is fading. After a rest, we set off for the summit at 2.45am.

The journey is arduous and I move as much as to keep warm – the temperature is a chilly 3 degrees Celsius – as to reach my target. The soles of my shoes are torn and I can feel volcanic sand and gravel through my socks.

The plan is to catch the sunrise from the summit. Predictably, though, I am still only halfway up the thin Crater Rim as dawn breaks.

Hours later I am still struggling to maintain my pace on the most difficult section of the climb. Every three steps upwards, I go two steps downwards. It’s so frustrating.

Lombok - Climbers take pictures at the peak of Mount Rinjani.
Climbers take pictures at the peak of Mount Rinjani.

I finally reach the Rinjani summit just before 8am and breathe a long sigh of relief that I have finally kept my 18-year-old promise.

The way down is supposed to be easier, but my toes hurt and I am now wearing sandals. That day’s trek is slated to end at Senaru Crater Rim, from where our final descent would begin the next day.

I can’t bear the thought of another gruelling ascent and ask that I be allowed to take the unofficial route down. Between Sembalun and Senaru, the Torean, as it’s known, has a reputation for being a perilous trek.

Nazwan the guide refuses at first, reminding me he is responsible for every one of the group’s members. But after a long argument – I don’t want to slow the group down and I have experienced the Torean route before — he finally agrees, sending one porter – Doni – to accompany me.

So, instead of walking four hours up to Senaru Crater Rim with the rest of the group, I spend the afternoon soaking in the hot spring and hanging out sipping hot coffee.

Passing the enormous Mount Sangkareang (2,588 metres) on our left, we follow a steep narrow path down surrounded by beautiful golden hilly grassland. I slip many times along the trek and pray that my flip-flops will survive until I reach Torean village.

“Hard to the left! Hard to the left!” Doni shouts on the steep parts of the trek and I remember the thrill of crawling along a dangerously rocky and narrow path on the Sangkareang mountain ridge, with an endless ravine on our right.

But the view is stunning and we cross the crystal-clear Lokok Putih sulfuric river without incident.

As we walk down further into the forest and Rinjani’s Crater Rim topography gradually disappears behind us, I silently wave farewell. I don’t make another promise to visit Rinjani again though underneath I know I will be back the moment opportunity presents itself.

Source: The Nation

*****
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Hidden jewel of the Hindu Kush, #Pakistan

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Chitral in Pakistan’s far north offers lush green valleys, snowy peaks and a friendly welcome.

Chitral in Pakistan 4
A view of the valley from Ayuon

WHEN I READ an article in the New York Times last year about the historical valley of Chitral and its inhabitants, a minority tribe known as the Kalash, I knew that I would have to go here and discover it for myself.

The Kalash of Chitral in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the Times article informed me, shared DNA fragments with an ancient European population, possibly Greek in origin.

Chitral in Pakistan 5
Kalash women traditionally wear black dresses covered with colourful embroidery.

Statistical analysis suggests that this has resulted from interracial mixing between the local populace and Alexander the Great’s army well before 210 BC.

The Kalash, who believe in multiple deities, live in Chitral’s Rumbur, Bumburet and Birir valleys, and speak the Kalasha language, which is derived from the Dardic family of the Indo-Iranian branch.

Chitral in Pakistan 1

We chose December for our visit to Chitral, a month well out of the tourist season but one that shows off the mountains at their very best, and travelled from Lahore, a journey of almost 800 kilometres that takes between 11 and 12 hours.

We were joined at Sialkot by a group of young adventurers and almost 24 hours later, entered the small town of Ayun from where we rented jeeps for the bumpy ride ahead. Soon, we were on our way to the mountainous areas of magnificent Chitral.

Chitral in Pakistan 2

he scenery, which welcomed us at the break of dawn as we reached the valley, was positively breathtaking with everything covered with a thick blanket of pure white snow.

In contrast to the bitterly cold weather, the Kalash were warm and welcoming and despite being so close to the Afghan border, at no point did we feel unsafe. Indeed, it is considered one of the safest districts in Pakistan and in recent years has become a popular summer destination for local, and often well-heeled, tourists.

Chitral in Pakistan 3

After checking in and leaving our baggage at the Foreigner Tourism Inn in Bumburet, we headed further into the valley and at every step were greeted by the locals of the village; all happy to see us and eager to engage us in conversation.

We were particularly entranced by the costumes of the Kalash women – long, black dresses, usually embroidered with cowry shells in vivid colours and which serve as a unique symbol of identity.

Chitral in Pakistan 6

The people of the neighbouring Nuristan, a province of Afghanistan, once practised the same polytheist religion as the Kalash minority though by the late 1800as, most had converted to Islam. While this has also happened to a certain extent among the Kalash, those who convert tend to remain in the area and stay faithful to the ancient customs.

We also trekked into a valley from where we could see the Afghan mountains covered with thick sheets of snow. The view was magical and it was hard to imagine how much more beautiful the valley would look in summer or spring, when everything turns a lush green.

Perhaps we will find out for ourselves one day – the visit to Chitral will surely not be our last.

Source: The Nation

*****
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Memoria Palace & Resort, Pailin #Cambodia

Memoria Palace & Resort 4

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Memoria Palace & Resort 1

Set amidst the mountains and lush greeneries, Memoria Palace and Resort features an outdoor swimming pool and spacious rooms with tranquil garden views. It provides a 24-hour front desk, free Wi-Fi access in its public area and complimentary parking on site.

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The resort is just a 5-minute drive to Pa-Hy Bus Station and a 7-minute drive to Phnom Yat Mountain. Pa-Hy Market and Bor-Ya-Kha Waterfall are 4 km away, while Phnom Khiev Waterfall is about 18 km away. Free shuttle service from Pa-Hy Bus Station to the resort is available.

Memoria Palace & Resort 2

Fitted with hardwood furnishings and tiled flooring, air-conditioned rooms are equipped with a wardrobe, seating area, a desk and a flat-screen TV with DVD player. En suite bathrooms come with hot/cold shower facilities and free toiletries.

Memoria Palace & Resort 3

The staff at Memoria Palace and Resort can assist guests with luggage storage and laundry services. Guests may rent a car to explore the area and visit nearby attractions, while the tour desk can help with sightseeing and travel arrangements.

Memoria Palace & Resort 7

The in-house Sun Flower Restaurant serves delectable Khmer and Western dishes daily between 06:00 to 22:30. Meals can also be served in private with room service.

Memoria Palace & Resort 6

National Highway 57, 726 Wat, Pailin, Cambodia

Memoria Palace & Resort 8

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