Swain Destinations: Hidden Gems of Asia

With these culturally rich sojourns, a new world of enticing exploration awaits.

BY JEN MURPHY

SWAIN DESTINATIONS PRIDES ITSELF ON GETTING TRAVELERS OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH, ESPECIALLY IN WELL-TRAVELED DESTINATIONS. Carefully curated itineraries connect travelers to local culture and lend access to unique adventures you’ll talk about for years to come. Here are three one-of-a-kind experiences the family-run company offers in Bali, Thailand, and Japan.

THAILAND

Thailand’s spectacular beaches and rich culture have long made it a bucket-list destination. Swain’s Phuket Escape shows travelers a unique side of the popular island: it’s fascinating limestone caves. On a starlight sea canoeing adventure in Phang Nga Bay, you’ll get to play explorer while paddling throughout the caves and hidden lagoons that American adventurer John Gray (aka “the Caveman”) discovered in 1989. Giant limestone karstic islands dwarf paddlers as they follow their guide deep into “Hongs,” or mysterious cave-like rooms. After exploring the dark caves, you’ll venture into hidden cliff-lined lagoons. You’ll want to keep an eye out for wildlife while paddling, as these waters are home to kingfishers, sea eagles, mudskippers, macaques, water monitors, and brahminy kites. Once the sun sets, enjoy a starlit journey back to shore, where you’ll send a handmade banana leaf-and-flower offering known as a krathong out to sea.

BALI

Go beyond Bali’s spectacular beaches and inland jungles and experience the soul of the island. During the Spiritual Bali itinerary, guests venture through Ubud and Uluwatu on a spiritual journey. Other highlights include participating in a morning blessing ritual at a family temple. Wake before dawn to visit the 11th-century Elephant Cave, also known as Goa Gajah. Local Hindus often come to bathe in the sacred springs of this spiritual meditation site. After visiting the relic-filled courtyard, caves, and pools, your host will take you on a tour of a traditional Balinese village where you’ll meet the local priest, or Brahman, for coffee or tea and Balinese cake. Each guest will have the opportunity to meet privately with a local astrologer and have their fortune told using ancient methods. Afterward, the group will partake in a traditional blessing and purification ceremony led by the Brahman in the family temple.

JAPAN

All the sights and sounds dissolve into quiet when you set foot in Mount Kōya, a small, secluded temple town considered the center of Shingon Buddhism. Built in 819 CE (AD), this ancient temple celebrates a time when life was quiet and still. The Shingon sect of Buddhism was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi and headquartered on Koyasan’s wooded, 2,953-foot mountaintop. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is known as the Sacred Site and Pilgrimage Route, as it bookends the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Guests can explore relics of another time in the form of pagodas, temples, Buddha statues, and mandalas. After lunch, visit two more temples: Danjo Garan and the Okunoin Temple. The latter is considered the most sacred site of Daishi worshipers and is home to the Mausoleum of Kobo Daishi as well as the famous Tama River, which is believed to cleanse the souls of worshipers.


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Cover Photo: Entrance of Goa Gajah cave in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. / © Can Stock Photo / greta6


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