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5 Reasons to Travel in December


T+L’s monthly selection of trip-worthy places, experiences and events.

Published on Dec 4, 2019

1. A chic, local-is-best nest in the Byron Bay hinterland.

The iconic crack of a native eastern whipbird reverberates through the surrounding rainforest—the first clue that I’ve left civilization. Green valleys fold into the landscape, crumpling all the way to the Pacific Ocean, where a full moon prepares to rise above a misty Cape Byron. With my toes dipped in the magnesium infinity pool, my hand clasped around a glass of sparkling wine, it’s as if I can reach out and touch the easternmost point of Australia. It’s well out of earshot, though. Here in the hinterland outside the buzzy coastal refuge of Byron Bay, the beat of bongos is replaced with the primal hum of nature.

Commanding a hillside above the township of Mullumbimby (Mullum to locals), the boundary-pushing Blackbird Byron (blackbirdbyron.com.au; from A$445 per night) sets the tone for small-town travel. “We’re just on that sweet spot,” says owner James Hudson, who built the adults-only bed-and-breakfast with his wife Stella, tapping into their backgrounds in industrial and interior design. “We’re far enough away that it feels like a million miles from anything,” he says. “But Byron is only 25 minutes away, so if you want to dip your toe in, you can.”

Salvaging the corrugated iron and timber from a banana shed that collapsed on their property, the Hudsons’ contemporary “zero-miles materials” retreat is made up of just three pavilions and a communal space overlooking an infinity pool. “We used everything we could from here,” Stella says. Glass doors bring the outside in, and design accents of Moroccan tiles and vintage furniture are offset with raw materials like rusted builders’ mesh and weathered timber.

A launch pad for Mullum’s hip cafés, the destination Kiva Spa and the bush trails of Nightcap National Park (part of the UNESCO-listed Gondwana rainforests), Blackbird Byron makes a compelling case for hyper-local travel. —JENNY HEWETT

 

2. Ethical tours for wildlife lovers.

Sail into Komodo territory, visit retired elephants in Phuket, or try horse whispering in Gurgaon—this assortment of new experiences across Asia provides animal-friendly answers to the call of the wild.

1. Jane Goodall-Approved Nature Tours

Travel operator G Adventures has added 12 more tours to its Jane Goodall Collection for 2020, two of which traverse spectacular Asian terrain. The “Best of Flores and Komodo” tour (nine days; from US$1,549) wends through the islands of Indonesia’s Komodo National Park, while the “Nepal: Himalaya Highlights” tour (10 days; from US$2,079) treks from tigers in Chitwan National Park to temples in Kathmandu Valley. Both come with the endorsement of primatologist Dr. Goodall, and support the conservation work of the Jane Goodall Institute. gadventures.com.

 

2. Elevated Elephant Experiences

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary has launched a wildlife experience that lets you get close-ish to its resident retirees. The “Hands-Off Elephant Experience” (Bt3,000 per adult, Bt1,500 per child) is a no-touching tour with elephant snack–making, non-interactive feeding, observation and a vegetarian buffet dinner. The elephants are free to roam and munch at will across the sanctuary’s 20-hectare grounds, while guests can observe their natural behavior from the comfort of their own safe space. phuketelephantsanctuary.org.

 

3. Animal Adventures with AirBnB

Travelers who miss their four-legged friends while on vacation now have AirBnB’s ‘Animals’ experiences to fill the void. Tours run the gamut from herbal- compress therapy for dogs to afternoon tea with sheep to glamping with orcas. All experiences are governed by World Animal Protection guidelines, which ban any intentional contact with wild species, excepting approved conservation tours. Top picks for Asia include loris-spotting in Sri Lanka, horse-whispering in India and Bryde’s whale–watching in the Gulf of Thailand. airbnb.com.

 

3. A panoramic lunch atop Bangkok.

Bangkok’s newest sky-high venue has just opened for lunch on the 76th floor of the Kingpower MahaNakhon building. Thailand’s loftiest restaurant— Mahanakhon Bangkok SkyBar—launches its panoramic daytime dining experience with a seasonal set menu by executive chef Joshua Cameron and cocktails designed by the Sorum brothers (of Rocket, and Hyde and Seek fame). Expect hearty, colorfully plated menus that encompass Thai and international flavors and include plenty of on-trend options for vegetarians. After lunch, diners gain free access to the SkyWalk on the 78th floor, the building’s open-air observation deck where the more adventurous can shimmy out onto a glass pane 310 meters above street level. mahanakhon bangkokskybar.com; starters from Bt350, mains from Bt500.

 

4. Five-star kids’ activities in a UNESCO wilderness.

In the tropical wilderness of Langkawi, on the fringe of Southeast Asia’s first UNESCO Global Geopark, an evolved breed of kids’ club is burying its peers in the sandpit. At the Four Seasons Langkawi, the Lutong Club (“lutung” is Sundanese for dusky leaf monkey) has launched their complimentary Kids for All Seasons program for four- to 12-year-olds, which challenges any summer camp for parents-free adventure. Youthful energy is channeled into cultural activities (batik painting, kite making, fishing); nature tours (like a macaque-spotting “swamp-skipper” mangrove cruise); “Junior Masterchef” cooking classes; abseiling and rock climbing; and supervised monkeying around in the club’s undercover playground. For active teens, there’s also archery, bird safari-ing, cycling tours and waterfall bathing.

If that weren’t enough, the resort also offers a Geopark Discovery Centre that provides info on the 550-million-year-old geological wonder of Kilim Karst next door, with science-y displays and several park tours guided by the center’s naturalists. Add to this a wide range of private, family-friendly rooms, suites and pool villas, gourmet in-villa dining, and an immense “four-in-one” beachfront pool with fountains and free fruit popsicles, and you’ve got a bona fide kid heaven that adults can also enjoy. fourseasons. com; doubles from RM2,156.—BEK VAN VLIET

 

5. A charitable artisan boutique for cool Cambodian wares.

Shinta Mani Hotels and architect/designer Bill Bensley have just opened Shinta Mani’s Shop With A Heart, a boutique specializing in handmade, artisan-crafted items from Cambodian creatives. A trove of local goodies, the boutique’s wares range from jewelry and accessories to collectibles and objets d’art, plus an exclusive collection of one-off denim jackets customized by Bensley designers (from US$500 each). One hundred percent of profits from the boutique go to the Shinta Mani Foundation in support of local community projects.

A second Shop With A Heart opens this month at the Shinta Mani Wild luxury tented camp in the Cardamom Mountains with merch that reflects the rich and eclectic décor of the camp’s tents. Hot items include Burmese elephant opium weights (from US$150–$400) and bracelets upcycled from animal traps reclaimed from the forest. Profits go to the Wildlife Alliance, whose projects include wildlife rescue, rainforest protection and community outreach. fb.com/Shinta-Mani-Shop-with-a-Heart.

 

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