5 adventures in Asia: From snow-trekking in Japan to kayaking in Vietnam

From snow-trekking in Japan to kayaking in Vietnam, Straits Times travel writer Lee Siew Hua went on five adventures in Asia for a series on active travel. She looks back at the experience and rates her five trips.

Kaypalad which means blessed in Tagalog, is a homestay on a far corner of Lubang island in the Philippines and a beguiling destination in itself. -- ST PHOTO: LEE SIEW HUA
Kaypalad which means blessed in Tagalog, is a homestay on a far corner of Lubang island in the Philippines and a beguiling destination in itself. -- ST PHOTO: LEE SIEW HUA
In the hillside hamlet of Belihuloya, a village-to-village trek reveals tiny rice terraces hemmed in by mountains. -- ST PHOTO: LEE SIEW HUA
Via Ferrata or "Iron Road" in Italian is a leisure mountaineering sport with World War I origins. Rungs and cables were constructed on slopes to move soldiers and equipment across the Italian Dolomites to Austria.  -- PHOTO: MOUNTAIN TORQ
Kayaking immerses visitors in a landscape of limestone cliffs and secret lagoons in Lan Ha Bay. -- ST PHOTO: LEE SIEW HUA
Snowshoe trekking over the snow-silent landscape of Nagano prefecture, which receives some of the heaviest snowfall on earth. -- PHOTO: TAKUYA UGAJIN

Active travel immerses me in a landscape or culture sublimely, whether I am kayaking near Vietnamese karst pinnacles or admiring the resilience of rural Japanese isolated by massive snow.

I embark on five adventures in Asia that vary by terrain and intensity, rolling out the trips over four months from mid-February.

While I have tried kayaking and ascended Mount Kinabalu in my younger days, I trek on snowshoes and climb the Via Ferrata rockface trail for the first time. These trips collectively shrink my comfort zone and make me sweat.

I had wondered if I will endure snow-trekking for six days in Nagano, which was being overwhelmed by record snowfall. And will I squelch my lifetime anxiety about heights on the Via Ferrata trail atop Kinabalu?

A couple of times, my inner journalist sternly intones: You know you cannot go home without a story.

Since my fitness is moderate, I step up training in and outside the gym, beginning in January. I decide on four to five training sessions each week - pilates for my core muscles, weight training and whole-body aerobics workouts. Towards the end, I sign up for high-intensity boxing lessons.

These bouts of exercise are stimulating and fun, but I do not quite relish my short season of walks up and down 21-storey flats ahead of Kinabalu.

Every good trip carries an epiphany or two. I discover that active travel fuses the ethereal and energetic in one intoxicating moment. We look at the planet afresh when we step on a mountain, traverse a luminous snowscape and encounter forgiving Filipino islanders who lived with a terrifying Japanese war straggler for 30 years.

This is how I would rate the five trips:

1. Most sublime

Snowshoe trek across silent, snow-purified Nagano in Japan over six days. Each day ends with an onsen dip and traditional kaiseki feast. It is wondrous to walk in an ethereal beech forest by moonlight, encounter a traditional bear hunter and enter a hidden realm of Japan.

Read about the adventure here: A snow adventure in the wintry Japanese countryside

Info: Go to www.walkjapan.com

2. Most relaxing

Kayaking around the fantastical limestone peaks of Bai Tu Long Bay over two days. Many relaxing options too, when I am out of the kayak: catching squid, swimming, popping by a floating village, drinking Vietnamese drip coffee. It is soothing to glide on jade-green water, explore secret lagoons and listen to dragon myths.

Read about the adventure here: Paddle power in Vietnam

Info: Go to www.handspan.com

3. Most energetic

Trekking on Mount Kinabalu and climbing the Via Ferrata trail for high-altitude vistas above the clouds over two days. Make sure to train enough. Equal parts elation and struggle, I was on the move for over 12 hours on Day 2, starting at 2.30am. This trip is a worthy challenge that keeps the trekker on a high a long time.

Read about the adventure here: Mount Kinabalu's high wire act up in the clouds

Info: Go to www.adventure-quests.com or www.mountaintorq.com

4. Most family-friendly

Trekking to Sri Lankan villages, walking along a rail corridor that abounds with nature, climbing a small peak, and canoeing in a reservoir rimmed by abandoned rice terraces over five days. This is a gently active trip filled with tranquil moments in the Hill Country. Suitable for older children.

Read about the adventure here: High times in Hill Country

Info: Go to www.adventure-quests.com or www.lsr-srilanka.com

5. Most intriguing

Philippine jungle trekking on the trail of enigmatic Japanese war straggler Hiroo Onoda and exploring the secluded seascapes of Lubang island over four days. Not for everyone, this is pure adventure, from finding a way to get to remote Lubang to untangling the many Onoda narratives proffered by islanders. This journey is about the joy of travel - always exploring, never fully arriving, and loving it.

Read more about the adventure here: Lubang island, Philippines: rugged refuge

Info: Go to https://www.facebook.com/kaypalad.binakas or e-mail lubangtourism@gmail.com


Follow Lee Siew Hua on Twitter @STsiewhua

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