Do things differently with Ampersand Travel
At Ampersand we don’t do cookie cutter tours. Each and every trip is tailor-made to provide our clients with a mixture of the best-of-the-best luxury accommodation (mixed in with a few charming boutique gems), the most competent guides, and an itinerary of unique activities that cater to our clients’ personal interests – be they cultural, sporty, culinary or spiritual… Here are a few quirky ideas on ways to experience your destination a little differently in 2014.
Taboggan down the iconic Mutianya section of Great Wall of China
Make your way along the iconic Mutianyu section of the Great Wall and take an exhilarating toboggan ride downhill at the end of your hike. Two hours outside Beijing proper, our hike along the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall affords splendid views of the stone structure snaking over precipitous mountain ridges on the horizon. The Great Wall of China is a must see for any visitor to China, but for a fast, fun and daring route to the base of Mutianya, this toboggan ride is a fantastically unique way to do it!
Street food safari through Hanoi with gastronomic expert, Mr Vu Long
Go on a special street food tour of Hanoi led by a Vietnam food expert, Mr Vu Long, who is the head of the Hanoi Gastronomy Club, editor of Culinary Art magazine and a lecturer at Hanoi University. With Mr Long as your guide, stroll around the Thanh Cong market to experience the sights and sounds of the bustling market and see the many food stuffs that are integral to Vietnamese cooking before heading for the Old Quarter streets with its local street food stalls. Stop at Ly Quoc Su Street to taste pan fried Banh Goi (made of rice mashed, pork, and vermicelli) served with vegetables, bean sprouts. Continue to Hang Manh Street to taste Bun Cha, served with fried Nem filled with pork or sea crab, and Hang Da market to try assorted sweet fried fruits, O Mai. End at a well-known rustic restaurant, Cha Ca La Vong. There is only one dish; grilled fish served in boneless chunks, smothered in greens and saffron-infused oil – fantastically fresh food, straight from the frying pan onto your plate!
Go wine tasting in… Burma! At Red Mountain Vineyard near Inle Lake
Set on a picturesque hillside, Red Mountain Vineyard is the brainchild of French winemaker, Francois Raynal and it is the perfect spot to indulge in a bit of Burmese wine-tasting. The grape varieties are grown locally on site from plants imported from France and Spain and selected after much experimentation. The cool climate and soil has produced Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and some fortified wines. Have a private tour of the factory and the vineyards before lunch at the restaurant with fantastic views over the vineyards and Inle Lake beyond.
Have a sunrise yoga session in the deserted city of Bhangarh…if you dare!
Fifteen minutes by jeep from the ultra luxurious Amanbagh, the intriguing ruined city of Bhangarh is a medieval site of great archaeological importance, built in the late 1500’s by Diwan Madho Singh of the Jaipur Royal Family. According to local villagers, these splendid ruins are haunted – hence it is famously named the 'Bhangarh of Ghosts'. Legend has it that this now uninhabited city of once magnificent bazaars, palace, gardens, temples and bathing pools was deserted overnight, having been cursed by an evil Court Magician, Selu Sewra, who had unsuccessfully attempted to seduce Bhangarh’s virtuous and beautiful Queen. Ampersand can organise a pre-dawn journey to Bhangarh where you can perform yoga on one of the abandoned temple plinths as the sun rises. A memorable, if rather spooky experience!
Learn to make noodles in a village farmhouse at the foot of the Great Wall of China
Take part in a noodle-making lesson and lunch in a village farmhouse-turned-noodle joint resting at the foot of the Great Wall. This hands-on experience will give you a chance to knead, stretch and twirl pliable dough into fresh noodles as the Chinese have done for centuries. You will come out of the experience well fed and with a newfound appreciation for one of China’s most ubiquitous comfort foods.
Meet with Papuan Tribes aboard luxury phinsi sailboat, Silolona
For one of the most memorable cultural trips you can dream of, take a voyage on luxury phinsi vessel, Silolona. Through the special access Silolona affords, you can meet the Stone Age Asmat tribes of Irian Jaya (Papua), attend the Asmat Auction for their art, visit the remote and rich Spice Islands and discover the trade posts and beautiful islands visited during the height of the Spice Trade. Fill your days with snorkelling, swimming, fishing, scuba diving or simply strolling a deserted stretch of beach. Silolona includes five spacious cabin suites, a teak lounge and dining area surrounded by large windows, on deck dining and well-equipped dive facility. It has a dedicated crew of 16, including a 5 star chef and a dive master.
Burma’s best kept secret… Unique “Beach Safari” experience on St Andrew’s Bay
Secluded in the calm waters of St Andrew’s Bay, one hour south of Ngapali, lies a traditional Rakhine fishing village and a pristine, undeveloped beach which gently arches around the bay. It is home to villagers who continue to live in the same way they have for hundreds of years, according to the rhythms of nature, fishing and farming. On this exciting beach safari you can get off the beaten track and discover how people really live in Burma – either as a day experience or an overnight stay at the beach exploring authentic village life in Myanmar and being welcomed into their community.
Get under the skin of Lijiang’s cultural relics with an “eye-spy” treasure hunt game
Led by an experienced local guide, take a stroll down quieter side lanes of Lijiang Old Town for encounters with her Naxi residents. The Naxi ethnic minority are the descendants of Tibetan nomadic tribes and are famed for their traditional music, costumes, shamanistic rituals and animist Dongba faith. After you have explored Lijiang’s antiquated lattice of paths of canals you will be set loose on an “Eye-Spy” treasure hunt game through the Old Town to seek out interesting cultural relics.
Experience a Bali Purification Ceremony at Tirta Empul temple in Ubud
Experience a traditional Balinese purification ceremony on this privately guided special access experience, which takes you to the Tirta Empul Temple in north east Ubud. Built in 926 AD on a site where spring water naturally penetrates the earth’s surface, local Hindus come here to practice a monthly cleansing ceremony in the holy waters. Your guide will provide special temple attire for you to wear and help you prepare special offerings to place at the temple, guiding you through the beautiful customs associated with this revered ceremony.
Source precious gems from the experts in Burma, famous for its rubies and sapphires
This experience lets you source Burma's famous gems straight from the mine and teaches you how to choose your stones – you can even get a tailor-made piece of jewellery designed. The brokers are all women and great fun to deal with. Over tea, drinks and local snacks they will display an array of loose stones and set pieces all with differing values. They will teach you which are the better quality stones, the different ways of setting them together, and negotiate the best price. Traditionally, tourists will only be exposed to already set pieces; this is a unique experience because you can select the stone of your choice, design it yourself, and it will be ready to be collected before you leave Burma!
Buddhist pilgrimage to the budding Buddhist academy in Luang Prabang, Laos
Located in a rice field among the forests north of Luang Prabang on the other bank of Mekong river, this project aims to create a place of study in one of the most unique Buddhist sites in Laos. By boat, you will bring by boat a specially hand carved wooden statue of the Buddha and your offerings to Wat Hat Seow. The pilgrimage will be accompanied by Abbot Oun Heuan and, over the course of the morning, you will discover the courage, determination, simplicity and the truth of this Buddhist project – and you will become part of it.
Horseback riding through the temple-strewn Bagan plains in Burma
As an alternative to Bagan’s horse-and-cart journeys, which can be rather bumpy and only go on roads and designated tracks, we suggest setting off on your own private adventure on horseback across the temple-studded Bagan plains. Enjoy beautiful two-hour experience riding past countless temples, which you can admire all to yourselves with not another tourist in sight. If you choose to, you can ride all the way back to your hotel at sunset!
Zip line over Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur
Zip lining over the majestic Meherangarh Fort is, we think, one of the highlights of visiting Rajasthan. The backdrop is spectacularly dramatic and movie buffs may be interested to know that scenes from the latest Batman were filmed at this fort. Built in the 17th century by Maharaja Jaswant Singh, the fort is 400 feet high and whizzing across each of the six zipline wire routes provides splendid views of the fort's ruins and emerald green moats beneath you, as well as the stunning ‘Blue City’ of Jodhpur in the distance – perfect for daredevil sightseers and certainly one of the most spine-tingling ways to see Jodhpur.
Take a vintage side-car ride through Shanghai
China offers a staggering variety of fascinating experiences – from hot air ballooning over limestone peaks, to unique ice festivals and under-the-skin city tours. There are now plenty of stylish, ambitiously designed hotels to stay in – including the skyscraping Park Hyatt Shanghai and Ampersand MD James Jayasundera’s favourite, the Peninsula Shanghai. Once you’ve lapped up the luxury and exceptional service there, explore Shanghai in funky fashion aboard the sidecar of a vintage motor scooter on a tour tailor-made to your interests – be it Art Deco buildings, video shooting or champagne drinking!
Join in the cycling race ‘Tour of the Dragon’ in Bhutan
Embark on a cycling expedition set to be one of the exhilarating and unique this year: Bhutan’s Tour of the Dragon race, commencing on the 6th September 2014. Cycle through some of the country’s most beautiful scenery whilst staying in its very best hotels with world-class hot stone spa treatments to soothe your weary bones. Even if you don’t enter the race, you can still join in the fun observing it (and treat yourself to some spa treatments, too!) This eleven night cycling expedition takes you through the heart of Bhutan and through some of the country's most challenging mountain passes: Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang.
Delve into the cuisine of India with expert guide, Jonty Rajagopolan
This unique 14-day 'Art of Living to Eat' Indian food tour is led by passionate food historian and a dear friend of ours, Jonty Rajagopolan. Travel the full spectrum of Indian cuisine, from mouth-watering street food to the kitchens of the Kings, experiencing a way of life where every meal is a celebration of life itself. Jonty will reveal fresh insight into how food is closely influenced by both the country’s religion and culture, and how each region’s character comes into its own in the kitchen. On this tour, the culinary journey of just four cities will bring to the fore the variety and complexity of the cuisine but more importantly, you will get an in-depth view on the culture of the people that is inseparable from the food they eat. On this eleven-day culinary journey, discover not just the food of India but the culture behind the food.
Learn about elephant and forest conservation at the Green Hill Elephant Camp in Burma
The Green Hill Valley in Kalaw in Burma's Shan State is a conservation project focused on protecting the ecology, elephants and traditions of the local people. You can stop for an afternoon to have a delicious home-cooked lunch, bathe the elephants, hike through the jungle and learn about the conservation efforts of the team. Depending on your itinerary, by the time you reach Kalaw you would most probably have already done Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay, so you may be somewhat “templed-out” and getting out in amongst nature at this point is paradise.
Take Kung Fu lessons at the Shaolin Temple, China
The style of gongfu created by the monks of Shaolin Temple has been immortalised in Hollywood films, but what does it take to actually master this martial art? To find out, visit a Shaolin martial arts school where you’ll get a glimpse into the regimented life of the students, aged 5 to 17. They will invite you into their classrooms, teach you a few basic moves and put on an impressive gongfu demonstration. Celebrated in pop culture as a martial arts Mecca, Shaolin Temple is also one of the world’s most important Mahayana Buddhist monasteries and the birthplace of Zen (Chan) Buddhism.
Learn to surf at Indonesia most remote and luxurious lodge, Nihiwatu
For Asia’s sexiest swells, head to Nihiwatu Lodge on Sumba Island – an extremely exclusive retreat with fabled sky-high waves for surfers. A Spice Island first mentioned in the 16th century by a traveling companion of Magellan, Sumba is one of Indonesia’s most unexplored islands, located a two hour's flight southeast of Bali. Nihiwatu has been featured in several surf movies; famously The Drifter featuring world-renowned pro surfer Rob Machado, and The Green Iguana by Billabong. "God’s Left” is the main attraction: these left breaking waves reel for over 300 metres and crest off the resort’s outstretched reef, reserved for a maximum of nine surfers at a time. The surf is good at 2 feet all the way up to 10 feet and it is consistent all year round. This is surfing for luxury-lovers (long sun-bleached hair not required) with abundant nature and culture to boot… totally awesome, dude.