tales of travel

Stories, insights, recipes and more from all over Asia.


Sometimes we find the most memorable experiences in the most unexpected places. We asked our top ATJ Travel Experts where the real hidden gems of Asia are. Set your course with us as we go off the beaten path. To learn more about all that Asia and the Pacific offer, please contact one of our travel experts today.

2 men in tribal, traditional headwear.

Nagaland, India: Hornbill Festival

Excuse our consistent trumpeting of the Hornbill Festival. We just can’t get enough of this event! Every December, Nagaland, a state in Eastern India that borders the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and the country of Myanmar to the east, hosts the amazing Hornbill Festival. This area is not only home to a wonderful cache of wildlife and a tapestry of rich landscapes, it is also home to approximately 16 tribes, all drawing upon a deep-rooted history of celebration and devotion. People from far and wide flock to watch the colors and cultures of the state unfold. A curated event, the Hornbill Festival has become the poster child for the state’s rich diversity of dances, music, martial arts, sports, handicrafts, religious ceremonies, and cuisine.

With performers from all corners of Nagaland and other north-east Indian states – the festival offers a glimpse into the cultural heritage of a once-forgotten people. Spend the day at the Hornbill Festival grounds attending performances, bargaining at the vibrant wayside markets, and gorging on delicious ethnic specialties. Our home base? We stay at a deluxe-tented camp with all the services and amenities desired (and then some) to make our stay here phenomenal. Take a step back in time to soak in this classic Indian experience. Call now as space is very limited due to the remoteness of this area.

Large, comfortable, uncovered patio with a fire pit in the middle. The background shows the view of a river fading off into the horizon.

Putao, Myanmar: The Malikha Lodge

Newly reopened and exquisitely tucked far off the beaten path in the small Lisu village of Mulashidi is The Malikha Lodge. This area contains one of the last stands of pristine subtropical and montane rainforest in the Himalayas and is home to some of the region’s most traditional hill tribes. This beautiful lodge is set riverside with glorious views of mountains and rice terraces. Designed by a well-known architect of Aman Resorts fame, it captures the mystical feeling of ancient Burma amidst luxury and seclusion.

Traditional style bungalows have been carefully placed to recreate a sense of idyllic village life in this open garden paradise. At the main lodge, stunningly adorned in dark woods, bamboo and silks, guests gather around two blazing log fires for drinks, dining or just pure relaxation. Cuisine is Euro-eclectic and excellent. Add this adventure to any classic Myanmar custom itinerary or work with your travel specialist to build the quintessential off the beaten path adventure.

Interior bar area of a hotel, the Linden Center, a restored dynastic-era complex.

Dali, China: The Linden Center

Nestled between the rhododendron-draped foothills of the Zhonghe Si mountains and Lake Erhai, Dali is a beautiful town at the crossroads of the Silk Road. This area is blessed with a temperate climate, dense forests and fertile cropland that yields abundant grain and vegetables. Its intimate size, cobbled streets and old stone architecture make Dali one of China’s most alluring locales. There are 25 distinct ethnic minority groups that call this area home—the Bai people are the largest group and are known for their genius in irrigation and astronomy. They are primarily Buddhist with strong animist elements also figuring in their worldview. Look for Bai women in their telltale white coats—the Bai esteem the color white as pure and lucky.

But, the real treat is where we stay. A true immersion in authentic Chinese culture awaits guests of the The Linden Center, a restored dynastic-era complex. Guests reside in an expansive and luxurious courtyard home in Xizhou, a pristine village in Yunnan Province. The facility is a nationally protected heritage site that has been painstakingly restored to its former elegance while also incorporating modern amenities, after years of consultation with experts in architectural historic preservation. Guests touch the elusive “old” China and leave enriched by this singular experience.

Woman looking off into the distance at a mountain range.

Indonesia: Papua (formerly Irian Jaya)

The Indonesian Archipelago stands like a sentry, guarding the sea avenues that link the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. Extending 5,000 kilometers east to west, it spans the seas between the Malaysian Peninsula and the Australian Continent, where the Australian Plate butts up against the Sunda Shelf. The largest islands are Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan (the lower two-thirds of Borneo), Sulawesi, and Papua (formerly Irian Jaya – the west half of the island of New Guinea). Encompassing the western half of the island shared with Papua New Guinea, Papua is rich with unspoiled natural settings and home to traditional tribespeople.                   

The Baliem Valley is the heart of this remote land. It is also home to the Dani tribe, known as the “Gentle Warriors of the Highlands.” Recognized by their distinctive penis gourds (koteka) and feathered headdresses, the tribe is incongruously known for both their gentle, soft-spoken demeanor and a history of bloody tribal feuds.

Explore the traditional salt fields at Jiwika, where tribal women soak trunks from banana plants in a brine pool to collect the precious salt. There are unsurpassed opportunities to walk in these hills, soak in beautiful landscapes, and explore village life.

For those more curious, we head to Sumpaima Village to see the mummified remains of a 250-year-old tribal elder. We continue on foot to the village of Anemoigi, where we are honored guests at a traditional war dance performance. Papua is a destination for the flexible adventurer willing to sacrifice creature comforts and predictability for a glimpse into the traditional lives of remote tribespeople. In villages, lodging and food are simple, and walks between villages are strenuous.

Finally, few areas in Indonesia can claim such unsurpassed natural splendor as Raja Ampat’s Wayag Islands. The beauty of these picturesque karst spires is only equaled by the brilliant colors and vibrancy of reefs and marine life flourishing in the sea below. Nature has carved these islands into coves and lagoons, narrow channels and inlets, caves, jagged rocks, and shaded, sandy beaches. Some spectacular but nearly vertical climbs are rewarded with magnificent panoramas for those who dare. This area is explored by liveaboard, which provides every opportunity to connect with the environment and abundant marine life this area is so well known for.

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