Oct 29, 2019
1. Dive lens-first into some of the region’s most culturally fascinating locales
If you’ve ever fantasized about being a travel photographer, some intrepid new tours let you scratch the itch without having to quit your day job. And who better to show you the ropes than a couple of T+L contributors?
Belgium native David van Driessche, who runs what he calls “classic” photo tours through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, over the last few years has developed the more adventurous Expeditions in Photography, eschewing obvious landmarks in search of the “unseen”—hidden Angkor ruins, Burmese headhunter villages and the like. Focusing on environmental portraiture, “where you show local people in their natural settings,” he says, David’s 2020 tours will set off for Burma’s Chin State to visit remote tattoo tribes (from US$1,750), and the Mergui Archipelago to document the nomadic Moken people (from US$1,500).
Lester V. Ledesma (skylightimages.info) is another pro photographer leading bespoke tours around the region, with an approach more about cultural immersion than luxury. Past groups have found themselves doing “show-and-tell” sessions amid Balinese rice fields, on private islands off Palawan, and at rooftop bars overlooking Shwedagon Pagoda. Like van Driessche, Ledesma also offers a selection of tours to suit the more adventure-inclined. This January, he leads one of his PhotoTreks (from S$3,600) through Bhutan to capture wintry Himalayan landscapes. No fancy equipment required, he says—“All that matters is that you have a game attitude and you love to take pictures.”
2. Luxury hotels develop photo master classes
No need to summit mountains to improve your travel snaps. A growing number of hotel experiences let you hone your camera skills right in the center of town, whether you’re a serious enthusiast or just in it for Instagram.
Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and the company behind everyone’s most coveted camera are teaming up to offer Picture Perfect with Leica (package from Bt33,000), which comes with expert advice and Leica goodies. Guests receive a Leica Sofort instant camera with film, and get a private tutorial on perspective, movement and composition at the Leica Gallery in Bangkok, followed by a walking tour through Bangkok’s old town with manager and senior instructor of Leica Akademie, Kristian Dowling.
At Capella Shanghai, the Print, Shoot, Retouch experience (RMB1,500 per person) helps you boost your photo finesse under the tutelage of local pro photographer Mr. Wang. The private three-hour session includes photography practice within Capella Shanghai’s scenic heritage shikumen grounds; in the French Concession with all its Art- Deco flourishes; and in Xujiahui Park to capture local daily life.
Aspiring photographers will also find plenty of creative inspiration in Luang Prabang, where Rosewood will soon be hosting the Scott Woodward Photography Journey (from US$2,350 per person) with the award-winning Canadian shutterbug. The package includes a night at Rosewood Bangkok, four nights at Rosewood Luang Prabang, full board, transport, and practical photography lessons you can put into practice on meanderings around the UNESCO World Heritage town.
3. A festival for all the senses
Just when you thought music festivals couldn’t get any trippier, Wonderfruit (December 12–16; weekend tickets from Bt6,900) returns next month with wellness offerings for all manner of guru devotee. Among the lengthy slate of musical acts playing this four-day, carbon-neutral field party a 21⁄2-hour drive from Bangkok are Massive Attack co-founder Daddy G, German electronic DJ Acid Pauli, British beatboxing multivocalist Beardyman, Thai funk- meets-traditional-molam country music evangelist Maft Sai, Brooklyn rapper Dillon Cooper, and French house and synth-pop specialist Breakbot. But, if you’re like us and only vaguely aware-ish of most of these guys’ oeuvres, take heart, because that’s kind of the point. Wonderfruit’s founders have always wanted the tunes to be just one draw of their super-sustainable, arts-everywhere, upscale-upcycled, family-friendly romp in the woods. And this year they’re really stepping up their alterna-spa menu to balance the 24/7 hedonism with holistic healing. So leave the headgear in your luxury RV for a bit—after your Michelin-chef-cooked lunch, put down that biodegradable fork and lay down for a gong bath, experiment with some new styles of yoga, or try one of these next-next-level therapies:
1. Open your third eye through art
Bangkok-based artist Notep invented a machine that turns the breath of the user into paint strokes. The purpose of this energy-collecting session is to help you turn away from group-think to reclaim self-identity. “Society, to me, is the source of everyone’s grief, therefore I am determined to divert audiences’ focus back on themselves to be true to their energy sources by producing works that can be felt with the heart and not only seen with the eyes,” she says. The session begins with a meditative music performance, after which you can channel your energy via your breath to help create murals that Notep calls an “energy diary.”
2. Get a massage from a fire-walker
Yam Khang, or Thai fire therapy, is an ancient, and some believe sacred, tradition of the northern Lanna people, in which the therapist uses live flames to really up the massage ante. The point is to make use of the healing power of intense heat without sacrificing the human touch of massage. The practitioners coming to Wonderfruit are educators and trained therapists from the Hang Dong massage school in Chiang Mai. You lie on your tummy next to a burning cauldron, and they’ll dip their feet in oils infused with herbs and spices, heat them over the charcoal fire, then walk out the kinks in your pressure points.
3. Drink your way to awakening
Kava is revered in Pacific Island societies such as Fiji and Vanuatu for its properties of healing, anesthesia and, if you take enough, euphoria. In a traditional village, kava-drinking ceremonies are held for celebrations, to welcome guests—or a good reason to chill. The roots are pounded into a powder, strained and mixed with water, and shared in a coconut shell with guests in order of importance, from the chief down. Enthusiast group Kava World International is coming to Wonderfruit, says representative Troy Wihongi, to “connect the people of the South Pacific with the rest of the world through the mana [spiritual energy] that lives within all things.”
4. Tap into the “internet of the cosmos”
The Akashic Records are an almanac of everything that has ever happened and will ever happen, a spiritual library where all consciousness is connected through a register of energies. Channeler Rebeca Lacasa will conduct a ceremony that honors water as the glue that binds all living spirits. “Collectively we will create a beautiful altar of crystals, flowers, incenses while infusing our love with singing and meditating,” she says. “We will open the Records to receive messages from the water and, in return, give our prayers to the water.” Feel free to take some good-vibe H2O home in your own bottle—as long as it’s not plastic.
4. Two big artsy things happening in Singapore.
“Every effort to change the world for the better matters,” says Patrick Flores, artistic director of the Singapore Biennale 2019 (November 22–March 22, 2020), which returns to the city-state this month. His hope for the exhibition, titled “Every Step in the Right Direction,” is to encourage audience reflection on “right action” to affect positive social and political change. The exhibition features the works of more than 70 artists and collectives from more than 20 countries, unfurling across a network of cultural and heritage sites, including the Gillman Barracks and venues within the colorful Bras Basah Bugis Precinct. Planned “festival-seminars” will blur the line between art and audience, including a new installment of the Let’s Walk performance series by Singaporean artist Amanda Heng, as well as interactive performances by Phare, The Cambodia Circus.
Cinephiles will also find an extra reason to visit Singapore this month with the 30th Singapore International Festival, known as SGIFF, (November 21–December 1). Under the theme “Roots,” expect a diverse lineup of local, Asian and international indie films; forums that invite discussion beyond the silver screen with expert insights from Netflix and other mainstream industry pundits; and a focus program on Southeast Asian films featuring fantastical and folkloric storytelling. Be sure to check out the three short films on the topic of “celebration” SGIFF this year commissioned from regional filmmakers—Yeo Siew Hua of Singapore, Mouly Surya of Indonesia and Anucha Boonyawatana of Thailand—to mark the event’s 30th anniversary.
5. You’ll never go thirsty in Japan
The list of Why Japan is Better at Life just got longer with a new app that tells you where you can source free drinking water on your travels in the country. A divining rod for the digital age, the My Mizu smartphone app connects you to more than 8,000 “refill stations,” so you can bypass 7-Eleven in favor of public water fountains and partner businesses. The developers, Social Innovation Japan, were sparked into action by the nation’s high consumption of PET bottles—in the league of 64 million per day. The app is still in beta testing, so expect more functionality in versions to come, including user photos and reviews of refill stations, and gaming elements to incentivize users and make the mission for free, fresh water more fun. Developers also hope to roll the app out into other territories, with Singapore first in their sights.