Why You Should Take a Back-Roads Tour in Asia
Imagine a holiday that combines the advantages of small-group tours with the one-of-a-kind experiences of independent travel. Ellie Fazan finds that a Flight Centre Escorted Journey in Asia offers the best of both worlds, thanks to Back-Roads Touring...
Whizzing along open roads past trucks loaded with people and livestock; slurping fragrant bowls of noodles on brightly coloured plastic chairs; seeing an evocative swirl of incense in a temple; being lost among skyscrapers in neon-hued cities; finding inner peace amid ancient monuments; listening to water lapping gently against sugar-soft beaches. These are the sights, sounds and scents that make Southeast Asia a unique destination, as diverse as its wonderful landscapes and friendly people.
My favourite memory of travelling here isn’t one of the big sights on the tourist trail; it’s stopping in a tiny village and being invited to join a karaoke party on the streets. Daryl Raven, General Manager at Back-Roads Touring, agrees: “The best experiences are when you really get under the skin of a destination. Like finding myself in a remote Cambodian village and talking to the locals through an interpreter, hearing amazing stories about how they live.”
Back-Roads has been part of the Flight Centre Group since 2008, and its Asia tours combine this insight and off-the-cuff experience with the support of a local guide and planning from the UK. It’s halfway between independent travel and escorted touring, with small groups of no more than 14 people. “We do things a little differently,” says Daryl. “We’re not one of the crowd. We attract a more mature customer, people who have a sense of adventure and want to explore everything a destination has to offer, from cookery lessons to sleeping in a boutique resort amid rice fields. We describe our style as experiential small-group tours: the destination is important, but the journey is even more important.”
Roads less travelled
Tour vehicles are custom-made, with comfortable seats, air conditioning and big windows so you can take in the view as you go. And because its vehicles aren’t huge, Back-Roads takes the scenic routes, reaching places other companies simply can’t. Imagine cruising alongside endless rice paddies, mountains in the background, through villages, stopping for a refreshing roadside tea at a time to suit you. “We believe that journeys are made for absorbing these never-to-be-forgotten views, and we take things at a leisurely pace, avoiding early starts. After all, your adventure should still feel like a holiday.”
And the tours don’t simply stop at the major sights and cities; they invite you to see a destination through the eyes of the people who call it home. “This is what I find really exciting,” says Daryl. “The chance to learn and find out all the little things that make people and a place tick.” It’s the Back-Roads guides who transform an exciting getaway into something extraordinary, telling you secrets behind the awe-inspiring temples, showing you the perfect spot to see the sun set, and taking you to the best place for a bowl of pho.
“A lot of what we do gives back to the local communities,” says Daryl. “In Chiang Mai, we visit an amazing sanctuary for elephants; there’s an ethical circus in Siem Reap, where former street children and victims of the Cambodian war tell their stories through song and dance; and at Angkor Wat, our tour guide is also a stone conservation expert. Then there are the smaller day-to-day experiences – lunch with a local family or visiting the markets to shop for your supper.”
Food is a big deal. “It’s not just eating and drinking is it? It’s about learning about what makes a culture unique.” You could take a Cambodian cooking class in Siem Reap; dine at an ancient garden house in Hue, Vietnam; or sample classic Thai food as you cruise along Uthai Thani’s waterways.
In fact, everything Back-Roads does is about experiencing the true nature of a place, from culinary adventures through to staying in locally owned guest houses. “A favourite hotel of mine is the Tam Coc Garden Resort in Ninh Binh, Vietnam,” says Daryl. “Far removed from the city bustle, it’s surrounded by rice paddies, with typical stone houses, bamboo groves and orchards. All the staff live in the surrounding villages.”
As Daryl says, “Where you stay isn’t just about finding a bed at the end of the day; it’s as important as the day itself.” And that is the Back-Roads way in a nutshell. Even when sleeping, you’ll be immersed in your destination - somewhere that reflects its personality and its people.
Chat to one of our Travel Experts about booking your Back-Roads tour in Asia.