Rivers and mountains, kayaks and caves … add a touch of the exotic with these exciting active holidays in Asia
Kayaking Papua New Guinea
If adventure starts where knowledge ends, Tsoilik, Papua New Guinea, is the place to go. This tiny island may technically be part of Australasia but it feels more like a lost paradise in south-east Asia. It is accessible only by sea kayaking from New Ireland, guides are limited and there’s almost no information about the area, so getting there feels like going out on a limb. But once you’ve kayaked 30 miles and arrived at Rutu’s Guesthouse at the northern tip of the island, locals – of which there are a few dozen – will tell you that there’s the wreck of a Japanese battleship just offshore. Its rust-brown remnants litter the reef and, as you snorkel around, you’ll spot moray eels hiding inside the old torpedo tubes. The darkness of the deep and the fading traces of a forgotten battle have a mysterious allure – and only being able to get there by boat will give you even more of story to tell.
• A five-day kayaking trip, staying on a different island each night, can be arranged through Nusa Island Retreat (+675 984 2247, nusaislandretreat.com.pg) and costs around £850pp. More information at papuanewguinea.travel
Explore gigantic caves, Vietnam
Imagine a cave big enough to hold a lake, a river and a whole jungle of tall trees. This is Son Doong cave, in Quang Binh national park near the Vietnamese border with Laos, the largest cave on earth. Very few people – apart from scientists and film crews from the BBC and National Geographic – have penetrated its interior, which is filled with giant stalactites. This gives a certain kudos (and a hefty price tag) to new tours operated by Oxalis which include three days’ camping inside the cave. Only 220 permits have been released for this year, so if you’re not quick or rich enough, get a similar experience at the nearby Tu Lan caves, which you can explore on tours lasting one to four days (from $75pp).
• $3,000pp for six days all-inclusive (two nights in a hotel and five camping), flights extra. Departures from February-August. +84 52 367 7678, oxalis.com.vn
Monsoon snake-hunting, India
Gerry Martin, one of India’s leading snake experts, is a superb guide on this unusual expedition into southern India’s Western Ghats. Trekking deep into jungle-covered mountains, the group will survey all the reptilian and amphibian life, of which there is a huge range, much of it still waiting to be scientifically verified. By assisting in this vital conservation work, you’ll get access to wildlife and views of India that few outsiders ever see.
• From £1,000pp for 10 days excluding flights. 8-18 June. +91 80 6570 0638, gerrymartin.in/trips-and-expeditions (email for details)
Exploring Iran and Iraq
With relations between Iran and the west slowly thawing, travellers are once again beginning to explore this huge and fascinating country. This trip starts in Tehran and heads west, first stopping at the incredible Islamic monument of Soltaniyeh, a 49-metre-high dome (one of the largest brick domes in the world) that’s an engineering and architectural wonder. From there, the route climbs into the mountains of Kurdistan, a wild landscape where the volcanic crater of Takht-i-Suleiman (the Throne of Solomon) is surrounded by the ruins of a Zorastrian fire temple. Other highlights include one of the world’s oldest cities, Hamadan, a trek in the mountains with Kurdish nomads and a Friday picnic with locals in Ahmadawa, Iraq.
• From £3,895pp for 15 days, including local transport and meals, but not flights. Departs 20 September. 020-7736 3968, wildfrontierstravel.com
Cross-island cycle, Sri Lanka
This cycling route winds across the island through paddy fields and lowland jungle before cranking up over the twisting roads of the Knuckles Mountains. There is plenty to stop and enjoy along the way: tea plantations, Buddhist shrines and temples, old hill stations with their views and colonial architecture, and the trip finishes with a couple of nights at the beach.
• Nine nights from £1,899pp (two sharing) including flights, most meals and bike hire. Departs 5 April and 2 October. 01722 718444, discoveradventure.com
On the trail of Genghis Khan, Central Asia
Tim Cope’s book On the Trail of Genghis Khan is an account of his epic 6,000-mile journey from Ulan Bator to Hungary on foot, camel and horseback. Now Tim is taking an expedition back to his beloved Mongolia to retrace a small section of his three-year journey, which includes climbing into the Altai mountains to visit remote tribes such as the Khotont, and a visit to the territory of the Kazakhs, renowned for hunting with eagles.
• From £3,290pp for 18 days, including most meals and internal flights. Flights to Ulan Bator extra. Departs 27 July. 020-8545 9030 worldexpeditions.co.uk
Village-to-village walking, Nepal
There’s much to recommend these walking holidays, launching in March with specialist Village Ways. Socially and environmentally responsible (the aim is to create jobs in rural areas and minimise the impact of groups of foreign tourists), they’re brilliantly organised and cover spectacular yet so far neglected Himalayan terrain – in this case the Sailung Valley, east of Kathmandu. Trips are tailored to walkers’ needs – whether that’s a hot water bottle in your bed or a lesson in serving the local speciality, buffalo cheese. If that sounds too easy, sign up for the 2014 Mustang Trail Race instead, a 190km Himalayan challenge run that kicks off in Kathmandu on 12 April.
• From £729pp for 10 nights full board, flights extra. Departures from March to mid-June. 01223 750049, villageways.com. The Mustang Trail Race costs $2,750pp including meals, four internal flights and portage but not international flights (mustangtrailrace.com)
Cruise the Ganges, India
The most sacred of Indian rivers, the Ganges is tricky to navigate, particularly around Varanasi, where water levels are often low. Until now this has meant that boats big enough to have onboard accommodation haven’t operated on that section of the river. In August, however, Assam Bengal Navigation is launching a new boat, the ABN Rajmahal, designed to cope with the shallows on this stretch. Sailing between Patna and Varanasi, the seven-night City of Light cruise will take in Moghul forts, palaces and the sacred Sarnath deer park. There’s also great wildlife (look out for the river’s famous dolphins) and the chance to see India’s holiest city from the water. The boat’s 22 en suite cabins all have balconies and passengers can book on-board spa treatments.
• From £854pp for eight days, including all meals and excursions. 01572 821121, assambengalnavigation.com