Viewing entries in
adventure

Glamping In Style: A Luxurious Adventure in Big Sky, Montana

Comment

Glamping In Style: A Luxurious Adventure in Big Sky, Montana

Path to the communal area at Collective Retreats in Big Sky

Path to the communal area at Collective Retreats in Big Sky

I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.
— John Steinbeck
Stunning views of Lone Peak from Collective Retreats in Big Sky.

Stunning views of Lone Peak from Collective Retreats in Big Sky.

Stacked firewood for those nightly campfires and s'mores. 

Stacked firewood for those nightly campfires and s'mores. 

Every inch of Montana radiates undeniable allure; from the breathtaking landscapes in every direction, the brisk mountain air, and the all-around warmth shared by people who call this magnificent state home. From the moment we arrived in Bozeman, I was taken by the log cabin decor of the airport (fireplace included!) welcoming us into the "The Treasure State". 

In our four days there, we meandered from Bozeman to Pray, south to Yellowstone, and then on to Big Sky to end our trip with a glamping experience with Collective Retreats that we were super excited about. Following the detailed directions we were sent upon booking, we started to wonder what we were getting ourselves into. As we got further away from the main road into Big Sky, we twisted and turned onto bumpy dirt roads and wondered if we were on the right track. We were. When we reached at the landmark described in the email, there they were- our guides from the retreat waiting for our arrival with a golf cart to transport our bags to the campsite as we walked to check in. (We realized later on it wasn't that far of a distance, but it was a nice bit of separation between our car and the campsite.) 

We felt immediately transported into a Wes Anderson film at the lodge, a gigantic tent decked out with string lights, plaid blankets, and eclectic tchotchkes. Then, we were led along the marked path to our tent, passing the spectacular mirrored lake with the clearest views of Lone Peak cutting across the boundless sky. 

DestinationEnvy-Glamping-Montana-5361

To say we adored our boho-meets-shelter-mag tent would be an understatement. No detail was too small here, from the Moonrise Kingdom-inspired decor to the mix of textured bedding and rugs that made it so cozy and warm. There were so many moments when we were torn between hunkering down in the tent or going outside to bask in the outdoor air.  

First things first, we settled in. We unpacked our snacks and stored them in the bear box provided behind the tent. (Apparently there had been a few bear sightings so we weren't taking any chances). We cracked open a couple cans of our favorite craft brews we discovered during the trip and lounged on the sheepskin rugs, alternating between admiring the decor inside and views outside over a casual game of Gin Rummy. 

Obsessed with the eclectic (and functional) decor on the side tables.

Obsessed with the eclectic (and functional) decor on the side tables.

Pure coziness.

Pure coziness.

Our favorite craft beer of the trip from  Upslope Brewing Company  in Boulder, CO.

Our favorite craft beer of the trip from Upslope Brewing Company in Boulder, CO.

Cards for the night ahead by the wood burning fireplace in the tent. 

Cards for the night ahead by the wood burning fireplace in the tent. 

Inevitably, there are questions about the bathroom setup at the site. We had own bathroom, directly behind the main tent that might be the most picturesque "outdoor" bathroom ever. Again, all about the details. 

Yes - this is the bathroom, housed in its own tent. 

Yes - this is the bathroom, housed in its own tent. 

Details, details, details. No "roughing it" here. 

Details, details, details. No "roughing it" here. 

A few essentials for our stay.

A few essentials for our stay.

Being completely surrounded by trees, mountains, lake and sky felt extremely therapeutic. Simply sitting on the deck of our tent and gazing at Lone Peak was more than enough for us. There is something about being so captivated by mother nature that makes it easy to disconnect from our digital devices and be present in each other's company. It was almost as if time had stopped and it was solely our little family out in the world.

Whether you're camping or glamping or anything in between, we found that its best not to have much of an agenda after doing all the hard work of planning and making the actual journey. Just letting yourself be guided by intuition, not wearing a watch or phone, challenging yourself to guess time by the position of the sun in the sky, and being aware of how your body is responding to the slower pace- the experience can be one big mind-clearing meditation, your very own mental detox. 

DestinationEnvy-Glamping-Montana-5367

As the sun started to go down and the Montana sky began its nightly show, we made our way to the main campsite for dinner. Upon check-in, we had ordered the BBQ in a box for two, basically a steak dinner without any of the work. Our box came with a potato salad, pre-seasoned steak, and veggie sides. While we normally enjoy doing all of our bbq prep at home, here we simply threw the steak on the preheated grill and went to watch the sun set over the lake. When we came back to check on the steak, we realized we overcooked it slightly after getting carried away with pictures, but the small trade-off was more than okay. 

We took our time chowing down on steaks while the campfire got prepped. For dessert, our guide brought out s'mores for roasting- not just traditional smores (my personal favorite) but scores of s'more options with peanut butter cups (Aaron's new favorite), Kit Kat and other childhood candies.

DestinationEnvy-Glamping-Montana-5264
NatashaLee-Glamping-Montana-5203_2
NatashaLee-Glamping-Montana-5257_2
NatashaLee-Glamping-Montana-IMG_7216

We lingered at the roaring campfire, set against the dramatic backdrop of Big Sky, for as long as Calder let us. After our faces were toasty and our bellies full, we made our way back to the warmth of our tent (the wood burning fireplace was lit and prepped while we were at dinner) and snuggled into the electric blanket tucked underneath the duvet, talking into the night like teenagers.  

Breakast area in the main tent. 

Breakast area in the main tent. 

Our toasty campfire. 

Our toasty campfire. 

Good night and sweet dreams, Montana.

Good night and sweet dreams, Montana.

While glamping can sometimes be the equivalent of a hotel room that happens to be outdoors, there are still a few things I found handy to pack and have on hand...somewhere in between having a few key items to enhance your experience but not going overboard with too much unneeded gear. 

  • Journal + Pen 
  • Your own tea/coffee (if you're picky like me- my morning ritual always involves some some sort of green or jasmine tea) 
  • Camera (Whether you bring an old school point-and-shoot, or full on DSLR, we found it refreshing to put our phones away, but still having something at hand to document our trip)
  • Scented candle (Definitely be aware of where you light the candle but a small scented tealight is always a nice touch to personalizing the space)
  • Wellies / Sneakers / Moccasins (Footwear for inside and outside)
  • Poncho blanket/shawl
  • Thick knit beanie hat
  • Dry Shampoo (When washing your hair just isn't in the cards)
  • Face Wipes 
  • Bug Repellent 
  • Lip Balm (Dry mountain air. Enough said)
  • Layers of clothing
  • Thick Socks
  • Old School Games Twister, Monopoly etc. Nothing better than sitting by the furnace in your tent while the wind is whisking around outside, getting lost in a game of with your loved one(s).

And that's a wrap for this post; would love to hear about your glamping experiences below- off the beaten path sites you've discovered and/or tips you realized along the way!

Comment

Climbing Mount Popa's 777 Steps in Myanmar

Comment

Climbing Mount Popa's 777 Steps in Myanmar

About an hour's drive away from the flat landscape of Bagan lies Mount Popa, a volcanic plug 2418ft from sea level. From the base to the top where the Taung Kalat Monastery lies, there are precisely 777 steps to climb. Taung Kalat is home to the "37 great nats", spiritual deities who loom large in Burmese folk religion. For those not squeamish about climbing barefoot alongside the many macaque monkeys who roam freely along the stairway (believed to be guarding the spirits), stunning views and fascinating insights into the world of Burmese nat worship illuminate the steep ascent.   

Mount-Popa-777-steps-views

Arriving at the base, it is abuzz with vendors and markets selling fruit for offerings as well as trinkets and refreshments for the climb. All footwear must be taken off and either stored (for a small tip) or carried. There are many stops along the way to discover the history behind the "37 nat" and observe locals paying homage to these canonized spirits, as Taung Kalat is a significant pilgrimage for many Burmese. 

Mount-Popa-777-steps-Taungkalat

At a moderate pace, the climb is between 30-45 minutes, and there is no need to rush. There are plenty of lookout points to stop and admire the panoramic views or simply catch your breath and take in the significance of this site, also known to many as Burma's 'Mount Olympus'.  

Mount-Popa-TaungKalat-Bagan

We were fortunate to visit on a clear day, when the views close to the stop stretched as far as the eye can see. Facing north in the image below, the massive peak of Taung Ma-gyi, a former volcano, rises up from the fertile soil as a result of volcanic ash. At the very top, you are face to face with the gleaming gold details of the monastery which shimmers from a distance atop this historic landmark. 

DE-Mt-Popa-Views

Getting There:

A car hire from Bagan for a half day can be arranged through any hotel or restaurant in Bagan. Be sure to stop at the palm farms along the way and taste some handmade palm sugar treats with Burmese tea in support of the local palm farmers.  

Comment

Cruising Along The Irrawaddy River

Comment

Cruising Along The Irrawaddy River

Bagan is a destination that can be experienced through many different modes of transport: from bicycling to horse buggy, ox cart to boats. Each experience provides unique glimpse into the different pieces of this historical haven. While it is an option to take a longer cruise along the Irrawaddy River starting from Yangon or Mandalay on a large vessel that lasts a few days, it is also possible to get a sense of river life from an inexpensive sunset excursion from the jetty near Old Bagan. 

There are two ways of arranging a ride. One is the old-fashioned way: hang out by the Bupaya Pagoda and inevitably you'll be approached one of many boat owners. Conversely, almost any hotel can make arrangements for you as well. (We went that route). Approaching the riverbank, there is a downhill descent to the anchored boats, most of them simple wooden skiffs.

Bagan_sunset_river_cruise_Irrawaddy

Besides our skipper, we had the boat to ourselves for about US$20 and hung out at the front as we set sail into the river. The beauty and expanse of the horizon and the faint landscape of mountain peaks in the background are exceedingly stunning. After a while, the roar of the boat's engine became background instrumental music during this visual meditation.

Floating leisurely past the temples on the shore and watching other boats drift by as the sky gradated from blue to orange was a refreshing reminder to take it slow and enjoy experiences for what they are in the present. Once the engine got going, we were pleasantly surprised to look back and see our skipper perched on the roof of the boat, enjoying the sky showing off as much as we were. 

Bagan_sunset_river_cruise_Irrawaddy_boat_Bupaya-pagoda
When the sun has set, no candle can replace it.
— G. Martin

After the sun had sunk below the horizon, it was time to head back. We docked along the riverbank and climbed up to the Bupaya, which dates back to the year 300, according to the sign at the entrance. We lingered among monks and visitors at the top, as the river descended into the night. 

Bupaya-sunset-boats-irrawaddy

Play: 

River cruise down the Irrawaddy

Comment

Sunrise Balloon Flight Over Bagan

Comment

Sunrise Balloon Flight Over Bagan

By now, images of hot air balloons dispersed across the skyline of Bagan are almost synonymous with travel in Myanmar. With my (very) short itinerary in this picturesque architectural town, ballooning seemed like a beautiful and memorable way of viewing the immense number of pagodas (it's estimated that there are about 2200 temples and pagodas that remain today- there were over 10,000 during the kingdom's heyday from the 11th-13th centuries) scattered across the sparse landscape. 

I took the plunge online with Oriental Ballooning and crossed my fingers after submitting my credit card info, aware that all flights are dependent on weather conditions. Fortunately, all of the stars aligned that morning for a prime flying experience. [A little aside- I was impressed with the speed and politeness of their correspondence up to the day of pickup, which gave us confidence about this pricey experience]

On the morning of the scheduled flight, we waited in the lobby in the dark for the 5:30am pickup. We were driven to a field where tables were set up for a light breakfast and tea with the opportunity to chat with other basket-mates before the flight. As the sun began to peek out, the pilots introduced themselves and called out the passengers riding with them.

The balloon seems to stand still in the air while the earth flies past underneath.
— Alberto Santos-Dumont

After a safety briefing, we watched in fascination as these simple yet magnificent contraptions got prepped for takeoff. 12 of us climbed into each balloon (4 baskets, 3 people per basket, not including the pilot) I'm not sure what I expected but everything about the experience was very gentle; we floated off the ground slowly as the landscape below seemed to pull away. Something to get used to is the sound and sensation of the hot air blowing every few minutes almost right above your head. Despite (or because of) the haziness in February (word on the street is that the sunrise is much clearer later in the year) I enjoyed the soft light and cinematic views of the cloudy sky. 

Our pilot talked us through the flight, pointing out some of the main temples in Bagan such as Ananda, Sulemani and Dhammayangyi (pictured above). Soon, the sun was up and it was time to secure a landing spot. The magical thing about ballooning is that while they all take off from the same spot, your path literally goes with the wind.  

It was interesting to learn that many of the empty fields below have now been designated as a new hotel zone to accommodate all of the tourists interested in visiting Bagan, and I was told that soon, the balloons will end up landing farther and farther out from the center of Bagan. Like many other developing countries, this popularity can go both ways. While more lodging would certain make a trip more economical for many visitors (room rates in Myanmar seemed relatively expensive due to limited supply), only time will tell if it is possible to preserve the authenticity of the local lifestyle and integrate as many locals as possible into the tourism industry during this period of incredible growth. 

I have known today a magnificent intoxication. I have learnt how it feels to be a bird. I have flown. Yes I have flown. I am still astonished at it, still deeply moved.
— Le Figaro, 1908

If you have a few minutes (2 minutes and 21 seconds, to be exact), I invite you to experience the weightlessness of drifting gently along the horizon. 

Our pilot navigated us to a soft open field for landing. I loved observing the crew of about 10 men taking down the balloon, wrestling with the billowy fabric that just a few minutes ago was capable of transporting us across Bagan.

Play: 

Oriental Ballooning Lanmadaw, Hman Kyo Quarter, Nyaung Oo

Online reservations recommended.

[We found out that the government allows a limited number of balloons up in the air at once over Bagan and the operating companies split that quota. If you're deciding between which company to fly with, they all take off from the same field at around the same time, so it could just be a matter of availability.] 

Comment