"When discussing my vacation plans with coworkers, I got a lot of blank stares," says New Yorker Gary Lehman, who went to Mongolia last year with his wife, also on a Nomadic Expeditions tour. "Mongolia can be experienced and appreciated on many levels. Among a few of the top reasons to go: experiencing Tibetan Buddhism up close, physically rigorous but exhilarating trekking in the spectacular Altai Mountains, meeting the warm and hospitable Mongolian people, and touring the ruins of the ancient capital city and palace of Genghis Khan's Mongolian Empire."
Most visitors wanting to experience the Mongolian hinterlands book horse or camel treks, camping in traditional makeshift yurts called gers. However, in the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia, Nomadic Expeditions operates what are probably Mongolia's most acclaimed accommodations, the Three Camel Lodge, a luxury expedition camp that blends Mongolian design and culture with Western comfort. Local artisans built the main lodge and 45 oversized guest gers according to the tenets of Mongolian Buddhist architecture, using unprocessed stone, handmade latticework, felt and canvas skin, and no nails. Guest gers have luxurious amenities like cashmere blankets, en-suite bathrooms, and wood-burning stoves. Electricity comes from wind and solar power, and all trash is sorted for recycling, a rare practice in Central Asia.
"The Three Camel Lodge was by far the most comfortable ger camp with the best amenities we stayed at throughout our vacation in Mongolia," says Lehman. "We appreciated the commitment of the management staff to the local community and local college-aged students. [Each night] we were treated to a captivating musical performance of traditional Mongolian throat singing with musical accompaniment by the hotel staff, who studied music in university (and were employed by the lodge during their summer break)."
While at the lodge, you can visit a variety of sites nearby, including the Flaming Cliffs, a red rock wilderness famous for its well-preserved dinosaur fossils, and the Hongor Sand Dunes, which "sing" when swept by wind. The lodge can also arrange camel and horse treks, hiking, and archaeology trips.
Trip planning:The lodge is open May to October. Nightly rates are based on double occupancy and include accommodations and three meals per day. Due to the remoteness of the lodge, most guests come to the camp as part of a longer Mongolia package tour. Visit the Nomadic Expeditions website for trip options. Round-trip July fares from Los Angeles to Ulaanbaatar, the city where most trips commence, start at $1,428, including taxes, on Air China.
Surfing and tribal culture in Indonesia
Lodge:Nihiwatu Resort Price:from $266 per person nightly
Nineteen years ago, after witnessing his one-time home of Bali become overrun with trashy development, New Jersey surfer Claude Graves and his wife Petra came to one of Indonesia's wildest places, the Jamaica-sized island of Sumba, to open a responsible adventure sports hotel. The Graves started Nihiwatu Resort in 2001. Their original vision blossomed into a luxurious, award-winning eco-resort and a non-profit organization that works to alleviate the poverty of the Sumbanese people, the island's native tribe.