Travelling the world is a surefire way to enrich your life. But while hot and sunny parts of the globe have long been the go-to destination of holiday-makers, including Thai people, there’s a new aspirational travel trend afoot—the cold-weather holiday. While many people would still rather escape to a sun-drenched island or hibernate until winter subsides, others want to slip on some thermals and go wolf spotting in Mongolia, navigate a snow-swept mountain in remote Nepal, or watch the northern lights in deepest Antarctica. Here, we talk to four people who’ve come to love escape-the-heat holidays.
Behind the poise and elegant businesswoman exterior, Sittharmanin Susamawathanakun, otherwise known as Pam, managing director for business development for Superrich Thailand, is a true explorer who thrives on adventure.
“I just want to discover the world,” says Pam enthusiastically. Whenever her work schedule permits, Pam sets out to discover new places. Not so long ago, she journeyed to the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal. “A friend of mine was going to Nepal for a TV show and I tagged along,” she smiles. “I wanted to go mountain climbing and I was ready for a challenge that would take me out of my comfort zone. It was so much fun and the feeling when you’re standing up there is remarkable. These places truly open your eyes. When you reach the base camp, you realise how tiny you are in this vast world.”
She also visited Leh-Ladakh India where she had the chance to take a 10-hour road trip through valleys and along Chang La pass, one of the highest roads in the Himalayas. Traversing this route offers a mind-blowing view of the region’s austere yet beautiful landscape. While she thoroughly enjoyed the experience, she admits, the altitude sickness was quite challenging.
Despite all her adventures, however, her coldest experience of all came not when she was out exploring a mountaintop somewhere, but when she was a student in Canada. Winters there are known for being brutal. “Funnily enough, I think that was the coldest experience for me,” she says. “Temperatures often dropped to about minus 40 degrees Celsius.” Pam has always loved to travel and somewhere in the midst of all her adventures, she discovered mountain climbing.
An expedition to Mount Everest, our planet’s highest mountain rising almost 9,000 metres above sea level, is currently high up on her bucket list. Reaching its summit is considered one of the most prized accomplishments for any mountaineer, and Pam is no different. She plans to go there in 2018. Getting up it entails a perilous climb through tough, sometimes unpredictable weather conditions, but adventure junkie Pam seems unfazed by the prospect. “It normally takes about 14-17 days to trek up to the base camp depending on your itinerary. If you want to trek up to Gokyo Ri or Island Peak then it takes a bit longer as you need to allow a few days for acclimatisation. You have to be fit for this but luckily I regularly workout,” she says with confidence.
Asked if the thought of hiking up Everest scares her at all, she responds emphatically. “Once you have climbed other mountains, climbing Everest is just about going up another 1,000 metres,” she says. Though she enjoys her job, Pam sees travelling the world as a way of escaping the predictability of working life. “Work becomes a routine and, in a way, you’re staying within your comfort zone but when you go out and discover new places it opens up your entire world. I enjoy learning about real life through the lens of travelling.”
There are different sorts of travellers. Some seek thrills while others are happier enjoying the food, museums, markets and local culture of a destination. Neeranart Pausawasdi, communication manager of Louis Vuitton Thailand, is one of the more refined kind—he relishes the finer things in life. He is also drawn to the cold and thinks this might have something to do with a trip to Scotland as a child. “Edinburgh was my very first cold destination,” he says. “I must have been about 10 years old. Despite my mother’s attempt to keep me warm with long johns, scarves and thick coats, I was always complaining because it was freezing,” he laughs.
Since that initiation to harsh climes, Neeranart has been to some of the world’s coldest places. About 10 years ago, he visited Alaska, where he enjoyed the local culture and the beauty of nature. “Then about six to seven years ago,” he adds, “I went to Harbin for the International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.” This remote city, which is famous for having the longest, coldest and iciest winters in all of China, has carved itself in his memory. “Alaska is all about glaciers and ice rocks, so I prepared myself well and it was fine. But when I went to China, I thought I had prepared myself quite well in terms of clothing, just as I did in Alaska, but it was bloody freezing in Harbin,” he laughs. “It was minus 40 degree Celsius.” The only solution, according to Neeranart, was to purchase some locally made long johns, a form of innerwear, to counter the extreme temperatures. “I have never seen long johns that thick in my entire life,” he says. “But they are so effective. I still use them today.”
He’s quite the globetrotter. Neeranart has flown to countless cities throughout the globe. His favourite place, he says, is Moscow, which he recently visited. “It wasn’t excruciatingly cold there, but I still had to wear fur,” he says. Moscow is known to be cold during the winter, but it’s not so much the weather that he finds appealing about this extravagant city. “I love Moscow because it’s a place with mixed culture values. It looks modern yet still has this conservative atmosphere and so much history. It’s a fun city with so much to do and see. And Moscow’s shopping malls have a wider selection than Harrods, Selfridges and Barney’s put together.” He also enjoys the museums as well as the party scene there.
A true bon vivant, he is also a foodie, one who enjoys the city’s fresh local markets and local restaurants as much as he does experiencing gourmet dining at its most luxurious ones. He has been to Moscow three times already but there is still new discovery to undergo in the region. “I want to go to Siberia and do the Trans-Siberia trip,” he says enthusiastically. But that is still in the planning phase.
Be it for work or leisure, Neeranart constantly travels the world in search of new experiences and new cultures. “I travel an awful lot per year,” he says. To give an example, he adds, “Two weeks ago I was in Vietnam, last week I was in Singapore, this weekend I am going to Phuket and next week I will be heading to Shanghai.” He enjoys the freedom that comes with travelling alone. “I went to Osaka, Kyoto, Budapest and Amsterdam by myself,” he tells us. “Travelling alone is better because you have your own schedule and itinerary and it’s more flexible because you can do whatever you want.”
Though he enjoys wintery destinations, he doesn’t limit himself to them. In fact, his upcoming plans include Morocco, Tel Aviv, Casablanca, Tehran and Rabat. Having already been to Argentina, Peru, Brazil and Uruguay, he has also grown fond of the Latin American culture and dreams of returning to that part of the world one day.
The Dolomite Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site in northeastern Italy, is known for its breathtaking scenery, especially during winter. Onnalin Lojanagosin, the co-founder and director of high-end furniture importer Seasons, visited this beautiful region of the Italian Alps last October. “It was pretty cold,” she says with clear understatement.
Famed for its powdery white slopes, the Dolomites are mostly frequented by skiers and snowboarders. Having said that, one doesn’t need to be a sporty person to appreciate the Italian Alps. Onnalin is not fond of skiing so instead, during her stay, she focused on trekking and hiking. For this artistic lady, who is currently studying 19th-century fine art painting in Florence and hopes to become a full-time artist in the future, there’s more to it than merely visiting a pretty place and going for a stroll in the mountains. “Living in the city around people makes me crave emptiness so being in a vast space where there is absolutely nobody between you and mother earth is a very soothing and spiritual experience for me,” says Onnalin.
Of course, what attracts people to these places vary among individuals. For Onnalin, her desire to commune with cold climates like the Dolomites appears to be a reflection of her artistic disposition and love for nature. “As an artist, we learn to appreciate and observe light and how it affects the surroundings. I love the colour changes of every season but I have to admit that winter has its own charm,” she explains. “I also love fog and snow. There is a mysterious and tranquil quality to both.”
She’s more than happy to cosy up during wintertime— “There’s nothing as good as being in front of a fireplace drinking hot tea or chocolate when it is cold outside,” she says—but ultimately she finds this period invigorating and energising. “Strangely, I tend to become quite lazy in the summer as the heat soars but stay active in the winter.” With the weather on the Italian Alps nothing if not unpredictable, Onnalin likes to be well prepared. “I swear by thermal underwear,” she laughs. “It keeps you so warm. I also recommend investing in a good duck or goose down coat and a good pair of wool socks for hiking,” she advises. But the cold isn’t the only challenge. Navigation, Onnalin says, is always a problem for her. “I hate reading maps and planning train journeys,” she says.
For her next adventure, Onnalin plans to go to Iceland. “I want to visit a village called Vik that’s known for its black basalt sand beach,” she says. It isn’t surprising that someone so passionate about art and with a particular fondness for nature would want to explore Iceland’s unique landscapes. “I want to go there to draw and paint the extraordinary formations of black sand and sheer ice. The contrast of colours is astounding and surreal,” she adds.
“My dream had long been to see the aurora borealis,” say Somrudee Amatayakul, CEO of Paresa Resort Phuket. In the attempt to make that wish come true, she flew to Iceland with a group of 25 family and friends, all of whom share a passion for travelling. To increase their chances of seeing the northern lights, the trip was carefully planned about a year and a half in advance. “There are a few key factors to take into account when you are in search of this beautiful phenomenon,” she says. “For example, the level of magnetic field and the clarity of the sky, which means there should be no clouds or rain.”
Whilst aware that much of it was up to luck, the group picked their travel dates to coincide with the period during which there’s the most magnetic field activity. “I told myself, if I don’t get to see it, I will try again in Norway,” she says. But luck was on her side. On her first night in Iceland, a mere 15 minutes’ drive outside of Reykjavik, Somrudee’s dreams came true—she witnessed the sky turn into an ethereal haze of splendid colours. That, she says, was the most memorable moment of her trip.
While the northern lights are Iceland’s most famous natural wonder, the country is not short of others. Determined to make the most her stay, Somrudee sought out as many as possible. “We visited Pingviellir where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia meet,” she recalls. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of Iceland’s most fascinating natural locales. Somrudee and her group were able to walk through the crack formed by the rift between the two plates. “It was awesome to be walking there,” she smiles. From taking a dip in the famous Blue Lagoon and visiting the volcano fields to walking on Iceland’s icy terrain, she has practically done it all.
Her favourite thing about her trip? Being in such close contact with nature. “In Alaska, you see glaciers from afar but here, you’re in it. And it’s so barren. It’s mostly moss, grassland and volcanoes. The Icelandic people have a saying that any place with more than three trees growing together is a forest.”
Another thing about Iceland that impressed Somrudee, whose next holiday wish is to see silverback gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda, was the pride people take in the environment. “The people love their country and nature and they don’t spoil it. Last year, they had about 600,000 tourists this year, it spiked up to 1.3 million. That’s a big rise but they still manage to preserve their natural environment, which isn’t the case everywhere.”