Health and wellness

10 ways to improve yourself through travel

New year, new you? Maybe your self-improvement goals would be easier to achieve if they were combined with your next holidays across Asia. Here are 10 ways to do it


Ananda Himalayas

Getting healthy isn’t necessarily hard work. Leave your health to the pros at The Farm at San Benito, a world-class medical spa in the Philippines. Here you can have colon hydrotherapy, salt baths, intravenous vitamin infusions and much more. Or head to Ananda in the Himalayas (pictured), a former palace surrounded by forest in Rishikesh, India, that offers Ayurvedic treatments, yoga sessions and organic food. Its seven-day detox package will have you on a strict Ayurvedic diet to rest your digestive system and cleanse out toxins.


Many travellers would prefer to patronise businesses that give back to the local community. To find out which ones are doing good, visit Planeterra Foundation, an incubator for social enterprises within the tourism industry including restaurants, hotels, tour companies and handicraft makers. You can choose to support these enterprises with your tourist dollars or by donating to the foundation. If you’re looking to volunteer, GVI is a reputable group that leads volunteering projects such as teaching children and conservation, in places including Laos and Nepal.


Three camel lodge, Mongolia
Credit: Michael Poole

Or how about a digital detox? A new spa programme at Mandarin Oriental locations worldwide encourages guests to surrender their phones on arrival and join mindfulness activities designed by medical professionals. You won’t even miss those tech distractions in the natural surroundings of faraway retreats like Three Camel Lodge in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and Nomads Land in Koh Totang, Cambodia, which are both far from Wi-Fi signals.


Photography: In Asia, National Geographic leads photography tours across Bhutan, China, India, Japan, Mongolia and Nepal. The company takes care of the itineraries and, best of all, an accompanying National Geographic photographer provides tips and techniques.

Food: Spend days walking through the markets and beautiful hills of Chiang Mai and cooking authentic Thai cuisine with Immerse Through’s culinary tours. Hotels and excursions are all included. The group also organises similar tours in Yangon.

Painting: Art Safari takes painting and sketching enthusiasts to beautiful destinations around the world where they can recreate scenes of animals and landscapes on paper. Cambodia is already on the schedule for this year, among numerous European and African trips.


Trekking the Annapurna Massif in Nepal
Atid Kiattisaksiri/LightRocket via Getty Images

So you gained a few kilos through all that end-of-year partying? We all did. To get back in shape, you could throw yourself into the gym life – or, you could join an intensive fitness programme in an exotic land. Tiger Muay Thai is a good choice. This training camp in Phuket offers all levels of martial-arts training, which can last a week to a month, with on-site accommodation available. If the outdoors are more appealing, this might be the year to do Nepal’s popular Annapurna Base Camp trek (pictured), which follows a relatively flat, super scenic trail and generally lasts eight to 10 days, covering up to 49 kilometres. It’s an arduous journey that’ll definitely have you ticking off this resolution.


Skydiving tops bucket lists but is probably the travel goal that inspires the most anxiety. This year, get over it. Mysore near Bengaluru, Kota Kinabalu, Langkawi and Pattaya are some of Asia’s prime skydiving destinations. Or if your fears are more aquatic, head underwater to swim with sharks. You won’t get to cage dive with great whites in Asia, but schools of hammerheads are frequently sighted in places like Lombok, the island neighbouring Bali, and Malaysia’s Layang Layang. They’re not particularly threatening but are still, for most of us, plenty scary.


Monks at prayer in Mahabodhi Temple Complex
Amos Chapple / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

You could dedicate your life to spiritual enlightenment, but for busy urbanites looking for practical guidance, a short stay at Longquan Monastery on the outskirts of Beijing fits the bill. In a hilltop setting, monks pass on old wisdom in modern terms, making it popular with some of China’s corporate executives. For hardcore, 10-day meditation courses away from civilisation, there’s a place to go in Hong Kong: the Vipassana Meditation Center, which has two locations in the rural New Territories. Be ready to sit still.


Chinese: Can you learn Chinese in four days? It helps if you live with your teacher. That’s how language holiday company Go Learn To organises its most intensive Chinese-language course, which takes place in Beijing and includes accommodation and all meals.

Japanese: Based in Shibuya but with a range of cultural excursions, Education First ensures you get the full Tokyo experience while learning to speak Japanese. To really get immersed, students can stay with a local family or with fellow language learners at a boarding house in the heart of the city.

Korean: Love K-pop and K-dramas? Ride the hallyu wave with an immersion in the Korean language at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, which offers courses designed for international students. The shortest programme lasts three weeks and packs in a variety of cultural experiences.


Traditional fishermen with a speared octopus, southwest Madagasca
Garth Cripps / Blue Ventures

The Earthwatch Institute is a global organisation that carefully plans expeditions for regular folk who want to help field scientists around the world. The locations and work vary widely, from archaeological digs in Thailand to studies on elephant behaviour in India. If you want to be by the ocean, try Blue Ventures, which focuses on rebuilding tropical fisheries for communities that rely on the ocean for income, with farflung work locations like Timor-Leste and Madagascar.


Numerous studies have shown that being among nature makes us healthier and happier. For decades, the Japanese have practised forest bathing – the act of spending time in a forest, believed to lower stress levels. To experience it yourself, try the woods of Nagano, where the movement started in the 1980s. For a more adventurous nature experience, join a safari in the Sundarbans, a reserve area spanning Bangladesh and India that’s home to royal Bengal tigers, as well as crocodiles, leopards, river dolphins and various primates.

Top image credit: Atid Kiattisaksiri/LightRocket via Getty Images

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Discovery online brings together all the inspirational travel writing from our two inflight magazines, Discovery and Silkroad. Be sure to look out for the print editions when you next fly with Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon.
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