Too Tents? Back To The Romance Of Nature
I'm not quite sure what happened to the age-old art of counting sheep, which can effectively – and quickly – put one in a blissful slumber. This was of course in days past, before Xanax.
Looking back at romantic notions – such as the classic folk adventures of Aladdin and Sinbad in One Thousand and One Nights – you can nearly reach out and touch the luminous half-lit canvas walls of a desert tent.
Over the years, travel has slowly transformed itself into more of an institution. The tents are all but gone and space has become restricted. At the end of the day, one has to wonder: Have we lost the sense of what real travel is all about?
Modern travel, with its mini-bars, key-cards, and a thousand and one takes on the same decor motif, has dulled our senses. What happened to the days when kids could pitch a tent in the outdoors, tell stories and listing to the sounds of nature outside. No welcome drinks, no paper and pens with logos, or even, in the case of a more upscale stay – a pillow menu!
These days, thank goodness the travel business is again becoming a little more daring – albeit with the experiences often circumscribed by such marketing hash tags as "authentic" or "experiential". The walls are suddenly coming down again, and one experience that remains close to my heart is the journey back in the time of tents.
In Africa, tents have been used for generations for all manner of travel. Here in Asia, one of the most noteworthy efforts was the Bill Bentley-designed Four Seasons Tented Camp in Chiang Rai. This resort demonstrated that there are still travellers yearning to return to the days of old. Yes, there are other fine examples as well, from the Aman-i-khas in Rajasthan to the Amanwana near Bali.
Recently, on a trip to Ubud, I had dinner with Anneke Van Waesberghe of Escape Nomade, who have created a line of luxury tents under the motto "Living Without Walls". For a number of years Anneke herself has lived by a peaceful river high above the bustle of Bali and has created an impressive line of quality products that are experiencing a revival in the market.
Using organic cotton and with careful attention to craftsmanship, she is starting to receive inquires from hoteliers in places such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and the islands in the Pacific. What could be better on an exotic holiday than experiencing some Old World charm?
Part of Anneke's vision is to create a line of travel accessories, decorative elements – and a healthy dose of imagination – to bring the tents alive for their occupants. Drinking cocktails as the sun sets in the tropical rainforest, my mind swirled with those tales from a time so long ago. In a way, they were more intoxicating than my rather stiff vodka tonic.
As Phuket continues to expand into Phang Nga Bay, up over the bridge where the roads lead to waterways, and the not-so-far-away Mergui Archipelago and the Burma Banks, how fantastic it would be to see new accommodation that provided travellers with a sense of location and place. Forget the TV, find time to talk, relax and enjoy the magic of strange faraway strange.
As for the sheep, let someone else count them.