Posted on 19 Jan, 2018
Posted on 30 Nov, 2017
This time four years ago, we were exploring a remote and ruggedly beautiful part of China’s Sichuan Province. Joanna James remembers an epic day on the road…
Posted on 24 Nov, 2017
On the Road’s founder, Peter Schindler, revisits Norway and considers the interplay between the country’s spectacular scenery and its people…
Posted on 14 Feb, 2017
In this Issue:
(you may click the titles to get to the section you would like to read.)
- What made 2016 and the Year of the Monkey special
- A decade ago at On the Road
- Where we’ve been: New Itineraries in 2016
- Where we’re going: New Destinations for 2017
- Where would you like to go?
- New Car Choices and Partners in Asia
- The most memorable moments happen on Detours: Our Blog
- The people making On the Road work
- Our 2017 Scheduled Journeys
Here at On the Road, 2016 and the Year of the Monkey was filled with more initiatives, events and activities than ever before. From hosting more private journeys to visiting new destinations and researching new routes; from launching a new website to welcoming new members to our team, it was, indeed, a busy year.
However, is was something less tangible that made the year memorable for me. My happiest moment was being told by one of our guests that, “traveling with On the Road feels like traveling with a friend!” For the first time in 2016, all of our guests were either referred to us by a friend or repeat customers. For more of what our travelers say about us, see this page of our website.
In 2016, we got to the point where we are able to host journeys entirely in German and Mandarin, alongside English. As a result, we’ve been able to welcome groups of ever greater diversity, from helping a couple to celebrate a special anniversary to taking twenty members of a car club cruising through Europe. If you have an idea for a journey of your own with a private departure date, please get in touch to see how we can help.
But for me, 2016 is most noteworthy for something that that didn’t happen: I didn’t host a single journey in Asia. In September 2005, I went on my first driving holiday in beautiful south-west China with photographer Ron Yue and a group of friends. I quickly got hooked, and in 2006 I hosted On the Road’s first journey. Since then, I’ve hosted many journeys in Asia, but numbers have gradually declined until this year, when I hosted none. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I’m unable to do everything as our company grows. On the other hand, when one of a previous guest showed me a photobook they created after their journey to Thailand with us, I got more homesick with every page I turned.
So have I retired now? Not at all! Instead, I’ve turned my attention to Europe and have discovered more “hidden gems” than I saw in 22 years of living there when I was young. Whether it’s eating at restaurants such as Antonia Klugmann’s L’Argine a Vencò (in Friuli, Italy), or staying in hotels such as The Golden Well in Prague, or “testing out” activities such as truffle hunting in Croatia or the Lipizzaner Stud farm in Slovenia, each and every time I’m overwhelmed by the feeling of “I can’t wait to share this with our guests!”
For the year ahead, my hope is that as we continue to grow and evolve, On the Road does not lose the touch that makes a trip with us feel like a trip with a friend.
Our warmest thanks for your continued interest in, and support of On the Road Experiences.
Peter for the On the Road Team
2007 was one of the most exciting and nerve-wrecking years of my life. This was the year I drove Miss Daisy (a yellow Caterham 300) 21,000km through China, from the mouth of the Yangtze in Shanghai to its source in Qinghai. It was an adventure two-and-a-half years in the making, and one that I will never forget. The idea for On the Road in China (as we were called during the early days) was born during that trip – 104 days from sea level to 5,300m altitude, from scorching 40 degrees Celsius down to minus 10, all in an open-top car with no air-conditioning. “What an amazing country,” I thought, “in a modern car, anyone could enjoy it.” From a single itinerary in south-west China On the Road has become what it is today.
Yunnan through a Lens: Red Earth and Fields of Gold –
We launched this photography journey with Ron last spring and quickly received great feedback. To see the vivid red earth of Dongchuan, the golden rapeseed fields of Luoping and the glittering rice terraces of Yuanyang all at their best is a photographer’s dream and we offer it again departing on March 3, 2017.
An old itinerary with a new twist. Over Easter this year, five families joined a new itinerary that combines all the fun of our child-friendly journeys with an educational element – travel photography workshops as you go, giving the whole family a chance to engage in a shared and meaningful activity! We will offer this journey again over Easter 2017.
A Burmese Journey: From the Golden Triangle to the Bay of Bengal –
I have dreamed of offering a road journey through Burma since 2010. Finally, this year, Mareen has worked hard to put it all together and we launched our first journey in this beautiful country in November. Again, the feedback from our guests was fantastic, and we look forward to running this and more itineraries in the future. We will offer this journey again on November 4, 2017.
Here’s a review from one of our customer, Christine Peter, from our last trip – “It is absolutely amazing! You manage every day to surprise us even more. How on earth did you make a picnic appear in the middle of absolutely nowhere?”
Some of our most popular journeys are the ones that cross borders, perhaps because there is a certain romance in crossing Asian borders overland. However, many guests have told us that they wish we’d offer a shorter trip at an affordable price. This journey is our response to these requests. Enjoy a cross-country, overland journey weekend-to-weekend, staying in wonderful boutique hotels and giving you a taste of exotic northern Laos and Thailand. The next departure date is on April 1, 2017.
On our first scheduled European journey, you will tour what was once the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Explore stylish and historic European cities, including Salzburg, Vienna and Ljubljana; and drive beautiful roads over mountains, through vineyards and along gorgeous stretches of Mediterranean coastline. Stay in wonderful hotels both big and small, discover delicious local cuisines and meet the people and artisans who make this region so varied and vibrant. Next departure date is on June 24, 2017.
And back to Tibet…
After a hiatus of a few years, we are re-launching our journeys from Lhasa to Mt. Everest Base Camp (Contact us for dates!) and offering an entirely new journey from Luang Prabang in Laos to Lhasa (May 5, 2017). The former offers a great and adventurous experience of travel in Tibet, while the latter – a drive from the tropics to the Himalayas – promises to be one of our most exciting journeys yet.
Laos and Cambodia
We’re in the early stages of planning a new journey that will wind south from Vientiane through Laos to the enchanting archaeological sites and atmospheric colonial towns of Cambodia.
Nordic Trails and Fjords: Denmark, Sweden and Norway
Norway prides itself on being powered by nature and is one of the greenest countries on earth, and it has a legitimate claim to this: did you know that Norway produces 2.5 times as much power from renewables per capita than the runner-up, Canada? And did you know that Norway is by far the biggest importer of Tesla as a percentage of new car sales?
Scandinavia will charm you with fabulous landscapes, lovely boutique hotels, amazing back roads (paradise for open-top cars in the summer), and fine food. (And why not combine it with an excursion to see the Northern Lights?)
Wines of the Alps
Perfect for wine lovers who want to broaden their horizons, the terroirs of the Alps – from the Austrian regions of Wachau, Burgenland and Styria to the Swiss wine-growing regions of Lavaux, Valais, Grison and Ticino, plus many in between – have inspired wine makers to create extraordinary wines with unusual varietals. Our journeys through these regions will be designed for food- and wine-lovers, moving at a slower pace and incorporating visits to fascinating vineyards and artisan producers of the regions finest foodstuffs.
We are dreaming about new destinations for 2018 and beyond, and would love to hear your thoughts. From expanding our European portfolio of journeys, to venturing onto an entirely continent, the world is our oyster! Where would you like to see us go next?
One of the pleasures of driving in Europe is that a wide variety of cars is available to rent. In the regions of Asia that we cover the choice has been much more limited. Happily, this is slowly changing, and – thanks to our partnership with DCH Motor Leasing China – we are now able to offer a range of Audis for our journeys in China and beyond. Another trend is that rental companies are beginning to offer vastly improved insurance coverage that makes crossing borders into other countries a less daunting undertaking than it used to be. Avis in Laos is one example, and we’re working with them more frequently for precisely this reason.
In 2015 we launched the On the Road blog, calling it Detours since, in our experience, the most memorable events occur when we take a detour. Here are a few highlights from our posts thus far:
While we come from wildly varying backgrounds, what we have in common is genuine caring for each other and our travelers. Just yesterday, I sent a “Safe Travels!” message to Zoe (one of our guides) and Mr. Bai (one of our drivers) since I knew that they were about to welcome guests at Kunming airport. Zoe replied with the photos to the right.
I was moved by her thoughtfulness; I was also filled with pride that this happened without my involvement or guidance. I’m confident that this was not only the act of Zoe and Mr. Bai – I didn’t ask – but somehow the result of On the Road’s prevailing spirit: to think of things big and small to make every journey day a special one.
Our 2017 Scheduled Journeys
For 2017, we have scheduled a wide variety of itineraries…
- in different regions and countries: Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, China, Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy.
- for different appetites of adventure or comfort of different lengths (from 6 to 16 days)
Posted on 26 Jan, 2017
Posted on 22 Dec, 2016
Posted on 5 Dec, 2016
Everyone who has been on an On the Road trip with our super-guide Nancy Wu will understand why she is our first On the Road Star. With a wicked sense of humour, bags of energy, an encyclopaedic knowledge of Yunnan’s people and places, and peacock dancing skills that are in a class of their own, she has given many of us happy memories from our journeys with her. I sat down to talk with her about her and her work:
First of all, why did you become a tour guide?
Not the reason you might think! I’ve always liked using language as a tool and working with people – the worst job for me would be working alone in an office. When I was a child I would always sign up for public speaking opportunities and debate teams, and originally I wanted to be a lawyer. But my father told me that I would never look the part, because I’m too short! That might sound silly, but Chinese people care about things like that, so I started thinking about other options. By then I was studying English at university, and tourism was taking off in Yunnan, so I decided to train as a tour guide. My mother used to organise trips for a workers’ organisation, so perhaps I took some inspiration from travelling with her when I was little…
And now that you’ve been doing it for 15 years, what do you love most about your job?
I really enjoy introducing things that I find beautiful to my guests, and sharing with them. I learn from them and they learn from me! As we travel we all become friends and I’m able to interpret Chinese culture for them, and maybe correcting misunderstandings that people from overseas have about China.
What’s the worst part of your job?
The worst part of my job is related to the best part! When I’m travelling, I often come across Chinese people doing things in an… uncultured way, just because they don’t know any better. It drives me crazy, because I want to show off the best of Chinese culture, and don’t want my guests to think that we’re all uncultured! Sometimes I can help to improve whatever it is they’re doing badly, and sometimes I end up feeling embarrassed and caught in the middle. I understand why they’re doing it, but I can also see things from my guests’ perspective. So all I can do is to try and communicate with both!
How did you learn the Dai peacock dance?
My mother liked dancing, and I often went to watch dance performances with her. So I’ve enjoyed dancing ever since I was little, but I’ve never studied formally. I just taught myself the peacock dance, but I’d be a lot better at it if I’d started when I was younger.
What are you favourite places in Yunnan?
Jianshui! Jianshui is one of the places I like best – I prefer small towns with their own character to big cities. In Jianshui the people are very cultivated, the pace of life is nice and slow, and – very importantly – the food is good. Then I like Xishuangbanna (again the food is delicious) and Dali. Near Kunming, I like Shilin [the Stone Forest] and Qiongzhu Si [Bamboo Temple] the best – one is full of visitors, the other is very quiet and peaceful, and you can sit and drink tea…
And which of On the Road’s itineraries do you like most?
The one with Jianshui in it! Haha… I really enjoy the drive from Jianshui via Yuanyang and Jiangcheng to Xishuangbanna, then on to Thailand [“From Yunnan to the Lanna Kingdom”]. But I also like the new Burmese itinerary, perhaps because my mother was half-Burmese…
Finally, you always seem to know the best restaurants to visit and the tastiest dishes to order – and your cooking is great too! What do you like to eat most?
Barbecue! Spicy barbecued fish is one of my absolute favourite things to eat, but barbecue restaurants here sell lots of different dishes – rice noodles, different vegetable dishes, meat and fish. As long as it’s spicy, I love it. When Peter took me to Europe, I was dying for something good and spicy to eat! [Smacks lips.]
Thank you, Nancy!
Posted on 17 Nov, 2016
On my first trip to China I kept hearing rumours about Laos, which at that time – mid-1999 – was still very much off the beaten track.
“The roads are all dirt tracks, and you’ll spend weeks getting rust-red dust out of your hair,” one fellow backpacker told me, knowingly. I had only recently discovered that such a country existed, so these survivors’ stories of epic bus journeys and remote villages combined with my near-absolute ignorance in a way that left me longing to hop over the border and explore.
Distracted by university and work, it wasn’t until 2007 that I finally managed to arrange a trip to Laos. Escaping the greyness of a Beijing winter, my husband and I flew to Kunming, caught a bus to Jinghong and took a minibus to the border at Mohan.
We negotiated our exit from China, and took a van across the few hundred metres of “no man’s land” that separates the two border posts. The Lao checkpoint fitted my idea of how it ought to look perfectly; a series of ramshackle huts where sullen officials stamped our passports with an improbable number of rubber stamps.
Once finished with the formalities, we clambered into a songthaew (an overgrown tuk-tuk where passengers sit facing each other on two benches inside), and drove off into the afternoon sunshine towards Luang Namtha, giddy with the excitement of being somewhere fresh and new.
We spent the next five weeks travelling the length of Laos by bus and songthaew. After the border checkpoint had confirmed my expectations, the rest of the country came as a surprise; more beautiful than I had pictured, less developed than I anticipated, and more fun to explore than I had imagined.
In Luang Namtha we discovered Lao food. In a thatched hut in the rice fields, our hiking guide produced a delicious lunch of herb-filled larb salad and sticky rice all wrapped in banana leaves, a meal that we still talk about to this day. We slurped steaming bowls of rice noodles in a street stall, tried chilli-spiked river fish grilled over an open fire in the night market and breakfasted on baguettes stuffed with cheese and sausage, locally-grown coffee and plates of juicy tropical fruit. Like hobbits, we took to having multiple meals – first and second breakfasts (on one occasion finding space for a third), first and second lunches, dinner and perhaps an evening snack or two.
After travelling through the country’s beautiful, rural north, where villagers’ income seemed to derive from drying grasses to make brooms, we arrived in Luang Prabang one evening to find its colonial villas converted to chic hotels and well-heeled tourists mingling with scruffy backpackers like ourselves in the night market. By day, it was clear to see what had drawn people to this elegant town, its neat grid of streets lined alternately with ornate monasteries and faded Indochinese villas. All this lies nestled amongst forest-clad hills on a tongue of land formed by the confluence of two rivers, the town as blessed by geography as it has been by history.
Father south, the workaday town of Vang Vieng – which grew up around a Vietnam War-era US air strip – had just established itself as a backpackers’ favourite, thanks to its beautiful surroundings and a handful of bars showing Friends on loop. We floated down the Nam Song River in the shadow of jagged limestone karst hills and slept to a chorus of croaking frogs that lived in our hotel’s lily pond.
By the time we reached Vientiane, the monochrome of Beijing’s winter streets was a distant memory. It came as a shock to drive past the country’s only “factory” – a small water bottling plant on the outskirts of the capital – our first brush with anything even remotely industrial since we had left China.
The Laotian capital seemed impossibly small and quiet for a capital city. We cycled along the wide boulevards, dined at the city’s night market and drank Beer Lao as we looked out across the dark waters of the Mekong towards Thailand.
By the time we crossed the border into Thailand a fortnight later – now with survivors’ stories of our own, mostly relating to bus travel – South-East Asia’s only land-locked country had found a place at the top of our list of places to re-visit.
Little did I know that a few years later I would be regularly driving across northern Laos with groups of guests for On the Road. Over the course of many journeys, we’ve seen the Lao infrastructure gradually improve – the shabby border checkpoint has been upgraded and the rickety car ferry that we used to cross the Mekong in Huay Xai has been replaced with a new bridge. Laos is gradually becoming more developed, but, by and large, this is happening in a gentle way – there are no traffic-choked highways or big box shopping malls. The country retains its quiet charm, the Lao people still welcome curious travellers and the food still tastes as good as ever…
On the Road offers several journeys that go through Laos:
- The most in-depth exploration is our all-new “Elephants and Parasols: From Vientiane to the Golden Triangle” itinerary … launching in April 2017!
- Other itineraries that go through northern Laos include:
- “Summit to Sea: From Yunnan to Vietnam“: from the edge of Tibet to the South-China Sea.
- “From Shangri-La to the Lanna Kingdom“: from the edge of Tibet to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand
- “From Yunnan to the Lanna Kingdom“: from Kunming via the UNESCO World Heritage Yuanyang Rice Terraces to northern Thailand
Posted on 26 Oct, 2016
I thought I was pretty familiar with Europe, and that I knew a thing or two about European culture and life. But when I say “Europe”, I mean the UK, France, Switzerland, Italy and so on – the countries that attract visitors from all over the world to spend their holidays there. When I set out on our June research trip, little did I realize that I was about to discover another understanding of the Continent.
One of the stops on our research trip was Slovenia. Before the trip I had only the haziest of ideas as to what Slovenia would be like. All I knew was that it had been communist until about twenty years ago, and so I imagined it to be a sombre place, its people dressed drably, its buildings colourless. Yet my experience of the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, turned these expectations completely on their head.
One sunny, 34C Tuesday morning, the sunlight shining through the leaves, we drove into the city. I couldn’t stop looking around me, comparing what I saw before me to the mental picture I had conjured up before our trip. This was no grey, drab country! I had to laugh at my own ignorance. As we approached the city centre, the roadside was plastered with adverts of all kinds of cultural events and activities; classical music, pop concerts, dance, theatre, I even saw a poster for Beijing opera, which gave me a moment of disorientation. After parking the car beside Republic Square, a popular spot for concerts and a gathering place for local people, we walked around the square. The scene that greeted our eyes was one of unselfconscious relaxation: people lay back on the lush green grass, reading, talking, drinking red wine or peacefully soaking up the sun. It looked like a still from a slow-motion film, so complete was the air of leisure, like a remake of La Dolce Vita.
When dinnertime arrived, we accepted the invitation of friends to a restaurant in the hills, and took in the view out over nighttime Ljubljana. During the meal, the sound of distant music floated up from below. Our friends told us that there was an open-air concert being held in Republic Square, and I wished that I could hurry back down into the city to enjoy the summer evening programme.
Without realizing it, the sounds of the concert gradually disappeared as our meal drew to its end. When I looked at the time it was already 11pm, and I started to worry that the streets would be deserted by the time we returned to the spot where we had left the car many hours earlier. After all, when one is in a strange place there are so many uncertainties; would it be safe? I never thought that the scene on the streets would completely surpass my expectations. Restaurants were just as full as they had been earlier in the evening, and – their insides full to bursting – happy drinkers simply spilled out onto the steps in front of each bar!
Centuries ago, the earth was thought to be flat, and people believed that if you walked to the end of the earth, you would simply fall off. And yet, as people gradually moved across the surface of the globe, eventually people discovered that our planet is a sphere. With every journey, as I gradually discover new places, I’m continually made to feel that the world is bigger than I could have imagined; a big and a beautiful place indeed.
Posted on 5 Oct, 2016
Another three months have passed…it is hard to believe! We’ve been busy as beavers writing about our adventures, hosting journeys and developing new itineraries in Europe and Asia. Curious what we’ve been up to? Here is our quarterly round-up of happenings and travel inspirations…
Over the summer, we published some fun reading on our Detours blog
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Jo has written a story about traveling from Luang Prabang in Lao to Lhasa in Tibet…a route that lies at the heart of our new, 2017 “Lands of Silk and Snow” journey (see below).
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
We take our work seriously, but we’re not serious all the time. Here is what we do when, we pray, our clients aren’t watching us.
In September, we announced two entirely new journeys for 2017.
From Lao to Tibet
First out of the gate will be “Lands of Silk and Snow: From Luang Prabang to Lhasa”, our entirely new journey to Tibet. Imagine driving from the lush rain forests of Lao to the stupendous mountains of Tibet, from a culture inspired by one form of Buddhism to that inspired by another. For this magical journey you need 16 days, but you can shorten it to 12 days if you skip the Lao portion.
On the other hand, if you want to make it into the journey of a lifetime, then add Roads on the Roof of the World at the end to drive all the way to the Mt. Everest Base Camp. Driving tours don’t get any better than this in Asia!
Austrian Hungarian Lands: Vienna, the Adriatic, the Alps and Prague
And then comes a milestone for us. After several private group journeys in Europe, here we are with our first scheduled European journey you can join in spring or autumn 2017.
If you would like to
spoil yourself with beautiful hotels,
eat fine meals (not always Michelin star, but the best these regions have to offer the way “mom used to cook it”),
drive on some of the world most beautiful roads and
immerse yourself in the landscapes and cultures of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and the Czech Republic, there is no better journey in the world.
Travel Inspirations for Christmas 2016 through Easter 2017
Our flagship Asian journey from the edge of Tibet to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is even better at Christmas and New Year.
It is beautiful as a family adventure, too, a journey that will be unforgettable for you and your children
December 22 2016
Drive on back roads through this country that was frozen in time but is now undergoing rapid change…
February 12 and November 4 2017
Our most beautiful Yunnan photography journey with Ron Yue
Only one single time each year, when Yunnan’s most photogenic regions are at their best at the same time:
– the Red Earth of Dong Chuan stands out in stark contrast to the surrounding hills and fields
– the Rapeseed Fields of Luoping shine in bright yellow
– the “Mirrors of God” Rice Terraces of Yuanyang sparkle and reflect the sky beautifully
To get you in the mood, Ron has written an article, “Earth and Gold“, about how he feels about this journey and why he loves it so much on our Detours blog.
March 3, 2017
A discovery of beautiful landscapes, natural splendor and local culture.
Laos is an ideal destination if you are after:
– a breathtaking getaway,
– being close to nature,
– enjoying a relaxing, peaceful journey and
– meeting friendly people everywhere you turn.
You’ll encounter the delectable Lao cuisine: a little bit French, a lot of Southeast Asian, and perfect washed down with a bottle of Beer Lao.
- April 1st and April 14 2017
A journey that combines
– all the fun elements of our kids-friendly journeys … and …
– photography with Ron Yue as the coach.
The idea? A chance you and your children to join in a shared and meaningful activity!
Photography has the power to
– inspire anyone, young or old, to see beauty where others see drabness;
– has the power to help simplify one’s life;
– the power to let us recognize that even in this world of insta-anything – Instagram, instant noodles, instant gratification – patience has value.
“Wow! ‘The best family holiday ever” was the travelers’ refrain of those who joined over Easter this year.
- April 1st and April 14 2017