For years Bali has been one of our dream destinations. From the gorgeous beaches and ancient temples to a unique culture and the kindest people you can find – we knew we were going to love it!
However, how frustrating is it to visit all of these wonderful sites with tons of other tourists? To wait in line for an hour to take a picture of one of these gorgeous ancient temples? To wake up at sunrise to photograph the rice fields and find there are already three drones buzzing above your head?
Well, we planned ahead and also put on our itinerary some less known places, out of which Munduk was one of our favorite hidden gems. Located 2-3 hours away from Bali’s airport you’ll find the magical Munduk. It is a quiet little village with many attractions around, including some of the best waterfalls in Bali. We woke up every morning in the middle of the rice fields and then took a stroll around the local village. We visited beautiful waterfalls and various plantations and to our delight, we were (almost) the only tourists in the area.
There was no heavy traffic or honks of cars, every day began with a glorious sunrise and ended with a breath-taking sunset and without groups of tourists or standing in line for hours to take a few pictures of the local scenery. During our stay in Munduk we really fell in love with Bali and learned more about the local culture, made some real connections with the locals and felt like we’ve stumbled upon one of Bali’s best hidden gems. Why is Bethlehem on this list if everyone has heard of it? Famous as the birthplace of Jesus, this Palestinian town is a popular destination among tourists and pilgrims.
I had heard about an ancient temple in ruins about hour from Hyderabad. I had also heard that it is of deep historic and religious significance for Jains. So, during a business trip last December, I stopped by to learn more about the Kulpakji temple in Kolipaka.
To my surprise, Kulpakji is a beautiful temple and was buzzing with activities. It turned out that I had arrived on the biggest annual celebration for Jains and devotees from all over southern India and arrived to the celebrations. Elaborate Jain meals were served in the dining hall. The food was absolutely delicious.
I got to talk with several visitors about what brought them to the temple. One person had been the caretaker all his life, like his father and grandfather before him. Another person was a devout follower from Hyderabad. He had been coming to the temple at least once a year for last 50 years and his kids have emboldened his devotion. A 95-year old lady was there from Chennai traveling on a overnight train to get there.
It was quite an amazing experience.
A lot has changed in Kulpakji since the days of the ruins when the caretaker’s grandfather brought followers on his bullock cart from the closest town with a train station. Now the temple has been renovated and rebuilt in the traditional style by hundreds of artisans brought to Kulpakji from Rajasthan, Gujarat and Agra.
My day trip to the temple turned out to be an eye opener. I learnt a ton about Jain history and mythology in one day.
Wild and remote, the Tibetan Plateau doesn’t see many foreign visitors. In the north of China’s Sichuan province, it is inhabited mostly by the Tibetan nomads, Hun Chinese and Hui Muslims. It is a fascinating place to witness cultures that are unique to the region.
The best place to experience the electric mix of cultures is the small sleepy town of Langmusi. The town is home to two large Tibetan monasteries, and there are as many Tibetan monks as lay people walking along its twisting narrow streets.
When we visited Langmusi, we spent the morning exploring the stunning Setri Gompa Buddhist Monastery. We then stopped for lunch in a Muslim noodle shop next to the town’s mosque. While a Muslim shop keeper took our order, a pair of novice Tibetan monks walked in, wrapped in dark burgundy robes and took the table by the wood-burning stove.
The table next to theirs was occupied by a Han Chinese family, making their way through a large helping of noodles. The two of us represented the exotic Caucasian contingent at this unexpected meeting of cultures.
Despite its small size, the town serves traditional Tibetan nomadic communities from the surrounding grasslands. The northern tip of Sichuan is the best place in the world to witness the disappearing nomadic pastoral culture of Tibet. Even here, the nomads tend to spend their winters in small towns. Enjoying some creature comforts like hot water and then return to the grassland during the warmer months.
Without thinking twice, we booked a bus to Mrauk-U after a recommendation from a French guy. “It’s like Bagan but without people”, he told us.
Mrauk-U receives very few tourists compared to its big brother, Bagan. This is the reason we decided to go off-the-beaten-path and sign on for a 20-hour bus journey (which ended up being 25). But all sacrifice gets its reward and Mrauk-U is our favorite reward of Myanmar.
Every sunrise and sunset took us to a different experience. In between temples and pagodas, locals work the land in their everyday life. A man picking fresh vegetables, another one directing his goats to the neighboring field and a woman collecting flowers beautifully arranged in a metal case she will carry on her head. From the tops of the hills, the fog conquers the whole town in the most mystic view we have ever seen.
A visit to the Chin villages brought us old traditions. The last generation of tattooed women. As an act of protection, the “prettiest” women of the tribe get their entire face tattooed, so that the king would not take them.
If still exists an authentic and untouched place in Myanmar, this is Mrauk-U.
Want More Off-The-Beaten-Path Destination Inspiration?
Did you miss OTBP: Part One? Check out my favorite female travelers off-the-beaten-path destinations.