Scouting Report 2007
SANGKHLA BURI, THAILAND
Bruce Haxton: Operations director of I-to-i, a British travel outfit that helps volunteers find international service projects (i-to-i.com)
If Bruce Haxton had a title at I-to-i, a British tour operator that hooks volunteers up with 500 international service projects, it would be operations director. But the company had a ritual burning of job titles--"an actual beach bonfire!"
Haxton is part of a team responsible for choosing locations to host new programs, and he takes about 10 trips a year for up to three weeks at a time. One of his favorite spots is a village in Thailand called Sangkhla Buri, right next to Myanmar and about 220 miles northwest of Bangkok. "It's sort of a Wild West border town," he says. "The approach is a steep, hairpin road that was only paved about 15 years ago. But it's also unbelievably relaxed and calm--almost like going to another planet."
It's also a cultural melting pot of sorts, with a mix of Thai, Myanmar, and Indian communities, plus a small population of Buddhist monks who are commonly spotted crossing Sangkhla Buri's old wooden bridge at sunrise. "The town, right on the banks of a lake, is flanked by two fantastic temples, one of which has a massive golden stupa," says Haxton. "When I was there, it was the home of one of the most senior and respected monks in the country, and he'd bless you if you asked him." Visitors can rent canoes and paddle around to see other nearby temples.
There are a handful of guesthouses; Haxton likes the P. Guest House, a 20-room inn with stone walls and log ceilings that's right by the water. "The Thai owner first came to Sangkhla Buri to build electricity lines, but he fell in love with a local woman and the town, and decided to stay," says Haxton. "The place is basic, but it's really clean and they serve fantastic food. I've taken my folks there--they're in their 60s--and they absolutely adored it."
How to get there: Two-hour bus ride from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, $3; three-hour bus ride from Kanchanaburi, about $5; P. Guest House, 011-66/34-59-50-61, pguesthouse.com, from $6.
Scouting Report 2007
JOMSOM, NEPALVanessa Berlowitz: A producer of the series Planet Earth on the Discovery Channel (discovery.com), now working on its sequel Vanessa Berlowitz, a wildlife film producer who worked on the BBC's series Planet Earth (which aired in the United States on the Discovery Channel), is constantly on the move. "My travel is focused around trying to find the correct animal doing the right thing at the right time," she explains. In the past year, she's been to South Georgia, a small island near Antarctica; Svalbard, in the Norwegian Arctic; and twice to Pakistan. When researching the migration of demoiselle cranes for Planet Earth, Berlowitz discovered that Jomsom, Nepal, was an ideal spot to watch the birds in flight. At an elevation of 9,000 feet, the Himalayan town has spectacular views of the Nilgiri and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges and is a popular departure point for treks. During the first two weeks of October, however, there's no need to venture far to get prime wildlife viewing: "From the center of town, you can see and hear large groups of demoiselle cranes flying overhead," says Berlowitz. "If you walk for about an hour and a half up the valley on a very easy trekking path, cross a bridge to the other side of the gorge, and wait for the thermal winds to pick up, you'll see golden eagles dive-bombing the cranes as they take off." The Hotel Om's Home guesthouse in Jomsom has clean, simply furnished rooms and good food. "There are great Nepalese curries with lots of organic vegetables," says Berlowitz, "and Tibetan-style dishes like yak-meat ravioli-type dumplings that are delicious." How to get there: Round-trip flights from Kathmandu to Jomsom (via Pokhara), $290; Hotel Om's Home, 011-977/69-44-00-42, rooms from $26 and meals from $6; NepalNature.com runs two-week naturalist-guided migration tours with lodging, all local transportation, and meals from $1,199.
Scouting Report 2007
JURA REGION, FRANCEMo Frechette: Founder of Zingerman's Mail Order, which sells artisanal food from all around the globe (zingermans.com) As the founder of the Zingerman's mail-order catalogue and website--entities within the Ann Arbor-based gourmet- food juggernaut--Mo Frechette is constantly on the lookout for artisanal food. Frechette combines visits to international trade shows with pilgrimages to farms in the surrounding countryside. "My trips usually involve long drives and a lot of getting lost," Frechette admits. One of his favorite revelations was on a cheese mission in the oft-overlooked Jura region in eastern France, about an hour's drive from Geneva. "It's sort of like Wisconsin crossed with Switzerland," Frechette says. "There are almost 200 different creameries making the main cheese of the region, Comté. And not many tourists." Frechette stayed in the town of Jougne ("in the middle of things, cheese-wise"), stopped by the cheese and wine shops in nearby villages like Les Hôpitaux-Vieux, and visited local cheese makers. The Fromagerie Marcel Petite at Fort de St.-Antoine particularly impressed him: "It's a giant underground fort built in the 1800s, now used to store some 60,000 wheels of Comté--there's almost nothing I've ever seen like it. Plus, the cheese is fantastic." How to get there: Hôtel La Couronne, 6 rue de l'Église, Jougne, 011-33/3-81-49-10-50, from $81; Fruitière des Hôpitaux-Vieux, 2 place de la Mairie, Les Hôpitaux-Vieux, 011-33/3-81-49-12-44; Fromagerie Marcel Petite, Fort de St.-Antoine, comte-petite.com, tours on Thursday $7.50, reserve with the tourism office at the Vallée des Deux Lacs, 011-33/3-81-69-31-21.
Scouting Report 2007
PUERTO ÁNGEL, MEXICOClaus Sendlinger: President and CEO of Berlin-based Design Hotels, a collective of 154 hotels worldwide (designhotels.com) As president and CEO of Design Hotels, Claus Sendlinger travels about every other week--in other words, half the year. When asked the last four places he had been, he had to take a minute to try and remember (he recalled, in no particular order, St. Petersburg, Budapest, Vienna, and Rome). One place that Sendlinger won't soon forget was on the Pacific Coast of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. "For Christmas, my wife and I went to Mexico for three weeks--the longest vacation I've taken since I left school!" says Sendlinger. After exploring the inland part of Oaxaca, they headed to the beach. "We did an area that's east of Puerto Escondido and west of Huatulco," he says. "It's right in between, where the mountains come down and reach the ocean. There are four little beaches, some with little hippie villages named after them: Mazunte, Zipolite, San Agustinillo, and La Boquilla." They stayed at Hotel Bahía de la Luna, just outside the town of Puerto Ángel. It has 11 bungalows right on the white-sand beach of La Boquilla. His friends Carlos Couturier Gaya and Moisés Micha, who own the Habita and Condesa DF hotels in Mexico City and the Básico in Playa del Carmen, had tipped him off about Bahía de la Luna. "They know Mexico so well, so I explained what I was looking for and they told us to rent a car in Puerto Escondido and drive." Sendlinger found it to be an incredibly relaxed (and relaxing) place--not just the hotel, but the entire coastal region--and he spent most of his time reading on the beach. "Early in the trip," he says, "I accidentally left my flip-flops at a bar, and I never even bothered to replace them." How to get there: Hotel Bahía de la Luna, 011-52/958-589-5020, bahiadelaluna.com, from $60.
Scouting Report 2007
WROCLAW, POLANDWalter Lowry: Founder of and buyer for TableArt, an L.A. store specializing in imported tabletop products (tartontheweb.com) Walter Lowry always loved window-shopping while on vacation, so about five years ago he gave up his legal career and cofounded TableArt, a Los Angeles store selling imported cutlery, linens, and objets d'art. Now Lowry hops around Asia and Europe for up to 10 weeks a year as its buyer. "I visit craftsmen in their studios to order goods from them directly," he says. "And I get to see neighborhoods that aren't in guidebooks." In February, Lowry visited southwestern Poland to meet with porcelain producers, and he became wild about the city of Wroclaw (pronounced vrot-swav), five hours by car from Warsaw. "It has the prettiest plaza in Poland and perhaps in all of central Europe," Lowry says. But the city's real draws--at least to Lowry--are the linens, clothing, and jewelry sold in the markets around Rynek Square and at nearby factory stores. "I saw jackets, with tailoring and styling that were comparable to those sold in the U.S. at Bergdorf or Barneys, going for only $100," says Lowry. And because tourism isn't a major industry in Wroclaw, "you get a sense of how Poland's creative types actually go about living their lives." How to get there: Sofitel Wroclaw, 67 Ul.sw.Mikolaja, 011-48/71-358-8300, sofitel-wroclaw.com, from $92; car rentals from $40 a day, autoeurope.com.