90 percent of the time when I am traveling, I will opt for a private double room in a hostel or a low budget hotel. I am not a big fan of spending a lot of money on accommodation, as I usually only use it to sleep in. No point in wasting money on fancy hotels, if you ask me. That being said, I have to admit I have spent the night in quite a few unique places during my travels. Unique places like sleeping in a yurt or a Korean bathhouse for example. Places and experiences that I am happy to pay a little extra for as they give me memories that will last a lifetime.
Sleeping in a yurt in the Gobi Desert in China
Last year, during the October holiday, we traveled to Inner Mongolia. We had been wanting to visit this autonomous region of China for a long time and a month before the holiday we finally decided to get tickets and fly to Inner Mongolia’s capital Hohhot for 4 days.
From Hohhot we took a tour that took us to the grasslands and the Gobi Desert. To me, visiting the desert was the best part of the trip. We drove into the desert with a four wheel drive, leaving the big groups of tourists behind us. Ready for an unique experience.
When our small group arrived at the yurts where we were going to spend the night, a smile appeared on my face. After I had spent the previous night in a very modern ‘yurt,’ I was happy to see the yurt that was going to give me shelter for the upcoming night. A small, round tent with thick fabric ‘walls’, and nothing but sand on the floor was, hopefully, going to keep me dry during the night. When I stepped inside the yurt I saw how simple it really was; nothing to cover the sand and only a yoga-mat and some sleeping bags available to keep me warm during the night.
Miguel & I were sleeping in the yurt with only two other people, leaving us all enough space to be comfortable. During the night it got quite chilly, but that was okay as I had brought a hoody to keep me warm and just added another sleeping bag on the one I was already using. Before going to bed I had set my alarm so I could wake up and see the sunrise.
The next morning, still sleepy and a little cold, Miguel and I headed out to view the sun come up from behind the sand dunes. It was amazing to see the sun come up, feel the wind on my face, hear birds tweeting and enjoy the great view.
A grotto in the Malaysian Taman Negara Park
My first trip out of Europe was to Malaysia, back in 2005. Together with my parents and brother we did a backpacking trip through Malaysia. One of the places we visited was the Taman Negara. 10 years ago, the Taman Negara Park wasn’t as popular as it is these days and we had a great 3 day trekking through the jungle. After a day of trekking through the forest, with backpacks, a yoga-mat, and a sleeping bag on our backs we ended the day in a grotto where we would spend the night.
The guides prepared simple but tasty meals and after diner it was time to get in the sleeping bags and try and get some sleep. Something that wasn’t to easy with all the animal sounds I could hear around me.
Spending the night in a Korean bathhouse
If you would ask me, traveling is about experiencing new cultures and doing things the locals do. To a certain level and with respect to their culture and traditions of course. So, when I read about bath houses in Korea and how you can spend the night there, I knew that I was going to do that. Cause what’s more enjoyable than relaxing in hot tubs, saunas, and swimming for a bit after which you can just roll into your bed? Right? Well, turned out there weren’t real beds in the bathhouses and that we (of course, I had to convince Miguel to come with me, using my ‘once in a lifetime’ story) had to sleep on the floor.
Did I say sleep? I don’t think I got more than 2 hours of sleep that night as I was not only laying on a hard floor, but also surrounded by the lovely sound of snoring men. Maybe not quite the story to expect when you read about ‘the most unique places’, but for me it was definitely an unique experience!
Staying with the monks in the Gulgulsa Temple
Another one of my unique nights also took place in Korea. When I was preparing our trip to Korea, I did not only read about being able to spend the night in bathhouses, but I also read about having the possibility to stay in temples and experience the routines of life in a temple. With my fascination for temples and Buddhism I knew I had to do this.
Unfortunately we stayed in a very popular temple (a few weeks before a part of the Dutch version of ‘the Amazing Race’ had been filmed there) and while we were there, there was a TV crew there shooting for Korean TV. For me it really took away from what could have been a great experience as the crew was involved in all the activities and I often found myself being cautious and on the look out for it so I could avoid it.
Other than this, I loved the stay in the temple, the chanting and meditation, the rituals that I had to follow during the vegetarian meals and the work out I joined. If I had to go back to Korea, I would stay in a temple again, probably for a few (4 /5 ) days so I could fully experience it and make myself feel comfortable with the rituals and meditating.
A small village close to Luang Prabang, Laos
The summer vacation of 2011 was our second long trip together. We flew to Kunming and from there we took an overnight bus to Luang Prabang. That bus ride was also an unique experience, but it’s not the one I would like to tell you about. We loved the city of Luang Prabang and tried to stay as long as we could so we would be able to explore the area to its fullest. Due to the rainy season everything was lush green, at the time I had never seen such green trees before. Flowers were blooming and everything was just so gorgeous!
We decided to do a trekking of two days, including a stay in a mountain village. After biking and hiking through the rain for hours, we finally arrived at the village. A small town with wooden houses on a mountain top. We slept in a small house made for the few travelers that would visit the people.
In return for being allowed to stay with the people living here we bought some rice whiskey that we drank together with some of the locals. Sitting around a jar, passing a straw and trying to take a sip of the homemade whiskey; I forget completely about the tough hike I had just completed. I was enjoying the moment and connecting with the locals.
Future unique stays
These are some of my most memorable nights I have had while traveling. I can remember many more, but those are not the best (think of terrible tiny rooms or sleeper trains with beds too small for me). Maybe they are good for a write up about my worst nights while traveling?
I hope I will add more unique stays in the years to come and in the near future. Hopefully my next unique night will be in Japan; either in a temple at Mount Koya or in a traditional Ryokan.
Where was the most unique place you slept during your travels? Or in which unique place would you like to spend the night?