Asia is the world’s most exciting continent. Always changing, always moving forward, always developing, yet at the same time holding strongly onto its ancient traditions and, in many places, giving visitors the opportunity to experience a way of life that hasn’t changed for centuries.
Myanmar – So Hot Right Now
We want you to be as excited by Asia as we are, so we’ve put together our list of a Dozen Dream Destinations for 2013. Some of them are new or relatively unknown; some are undergoing a new lease of life; some are old favourites that we simply couldn’t leave out. But one thing they all have in common is vibrancy, compelling culture, and the opportunity to discover the unique Remote Lands experiences that make our clients’ holidays so special and memorable.
In 2012 we sent more clients to Myanmar than any other destination, and following the release of Aug San Suu Kyi and the recent visit of President Obama, more and more people are discovering the once little-known charms of this amazing country.
Myanmar’s former capital Yangon, with its beautiful colonial architecture and ageing taxis, can seem frozen in time; Bagan, with its thousands of golden pagodas, offers amazing vistas and, of course, that legendary hot air balloon flight; Inle Lake boasts wonderful floating villages and the famous leg rowers; and more remote destinations such as Mrauk U and Kengtung bring visitors face to face with colourful and welcoming ethnic hilltribes.
Factor in private jet/helicopter flights between destinations, and charming hotels such as Yangon’s historic Strand & Governor’s Residence, or the delightful Inle Princess, and it’s easy to see why Myanmar is becoming increasingly attractive to luxury travellers.
Seoul – Hey, Sexy Lady!
Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Psy’s Gangnam Style has boosted the profile of South Korea and its capital in 2012. The whole world is listening to a song sung primarily in Korean, and suddenly K-Pop is everywhere.
But there’s more to Seoul than catchy pop songs. Its public image may be one of thrusting modernity, and whilst that may be accurate, Seoul has a gentler, more traditional side – stroll around the old streets of Insadong and stop for a break in one of its many tea shops, visit the cities many ancient palaces and temples, sample street food at historic Bangsan market, and while away the evening at one of the city’s many jazz clubs, just one aspect of Seoul’s lively nightlife.
We can also take you on remote rural hikes in the surrounding countryside, where Korea’s fall foliage rivals New England’s and the cherry blossoms rival Japan’s; arrange private tours of some of the city’s best art museums and galleries outside of normal opening times; and lead you to hidden local restaurants that tourists rarely experience. And don’t forget the DMZ, where you can gaze over at neighbouring North Korea and explore the DPRK’s underground spy tunnel network.
Bhutan – Don’t Worry, Be Happy
The peaceful Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan measures its wealth on the basis of “Gross Domestic Happiness”, and is consistently ranked as one of the world’s happiest countries. Its relatively isolated location, set in the majestic Himalayas and sandwiched between China & India, and its strict tourist number limits, mean it is relatively untouched by the outside world, and it is determined to stay that way. Our clients love Bhutan, its stunning scenery and its cheerful welcoming people, and for many its lack of Western influences, combined with its laid back ambience and a widespread belief in the benefits of massage and meditation, make it a welcome retreat from the stresses of everyday life.
Taj, Uma by Como and Amankora have luxury lodges throughout Bhutan, so add in a private plane and you have the perfect combination of timeless traditions and the most luxurious travel experiences.
Sri Lanka – Peace at Last
For the first time in its history, Sri Lanka is enjoying a lengthy period free from foreign invasion, colonial influence or civil war, giving visitors the opportunity to explore this beautiful island, its amazing beaches and charming old towns with their stunning architecture in complete safety.
Sri Lanka offers incredible experiences on land and sea, with tea plantations and mountains, perfect for trekking, giving way to idyllic white sand beaches ideal for relaxation or diving/snorkeling. Wildlife safaris give nature lovers the chance to get up close to wild elephants and whales. Private helicopter flights give visitors wonderful views of the scenery and make getting around a breeze, and the island boasts several top-of-the-range hotels and resorts, all of which offer the island’s legendary spicy cuisine.
Phu Quoc Island – Gone Fishin’
Although not renowned for its beaches, Vietnam has nearly 3,500km of coastline and some of the best, and least visited, beaches in Southeast Asia, with Phu Quoc island being the jewel in its crown.
Phu Quoc sits in the Gulf of Thailand near the border with Cambodia and, until very recently, was home to a few small fishing communities. But a growing number of upscale resorts (including the colonial-style La Veranda and the upcoming Fusion Maia) and the opening of a new international airport in 2012 are making this slice of paradise more accessible to visitors without diluting its charm – much of the island still consists of dirt roads, pristine rainforests and remote beaches, Bai Sao being a particular stunner.
Best of all, Phu Quoc is only a short private jet/helicopter hop from Vietnam’s southern hub of Ho Chi Minh City, or can be visited after a lazy crawl through the scenic Mekong Delta.
Kashmir – My Shangri-La
When the UK Foreign Office eased its travel warning for Kashmir in November 2012, it symbolized the remote Indian state’s rehabilitation as a tourism destination following years of security concerns.
Kashmir is a legendary, mystical place where myths and mountains converge to form a stunning natural idyll. The stunning scenery of Ladakh, the historic trading town of Leh, the incredible monastery complex of Alchi, the beautiful city of Srinagar and the historic British colonial hill station of Gulmarg (also a skiing destination) are some of the lesser-known jewels of Indian tourism.
Private jet travel is de rigueur in such a remote land, and the region’s colonial history provides it with several luxury heritage properties, Gulmarg’s Highland Park being one of the finest. Visitors can also stay overnight on a luxurious houseboat in Srinagar.
Southern Cambodia – Best “Kep” Secret
Cambodia’s tourism scene is dominated the temples at Angkor Wat, with many visitors flying in & out of Siem Reap without visiting anywhere else – even the capital city of Phnom Penh doesn’t get as many tourist visitors as it deserves.
This means that huge swathes of this lovely country are simply waiting to be discovered, with the country’s southern coast being particularly neglected – most unfair, as it offers wild scenery, beautiful beaches and charming French colonial towns such as Kampot and Kep.
Easily reached by helicopter from Phnom Penh, the region started to hit the tourism map in 2012 thanks to the unique Four Rivers Ecolodge in Tatai, and the exclusive Song Saa resort on deserted Koh Rong island.
North Korea – Pyongyang Style
The ‘Hermit Kingdom’ is one of the world’s most secretive, closed-off countries, which is of course what makes it so fascinating to outsiders. And whilst some reports suggest that regulations, for tourists at least, have eased of late, the DPRK remains utterly isolated.
It may be the butt of many jokes (a Chinese news website recently fell for a spoof Onion article about leader Kim Jung Un being the world’s sexiest man but the DPRK is a genuinely amazing visitor destination, combining model cities, beautiful countryside and surprisingly welcoming people. Yes, it is restrictive, and you will have two government-assigned minders with you at all times, but that is part of what makes a visit to the country such a bizarre and unforgettable experience.
Obviously, luxury hotels are thin on the ground but you will be surprised by how good some of the accommodation is, and in 2013 the infamous “Pyramid Hotel” will finally open under the Kempinski brand. Our clients usually combine a North Korea holiday with a night or two at one of the many ultra-luxe properties in the Chinese capital of Beijing.
Indonesian Islands – Enter the Dragon
Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands – some, like Bali, are well established tourist destinations, but most remain largely undiscovered, and this makes Indonesia Asia’s best destination for island-hopping.
Combining six different islands – Bali, Java, Borneo, Komodo, Sumba and Sulawesi – allows you to experience a dizzying range of landscapes (from lush & tropical to sparse & volcanic), ethnicities and cultures, as well as trying out varieties of accommodation from luxury beach resorts to private schooners, and doing everything from sunbathing, swimming and diving to meeting orangutans and the famous dragons of Komodo, as well as the incredible temples of Borobudur.
Do it slowly by boat, or buzz from island to island by private jet if you are pressed for time.
Southern Laos – Chasing Waterfalls
Like Cambodia, Laos is a country whose tourism scene is overshadowed by one single destination, the charming town of Luang Prabang. Visitors rarely set foot much further south than the capital, Vientiane.
It’s their loss, for the south of Laos is wild, beautiful, welcoming and totally unaffected by mass tourism. You won’t find tubing backpackers or French bistros here, but you will find waterfalls, national parks, ethnic minority villages (for many of whom you will be the first foreigner they have ever met), jungle treks and, of course, the incredible 4,000 Islands region.
Pakse, Champasak, the Bolaven Plateau and the Si Phan Don area all have charming boutique hotels or lodges, and Pakse International Airport enables arrival/departure by helicopter or private jet.
China’s Three Parallel Rivers – River Deep, Mountain High
Remote Yunnan province in China’s southwest is arguably the country’s most stunning region, where the striking Meili snow mountains meet three of the country’s great rivers – the Yangtse, the Mekong and the Salween.
The region is home to over 25 different ethnic minorities who live and farm this wild area. 6,000m peaks tower over rice terraces, and Tibetan monasteries sit picturesquely in lush valleys. The area’s remoteness means few foreign tourists come here, but private jet travel makes it easy to get here and the Songtsam Lodges group provide luxurious, idyllically-situated accommodation, with Aman soon to open a property in Lijiang.
Mongolia – Steppe Right Up!
Mongolia may be Asia’s fastest-growing economy, but it remains very much off the mainstream tourism agenda due to its sheer size, remoteness and lack of infrastructure. As remote lands go, this is pretty much the ultimate!
The country’s climate means it’s a perfect destination for the summer months, when its lush valleys, snowcapped mountains and beautiful lakes are at their most picturesque, and when the weather is most comfortable for visitors. Its people are fascinating – few countries give you the chance to meet nomads, falconers and fishermen, all in the same day. And don’t let the lack of basic things like paved roads or hotels put you off – fly to the more remote areas and stay with a welcoming host family, or in your own private ger camp, with its own private hot showers and dining area, which will be erected especially for your stay.