Wow, is it 2015 already? It only seems a short while ago that we were coming up with our 2014 Dream Destinations list! But yes, the new year is already upon us and so it’s time for us to once again share our pick of what we think are Asia’s hottest destinations for the coming 12 months.
The 2015 list epitomises the Remote Lands approach to luxury travel. Yes, luxury means 5* hotels, high levels of personal service and tailor-made itineraries. But it also means one-of-a-kind experiences in some of the world’s most far-flung and rarely visited locations; encounters with interesting local people; and specialist insider knowledge giving our clients a unique perspective on every location they visit, whether it’s a bustling tourist site like Angkor Wat, or the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea.
So here’s our 2015 list, hand-picked by our team of passionate Asia travel experts. Read, dream, and then contact us to begin planning your trip!
Recently voted China’s most livable city, ancient Chengdu is one of the country’s most diverse and fascinating destinations with various fascinating sites within easy reach. Animal lovers can hug a panda at the Giant Panda Breeding & Research Centre, whilst the famous Leshan giant Buddha and stunning Jiuzhaighou National Park are also just a short drive away. The city itself is home to thousands of students and intellectuals, and is also a centre for Sichuan opera and of course the fiery Sichuan cuisine! A growing range of luxury hotels, including the recently opened Six Senses Qing Cheng, Temple House and Anantara Mt Emei, and new direct flights from San Francisco, make Chengdu an increasingly popular luxury travel destination.
Until its rediscovery by archaelogists in the 1980s, the 10th-century kingdom of Guge was completely unknown, and even now its remoteness – near the Indian border in southwest Tibet – means few outsiders ever visit. It’s a simply breathtaking location, with epic mountain vistas, ancient scupltures, carvings and murals, caves, monasteries and stupas, and overlooked by the towering spiritual landmark of Mount Kailash, a sacred site not only for Buddhists, but also Hindus and Jains – so sacred in fact that it cannot be climbed, only circumnavigated. Accommodation in the area is understandably basic, but it’s well worth forgoing luxury comforts to explore a quite extraordinary part of Asia. Travellers short on time can fly back to Lhasa from Ali (but not the other way – the increase in altitude is too rapid).
Kyushu is one of Japan’s four main islands and, being located in the southwest of the country, enjoys a mild sub-tropical climate perfect for year-round travel. The island’s topography boasts mountains, ever-popular hot springs, and also Mount Aso, Japan’s most active volcano, and outdoor pursuits such as hiking and cycling are very popular here. Other attractions include the vibrant city of Fukuoaka; the pottery town of Arita; tragic Nagasaki; Yakushima Island, home to the world’s oldest oak trees (1000 years and counting!); and Kagoshima, with its potent shochu distilleries. As for hotels, the islands offers a mix of modern hotels and traditional ryokans to suit all tastes.
The Bhutanese city of Bumthang is arguably the landlocked Himalayan country’s most interesting destination, home as it is to most of its important sacred sites – including Jakar Dzong, the country’s largest monastery, and Wangdicholing Palace, former home of the Bhutanese royal family. Newly introduced flights from Paro have cut the travelling time down to a mere 45 minutes, rather than the previous 12-hour drive. Bumthang is also the ideal place to take part in a traditional Bhutanese chipdrel ceremony, or to renew your marriage vows. Quirkier attractions include Bhutan’s only cheese factory, run by Swiss expat Fritz Maurer, and his Red Panda Brewery, where he makes Bhutan’s only weissbier. After busy days soaking up Bhutanese culture and scenery, travellers can relax at the luxurious Amankora, one of four Aman properties in Bhutan.
Sapa and Mai Chau are already very familiar to travellers wishing to see the spectacular scenery of Northern Vietnam. But 8 hours out of Hanoi, close to the Chinese border, lies Ha Giang, which offers even more amazing mountain scenery without the crowds. Towering peaks, lush green rice terraces and quaint villages welcome the few visitors who make the trip, and the region is also home to the incredible Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, an area of significant geological importance.
Cambodia’s second city is a much quieter place than the bustling capital Phnom Penh or tourist hotspot Siem Reap. A charming riverside town, Battambang boasts some of Southeast Asia’s best-preserved French colonial buildings, many housing a rapidly growing number of art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and cafes, making it one of the region’s hottest new destinations. Nearby attractions include the temples of Wat Banan and Wat Sampeau (the latter also home to a sobering Khmer Rouge murder site), and even one of Cambodia’s only vineyards, where visitors are welcome to taste the local vintage. For accommodation, we like the colonial riverside property La Villa, which offers comfortable rooms, a pool, and lots of colonial charm.
The Himalayan state of Ladakh is Kashmir at its most breathtaking – a stark, desert land of huge mountains, Tibetan monasteries, deep valleys and stunning passes. Whether you’re into photography, road trips or serious trekking, you will be utterly blown away by Ladakh. Most travellers use the ancient city of Leh as a base for visiting such attractions as the ancient city if Shey, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Alchi, and the magnificent Thikse Monastery, as well as for taking day treks to Rumbak, Stokla and the Gandala Pass.
Along with its neighbours Rinca & Flores, Komodo forms part of Indonesia‘s Komodo Island National Park, created to protect its famous inhabitants, the fearsome Komodo dragons. It’s an area of beautiful island scenery and clear seas, popular with yacht cruisers, photographers, naturalists and scuba divers alike. The islands are best visited by boat and Remote Lands offers a wide range of private yachting cruises, with diving equipment available throughout – so you can encounter amazing marine life including manta rays, dolphins and rare turtles.
Meeting wild orangutans & proboscis monkeys. Climbing Kota Kinabalu. Jungle trekking. Muck diving. Lazing on pristine beaches. River cruising. Encountering remote tribes. Relaxing in luxury beach resorts & jungle lodges. Malaysian Borneo is one of Southeast Asia’s most diverse regions, with something for virtually every traveller, from laid back sun worshippers to adventurous Bear Grylls wannabes. And the accommodation is equally diverse, from jungle homestays to luxury resorts such as Shangri-La Rasia Ria and Gaya Island.
Of all the Central Asian destinations we launched in 2015, Turkmenistan is the most mysterious. A land of contrasts – between its lush green national parks and huge deserts; between its thriving modern cities and its nomadic horsemen; between its thrusting present and its ancient Silk Road past. Tourists are still rare – as is luxury accommodation – but those who do make it are rewarded by such awesome sights as the Door to Hell, the Yangikala Canyons, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kunya-Urgench.
Until 2006, conflict meant that Loikaw was off limits to travellers. But now visitors are welcome to this remote and beautiful part of Myanmar. Loikaw itself is home to 250,000 people, including the Kayan, Kayaw and Kayah tribes, who live in the hundreds of villages dotted around the Karen Hills. Trekking from village to village is a must-do activity, as well as checking out historic temples and local markets. Luxury accommodation doesn’t exist here, but adventurous travellers can get the full Loikaw experience by doing a village homestay!
The Philippines aren’t short of remarkable sights, but the rice terraces of Banaue in Northern Luzon are probably the pick of them all. Built over 2000 years ago by the Ifugao tribe, they still produce rice and vegetables to this day. Visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the terraces at Batad, Hungduan and Hapao, as well as visiting the Tappiyah Falls for a cooling swim, meeting the Ifugao tribespeople, trekking, and enjoying local dishes including adobo and pansit. Local accommodation is fairly basic, but it’s worth it to enjoy views like these!