Well, here we are again, ready to let you in on all our top travel tips for 2016. We’ve compiled the very best destinations in Asia – places guaranteed to pique your interest, ensnare your senses and captivate your imagination this year. We recommend journeys that transcend regular vacations, taking you to far-flung terrains and less-trodden trails. Imagine days spent marveling at breathtaking landscapes and encountering exotic cultures and nights spent at the finest hotels, where world-class, bespoke service comes as standard. The 2016 list is based not only on our opinion of what’s hot but also the locations our clients are increasingly looking to as they consider their next luxury adventure.
So, delve into our dozen most desirable destinations and let us help you plan your unforgettable journey today. Let the dreaming begin – we defy you not to be inspired.
Sumba Island – Indonesia
Journey off Indonesia’s tourist trail to seek Sumba’s lost treasures – both figuratively and literally speaking. Legend has it that after the Second World War, the Japanese army left behind a stash of gold which has yet to be uncovered. But more important are the jungle trails, packed with exotic flora and fauna and white shores lapped by some of the best surfing waves in the world, yet to be uncovered by you. Discover it all from your luxury bungalow at the exclusive island hideaway of Nihiwatu Resort, set amid lush tropical forest, right on the coast. From here, explore ancient stone tombs, dating back to the Stone Age and experience village life, from colorful weaving to flavorsome cooking. Much of the local culture revolves around horse-breeding, so take the reins and ride through the rainforest or gallop along the beach.
Mustang – Nepal
Having only been open to visitors for a little more than 20 years, this secluded and formerly autonomous region of Nepal maintains strong ties to its past and traditions. Hike the winding mountain trails with views of the Himalayan peaks in the distance and, in the craggy terrain, discover ancient Mustang’s fascinating artifacts.Carved into the foothills are man-made cave systems where sacred shamanistic texts and murals have been found. Meanwhile, high on a hillside stands the Muktinath Temple, a site of pilgrimage for Hindus and Buddhists who come to bathe in the cleansing ice cold waters of its glacial fountain. Journey back in time as you enter the rectangular walled city of Lo Manthang, where the traditional festivals long since abandoned elsewhere are still observed. If making the trek on foot into this uncharted territory sounds a little arduous, fly from Kathmandu by helicopter and, upon touching down, take tea with a member of Mustang royalty in the white walled palace.
Phongsali – Laos
Step into a forgotten world where the concerns of western modern life fade away. In Laos’ far north, set amid forested peaks and rolling valleys, the province of Phongsali offers a complete escape from the rest of the world. Adventurous trekkers are rewarded with uninterrupted views of the stunning scenery and hikes along the winding mountain trails lead to rustic hilltribe villages where dwell a number of distinct ethnic groups. Meet the Hmong, Lan Tan, Akha Ikor and Por Sang peoples, to name only a few, and wonder at their colorful traditional dress and simple lifestyles. Learn more of their fascinating history with a visit to the Museum of Tribes in Phongsali town, and explore the provincial capital with its winding medieval streets and Chinese-influenced architecture. If you seek rewards for your hiking, 15 miles out of town, in a 400-year-old tea plantation, lies a whisky village.
Lake Baikal – Siberia
The jewel of Siberia, Baikal is surrounded by craggy, snow capped peaks, sloping down to taiga thicketed foothills. The deepest and purest lake in the world, it’s considered one of Siberia’s most beautiful and mystic destinations. Skirt its shore and take in bankside views from the windows of the Circum-Baikal railway before you plunge in. The gateway to the delights of the depths is pretty fishing village, Listvyanka, where you can get acclimatized to life on the lake, fishing the day away, sampling smoked omul or taking a Russian sauna in the surrounding hills. Take a ferry across the water to reach the secluded beaches and spectacular cliffs of Chivyrkuisky Bay or to the largest and most sacred of the lake’s islands, Olkhon – home to the Three Brothers’ rock of legend and Shamanka, whose caves are said to be home to a mysterious religious figure. Just 62 miles from Baikal’s shore, beyond the vast Buddhist complex of Ivolginsky Datsan, is historic Ulan Ude. Explore the city’s baroque Russian orthodox cathedrals, gaze upon the largest statue of Lenin in the world and take a pleasant stroll along the river.
Mount Everest Base Camp – Tibet
Get off the beaten path – quite literally. Rather, hit the road as you travel to Everest’s base camp by car from Tibet. On this lesser-known route, you can take in the stunning scenery from your window as you cruise along the China-Nepal Friendship Highway. Rocky plateaus and rolling valleys slope inexorably up to the Himalayan peaks and, at 29,000 feet, Everest towers over them all. This route allows for the chance to pause and enjoy the sweeping panoramas from the Rongbuk Monastery, one of the highest inhabited structures ever built by man. At 18,192 feet, standing at Everest Base Camp (or sending a postcard from it) is a sensation like no other and the treks and trails that lead off from this iconic destination, into the Rongphu Valley make for some of the finest photo opportunities you may ever enjoy.
Mie Prefecture – Japan
The Kii Peninsula extends into the Pacific and upwards to the peaks of the Suzuka mountains and on it, Mie Prefecture is home to lands historically dedicated to the sun goddess. Journey to this lush haven, surrounded by deep blue waters, dotted with bobbing pearl-diving boats and stay in the tranquil luxury of Amanemu, in Ise Shima national park. Themed around water, this resort is built on hot springs with legendary healing properties; utterly unwind in your suite’s private onsen, or hit the spa for traditional Japanese aqua-therapies. Dine on the fresh catches of the day as you overlook Ago Bay and explore the natural beauty surrounding you. Take a trek to sacred Ise shrine to honor the deities of clothing and the sun, and spark romance as you watch the sunrise at Meoto Iwa, between the rocks of man and woman.
Bukhara – Uzbekistan
This historic Uzbek city and UNESCO world heritage site has withstood the course of history, imbued over the millennia by the many civilizations that have risen and fallen within its walls. Enter the ruins of the once great Ark Fortress and explore the mosques and temples that now stand where once were royal living quarters. Explore the Po-i-Kalyan complex and climb the towering minaret – formerly a lighthouse and an execution tower – for matchless views across the city. Venture out to the Samanid mausoleums for a glimpse of the elegant final resting place of the fearsome Persians who once ruled this great city. A center of trade thanks to its position on the Silk Road, the bazaars remain busy today; rummage through the wares under the dome of jewelers and that of the hatters. Or simply catch your breath and reflect by the serene waters of the Lyabi Khauz Plaza’s square pool.
The southwestern island of Kyushu is a haven of natural and cultural Japanese treasures. The volcanic terrain bubbles with hot springs – not least at Beppu, where the Eight Hells seethe with lava – and yet the air is mild year-round. Come in cherry blossom season and find the ground all around Kumamoto castle romantically carpeted in pink. Wander the city streets of Fukuoka and Nagasaki and delve into their museums for an insight into Japan’s rich and sometimes heartbreaking history. Get out of town and retreat to white sand beaches for a spiritual experience at Aoshima island: it is said that if you visit the temple here, you’ll come out more attractive. Hike around the five peaks of Mount Aso, Japan’s most active volcano, where the terrain is lush and the scenery dramatic and photogenic, or take the cable car right to the rim and gaze into the fiery depths. And find peace in the green forests surrounding Wasurenosato Gajoen [link to new preferred hotel], where you can while away the days, dining on gourmet cuisine, playing golf or indulging at the spa.
China’s Silk Road
Travel from China’s very east to its utter west on the historic Silk Road trod by merchants for centuries and along the way you’ll discover much more than trade routes. From the glittering city of Shanghai with its skyscraping towers and pulsating nightlife, plunge back in time as you discover heritage treasures including the terracotta warriors and fossils of early man at the fortified city of Xian. Explore the natural wonders of Dunhuang, where the cave systems are labyrinthine and the forests golden. Here, upon finding yourself at the edge of the Gobi Desert, take the opportunity to go sandboarding or camel-back riding across the dunes. Get a taste of the urban and the rural at Urumqi, whose bazaars bustle and buzz with vendors plying their precious wares and yet, just outside, utter silence can be found beside the Heavenly Lake. Journey onwards to the westernmost city in China and discover ethnically and culturally diverse Kashgar, home to the worshippers at the mosque, the traders haggling at market and the nomadic community that lives in yurts in the surrounding plains.
Sapa & Lao Cai – Vietnam
When it comes to Vietnam, we say, head north. Take the new highway from Hanoi to Lao Cai and see urban life melt away, giving way to flat green plains and rice paddies, with mountains rising up in the distance. Up in the highlands of Sapa, you can find French architecture, cheese and pate, while the surrounding hills are home to numerous ethnic groups. Experience the blend of indigenous and colonial with a stay at the elegant, chalet style Victoria Sapa Resort. Here you can indulge in the finest French and Vietnamese cuisine while enjoying a traditional folk performance. The gorgeous scenery makes for excellent hikes to villages and mountain vantage points. Trek to Cat Cat to meet the Hmong embroiderers and pottery makers or pay a visit to market when the Black Hmong, Red Hmong, Black Dao, Red Zao, Day and Ha Nhi ethnic groups come together in their distinct colorful garb to trade, eat and share. Or simply revel in the stunning scenery with a hike to Heaven’s Gate to gaze down the bright green terraced valley.
Wahiba Sands – Oman
Truly the road less travelled, the sandy desert terrain in this far flung corner of Oman can only be navigated by 4×4. And, as your jeep negotiates the shifting sands that sweep up to 500 feet, the thrill of adventure is entirely worth it. Hop out of your vehicle and hit the slopes – as it were – yourself, carving up the dunes on a sand board. Get to know the people that call this unforgiving land home with a visit to the oasis of Al Hulwah to see the exhilarating camel races. Take your cues from the desert’s incumbents and camp under the stars, but do it in style at the exclusive Desert Nights Camp. Air conditioned and decorated with authentic Omani furnishings, your “tent” offers a luxury bedouin experience. Spend your nights sampling succulent barbecue as you’re serenaded by the sounds of local folk music played on the oud, beneath the twinkling canopy and and wake up for the stunning sunrise over the sea of rolling red sands.
Tangalle – Sri Lanka
The spotlight began shining on pretty little Tangalle thanks to the luxurious oceanfront charms of Amanwella, which helped spread word of the area’s remarkable natural beauty. Right on the south coast of Sri Lanka, lush jungle creeps right to the cliffs where the crashing surf sprays powerfully from the Kudawella Blow-hole. You can explore the nature trails leading to sleepy fishing villages, head into the fruit and vegetable market at Tangalle town or spend your days lazing by the pool and nights sampling fresh seafood at Amanwella’s sumptuous beach barbecue banquet. Not to be outdone, however, the newly opened Anantara Peace Haven may turn your head with its gourmet chef’s table wine pairing menus, while the sprawling Ani Villas estate is ideally situated within even easier reach of the colonial charms of historic Galle. Meanwhile, in addition to impressive fortresses, all these stunning properties also allow easy access to Yala National Park and sacred sites of history including Mulgirigala Monastery atop its lofty rock and Wewurukannala Buddhist Temple where you can meet and commune with the monks.