A! List Guide to Asia

The ultimate itinerary for luxury
Thursday , 21 July 2011
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Asia
From the breathtaking mountain ranges to the humbling traditions of 44 countries entrenched in mystery and folklore, Asia covers about 30 per cent of the world’s land mass. With bargain and luxe options like you’ve never seen before, start packing now if you want to get through even a fraction of the planet’s largest continent

Sri Lanka, Indian Ocean
Get there before the madding crowds do! A lot of Sri Lanka’s charm stems from it still being a relatively well-kept secret. But we’re afraid that now, the cat’s out of the bag. In 2010 the New York Times named Sri Lanka its top tourist destination and in 2011 the National Geographic cited Sri Lanka as one of its 25 Best Trips Of The Year.

If you head to the inimitable Indian Ocean island in 2011, you’ll make it before it turns into the ‘New World’s Bali.’ This tag comes with mixed blessings of course. While the economy of the once-war-torn country will benefit hugely from a tourism injection, it would be a shame if this came at the detriment of it’s natural resources. Of these, there are plenty: yellow palm-fringed beaches, ripping surf, peaceful tea plantations, architectural wonders and heartwarming animal sanctuaries.

One thing that won’t change, is that Sri Lanka will always be the type of place that visitors will be tempted to ditch hard and fast city life for. Us included!

Travel Note
Check into luxury resorts Amangalle and Amanwalla. Aman Resorts’ promise to deliver discreet and intimate experiences in some of the world’s most beautiful locations is not one they take lightly.

www.amanresorts.com

Ranthambore, India
Endemic to Asia, the tiger is the largest cat and one of the rarest species in the world and Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, is one of the most incredible places in India for a dash of tiger spotting. Sprawling over 500sqm, it is sprinkled with water bodies and dense jungle with the odd historical ruin thrown in for added drama.

Best of all for Big Cat enthusiasts, tigers here are known for hunting during the day, so don’t be alarmed if you encounter some theatrics while trailing through.

Ranthambore is also known for elevating the standard camping experience into something that is truly sumptuous. Think gourmet curries under the stars and plush sheets. Of course luxury lodgings come at a handsome price and you can expect to pay at least Dhs3,000 a night at the least. Still, with easy access to Jaipur and the Taj Mahal in Agra, this really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Travel Note
The best of all tented camps is the Aman I Khas in Ranthambore, whereas the Shatabdi Express provides an air-conditioned rail connection between all areas!

www.indianrail.gov.in/jan_shatabd, www.amanresorts.com

Siberia, North Asia
Covering almost 10 per cent of the earth’s landmass, Siberia extends from the Ural Mountains to the strait between the Pacific and Arctic Oceans. You can cover 9,000 kilometres of it, from Moscow to the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian railway whizzing past the deep blue of Lake Baikal and the Siberian steppes, if you please.

Make Irkutsk your first stop and visit the quaint village of Listvyanka on Lake Baikal. It is, impressively, the world’s deepest and most voluminous freshwater lake containing 20 per cent of the earth’s unfrozen surface water. At 30 million years old it is also the oldest. Ulan Ude, the capital of the Burryat region, is the point where the track divides, either heading south to Mongolia or east to Vladavostok. The monastery, Buddhist temples, markets, restaurants and people make it worthy of a stopover too.

When you smell the ocean and spot fishermen wading into the sea you’ll know you’ve reached Vladavostok. The train journey takes six days to complete but it’s entirely up to you how you break it up.

Travel Note
September is the most scenic time to travel with the air still warm during the day and the trees displaying autumnal colours.

www.russiantrains.com

Boracay, Philippines
Colourful, cheerful and charming, the islands of the Philippines – all 7,109 of them – are so worth going the extra mile for. Boracay, with its castor sugar sand, is one of the most popular atolls. Coasting in over a mountainous mass fringed with sapphire waters, even the villa-sized airport with its jovial atmosphere will get you into the island spirit.

There are heaps of dive schools and activity centres to help spark your love affair with the sea. Aside from an ocean thriving with untouched coral and tropical fish, there are also plenty of kiteboarding and windsurfing schools that come with the added bonus of being able to offer the right wind conditions!

For those who prefer to stay on terra firma, hire a mountain bike for the day to explore the island’s lush interior.

Travel Note
Mandala Spa & Villas with its Eden-like allure is the island’s premier spa resort, while Discovery Shores Hotel, a Small Luxury Hotel Of The World is a minimalist all-suite wonder blessed with beach and waterfall views.

www.slh.com, www.mandalaspa.com

Great Wall Of China, China
Chairman Mao once said, “The one who does not climb the Great Wall is not a real man.” So rise to the challenge people! Like a gigantic chimerical dragon, The Great Wall rambles across deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus alike. The longest man-made structure in the world, the 6,400 km long barricade, largely dating back to the 4th Century BC, runs from east to west in northern China and is allegedly visible from the moon!

Built to protect the dynasties from invasion by the Huns, Mongols, Turks and other nomadic tribes, in 1987 it was listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

Of course you can’t keep Hollywood away from any camera-worthy location. The last scene of the 1987 martial arts film Ninja Over The Great Wall and Shaolin Fist Of Fury were both shot at this grand sight.

Travel Note
The 12 individually designed villas at Commune by the Great Wall Kempinski are chic avante garde villas, almost as impressive as the wall itself. A night on the wall costs around Dhs3,000, but it’s all worth it when you realise you are sitting amidst history and heritage like that of the Wall.

www.kempinski.com/en/hotel

Lhasa, Tibet
One of the remotest, and, at 11,975 feet, highest regions in the Himalayas, it is no longer the sole domain of backpackers thanks to the new St Regis Lhasa Resort. Tibet is becoming so desirable that both the Shangri-La and InterContinental are set to jump on the bandwagon in 2011 too. So what is it about this mystical region that’s working travellers up into a flurry of enthusiasm?

The capital city of Tibet, Lhasa, which means ‘Land Of The Gods’ is not any regular city. Over 1,300 years old, it is a history-lovers haven with sites including 15th century monasteries, the 14-story Potala Palace and the 7th century AD Jokhang Temple (Tsuglagkhang), which houses the statues of Buddha brought by princesses Bhrikuti from Nepal and Wen Cheng from the Tang Dynasty in China as gifts for their future husband, King Songtsan Gampo!

For artisanal crafts, Dropenling Handicrafts Centre is a nonprofit shop selling silky yak hair scarves and embroidered door curtains to ward-off the cold and evil spirits!

Travel Note
Being so high up poses a risk of altitude sickness, especially if you fly in from a lower altitude and your body doesn’t have time to acclimatise. Consult your doctor prior to travelling.

www.starwoodhotels.com/stregis

Kyoto, Japan
Since medieval times Japan has had an ‘entertainment quarter’, but it was when the country cut off all ties with the outside world from1639 to 1854, that its culture really flourished and flowered.

With its timeless beauty, Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan is the best place to get to grips with these compelling customs and peak into the world of the geisha, which remains a mystery to both foreigners and natives even today.

The courtesans were trained in music, dance and poetry that up until then had only been known to the nobility. The ritual and expense meant that only the elite were able to patronise the Tayu (the top level courtesans). Now, several tour operators offer walking tours of the Gion Geisha district, but for a true window into their way of life, it can be arranged for a geisha to accompany you and the family to an exclusive kaieseki restaurant too!

Travel Note
While in Kyoto, be sure to visit the Tenryu-ji Temple and its scroll garden, as well as architect IM Pei’s Miho Museum and the 6th Century Moss Temple garden, a reflection of Buddha’s Western Paradise where you’ll hear priests chant the Heart Sutra.

www.kyotosightsandnights.com

Bangkok, Thailand
As you hit the city your senses will explode with a hullabaloo of sights, smells and tastes. With shopping and eating being two of the nation’s favourite sports, the Thai capital makes for the perfect week away with your pals. For a sneak peek, watch the recently released Hangover 2, which will sell you the city in a rather amusing light. For bargain buys, start at Chatuchak Weekend Market where you’ll find everything including a kitchen sink! For those who prefer nighttime shopping, there are markets at Patpong and Saphan Phut.
If you’re in the mood to splash out, It’s Happened To Be A Closet is a fantastic vintage boutique brimming with eclectic jewellery, shoes and bags (it even has its own nail spa and café) while Emporium is the place for both local and international labels.

Replenish at Balee Lao, with spicy Thai in a pretty garden or at Lan Na Thai at Face Bangkok for a truly memorable dining experience. Cocktails at The Long Table are the only way to end the day, so don’t miss out!

Travel Note
Anantara Bangkok Sathorn has introduced a ‘No Men Allowed’ weekend away with limousine transfers, champagne and head massages on arrival. We’ll see you there!

bangkok-sathorn.anantara.com

Moscow, Russia
One of the most photogenic cities in the world, Moscow steams with tourists who can’t get enough of its red bricks and stunning domes. The best time to visit is early May or late September to avoid the peak season but still benefit from 15 hours of sightseeing-conducive sunlight.

Check into the Ritz Carlton, Moscow which inhabits the fringe of the famous Red Square and start with a walk across the plaza, the site of countless coronations, conflicts and celebrations. Continue to St Basil’s Cathedral and then drop into GUM for a shopping fix; the turn-of-the-century shopping arcade heaves with glam boutiques for those with equally bulging wallets.

Allow for at least three hours to give the famed and powerful Kremlin, a 14th-century fort enclosing many of Russia’s eminent museums, churches, riches and palaces, justice. You’ll be salivating over the Fabergé eggs and the Orlov diamond – the world’s fourth largest gem of its kind.

Travel Note
In a city that charges up to Dhs150 for a cup of soup, it’s worth upgrading to the Ritz Carlton’s Club level to partake of the complimentary snacks and supper served between 6pm and 8pm!

www.ritzcarlton.com

The Andaman, Malaysia
Snuggled cosily between the Mat Chincang Mountains and the sparkling waters of the Andaman Sea, The Andaman offers guests scenic rooms with a view of either the glorious Malaysian rainforests or the white sand beaches and turquoise sea.

Spend your first night having dinner at the Barbeque Terrace. Tucked away between the beach and the pool, it offers a stunning sunset view for a casual yet romantic dinner. There are also various other restaurants situated on the grounds of the Andaman. The Japanese Restaurant, as its name would suggest, serves authentic cuisine. Its standard fare of sushi and sashimi is just as delectable as its varied a la carte menu.

Nature tours and reef walks are an integral part of visiting Langawi’s lush habitat. Go trekking in the mangrove forests or walk amongst the reefs learning about the age-old ecosystems that exist under the tranquil waters.

Travel Note
While staying at the Andaman, give back to the environment by joining the resort team in a reef cleansing session, removing dead bit and manmade litter that has been caught in the coral. It may seem like an unusual way to spend a morning, but you’ll be surprised at the contentment you’ll feel as you not only see the colourful wildlife that’s chilling in the reef, but helping them too!

www.theandaman.com

Alila Diwa, Goa
This handsome hotel’s infinity pool looks out over lush green paddy fields, but if sand is your thing, the beach is just a five-minute golf-buggy ride away. The Alila Diwa is also just a 30-minute drive from Goa airport, making it the perfect chilled-out long weekend.

Make sure to book your treatments in the newly extended 10-room spa before you arrive as the masterful massages are incredibly popular (locally-hired therapists are trained in warm stone, Thai and Swedish massages and reflexology).

The bedrooms are huge, with walk-in slate showers, serious bathtubs and pillow-strewn beds. Food at the Spice Studio is locally sourced and traditionally Goan. Think fish curries, red rice and seasonal vegetables. If you can tear yourself away from the resort, visit the nearby Palacio De Deao (www.apalciododeao), a traditional 18th century Portuguese house, restored by its current owner, who will cook you lunch based on historic recipes!

Travel Note
If you’d like to learn more about the ingredients in your meals, a tour of the Tropical Spice Plantation (www.tropicalspiceplantation.com) is a must-do too.

www.alilahotels.com

Anantara Mui Ne Resort & Spa, Vietnam
It may no longer be an off-the-beaten-track destination, but you can still find some areas that haven’t had thousands of back-packers traipsing through them. Luxury hotel group Anantara’s very first foray into Vietnam is one of these hidden jewels.

Nuzzled along the splendid south east coastal town of Mui Ne, you’ll find yourself in an untouched utopia bordered by unblemished beaches, undulating sand dunes and rippling mountains. Famed for its precious owls, be serenaded by the mournful hoots of these graceful birds as you stroll hand-in-hand along the star-lit Mui Ne beach, famed for it’s romantic vibe.

In true Anantara spirit, you’ll experience Vietnamese hospitality that embraces the culture and setting. Nab one of the pool villas, that comes with a private lounge, an open-air bathroom, a spectacular view of the lagoon or beachfront and, of course, your very own pool. Be one of the first to discover this delightful slice of Asia – before the word gets out.

Travel Note
As both the sunniest and breeziest destination in the country, Mui Ne is the kite boarding and wind surfing capital of Vietnam. For safe, skilled, fun instruction, try Jibes, Wind Chimes, C2Sky Kitecenter, Surfpoint and Storm Kiteboarding.

www.anantara.com

The Peninsula, Hong Kong
Arrive feeling like Grace Kelly courtesy of the hotel’s classic bottle green Rolls Royce Phantom (waving like a film star is a must!). Of course, you can opt to land on the hotel’s personal helipad – a feature of most Peninsula hotels. The Pen, as it’s familiarly called by those in-the-know, is not regularly referred to as ‘the best hotel in the world’ for nothing. Having opened its doors in 1926, it is also Hong Kong’s oldest surviving hotel and is an exceedingly gracious host.

Plush carpeted rooms, marble bathrooms, and a shoe shining service are all nods to its old-school grandeur, while plasma screens in every room keep it thoroughly up to date.

Overlooking the city’s most spectacular sights and lights, slap bang in front of the Convention Centre where the British handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, the modern Philippe Stark designed restaurant beguiles with glass, leather and chandeliers.

Travel Note
Visitors queue for hours to get a revered seat in the Peninsula lobby for tea – the quintessential Hong Kong experience.

www.pensinsula.com/hong_kong

Sentosa Resort & Spa, Singapore
Just a few moments away from the bustle of Singapore’s busy streets is a paradise found – a place perfect for business and pleasure, romance and family fun. The Sentosa Resort & Spa, located on Singapore’s premium entertainment island, overlooks the lush landscape of vegetation and tropical beaches.

After a tiring day of non-stop entertainment on the island, coming back to the Resort & Spa will feel like coming home, one of the most luxurious homes you’ll come home to. Soak yourself in the mud pools of Spa Botanica, voted one of the top 10 best spas in the world, or indulge in a treatment in one of their tranquil outdoor rooms.

Each of the 215 rooms and villas at The Sentosa has unique, designer qualities with an assurance of a deluxe and comfortable stay. For an exclusive night in complete privacy and ultimate luxury, choose one of four garden villas which offer you a private terrace, swimming pool and living room.

Travel Note
Dine at The Cliff, the Resort’s award winning seafood restaurant, settled atop a hill overlooking the clear waters of the South China Sea, for a romantic meal in an exotic location.

www.thesentosa.com

W Retreat &  Spa, Maldives
This is where starry-eyed sweethearts flock to for heartfelt proposals, heavenly honeymoons, whimsical wedding ceremonies, affirmations and anniversaries.

Fans of the W include Bollywood and Hollywood actors and producers, steel and oil magnates and fashion icons who just can’t get enough of its fresh modern approach. The hotel, with its over-water villas that curve off the main island in two parallel lines like a palm frond, sure knows how to throw a party too!

It’s hardly surprising then that they’re inundated with requests for wedding ceremonies and receptions given where you can choose to say ‘I Do’ – on the beach, an overwater platform or aboard their snazzy yacht, ‘Escape’!

They also offer a ‘Feel The Wuv’ turndown service that includes a bottle of bubbly and a flirty breakfast in bed the next morning. That’s how all marriages should begin, we say.

Then, spend your first day as man and wife parasailing in tandem over the Indian Ocean – the bride can even put her gown back on for some photos opportunities. If you’re embarking on your Maldivian adventure from Dubai, book with Emirates Holidays for a package that will ensure the holiday of a lifetime!

Travel Note
Go snorkeling with a marine biologist in order to identify all the fine-looking fish you will see!

www.starwoodhotels.com