I was asked last week to give a list of my favourite experiences in Asia and I was a little stumped to know where to start. There are so many interesting places and I wanted to get it right. I’ve been travelling on behalf of the business for ten years now and I’ve seen the stories behind these places, known about the struggle and hard work that went into making them the places they are today. This is a personal list reflected by my mood today: it would probably be completely different if I wrote it tomorrow!
I’ve decided to restrict myself to experience based places – where it’s more about what you are doing than the luxury of where you’re staying. In general, though I like a lovely hotel as much as the next person, for me it’s all about the experience.
I’ve also restricted myself to just four countries, and one place per country (but with two extra honourable mentions for good measure)…
Favourite Place – Sri Lanka
Winner: Tree Tops Jungle Lodge
I have to start with Sri Lanka as its the place I personally know the best, having lived there for 2 years between 2004 and 2006 and returned almost every year since. It’s a tough one, but the winner is Tree Tops Jungle Lodge. I love this part of Sri Lanka: it’s remote and wild and totally unlike any other region. It’s one of the few regions where elephants and humans cohabit with any degree of ease and Tree Tops has been designed to completely minimise the impact on the local environment. That also makes for an incredible experience: local trackers walk you through the jungle following the elephant trails, take you to water holes in the afternoon and early morning. When I stayed there back in 2004, it was all local mud houses and an elephant wandered into the camp that evening looking mildly confused – the place was subsequently closed down by the war and we’re so pleased that it has come again.
The Mudhouse (had to be done – with the Experience Travel Group connection) but my family and I absolutely love staying here.
Kelbourne – just such an amazing location. Breakfast on the edge of a mountain range, overlooking the plains below. Incredible. And the combination of a chef’s hat and a particularly pronounced Sri Lankan head wobble is a a very special one indeed…
Favourite Place – Indonesia
Winner: Yacht Cruise
I’m generally happy when on water, and Indonesia, as a many island nation, has a lot of it. The best way to see it for me is by boat – a yacht trip from Lombok to Flores and Komodo National Park is where it’s at. To put the “special” in special occasion, I’d look no further than Ikan Terbang or any such similar fully crewed yacht cruises. Sheer bliss.
Amanjiwo and Borobodur on Java. Borobodur is probably the most underrated of ancient sites in the world – to me its a magical place that evokes both the impermanence of human creation – and their occasional majesty. Overlooking Borobodur is Amanjiwo – surely one of the world’s most impressive hotels – especially in terms of its architectural sympathy with its surroundings.
Favourite Place – Thailand
Winner: The Tubkaak
The experience in Thailand is about the food, the people, the general calm, positive atmosphere for visitors and the feeling of “wow, this is a bloody nice place”. But it’s also about beaches – especially for someone of the generation that backpacked in the 80’s and 90′ and hasn’t stopped banging on since about how great it was “back then”.
In my head there is a perfect Thai beach resort which evokes that heady, laid back life, with gorgeous views and flat seas, amazing food and fantastic service. Oddly enough, too many Thai resorts now badly miss the mark. One that does encompass all of this in every single way is The Tubkaak. It also gets discreet luxury absolutely spot on – our standard now might be a tad higher than we feel they ought to be too…
An honourable mention this time for Asian Oasis – an organisation that does sterling work empowering local communities and allowing them to benefit from top quality experiential tourism. We work very closely with them as believe so strongly in their ethics – not simply because it is the right way to operate but also, but because it makes the experience so much better. They operate the wonderful Mekhala Cruise as well as Lanjia and Lisu Lodges – in my book the only way to properly experience the hill tribe culture in the north.
Favourite Place- Vietnam
Winner: Hanoi (for the Street Food Tour)
Last but by no means least we have Vietnam. I love the contrast of the commercially minded and direct Vietnamese with the rest of Indochina, and I have so much time for the country. I’m also extremely greedy and the food in Vietnam is simply amazing. It also feels healthy, which means I can indulge myself even more. We work so hard to ensure our guests experience Vietnamese food in the way it is done best – at street level. There is one experience which must be done early on in your holiday as it will set up the rest of the trip. It’s one of my favourite experiences in all of our portfolio – the Hanoi Street Food Tour. The tour is run by a couple of Hanoi-based food bloggers, and Experience Travel Group pioneered this tour in cooperation with them years ago. It is still the best way to experience and learn about Vietnamese street food.
An honourable mention to the Bassac Cruise. Back in 2008, Experience Travel Group was the only operator organising trips on the Bassac boat and despite the fact that the secret is now out – it’s still a great way to experience the beautiful Mekong Delta region.
What do you think? Pretty amazing, right?
This is just a tiny selection of the amazing destinations we have on offer at Experience Travel Group. I would be more than happy to talk to you about any of the above mentioned places, or in fact any other amazing corners of Asia that are just waiting to be discovered. Call today on 0207 924 7133 or email [email protected] with your thoughts; we love to talk about travel.