Home Across Asia Seven Extraordinary Hotels in Asia with a Surprising Twist

Seven Extraordinary Hotels in Asia with a Surprising Twist

by Melissa Nicholas
Ariyasom Villa, Bangkok, Thailand
Na Aroon Restaurant at Ariyasom Villa, Bangkok, Thailand

Sometimes, you have to actually walk through the door (or wrought iron gates, or crenellated archway) of a hotel to realize just how sparkling a hidden gem it is. Even the most fervent exhortations of friends or glowing recommendations from travel guides will fail to do justice to the glories of these one-in-a-million hideaways. Whether it’s an oasis of calm in the heart of a hectic city, a unique boutique lodge on a well-worn tourist route or a haven of luxury blushing behind a modest exterior, these seven wonders of Asian accommodation will surprise and thrill you. But don’t just take our word for it – book a trip and see for yourself. 

Serene city living: Ariyasom Villa, Bangkok, Thailand

Built in 1941 by the grandparents of one of the current owners, Ariyasom Villa is everything you don’t expect to find in Bangkok. Located in the heart of the city off thrumming Sukhumvit Road, it’s the essence of elegant domestic bliss. With just 24 guest rooms, the atmosphere of a private residence is preserved, heightened by outside dining beside the pool, surrounded by the tropical courtyard garden. Continuing the traditional Thai theme, the restaurant serves only vegetarian and seafood dishes – and even the most committed carnivore can’t help but be rejuvenated by the bright, fresh flavours. To experience the contrast between this sanctuary of calm and Bangkok’s hustle and bustle, take a boat along the canal that runs past the back of the garden and view the neon-lit Sukhumvit skyscrapers from a restful distance.  

Ariyasom Villa, Bangkok, Thailand
Ariyasom Villa, tucked away amongst the skyscrapers of Bangkok

An uplifting experience: Gangtey Lodge, Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan

Gangtey Lodge lists its address as “just by the monastery” above the Phobjikha Valley, giving an early indication of the enlightening stay its guests can enjoy. Overlooking the outrageously beautiful vale below, it’s easy to understand why the founders chose to site a hotel in this pristine location. What’s less apparent is that they came here for an alternative uplifting experience than that sought by the monks – hot air ballooning. While building accommodations for the pilots, they got sidetracked into creating Gangtey Lodge. Their ballooning permit expired, but you can still find the giant canopy lurking in a garage. Immerse yourself in the spiritual or channel the adventurous spirit of the flying founders. Either way, it will be an unforgettable stay.  

View From Gangtey Lodge
Just by the monastery... Gangtey Lodge in Bhutan

Timeless elegance: Glenburn Penthouse, Calcutta, India

‘Frenetic’ doesn’t begin to describe Kolkata. West Bengal’s 300-year-old capital fuses the historic legacy of India with the remnants of a British colonial past into a buzzing architectural, artistic and cultural melange. The vibrance and creativity of the city are central to its charm, but it’s nonetheless refreshing to step beneath the cool white arches and across the monochrome tiles of the Glenburn Penthouse. Paneled rooms, carved balconies, and antique furniture speak of a sophisticated, muted luxury and assured elegance. A sundowner sipped on the terrace will spirit you back into old-world Calcutta, while you take in the spectacular views of the modern-day Kolkata landmarks. 

Glenburn Penthouse, Calcutta, India
Timeless elegance in the frenzy, Glenburn Penthouse, Calcutta

Traditional with a twist: Rachamankha Boutique Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Truly a hidden gem, you’d be forgiven for walking past Rachamankha Boutique Hotel on the street without giving it a second glance. Not least because its next-door neighbour is Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai’s best-known temple. But cross through the colonnaded courtyards within, and you’re transported into an aesthetic masterpiece of architectural serenity. Designed in the style of traditional northern Thai housing, using the same lime plaster and handmade bricks as the local temples, the hotel has a delightful simplicity that belies the luxury within. Hidden quadrangles and secret gardens are designed to enchant, and antiques from across Europe, Asia, and Africa abound, while the library is home to 2,000 books. Surrounded by the remains of the old city walls and moat, this is a fortress of solitude in the best possible way.  

Rachamanka Boutique Hotel
Rachamanka Boutique Hotel

Your own private island: Azerai, Can Tho, Vietnam 

From the bustling city of Can Tho, take a boat ride across the Hau River in the Mekong Delta to discover Azerai, set on the secluded Con Au Islet, a literal private island. The lush gardens and banyan trees lend a sense of privacy and opulence, and it’s easy to imagine yourself a movie star rejuvenating in their secret retreat. The contemporary design is balanced by traditional Vietnamese wooden furniture, creating a soothing, tranquil ambiance. A drink on the deck surrounded by floating lily pads precedes an informal, but ideal, meal at the all-day café or grill. The vibe is small plates and platters for sharing while lounging by the pool or in the gardens. Totally A-list, totally fabulous. 

Azerai in Vietnam
Cai Rang Floating Market close to the Azerai in Vietnam

Back to the beach: Koh Jum Villas, Krabi, Thailand

A retro Thai beach experience, at Koh Jum Villas you’ll find yourself time travelling back to those heady days when visitors first discovered the magic of this country’s white sands and turquoise waters. Sustainable luxury in individually designed villas awaits, set along the 700-metre-long beach or in the tropical gardens. This is the untouched Thailand that you hoped for, but couldn’t believe, still existed. The seclusion and sense of separation are a rarity, and you’ll feel more like a castaway than a tourist when you take to the beach. If you can tear yourself away from the soft sands, you can re-energize by going mountain biking or climbing, diving, island hopping via speedboat, or exploring the nearby Phi Phi National Marine Park. 

Koh Jum Villas, Krabi, Thailand
The beach at Koh Jum Villas, Krabi Province, Thailand

Sustainability, tranquillity, all guilt-free: The Barefoot Eco Hotel, Hanimaadhoo, Maldives

For anyone who’s experienced the Maldives before, The Barefoot Eco Hotel will come as something of a surprise. Rather than a clutch of luxury villas plonked on a paradise island will little regard for the local environment or community, the resort on Hanimaadhoo is embedded in the island’s culture, and built entirely on eco-tourism principles. Side projects include a fish market, sewage system, and waste management programme, and the immersive nature of the hotel means you’re welcome to tour these fascinating endeavours. But if you’d rather spend your time lazing on the private beach, browsing the boutique, dining on freshly caught seafood, or diving one of 30 divine sites, you can have endless fun with a clear conscience, knowing you’re integral to the success of this one-off social enterprise.    

The Barefoot Eco Hotel, Hanimaadhoo, Maldives
The Barefoot Eco Hotel, Hanimaadhoo, Maldives


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