To mark our 100th issue, we’ve scoured the Asia-Pacific region to compile this list of 100 compelling experiences awaiting travelers in 2018.
From hotly anticipated hotels and upcoming adventures and cruises, to buzz-worthy destinations and classic trips worth repeating, it’s a grand tour that we’re sure will inform travelers’ bucket lists for some time to come.
Our top 10 picks of the region’s most buzz-worthy destinations in 2018
Andaman Islands, India
The Andamans may be tricky to get to, but intrepid travelers who make it to this unplugged archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, some 1,400 kilometers off the east coast of mainland India, will have dive sites, thick jungle, and long white beaches almost entirely to themselves. Havelock is the most touristed of the islands, and it’s here you’ll find the brand-new Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, the Andamans’ first five-star resort, which features a private beach and 75 villas inspired by local Jarawa huts. With water all around, it’s no wonder this far-flung locale is among the destinations domestic airline SpiceJet is considering for its soon-to-launch seaplane service. It’s also the ideal setting for a boat rally: the inaugural Sail the Andamans yacht carnival kicks off on February 20, beginning and ending in the islands’ capital, Port Blair.
A country of dizzying mountain ranges, vast green valleys, and gilded stupas, this Himalayan kingdom survived in splendid isolation for more than 1,000 years. Foreign visitors were first welcomed in 1974, lured by the prospect of climbing to the Paro Taktsang (a.k.a. Tiger’s Nest) monastery and witnessing the world’s last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. But limited flights and a US$250 daily tax have kept tourism low-impact and high-value, as witnessed at the luxe lodge circuits operated by Aman and COMO Hotels and Resorts, which has also launched the country’s first helicopter adventure. This year, look out for the opening of Six Senses Bhutan, a collection of five intimate lodges scattered among the mountain valleys of western and central Bhutan. The first three (Thimpu, Punakha, and Paro) will set the tone in September, with Bumthang and Gangtey following toward the end of the year.
With fewer crowds than most of its Pacific neighbors, the Cook Islands is a heady patchwork of hallucinatory white beaches and impossibly clear water—in fact, more than 99 percent of the country’s exclusive economic zone is ocean. Today, the 15-isle archipelago is setting global goals when it comes to conserving its biggest asset, as witnessed by the recent launch of Marae Moana, a vast marine managed area (the name translates as “Sacred Ocean”) covering almost two million square kilometers, with a chunk that is completely off-limits to fishing and seabed mining. So grab your snorkel and prepare to gaze, unobstructed, at more than 130 species of coral, 600 types of fish, numerous species of threatened turtles, endangered reef sharks, whales, and dolphins.
Mornington Peninsula, Australia
The small towns that dot the Mornington Peninsula offer plenty of country swagger. But given their proximity to Melbourne, they’re also attracting seriously savvy hospitality operators. Around 100 kilometers south of the Victorian capital, the region is dotted with olive growers, cheesemongers, and vineyards like Pt. Leo Estate (ptleoestate.com.au). Stunning cold-climate wines can be enjoyed at the estate’s cellar door or in the new restaurant manned by Phil Wood (an alumnus of Sydney’s Rockpool) before a stroll through the just-opened sculpture park, home to more than 50 large-scale contemporary local and international works. Check in to the nearby Jackalope—the design-driven vineyard hotel debuted last year to instant acclaim—before blissing out at Peninsula Hot Springs; this year, the geothermal spa will add seven new pools to its Bath House, with a wellness center also on the agenda.
Niigata Prefecture, Japan
It may be known for its ski resorts, rice fields, and onsen, but Niigata’s reason to shine in 2018 is art. On the northwest coast of Honshu, the unlikely host of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial (Jul. 29–Sept. 17) echoes the country’s love for hosting world-leading cultural events in unexpected locations—think Yokohama and the Seto Inland Sea. This showcase is particularly noteworthy, however, as it is held every three years as a way to reinvigorate the rural Echigo-Tsumari region in the prefecture’s bucolic but impoverished south. Exhibitions are held in abandoned schools and homes, with hundreds more sculptures by Japanese and international artists installed amid paddies, on street corners, and in forests. All told, the triennial spans more than 750 square kilometers and 200 villages, earning it the distinction as the world’s largest such event.
Mark your calendar: the World Nomad Games is returning to Kyrgyzstan’s Lake Issyk-Kul this September. The riotous biennial celebration of nomadic culture sees peoples from across Central Asia—Tajiks, Tatars, Uzbeks, Uyghurs—descend on this former Soviet republic to participate in more than 35 sporting events that range from belt wrestling to a version of polo involving horses and a goat’s carcass. For those keen to see more of the surrounding countryside, London-based tour operator Wild Frontiers has created a 13-day itinerary that starts in Bishkek on August 24 and takes in the historic caravanserai of Tash Rabat, the alpine lake of Son Kul, and Djety-Oguz Gorge before arriving at Issyk-Kul in time for the Games’ opening ceremony. Culture of a different kind is being revived in Kyrgyzstan’s oldest and second-largest city, where locals have rallied to launch Destination Osh. New walking tours highlight Osh’s 3,000 years of history as an important stop on the Silk Road, with cooking classes, culinary tours, and home visits providing a timely glimpse into the city’s traditions.
While most travelers to Cambodia head to the jaw-dropping temples of Angkor—and who can blame them?—other parts of the country are beginning to attract their own share of visitors. We’re bullish about the Cardamom Mountains, but in 2018 all eyes will be on Cambodia’s nearby Gulf of Thailand coastline, where two new luxe island resorts are set to join the pioneering eco-retreat Song Saa and the months-old, 67-villa Royal Sands Koh Rong, both in the Koh Rong Archipelago. This year’s much-anticipated newcomers lie closer to Sihanoukville: Six Senses Krabey Island, with 40 pool villas crafted from natural timber and glass; and Alila Villas Koh Russey, whose Khmer-inspired quarters are expected to be ready by the end of the year. Could this be the beginning of a new Cambodian Riviera?
Pyeongchang, South Korea
The South Korean county of Pyeongchang has stolen news-paper headlines for its hosting of one of the world’s biggest sporting events: the Olympic Winter Games and Paralympics in February. The good news for powder hounds is that the exceptionally well-groomed ski runs and jump center in Alpensia are now just an hour’s commute from the Korean capital, thanks to a new high-speed rail line that connects Seoul and Incheon International Airport with the county. But Pyeongchang’s mountains hold an allure that extends beyond their snowfields. The region is home to Odaesan National Park, South Korea’s largest natural forest, dotted with important religious sites including Woljeongsa Buddhist temple and seventh-century Sangwonsa, home to the oldest bronze bell in the nation.
Bhutan’s near neighbour is also on our to-do list this year, just as soon as the new Pakyong Airport begins operations in Gangtok. A former Buddhist kingdom tucked high in the eastern Himalayas, the Indian state of Sikkim has attractions to spare, from grand old monasteries and authentic cultural encounters to spellbinding views of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain. But getting here has always been an effort: the closest airport for now is a nail-biting, four-plus-hour drive away in West Bengal. The opening of Pakyong (a long-delayed project slated to begin service in the next few months) outside the cosmopolitan Sikkimese capital will improve access considerably, with direct flights to New Delhi and Kolkata.
Aotea/Great Barrier Island
A half-hour scenic flight from Auckland over the Hauraki Gulf brings the adventurous to New Zealand’s fourth largest landmass, Aotea or Great Barrier Island. Its roughly 900 permanent residents live a proudly independent, off-the-grid existence: there are no banks and ATMs, no supermarkets, and no mains electricity, with locals reliant on solar and wind energy. But that kind of isolation has its benefits. Last August, the entire island was declared the world’s third Dark Sky Sanctuary, and Resident Dark Sky Ambassadors now ply visitors with high-quality telescopes, binoculars, blankets, and bean bags for unforgettable stargazing sessions. By day, you can explore the 12,000-hectare Aotea Conservation Park, whose native flora and fauna—kauri trees, pateke ducks, and chevron skink lizards—flourish in an environment free from invasive species. Feeling ambitious? Opt for a three-day trek along the 25-kilometer Aotea Track, which was reopened in 2016.
ART AND CULTURE
Four to Explore
When it comes to art and design, all eyes are on Greater China this year thanks to these eye-catching initiatives.
A collaboration with London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, the first major museum in China devoted to design debuted in December inside Shenzhen’s Sea World Culture and Arts Center.
Opening in late 2018, art collector Qiao Zhibing’s visionary art center–cum–recreational facility is built around five decommissioned oil tanks on the banks of the Huangpu River.
West Bund Art Museum
This David Chipperfield–designed complex in Shanghai’s Xuhui Waterfront area is slated for completion by the end of the year, with an outpost of Paris’s Centre Pompidou expected to move in shortly after.
Tai Kwun Center for Heritage & Arts
Come summer, the restored Central Police Station compound in Hong Kong’s Central district will get a new lease on life as a cultural hub featuring heritage tours, an art center, and a range of performances and exhibitions.
Festivals & Fairs
This inaugural event will be staged outdoors across several scenic sites around Krabi
(Nov. 2–Feb. 28, 2019).
Indonesia’s top contemporary art fair marks its 10th anniversary in 2018 (Aug. 2–5).
The world’s largest short-film festival, held in Sydney’s Parramatta Park (Feb. 17).
OH! Emerald Hill
In Singapore, the eighth edition of OH! Open House’s annual art walk will explore the colonial heritage of the Emerald Hill neighborhood through secret tours, art, and in-home performances (every Saturday and Sunday in March).
21st Biennale of Sydney
The largest contemporary visual arts fest in Australia returns this year with works by 70 international artists (Mar. 16–June 11).
Harbour Arts Sculpture Park
In the lead-up to this year’s editions of Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Central, Hong Kong’s first international sculpture park will see world-class art displayed along the Central and Western District Promenade from February 22 to April 11.
Glampers, here’s where to book your next stay in a luxury tent.
Wild Coast Tented Lodge
Twenty-eight canvas “cocoons” await at this newcomer on the edge of Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park, where elephants, sloth bears, and leopards complete the safari experience.
A Bill Bensley–designed retreat above the Wos River in the central foothills of Bali, with 22 tented suites enveloped by lush rain forest and equipped with saltwater plunge pools. Opening this spring.
Shinta Mani Wild
Another Bill Bensley creation, this time in the wilds of Cambodia’s Southern Cardamom National Park. When it opens this summer, the riverside camp will evoke what it might have been like to “be on a luxury safari in the jungles of Cambodia with Jacky O”.
Rosewood Luang Prabang
Six 75-square-meter hilltop tents will be among the two dozen rooms, suites, and villas on offer at this soon-to-open Rosewood property. Design-wise, expect a blend of traditional Lao and French-colonial styles.
Four more tented resorts that we’d love to revisit:
Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Moyo Island, Indonesia
Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Australia
The grande dame of Singapore hotels reopens later this year with an injection of 21st-century style. When the Sarkies brothers opened a hotel at 1 Beach Road in 1887, few could imagine the 10-room lodging would still be around 131 years later. But Raffles Singapore fast became an institution, frequented by celebrities and socialites, royalty and politicians alike. Having undergone various expansions and renovations over the decades, the landmark heritage building began an ambitious restoration project last February that ramped up with its closure in December. When the hotel reopens later this year, its 115 suites will sport new amenities and technology as well as updated interiors by designer Alexandra Champalimaud. The remodeled Raffles Arcade will house a spa and a gallery documenting the property’s history, while existing restaurants are being refreshed to sit beside a handful of new dining concepts. Fans of the Singapore Sling needn’t fear—the popular Long Bar will make a return.
3 MORE REOPENINGS
The Datai Langkawi
Ten months after embarking on the biggest overhaul of its 25-year history, this beloved Malaysian resort is slated to reopen in July with enhanced rooms and villas, a nature center, and beachside fitness facilities.
The Oberoi, New Delhi
A just-completed multimillion-dollar transformation led by designer Adam D. Tihany has given one of Delhi’s top hotels a contemporary new look, with fewer but larger rooms and a dazzling rooftop bar.
Closed since 2013, this classic Balinese property (it first opened in 1973 as the Hyatt Bali) will finally reveal the latest version of itself in the third quarter of 2018.
This year’s lineup of heritage hotels is breathing new life into old buildings.
Six Senses Duxton
Restored under the guidance of London-based hotelier and designer Anouska Hempel, this row of former trading houses in Singapore’s Tanjong Pagar area will debut as a 49-room hotel in April.
Aman’s latest retreat is an assemblage of Ming- and Qing-dynasty dwellings that were rescued from demolition in Jiangxi province and reassembled brick-by-brick inside a forest of camphor trees outside downtown Shanghai.
Mandarin Oriental Qianmen
2018 looks set to be the year that Mandarin Oriental finally unveils this much-awaited property in Beijing’s Qianmen area, its rooms and dining venues dispersed across a series of traditional hutong courtyard houses.
Heritage Kempinski Hotel Yangon
The Kempinski group’s second foray into Myanmar will open soon in the imposing former Police Commissioner’s Office on Strand Road, with 229 guest rooms and suites—pictured below—spread throughout the colonnaded colonial landmark.
Walks on the Wild Side
From the Himalayas to coastal Tasmania, here are four of this year’s most enticing ways to explore the region on foot.
Hong Kong–based Whistling Arrow is planning an expedition through the Tibetan borderlands of China’s Sichuan province from September 15–30. The aim? To forge a new route to the sacred mountains of Yading, which likely inspired James Hilton’s fictional paradise of Shangri-La. For serious trekkers only.
Fully Aboriginal-owned and -operated, the four-day Wukalina Walk in northeast Tasmania showcases the rugged homeland of the Palawa people. Trekkers stay overnight in Palawa-inspired domed huts and the renovated lighthouse keeper’s cottage at the Bay of Fires.
Walk Japan is introducing a leisurely trip along the Tokaido Road, the ancient highway between Tokyo and Kyoto that has become a touchstone of Japanese history and culture. The eight-day tour takes in urban areas and the rural countryside of the Pacific coast.
In the Footsteps of Heinrich Harrer
During World War II, Austrian mountaineers Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter escaped imprisonment in British India by embarking on an arduous journey to Lhasa. This June, Wilderness Travel will retrace their final crossing over the 5,800-meter-high Guring La pass, preceded by a trek to Tibet’s second-largest salt lake.
Smooth as Silk
There’s now a faster and easier way to get around the ancient Silk Road. Last July, the final link in a high-speed railway line running through the vast expanses of China’s northwest region was officially opened. This means a drastic reduction in travel times for overland trips from Xi’an into Gansu province and beyond, and better accessibility to the UNESCO-listed Mogao Caves and the Great Wall’s recently restored Jiayuguan fort. WildChina is launching its first collection of train journeys over the coming months, starting in February with a tour along the Silk Road as far as Kashgar.
A New Spin
Hop on a bike to see Asia from a different perspective.
Butterfield & Robinson has rolled out an eight-day e-biking tour around Honshu’s Ishikawa prefecture, taking in the rugged Noto Peninsula, Kanazawa, and several hot spring towns. A fixed departure is set for October 17–24, though it can be booked as a custom trip.
Andaman Mangrove Explorer is a brand-new overnight SpiceRoads cycling tour that winds through the farmlands of Phuket and Koh Yao Noi before crossing Phang Nga Bay to tackle the mainland’s back roads. Expect to visit a captivating mangrove forest with an elevated nature trail.
Those in the know have long viewed Taiwan as an ideal cycling destination, but the local tourism board is intent on getting the word out with the new website Taiwan on 2 Wheels. It’s a valuable resource for planning quick jaunts from Taipei or even a round-island odyssey.
Three off-the-beaten-track experiences worthy of the pages of National Geographic.
Hoh Xil, Qinghai, China
WildChina will soon offer a guided road trip to the remote Hoh Xil plateau in Qinghai, a new UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to 230 rare endemic animal species such as the endangered Tibetan antelope.
A new 15-day cultural trip by Exodus Travels provides a kaleidoscopic journey across three of India’s northeastern states, taking in Assam’s living root bridges, one-horned rhinos in Kaziranga National Park, and remote tribal villages in Nagaland.
East Arnhem Land, Australia
For the ultimate bush experience, join Intrepid Travel on a seven-day journey into East Arnhem Land at the Top End of Australia’s Northern Territory. Highlights include cultural activities with the Aboriginal Yolngu and Yirrkala communities.
Launching in March, Pandaw’s seven-night Irrawaddy delta cruise sails through an alluring tableau of palm-fringed rice paddies, wetlands, temples, and charming towns.
SeaTrek Sailing Adventures
This September, conservationist Gert de Jong will lead Seabirds, Cetaceans, and Spices, a 12-day expedition cruise that spotlights the wildlife of eastern Indonesia.
Minor Hotels has introduced a series of new vessels on the Mekong, not least a 13-cabin barge that plies the river between northern Thailand’s Chiang Kong and Luang Prabang in Laos.
From March, Manila-based voyagers can embark on SuperStar Virgo for five-night roundtrip itineraries to Naha and Ishigaki in Japan’s Okinawa prefecture. Better yet, no visas are required for Philippine citizens.
Trans-Siberian Railway specialists MIR Corp have unveiled a unique 15-day itinerary along the seldom-traveled Baikal-Amur line. departing June 29, the train journey will take passengers from Vladivostok to Lake Baikal before turning southward to reach Ulaan BaAtar in time for Naadam, Mongolia’s festival of the “three manly sports.”
In Good Hands
This year, big-name experts are taking up residency at these three island hideaways.
Escapes to Gili Lankanfushi are set to be even more invigorating this year, thanks to four international wellness practitioners who are visiting the Maldivian resort on short-term residencies. Author and entrepreneur Jasmine Hemsley will lead immersive sound bath sessions from March 12–19, and April 10–18 sees breath coach Rebecca Dennis teaching guests her transformational breathing technique to unblock emotions and discharge tension. Meditation guide and public speaker Jody Shield will be on hand from August 22–29, while hypnotherapist Chloe Brotheridge is running workshops on the island from November 10–17.
Also in the Maldives, Huvafen Fushi’s relaunched underwater spa has enlisted A-list skincare expert Teresa Tarmey as a resident beauty therapist, making it possible for guests to experience her signature facial eight meters below the waves.
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan
Some of the world’s most in-demand yoga masters are holding private and group classes throughout 2018 at the property’s bamboo-built Dharma Shanti Bale, with styles ranging from vinyasa flow to Iyengar yoga.
Chiva Som, Thailand
This Hua Hin wellness resort will unveil a fresh new look come November, with a revamped fitness area, dining venues, and pavilion rooms decked out in contemporary Thai style with local teak, silk, and bamboo.
1 Hotel Haitang Bay, China
In late 2018, 1 Hotels will make its Chinese debut on Sanya’s Haitang Bay. One
major highlight? A spa and wellness area spanning more than 2,100 square meters, replete with seven treatment rooms, two spa suites, a women’s bio sauna and herbal steam room, and a sweat lodge and salt steam room for men.
Kempinski Resort & Spa Phuket, Thailand
Designed by none other than Bill Bensley, Kempinski Phuket is slated to open in the coming months with a spa that connects guests to nature, encompassing three treatment rooms and three luxury spa suites, outdoor cabanas, a yoga sala, along with a foot massage zone.
Karma Dharamshala, India
The Karma Group has recently acquired a 25-room hotel in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama. Plans are afoot to refurbish the property and add a Karma Spa this year.
A new crop of spa treatments and retreats beckon at upscale properties across Asia. Here are three worth trying out.
Available from February 16 at a slew of Mandarin Oriental spas around the world, the Year of the Earth Dog Spa Experience is an 80-minute full-body treatment involving hot stone therapy and a soothing abdominal massage. Afterward, spa-goers will receive a red packet with an extra gift for the year ahead.
Fusion Resort Cam Ranh
Formerly known as Fusion Resort Nha Trang, this beachside Vietnamese spa haven has relaunched its wellness options with a firm family focus. Offerings on the new spa menu include yoga for children, daily meditation sessions, and a lotus body polish for mothers-to-be.
Throughout 2018, a new range of four-night wellness retreats will be offered at Soneva Kiri in Thailand and Soneva Fushi in the Maldives. Each one encompasses up to 10 activities along with personal consultations by in-house experts. Guests can choose one of three wellness journeys based around yogic detox, yogic sleep, and anti-aging yoga.
New Kids on the Block
Perfect for that next family vacation, this quartet of attractions is bound to make an impression on travelers of all ages.
Mt. Fuji World Heritage Center
Recently unveiled in Fujinomiya city, within striking distance of Japan’s most iconic peak, this landmark by star architect Shigeru Ban appeals to both kids and adults alike. Inside, visitors ascend a spiral ramp lined with immersive displays from the first floor to an observation hall at the fifth, mirroring the experience of climbing Mount Fuji.
20th Century Fox World
Malaysia’s Genting Highlands is opening the world’s first 20th Century Fox theme park in late 2018, with 25 thrilling rides and attractions based on popular movies such as Life of Pi, Ice Age, and Night at the Museum.
Universal Studios Japan
The Osaka theme park has introduced several new experiences as part of its annual Universal Cool Japan event until June 24. These include a virtual reality–enabled Final Fantasy roller coaster, a Detective Conan “mystery challenge,” and a 4D Sailor Moon simulation that will debut in March.
The Habitat Penang Hill
Opened in January as the newest attraction on Penang Hill, the 230-meter-long Langur Way Canopy Walk has been billed as the longest two-span stressed ribbon bridge in the world, taking adventurers 15 meters above the ground on a journey into the jungle canopy.
Hungry for something new? Here are five high-profile restaurants to watch for …
Guo Fu Lou Hong Kong
This one-Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant is relocating from its basement digs in Wan Chai to The Murray. With sensuous interiors by André Fu and terrace seating overlooking the new hotel’s courtyard, Guo Fu Lou’s next incarnation, set to open this spring, is high on our list of must-tries.
The English House Singapore
Anytime now, the onetime enfant terrible of British cooking Marco Pierre White will be opening this highly anticipated restaurant on Mohamed Sultan Road. Set in two adjoining colonial buildings, it will feature a menu of simple, reasonably priced classics like côte de boeuf and braised beef cheek.
Sushi Saito Hong Kong
April will see the debut of an outpost of Tokyo’s legendary Sushi Saito on the 45th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong. Patrons can expect the exact same ingredients as at the original sushi bar, everything from chef Takashi Saito’s signature mild red vinegar to the most coveted cuts of fish from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market.
Voyages by Alain Ducasse, Macau
When it opens later this year, the Zaha Hadid–designed Morpheus Hotel in Cotai will come with two Alain Ducasse restaurants. We’re most excited about Voyages, a brand-new concept for the famed chef that centers on unique renditions of Asian dishes inspired by his travels around the region over the past 30 years.
Straits Clan Singapore
Taking over the former premises of the New Majestic Hotel in April, Straits Clan is a private club run by the Lo & Behold group. Ensconced in 1920s heritage architecture, there will be a lobby-level tea salon that’s open to the public, and a members-only dining room and upstairs bistro and bar.
Stars and Spice
For a taste of Michelin-awarded Thai food, try these seven establishments in Bangkok, each of which has earned a star in the Michelin Guide’s inaugural survey of restaurants in the Thai capital.
Raan Jay Fai
327 Maha Chai Rd.
More than Just a Meal
These unique culinary experiences provide plenty of food for thought.
Ko Tahi te Ra
This six-hour excursion to tribal lands deep in the central plateau of New Zealand’s North Island offers a fascinating insight into traditional Maori food culture. With chef, hunter, and tangata whenua (person of the land) Tom Loughlin as host, guests help prepare and eat a hangi cooking-pit feast before flying back to Taupo via helicopter.
Dinner Overlooking the Taj Mahal
Book a Taj Mahal–facing room at Agra’s Oberoi Amarvilas and you have the option of ordering a private candlelit thali dinner on your balcony, complete with the services of a butler. With the great monument to love just 600 meters away, what could be more romantic?
In Australia’s Red Center, this intimate evening for a maximum of 20 diners begins with sunset champagne and canapés set to the haunting sound of a didgeridoo, followed by a lavish four-course dinner of bush tucker–inspired dishes atop a tali waru (“beautiful dune”) overlooking Uluru and the distant rock formations of Kata Tjuta.
Aqua Luna Dim Sum Cruise
A cruise in a red-sailed junk around the west coast of Hong Kong Island is made all the more tantalizing thanks to a spread of bite-size Cantonese treats from the Aqua group’s Dim Sum Library (Mondays only).
Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet
French chef Paul Pairet’s avant-garde, single-table Ultaviolet is now one of just two restaurants in Shanghai to hold three Michelin stars. If you haven’t experienced the multi-sensorial dining encounter Pairet dubs “psycho taste,” now’s the time.
Handmade, home-cooked, and hands-on is the mantra of a special culinary adventure around Cambodia, a country often overshadowed by neighboring Thailand and Vietnam in the food stakes. But your hosts for this journey, husband-and wife travel writer/photographer duo Lara Dunston and Terence Carter, are out to prove their adopted home is actually one of the most exciting places in Southeast Asia when it comes to eating out. On their eight-night Cambodia Food Tour (June 3–10) around Siem Reap and Battambang, you’ll not only visit markets, learn to appreciate rice wine, and savor regional specialties—fragrant curries laced with fresh herbs, soups laden with complex chili sauces—but will also visit local kitchens to see the effort that goes into making staples such as rice noodles and palm sugar from scratch. And then it’s your turn: with guidance from chefs and home cooks you’ll find out just what it takes to perfect the art of barbecuing, Khmer style.
These quintessential regional experiences are well worth doing a second (or third) time around. And for those you haven’t tried yet, why not tick them off your bucket list this year?
Ballooning over Bagan
The best way to grasp the immense scale of Bagan—a trove of 2,000-plus ninth-century Buddhist monuments on the banks of Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River—is from above. Hot-air balloons glide over red-brick temples and gilded stupas; when you book with Balloons Over Bagan you’ll be met with flutes of champagne upon landing.
Camping out in the Steppes
Nothing says the great outdoors quite like the vast grasslands of Mongolia, where overnighting in a ger is, well, de rigueur. The round, felt-covered tents have been an iconic part of Mongolian nomadic culture for centuries, and today can be experienced at far-flung homestays and more upscale camps like Jalman Meadows, best booked through veteran outfitter Nomadic Journeys.
Temple-hopping at Angkor
More than two million people visit Angkor Wat annually to watch the sun rise over the world’s largest religious monument. Avoid the crowds and explore Angkor’s lesser-visited sites on a cycle tour, with a side-trip to the Preah Norodom Sihanouk-Angkor Museum to ogle a two-meter sandstone statue unearthed by archaeologists last year.
Cruising the Irrawaddy
Take a leisurely look at life along the Irrawaddy River, Myanmar’s longest waterway, aboard Belmond’s beautiful teak-cabined river cruiser The Road to Mandalay. The trip between Bagan and Mandalay includes temple tours, market visits, and such on-board diversions as sunrise yoga, cooking classes, and history lectures.
On Safari in India
India is home to nearly half of the world’s wild tiger population, with about 2,000 of the big cats spread across its national parks. At Ranthambore in Rajasthan, the 68 resident Bengals include a number of playful cubs spotted here in recent months; base yourself at a plush tented camp like Aman-i-Khas or Oberoi Vanyavilas and expect your naturalist-led safaris to also include sightings of leopards, sloth bears, nilgai, and striped hyena.
Driving the Great Ocean Road
From ancient rain forest to banging surf breaks, the Great Ocean Road in the Australian state of Victoria is one of the world’s most epic stretches of asphalt. Southwest of Melbourne, the National Heritage–listed 240-kilometer route from Torquay to Allansford takes you past celebrated attractions including Bells Beach and the Twelve Apostles, with plenty of noteworthy restaurants, cafés, and lodges along the way.
Riding the E&O
When the journey is as important as the destination, the only way to explore Southeast Asia between Bangkok and Singapore is aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express. The luxurious carriages marry the glamour of golden-age train travel with flavors of the Orient, not least through pop-up culinary experiences featuring Aussie chef Luke Mangan and Thai culinary star Ian Kittichai, taking over the galley in March and November respectively.
Swimming with Mantas
Every year between May and November, thousands of manta rays pass through the Maldives’ Hanifaru Bay on their annual migration, joining whale sharks attracted to this UNESCO-protected marine biosphere to feed on plankton. Book the Ocean Discovery package at Anantara Kihavah for the chance to snorkel with these incredible creatures in their watery playground on the resort’s doorstep.
Following a Buddhist Pilgrimage to Borobudur
Join saffron-robed monks in Indonesia at the world’s largest Buddhist monument on Waisak Day (May 29), the full-moon celebration of the sage’s birth, death, and enlightenment. The stupas and bas-reliefs of Borobudur in Central Java are a stunning backdrop for Waisak processions, which see pilgrims meditate, chant sutras, and release glowing lanterns into the sky.
Island-hopping in Thailand
Koh Tapu (James Bond Island) and the stilted fishing village of Koh Panyee are among the highlights of any cruise around the immense limestone peaks that dot southern Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay. You won’t want the dreamy scenery to end, and thanks to the new safari tents at 9 Hornbills on Koh Yao Noi, it doesn’t have to.
Climbing Mount Kinabalu
Malaysia’s highest point is also among the world’s most important biological sites, with the surrounding Sabahan jungle home to an estimated 6,000 plant species, 320 different types of birds, and 100 mammal species. You’ll see many along the new 1.1-kilometer Kota Belud Trail to Kinabalu’s 4,095-meter summit, one of two scenic routes opened here in recent years.
Going Wild with Orangutans
Nothing can quite describe the excitement of seeing the jungle rustle and an orangutan appear. Increase your chances of spotting one of these critically endangered primates at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah’s Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, where more than 200 orphaned and injured apes are nursed before returning to the wild.
Gliding onto a Glacier
There are plenty of breathtaking experiences to be had on New Zealand’s South Island, not least the bird’s-eye perspective of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park offered by Mount Cook Ski Planes. A 35-minute flight will see you swoop over the Hochstetter Icefall and land on the ancient ice of the Tasman Glacier, the largest of its kind in the country.
Cruising Halong Bay
Few experiences are as romantic as sliding past the karst outcrops of Vietnam’s World Heritage-listed Halong Bay aboard a traditional junk. Do it in style on a Heritage Line cruise: the company’s two luxurious boats in the bay will this year be joined by Ginger, launching with 12 teak suites, a spa, and a rooftop pool.
Seafood Spotting at Tsukiji
For decades, bleary-eyed travelers have risen before dawn to attend the 5 a.m. tuna auctions at the world’s largest and busiest fish market. If you haven’t ticked this classic Tokyo experience off your list yet, now might be the time: come October, the market, which has been operating here since the 1930s, will finally relocate to a new waterfront location southeast of the city.
Walking the Great Wall
No visit to China is complete without wandering the Great Wall, which stretches 21,000 kilometers across the country’s north. Within easy reach of Beijing is Mutianyu, the longest fully restored section open to tourists and dotted with 22 watchtowers. New restaurants, cafés, and boutique lodges—like eco-conscious Brickyard—at the base make it easy to linger.
This article originally appeared in the February/March 2018 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“100 Essential Experiences”).