Places We Yearn to Return To

Our wanderlust may be temporarily frustrated, but that doesn’t stop us dreaming about where we’ll travel to next post-pandemic. For some, that will be a bucket-list destination; for others, it will be a return to a place they love. Here, eight DestinAsian contributors weigh in on the destinations they long to revisit just as soon as it’s safe to do so.

A picture-perfect beach on Aitutaki, the second-largest of the Cook Islands. (Photo: Natasha Dragun)

I Yearn to Return to … The Cook Islands

By Natasha Dragun

Home Base: Sydney

The last time I was in the Cook Islands, the main telecommunications tower had just burned down. Wi-Fi was sketchy at the best of times before this incident; afterward, liaising with anyone not in your immediate vicinity was a tough task indeed. I loved the introspection this permitted—not having to check social media, reply to e-mails, worry what others were doing … I could just be in the moment. And boy, what moments did this South Pacific archipelago deliver. Blinding white sand, gin-clear lagoons, jungle-swathed mountains, larger-than-life locals; colors so vivid it was like someone had taken the glasses off my nose and cleaned them for the first time.

I spent a lot of my visit with my head underwater—a position I intend to resume as soon as my plane touches down in Rarotonga again. The Cooks’ marine environment is spectacular, and there’s something about strapping on a mask and snorkel and cutting off all but a few of your senses that reminds you just how insignificant you really are—in a good way. When my fingers are pruney from all the swimming, I plan to sit on the sand, order a coconut cocktail, and remind myself just how lucky I am to be back in this patch of paradise.

 

The Matterhorn and Stellisee seen from Zermatt’s Flühalp restaurant at sunset. (Photo: Lauryn Ishak)

I Yearn to Return to … The Swiss Alps

By Lauryn Ishak

Home Base: Singapore

Pre-coronavirus, I’d dreamed up a plan that would take me back to Switzerland this summer. I had wanted to begin a long-term personal project in the mountains that perhaps would take a few seasons to complete. Now, that plan has been put on hold until life returns to normal, in whatever shape that might take. In the meantime, I’ll dream of the rituals of heading into the mountains that I love—the early-morning train rides filled with like-minded hikers in their gear and boots, hiking poles in hand. Watching the sun rise and stream its warm golden rays into the carriage as I sip hot coffee from a thermos. Checking the train timetable to see whether a transfer is six minutes or three minutes—the former means a leisurely walk to the next platform; the latter requires a mad dash while hoping for a seat.

But the real joy begins when the hiking starts. Being in the mountains gives you time to think and reflect about life—how meaningful your own is; how you’re contributing to a greater good; and, more than anything, how to be grateful for the little things. In the Alps, it’s just nature and you. Beautiful. Uncomplicated. Quiet. Healing.

 

Hot-air balloons on a dawn flight above the temples of Bagan. (Photo: Matt Dutile)

I Yearn to Return to … Myanmar

By Matt Dutile

Home Base: New York City

Few destinations capture the romanticism of travel as well as Myanmar, from heady adventures in colorful, clamorous markets to the solemn contemplation of Bagan’s thousands of stupas and pagodas from the basket of a hot-air balloon. Among my fondest memories of the country is the time I was invited into the home of a lungi-clad gentleman to share a meal of mohinga (rice noodle and fish soup) with his family, or when I took in an acrobatic game of chinlone on a clay court.

My spirit craves for the people, the culture, the sights, and the natural splendor of this oft-overlooked Southeast Asian nation. I’ve rarely been greeted with such warmth and hospitality elsewhere in the world, nor felt such peaceful harmony as I did while exploring the teak monasteries of Mandalay or the gu-style temples of Bagan. In these turbulent times of uncertainty and isolation, we could all benefit from a sense of connection and tranquility. I know I certainly would.

I hope to return to the calm waters of Inle Lake, where communities of bamboo-stilt houses rise above floating tomato gardens. To marvel once again at the encircling crowd of Yangon’s massive, golden Schwedagon Pagoda. And to venture at dusk with the same devotees to a rickety roadside cart serving tongue-blistering bowls of Shan noodles. I also want to venture south and sail around the Mergui Archipelago, a nearly untouched chain of 800 islands and coral reefs dotting the Andaman Sea. Then I’ll head northwest to the hidden Arakanese kingdom of Mrauk-U. Like Kipling more than a century ago, my mind drifts along the road to Mandalay.

 

Buenos Aires’ neoclassical Palace of the Argentine. (Photo: Will Hide)

I Yearn to Return to … Buenos Aires

By Will Hide

Home Base: London

In the depths of the gray, damp English winter, my mind wandered to thoughts of warm evenings in Buenos Aires, my favorite South American city.

Whenever I visit Argentina’s capital, I stay at Home in the graffiti-cool neighborhood of Palermo Hollywood. Owned by Anglo-Argentine couple Tom and Patricia Rixton, the boutique hotel boasts super-friendly staff, right down to the in-house cat; there’s also a ton of cool bars, restaurants, and shops within a 15-minute walk. I can’t wait to visit them again. After a light breakfast and a dip in the Rixtons’ outdoor pool, I’ll probably jog to the Bosques de Palermo park, which is a lovely green oasis amid the concrete sprawl of the city. I’ll then undo any health benefits on the way back by stopping for a few coffees—ask for a cortado if you want a strong caffeine hit with a bit of milk to cut the acidity—or even a dulce de leche ice cream at the local branch of Persicco.

Buenos Aires really comes alive at night. Porteños (as the city’s inhabitants are known) make the Spanish look like residents at a Florida care home when it comes to staying up late; generally only tourists will dine before 10 p.m. For the best steak in town, I’ll book a table at Parrilla Don Julio, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel tucked in while in Buenos Aires for the 2018 G20 summit. For cocktails, you’ll find me at Florería Atlántico, hidden under a flower shop near the Four Seasons Hotel; or at Frank’s, a glamorous speakeasy that requires a password (ask your concierge) to get you past the bouncers.

 

Hoshinoya Guguan lies in the foothills of Taiwan’s Xueshan Mountain Range. (Photo: Chris Schalkx)

I Yearn to Return to … Taiwan

By Chris Schalkx

Home Base: Bangkok

As I write this, my wife, son, and I were supposed to be on our way back home to Bangkok from my in-laws’ place in Taichung, Taiwan. When we booked our flights a few months ago, we obviously didn’t know about the strange times that lay ahead of us. Now, we’re cooped up in Bangkok, and the only taste of Taiwan we have access to is the occasional lu rou fan (braised pork over rice) we cook for dinner.

We try to visit Taiwan two to three times a year—it’s a short flight from Thailand, after all—not only to meet family, but also to explore the island. Despite the nation’s small size and my many visits over the past seven years, I still feel like I’ve only scratched its surface. On our last visit, we went on a cross-country road trip from the rolling hills of Yangmingshan, just north of Taipei, to the black-sand beaches of Dulan, a small surfers’ settlement in Taiwan’s tropical south, with stops in Alishan’s foggy cedar forests and culinary capital Tainan along the way.

When life turns back to normal, Taiwan will be our first stop. I can’t wait to feast on peppery pork buns and fried chicken cutlets at Taipei’s dazzling night markets, or order a real-deal bubble tea at one of the many tea parlors—the ones outside Taiwan simply can’t compare. I’m also looking forward to another hot-spring soaking session at Hoshinoya Guguan, one of my favorite hotels in the country, and I am itching to finally make a trip to one of Taiwan’s little-known offshore islands.

 

A hiker on New Zealand’s Paparoa Track. (Photo: Jason Blair)

I Yearn to Return to … New Zealand

By Aaron Gulley

Home Base: Santa Fe

Despite spending 28 days in New Zealand in March and early April, I didn’t see anything of the country because of the coronavirus lockdown, which came into effect shortly after my arrival. Rather than romping in pristine mountains as I’d intended, I spent a month in quarantine trying to return home while getting painstakingly familiar with the inside of two Airbnb rentals. So when the COVID-19 crisis ends, the first thing I plan to do is return to New Zealand, and not only because I missed out the last time.

The Kiwi government’s efforts to eradicate rather than simply mitigate the disease means New Zealand will be tougher to visit when the world reopens. But they also may ensure that its shores become one of the safest places on the planet, which will be pretty appealing after all of this uncertainty. Taking such a hard line against the virus was risky for a country that depends on tourism (5.6 percent of GDP), and I’ll make a post-virus visit partly as a vote in support of that good governance.

But most of all, I’m drawn back to New Zealand by the same things that took me there in the first place: big, wild, blessedly empty mountains, rivers, and coastlines. I hope to pedal my mountain bike up the steep slopes of the Paparoa Track, New Zealand’s latest multiday backcountry adventure, where I’ll sleep in rugged mountain cabins and peer down to where the Southern Alps crash into the Tasman Sea. I want to venture into the precipitous canyons in Fiordland National Park, where I’ll climb up the wet tangle of rain forest onto the cockscomb of ridges and spot red stag and elk bellowing their gruff roars to the wind. And I intend to hike up the glacial moraines beneath Mount Cook, the country’s highest peak, and camp on the shores of its alpine tarns. The comfort of the natural world is that, virus and economic crisis and politics aside, the planet spins forward as it has for eons.

Mount Cook also goes by its Maori name, Aoraki, which for many years was poetically (if incorrectly) translated as “cloud piercer.” That’s how I’ll think of New Zealand until I can return there: the country that will eventually bore through this dark period and bring me back to the bright and easy days of travel.

 

A bird’s-eye view of northern Botswana’s Okavango Delta. (Photo: Tati Halabi)

I Yearn to Return to … Botswana

By Kee Foong

Home Base: Hong Kong

Part of me can’t wait to get back to my beloved, battered Italy, where just last summer I attended the Venice Biennale, ate my way through Emilia-Romagna, and stayed at the Euro-fabulous Villa d’Este in Lake Como. But I’m just as keen to head back to Botswana, which I was planning to revisit in May to celebrate a significant birthday. With any luck, I’ll be able to rebook my travels for the same period next year: May marks the start of Botswana’s dry season, which is the best time to view animals in habitats like the Okavango Delta, where you can encounter elephants, rhinos, leopards, African wild dogs, and other fantastic beasts on safari.

The Okavango itself is a marvel of nature like nowhere else, a vast wetland that fills up during the dry season with waters flowing from the Angolan highlands a thousand miles away. Here, the sun burns bright under a heavenly canopy of blue, the sunsets blaze crimson to purple and indigo, and it can be enjoyed, G&T in hand, almost entirely without crowds.

 

Bhutan’s cliff-hanging Tiger’s Nest Monastery, near Paro. (Photo: Christian Offenberg)

I Yearn to Return to … Bhutan

By Daven Wu

Home Base: Singapore

It’s difficult to write about Bhutan without lapsing into floridly purple prose, yet this small landlocked Himalayan kingdom remains, for me, one of the most unearthly places on the planet. We were there this past September to celebrate my partner’s birthday. Over 11 sun-lit days, we made our way across a tableau of mountains cloaked in emerald green pines; countryside speckled with apple orchards and glades of wildflowers; and bijou towns of low-rise buildings with ornately carved roof trusses, richly decorated windows and lintels, and slate roofs. Between the mountain passes, extravagant sunshine bathed the valleys like a benediction.

We stayed two nights in each of the five exquisite lodges of Amankora. Even now, months later, I remember the kindness of their preternaturally beautiful staff, the lushly landscaped grounds, and vast bedrooms warmly furnished and designed by the late, great Kerry Hill.

Despite the influx of tourists, there is still a genuine frontier feel to Bhutan. High in the mountains, little has changed in a thousand years and in the sprawling dzong—ancient military fortresses and monasteries—that dot the country, saffron-robed monks still bend over sutras and chant for humanity’s salvation in dimly lit rooms heavily scented with incense.

I remember most of all the Bhutanese with their burnished skin, graceful cheekbones, and gentle smiles, their small frames dressed in the elaborately stitched national costumes called gho (worn by men) and kira (women). And now, I remember, too, the countless prayer wheels that spin their daily blessings up toward heaven, to which I add my silent prayer that I will, one day soon, return.

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