Some holidays ask for nothing more than disembarking the airplane, arriving at the hotel, and heading to the beach with a drink in hand. But on occasion, a bit more of an adventure is in order — there is much to be said for making a challenging journey, one that really that takes it out of you, only to be rewarded by a stay at a location so magical it seems too good to be true.
Except sometimes, it really just is.
Asia is a hotbed for such experiences: five-star luxury resorts find their place among the world’s most stunning natural surroundings, combining ultimate creature comforts with unspoilt, rarely seen natural wonders. It will take more than a hop, skip and a jump to get there, but an adventurous journey to and fro is nice way to bookend a holiday spent in the lap of luxury. After all, experiencing Mother Nature at her finest is well and good — but most of us would be lying if we didn’t admit that sometimes, the best thing to bring to such an excursion is a fancy hotel room.
If you’re headed towards Asia in the coming year, here are some interesting ideas for the discerning traveller eager for a bit of a challenge. Many countries in the East are visa-free for Canadians (save for Nepal, where it is granted on arrival) and weather is generally good all year round, which, we won’t lie, makes any sort of planning that much easier.
Shinta Mani Mustang, Nepal
There are three ways to get to the remote kingdom of Mustang in Nepal. All three choices require you to fly into Kathmandu, after which you could either fly into Pokhara and onwards to Jomsom, charter a flight direct to Jomsom or hit the road from Kathmandu – a drive that takes approximately 12 hours. Forbidden to outsiders for centuries, this almost mythical region with its dramatic landscapes is hidden in the Kali Gandaki valley between the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain ranges, one of the most unique and preserved regions in the world.
Outdoorsy, but a fan of the finer things in life? This resort pretty much has your name on it. Designed by American-born, Asia-based starchitecht Bill Bensley, Shinta Mani Mustang is the perfect base for trekking and adventures in the surrounding area, exploring Buddhist monasteries and culture, or just enjoying the awe-inspiring vistas of some of the highest snow-capped peaks in the world —including the formidable Mount Nilgiri Himal.
Each of the resort’s generously-sized 29 suites is designed in the style of a traditional Tibetan home with an open-plan bedroom, a living area, and a separate bathroom. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer majestic views of Nilgiri mountain. In line with Bensley’s ethos, all interiors are adorned with locally-sourced, soft natural fabrics and upcycled unique furniture.
With all the hassle to get there, the full-board Shinta Mani requires a minimum stay of five nights, but you won’t be bored with the dining options on offer. Choices include the 60-seat Nilgiri Restaurant — a spacious outdoor dining patio that serves modern Nepalese and western cuisine — and the Aara Bar, named after an exotic local liquor.
Sanubari Sunda, Indonesia
If Bali is where young-uns go to expend their energy and revel in excesses, the older, more experienced, (and more discerning) traveller would opt for neighbouring Sunda. Unspoilt, quiet, and unassuming, Sumba — famous for its native sandalwood ponies — is located in Indonesia’s lesser Sunda islands (just south of Flores). It’s a wild slice of Southeast Asia waiting to be discovered. Pristine coastlines, white sand beaches and stained-glass waters draw people to Sumba, second only to the gentle nature of the locals.
The Tambolaka Airport services Sumba; flights arrive from Bali Makassar and Kupang. That’s probably your only inconvenience – since there is no public transport on the island, you’re picked up by the resort you’ve chosen to stay at. Most of the luxury properties on Sunda are located on the West Coast, the most recent being The Sanubari.
Facing an unthinkably beautiful stretch of beach, where herds of buffaloes wander at dawn, the Sanubari provides the kind of hospitality that Asia does best: authentic, warm, and respectful of local cultures. Beautifully appointed rooms and villas filled with local hardwoods, handcrafted carvings, and world-renowned Ikat weavings allow you to rest and rejuvenate. Dining options are limited, but don’t disappoint — local farmers supply seasonally grown produce, while sustainable line-caught seafood makes the most of the abundant ocean. Leaving the resort will seem like a real chore, but if you’re the kind of traveller who absolutely must dip their toes in the local scene, there’s plenty to do: paddle board excursions down freshwater rivers through rice paddies and villages, centuries-old village rituals, sunset horse rides, day treks, and mountain (or motor) biking through landscapes unique to the Indonesian archipelago.
Marasca Khao Yai, Thailand
Ok, so this resort isn’t all that hard to get to, but it does require a three-hour drive from the bright city lights of central Bangkok, so it’s not exactly the height of convenience either. But once you’re there, Marasca Kaho Yai’s luxurious spin on glamping offers an out-of-the-ordinary holiday. At this back-to-nature boutique with all the trimmings, including multi-room suites, private plunge pools, fire pits and the finest linens, expect to be ensconced among the lush jade greenery of an UNESCO world heritage site that brims with wildlife and stunning natural wonders.
The average Canadian has probably spent plenty of time in the outdoors, but there is something about tropical climes and warm nights that make this getaway worth writing home about. We highly recommend sleeping in a canvas glamper tent — take in the stars from the hot tub, telescope in hand for stargazing. Alternatively, spread out in the three-bedroom Home Haven villa with private plunge pools, or get cosy in a charmingly decked out VW van parked alongside your outdoor deck and fire pit (complete with marshmallows for toasting). Take in bird’s-eye views from the canopy as you dine on farm-to-table produce in the treehouse-inspired tea house and farmer’s café, or have treats delivered straight to your suite.
Mindfully created for those wanting to escape the urban jungle, Marasca’s wildflower meadow is a gentle immersion into nature. Beyond, trails criss-cross the slopes of Khao Yai national park, dotted with waterfalls and vineyards. They’re home to some of Thailand’s most fantastical wildlife – elephants included. As night falls, the glimmering skies are the main draw. Gather on the Stardeck for cosmically inspired cocktails, sharing plates and a state-of-the-art digital telescope for inspiring star spotting.