A touch of the Orient, a glimmer of the Middle East – Asia is a melting pot of cultures exploding with diverse charms. From the Zen-inspired mountains of Chengdu to the dazzling sand dunes of the Bedouin, experience the continent’s many facets while staying in its most immersive luxury hotels.
Experience the Maharaja’s India: Umaid Bhavan Palace
The culture: The Land of the Kings is best experienced in a palace, and the 1943 Maharaja residence does not hold back. This sand-coloured royal landmark is set at the highest point of Jodhpur, gazing commandingly at the sprawling garden and a well-preserved courtyard that leads one in on horses.
The place: Swanky rooms complete the otherworldly experience, from the glitzy Art Deco suites to grand rooms that formerly accommodated visiting royalty. Rajasthani food pervades the menu, but there are Western delights for those who want to stick to their palette favourites. Outdoor breakfasts call for a true royal treatment, as one views the gardens overlooking the palatial wonder. Indulge in the grand spa constructed entirely in marble, which cradles an indoor pool and breath-taking murals. One should not be surprised at this extravagance; perched beside this majestic hotel is the residence of Jodhpur’s Maharaja, a rare moment where guests are actual neighbours with a king. www.tajhotels.com
Experience ancient Kyoto with Hoshinoya
The culture: During peak season, Kyoto, once the seat of Japan’s power, becomes flocked with temple-touring visitors, but for thosewho wants to peel away from the crowd, Hoshinoya in Arashiyama becomes a home.
The place: The luxury ryokan – a Japanese-style inn – is lodged deep within a bamboo forest, opulently constructed in a traditional Japanese architecture complete with handcrafted wooden furniture, tatami floors, bespoke lighting, and magnificent views of the Ooi River. Boat transfers inspire meditative minutes of admiring the tree-embroidered landscape. Upon reaching the hotel, switching into the customary yukata is a must. Wabi-sabi, the heart of Hoshinoya is the unspoken magic in imperfections, as seen in small chips and cracks that beautifully settles in over time. Stone paths shrouded by foliage, the side spectacles of Mount Ogura and the sound of the wind bells become a staple in one’s stay. Japanese cuisine and teatime are unforgettable, as well as omotenashi, the respectful hospitality the local staffs radiate. www.hoshinoya.com
Experience Sri Lanka’s tea plantations: Ceylon Tea Trails
The culture: 1880s Sri Lankan luxury surrounded by verdant green plantations, taking one back to nostalgic sunsets as one comfortably rests in a cane chair while revelling in afternoon tea.
The place: Five colonial-style bungalows march along the verdant hillsides of Bogawantalawa, Sri Lanka, each of them elaborately adorned with posh furniture, exquisite butler service, infinity pools and the unobstructed views of the Golden Valley. Timbered lofty ceilings, claw-foot tubs and bay windows complete the tea-inspired estates. Roam freely around in plush slippers and soft waffle-line robes during blissful downtimes. Sensational spectacles meet the eye each morning: from the charismatic rolling hills to the serene lake that enchants with a romantic tableau engulfed with fragrant air. When tours are done, one can come back to their individual lounges, welcomed by a glass of sherry and the warm crackling of fire the quaint heritage gardens captivates one from the outside. www.resplendentceylon.com
Experience Chengdu’s Taoist culture with Six Senses
The culture: Up in the mountain of Qingcheng, in a terrain thickly coated by forests, is the gateway to the Taoist mountain that beckonsto a higher calling – or perhaps a Zen-inspired repose – as one can feel under the sweeping oriental-gabled roofs and meandering courtyards of a traditional Chinese mansion.
The place: Six Senses Chengdu from afar appears like an old-style Sichuan village, complete with dramatic arcs, bamboo groves, and meandering stone walkways. The two-story buildings blend harmoniously into the mountainous backdrop with an old-world charm. Access ground floor suites through garden paths, while second-floor rooms, which offer the best mountain views, are connected by timber walkways festooned with bamboo. An outdoor pool, set in the midst of a courtyard, invites one for a leisurely dip, but the best part of one’s stay is the many sightseeing opportunities within the area, including a trip to the pandas, and a visit to a nearby Taoist shrine. www.sixsenses.com
Experience the glorious mountains of Bhutan with Amankora
The culture: Like a secret yet to be unravelled, the Kingdom of Bhutan is tucked deep within the untouched mountains of Himalayas, surrounded by deep ravines, dense forests, and monasteries where monks abound, uttering prayers.
The place: The Buddhist kingdom has been cautious in opening its doors to the world, except for a few exceptional peeks, such as Amankora, a luxury hotel gorgeously draping the lofty terrain with five intimate lodges. Here, one navigates through the hidden spectacles by flight. Helicopter transfers allow aerial sightseeing of the Himalayan peaks while traversing through the hotel’s many facilities, including breakfasts by the lake, forest bathing, and Michelin-starred dining. Inside, the hotel is gilded with natural, wooden interiors and floor-to-ceiling windows, stirring a sense of peace upon welcome while soaking in the view of the outdoor vistas. Mornings are crisp, and so are the breakfasts at Mount Jomolhari which stars panoramic views between two clear blue lakes and the view of a beloved Buddhist monolith. www.aman.com
Experience the old-world orient at Raffles Hotel Singapore
The culture: Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who founded modern Singapore, deserved a seat in the city, much no less than a gloriously colonial luxury hotel that countless numerous stories in its century-and-thirty old expanse.
The place: Playwright Somerset Maugham depicted it clearly as the representation “for all the fables of the exotic East,” and much deservingly so. The historic landmark recently acquiesced to its first major renovation since 1989, promising to re-emerge this October with refreshed interiors, three new suite categories, a grand ballroom, and a writer’s bar set to inspire literary luminaries. Singapore’s hotel to the stars – once home to Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few – enthrals with its furnishings that radiate with old-world opulence. Rooms are garbed with wooden floors, lush plants, and fabric drapes that make staying in cosy, if not nostalgic. A glass of Singapore Sling or its classy variants from the famous Long Bar completes one’s stay. www.raffles.com
Experience’s Kowloon’s finest at the Peninsula Hong Kong
The culture: Hong Kong’s Grand Dame shines with the timeless tinge of the 1920s, the era it was built. Once used as a World War II headquarters, the celebrated property is resplendent with oriental charm, producing the best views of the serene Victoria Harbour as well as the handsome skyscrapers of the metropolis.
The place: Ornate columns, marble floors, decadent trimmings make up the lobby, inspiring one for a classic high tea, or a trip to the arcade which houses luxury designer shops for a frolicsome indulgence. Suites glow with an easy-on-the-eye palette, high ceilings, wall appliques and decadent bathrooms gifted with Oscar de la Renta bottles. Nine restaurants quell one’s gourmet demands, from the Swiss flavours at Chesa, the Cantonese dim sum at Spring Moon, and the sprightly French cuisine at Gaddi’s. Salon de Ning, the hotel’s prized lounge, beams with the elegance of the 1930s and constantly pleases with an evening amusement of musical performers. www.peninsula.com
Experience Khmer farms at Phum Baitang Siem Reap
The culture: Verdant agricultural vistas are a regular phenomenon in Cambodia, where the sun sizzles over rice paddy fields while sprawls of clouds create a striking shadow, allowing farmers to temporarily find shade. The Khmers thrived in this nature-grounded livelihood, as depicted in Siem Reap’s most beloved resort.
The place: Tucked away in the countryside and curtained by tall palm trees, Phum Baitang is aptly translated as “green gardens,” exploring the life of the old Khmer through its rustic wooden houses spread across 20 acres. A saltwater pool slithers through the property made ornate with nostalgic Angkor elements, thatch-roofed lounges, and spa bungalows. Buddhist monks randomly walk by, blessing guests by sprays of water, when asked. Spacious balconies in terrace suites allow the unhindered view of the rice fields, but pool villas come with its own plunge pools and daybeds. When setting out into Siem Reap, tuk-tuk rides make an adventurous way of exploring the city. www.zannierhotels.com
Experience vintage Vietnamese luxury at Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
The culture: Two French gentlemen opened the hotel in 1901, perhaps never anticipating it will survive wars and provide shelter from air raids decades later. After watching over Vietnam for a millennium, Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi still thrives with its original French Indochina façade, complete with nostalgic wrought-iron elements that inspire one to linger under the awnings and indulge in a lively chatter, or a solitary afternoon decoction.
The place: Staffs proceed to requests garbed in their traditional aodai, serving cocktails to lounging guests by the poolside with French greetings. Charlie Chaplin, who once celebrated his honeymoon with Paulette Goddard here, has a namesake suite. The darker hardwood floors are complemented with cream walls and the pearly textures of silk cushions. Large windows allow leisurely viewing of the city, while rattan ceiling fans and patterned textiles complete the Indo-chine effect. Le Beaulieu indulges with a French brasserie crossover, and, when one is in need for some gaiety, the Opera House is close by. www.sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi.com ◼
© This article was first published in Aug-Sept 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.