The luxe list

Southeast Asia Globe picks the region’s top ten luxury travel experiences

Daniel Besant
December 9, 2015
The luxe list

Southeast Asia Globe picks the region’s top ten luxury travel experiences

The Empire Suite, The Empire Hotel, Brunei
Brunei: The Empire Suite. While some mystery surrounds the designation ‘seven-star hotel’, with no official body awarding any rating higher than five stars, there is less doubt that a night in such a property would financially cripple 99% of mortals on this planet. One member of this self-declared seven-star club is Brunei’s Empire Hotel, and its most stratospheric room offering is the Empire Suite. With room after room stuffed with gilt-edged Louis IX-style furniture and sash curtains, plus a marble swimming pool and steam room that Caligula would have been proud of, budding potentates will find much to satisfy them. And, if Rome should be burning, there’s even a baby grand piano to tinkle away on.

Eastern & Oriental Express, Thailand
Thailand: Eastern & Oriental Express. From the 13th to the 18th centuries, northern Thailand’s Lanna Kingdom was one of the region’s greatest, leaving a distinct cultural imprint, particularly in its ornate architectural style. Indubitably the most distinctive way to explore this rich region is aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express. The wood-panelled Presidential Cabin is the opulent choice, with its decorative marquetry and elegant seating area from which to drink in the views of shady palm plantations and rural villages. If in search of company, head to the saloon car and sip a cocktail while a pianist glides through jazz and Broadway standards, or luxuriate in the observation car’s teakwood splendour. Photo: Nick Sells

The Royal Villa at the Four Seasons, Langkawi, Malaysia
Malaysia: The Royal Villa at the Four Seasons. The low, jungle-clad limestone karst formations and spectacular reef diving are just two reasons to visit picture-perfect Langkawi, Malaysia’s most popular island destination. Another is the Royal Villa at the island’s Four Seasons hotel, a marque that has become synonymous with luxury travel. Set over two storeys and a staggering 1,400 square metres, the villa is exquisitely embellished with rich tropical timbers, Spanish marble and Malay artefacts. Situated at the very end of the resort’s private beach, this secluded two-bedroom hideaway boasts flawless views of the Andaman Sea and the limestone cliffs that skewer the horizon.

Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia, Travel
Cambodia: Song Saa Private Island. Cambodia’s coast is fast becoming a destination for those seeking uncrowded stretches of perfectly bleached sand and gin-clear waters. And the Koh Rong archipelago already has its very own get-away-from-it-all island retreat. Song Saa’s private speedboat whisks visitors to this pair of islets connected by wooden walkways, where spectacular gourmet food is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, wonderfully relaxed staff address guests by their first names and salvaged driftwood forms a design point in keeping with the island’s ‘luxury that treads lightly’ motto. Indulge in the villa’s plentiful drinks cabinet, curl up on a daybed and watch the sun melt into the Gulf of Thailand. It’s been a long day in paradise. Photo: Sam Jam

Amantaka Pool Suite, Luang Prabang, Laos
Laos: Amantaka Pool Suite. Enveloped by mountains and set at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, Luang Prabang’s fusion of lustrous golden pagodas, scores of scuttling monks and crumbly French architecture make it the top destination in landlocked Laos. And there is no finer choice for visitors to this cultural hub than the Amantaka, a smooth and stylish conversion by Aman resorts of the former provincial hospital. The shady garden, dotted with mango trees, is the property’s centrepiece, while the neutral decor and private pool in the large Pool Suites provide an enjoyable counterpoint to Luang Prabang’s gleaming temples. In typical Aman style, there are no limits to the level of immersion offered into the local culture. The town’s experts in ethnology and Theravada Buddhism are on hand to begin guests’ journey, and the option even exists to spend an afternoon discussing Lao fine arts with a member of the former royal family.

Marina Bay Sands, singapore
Singapore: Marina Bay Sands. Singapore does not fall short when it comes to opulence, making it difficult to pin down one quintessential luxury experience. However, a full-on immersion in the landmark Marina Bay Sands resort would satisfy most sybarites. First stop has to be the Shoppes, where boutiques from Alexander McQueen and Chanel kick off a who’s who of the fashion and luxury industries. Follow that with a dip in the iconic infinity pool (the world’s highest), a flutter in the casino and then dinner at the sublime Waku Ghin, where chef Tetsuya Wakuda dishes up the region’s finest Japanese cuisine. Finally, roll up to the black-and-granite Chairman Suite with its four bathrooms, karaoke room and private gym – the perfect eyrie from which to gaze at the panoramic views of the city-state’s frenzied harbour.

Sanctuary Ananda, Myanmar
Myanmar: Sanctuary Ananda. From the majestic Irrawaddy to the less-explored Chindwin, Myanmar’s rivers have been the lifeblood of the country for hundreds of years. Built by local craftsmen, the Sanctuary Ananda provides one of the most graceful ways to explore these wondrous waterways and the country at large. The 11-night Yangon to Mandalay itinerary whisks visitors from Myanmar’s defacto capital via the Twante Canal before taking in the charming town of Danuphyu, the mystical white pagodas of Thayet and the world-famous temple site of Bagan, all en route to Mandalay, the country’s former royal capital. Of the 21 accommodation options, the 67-square-metre Owner’s Suite is a colossal offering that boasts a private veranda, as well as a warm finish featuring lush local silks and polished teak. This capacious cabin also includes a private guide to help guests explore the enigmatic riverbanks.

Aqua Mekong
Vietnam: Aqua Mekong. While many vessels ply the myriad watercourses of the magical Mekong Delta, none provides greater comfort than the Aqua Mekong. With just 20 cabins, the staff-to-passenger ratio is almost 1:1, affording an attention to guest detail that is the envy of most hotels on dry land. The stars of the show are undoubtedly the bubbling plunge pool on the observation deck, which provides uninterrupted views from the boat’s stern, as well as the air-conditioned library containing photography books, river maps and hydrology charts. Of course, one should not overlook the ample 30-square-metre suites, eight of them with balconies, and the gastronomic delights dreamed up by consulting chef David Thompson, whose Bangkok restaurant, Nahm, was crowned best in Asia just last year.

The Farm at San Benito, Philippines
The Philippines: The Farm at San Benito. A rendezvous with Manila’s gruesome gridlock provides plenty of opportunities for daydreaming. And most pine for a chance to cleanse mind, body and soul in more verdant surrounds. Thankfully, just 90km from the city’s airport lies a sylvan retreat perfect for healing: The Farm at San Benito. With tailored retreats from ‘stress management’ to ‘sustainable weight loss’, most begin with a health consultation and take in sessions such as nutritional microscopy and hara-puri massage plus ‘daily wellness activities’ including yoga, circuit training and mandala flower arranging. The Lakan villa is The Farm’s most exclusive accommodation, with its personal villa host, heated private pool and walled gardens featuring koi ponds – the perfect retreat from which to seek nirvana.

the alexa, indonesia
Indonesia: The Alexa. This former cargo vessel’s days of ferrying produce between the Indonesian islands of Flores, Komodo, Raja Ampat and Sulawesi are over. Instead, the Alexa’s aged teak is teamed with stainless steel, silk rugs and local sculpture to form one of the most exclusive boats on the planet. Comprised of just one pearly cabin, as well as a TV lounge, sunbed area and dining room, this 31-metre yacht offers bespoke cruises for two that can take in such peregrine wonders as Komodo National Park and the Alor archipelago. Following a dinner crafted by the boat’s resident seafood-specialist chef, the option is there to spend the night under the stars on the upper deck’s idyllic sleeping area.

Further information:
The Empire Suite
Eastern & Oriental Express
The Royal Villa at the Four Seasons
Song Saa Private Island
Amantaka Pool Suite
Marina Bay Sands
Sanctuary Ananda
Aqua Mekong
The Farm at San Benito
The Alexa
Keep reading:
Down in the delta” – Captivating riverscapes await on the Aqua Mekong, a ship that sets five-star standards for regional river cruising

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