Mr & Mrs Smith is a specialist travel company that focuses on luxury boutique hotels. Simon Westcott, managing director and co-founder of its Asia-Pacific operation, lets us in on his travel secrets
You must have done a fair bit of travelling in your time. What has been your most memorable travel moment?
There are too many to choose from. A performance at the Moustache Brothers’ home in Mandalay during the dark days of Myanmar’s military dictatorship; visiting Angkor Wat with an NGO friend only a few months after the UN had left, and having the place to ourselves; arriving at the Sun Gate at the top of Machu Picchu after a three-day walk; swimming at the top of El Questro gorge in the Kimberley, Australia… How long have we got?
And what about your worst travel horror story?
I’ve been surprisingly lucky. The only place I’ve ever been mugged was in my hometown of London, on the streets of Brixton before it became gentrified.
What do you think are Southeast Asia’s greatest selling points as a destination?
Southeast Asia is unrivalled in its ability to pull off extraordinary experiences in cities, coast and country – and all on the same trip if you want to. But for me it’s the mix of cultural history and contemporary hospitality – Java’s Borobudur temple at dawn; back massage at dusk.
Are there any Southeast Asian travel trends you’ve noticed or are expecting?
As the region gets increasingly populated, and the newly cashed-up Chinese tourists arrive by the busload, I think that tranquillity and genuine remoteness will become important drivers in the luxury sphere.
What is Southeast Asia’s best-kept travel secret?
With Myanmar opening up, many will have already got to Bagan, Mandalay and the stunning beaches of Ngapali. But for the the real hidden gems, you need to drive or take a boat. Try the sleepy hill station of Kalaw, a couple of hours by road from Heho in the opposite direction to Inle Lake; or Mrauk U in Rakhine state, a six-hour boat ride from Sittwe, whose temples are as mystical as any in Southeast Asia.
Can you pick your top five hotels and resorts in Southeast Asia?
Alila Uluwatu is one hotel that simply cannot be missed in Bali, thanks to its minimalist, eco-friendly design and stunning views over the Indian Ocean. Luang Prabang’s Satri House – a former childhood home of Prince Souphanouvong – is a showpiece of masterful design that somehow manages to maintain its intimacy. Cabochon is a Bangkok bolthole set within the Walpole building and filled with an eclectic mix of tortoise shells, typewriters and brass chandeliers. Located in Danang, Fusion Maia is the world’s first all-inclusive spa resort – indulgence levels are off the scale here. Finally, there’s Trisara in Phuket – the Sanskrit name translates to ‘the third garden in heaven’, which sums it up perfectly thanks to its tropical forest and lush gardens.
How have technology and social media affected the travel industry?
Firstly, they have made the process of finding the right recommendations much more user-driven and immediate. People are less reliant on old-school guidebooks, or the (commission-driven) persuasions of the high-street travel agent. But I do also worry that smartphones have made people concentrate more on framing the experience than living through it in the present.
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