Silent, majestic and eerie, the ninth-century Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary of Borobudur is one of the world’s best-preserved ancient monuments. Sheltered by the Menoreh Hills of Central Java, its stupas, and terraces are best visited at dawn, when the rays of the sun illuminate the 504 serene statues of the Buddha.
Borobudur sits between two cities, Solo (Surakarta) and Yogyakarta, the latter just a short flight from the capital Jakarta, and where the tranquillity of kampong (village) life is mediated by ancient Javanese ritual and the call of the muezzin. For Borobudur belongs to a Buddhist past before Islam swept Java, yet its holy presence is supported by local authorities. Originally part shrine, part university, it remains a place of pilgrimage for seekers of enlightenment. Happily, the shrine is complemented by Amanjiwo, one of Asia’s most beautifully designed hotels.
While the presence of an Aman Resort is always welcome, Amanjiwo (meaning “peaceful soul”) offers authentic ways of accessing Borobudur and Javan life. After an archeologist-guided tour of the great sanctuary, guests can return by elephant to Amanjiwo and the haunting sound of gamelan music.
Of such things memories are made.
Al Maha encompasses the best of Dubai’s traditions – with a dash of the surreal.
A luxury desert resort in the lee of the Hajar Mountains, it offers an opportunity to discover something of the Bedouin life, with the not unwelcome addition of air conditioning and private pools. A crescent of tented suites, each fit for a sheikh, is spaced around an oasis of date palms. On hand are camels, thoroughbred Arabian stallions, and hawks, making it an authentic, exciting antidote to Dubai’s high-rise cityscape.
There is a wide spectrum of activities on offer at the resort, which is enclosed in a massive conservation project. Even more popular among Dubai’s rulers than camel racing is falconry, a sport demonstrated and taught at Al Maha. Archery, camel trekking and horse riding are also on offer.Less traditional desert activities include thrilling safaris (known locally as dune bashing) in which off-road vehicles are driven up sand dunes at hair-raising speeds.
For hedonists, there is a spa; for gourmands, the Al Diwaan Restaurant serves sophisticated alfresco meals and candle-lit dinners on the veranda, which offers breathtaking views of the reserve. A more romantic alternative is to dine outside your tent with just the moon for company. Al Maha may be super-luxe for a desert camp, but it still feels more authentic than coastal Dubai.
Is this the most fun you can have on a train? From the moment the Eastern & Oriental Express pulls out of Singapore’s Woodlands MRT station and crosses to Malaysia via the causeway of the Straits of Johor, the excitement begins to build. As well it might, for E&O’s itinerary covers places that are bywords for adventure – Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Bangkok – culminating at Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
The air-conditioned comfort of the cabins, each a jewel box of rare textiles and marquetry, evoke the great age of luxury train travel, and are the perfect vantage point from which to enjoy your journey as the train gently wends its way through rainforests and paddy fields, passing through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
Operated to the same standards of service as its sister train, the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the Eastern & Oriental Express offers an equally exciting on-board experience, including gourmet dining in the wood-panelled restaurant cars. All the sleeping compartments are en-suite, and have large
picture windows to enjoy the passing scenery. Additional facilities include air conditioning and 24-hour steward service.
But, ultimately, it is all about the destination – and memorable stopovers, such as the famous Bridge on the River Kwai. The highlight is surely when the E&O rumbles slowly across the Friendship Bridge over the Mekong River towards its terminus at Vientiane, amid the exotic bustle of Laotian life.
The Polynesian idyll of palm-fringed islets encircled by sandy beaches is real,
but you need to know where to look. One of the loveliest, Vahine, situated just 1.5 miles from the mountainous island of Taha’a, is easily reached from nearby Tahiti. Six well-spaced traditional farés (bungalows) overlook the lagoon, along with three overwater villas – all with air conditioning. Throw in a thatched clubhouse set in a coconut grove. And that’s it. Life does not get simpler than this – or more romantic.
You wake to the sound of waves lapping the reef, before enjoying a breakfast of tropical fruit salad and fresh croissants, followed by a walk along beaches of fine white sand, or an expedition by outrigger canoe to visit the pearl fishermen. Then it’s siesta time in a hammock, being serenaded by unfamiliar seabirds. In the evenings, cocktails are served while French chef Térence prepares a dinner of the freshest sushi, charcoaled catch of the day, and mango sorbet beneath a starlit sky so bright you could almost reach out and touch it.
Vahine is just one of many motus (islets) – almost all of them uninhabited – ringing the big island of Taha’a. Offshore, the cloud-wreathed volcanic peak of Bora Bora commands the horizon. Vahine may be a private island resort and a member of the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels of the World, but the dress code is strictly sarong and palm-leaf hat, and the music is courtesy of nature.
When the beautiful new phinisi yacht Tiger Blue explores the Indonesian archipelago, it could sail anywhere. But one destination is irresistible: the remote Komodo Islands, home to a rare dinosaur survivor, the Komodo dragon. And while it may not actually breathe fire, passengers are nevertheless warned that, for their own safety, the 10-foot beast is best not annoyed.
The Tiger Blue is an 112-foot schooner built to a traditional Indonesian model in South Sulawesi by Bugis craftsmen, whose forebears have perfected the hull design over centuries. It is stable in these waters, quite fast and surprisingly comfortable, thanks to some discreet modern comforts such as en-suite bathrooms and air conditioning.
The charted course might include the Spice Islands, the Kabui Straits or the Raja Ampat islands in the far east of the country, and offers the chance to combine real adventure with activities such as diving down to sunken galleons, water-skiing, snorkelling and kayaking.
Up to 10 guests are tended by a nine-person crew that includes a qualified dive master and a chef. The owners are a third-generation Malaysian rubber grower and a British entrepreneur who built the Tiger Blue for their families. Truly a labour of love worth sharing.