88 essential Asian experiences

Why 88? It’s a Chinese lucky number, of course! And if you get to sample even a handful of these great pan-Asian delights, you’ll be most fortunate indeed. The editors and writers of Travel + Leisure Australia + New Zealand teamed up with their colleagues at T+L South-East Asia to bring you this list, especially for our annual Asia issue.

1. Take bliss to a new level at Amanpuri, in Phuket, the first Amanresorts property and still our favourite getaway.

2. Want a taste of the “new” Singapore? Then book into the New Majestic, where mid-century finds, provocative art and individually designed rooms give it the cutting edge.

3. Copper-plated bathtubs and four-poster beds make The Eugenia in Bangkok the perfect blend of boutique and faux-colonial.

4. Discover your inner wellness down on The Farm. Scrubs, rubs, internal flushing (ahem) … this holistic resort in the Philippines is Asia’s original get-fit camp.

5. Take the helicopter from the rooftop of The Peninsula for a “flight-seeing” trip, the only service of its kind in Hong Kong.

6. Sleep almost literally on cloud nine at the park hyatt shanghai, the tallest hotel in the world.

7. Retreat to the Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi, only 45 minutes from Phuket, and be surrounded by jungle, tiny fishing villages and untouched beaches.

8. Wake to ethereal views of the Taj Mahal from a room at the Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra.

9. Cool off in a swimming pool that replicates an Angkor king’s royal bathing ponds at the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap.

10. Built around a collection of rammed-earth huts, the spa at Six Senses Hideaway Hua Hin in Thailand is the perfect spot for some serious soothing. Hats off, too, to the resort’s green mindset

11. Have a man-made marvel literally at your doorstep. Check in to the cutting-edge Commune by the Great Wall resort near Beijing; it has a section of the wall running through its grounds.

12. Relax on the beautiful beach at The Datai in Langkawi, Malaysia, surrounded by lush jungle.

13. Go to Sukhumvit Soi 38 in Bangkok at night for duck noodles. It’s also an excellent place to see a cross-section of Thai society – Bangkok’s elite roll up in their Mercs to pick up meals.

14. Feed on an ultra-fresh fish dinner in Kota Kinabalu, from where much of Malaysia’s seafood

15. In Macau, don’t gamble on your lunch. The prix fixe menu is a steal at Robuchon à Galera.

16. Soak in the spectacular views at Dining on the Rocks on Koh Samui in Thailand.

17. Brunch at Basilico in Mumbai’s trendy Colaba district. The breakfasts are good, the coffee is better, but the cheesecakes are always best.

18. Buy a box of the legendary handmade egg tarts at Lord Stow’s Bakery, a true Macau culinary experience.

19. In Japan, dine on a superb bento lunch box, bought from a station or platform kiosk, along with all the other passengers in your carriage on a crowded shinkansen or bullet train.

20. In Vietnam, compare the two completely north and south versions of pho, the national soup dish, in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.

21. Be adventurous in Cambodia and try some traditional Khmer dishes – delicacies such as stir-fried frogs and dried snake – at Meric restaurant in Siem Reap.

22. In the heart of Bangkok, the secret garden at colonial-styled Agalico is a perfect setting for tea and homemade scones.

23. We challenge you to resist the hawker stands in Penang, Malaysia’s street-eats epicentre, particularly the standout food at Jalan Selamat in Georgetown at night.

24. Rise early in Tokyo and head straight for the Tsukiji fish markets for a sushi breakfast at any of the tiny bar-restaurants. It will blow your mind as well as your taste buds.

25. Take your morning cuppa Hainan-style, and stop into Yut Kee, a nearly 80-year-old coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur, run by the son and grandson of the original owner, who migrated from the Chinese island.

26. Visit Bobby Chinn at his eponymous restaurant, where he cooks fusion dishes – think filet mignon spring roll – that have helped revolutionise Hanoi’s somewhat staid dining scene

27. Join the aid workers set for lunch at the shop in phnom penh, where wonderful pastries are on the menu.

28. Gorge at Rut & Lek Seafood in Bangkok’s Chinatown for cheerfully cheap and amazingly fresh fish right on the street. Stir-fried crab and grilled giant prawns are a must. As is everything else – bring friends, so you can order more dishes.

29. In Bali, sample sensational rooftop dining at Sunset on Six, Seminyak’s newest and coolest bar-restaurant.

30. Enjoy a round table full of fish dishes at East Lake Restaurant on Cheung Chau, one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands, which has no cars; the only access is by ferry. Then, work off the food by walking around the island.

31. In Malaysia, grab a typical Malay breakfast of roti canai: flaky, buttery bread dunked in a spicy chickpea or lentil curry. Then wash it down with a kopi, strong black coffee with a dollop of sweetened condensed milk.

32. Visit La Verticale for expertly done French food by one of Hanoi’s best, Didier Corlou, who used to be head chef at the city’s famous and historic Metropole Hotel.

33. Dine on dim sum at City Hall Maxim’s Palace in Hong Kong. Enjoy the backdrop of Victoria Harbour and a high-decibel soundtrack of animated diners, some of whom you may end up with in a bid to get everyone seated as soon as possible.

34. Off Orchard Road is one of Singapore’s best-kept sweet secrets. Ling Zhi produces a devilishly good banana custard roll that is helium-light and richly sweet without being cloying.

35. Don’t miss cendol, a super- sweet Malaysian/Indonesian dessert of shaved ice, coconut milk, mung bean paste and lots of palm sugar syrup. The place to have it is at Makko Nyonya Restaurant in Melaka.

36. In the Philippines, try the coconut-based spirit lampanog. It is a potent locally made brew infused with star fruit and raisins (and sometimes with bubble gum!). Available at most roadside food stalls, it is the true taste of the island archipelago – with a kick.

37. In Hué, Vietnam, wander through the most majestic of royal tombs in Minh Mang. It dates back to the 1840s and is known for its stunning architectural details, which seem to blend into the local environment.

38. Follow in the footsteps of a million devotees at the Thaipusam Festival, a time of penance and atonement for Hindus, which includes an annual 20-kilometre trek from Kuala Lumpur to the Batu Caves Temple.

39. Seen at dawn, Angkor Wat in Cambodia is an unforgettable sight, but if the crowds there are too much, head for the Bayon temple at Angkor Thom as the sun rises.

40. Take the venerable Star Ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui to Hong Kong Island at night for an unforgettable view. It only costs the equivalent of 87 cents and remains a truly essential Asian experience.

41. When in Pagan, the sweeping valley of temples in Burma, forgo a traditional ox cart by cycling around the thousand-year-old temples or, for a less-strenuous and more champagne-filled view, opt for a 45-minute balloon ride over the scenic ruins.

42. In a city that’s always on the up and up, Hong Kong just had to have the world’s longest escalator. If you’re headed uphill in Central, your legs will be glad it does.

43. The Temple of Dawn in Bangkok is best visited at dusk. You can then watch rice barges gliding along the Chao Phraya.

44. Indonesia’s most-visited attraction, Borobudur, is home to more than 500 images of Buddha, making this a man-made locale unlike anywhere else in the world.

45. Meet the orangutans at Sepilok in Sabah State, Malaysia. Here you can appreciate the wonders of nature and make a donation to help save Asia’s only great ape.

46. Enjoy the majesty of Bangkok’s Grand Palace, either as it sparkles under an early-morning glow or when it lights up the city’s skyline at night.

47. Buy hand-woven textiles at OckPopTok in Luang Prabang, Laos.

48. Stroll down Hong Kong’s crowded Cat Street on weekends. Opium pipes, “new” antiques, jade jewellery, animal-shaped brass locks and 1960s Mao statues are the bargains here.

49. In Bangkok, visit the mother of all markets: Chatuchak Weekend Market. Go early, wear comfortable shoes, bargain and take your time; one day – even three – won’t be enough to see it all.

50. From May to July, visit the Great Singapore Sale in Asia’s shopping capital.

51. Hit Bangkok’s CentralWorld, which has a mind-boggling array of shops, restaurants, cinemas and more. At Christmas or New Year, chill out in one of the many night-time beer gardens in front of the shops and soak up the live music.

52. Need a break from shopping? Head for the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari for a bit of wildlife amid the concrete jungle.

53. In Siem Reap, visit Madagascar-born designer Eric Raisana, by appointment only, at his house-cum-boutique in the backstreets of town. His innovative silk creations will enchant you.

54. In India, stock up on superb handmade writing paper decorated with intricate Indian motifs at Chimanlal’s, haute Mumbai’s stationer of choice since the 1950s.

55. In Tokyo, get high on culture at the Mori Art Gallery on the 53rd floor of the Mori Tower in Tokyo’s amazing Roppongi Hills precinct, then hit the fabulous restaurants, bars and shops at ground level.

56. Jump-start your party at Double Six: Bali’s most rocking club, with its own bungee jump.

57. To get a sense of the old Macau, visit the original Lisboa casino, with its dark gambling pit of coffee-stained tables. For new Macau, try the Sands, the Wynn or Crown.

58. Absorb some history at the Hall of Opium in the Golden Triangle, Thailand. This multimedia museum and research centre illuminates the path opium has travelled from medicine and spice to an addiction that has sparked wars, revolutions and major crime.

59. Enjoy a private long-tail boat tour on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River.

60. Visit Mae Hong Song to experience how some of Thailand’s diverse hill tribes live.

61. Before it’s completely overrun by tourists, visit Luang Prabang, Laos, which retains its sleepy charm, at least for now. Hire a bicycle for next to nothing as soon as you arrive and keep it for the whole of your visit, so you can pedal about the city’s quiet streets.

62. Visit the historic vietnamese town of hoi an for its incredible culture, shopping, architecture and food.

63. In Bali, experience Galungan and Kuningan, the most important festivals of the Balinese year, celebrated once every 210 days.

64. Soak up Siam Niramit in Bangkok: Cirque du Soleil meets Andrew Lloyd Webber meets Thai culture and history. Arrive early to enjoy some snacks or to get a massage. The best seats are the most expensive, but worth it.

65. Visit Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Burma, on your birthday, when it is a tradition for long lines of Burmese, who all share the same date of birth, to sweep through the pagoda in a clockwise direction. Why not join them?

66. Take an hour-or-so round trip at dusk on one of Bangkok’s commuter ferries along the chaotic Chao Phraya, the Thai capital’s river of kings.

67. In Hong Kong, take a trip to Tai Long Wan, or Big Wave Bay, in Sai Kung, which is synonymous with hiking. Better still, the beach will make you forget that you’re in one of Asia’s most frenetic cities.

68. Experience the spectacle of Banaue’s rice terraces in the Philippines. They look like giant steps that ascend into the sky, but what you might not know is that they cover more than 10,000 square kilometres and are 2000 years old.

69. In Malaysia, trek up the 830-metre-high Penang Hill and escape the heat of tropical Georgetown; it’s a few degrees cooler.

70. Check out the eye candy at Phangnga Bay, which remains one of Thailand’s most scenic areas and is known as “James Bond Island” for its starring role in the Roger Moore outing The Man with the Golden Gun.

71. Take a train journey with a difference: the five- to six-hour trip from Kota Kinabalu through the rainforest up to Tenom; and three days on the luxury Eastern & Oriental from Singapore to the centre of Bangkok.

72. In Malaysia, go native in Taman Negara, one of the region’s oldest rain forests. For the eco traveller, this ecosystem is rich in biodiversity, with animals such as tree shrews, flying lemurs, sea otters and pangolins; they are rare but can still be spotted.

73. In the Philippines, kick off your thongs and walk barefoot along Boracay’s White Beach, where the granules of sand are so miniscule that even in the full heat of a summer day, they remain relatively cool.

74. In Japan, wander the safe, atmospheric and beautifully preserved backstreets and laneways of historic Kyoto by night. Then head to Gion for an amazing meal, and afterwards take a post-prandial stroll along the river, a popular haunt for local lovers.

75. Paddle for your life on a white-water-rafting lark down Ayung River in Bali with adventure pioneers Sobek. Class I and Class II rapids ensure many thrills but few spills on the 11-kilometre adventure.

76. When in Beijing, allow a full day of sightseeing in the magnificent, stunningly regal Forbidden City, home of the Emperor and his royal household for almost five centuries.

77. Stalk the rare Asiatic lion at the Sasan Gir sanctuary in Gujarat, western India, the only place outside Africa where you’ll find lions in the wild

78. In the Philippines, get up close and personal with a tarsier, one of the world’s smallest and most endangered primates. Cartoon-cute with saucer eyes and spindly frog-like hands, they reside on the eco-friendly island of Bohol, in a sanctuary to ensure the little tackers’ survival.

79. Order a Femme Fatale in Raffles Hotel Le Royal’s colonial-cosy Elephant Bar in Cambodia. The drink commemorates Jacqueline Kennedy’s 1967 stay to fulfill “a lifelong dream to visit Angkor Wat”.

80. Groove at tropical-chic restaurant/bar/beach club Ku De Ta in Bali. Then, with a last spurt of energy, have an early breakfast before the hedonists roll in, or dinner or drinks when they return to toast yet another day spent in paradise.

81. Smell the horseflesh at one of the world’s greatest race tracks: Hong Kong’s Happy Valley. Place a bet, then sit in the stands with the throng of cheering locals.

82. Dance the night away at Zouk in Singapore. While it was once the no-fun city of “do not” signs, the island nation now has myriad clubs like this that host some of the best DJs in the world.

83. Sink a tall, cold Angkor beer while you take in the sunset at “the F”, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Phnom Penh, the expat bar to beat them all. The geckos on the walls would agree. There’s also another branch of the FCC in Siem Reap that is well worth a look.

84. Drop in to Bar Yamazaki in Sapporo, Japan and meet 89-year-old Tatsuro Yamazaki, whose establishment celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. Tell him where you’re from and he’ll play your national anthem on the bar’s PA and plonk your national flag down with your drink.

85. Scuba dive off of Sipadan Island in Malaysia. This oceanic paradise offers some 3000 species of fish and hundreds of types of coral; perfect, in other words, for an underwater break.

86. In Vientiane, Laos, order a large bottle of Beerlao (definitely one of our favourite Asian brews) at The Deck bar, one of the capital’s best and most happening hangs, with sweeping views over the Mekong River.

87. Disappear down the rabbit hole at White Rabbit in Singapore’s hip Dempsey area. Housed in a restored chapel, this quirky, Alice in Wonderland-themed bar has one of the city’s finest margaritas, as well as a range of interesting takes on classic cocktails.

88. When in Bangkok, make a bee-line for The Oriental and order a signature Chao Phraya cocktail, a tribute to this venerable hotel’s eponymous location by the city’s river.

RECENT ISSUES

ARCHIVE

Read featured stories from past issues.