Southeast Asia is a slice of holiday heaven that often looms large on any style-lover’s bucket list. Flick through the glossy pages of Conde Nast Traveller or any travel guide from Maison Assouline and you will quickly begin to notice a visually pleasing deluge of delightful images from this exotic part of the globe; think palm-lined Phuket beaches lapped by cerulean waters or boutique hotel retreats in a dense Sumatran rainforest. Popular books and blockbuster Hollywood films have also made the region famed for its hypnotic ocular appeal. Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’ highlighted Thailand’s breath-taking secret bays while ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ starring Julia Roberts inspired every soul-searching girl to leave Western life behind for a while in exchange for Bali’s blisteringly hot beaches. And let us not forget colonial literary classics like George Orwell’s ‘Burmese Days’ and Rudyard Kipling’s ‘A Road to Mandalay’ – novels that instantly conjure up images of spice and opulence in faraway lands as soon as you hear their titles.
Together with the region’s natural wonders, these cultural artefacts have pulled countless numbers of travellers to the region each year – over 55 million tourists arrived in Southeast Asian destinations in 2014 alone, and while many of these travellers were backpackers and students on a tighter budget, others were those who wanted to take in Asia’s beauty with style and opulence included. With this in mind, we thought that it would be useful to share some of our top insider tips on how to tackle this must-travel part of the world from a fashion-forward perspective.
Begin with Bangkok
Thailand’s bustling capital is the natural landing pad for style-conscious travellers thanks to its ‘East meets West’ aesthetic. Busy streets brim with a profusion of award-winning restaurants, luxury shops and avant-garde hotels which impress just as much as the city’s historic Buddhist temples. For a comforting welcome into eastern city life, stay at the contemporary Banyan Tree hotel Bangkok for unrivalled luxury with a refined service, and head to the venue’s rooftop bar at sunset for thrilling panoramic views over the Chaophraya River. A morning visit to Bangkok’s gold-laced Grand Palace will help you get in touch with the region’s spiritual aura as you get lost amidst sacred Buddhist statues, while an afternoon float around the Damnoen Saduak floating market will immerse you in the colours and flavours of the Orient as you weave between fruit laden boats and the smells of cooking spices.
Thai Beach Breaks
Once you’ve adjusted to the sweltering heat, you may want to swap out Bangkok’s Buddhist sites and heady scents for a less polluted and more relaxed location. Somewhere like Koh Samui perhaps – a paradise isle featuring silky sand beaches and swaying palms in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand. Opt to stay at a romantic hideaway like the Banyan Tree Samui hotel and spa which is noted for its dramatic setting on a lush green hillside, and head to nearby waterfalls in your designer beachwear for a refreshing dip when the sun gets too intense (we strongly recommend one of Stella McCartney’s floral bikinis or Givenchy’s printed swimming trunks to blend in with the dense jungle foliage).
Head further west to Thailand’s Andaman coast, and you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches. The rugged coastline is dotted with dramatic limestone karsts and coves that give the beaches a special architectural allure. Maya Bay in the Koh Phi Phi Island group is one of the most famous areas of note having been featured in Leonardo Di Caprio’s most notable early film ‘The Beach,’ while Phang Nga Bay draws tourists to ‘James Bond Island’ which was featured in the seventies 007 classic ‘The Man with the Golden Gun.’ The Sarojin hotel on Khao Lak island is a prime choice to pitch up in while you’re in the area given its easily accessible location near the jungle-clad islands of the Phuket province and the tropical national parks near the bronzed sands of Railay beach. Why not take a dip in the elegant mosaic pool with a cocktail in hand, and dine on your own private beach at sunset surrounded by artfully placed candles and fluorescent lanterns (not forgetting a bold handbag to finish off your picture-postcard look).
The morning after, change your scene by catching a flight to Indonesia. This vast behemoth of a country is home to over 17,000 scenic isles with untouched beaches for miles to see. But it is also a place of roaring volcanoes and striking ruins that rank amongst the world’s best. Borobudur is one such place, a mystic 9th Century Buddhist temple that sits in a valley of voluptuous volcanic peaks. Wake up early in the morning for stupendous countryside views from the top of the temple’s stupa, before heading down for a cooling dip in the sparkling marble pool of the nearby Villa Borobudur, enjoying rice terrace views as you swim. The hotel (part of the Small Luxury Hotels group of boutique resorts) is the ideal place to stay while you spend a few days meditating and relaxing amongst the stunning surrounding scenery.
But before you slip into a spiritual stupor, you should probably head to Bali for its world-renowned spas and stylish surf resorts. Take a trip to the island’s central highlands of Ubud for a relaxing few days among towering rice fields, the best of which are viewed from the panoramic pool of the Viceroy Bali hotel, another 'Small Luxury Hotels' property, which sits high on a hillside above a green undulating valley. Next, head to the chic coastal resort of Seminyak for wipe-out surf breaks and sensational sunsets before sampling flavoursome foods from some of the beaches’ most cutting-edge restaurants. A visit to the sleek seaside Spa in the Samaya hotel is also a good call for those wishing to recover from a serious surf session or from a varied choice of beverages at the numerous Kuta beach drinking dens that were visited the night before.
Once you’ve had a taste of the tranquil Buddhist ruins and beaches of Indonesia, then head to Cambodia for the main travel meal. The city of Siem Reap is home to Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world and one of Cambodia’s most inspirational sites. Watch the sun rise or set in front of the temple’s decorative lotus ponds as the image of the monument gleams in glassy reflective waters, then go deeper into the wild by getting lost in the vine-covered temples of Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom. But don’t necessarily expect to be alone in the forest – films like ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Tomb Raider,’ which were both shot at the temples, have filled this destination with droves of selfie-taking tourists who want to recreate moves from the films via their Snapchats and Instagram accounts. If you can’t beat them, join them by making sure that your walking boots are photo-worthy and your designer sunglasses are as on-point as Angelina’s when she fights her way through the rainforest undergrowth. Something from Illesteva perhaps?
You may of course need a bit of ‘me time’ after all of these dramatic poses, which is where the beautifully ornate Foreign Correspondents Club comes in. A chic post-colonial pad and restaurant in downtown Siem Reap, the hotel exudes an irresistible Old-World charm with its whitewashed Art Deco façade that hails from the days when it was used as a mansion for occupying French governors. Simply sit beside a poolside table and enjoy the elegant surroundings while dining on fresh Cambodian dishes with a subtle Gallic twist. We can highly recommend the Fish Amok and sweet papaya salad for a taste of Asia, finished off with an earthy French wine.
When you’ve finished dessert and are just about ready to hit the sack, order a tuk-tuk to the bohemian Rambutan hotel. You’ll find this modern residence to be a stark contrast to the rugged ruins of the temples and the heritage glamour of the FCC. Discover deluxe Khmer-style villas replete with steely modern furnishings juxtaposed against rattan furniture, edgy artwork and colourful interiors. Soak your aching temple-trotting muscles in the private terrazzo bathtub on the balcony of your room, or wait until the morning for a refreshing dip in the salt-water pool that sits neatly in the middle of vibrant tropical gardens. Just don’t forget to bring your best poolside sandals from Givenchy or Marni as the place is just too hip to let you come without.
Your final stop in Cambodia should definitely be Phnom Penh, the capital, which is often overlooked by the mass tourist crowds. Many travellers are quick to fly in and out of the country in a hurry after ticking off Angkor Wat. But we all know the dangers of following crowds blindly, so look further than first imagined to find secrets that may surprise you. The Pavilion hotel is one such secret in the heart of central Phnom Penh - only a short walk from the city’s stately Royal Palace. On approach, the hotel’s neighbourhood appears to be a manic maze of fume-chugging mopeds and sizzling street-side food stalls that mix with honking car horns, stray dogs and sometimes noxious smells. But then you arrive at the snug enclave of the Pavilion with its gorgeous oriental gardens set against a grand heritage building containing sumptuously decorated rooms featuring four-poster beds- the perfect antidote to a hectic city that never sleeps. It is here that you can relax as if you were still in the Balinese highlands – taking a jasmine infused aromatherapy massage in the hotel’s flower-filled treatment rooms before dining at the candle-lit poolside restaurant which is lavishly adorned with fairy-lights & Japanese parasols. You’ll quickly begin to forget that you’re in a city of a million people. Spend the next day exploring the palatial grounds of the Silver Pagoda, a gigantic Buddhist temple that sits next to the Cambodian King’s Royal residence, before jetting off to somewhere fresh and new.
New surroundings often demand a new look, which is certainly the case when you move from the frenzied roads of Phnom Penh to the slumbersome streets of Luang Prabang, a World Heritage city in Northern Laos. This ancient capital has a dreamy sleep-inducing feel owing to its calm location on the banks of the Mekong River and its graceful mix of incense-scented temples and cute post-colonial French shops. It’s therefore a place to prioritise free-flowing off-the-shoulder tops and denim shorts if you’re a girl, or smart polo shirts and shorts if you’re a guy. Spend time wasting time at the town’s riverside cafes, or head beyond the city limits to crystal-clear waterfalls like the Kuang Si falls.
An ideal base to stay is the French-themed Belmond La Residence Phou Vao, a sprawling mountaintop complex of cocoa-coloured teak and silk featuring a spa and an imposing infinity pool with a view. Take time soaking up the laid-back atmosphere before heading into nearby jungles for rugged mountain treks, or sampling the delectable cuisines available in the hotel restaurant. If unwinding is your main aim of the game, then you’ve headed to the right place here.
You could also opt to go deeper into Indo-China territory by heading across the Laotian border into Vietnam to explore some of the country’s most well-known sites. From the picture-perfect limestone towers and emerald seas of Ha Long Bay to the atmospheric old town of Hoi An or the energy-zapping streets of Hoh Chi Minh City, Vietnam offers a slice of the entire region in one densely compact slither of South East Asian land. After you’re done with the big Vietnamese names, get some much deserved ‘R n R’ at Nha Trang, a sweeping crescent of soft sand and sparkling sea which has recently morphed into a fully- fledged holiday town with all amenities included. Stay at the Ana Mandara Hue Beach Resort & Spa for unparalleled luxury touches including spa pavilions, a spacious outdoor pool and 3 restaurants overlooking a palm-lined private beach. The spicy Vietnamese food will make an impact with its fire and depth as much as the mind-bending sunsets which can be peacefully viewed from the balcony of your sea view room.
After taking in the sensational sites of central and eastern Indo-China, it would be a shame (in fact, a major faux pas) to miss out on the seemingly remote western attractions that lie on the mystical shores of the Bay of Bengal. Think of Burma with its deserted coastline and its beautiful ancient Buddhist sites. The nation has started to register on the traveller radar again since a new civilian government was elected in 2015 after years of military rule. Since then, the country has opened up to new tourists and travellers who are now heading to the nation’s flawlessly sandy sweeps on the western coast and the jaw-dropping ancient citadels that rival Cambodia’s ravishing temple relics. A key destination of merit is the archaeological site of Bagan, which seems to magically appear in the mist as you fly over a valley where thousands of decorative stupas and spires poke up into the sky from the rolling hills below. As soon as you touch down, rent a bike to explore the vast space, with its never-ending pathways and fields that are lined with decorative ancient shrines to the Buddha himself. You will fall into a meditative state as you experience the sun setting from the top of a temple while monuments change before your eyes from brown to tangerine and burning red in the last shards of sunlight – perhaps the most memorable experience that you will have in your entire Southeast Asian trip.
As you head back to the country capital of Yangon before taking your international flight home, make sure to immerse yourself in the heritage of Yangon’s old British buildings – the city appears as a mini London town with palm trees included thanks to its lofty old post-office, noble county halls and fine church spires (some of which still contain carvings of Queen Victoria’s coat of arms). A drink in the vintage-inspired bar of the historic Strand hotel will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a charming retro age, while a stay at the indulgent Belmond Governor’s Residence will make you feel like part of the colonial British bourgeois, if only for a night or two. Accessorize accordingly for this imposing venue with a vintage Chanel handbag, or opt for fine British brogues from Church’s and a lavish silk tie from Salvatore Ferragamo. Your vintage-themed look will be as modern and fresh as the hotel itself, with its subtle and balanced blend of decadence and minimalism.
That’s your once-in-a-lifetime Southeast Asia trip sorted in a few simple, stylish and easy-to-pull-off steps. For more tips on packing for the occasion, head over to the Farfetch vacation edit, or view our useful video guide on how to prepare your perfect holiday suitcase.