The inevitability of change has transformed the way we think of, and plan our future holidays, our travels, our escapes. Our need for a change of scenery, an opportunity to experience something new – the essence of travel – has not extinguished one bit.
Residents of the city-state Singapore have attempted to satisfy their hunger for a change with ‘Singapoliday’ within the city’s 27km by 50km perimeter, hunting for unique experiences in their tiny backyard. Residents in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have fared significantly better with a more generous array of destinations within and across state lines. Cross border leisure travel continues to be a story in development, with bubbles, corridors, bridges and green lanes coming online, slowly, one at a time.
It is almost daily that I catch myself thinking, “When the borders open, the first thing I would do is…” and the rolodex of destinations swirls, an instant mental pros-cons list gets created for each, followed by a quick analysis of the experiences I would plunge myself into with a solemn promise to appreciate every single minute of my future freedom in the new setting. Meaningful experiences and authentic escapes would be the threads that will weave through all my future travels.
An interesting conversation with Iain Langridge, Managing Director of Belmond APAC presented me with meaningful options to explore that are closer to home, once border restrictions have eased.
Temporary restrictions on the freedom of movement have given prominence to the notion that travel is no more a commodity to use and overuse. Iain assesses that it is essential to bring positive interaction between traveller & destination. A meaningful escape would thus tend to be less of a ‘touch and go’ approach to a destination but rather a more extended trip that is more immersive, special and enriching. Authentic, understated luxury and intimate experiences would thus be preferred.
There is an unquenchable thirst to be on a getaway, perhaps as strong as our desire to stay safe. Dreams of basking in an open beach, with the hot sand underneath one’s feet, and the soft rippling of the waters pacifying every woe. With Belmond hotels taking root in Southeast Asia’s dreamy, sun-kissed surroundings, Iain discovers a new trend – one that answers a pining for a quick getaway essential for one’s quiet healing and peace. “All our properties in Asia are intimate size with villa offerings that fit in well in the current situation,” he divulges.
To the luxury traveller, “this would lead to remarkable examples such as Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao, a 34 suites sanctuary in Luang Prabang, Laos or the 64 suites & villas of Belmond Jimbaran Puri in Bali; both intimate in size with a focus on heritage, craftsmanship and genuine, unscripted service” Iain said. When it comes to customisations and personalised service, Belmond takes a step further and gives autonomy to their teams to interact with the guests as they gauge the mood & needs of the guest. These are simple luxuries that remain in memories long after the flight back home.
Wellness experiences, good living practices and authentic escapes
The current pandemic has brought the need for wellness to the forefront. Frequent travellers will now be on a lookout for indulging in specialised wellness retreats that come with extensive, structured programs ranging from a few days to a month, focusing on balancing the mind and body. Simplicity seekers will be exploring local wellness experiences for authentic escapes. The ‘zen’ among us will be mastering good living practices that go a long way in soothing the soul and adding meaning to the mundane.
For the quick and easy, Belmond’s digital care package brings elements of wellbeing to the fingertips including music playlists, start-of-day sense awakening ritual, moving idling from an art form to a full time feature on the daily calendar and many other one of a kind experiences curated by good living experience makers. The Belmond Invitations series on IGTV brings personalities such as Chef Raymond Blanc, singer and pianist Joe Stilgoe, explorer Levison Wood and many more into our homes for the essential escape, a gift that allows/permits/ us to dream of better things and better days.
“We’ve launched a new campaign to bring together a good living philosophy for life,” Iain proudly shares. “The Belmond Good Living is a concept in well living and a celebration of Joie de vivre. It is about enriching experiences that go beyond pure wellness. It’s more holistic, creating memories from mindful to meditation to physical and mental challenges to cultural immersion.” In essence, it is to completely nourish the human mind and heart, satisfying the many spectrum of needs. “From the Belmond side, we have appointed a council of experienced makers and these are experts in their field. What they do is curate one-of-a-kind experiences and link them so much in the real world.” Little things, such as daily wellness rituals and quick meditations, collectively and positively transforms a person’s inner-being.
Moving from travelling and discovery within digital devices to actually immerse oneself in the destination, Iain points out Belmond’s experience in Bali where guests start the day at the local temple. Witness, and capture on one’s Instagram, the first rays of the sun waking up the Balinese temple from her slumber as the priest lights up the incense and places flower offerings at every corner. This serene, calm, peaceful and meditative experience of capturing dawn in Asia is also available at Angkor Wat, fifteen minutes from Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor and the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar onboard the Belmond Road to Mandalay river cruise. These are unique ‘First Light’ programs by Belmond in partnership with Leica Sport Optics, build around discovering the mesmerising nature as the dawn breaks.
Slowing down to improve wellbeing
Being always connected numbs the mind. Slow down. Take the time to think and enjoy. The future of pleasurable, meaningful escapes is slow travel! South-East Asia’s rich marine national parks are the playgrounds of Phinisis and yachts. Closer to land, classy river cruises and luxury trains rule the domain of slow travel. Take for instance Belmond’s Road to Mandalay river cruiser that operates between Bagan, Mandalay and Bhamo along the Ayeyarwady River. Imagine practising days of perpetual laziness in sophistication and style as you glide past villages, forested areas and pagodas. Deep contemplation starts early in the morning with yoga on the observation deck, followed by appreciating culture and traditions while cycling around or hot-air ballooning over ancient relics.
Experiencing serenity while gliding through nature and time
This two-decade route in Myanmar is an unforgettable experience. As the understated luxurious cruise glides across the watery surface, the panorama changes. Foggy mornings welcome the mysterious atmosphere of Bagan’s scenic plain, draped with thousands of Buddhist temples, invoking a prayerful moment that kindles healing and meditation. The serene view slowly translates into Mandalay’s landscape; thrills with the sight of the colourful Zegyo Market, which beckons one to revel in its glorious treasures – from locally-woven fabrics, delicate pottery, stunning jewellery, and of course, good food. This grand gallery of picturesque views – perfect in every frame – is best enjoyed by the deck, where sunbeds parade by the balcony, and a glistening blue pool quells the Southeast Asian humidity.
The views along the Ayeyarwady River
Cruising down along the river takes us to the proud spectacle of Yangon, home to the gloriously bejewelled Shwedagon Pagoda, whose walls declare the richness of Myanmar’s royalty. Steep gorges soon become a lush tropical jungle. At Bhamo, an old trading port that kisses the Chinese border, enthusiastic merchants in their vibrant attire greet guests coming from all crossroads, welcoming them in their merchandise-filled stalls.
As the sun sets, Myanmar’s historic temples are set against the bright, clear sky with golden rays falling atop the tip of the sacred temples, and on the leafy heads of its forested backdrop. The earthen-robed monks quietly walk back to their lodges, reminding that serenity is where one chooses to be. The escape into time transcends into a quiet evening and intimate date with stars.
Head into the cabin bedecked with Myanmar’s royal finery – from traditional local weavings to tasteful wood carvings that echoes the country’s spirit; the small accents on the tables and the décor on the walls. Lush, bright flowers animate the room, mimicking the bounty of nature, served daily by the cruise’s committed staff.
A meaningful escape across the land on train
Once the borders open up, there is no stopping Eastern & Oriental Express to mechanically glide across its historic tracks and treat its guests in the sweeping landscapes of Southeast Asia’s countryside. Lush rice fields, magnificent mountains, and serene rivers – the iconic green-and-beige train traverses across Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, with trips spanning for days.
A 2-night journey from Singapore to Bangkok embraces the hidden secrets of Kuala Kangsar, a close glimpse of the famous River Kwai, leading up to the bright and colourful Bangkok. Fables of Peninsula, a favourite curated tour, is a 6-night journey that explores Kuala Lumpur, the misty Cameron Islands, the alluring sight of Penang, Huay Yang, and back to Bangkok.
Twenty-two carriages make up the train, each of them, embedded with all forms of luxury. During the day, the spacious seating spaces are a great way to privately enjoy the remarkable landscapes that slowly unravel by the glass windows. Restaurant cars Malaya, Rosaline, and Adisorn gather guests in delightful lunches and formal dinners, and an observation car, slated at the end of the train, rewards the morning larks their early snacks. Late into the night, cocktails are served in the Piano Bar, where a resident crooner charms guests with cadences on the keys.
It’s not just the trip – a peaceful gallery of grassy panoramas and rising cities – but it’s also the immersive experience that comes with the journey. The train stops at River Kwai for a barge cruise or cycling. In Penang, guests can stop to admire the sprawling colonial homes set on a vibrant village. At Hill Trek, things get more physical with hikes and nature walks. Trains, once an avant-garde of fast travel, is now our transport to a meaningful escape, perfectly placed to give modern travellers like us a fresh perspective into the region we call home.
The weeks and months that hide beyond the announcement of relaxed green lanes between nations are exciting! There will be a whole host of opportunities for us to experience; a buffet of indulgences in front of a deprived traveller. Understated, authentic getaways with meaningful escapes will reign supreme. www.belmond.com ◼
© This article was first published online in Oct 2020 – World Travel Magazine.