FOUR SEASONS RESORT CHIANG MAI
With views of the rice paddies and Suthep mountain range beyond, even from "the gorgeous infinity pool," this resort on a working rice farm is "almost like heaven." The architecture is classic Lanna, including steeply pitched roofs. "Magnificent rooms" have vaulted ceilings, teak floors, private salas (open-air spaces), and art from the Siamese kingdom. Pool villas display the typical north Thai Lanna colors of red, orange, and gold. "The service is very good, and the cooking school is especially fabulous."
The resort has its own organic garden and a shopping village with five stores
Mae Rim-Samoeng Old Rd., Chiang Mai, 50180, Thailand
This 40-acre hillside hideaway—set within a rain forest of bamboo and banana trees on Phuket—has 39 waterfront villas and rooms, all with commanding Andaman Sea views from the bed, the sunken bath, and each villa’s infinity pool. Among the spacious spa, water sports, tennis, and nearby golf courses, there’s plenty to do, but villa dwellers will find their desires met within their nearly 2,600-square-foot personal oasis, thanks to wireless Internet access, spectacular scenery, and a generously stocked minibar—critical, since room service operates on Thai time. Call at least three days in advance for sweet yellow-bean dumplings with sesame seeds, and don’t pass on the delicately spiced banana-blossom salad. Daybeds are scattered like seashells along the beach and in the shade near the 150-foot-long main pool.
RAFFLES HOTEL SINGAPORE
Just a stone’s throw from some of Singapore’s most storied museums and liveliest markets, Raffles is practically a cultural institution. The colonial-style hotel, which opened in 1887, is named for Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, and has played host to royals and literary luminaries alike. The hotel’s 12 personality suites, for instance, are named for such illustrious former occupants as Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, and Ava Gardner.
But what drew these legends in the first place? The answer is quickly revealed in the expansive, white marbled lobby, with its cathedral ceiling anchored by Corinthian columns. The 103-room hotel also boasts an impressive set of amenities, including 14 different restaurants and bars (should you want contemporary French cuisine and a curry buffet), a Victorian-style theater for in-house movie screenings, and even its own 24-hour luxury shopping mall. And if, like us, your vacation isn’t complete without an umbrella-topped libation, then head to the Long Bar, where legend has it the country’s national drink, the Singapore Sling, was invented in 1915. If the promise of this frothy pink concoction doesn’t seal the deal, we don’t know what will.
1 Beach Rd., Singapore, 189673, Singapore
The Hoshinoya, Kyoto, a hybrid ryokan-hotel, is made up of a series of low buildings inspired by traditional Japanese houses that cling to the banks above the Hozugawa River in the temple-rich Arashiyama district, and is accessible only by a lazy boat ride in a hinoki (Japanese cedar) vessel. Its 25 elegant rooms are also redolent of cedar, and although they don’t have TVs, they do have heated wooden floors, hand-blocked wallpaper, shoji-inspired sliding glass doors and picture windows (all the better to lean out and watch the foxes, deer, and occasional monkey that prance through the forest), deep cedar soaking tubs, and lofty duvets that sigh when you flop down on them. From the iron lanterns that light the moss-traced stone walkways to the lashed bamboo fences, every detail has been well considered. In lieu of a bar, there’s a library, refreshed throughout the day with complimentary snacks by the gracious staff (who speak excellent English). As in a traditional ryokan, there are some restrictions—the boat back to the docks runs only from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.—but Hoshinoya is a retreat not only from town but from modernity. At night, after you’ve eaten an excellent Japanese or French meal and changed into the provided lounging clothes (complete with raw-silk robes), you can sit in the Zen rock garden, look up at the star-smeared sky, and forget what century you’re in.
11-2 Arashiyama Genrokuzancho, Kyoto, Japan
Amanbagh is a stunning modern maharajah’s palace of the palest pink sandstone two hours outside the fabled Indian city of Jaipur. Aman’s landscape guru, American Bill Dalton deserves special praise for coaxing a lush oasis from this exquisite but parched corner of the Rajastani desert that served as a camp site for royal tiger hunts and was mentioned in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. At 850 square feet, even the standard courtyard haveli rooms could be called suites but pool pavilions especially are pleasure palaces with decadent marble bathrooms that would satisfy any maharani. Inspired by the Indian belief that music and meditation ensure the soul’s transcendence to bliss, Amanbagh offers yoga alongside the two sprawling pools while a musician plays the melodic Bansi flute throughout the day. Between verses he creates the colorful rangolis, animals and flowers made from lentil beans that decorate the dining courtyard. Local staff talent extends to applying swirls of henna mehandi and an Indian masseur whose powerful fingers unlock the deepest internal tensions. To experience the resort’s greatest living treasure, hop in the open safari jeep with nature guide extraordinaire Sita Ram. He can identify every one of the two hundred plus bird species that flock here to the edge of the Sariska jungle and also knows his way around the deserted 16th city of Bhahgargh, an eerie attraction not to be missed. While the sparkling storefronts of Jaipur are too far for all but the most dedicated shoppers, Gem Palace baubles and some of India’s finest frocks fill the ultra-chic boutique so guests can drape themselves silly without leaving this lavish sanctuary.
Alwar, Rajasthan, India
THE PENINSULA HONG KONG
This iconic, neoclassical building with a modern tower near the Star Ferry terminal in Kowloon has spacious rooms that marry European style with Asian touches in orange, gold, and ivory hues. Take a swim in the pool overlooking Hong Kong Island, get a holistic massage with hot stones of volcanic lava, and dine at the Philippe Starck-designed Felix for contemporary European cuisine or Spring Moon for Cantonese dishes.
Salisbury Rd., Hong Kong, China
FAIRMONT PEACE HOTEL
This resplendent Art Deco hotel had a comeback once before, when it reopened after the Cultural Revolution. That was then. Now, after a $64 million renovation, the 1929 landmark at the base of Nanjing Road East has staged a truly auspicious unveiling, hewing closely—almost too closely, given the building’s heavy Gothic feel—to the original decor. With the help of Shanghai architectural historian Peter Hibbard, builders restored the lobby’s stained glass skylight, long hidden by a false ceiling, and brought the ornate ballroom (with its famous sprung-wooden dance floor) and kitsch Dragon Phoenix restaurant back to life. Though the end result is a tad gloomy, the 270-room hotel is nevertheless a grand celebration of Shanghai’s colonial-era style. Rooms are small but comfortable. The olive-green velvet upholstery contrasts nicely with purple-and-gold carpets. Bathrooms have Deco mirrors and fixtures. The Cathay Room serves Western food and has a balcony that looks out on the Bund. In general, staff are professional but stiff. Still, this is a truly historic and distinguished hotel, and you can quite easily imagine its glory days when Charlie Chaplin visited, tea dances sold out months in advance, and Noël Coward penned Private Lives there.
20 Nanjing Rd. East, Shanghai, China
ST. REGIS SINGAPORE
Near Orchard Road, this "elegant refuge full of old-money businessmen" houses a fine private art collection, including a sculpture by Botero and a sketch by Joan Miró. Besides vistas of the downtown skyline, rooms have original art, rich fabrics, and chandeliers and blend "avant-garde opulence and twenty-first-century accents." Decanter's wall of wines stocks more than 1,500 labels from across the globe, and "the restaurants are wonderful"—Yan Ting focuses on Cantonese. Work on your drop shot on the air-conditioned indoor tennis court, or take a dip in the outdoor spa pool, which features a sculpture by Taiwanese artist Li Chen.
25 Tanglin Rd., Singapore, 247911, Singapore
CHEVAL BLANC RANDHELI
It stands to reason that the Cheval Blanc Randheli, the latest resort from luxury conglomerate LVMH (owners of Louis Vuitton, Céline, Dior, etc.), would set the bar high. The white sands and turquoise waters of the Noonu Atoll, in the northwest Maldives, are the backdrop for 45 one- and two-bedroom villas. The one I stayed in was set back from the beach amid coconut palms, but others are built out over the water. All are supremely elegant—decked out in travertine and cinnamon wood, butter-soft leather, and French linens—and completely private. Not to mention huge: The smallest is nearly 2,600 square feet; mine had a private 40-foot-long infinity pool, and there was enough room in the breezy courtyard between my indoor bath and my equally massive outdoor shower for a restorative massage. As looks go, it doesn’t get chicer than this, but the whimsical touches—turtles drawn in the sand along the path to my villa, thoughtful little notes from my butler left alongside the pitchers of fresh juice—are what truly give this place its character. And the overwater restaurant, Deelani, was my dream combination of beach shack and high-style seafood emporium
Noonu Atoll, Maldives
For sustainable jungle luxury, look no further: sitting on 560 acres of land, this all-villa resort is all about exclusivity—and a private 1.5-mile beach. Stretching across 560 acres of unspoiled natural land including a 2.5 kilometer private beach, this spectacular all-villa resort offers secluded privacy and exclusivity.
Nihiwatu offers a rare sense of discovery, where ancient tribal culture and unspoiled natural beauty form a backdrop to a boundless experience of unregulated freedom, understated luxury and unforgettable memories.
Kuta Poleng Complex Block C/2, Sumba Island, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia