“A new year beckons new travels. In the second edition of our Black Book article series, we’re putting the spotlight on our home ground, Southeast Asia, for your next sun-soaked getaway. Find your bliss in the otherworldly lands of Sri Lanka and Myanmar, where our collection of superlative accommodations and outstanding experiences will have you escaping to the tropics in style.”
– By Paulyn T and Loretta T
Ceylon Tea Trails
Tucked away in a surging mountainous landscape, these resplendent bungalows sit pretty amongst a rolling sweep of emerald tea plantations in the Bogawantalawa Valley. Built in a colonial-style, each feature a distinctive character neatly complemented by modern-day comforts, wide verandahs and roaring fireplaces. Each also comes with its own manager, chef, butler and houseboys.
But the beauty of this place extends beyond your room. There’s sweeping lawns and rose gardens to stroll in, board games to play in the living room, quintessential tea trails experiences to enjoy (like a guided factory tour with a tea sommelier), and numerous outdoor activities like croquet and tennis to choose from. This is where time comes to stand still and where a hectic life’s pace has no place.
Photo credit: Resplendent Ceylon
Wild Coast Tented Lodge
Live your wildest glamping dreams at Wild Coast Tented Lodge in Yala National Park, a glorious luxury tented camp perched above a rugged beach. Sustainably built with thoughtfully selected natural materials — the main buildings are made of bamboo — all 28 cocoon suites mimic the distinctive rock formations of Yala and blend seamlessly into the landscape.
The open-plan tents themselves are idyllic and immaculate, with plush beds, hand-hewn bathtubs, and sinks and fittings crafted from copper.
As with any safari holiday, wildlife is the main focus here. In-house naturalist guides are on-hand to host expeditions, while the hotel restaurant and bar are decorated much like the surroundings they’re in — only in a more vintage aesthetic. There’s also a leopard research station. When the sun sets, monkeys bound between trees in feeding frenzies. Even elephants make midnight appearances on the beach.
Photo credit: Resplendent Ceylon
One of Sri Lanka’s most sought after hotels, Heritance Kandalama was conceptualised by famed local architect Geoffrey Bawa. A structural wonder, the building is nestled into a cliff face and emerges from the dense tropical jungle like a lost city; its walls and roofs covered in hanging vines. Amazingly, the property is built on stilts so water and animals can move beneath unhampered.
All 152 stylishly appointed, light-filled rooms look out to the Dambulla temples and Sigiriya Rock fortress. The first in Asia to be awarded the prestigious environmental ‘Green Globe 21 Certification’ award, the hotel reuses raw wood materials, has a plant nursery and, even, an eco-museum.
For activities, join the Kandalama’s resident naturalist as he takes you to his favourite spots, or balance your body, mind and spirit with a holistic yoga session in the lush forests. There’s also three pools and exotic experiences like lake safaris and cycling excursions. Even if you’re not a guest but in the area, visiting this tranquil retreat is worth the trip.
Photo credit: Heritance Hotels
Wander the Tea Trails of Ceylon
Make a dramatic entrance via helicopter or seaplane to the green estates and misty blue country hills of the tea trails in the city of Nuwara Eliya. Beautiful vistas of mountains, lakes, winding roads and waterfalls will greet you as you soar in.
Upon landing, our ground expert — and one of the most respected tea estate consultants in Sri Lanka’s hill country — will bring you on a journey through the trails and delight you in stories from his 30 years (and counting) as a resident planter in the fields. Meet tea pickers along the way, try your hand at plucking leaves and taste varying grades of the iconic brew.
Photo credit: Resplendent Ceylon
Surf at Hikkaduwa
Hikkaduwa is a seaside resort in southwest Sri Lanka. Busiest from November to April, the place is a surfing paradise where locals mingle with sun loungers and surfers on the palm-dotted beach. Once a quiet fishing village, the area is now home to mellow beach bars and restaurants, diving and surf schools, as well as charming guesthouses. Fret not if you’ve never tried the sport before: there’s a range of sand and reed break spots for beginner- to intermediate-level riders to choose from.
Inle Princess Resort
Built as an extension of Inle Lake’s serene beauty, Inle Princess Resort is a welcoming gateway to the invaluable heritage and unique culture of the community. Elements of village life are intertwined with the architecture, activities and cuisine of the resort, while ingredients are either grown on-site or locally sourced. Guesthouses were built the Inthar way by local craftsmen and the rooms feature traditional fabrics, Shan paper lamps and clay fireplaces — all in sync with the surrounding nature palette and aesthetic.
Guests can join a member of the kitchen team for a leg row around the native plants of the inlet and learn how to spot local delicacies, immerse in handicraft workshops, or relive ancient traditions through their signature spa treatments inspired by the meditation and cleansing techniques of the ethnic Shan folk.
Further, this secluded, sustainably-built refuge nestles amidst the natural landscape, going to great lengths to ensure its environmental footprint is minimised by embracing environmentally-friendly practices towards plastics, energy, waste management and water consumption; all the while supporting the local community through job training and education.
Photo credit: Inle Princess Resort
The Governor’s Residence
A striking oasis of calm in lively Yangon, The Governor’s Residence is a private world away from the heat and hustle of urban life. Dressed in a distinctive old-world colonial style, the mansion features fan-cooled verandas, classic Burmese-style furniture, and verdant gardens to invoke a sense of high society living. Simply put, a night in this iconic residence is a journey back to a bygone era.
Dining is the star event here. At breakfast, indulge in local delicacies and fresh juices from a generous buffet spread accompanied by the delicate sounds of a harpist playing traditional Burmese music. Be joined by regal peacocks as they strut across the lawns, and watch the hotel’s resident geese drift by in lotus-filled ponds. Dinner is served alfresco by lantern-light as tropical fragrances scent the breeze. At certain times of the year, traditional dance performances take place at the elegant Kipling Bar.
For a bout of extra pampering, savour complimentary homemade ice creams and granitas in exotic flavours such as coconut and jackfruit as you lounge by the pool.
Photo credit: Luxury Hunt
For those who like their hotels with a side of history, The Strand Yangon located in the heart of the city has quite the story to tell. Built in 1901 and acquired by famous hoteliers, the Sarkies brothers — who founded the likes of Raffles Hotel in Singapore and The E&O in Penang — this grand colonial hotel is one of Myanmar’s most enduring and iconic grande dames that has withstood the test of time.
As part of a recent six-month restoration project, local artisans have meticulously restored every original architectural detail signature to The Strand, from handsome teak panelling and antique bedsteads, to wicker furnishings and marble flooring. The requisite technology offerings essential for 21st century travellers and explorers have also been added to the mix.
All 32 suites are massive, with four poster beds, neutral hues and lacquer craftsmanship — for which Myanmar is known for. There’s also butlers on-hand to tend to your every whim and fancy.
Photo credit: The Telegraph
Pedal Through Lost Myanmar
Cycling the often overlooked, yet spectacular, back roads of Myanmar is an opportunity to intimately discover this ancient and earthy region. At helmet level, the open road is where you can feel the tropical breeze on your face as you ride beneath splayed palms, dodge ox carts, and share waves with local tribes as you pass through rare and remote villages like Pa O and Yandabo.
En route, explore the banks of Inle Lake where a colourful tapestry of local and migrant tribes live and where the lake’s iconic fishermen skilfully balance and row canoes solely with their legs, leaving their hands free to fish in a practice special to the area. You can even try your hand at pot-making or stop by a wildlife sanctuary to help track and look after the endangered Burmese star tortoises native to Myanmar.
For a change in perspective, the trails less travelled between Bagan and Salay offer a myriad of varied terrain from sandy riverside tracks to unexpected oilfields. Get glimpses of agricultural village life and a vista of historical landmarks, including the magnificent Yoke Saung Kyaung carved-teak monastery, as well as 12th and 13th century pagodas and colonial buildings — now almost atmospheric in their decay.
Myanmar Through The Eyes of Its People
In Myanmar, fascinating personalities run the gamut, offering travellers the rare opportunity to get up close and personal with the people that provide a more intimate look at the country. Like the former secretary to Aung San Syu Kyi, who stayed by the politician’s side through a 15-year house arrest. A traditional tattoo artist who inks protection designs believed to ward off bad spirits. A puppeteer who tells stories of Burmese culture through string-pulling. And a Burmese princess who will invite you into her home and talk about her passion for environmental conservation.
For those with questions of a regal nature, meet the descendant of the last King Thipaw of Myanmar and engage in fascinating conversations surrounding political shifts, family structures, power and influence, and the fall of former kingdoms.
Photo credit: The Kite Tales