3. Luang Prabang, Laos
Nestled at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, this former royal capital – and UNESCO World Heritage Site – is a heady mix of well-preserved cultural tradition and colonial and Laotian architecture. Colourfully garbed hill tribe women and Mahayana monks clutching burnt sienna parasols walk along bougainvillea-flanked roads, passing homespun eateries, little shops and boutique hotels housed within gabled, timbered or brick-and-stucco mansions. Villa Maly, a 33-room hotel anchored by the 1938 home of Princess Khampieng and Prince Kharntan, embodies the elegance of Indochinese-era living. Compared with neghbouring Southeast Asian hubs, Luang Prabang is not that easy to get to – only a couple of flights a day depart nearby Hanoi – although improving connections may see that change. For now, though, you can enjoy the 300-step climb to Wat That Chom Si on the top of Mount Pousi Wat and step beneath the low sleeping roof of 16th-century Wat Xieng Thong to admire its vivid glass mosaics of Buddhist teachings and King Sisavang Vong’s seven naga-headed funeral chariot, without having to elbow through busloads of tourists.
4. Danang, Vietnam
Historically, Vietnam’s central coast has been the seat of kings, emperors, colonial administrators and war heroes from both sides. Today, Danang’s 48-kilometre sandy shoreline (formerly known as China Beach) – from hilly Son Tra peninsular in the north to the historic ancient town of Hoi An – is fast becoming as famous for its sun, sand and sea as its unique history: developers are even tipping Danang as the next Phuket. After the lull following 2008’s downturn, things are starting to pick up again.
The Meliá Danang held its soft opening there in 2015, while JW Marriot, Hilton and Sheraton will be online within the next few years, and flights are gradually being added from hubs all over Asia. For now, though, the vibe is not too hectic, the resorts are gorgeous (the all-villa Nam Hai and high-style InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort are our favourite places to stay on the beach), and local attractions – from cooking classes to beach bars tucked away in small bays – are myriad. At ancient UNESCO-listed merchant town, Hoi An, you can wander charming museums, temples and eateries set within 15th-century houses by day, and eat at tiny eateries along lantern-lit streets by night – don’t miss the chocolate duck and mango shrimp at Mango Rooms or a nightcap at opium den-inspired Q Bar.