While Bali’s charms may seem thoroughly documented (thanks, Eat, Pray, Love) and regular visitors may grumble that it’s not the untouched paradise they remember, the truth is that this Indonesian jewel has been evolving since celebs such as Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin vacationed here in the Twenties and Thirties. The upside is that no matter how many times you’ve visited Bali, next time around there will be new places to check out – and check in to. Last year, the 60-villa Ritz-Carlton Mandapa opened on the banks of the Ayung River in Ubud, and Alila launched its fourth Bali property in fashionable Seminyak; this year’s hotly anticipated newcomers include Philippe Starck’s 12-villa property, The Stairs, and all-suite hotel, The Katamama (run by the folks behind hip Seminyak beach club, Potato Head). New restaurants pop up every season, many from already successful Bali restaurateurs. Bambu Restaurant from the team behind popular La Lucciola. The island’s well-established eateries also introduce new chefs and new menus to complement their high-concept interiors (check out the British colonial-era Shanghai vibe at Mama San and rice-paddy vistas at Sardine).
And, in addition to captivating visitors with its jungles, beaches and spiritual sanctuaries, the Island of Dreams also inspires entrepreneurs from all over the world to up sticks and try new ventures on its shores. When not opening new boutiques or launching craft cooperatives, designers – including those behind Australian brands Ebony Eve, Shakuhachi and Nastasha – spend most, if not all, of their time in Bali previewing new collections or releasing samples through local shops. This means you’ll often snag one-off pieces for an absolute steal.
And once you’ve had your fill of Bali’s social scene, ancient centres of tranquillity such as Pura Ulun Danu Bratan and Uluwutu temple, still hold new secrets to be discovered.
Ever since Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, Myanmar’s star has been in the ascendant and many travellers will tell you it’s top of their list. Historically, Myanmar (formerly Burma) has been a popular destination, particularly during its British colonial past (and visitors can experience the luxurious accommodations of that bygone era), but years of more recent isolation mean that Myanmar still feels relatively untouched by the fast-paced modern development characteristic of neighbouring countries. Yangon, especially, is a beguiling mix of European-influenced history and Myanmar tradition. Victorian features at The Strand Hotel – sweeping marble staircases; an ancient elevator – have been well maintained, while rooms at the two-storey 1920s home of Myanmar’s former British governor, now the Belmond Governor’s Residence Yangon, feature canopy beds bordered by silk-panelled walls and views over leafy treetops. But things are changing quickly and new developments are mushrooming up everywhere. Luxurious, safari camp-inspired Bagan Lodge opened in 2013 to give well-heeled visitors a place to stay just a few kilometres from Bagan’s 11th-century plain of temples.
In recent years, several river cruisers have been launched along the Ayeyarwady, including Belmond’s Orcaella and Sanctuary Ananda, while Inle Lake and Ngapali Beach are both hotbeds of development.
10 Asian Sensations