Thailand, Cambodia, Laos. Three destinations that, even to the most seasoned traveller, bring a pang of anticipation. Our Reservations Manager, Vicki Holding experienced each distinctly different destination, here are her top five highlights.
After a short drive from Siem Reap airport, we arrive into the picturesque walled garden compound of Amansara - an enclave of refinement complete with minimalist grey and white interiors. The public areas at this serene Angkor Wat retreat brim with white lotus blossoms and orchids. The tranquil ambience of the resort allows you to feel a sense of instant relaxation, and this peaceful sentiment continues even when leaving the resort. The concierge arranged for one of the hotel guides to take me on a fascinating temple excursion. To avoid the crowds we left early morning and headed to Angkor Wat - Cambodia's most beloved and best preserved temple. The hotel guide could get me into areas of the temple where the general public were not permitted. I climbed to the top of the temple and watched the sun grow above the city of Angkor Thom. It was remarkable to watch a beautiful sunrise in such a renowned yet secluded setting.
The excursions Amansara offered were remarkable and incredibly rewarding - the hotel organised a water tour along Tonlé Sap Lake, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. We boarded a long tail boat and were led through vibrant jungle foliage by the local children. The boat was guided to the astonishing floating villages and we weaved through houses perched on wooden stilts as residents of the friendly community waved and smiled at us. Other boats approached us selling pencils and books, our guide explained that we drift past an orphanage on the way back and we were welcome to buy goods to give to the children who live in the orphanage - to see the children's faces as we handed out the gifts was extremely fulfilling.
Next stop on our enthralling journey was Laos. Buddhism is a large part of life in Luang Prabang - you will often see groups of vivid saffron-robed monks walking by in the streets. Amantaka has obtained its name from Buddah's wisdoms with taka stemming from the word Tipitaka, symbolising the 'three baskets' of Buddha's teachings in Theravada scholastic literature. A daily ritual named Tak Bat (Alms Offering) is carried out each morning. The local people line the streets and offer alms to the monks and novices as they walk through the town. Amantaka host their own Tak Bat - the hotel supplied me with a pot of sticky rice and I knelt in front of the resort whilst the monks collected the rice from me. This was such a gratifying experience, I felt that it really highlighted the value of giving someone something without taking anything back.
To take part in Tak Bat we were asked to gather in front of the hotel by 5.30am, once the monks and novices had passed us it was still very early so we hopped on our bikes and cycled around the town. We pedalled to the old town peninsula towards Mount Phou Si and, as we drew near to the base, we left our bikes and climbed up the hill. We reached the peak and were welcomed with spectacular views - the sun began to rise and gleam against the waters of the Mekong River. It will always be a treasured memory to witness a striking sunrise in such a prominent religious location.
We ended our trip in Phuket at the Amanresorts' flagship property - Amanpuri. This elegant property is nestled in an elevated coconut plantation overlooking the glistening Andaman Sea. Renowned for their fleet of luxury cruisers, I jumped at the opportunity to explore the surrounding vivid waters onboard one of these private yachts, Aman 1. We cruised in and out of secluded coves and small caves; the crew stopped the boat outside of an isolated bay - we grabbed our snorkelling equipment and jumped into the luminous sea where we discovered intensely hued reefs and an abundance of tropical fish. After an hour of snorkelling and exploring, we climbed back on board and were greeted with a delicious barbeque lunch. The trip was certainly my highlight of Phuket.