– By Savi J
The lively floating markets and shimmering Buddhist temples along the Mekong have never been more accessible to travellers looking for their very own blue sky escape. And if you don’t want to spend much time mapping out your itinerary, this getaway is tailor-made for you.
Known as Aqua Mekong, this first of its kind luxury river cruise is an all-inclusive journey through the culturally rich and biodiverse ecosystem of the Mother of Rivers. Bookended by the sprawling Angkor complexes on one end and Phnom Penh or Saigon at the other, the entire experience promises layered affairs of moments, people and textures of life.
Owned by our partners, Aqua Expeditions, this impressive vessel houses 20 luxurious suites fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows. This means you get to wake up every morning to unobstructed vistas of the lush changing scenery as you cruise through the winding tributaries.
To past the time, offshore excursions courtesy of twice-daily private speedboats include visits to the almost-soporific pace of the countryside, kayaking and temple-hopping by bicycle. Observe how the river’s residents go about their daily lives, from harvesting alongside water buffaloes in the rice paddies to floating along the waters on fruit-laden boats. Village visits will also grant you exclusive access to craftspeople who have upheld their cultural traditions for generations.
At the end of each day, tuck into an indigenous-inspired menu that upholds the fresh and succulent culinary flavours of the Mekong River cultures. Guests can also retire to the top-deck lounge for a nightcap or opt for a post-meal massage. When it’s lights out, the soothing rhythm of the waves against the hull will rock you gently to sleep.
Photo credit: Mundy Adventures
Related: Blue Sky Escapes Little Black Book Part 1
Have you ever dreamt of escaping to an out-of-this-world undisclosed location on a tropical island? If so, the private island resort of Bawah Reserve in Indonesia’s remote Anambas Archipelago (300km northeast of Singapore) is paradise found.
This secluded sanctuary was once an ecosystem under threat of dynamite fishing. The six islands that make-up the archipelago are now designated marine conservation sites, with the main goal of Bawah Reserve being the protection and preservation of the rich ecological diversity in the area.
Across five islands, three sheltered lagoons and 13 beaches, Bawah is barefoot beauty personified. For one, Singapore architect Sim Boon Yang’s eco mindset spurred him to use only bamboo and recycled woods in the construction of the exotic structures, so as to have minimal impact on the surrounding environment. The design of the resort was also planned in such a way as to avoid damage and erosion to the natural terrain. The reserve now stands as a pinnacle of sustainability, with multiple processes set in place such as solar power and composting of waste to reduce further impact.
Your journey begins before you set foot on the island, from a chauffeured car pick-up from your residence, followed by a ferry ride to Batam International Airport, and lastly on a short 80-minute flight on-board a private seaplane to the sapphire blue lagoon in front of your suite.
The 35 garden suites, beachfront villas and overwater bungalows do not hold back in its delivery either. Featuring recycled copper sinks, complimentary use of snorkelling equipment, canopied beds and chandeliers shaped like jellyfish, the rooms are also notably absent of TVs. All the while, you’ll be surrounded by a setting of large palms and Indian almond trees, pristine clear waters and coral reefs, and ivory-white sands.
Bawah’s conscious approach is prevalent throughout the resort, with locally-grown ingredients found on the menus of its three gourmet waterfront restaurants. There’s also a slew of activities included in the rate, like daily spa treatments, meditation and Pilates classes, open-air cinema screenings and marine experiences. We urge you to hurry here before the rest of the world discovers this back-to-nature gem.
Photo credit: Once in a Lifetime Journey
Related: Blue Sky Escapes Little Black Book Part 2
Nestled in the remote South Cardamom National Park, just a three-hour drive from Phnom Penh, lies Shinta Mani Wild, The Bensley Collection’s second luxe eco-property (the other is Shinta Mani Siem Reap). The inception and vision of this 400-acre river valley property is thanks to its founders — Cambodian hotelier, Sokoun Chanpreda and renowned architect and landscape designer, Bill Bensley — whose goal was to protect and prevent the rampant deforestation that’s common to the area.
Bringing guests one step closer to true Cambodian wilderness, the adventure begins before you arrive as you zip line Indiana Jones-style across 380m above the canopy of trees and waterfalls into the campsite. Jeep transfers are another option, but either way will be met by a crisp cocktail at the Landing Zone Bar where a Khmer G&T will greet you.
All stays (three-nights minimum) feature an all-inclusive rate that covers food and drink, activities, wellness treatments, a personal butler, land transfers and taxes. With 15 luxury tents suspended on stilts — some perched above rushing waterfalls — you can experience first-hand the art of glamping in style. Each holds a colourful menagerie of vintage furnishings and sumptuous décor such as gold fans, brass double sinks, wooden elephant tables and leather-bound books. Like a true blue safari straight out of a storybook.
Notably, the rate doesn’t disappoint as it gives guests a range of experiences to choose from. Perhaps the most outstanding is riding motorbikes behind AK-47-armed Wildlife Alliance rangers as they patrol the forest for poachers and clear away snares to protect the animals.
Other experiences include bouldering, boarding a pontoon boat for a river safari, casting off on a Tenkara fly fishing lesson, and as many spa treatments as you’d like.
Dining-wise, local classics feature prominently on the seasonal menus, in particular the mud crab, a Khmer delicacy.
With Shinta Mani’s commitment to sustainability and conservation, this pioneering luxury tented camp is simply one of a kind. And just knowing that your spend is going to preserving the surroundings, from poaching to logging, will ensure that you leave feeling like you’ve not only experienced the great outdoors; you’re doing your part to make sure that everything stays the same — or gets better — for when you return.
Photo credit: Once in a Lifetime Journey
Related: Blue Sky Escapes Little Black Book Part 3
For exclusive rates with any of the hotels or partners mentioned above, as well as insider access to immersive experiences at the destinations featured, please contact us.