Whether you’re seeking a healing retreat, a lover’s hotspot, an eco-friendly hideaway, or a space to get up close and personal with wildlife, cut through the noise and read our definitive list of the six sizzling hotels in Southeast Asia (and their six scorching hot alternatives) that you should book right now, according to a hotel expert.
What? This holistic haven, surrounded by palm trees and tropical gardens on one of Thailand’s most stunning atolls, is the ideal place to detox as you slough off the stress of 2019 and reboot mind and body with a range of massages, fitness workouts, yoga classes, and other activities led by experienced trainers.
Why go? Apart from 38 luxuriously furnished rooms, this Moroccan-inspired healing resort has three fully-equipped yoga shalas, hydrotherapy rooms, sauna, hammam, and a large infinity pool with a health bar.
Highlights: Absolute Sanctuary is famed for its healing activities led by specialist trainers, who put together a programme that suits your specific needs. Depending on your programme, you’ll also receive relaxing (or invigorating) massages on an outside deck refreshed by gentle sea breezes.
Best alternative: Kalari Kovilakom, one of Kerala’s top centres for Ayurveda and housed in a beautifully restored 19th-century palace, is also one of the strictest—the minimum stay is two weeks, and trips beyond the centre’s austere iron gates during treatment is discouraged—but results are often astounding.
Best for conservation: Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort, Chiang Rai
What? A chic boutique resort with its own elephant sanctuary (and impeccable service) at the heart of Thailand’s legendary Golden Triangle.
Why go? Anantara Golden Triangle is high on a ridge near Chiang Rai and the rooms have jaw-dropping views of China, Laos, and Myanmar. Best of all, the grounds are full of grazing elephants protected by the hotel’s own registered charity dedicated to funding conservation and sustainable projects.
Highlights: Being greeted by the hotel’s friendly baby elephant before checking into a vast suite with canopied bed, gleaming teakwood floors, and terrazzo bathtub.
Best alternative: Shortlisted for the Thai Green Excellence Awards for its Khao Lak Community Fund, The Sarojin on the tropical atoll of Khao Lak is an ideal luxury haven for conservation-friendly travellers.
Best eco-aware: Four Rivers Floating Lodge, Koh Andet Island
What? As its name suggests, this environmentally-friendly glamping resort—built using eco-friendly local materials—floats on a bend in the river Tatai and is overshadowed by the Cardomom mountains, which are home to countless rare animal species, ranging from Asian elephants to cloud leopards.
Why go? Four Rivers Floating Lodge is a 12-room floating oasis buried in lush jungle scenery and only accessible by boat, so it is blissfully private, but you won’t have to rough it: luxurious tented accommodation includes comfortable beds and scenic private terraces.
Highlights: Paddle downriver to visit local villages, frolick in frothing waterfalls, and dine on Khmer cuisine as you watch the sunset descend over the surrounding jungle.
Best alternative: Winner of the 2017 Green Hotelier Awards, Soneva Fushi in Maldives is carbon-neutral for all activities, including their guests’ flights. They are also self-sufficient in water and they convert all of their waste into income for the local population.
Best for blissed-out lovers: Hideaway Beach Resort & Spa, Maldives
What? Hideaway Beach Resort and Spa is a romantic retreat at the heart of Haa Alif, one of the Maldives’ remotest atolls, surrounded by coconut groves, lush vegetation, and a glittering, exotic-fish-filled lagoon.
Why go? Barefoot beach luxury doesn’t get much better than this enchantingly romantic luxury haven, where couples can dine on Lobster Jalfrezi at a candlelit table in the Samsara Asian fusion restaurant, enjoy a massage for two in the glorious over-water spa, or dive hand-in-hand to spot graceful eagle ray and black tip reef sharks.
Highlights: Check into your glass-floored Ocean Villa on stilts above the shimmering Indian Ocean with private sundeck, infinity pool, and personal villa host (who caters to your every whim).
Best alternative: Prolong your stay in paradise at Coco Bodu Hithi, an idyllic and romance-friendly collection of private villas grouped around a turquoise lagoon.
Best for surf junkies: Elite Havens The Bukit, Bali
What? At the heart of Bali—the island dubbed “Asia Pacific’s Ibiza” because of its vibrant youth scene—this trendy luxury villa complex sits on a craggy peninsula near Ubud.
Why go? Elite Havens The Bukit is surrounded by some of the world’s best surf spots, including Padang-Padang, Bingin, Dreamland, and Nyang-Nyang. Bukit also boasts some of Bali’s best music festivals, concerts, and cultural performances.
Highlights: Spot migrating whales, turtles, and dugongs and feel stoked as you ride those endless waves.
Best alternative: Beautiful Byron Bay has been Australia’s best surf town for decades, and new eco-friendly retreat Blackbird Byron is the best place to stay if you plan to ride those breaks.
Best for wildlife fans: The Serai Boutique Hotel, Rajasthan
What? An hour’s drive from the Golden City of Jaisalmer and renowned for its spectacular sandstone forts and palaces, The Serai Boutique Hotel sits on the edge of the magnificent Thar Desert.
Why go? 21 tents with spacious bedrooms, en-suite bathrooms, and candlelit plunge pools overlook Rajasthan’s arid 200,000-square-kilometre Thar desert that is packed with rare species ranging from the Chinkara gazelle to the Indian wild ass.
Highlights: Join a jeep safari to spot wildlife in the hills or head to Jaisalmer to barter in the bustling bazaars.
Best alternative: Close to Pench National Park nature reserve, suites in Taj Hotel’s Bhagvan Lodge have private tree canopy platforms for observing wildlife, including leopard, sloth bear, and tigers.