By T+L SEA Staff
Jan 1, 2020
A SHINY NEW DECADE BRINGS the promise of adventures near and far. With wanderlust-worthy destinations across Asia, Africa and the Antipodes all the way to a Scandinavian surfing town, we launch the year with 20 of our top travel spots to keep you moving in 2020.
1. The Hunza Valley: Fairy-tale mountain trails
The spectacular peaks and glaciers of north Pakistan’s Hunza Valley have fascinated travelers since the 1970s. A road trip along the Karakoram Highway, which crosses Hunza on its way to the Khunjerab Pass and the China border (the highest paved crossing in the world, upwards of 4,700 meters), was on every traveler’s bucket list until 9/11 repercussions threatened the security of the area.
This stunning destination is back on the map in 2020 thanks to a stabilized situation in the north and a simplified e-visa procedure (visa.nadra.gov.pk) to encourage more inbound tourism. A great way to see the region at your own speed is via a guided motorbike tour with Karakoram Bikers (all-inclusive tours from US$2,400, daily rent from US$13), and a stay at Hunza Serena Inn in Karimabad (doubles from US$95), which lets you bask in 360-degree mountain views as you gorge on Hunza’s famous apricot cake.
2. Siem Reap: Easy-on-the-eyes, earth-friendly boutique stays
With a headliner like Angkor Wat, Siem Reap doesn’t have to try hard to keep visitors coming. But, not content to cruise on the UNESCO star’s coattails, a clutch of boutique hotels in the city is daring to innovate.
The new Treeline Urban Resort (doubles from US$170) on the Siem Reap River exemplifies a movement towards chic, local design and more-than- skin-deep sustainability. While another serious, and seriously beautiful, proponent of sustainable hospitality in Siem Reap is the three-year-old Jaya House River Park (doubles from US$365). Or, track your lighter footprints around the glamorous-camping site of The Beige (doubles from US$355), which recreates a French- colonial atmosphere in the forested fringes of Svay Chek Commune near Angkor Thom.
3. Doha: A deep-dive into Middle-Eastern culture
The Qatari capital’s cultural cred is giving travelers a reason to visit even before the crowds arrive for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The National Museum of Qatar, designed by Jean Nouvel, opened last year, with exhibits that explore the region from prehistory to the present. It rounds out the city’s collection of art hubs, which include Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Islamic Art. A just-built railway system will make it a breeze to go from museums to stylish stays like the new Mandarin Oriental (doubles from US$327) and the Al Najada Doha Hotel by Tivoli (doubles from US$160).
4. Ubud: Sweets that’ll save the Earth
We love it when the cool kids use their power for good. Will Goldfarb is launching a dining series called Hindsight at his tasting- menu treats temple Room4Dessert (IDR1,250,000 for regular tasting menu with drinks pairing; IDR2,000,000 for Hindsight menus), which will support Kasih Inspirasi Mandiri, an organization in Bali for developmentally disabled children and mothers who are victims of domestic violence. He has invited chefs from six like-minded, low–carbon footprint, well-loved restaurants—Matt Orlando of Amass, in Copenhagen; Dan Hunter of Brae, in the Victoria countryside; in Bangkok, Garima Arora of Gaa and Bo Songvisava and Dylan Jones of bo.lan; Dave Pynt of Singapore’s Burnt Ends; and Shinobu Namae of L’Effervescence in Tokyo—to take over his kitchen monthly starting in April.
5. North Macedonia: Undiscovered gems
Though currently free of global chains and tourists, the Republic of North Macedonia won’t fly under the radar for much longer. The newly renamed country has a wealth of historic sights: the Kale (or fortress) in the capital, Skopje; Kokino, a megalithic observatory; the ancient city of Heraclea Lyncestis, on the outskirts of Bitola. In Ohrid, the new Sky Corner Hotel (doubles from MKD3,000) will add more rooms and a restaurant later this year. And in June, Bitola will host the Slow Food festival Terra Madre Balkans.
6. Coron: A different El Nido-esque paradise in Palawan
If Palawan is the Philippines’ “last ecological frontier,” then Coron, which occupies the emerald-green northeastern corner of the province, is the gilt on the lily. Thanks to a new partnership between the Asian Development Bank and the Philippines Department of Tourism, 2020 will see infrastructure upgrades in both Coron and El Nido in anticipation of increased tourist arrivals to the region. Last year, direct flights from Cebu were introduced and a new five-star resort opened on the edge of Bacau Bay (doubles from P8,150)—a sign of things to come. Our advice: take a lingering, eco-friendly look as soon as you can manage it.
7. Lille: French art and design
Crowned the World Design Capital for 2020, this industrial city is now a stylish getaway. Bohemian-chic hotel Mama Shelter (doubles from €80) debuted last summer and Brasserie Coke (mains €23–€31) serves modern French cuisine under crystal chandeliers. Stop in nearby Roubaix at the renovated La Piscine, an Art-Deco pool turned museum showing textiles, portraiture, sculpture and more.
8. Hanoi: Southeast Asia at full throttle
The rambunctious capital of Vietnam is really revving up this year. In April, the city will host the Formula One Grand Prix for the first time ever, making it the only Southeast Asian metropolis aside from Singapore to feature in the 2020 World Championship. Even if you’re not into fast cars, there’s plenty to see in this speedily modernizing city. Near the Opera House, a Bill Bensley project in the works (and rumored to become a Capella) promises design lovers a new top-end, and likely over-the-top, boutique abode. Worthy already-open new hotels include La Siesta Premium (doubles from VND2,500,000) and La Sinfonía del Rey (doubles from VND2,300,000).
Plus, Hanoi is getting greener. The last few years have seen avenues in all 12 districts adorned with trees and flowers, while a 2016 government initiative to plant one million trees by 2020 was reportedly completed ahead of schedule.
Can’t decide which Aman to visit? The über-luxury hotel group has you covered in 2020 with their new private-jet tours that make multi-property stays a breeze, zipping between resorts via a 12-seater Bombardier Global 5000 aircraft. The service launches with four set journeys that can be customized, including the Bali & Beyond package that rounds up five Indonesian Amans, and the Himalayas to the Sea itinerary, where stays in Amankora’s five Bhutanese lodges are followed by a stint at Amanpuri in Phuket. With visa processing taken care of and a Private Jet Concierge at hand to keep the bar stocked, you’re free to enjoy thoughtful in-flight extras like tea ceremonies and Aman Skincare amenities to ensure a celebrity-like glow on arrival.
From left: Photo by Bruna Rotunna for Fivelements Habitat; Courtesy of Paro; Courtesy of Sangha Retreat.
Regular luxury spas are so 2019. For the type of elemental rejuvenation required in the 2020s, only multi-attack holistic healing will do. All the better that three new purveyors of wellness have sprouted up around the region with their own modernized takes on ancient health and beauty wisdom.
Creating space in a city with limited supply, Fivelements Habitat opened in a cool 1,400-square-meter facility in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay. While another inner-city sanctuary following a spiritual path to wellbeing is Paro by Good Earth in Delhi. In Suzhou, the Tsao & McKown–designed Sangha Retreat by Octave (suites from RMB6,526) offers a sleek, contemporary take on integrated wellness.
Last year, Gaggan Anand quit the Michelin two-starred fine-diner that ranked No. 4 on World’s 50 Best list and made him globally famous, and move to a new restaurant across town with most of his staff… and his reservations log. His new restaurant, Gaggan Anand (from Bt8,000 per person), is a gorgeous garden-draped villa that launched in November after only two months of planning. Anand is still the boisterous ringmaster in his new 14-seat chef’s table, dubbed G’s Spot, though he shares the spotlight with his team as well as the guests, whom he surveys pre-meal on their favorite rock songs and most hated ingredients to better facilitate chat, karaoke and truth-or-dare among strangers over their four-plus-hour, yes, still 25-course dinner.
A couple of other places where you’re unlikely to get a table soon, though that shouldn’t stop you from trying: first, Sorn Fine Southern (from Bt3,200 per person), and Blue by Alain Ducasse (+66 2 005 9412; set lunch from Bt1,600).
12. Perth: Australia’s most underrated capital
In addition to the polished appeal of its new-wave hotels and revived public spaces, Perth is on the brink of a cultural awakening. Laneway bars, street art and hip new venues, including the Hassell + OMA–designed New Museum for Western Australia launching in 2020, are collectively driving Perth’s tourism boom. With its paved esplanades, market hall and cafés, the Yagan Square development has successfully reconnected the CBD with the gritty nightlife hub of Northbridge, while in the revitalized Elizabeth Quay precinct, the freshly opened Ritz-Carlton, Perth (doubles from A$349) joins the esteemed ranks of inner-city stays we name-checked last January, including QT Perth and COMO The Treasury. The movement is flowing down the Swan River, too, with the Kings Square retail and dining project in Fremantle set to revamp the beachside area in 2020.
13. Klitmøller: Yes, for surfing, really
Surfing in… Denmark? It’s legit! Consistent breaks and large swells earned the town of Klitmøller, on the edge of the North Sea, the nickname “Cold Hawaii.” The aptly named Cold Hawaii Surf Camp is the spot for lessons and gear rentals; farther inland, hike along the sandy dunes and glimmering lakes of Thy National Park. Just under an hour’s drive away is the region’s coolest place to stay: the 93-year-old Svinkløv Badehøtel (doubles from €160), newly reopened by Bocuse d’Or–winning Danish chef Kenneth Toft-Hansen.
14. Rajasthan: Opulence, art and more
The state’s opulent palaces are the stuff of legend, and this year, travelers can live as the rajahs did when Six Senses’ first India property, the 48-suite Fort Barwara launches in a 14th-century fortress south of Jaipur. Don’t miss new attractions, like India’s first contemporary sculpture park, set within the Madhavendra Palace, and the Amrapali Museum Jaipur with its collection of 4,000 gems.
15. Rangoon: Old-world luxury and next-gen lifestyle
No doubt you’ve heard of a little place called The Strand— well, there’s a new crop of classed-up contenders in Rangoon’s hotel scene seeking to out-glam the grand dame. In their October 2019 soft launch, Rosewood Yangon (doubles from US$400) unveiled a US$150 million makeover that brought the brand’s ultra-luxe residential feel to a 1927 heritage gem.
Downtown, tucked into narrow Bo Soon Pat Street, around the corner from The Strand and Sule Pagoda, the Yangon Excelsior (doubles from US$190) infuses a rich Art-Deco aesthetic into the former Steel Brothers headquarters. And if, after all that, you need a break from yesteryear, the coming-in-2020 Asai Yankin—one of the first openings in Dusit’s new lifestyle brand—promises a change of pace with a three-star hotel aimed at “millennial-minded travelers.”
16. Addis Ababa: New leadership and an invigorated arts and culture scene
For much of the past four decades, Menelik Palace loomed over Addis Ababa as a symbol of imperial imposition. Now, nearly two years into his term and with a Nobel Peace Prize already under his belt, the country’s reformist prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, is breathing life into Menelik’s halls. He has opened the 19th-century palace to the public, and tapped local artist Elias Sime to build a public garden, slated to open midyear alongside the once-forbidding space.
It’s the latest sign that something has shifted in Ethiopia’s capital—and thanks to a major expansion of Addis Ababa’s airport, more foreign visitors can easily witness the change firsthand.
17. Thailand: Your health, rebooted
From left: Courtesy of Thann Wellness Destination; Courtesy of Thanyapura Sports and Health Resort Phuket; Courtesy of Chiva-Som
It makes sense that Thailand, massage and medical-tourism magnet of Asia if not the world, should become a major destination for wellness travel. Within that broad category, a handful of integrated spa/ fitness/wellbeing offerings are emerging in the kingdom to help you live your best life.
The new Thann Wellness Destination (doubles from Bt20,000, all-inclusive) brings the renowned skincare and aromatherapy brand into the hospitality space with a sweet-scented spa retreat in the outskirts of Ayutthaya, less than an hour’s drive from central Bangkok. Thanyapura Sports and Health Resort (doubles from Bt4,000), in Phuket, expands its offerings in 2020 to entice non-athletes to make use of its state-of-the-art training facilities with novice-friendly programs dealing with weight loss, nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, vegan living and more. Thailand’s original luxury health resort, Chiva-Som Hua Hin (doubles from Bt58,000), unveiled the final stage of a large-scale refurbishment, just in time for the resort’s 25th anniversary this year.
18. Japan tag-team
© Tokyo 2020/Courtesy of Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Tokyo: The biggest and greenest Olympic games so far.
A perennial topper of travel lists, Tokyo’s appeal this year hits record highs with the Games of the XXXII Olympiad and the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games a.k.a. Tokyo 2020. It’s the second time the city will host the games—the first being in 1964—this time championing the three themes “achieving your personal best,” “unity in diversity” and “connecting to tomorrow.”
From left: Courtesy of Christopher Kucway; Jaycangel.
Kyoto: An old-favorite city ups the ante.
Tokyo may have the Olympics in 2020, but Kyoto’s got Kyoto—a ludicrous amount of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a hotel scene that gets better by the minute. There’s the serene Aman Kyoto (rooms from ¥130,000) that opened in November, inhabiting dense forest to the north of the historic city. The Park Hyatt (doubles from ¥81,000) takes a traditional turn with understated, wood-heavy design that recalls a ryokan inn. Then there’s the Ace Hotel Kyoto (doubles from ¥38,000), which is set to open in the old Shinpukan building—the Kyoto Central Telephone Office—this spring.
See our cheat sheet to the newest hotels and restaurants in Kyoto.
19. Lake Tekapo: Gaze across the universe
Forget that “galaxy far, far away”—our own Milky Way is incredible in its own right. With clear night skies and minimal light (or any kind of) pollution, New Zealand is one of the best places in the world for stargazing.
New venture Dark Sky Project opened last year on the South Island’s Lake Tekapo, offering guided experiences that combine ancient Maori astronomy, indigenous culture and astrophysics. If it’s sleeping in a veritable star-bath you crave, head to The Lindis (NZ$2,000), in the immersive stillness of the isolated Ahuriri Valley, about an hour’s drive away from Lake Tekapo.
20. Botswana: Safari adventures and tree-house stays
Take your pick of luxe new lodges. The Okavango Delta just saw the opening of Natural Selection’s tree-house-inspired camp, Tuludi (doubles from US$915 per person). Come June, the solar-powered Xigera Safari Lodge (doubles from US$2,550 per person) will debut in the Moremi Game Reserve. On the edge of Chobe National Park, you’ll find the six-tent mobile camp Linyanti Expeditions (doubles from US$546 per person), where you can take walking safaris through the bush. Meanwhile, Great Plains’ Selinda Camp (doubles from US$1,530 per person), in a northern area known for sightings of the rare African wild dog, has been rebuilt, reopening last June with rooms that put a sultry spin on the classic safari aesthetic.