Across Asia, icons fulfill our fantasies of the destination. Rice paddies. Imperial citadels. Moats. Indigenous dance. The upturned eaves of massive but graceful roofs. The jungle. A beach that served as backdrop to a hit TV drama.
Usually, we’re obliged to seek out these distinctive Asian landscapes and architecture, guidebook in hand, camera at the ready, eyes on the time. But for every active tourist who’s moving from dawn to dusk, ticking icons off their bucket list, there is a leisurely traveller who wants to slow down and absorb the scenery in their own time.
This story is for the latter traveller – you know, the one who’d rather plonk themselves down and expects the tourist attractions come to them. And while we can’t move ancient temples, we can suggest this selection of hotels – which allows you take in all sorts of scenery while simply hanging out on the balcony. In Bali, Central Vietnam, Tokyo, Laos and Saigon these hotels offer up the opportunity to be both a couch potato and a sightseer.
Without leaving the confines of the resort itself, catch a performance of traditional Balinese dance and drama. Staged under the stars in the resort’s on-site amphitheater, the Kecak Cultural Dance show features a local dance troupe of 80 – 100 bare-chested male performers, who chant and dance in a trancelike state in concentric rings around an open flame. The Kecak has roots in the sanghyang, and originated in Bali in the 1930s. Also known as the Ramayana Monkey Chant, the piece depicts a battle from the Ramayana where the monkey-like Vanara assists Prince Rama in fighting the evil King Ravana. There is no musical accompaniment, rhythm is provided by a ‘monkey chorus’ who wear checked cloths around their waists and act as various monkey armies in the story.
Imperial Palace Gardens
If you’ve never lived within the walls of a moat, the next best thing is a prime, moat-side accommodation experience. At the new Palace Hotel Tokyo, guests borrow the comforting buffer of a moat every morning as they dine on the outdoor terrace of the hotel’s Grand Kitchen. Across the waters, aji stones case the upper reaches of the moat’s walls, while over the waters swans cruise through the heart of Tokyo. From the hotel’s upper floors, balconies and expansive views deliver the most magnificent vista in all Tokyo, from swards of black pines, so deliberately planted, to the monuments of the Imperial Palace Gardens. Visible from nearly every room in the hotel, the Palace’s Fujimi-yagura (Fuji-view Keep) is a lure to some of Tokyo’s most hallowed ground. Though most of the palace’s structures were lost to Allied bombing in May 1945, the grounds make for fascinating perambulation, from the Nijūbashi bridge to the Ninomaru Gardens to the aji-stone cased walls and ramparts that evoke the romantic appeal of vanished Japan
From myriad terraces, from balconies, even from the hotel’s top floor fitness center, the view drinks in the Flagtower Bastion of the Hue Citadel. Work on the 1.5-square-mile Citadel began in earnest in 1804 after the first emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, Gia Long, consolidated his hold on the country and set 30,000 conscripts to work. Modeled on designs by the 17th Century French military architect, Sebastien de Vauban the Citadel emerged as Vietnam’s most imposing Citadel (there were others in Hanoi, Saigon and even Nha Trang). During the First Indochina War in 1947, and during the Vietnam War in 1968, battles raged within the walls of the Citadel. The walls and bastions suffered from all the tribulation, but Vietnamese preservationists busied themselves on the brickworks after the war. Today, the Flagtower Bastion looms over a 165-foot wide moat, and the Perfume River.
Mekong River, Laos
The Mighty Mekong
There’s isn’t much electricity here, or any mobile phone coverage. Forget about WiFi, or cable television, or air conditioning, which is all rather the point, anyway. From verandas that apron each of these hybrid safari-tent and thatched-sala lodges, there is a view of the mighty Mekong, and the verdurous, jungled slopes across the river. Contemplation is what the experience is all about — contemplation of the sluggish, coffee-colored flow of the world’s 7th longest river and the natural cacophony of the jungle environs, 35 kilometers upstream from Luang Prabang. Here, there’s little visual difference between what you see today and the days of the great French exploring expeditions of the 1860s when Francis Garnier and company journeyed past these banks, traveling toward the source of the Mekong, or when Henri Mouhot, the re-discoverer of Angkor, traipsed these jungles as a naturalist. Of course, if contemplation alone isn’t all that enticing, there’s a spa sala perched on the edge of the river. Ah, Asia.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Icons of War Photography
“Saigon … s**t,” Martin Sheen says as Apocalypse Now gets underway. “I’m still only in Saigon.” The prettiest, most exotic name of any in Asia, the city’s stature as a one-time Paris of the Orient is now being subsumed by the headlong rush to better economic times. In that rush, the old colonial villas and magisterial French edifices are falling to wrecking balls. But there are flickerings of old Saigon still, if you know where to look. From the Saigon Saigon Bar of the Caravelle Hotel, look up Dong Street toward the landmark 1880-built Notre Dame Cathedral, and then, halfway to the basilica, swerve your sight to the right for a glimpse of the elevator penthouse shaft made famous by Hubert Van Es’s 1975 snap of refugees scaling a steep ladder to the skids of a helicopter. It used to be that most of the rooms at the front of Caravelle, itself one of the most famous war hotels ever, gave up a view of the penthouse. But an intervening skyscraper clipped the sight line. Still, all those rooms at the front of the hotel do offer a glimpse of another icon, the 1897-built Opera House.
Hoi An, Vietnam
There might not be a better balcony on the Pacific than the east end of this acclaimed resort’s Olympic-sized, infinity-edged swimming pool. From there, behold a stretch of golden sand the Vietnamese know by various names — My Khe, Non Nuoc, Ha My — but Westerners refer to as China Beach. The swath is framed to the north by the Son Tra Peninsula, which American GIs called Monkey Mountain during the Vietnam War, and to the south by the rugged Cham Islands, located just nine miles offshore. From 1988-1991, China Beach was immortalized by an American TV series of same name. The beach gained additional fame in 2005, when it was called out by Forbes magazine as one of the 10 most luxurious beaches in the world.
Like this? Read more at our travel section.