Dear friends and business partners, 20 years of Asian Trails, followed by the arrival of 2020, mark the dawn of a new decade and an affirmation of solidifying our name for blazing new paths in travel since our inception. It has been a challenging year where you, our clients, have continued to take centre stage with us driving innovation in product diversification, service delivery and customer support. This trend will continue for the next 20 years in a world where technology is driving our industry to new heights.
But Asian Trails would not be Asian Trails without adhering to the human factor, the need to talk with us and continuing to rely on our in-depth knowledge of our destinations in East and South-East Asia.
I wish all of you a very Happy New Year, one that will be fuelled by wanderlust.
The CEO Story Our Asia has emerged as a destination with wonderful hidden spots for a great evening out without getting lost in the crowd. A recent survey revealed that many of our key destinations host some of the best bars and ‘speakeasy’ in the world – perfect venues to have a unique cocktail, to chill with friends and to mingle with the locals. My recent travels have brought me to some of these hotspots (and the lesser-known ones) where I found myself amidst really creative approaches to the concept of speakeasy”.
Whether it’s Singapore or Shanghai on your (incentive) list there are numerous suggestions to spice up your evening. My dive into the growing demand for these eclectic venues is my first CEO Story for the new year.
— Laurent Kuenzle CEO Asian Trails Ltd
New waterpark in Phu Quoc
Located on Vietnam’s Hon Thom islet
Aquatopia is the latest addition to the ever-growing number of tourist attractions on and off Phu Quoc, Vietnam’s largest island. Situated on the islet of Hon Thom the waterpark has 20 modern water features divided over six themed zones. Spanning eight hectares it is said to be the largest waterpark in South-East Asia to date.
To reach this soon-to-open family-focus destination travellers have to take a 15-minute cable car ride between the two islands.
Deluxe beach villas off Krabi
Sustainable resort on tranquil Koh Jum
Koh Jum Beach Villas’ opening is set to bring forward a new stream of ecologically responsible resorts between Krabi and Phuket in Thailand.
A new destination for rest-seekers, Koh Jum Beach Villas is located off the Krabi coastline with views over Phi Phi National Marine Park. The 15 luxury villas have direct access to the 700-metre-long beach. Due to its location the resort’s management has implemented various sustainable measures in operating on this pristine island.
E&O Penang reopens Wing
Upgraded suites with deluxe amenities
The Eastern & Oriental Penang (E&O), one of the leading historical properties in South-East Asia and in Malaysia, has re-opened its iconic Heritage Wing on completion of an extensive rejuvenation project.
The heritage all-suite hotel, located along George Town’s seafront, has put its 232 keys back into the inventory. Guests at the refreshed suites enjoy round-the-clock butler service and luxurious modern comforts amid the elegance and legacy of the hotel, which opened in 1885.
Elephant Coach Heritage Night
Exclusive evening tour in Yangon
Discover Yangon in a unique way — on board a post-colonial Chevrolet passenger bus with the Elephant Coach’s new fun-filled heritage evening programme through the city.
The four-hour “Heritage Night and Heritage Bar Hopping in Yangon”, which runs until 31 March 2020 on private basis only, takes guests to some of the city’s notable landmarks on one of the meticulously restored antique Elephant Coaches (maximum eight seats). The tour starts at 7pm with English-speaking guides.
Teak wood cruise in Bangkok
Luxury sailing on the Chao Phraya
A new teak wood cruise vessel has officially set sail on the Chao Phraya River in Thailand’s capital Bangkok.
Pruek Cruise prides itself as “the highest of its kind” on the Chao Phraya, and has an evening fine-dining cruise that gives guests unparalleled views of Bangkok’s glistering skyline. It also offers spaces for meetings, events and incentives.
Embarkation and disembarkation for the cruise is at the ICONSIAM shopping centre.
A Pullman hotel for Mandalay
Accor’s deluxe brand debuts in Myanmar
Pullman Mandalay Mingalar recently opened its doors in Mandalay, the second largest city in Myanmar and a leading tourism destination. This is the second property for the French hospitality group, as it has taken over the Mandalay Hill Hotel management.
The new high-end international hotel is located in the heart of Mandalay. It features 358 rooms and suites, an all-day restaurant, bars, whiskey and cigar lounge, a 650sqm ballroom, meeting spaces, swimming pool and spa.
Heritage cruising along the Mekong on the Anouvong
Asian Trails Laos has developed new Mekong cruising programmes in collaboration with Anouvong Cruises, one of the country’s leading river cruise operators.
Set to sail by September 2020, the Laotian-French cruise vessel Anouvong offers eight spacious state rooms and two luxury suites. All are equipped with amenities for a comfortable stay and feature floor-to-ceiling windows, elegant French balconies or a private terrace overlooking the verdant scenery along the Mekong River.
Our office in Laos offers river-based journeys on the Anouvong, ranging from three to 10 days. Embarkation options are from Vientiane, Houayxay and Luang Prabang.
Angkor elephants find new sanctuary in Kulen Elephant Forest
Following the news of the permanent seizure of elephant rides at and inside Angkor Archaeological Park in northern Cambodia last year, the embattled elephant population has been transferred to a new retirement home. The sanctuary is located in a conservation area at the foothills of Phnom Kulen Mountain in central Cambodia, about an hour’s drive from Siem Reap.
A new sustainable attraction has been created at the sanctuary called Kulen Elephant Forest where visitors are allowed to see these gentle giants roaming freely in a natural habitat. There are half- and full-day tours to this new attraction.
Organic farming at Suan Sampran outside Bangkok
Asian Trails Thailand has a new full-day organic farming programme in Nakhon Pathom province, approximately 40 kilometres west of Bangkok.
The programme at the Patom Organic Farm in Suan Sampran was devised in collaboration with local experts in the art of organic farming and following international standards. It blends a full day of learning about responsible agriculture trends in Thailand.
Guests take part in planting, harvesting and fertilising fruits, herbs and vegetables without the use of chemicals at the 12-acre farm, and attend a herbal workshop. Included is a well-balanced organic lunch with Khanom Krok (coconut rice pancakes/Thai coconut pudding).
Cruising on one of Hong Kong’s last Chinese junks
The Aqua Luna, one of Hong Kong’s last remaining traditional and functioning Chinese junks, is popular for cruising to see the island’s famous skyline. Constructed using traditional shipbuilding methods the red-sailed junk, known in Cantonese as Cheung Po Tsai, is named after the infamous 19th century pirate who used to terrorise the waters.
After boarding at Central or Tsim Sha Shui guests take in the sights and sounds of Victoria Harbour while enjoying cocktails on board. Drop off at the fishermen village of Lei Yue Mun to explore traditional seafood markets and enjoy seafood dinner before returning to Hong Kong.
Tantalising Laotian cuisine at La Sala Restaurant
Located on the premises of Champasak’s Residence Bassac, La Sala Restaurant is one of the finest dining establishments in the southern part of Laos. Its location overlooking the Mekong River is one of its strongest features, alongside the kitchen team’s ability to perfectly blend Laotian cuisine with Mediterranean flavours.
In line with keeping its menu fresh and invigorating the restaurant’s management has introduced exclusive lunch and dinner options (for up to 10 guests) with the theme ‘Lao Discovery Cuisine’. The menu comprises aperitifs, appetisers and Lao dishes with a fresh look, attended by private butlers inside a cosy setting.
Khmer puppet workshops now available in Phnom Penh
The Kok Thlok Theatre, located on the grounds of Cambodia’s national library in Phnom Penh, is famous as the venue for hosting regular performances of traditional Cambodian shadow puppetry since its inception. The theatre’s proprietors have introduced a new initiative to bring the art of puppetry to the public through workshops.
Supervised by experienced Khmer puppet masters participants make their own puppet, learn more about the history of puppet play and gain insight into one of the oldest forms of Khmer performing art traditions dating back centuries. This is a novel way for visitors to explore Cambodia’s cultural heritage.
Immersion in local Thai life at Mahasawat
Mahasawat, about 50 kilometres from the Thai capital of Bangkok and easily accessible by train, is criss-crossed by many canals and known for its authenticity, agro-tourism and rural landscape. The product team at Asian Trails has created a new programme in and around Mahasawat’s canals.
Guests board the train from Bangkok’s Thonburi railway station to Mahasawat to start the full day immersion in Thai life and local experiences. Travel along the canals and waterways is on long-tail boats. Visit local temples, watch the making of traditional handicraft and try the local cuisine before travelling back by train to Bangkok.
Beijing gaining fame as a culinary hotspot
The rise of China as a destination for the culinary-minded has grown from strength to strength after leading restaurants in Beijing received a place in the acclaimed Michelin Guide.
Representatives of the internationally-known platform in rewarding restaurants for their outstanding cuisine and the team behind it have included Asian Trails China’s favourites on the list such as The Georg, Dadong and Din Tai Fung. The list now comprises over 100 eateries in the Chinese capital with more to be expected to be included in the near future.
Asian Trails Myanmar’s visit to Yangon’s Home of the Aged
An annual tradition that has left a permanent place in the calendar of Asian Trails Myanmar is the visit to Yangon’s Little Sisters of The Poor Home for The Aged, a non-profit home run by Burmese nuns for the elderly.
The Asian Trails Myanmar team made its yearly visit to the home before Christmas 2019 to share the joy of giving and donate much-needed items to the residents. There were singing of carols and merry-making, filling the home’s hall with smiles and providing unforgettable moments to Myanmar’s senior citizens.
Upper part of Angkor’s Bayon Temple closed for renovation
Effective immediately and until further notice, the upper tiers of the iconic Bayon Temple at Angkor in Cambodia are closed to visitors as part of a major renovation project to restore some of the towers. The centre of the former Kingdom of Angkor Thom, the Bayon is famous for its 216 serene, smiling faces depicting the faces of Jayavarman VII (1122-1218 ) who was King of the Khmer Empire from 1181–1218.
The large scale project affects the top two tiers (tiers three and four) of the Bayon with the lower tiers still showing the widely-known stone faces. It is not known how long the renovation works will last.
Vietnam ready to welcome the Year of the Rat
Tet Nguyen Dan, commonly known as Tet or Vietnamese New Year, is the most important festival and holiday period in Vietnam. This year, the holiday will be from 24 to 31 January to usher in the ‘Year of the Rat’ on 25 January. Almost all offices, both government and in the private sector, will close during this period with work resuming on 3 February.
The celebration of Tet differs every year as it follows the Lunar Calendar, and generally falls on the same day as Chinese New Year (25 January this year). The festival is a time for family reunions, visiting friends, giving lucky money to children and ancestor worship.
Johor Baru marks Lunar New Year with Chingay Street Parade
The Johor Chingay Street Parade has been an annual tradition of the Johor Old Temple since 1800s. Held to celebrate the Lunar New Year, it will be held on 25 February this year to mark the ‘Year of the Rat’ that starts on 25 January.
This spectacular event, declared a National Cultural Heritage in Malaysia in 2012, is a tourist attraction. A series of activities is held at the ancient temple as part of the celebrations. The parade starts in the eventing through the streets of Johor Baru featuring lion and dragon dancers, floats and deities carried on sedan chairs to bless the city with good luck and prosperity.
Balloons over Bagan celebrates 20 years of soaring over Myanmar
Balloons over Bagan is celebrating 20 years of providing awe-inspiring flights over this UNESCO World Heritage site. Launched on 13 December 1999 under the management of the Memories Group, it was the first company to operate hot-air balloon flights in Bagan. The company has since expanded its operations to Inle Lake, Pindaya and Loikaw providing the same quality standards.
Asian Trails Myanmar congratulates the company on its 20th anniversary. We are proud to be a partner in providing this great experience to visitors to the country. We wish the company, its team and owners all the best in continuing its legacy of soaring over Myanmar.
Laos phases out VoA at nine international check points
The Laotian government has announced it will gradually revoke the granting of Visa on Arrival (VoA) at nine international cross-border check points by 30 June 2020. The immigrations points mentioned in the statement are excluded from the immigration list from 31 December 2019 onwards.
Check points where VoA will not be accepted are at Panghok, Nam Soi and Nam Nguen from 31 December 2019; Nam Kan, the Friendship Bridge of Namheuang and Savannakhet International Airport from 31 March 2020; and Nam Phao, Phou Keua and Na Phao from 30 June 2020.
Three Myanmar cities receive Asean Clean Tourist City awards
Shan State’s Taunggyi, Kayah State’s Loikaw and Tanintharyi Region’s Dawei in Myanmar have won Asean Clean Tourist City Standard award for 2019. The award is in recognition of the local municipality’s efforts to beautify the cities, operate sustainably and provide a working tourism infrastructure. These cities followed in the footsteps of their three counterparts – Kalaw, Bagan, Pyin Oo Lwin – which received the same award in 2018.
The award is a regional initiative by leading tourism associations and governments that assess South-East Asian cities on seven criteria: environmental management; cleanliness; waste management; awareness-building about environmental protection and cleanliness; green spaces; health and safety and urban safety and security; and tourism infrastructure.
Vietnam extends 15-day visa exemption for eight countries
Tourism operators in Vietnam welcomed the decision by the Vietnamese government to extend the 15-day visa-free stays for citizens of Belarus, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea and Sweden for another three years. The extended regulation is valid until 31 December 2022. Travellers from these eight countries have enjoyed visa exemption since 2015, but it expired at the end of 2019.
Nationals of the other countries on the visa exemption list are permitted to use the facility until June 2021. They are allowed a single entry for stay of up to 15 days with a waiting period of one month in between entries for re-entry to the country.
Malaysia’s Murut community celebrates Kalimantan Festival
Parts of Borneo will host the annual Kalimantan Festival, known locally as Pesta Kalimantan, on 31 March 2020. This primarily cultural and art festival is organised to commemorate and protect the ethnic diversity of the Murut community, the largest ethnic group in Malaysian Borneo. The six-day festival will feature activities, exhibitions, competitions and parades related to the rich Murut culture.
Asian Trails Malaysia foresees receiving notifications of shortage of accommodation to house guests during this time.
Indonesia’s office supports Yogyakarta school for the disabled
As part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) Asian Trails Indonesia recently revisited the SLB Sekar Teratai school in Yogyakarta to continue supporting the school with much-needed material and assist in maintaining the school’s overall condition. This elementary school is giving disabled students the chance to get an education and the support needed that cannot be provided at a ‘normal’ school.
Since 2015, Asian Trails Indonesia has graciously donated time, money and material to keep the school in good condition. Continuing the CSR work in 2019, the team donated a new parking area (roof and floor) after completing renovation of the classrooms and toilet over the course of four years.