Last September, we partnered with Classic Travel, a well-established luxury travel agency here in New York City in order to provide Inviato readers with an easy way to book the hotels we review and spotlight on our website. By booking through Classic, not only do our readers gain access to incredible perks we all cherish through Virtuoso (a by-invitation-only consortium of the top luxury agencies) but they also can book their hotels online AND get personal assistance from experienced travel consultants if they need some extra TLC. That’s a potent but rare combination.
The team at Classic Travel are always checking out the latest openings and revisiting the classics (we can only do so many!) in order to provide the most up-to-date information and advice to their clients. A few members of the team recently returned from Hong Kong, Cambodia and Vietnam to scope out some of the most luxurious hotels in that part of the world. South East Asia – one of the hottest destinations in 2015 – is an exotic and fascinating locale offering a mix of beach and culture and an ideal trip for families looking to spend quality time together. As I have been eyeing Cambodia and Vietnam for a 2016 family trip myself, I grabbed the opportunity to chat with VP Marketing, Lance Stamps (that’s him on the bike above) to get a run-down of some favorite spots they inspected and special experiences they participated in during their trip.
A few of you from Classic are recently back from exploring some of the best places in Cambodia, Vietnam and Hong Kong – can you give us the scoop on some of your favorite places and experiences in each of these countries?
It just so happened that three of us were in Asia at the same time but had three completely separate experiences. Richard Beck’s (Classic Travel’s President and CEO) adventure took him to Saigon, Ninh Thuan and Hong Kong. Heather Solish, one of our travel consultants, scoped out Laos, Halong Bay and Song Saa Private Island while I spent a few days in Saigon, cruised on the Mekong River and ended my trip in Phnom Penh.
Vietnam is must-go place to visit. So much has changed since the re-unification and Americans are welcomed with open arms. The coast of Vietnam is one of the longest in the world and has amazing beaches and bays. Hanoi, Hue, Halong Bay, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) are the places everyone should see. There isn’t really a right or wrong time to go to Vietnam – it all depends on the city you are visiting. Weather can vary wildly depending on the region. This is something you decide when you discuss your interests with your consultant.
Richard couldn’t stop talking about the Aman Resort’s Amanoi in Ninh Thuan – it really is one of the most luxurious beach resorts in the world. Even the entry-level rooms are amazing (at a minimum 1K square feet) with stunning views and would impress anyone. But it was the five-bedroom villa at 5,100 square feet that was a show stopper! Each bedroom is a free-standing pavilion with an enormous heated pool in the middle. All of this on a private beach with private access. There’s really nothing like it anywhere, plus rates are very competitive compared to other luxury villas in the world.
Amanoi is ideal for a family reunion or a BIG birthday celebration with close friends. December to January is an ideal time to go when the weather is less extreme. And, you can get some unbeatable prices with rooms starting at $1,000 during Christmas season (and no 10 night minimums!).
There are two hotels that we love in this city! One is the relatively new 117-room Upper House (owned by the same company that owns Cathay Pacific). It is luxurious, contemporary, trendy and has that WOW factor, especially as the rooms have large windows with expansive Hong Kong views.
The other is the Peninsula, which has been around for years (since 1928 to be exact) but is without doubt the “Grand” hotel of Hong Kong and considered by many to have the best service of any hotel in the world. The hotel has nine world-class restaurants, an amazing 12,000 square foot spa and Roman-style swimming pool. It’s a true resort hotel in the middle of the city (a fleet of 14 Rolls-Royce limos is available for airport transfers) and perfect for families. The views from the Peninsula luxury tower rooms are jaw dropping.
The best time to go to Hong Kong is between October and December. The weather is better and it’s not as crowded!
Heather loved the Song Saa Private Island – the perfect place to disconnect (but you do have Wi-Fi should you absolutely need to check in with reality!). The villas at this tropical island resort are spectacular and everything is included – you don’t need to worry about anything once you are there. It is total barefoot luxury. All rooms are villas with their own pools – either on the beach, over water, or in the jungle overlooking the ocean. It is like an all-inclusive Parrot Cay – but in Asia, not just Asian-inspired! You truly feel as if you are somewhere totally remote and totally exotic.
How does it compare to the Caribbean? Well, for starters it is better food, better service, and a true cultural experience. Then there is the value: over winter holiday, they have only a 4-night minimum – $2,000 for a 2 bedroom villa all inclusive. Compare that to the Viceroy Anguilla which is $2,500 with 10-night minimum for a small suite – and this includes only breakfast. It’s an amazing trip for a family especially when combined with Siem Reap and Angkor Wat to also get in a bit of culture and do so at a fraction of the price of a Caribbean hotel.
The best time to go is October through March. It gets very HOT during the other periods! There are nonstop flights to Sihanoukville from Siem Reap and – starting this summer – from Phenom Phen. Then, it is a brief 30-minute boat ride. Ho Chi Minh is also only an hour’s flight to nearest airport Nha Trang.
The year-old Aqua Mekong – the newest and most luxurious of river cruise boats in Aqua Expedition’s fleet – is the ultimate in river cruising! My journey was a four-night cruise between Saigon, Vietnam and Phnom Penh. I‘ve been to the area several times but the Aqua was definitely the best way to explore areas of Cambodia and Vietnam that are not full of tourists. I was lucky enough to be on board with Francesco Zugaro, the Founder and CEO of Aqua Expeditions. Francesco personally designed all of the excursions, so it was nice to experience his itineraries.
I opted for the bike excursion on most days – it was an amazing way to visit the tiny villages and markets without seeing other tourist along the way and really get immersed. Locals were happy to see us and embarrassed us with lots of smiles. Visiting a local school was definitely one of my highlights and a must for any families that are on-board.
Other activities included following the head chef around local wet markets and skiff rides along the Mekong’s remote canals. Daily life on the Aqua consisted of a morning and afternoon excursion and free time aboard to enjoy a spa treatment, pool time or lounge in the beautiful public areas.
The boat itself—well, think of a floating Aman. With only 20 Suites on board, you definitely get that feeling of exclusivity and I felt like I was a guest on someone’s private yacht. The rooms are balcony or non-balcony and that’s the hard part deciding which to choose when booking. We usually think it’s a must when cruising to have a balcony, but in the case of the Aqua, it’s a tossup. It depends on the time of year and the weather when making that choice. The overall square footage is the same in both cabin choices so if take the balcony, then you have a smaller living space. The accommodations are so comfortable that you will enjoy spending time in the room. There are times when you could be the only one on deck.
The Aqua has a variety of public spaces including a library/games room, screening room and pool, which is why it’s a perfect choice for families with older children. Inter-connecting suites are available for families or couples looking for a private living room with his-and-hers bathrooms.
Ok, you sold me – so when is the optimal time to book a trip to SE Asia?
A trip of this caliber should be in the planning stage six months or more before departure but what is most important is working with an experienced advisor that has experienced the destination. Someone who has been to the properties and the region can give insightful advice on the number of nights to spend in each property, and identify which property is right for which you.
Finding the right balance of beach, city and culture for each traveler is the key and there are many factors to consider such as time of year, length of the trip, ages of the travelers. This can only be achieved by discussing your interests and expectations with a travel consultant.
Knowing all the transportation options is an advantage too. We have planned many trips to these destinations, but more importantly, we’ve been there. We know the logistics of getting from place to place and have connections at an extensive amount of luxury hotels. We are familiar with international airfares and can find you options that will not be available online. For example, a Business Class round-trip fare to London can cost upwards of $5,000. Roughly the same fare can take you to Asia on a comfortable AB380. We also know which airlines make it easier to maximize your points in order to travel Business Class on the long hauls.
Can you explain to Inviato readers what Virtuoso is exactly as many are unfamiliar with the organization? Classic is a ‘Virtuoso’ agency – what does that mean and what does affiliation provide in terms of benefits to travelers?
Virtuoso is the leading luxury travel network in the travel industry. It’s a ‘by-invitation-only’ organization comprised of the top luxury travel agencies. The relationships that Virtuoso has formed with luxury travel suppliers around the world is priceless for our clients. It’s not just about the value-added benefits our clients receive at the best places – we all love the perks! It’s about the treatment our clients receive at the hotel when coming from a prestigious agency like ours. You don’t get that by booking through a mass-market site like Expedia or on your own. Compared to the American Express Fine Hotel & Resorts program, Virtuoso offers travelers identical if not better perks (breakfast is usually a full breakfast with Virtuoso and not continental, for example) plus the opportunity to get Virtuoso special offers and promotional rates at luxury hotels. And, you get this with personalized service with knowledgeable travel consultants who know your travel style and preferences.
To get more information on any of these hotels, visit Classic Travel’s website or contact Lance Stamps at 917.322.9753. Make sure to mention Inviato. All the hotels featured above are Virtuoso hotels and offer the following amenities:
- Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
- Daily Buffet or full breakfast, for up to two guests
- Extra perk (hotel dependent) such as $100 USD Resort or Hotel credit, complimentary lunch for up to two or 60 minute massage
Images courtesy of Classic Travel
The Peninsula, Hong Kong
Hong Kong, Kowloon, China
Why book Virtuoso?
- Personalized travel assistance
- 24/7 online booking
- Special rates & exclusive offers
- Guaranteed Room upgrade*
- Complimentary full American breakfast
- Early check-in, Late check-out*
- Exclusive on-site amenities (varies by hotel)
- * based on availability on time of arrival