Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia

Follow Us

Asia travel and leisure guides for hotels, food and drink, shopping, nightlife, and spas | Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia

Where (And How) to Travel in 2018

Travel today isn't just about checking off a destination and moving on to the next one. It's about collecting experiences—and returning from each journey feeling transformed as a new person. We've come up with 42 trips to inspire an adventurous in 2018.

Published on Feb 22, 2018

PAGE : 1 2


On a cruise around the Galápagos Islands, Peter Heller encounters the archipelago's diverse native species—and walks away humbled by their beauty.

The sun was settling into the Pacific, and they were dancing on the beach. Two blue-footed boobies. These are seabirds that can fold themselves into missiles and corkscrew into the ocean at 95 kilometers per hour. But right now, they were two meters away and slowly high-stepping toward each other on their outsize webbed, very blue feet. One, presumably the male, offered his sweetheart a twig.

"Did you see that?" I murmured. "Him giving her the twig?"

"Always works for me", my wife, Kim replied.

Shortly after touching down on Baltra Island, we boarded our cruise ship, the Celebrity Xperience, and had barely unpacked before sailing off to see the wildlife. At this first stop, the tiny island of North Seymour, we saw magnificent frigate birds— that's their name, Fregata magnificens—soaring close overhead on black and angled wings 2½ meters across, like remnants of the age of pterodactyls. No sooner had I set foot on a trail inland than I had to step between a yellow land iguana and a seagull, and then around two sea lions. Each opened an eye, rubbed its back into the sand, and went back to sleep.

Wild, unspoiled Bartolomé Island.
Wild, unspoiled Bartolomé Island. Callie Giovanna.

It was like walking through that painting by Henri Rousseau, The Dream— remember the nude in the forest with the lions and birds? The peace that reigned, the innocence. We hadn't been in the Galápagos a day, and already this was the strangest and wildest place I'd ever seen.

An archipelago of volcanic islands and numerous tiny islets, the Galápagos are on almost every nature lover's must-visit list for good reason: they have a higher concentration of endemic animals and plants than almost anywhere else on the planet. The islands' short distance from the Ecuadoran coast allowed some species to be swept from the mainland and evolve in relative isolation. With very few land predators around, they adapted to be pretty fearless. To protect the wildlife, the Ecuadoran government has designated 97 percent of the archipelago a national park.

To really explore the Galápagos, go by sea. We chose to sail with Celebrity Cruises, which just added two retrofitted ships— the 48-passenger Xperience and the 16-passenger Xploration—to its Galápagos fleet. I'll admit that I love cruises. The right kind of voyage, on a small expedition ship, gives access to wild places that can't be reached any other way. The Xperience was outfitted for adventure, with snorkeling gear, kayaks, and inflatable Zodiacs for landings. And the itinerary was rigorous: we all did two excursions a day, either hikes or snorkels led by a registered Galápagos guide, with a break for lunch on the ship. Once in a while we saw another small expedition ship at anchor, but usually we were all alone.

It didn't hurt that the cabins were smartly designed, the galley served delicious meals like grilled lobster and papaya salad, and there was a hot tub on the highest deck. But for us, the best part was getting off the ship and into the water.

On day four, as we sailed toward Floreana Island, the sea got rough. The Zodiac plowed through the swell while our lead naturalist, Gustavo Barva, told us the story of early settlers, a handful of eccentric Germans who disembarked in 1929. It was a story of love, betrayal, poison and murder, and he had us on the edge of our bouncing seats.

Kicker Rock
Kicker Rock, a popular snorkeling and diving spot off the island of San Cristóbal, in the Galápagos. Chelsea Schiff.

Just offshore, the captain cut the engine, and Kim and I climbed into a double sea kayak. She set a strong pace, and we headed for a maze of rocky black islets, the spray hitting our faces. In the calmer sand shallows, the water was aquamarine. The swells surged through channels between outcroppings like a gushing stream, and we rode them, sluicing through the gaps. Bright red Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttled on rocks the color of coal. Again, we got the sense of being in a painting where the colors, the wildness, could not be entirely real.

And then we saw the pair of sea lion pups. They broke from wrestling on a shallow bar and swam after us. They were so tenacious we laughed out loud. They stared at us with huge, dark, wet eyes, wondering why we were making a ruckus. They seemed to be begging us to get out of the stupid boat and play for real.

We did eventually get out of the boat, to snorkel in the waters of Post Office Bay. Kim tapped me as we floated along: a pair of green sea turtles were feeding along the bottom. She stretched out her arms, and the larger one rose to the surface just under her chest, nearly brushing her with its shell. I almost stopped breathing.

But I didn't have much time to recover. A large Galápagos shark, three meters in length, with a scythe tail and a dead eye, cruised by us at something like a fourmeter distance. It arced around us. My heart started to pound, and just as I began to wonder how this particular encounter might end, a brown blur glided between us and the predator: a huge female sea lion. As she passed, she looked right at us, and we thought we could read her expression: I've got this. She did. She circled us twice and chased off the shark.

The next day, we rose at 5:30 and ate a big breakfast of made-to-order omelettes and strong Ecuadoran coffee. The ship anchored off the largest island in the archipelago, Isabela, and we set out on Zodiacs for the sheltered waters of Elizabeth Bay. On the rocks, marine iguanas sunned themselves in a mass of sinuous tails and claws. This species—the only oceangoing iguana in the world—evolved from land iguanas that once lived in the forests of Ecuador. These iguanas dive for algae. Weird. Weirder still was the flightless cormorant whose wings evolved to stubs because there were no predators to fly away from.

A land iguana on Santa Cruz Island.
A land iguana on Santa Cruz Island. Courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.

It's one reason we travel, I guess. To experience the wholly unfamiliar. And I have traveled a lot. But I have never been in a place that unfolded with such surprising juxtapositions: penguins next to iguanas, dancing boobies by nesting frigates, playful sea lions swimming past relaxed turtles. Our Zodiac pushed on and slipped slowly through narrow channels among the mangrove trees—who knew mangrove trees could be red, and grow to nine meters tall?—and we saw a sea lion sleeping across a branch above the water like a leopard.

In our week of cruising from island to island, we would also be dazzled by high headlands covered in pink carpetweed where boobies with red feet sat on white eggs. And estuaries where pink flamingos moved to the slow cadences of the tide. And albatross that, during their mating dance, clacked their bills together like castanets.

In the Bolivar Channel, after an evening of seeing minke whales blow all around the ship, we climbed up to a railing forward of the bridge. The ship was headed straight toward a rising half-moon. Over the horizon on our left lay the Southern Cross. Above and to our right were the Big Dipper and the North Star—the northern and southern constellations were spread under one sky.

Of course: we were almost on the equator. Kim and I leaned shoulder to shoulder. On the wind, and in the sea, it seemed that beauty breathed all around us, and we stayed out until the moon dropped into the waves.; seven-night Galápagos cruises from $4,499.


1 Endangered Apes in Borneo Watch baby orangutans being fed in the Kota Kinabalu rehabilitation center, cruise Kinabatangan River while trying to spy proboscis monkeys, and swim among the island's pristine aquatic life on the 12-day Classic Borneo tour with Remote Lands.; 12-day tours from $7,100 per person.

A mother and baby orangutan in Borneo.
A mother and baby orangutan in Borneo. Courtesy of Remote Lands.

2 Big Cats In India Prowl three national parks (including Kanha, the inspiration for Kipling's The Jungle Book) in search of lions, leopards and Bengal tigers on a 14-day adventure with Abercrombie & Kent. Between jeep safaris and game viewings, there'll be time to relax in a mix of luxury tented suites and jungle properties.; 14-day tours from $8,995 per person.

3 Humpback Whales in Ningaloo Reef From August through October at Sal Salis, a rustic-luxe lodge in Western Australia's Ningaloo region, you can go offshore to swim with the humpback whales that migrate to this wild area. Your swimming companions will likely include whale sharks, manta rays and dugongs.; doubles from $750 per person, all-inclusive; $550 for whale swim.'

4 Emperor Penguins at the South Pole On Natural World Safaris' 11-day cruise to Antarctica, you'll fly by helicopter to visit a colony of more than 6,000 birds. Remarkably, these meter-tall penguins aren't afraid of humans, so it's easy to get close.; from $9,238.


As the lush Malaysian island emerges from its long slumber, JENINNE LEE-ST. JOHN finds we're all overdue for a visit to the UNESCO Geopark.

Despite Langkawi's 500 million years of truly awesome geological history, some believe that a curse seven generations ago has held more power over the future of this island, which has in many ways been left behind in the Southeast Asia tourism boom. A major problem: the lack of direct flights from regional hubs. But now that Langkawi has three superstar hotels, coinciding with the end of those seven generations, any cursese—transport or otherwise-seem likely to be lifted.

Debuting just end of 2016, The Ritz-Carlton Langkawi (; doubles from $590) feels organic, like it sprouted from the place, snuggled in a rainforest so full of life that inquisitive monkeys swing down onto your porch to peer into your room. The secluded beach houses a collection of pool villas and is book-ended by two inviting pools. They've also got the only haute-Cantonese restaurant on the isle, and it's delicious.

The Ritz-Carlton Langkawi
The Ritz-Carlton Langkawi's spa hovers over the Andaman Sea. Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Langkawi.

At the polar opposite of the design spectrum is the St. Regis Langkawi (; doubles from $700), a grand hotel dripping in all the urbane opulence you'd expect from the brand (penthouses; champagne-sabering) but on a bay into which juts its three overwater bungalows. Toast the electric pink sunset at whitewashed beachhouse-restaurant Kayu Puti, then head inside for a tasting menu as bright as the Bill Bensley–designed interiors.

Bensley also has his Technicolor fingerprints all over the freshly revamped Four Seasons Langkawi (; doubles from $800), which looks like an Arabian palace rendered by Pixar. The team of in-house naturalists is headed by garrulous Adi Abdullah, a local environmentalist who really seems like he can talk to animals. From the resort's enviably long beach, you can spy a couple of Thai islands in the distance, reminding you to be grateful the rest of the all-to-close world hasn't yet discovered this prehistoric paradise.


Travel is a powerful tool, one that can shape and open young minds—as HEIDI MITCHELL discovers, especially in a challenging place like Egypt.

Everyone told me not to take my three kids to Egypt. A friend from Pakistan said I was bananas. A half-Egyptian colleague confided she wouldn't be visiting her paternal grandparents for…ever. My mother begged me to go anywhere else. ("But, please, honey, at least register with the embassy.")

Foolish? Perhaps. Defiant? Yes. Even with terror attacks and unrest in the Middle East dominating the news cycle, I was determined to see Egypt, a place I had dreamed of visiting since I first spied King Tut's funerary mask at the Met as a four-year-old. For more than a decade, I've dragged my kids to every major Egyptian museum exhibition in Chicago, New York, and London. On road trips we listened to corny recordings of the myths of Osiris and Ra ("You rise, you rise…. You are the king of gods!"). The Puffin Classics Tales of Ancient Egypt never gathered dust on our bookshelves.

Ancient heiroglyphs on the Temple of Philae.
Ancient heiroglyphs on the Temple of Philae. Suzanne Teng/Courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent.

And those kids, now 14, 12 and 8—they shared my dream. In a moment when our country seemed to turn its back on the Muslim world, "as soon as possible" felt like the best time to further my children's understanding of other cultures. They, like my husband and I, were unwilling to accept fear as an excuse to write off a place that so occupied their imaginations. And so, gifted with two weeks of spring break and a burning belief that what was happening in Egypt couldn't possibly be worse than what was unfolding at home, my family resolved to seize the moment. We would take a leap of faith: that our tour operator, Abercrombie & Kent, would keep us safe on our custom, eight-day odyssey, which combined a four-day river cruise on the Nile with four days in the Cairo area. That we wouldn't be seen as ugly Americans, but as enthusiastic ambassadors. And that our kids would appreciate seeing their Ancient Egypt classroom studies IRL.

As our vessel, the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV, departed Luxor bound for Aswan, I confess I felt an unwarranted sense of pride for having taken my family to Egypt despite, well, infinite reasons not to. In port, at least a dozen other tourist boats withered with disuse. Even on that first afternoon, as barren rocky hills rose in the distance, security never crossed my mind. My kids read Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile while my husband and I marveled at how silly it seemed to worry even a little. Children on the shore waved to us, we waved back, and life sailed on.

Outside Luxor, at the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, which is dedicated to a female pharaoh who lived in the 15th century B.C., we raced up the ramps to the Osiride columns—alone. The walls were decorated with elaborate scenes of courtly life, the 3,500-year-old paint vivid and seemingly fresh. In the Valley of the Kings, our tour guide, Ehab, noted that just a few years ago, 10,000 people would wait in line in the blistering heat to enter three of the 63 tombs of their choosing. Not today. There were perhaps 50 other travelers, which meant we could linger, often undisturbed, in Ramses III's tomb and take time to decipher the hieroglyphs with a ruler translator we'd purchased in a gift shop.

On our second evening, we visited the Temple of Luxor at sunset, the lights at the feet of several gigantic statues of Ramses II illuminating the cloudless night. As the call to prayer filled the sky, how could anyone be afraid? The kids played hide-and-seek among the pillars, and I asked them over dinner if they felt unsafe. They looked at me like I was bananas, just as my Pakistani friend had. In and around Cairo, the kids were able to get away from us for a bit. In the souk, they roamed freely and bargained for perfumes, knives, and scarabs, while we parents drank strong coffee in a café. When we visited the Great Pyramid of Giza, just outside the city, we walked through metal detectors to gain access and were greeted at the entrance by dozens of Egyptian schoolgirls. They asked to take a photo with my teenage son, and we all laughed at his crimson blush. This became a running joke, as it kept happening: brave girls at the Sphinx requesting photos; girls at Memphis, the ruins of a city south of Cairo, wanting selfies with him; girls near the entrance to the Egyptian Museum back in the city, pleading for one more shot. Teenagers everywhere, it turns out, all speak the same language of giggles and insouciance.

The grand Hypostyle Hall in the Luxor Temple
The grand Hypostyle Hall in the Luxor Temple is even more commanding at night. Emily Slade/Courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent.

On the last day of our trip, our city guide, Wael, took us off-piste to Dahshûr, about 24 kilometers south of Cairo, where the pharaoh Snefru erected the Bent Pyramid nearly 5,000 years ago. The police stopped our group before eventually letting us pass onto the barren road that leads to the 45-meter-tall pyramid, though there was no need: we were the only humans in any direction all the way to the horizon.

When we finally had to leave, we each instinctively pocketed a small stone. Maybe our keepsakes were once part of the early attempt at the pyramid behind us, or maybe engineers from five millennia ago cast them aside.

Our rocks are now safe at home, in Chicago. We survived Egypt just fine, but fear and division persist. So what are we supposed to do? Prepare for the apocalypse and hoard SpaghettiOs? How about, instead, recognizing that we're more likely to be hit by a falling object than become a victim of a random act of terror. My kids, and the land of Moses, taught me that the antidote to fear is travel. Their developing minds have few prejudices, and the more exposure we give them to people around the world, the more empathetic they will become. And teach us to become.; 10-day Signature Egypt & the Nile trips from $5,395.

A camel ride near the Great Pyramid of Giza.
A camel ride near the Great Pyramid of Giza. Emily Slade/Courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent.


1 Under the Sea, Great Barrier Reef, Australia Just a 45-minute ferry ride from Cairns, Green Island is a 6,000-year-old coral cay along the Great Barrier Reef, where underwater explorers can swim among diverse coral and colorful marine life. Great Adventures' day tour includes snorkeling or a glass-bottom boat ride, with access to an eco-walk through the cay's protected rainforest.; full day tour for two adults and two children from $226.

2 Unearthing the Terracotta Warriors, Xian, China A must-visit for any budding archaeologists, the 8,000 sculptures discovered in this ancient tomb are as detailed as they are majestic; each soldier has a unique facial expression hand-carved by the Qin Dynasty craftsmen. A guide is recommended if you have young ones in tow—they'll help you navigate the crowds and provide insightful information along the way.

3 Walk Hellfire Pass, Kanchanaburi, Thailand A sobering break from rafting on the River Kwai and waterfall treks in the nearby national park, this Thai-Australian memorial museum honors the 90,000 Asian laborers and 16,000 foreign PO Ws who died building the Thailand–Burma Railway (also known as the Death Railway) during World War II . Grab a free audio guide and walk the 600-meter Konyu Cutting, where prisoners worked 18 hours a day cutting through solid rock to make the track.


With luxe openings, impressive environmental initiatives and, as ever, pristine beaches, the South Pacific beckons ADAM H. GRAHAM of 2018.

After the cyclones of 2015, which caused severe damage across Fiji, the tranquil and resilient South Pacific islands are rebounding with significant investments, property upgrades and conservation programs that will foster a new era of sustainable tourism and help maintain the acrchipelago's pristine coral and mangrove habitats. New properties include the affordable Marriott Resort Momi Bay ( with 22 overwater bure (bungalows) and located just 45 minutes drive from Nadi International Airport, and the Kokomo (, a lush and leafy 56-hectare private island on the pristine Great Astrolabe Reef and best accessed by helicopter or seaplane.

Bligh Waters
A bird's-eye view of the Bligh Waters, one of Fiji's richest dive sites. Chaney Kwak.

Existing resorts upped their game to draw in conservation-minded divers and nature enthusiasts. The über-exclusive private-island resort of Laucala (, owned by Redbull founder Dietrich Mateschitz and home to spacious villas tricked out with teak tubs and chilled Bollinger a la discretion, is planting vanilla vines and continues to expand its hydroponics farms and Wagyu cattle breeding programs. Nanuku (, a 26-villa Auberge Property near Pacific Harbour on the main island, is developing three new villas for multigenerational families, and made some substantial nods to conservation in 2017 by banning singleuse plastics like straws and shampoo bottles, and introduced coral nurseries and mangrove restoration projects using plastic bottles to grow seedlings.

As for transport, in spring 2018, Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic ( launch a series of cruises to the South Pacific including stops in Fiji's lesser-visited islands like Taveuni and Beqa. Fiji Airways ( has upgraded its fleet with a redesigned business-class cabin and a new lounge at Nadi International Airport. It inaugurated a new non-stop flight to Nadi from San Francisco in autumn 2017 and launches direct flights to Japan in 2018.


In urban centers and remote outposts near and far, there are new ways to eat (and drink) your way to a deeper understanding of your meal.

Sure, crossing a remarkable restaurant off your bucket list is satisfying. But many people are looking for more than a good meal: they want to forage for ingredients, understand how those ingredients are connected to the land, sea and community, and take part in the creation of their dishes. Join Chinese food expert and cookbook author Fuchsia Dunlop on a 13-day grazing trip of a lifetime on her Gastronomic Tour of China with Wild China (; 13-day tour from $7,390, see website for dates and details). You'll join a noodle-making lesson in Beijing, before eating your way though Xi'an, Chengdu and Shanghai, and finishing in Hangzhou to pick tea leaves with a Longjing green tea farmer. There's also a 10-day Yunnan-focused epicurean tour with Dunlop, and a seven-day tour with company founder Mei Zhang that explores Dali.

For those looking to expand their boozing knowledge, The Sool Company (; tours from $30 per person) in Seoul hosts tours that visit some of the city's master brewers of makgeolli, a beloved local rice wine. Guided through the alleys behind Insadong and Gyeongbokgung Palace, you'll get an insider tasting of some of the city's best brews and dine together with a master brewer and his wife.

Market tours are a sensory way to learn about local ingredients unavailable at home and experience authentic street life. Taste of Hoi An (; tours from $70 per person) lead a walking tour to meet market vendors and taste more than 40 food and drinks from local street stalls. In Hong Kong, venture to the New Territories with a market tour of Tai Po by Hong Kong Foodies (; tours from $116 per person). Among this bustling marketplace you'll visit six family-run eateries to try roast goose, Chinese candies, and, for those with a strong stomach, snake soup. —ELOISE BASUKI


1 Den, Tokyo Zaiyu Hasegawa is Japan's rising star, a master at playfully weaving international flavors into a kaiseki menu. His "Dentucky" fried chicken, stuffed with sticky rice, served in a red and white KFC-style box, is a cult dish among globe-trotting chefs.; tasting menus from $136.

2 Brae, Birregurra, Australia Dan Hunter, Australia's buzziest young-gun chef, is known for delicious, oddball inventions like oyster-infused ice cream and wild mushrooms with milk curd. His farm, restaurant and hotel 90 minutes from Melbourne make up a pastoral fantasyland.; tasting menu $193.

3 Yang's Fry Dumplings, Shanghai This fast-food is about the art of the slurp. The size of a small bao, they are filled with greens, pork or shrimp (the best), then fried. The outside is crisp, the inner skin chewy, the stuffing hot and juicy, very juicy. Many a seasoned Yang's patron has taken too big a bite and sent soup all over herself or her shared-table neighbors. No regrets. locations throughout Shanghai; from $1.20 for four.

4 Amber, Hong Kong While their menu is getting a revamp in 2018, Amber's Weekend Wine Lunch—three courses paired with six labels—is an affordable way to dine in this great space. Chargrilled Cantabrian octopus with fermented bell peppers and pearl onions is a favorite.; Weekend Wine Lunch menu $133.

A delicate starter at Amber, Hong Kong: wild buri tartare. Christopher Kucway.

5 Gaggan, Bangkok A seat at Gaggan Anand's minted two–Michelin starred restaurant is hard to come by. Theatrics are hype-worthy ("Lick it Up" by Kiss is played as you lick your plate clean), but the smart, complex and tasty menu speaks for itself.; tasting menu $153.


PAGE : 1 2



See All Articles...

Exploring the ancient tombs of Deir el-Bahar in Luxor, Egypt. Emily Slade/Courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent.
Related Articles