From Angkor in Cambodia and exploring Myanmar, Borneo and the Silk Road of China, these are the top Asian destinations for your list.
Discover the Astonishing Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia
The experience: Temple hopping
The location: Angkor, Cambodia
Why go: If you want to see Southeast Asia at its most beguiling, head to Cambodia. While there are many reasons to linger, most travellers come here for one reason only: to visit Angkor, Siem Reap’s staggering Khmer temple complex. Located amid jungle and farmland north of Tonle Sap lake, the ruins – the world’s largest religious monument – are one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, spanning some 400 square kilometres and showcasing the remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to 15th centuries. Its cultural significance is revealed in scores of temples and stupas with intricate carvings. Sunrise overlooking Angkor Wat, the park’s most famous structure, is a hauntingly beautiful experience, throwing shadows and light over the UNESCO World Heritage site and revealing secret doorways and hidden nooks covered with the gnarly tree roots and vines. Thousands of visitors come daily, with the main ruins – Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm – extremely busy, especially in the morning and at the end of the day. But the vastness of the complex makes it easy to escape the crowds and explore smaller, equally beautiful, temple complexes that you will often have entirely to yourself.
Where to stay: Grande dame of Siem Reap’s hotel scene, the elegant and historic Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor is set among six hectares of tropical gardens within easy reach of Angkor.
Getting there: NRMA’s 13-night Vietnam & Cambodia itinerary will see you exploring this special part of the world. It also includes visits to other World Heritage sites such as Halong Bay in Vietnam. The trip covers return economy flights from Sydney, local transportation, most meals and more.
Explore Buddhist Culture in Yangon, Myanmar
The experience: Absorbing Buddhist culture
The location: Yangon, Myanmar
Why go: There are an estimated 500,000 monks in Myanmar and you’ll have the opportunity to interact with many of them and experience the Buddhist way of life at Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda. An extraordinary 99-metre-high temple complex on Singuttara Hill in the city’s heart, Shwedagon, has dozens of spires and statues reaching to the sky and encircling a magnificent stupa crowned by 4351 diamonds weighing 1800 carats. It’s said the temple is home to strands of the original (Gautama) Buddha’s hair along with other holy relics. In homage, the complex is adorned with seated, reclining and neon-lit Buddhas. As the sun disappears, the entire complex shimmers in a hazy orange light. Shwedagon is the country’s most sacred Buddhist pagoda. There is constant chanting as nuns and monks pray on the smooth tiled ground, with visitors lighting candles and incense, and laying fragrant floral wreaths at shrines.
Where to stay: The gracious Governor’s Residence hotel is set in a 1920s colonial mansion with wide verandahs overlooking a fan-shaped pool and landscaped tropical gardens.
Getting there: A sunset tour of Shwedagon Pagoda is among the highlights of NRMA’s 12-night Discovering Myanmar – The Golden Land itinerary. You’ll also explore Inle Lake by private motorboat, visit the “long neck” women of the Padaung hill tribe and tour the former British hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin.
Come Face to Face With Orangutans in a Wilderness Safari in Borneo, Malaysia
The experience: Animal encounters
The location: Borneo, Malaysia
Why go: Malaysian Borneo is one of the most important habitats for orangutans – in fact, it’s one of only two places in the world where you can still see these majestic creatures in the wild. The Kinabatangan River and Danum Valley are perfect for wilderness safaris – in addition to being one of the last remaining homes for orangutans, both also offer opportunities to see some of the island’s other endemic species. Malaysian Borneo is home to research and conservation centres working tirelessly to protect the region’s endangered primates. Since the 1960s, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre has been a sanctuary for young orangutans orphaned by illegal logging and deforestation as well those illegally caught and kept as pets. Today, 80 of the animals roam freely around the reserve. It’s a fascinating place to visit to learn about the species, watch them feed and discover the rehabilitation work required before they can be released back into the wild.
Where to stay: Style and sustainability unite at Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort & Spa in Kota Kinabalu. As beautiful as the rooms are, the real reason to check in is for the resort’s adjoining nature reserve – guests can join rangers and decode local flora and fauna on guided tours.
Getting there: In addition to getting up close and personal with orangutans, NRMA’s 10-night Borneo Wildlife Explorer itinerary includes the chance to witness hornbills and proboscis monkeys in the wild, as well as visit the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
Discover the Fascinating Silk Road in China
The experience: Tracing history
The location: The Silk Road, China
Why go: Extending almost 6,500 kilometres and passing from China through India, Persia and Turkey, The Silk Road is the stuff of mystery and legend. This crucial trading route saw everything from silks to tea, spices to gems bought and sold with merchants travelling in large caravans and setting up vibrant market towns along the way. Today’s Silk Road may be better paved, but it still offers fascinating insights into the life of the intrepid merchants who walked and traded here centuries ago. The route begins in Chang’an (now Xi’an) then, by way of the Hexi Corridor, it reaches Dunhuang where it divides into three: the Southern, Central and Northern routes. The three routes spread all over the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and then extend as far as Pakistan, India – even Rome. Among the attractions en route are the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, where cliffside grottos house thousands of Buddhist relics, and the bustling Sunday Bazaar in Kashgar, near the China-Pakistan border.
Where to stay: The artwork, rich silks and antiques throughout the Shangri-La Hotel in Xi’an give the property a unique sense of place.
Getting there: NRMA’s 26-night Silk Road Explorer itinerary links a number of important historical sites in China, including Xi’an and Kashgar, Turpan and Beijing, with trekking, climbing and hiking along the way.