Thailand, Laos, Cambodia—the names themselves evoke images of ancient royal kingdoms, mighty temples, golden Buddhas and mystical mountains. Here, you can trek in the jungle by elephant, kayak through a mist-covered lagoon or sunbathe on a swath of white-sand beach under swaying coconut palms. There are boat trips to secluded islands for romantic picnics, private dinners
Thailand, Laos, Cambodia—the names themselves evoke images of ancient royal kingdoms, mighty temples, golden Buddhas and mystical mountains. Here, you can trek in the jungle by elephant, kayak through a mist-covered lagoon or sunbathe on a swath of white-sand beach under swaying coconut palms. There are boat trips to secluded islands for romantic picnics, private dinners on the beach, and excellent shopping for everything from local handicrafts to priceless antiques. Southeast Asia offers honeymooners a wonderful blend of culture, adventure and fine food, at prices that can be quite reasonable. And its fine resorts are sensual and luxurious, with all the amenities that make for a perfect honeymoon.
Phuket, Thailand, for instance, is a paradise of beautiful ocean-facing beach resorts, endless water sports, elephant safaris and nearby islands to explore. Paradoxically, the tsunami of December 2004, which affected only a small part of the island, has left the beaches more pristine than ever and the Andaman Sea is crystal-clear. Accommodations—from sumptuous suites with beach-facing balconies to inexpensive bed-and-breakfasts—are still fairly easy to find, and there are deals to be had. The same is true of many restaurants, and activities like elephant treks, speedboat tours to water villages and islands, and snorkeling and scuba trips.
If you’re looking for an extraordinary honeymoon at a fair price, be sure to include Phuket. But don’t limit this trip of a lifetime to that island; while you’ve made the journey, spend some time in urbane and fascinating Bangkok, or in the green city of Chiang Mai. And you’re only a short plane hop from two not-to-be-missed UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Angkor temple complex in Cambodia, and the ancient city of Luang Prabang in Laos. Both sites, remnants of mighty ancient cultures, offer a beauty that is nothing short of spiritual.
Choose a resort as your base and—after a few days of lazily doing nothing—spend your honeymoon exploring this intriguing part of the world.
The Oriental, Bangkok
Where better to begin a honeymoon than in Thailand, once the ancient kingdom of Siam. Bangkok, the capital, is an intoxicating blend of glittering golden palaces, temples (known as wats) where bells chime in the breeze, and colorful river life along the Chao Phraya River, which winds through the heart of the country. Take a rua hang yao (long-tail boat) through the small picturesque canals that fork off from the river, and you’ll go back centuries in time watching noodle sellers, fishermen and mothers bathing their children in the river.
Then, stroll through streets teeming with life and the smells of dumplings cooking and incense burning in Bangkok’s 300 Buddhist temples. Probably the most famous attraction is the Grand Palace, a magnificent ancient Siamese court that used to be the residence of the kings of Thailand. Not to be missed are Wat Traimit, with its Buddha made of 5.5 tons of gold; Wat Pho, home of the huge Reclining Buddha; and Wat Benjamabophit, known as “the Marble Temple.”
At the world-famous Oriental, the service is so attentive it can seem that your needs are being met before you know you have them. Staffers call you by name, and when you arrive (the hotel’s BMW meets you at the airport), personalized stationery awaits you in your luxurious honeymoon suite overlooking the Chao Phraya River. To beat your jet lag, drop your bags and board the Oriental’s shuttle launch for the two-minute ride across the river to the Oriental Spa. Here, your Western clothes will be locked into a lacquer closet and you’ll be handed Thai pajamas; then you’ll be cosseted in a couples’ suite for a Thai massage.
Trisara, Phuket, Thailand
Considered the most idyllic island of Southeast Asia, Phuket is a 60-minute hop by plane from Bangkok. The place to stay is Trisara, a brand-new 40-acre hillside hideaway overlooking the Andaman Sea. Trisara is Sanskrit for “third garden in heaven,” and it is, with each suite offering views of the sea from the bed, a spacious teak pool deck, and a private infinity edge pool. The nearly 2,600-square-foot accommodations include a well-stocked minibar and an iPod.
It will be hard to tear yourself away from the resort, but you don’t want to miss the exhilaration of riding atop an elephant through the jungle or speeding by boat through mist-shrouded mountains to Phang Nga Bay, a national park with dramatic limestone islands that jut from the water.
Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Like Bangkok, Chiang Mai in northern Thailand has more than 300 temples, but here the city is surrounded by lush green mountains and rain forest. If you didn’t take an elephant trek in Phuket, you can try it here. Afterward, take a traditional bamboo raft trip down the Ping River followed by a meal of Northern Thai food, less spicy than Southern Thai. You can visit a semi-nomadic hill tribe where the women and children wear colorful handmade costumes, then watch the sunset from a temple tucked half a mile up into the mountains.
Chiang Mai’s newest over-the top resort is the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi. Spread out over 60 acres of serene gardens, plantations and rice paddies (with a real white water buffalo, perfect for photo ops), the Dhara Dhevi was built to re-create an ancient Lanna kingdom, and it’s as luxurious as it is authentic. Your two-story villa has a private plunge pool, outdoor eating area, and beds so plush you’ll have a hard time getting out from under the covers. There’s a shopping village, a prayer hall and three gourmet restaurants on the property.
La Résidence Phou Vao, Luang Prabang, Laos
Laos, known as the “Land of a Million Elephants,” seems to have that many monks. Each morning in Luang Prabang, one of the country’s oldest historic towns, monks leave their temples at sunrise and march down the street with begging bowls. The locals give them food, and so should you—your hotel will prepare the rice. A boat trip up the Mekong River takes you to the caves of Pak Ou, where monks lived years ago. Then return to La Résidence Phou Vao, a part of Tansea Orient-Express Hotels nestled in an oasis of lush gardens and palms. Your spacious suite with a balcony overlooking the surrounding mountains reflects the heritage of Lao architecture while offering luxurious comfort. Dine outdoors, surrounded by fragrant bougainvillea and frangipani. Laos has some of the best shopping in Southeast Asia, especially for handmade paper and silk, and the place to shop is at the night market, open at 5 p.m. daily.
Amansara, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Archaeological Park is a complex of ancient temples and ruins in Siem Reap, Cambodia, which includes the majestic temple Angkor Wat. Many of the park’s temples are deep in the jungle, and strangler fig trees have entwined themselves around the ruins, their roots bursting apart even the thickest walls (one of the greatest photo ops in Southeast Asia). You’ll want to spend at least two or three days at the ruins, wandering Angkor Wat and trekking to see more distant temples.
For a home base, consider the Amansara, less than 10 minutes away. Once the guest villa of the king, the inn is now an Áman resort that feels like a luxurious country home. There are only 24 suites, all light-filled, cool and spacious, and most with a private sun-filled courtyard. The Amansara will arrange daily guided tours to the ruins. Guests are given their own driver and remork (a moped-powered trishaw) for their stay. Don’t miss a spiritual cleansing at a pagoda, in which a monk advises you about your year ahead, then douses you with bowls of water to banish bad thoughts and deeds, a perfect way to start a new life together.
Asian Trails can set you up with a honeymoon package including accommodations, meals, local transportation, English-speaking guides and sightseeing entrance fees, and arrange for honeymoon amenities such as wine, fruit baskets and flowers, spa treatments and more. They can arrange special extras as well, such as private meals on secluded islands, speedboat tours and elephant treks. Asian Trails, 66 2 626 2061; fax 66 2 626 2122; www.asiantrails.com.