There are few historic sites on the planet that marvel visitors more than Myanmar’s ancient city Bagan. From the ninth to thirteenth centuries it was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first to unify what would become Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and develop itself as a strong rival of its Cambodian counterpart Angkor Wat. At its peak, there were over 10,000 Buddhist temples, monasteries, pagodas were erected in Bagan. Today around 2,200 of these remain, a sprawling yet extremely memorable site to visit. A somewhat overwhelming challenge which can be made much more rewarding thanks to these excellent insider tips provided by our Myanmar expert Zenaida des Aubris of Amara Group and vivid description of traveling in the country by Ileana von Hirsch of Five Star Greece.
Bagan temples / Photo: Ileana von Hirsch
Situated in the Mandalay region, roughly in the centre of Myanmar, Bagan sits on the banks of the famous Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River which snakes its way north to south through the country, emptying into the Andaman Sea.
There is a local airport next to Bagan, Nyaung U, with regular flights from Yangon. You can also reach the site by overnight trains from Yangon or daytime trains from Mandalay. A more picturesque option is to reach the site by boat, either on a public ferry from Mandalay or a private cruise such as aboard the wonderful hand crafted teak boats of Amara River Cruises, further on this experience below.
Upon arrival all foreigners must buy a Bagan Archaeological Zone pass costing 20 USD, 20 EUR or 25,000 Kyat upon arrival (prices of Jan 2017), therefore it’s recommended to have enough cash on you. Activities like transportation services, rentals and ballooning can be arranged at an additional price.
Bagan temples / Photos: Ileana von Hirsch
Once onsite, you can have a accentuate your visit with Zenaida’s excellent tips:
Rent an E-Scooter: This is her number one tip to explore Bagan. According to Zenaida, they are very simple to operate and are powered by an electric battery. This will allow you to be able to explore the temples on your own. There are many smaller temples and stupas in the archeological zone which are only accessible either on foot, by bike, e-bike or horse-cart. Exploring these smaller temples and stupas is a lovely way to get to know Bagan. You can get really close to the intricate carvings and admire the ancient artistry. They are also so lovely to visit because they are off the beaten track. In fact, these tracks are often just that – dirt tracks across fields of peanut or sesame plants. Conditions are fine for walking or riding on these, nevertheless, don’t expect amenities such as handrails or road signs.
Wear Comfortable, Close-toed Shoes: Many of small temples are quite overgrown, so be sure to wear shoes that give some protection.
Bring Along a Flashlight: If you decide to explore the interior – most of them are accessible – be sure to also take a flashlight because there is no electricity. That said, by and large, the exterior is more interesting, artistically speaking, than the interior. Though please remember that you explore at your own risk – there are no safety precautions anywhere.
Skip Sunset at Main Temples: Try to avoid seeing the sunset from atop one of the main temples – unless you like clambering up unsecured steps to the top and having to contend with many other visitors wanting to do the same thing.
Instead, Hire a Boat at Sunset: A much more pleasant alternative is to hire a small boat and have it take you to about the middle of the Irrawaddy River. Here you’ll be able to see the sun set over the mountain ridge on the one side and Bagan with its temples on the other.
Or Setting in on a Hotel Terrace for Sunset: Many of the hotels along the river’s edge, like the Bagan Thande Hotel, have lovely terraces or lawns where you can relax, exotic drink in hand, to enjoy the sunset, far away from the crowds.
Bagan temples at Sunset / Photo: Ileana von Hirsch
Combine all of Zenaida’s useful tips above by creating your own tour of Myanmar, including the Bagan Temples, on one of Amara’s private luxury cruise boats. Their small fleet consists of the Amara I and II, two spacious boats made of teak and carefully constructed by local craftsmen. Traditionally designed with modern luxury comforts, the boats have either five and seven double cabins which are air conditioned and have en-suite bathrooms.
The Amara team has various suggested itineraries, however, they can work with you to design the perfect cultural cruise. For one of UltraVilla’s Directors, Ileana von Hirsch of Five Star Greece, Myanmar is the country of her heart. She traveled there four years in a row and on one of these trips experienced firsthand the Amara River Cruise. Ileana tempts us with some of her highlights from a typical day:
Amara River Cruise / Photos: Ileana von Hirsch
“Lunch on board is the usual feast: delicate coriander-spiked curries, crisp little platters of beans dressed in chilli and peanut sauce and tiny fried bananas in syrup. We chug peacefully up the river in the afternoon, scenes of Burmese arcadia scrolling along in the golden light.
“At six, we pull into a sandbank on an island midstream, and go off with Ting Ting, our hostess, to buy peanuts from the local village. An ox cart squeaks by with a wickerwork carriage and huge wheels carved out of a single block of wood. A raft is being loaded with watermelons by graceful girls carrying huge loads on their heads with apparent ease. The setting sun behind the village turns it into a silhouette of tipsy-looking stilt houses, tangled palmtops and rose-lit hills, all reflected in a pale, glassy sheet of water.
Scenes of Myanmar on an Amara River Cruise / Photo: Ileana von Hirsch
“We wander back across the sand to the boat, where the boys have laid out a glowing path of candles hidden inside translucent bamboo segments, guiding us to a festively laid table under the stars.
“After dinner, the crew put on a show for us, our numbers swelled by a group of villagers attracted to the music. Ting Ting is the star dancer, graceful and accomplished, the musicians try to tire her out with ever faster music, till she collapses in a giggling heap. Then we all join in and there is singing and dancing till the fire burns down and the villagers wander off home under an upside-down crescent moon.”
What a vivid and beautiful experience, many thanks to Ileana for sharing it! Enjoy these authentic connections with real Myanmar while taking in its historic and religious sites, natural beauty and cultural uniqueness on an Amara River Cruise.
There’s nothing like taking in the peacefulness of the mist over the mountains of Myanmar and Uganda, the quiet of the graceful plains of Kenya and New Zealand or the lapping of the waves on some of the world’s most stunning beaches. These are precious moments for travelers looking to escape the masses found at many popular destinations. If you would like to retreat from the buzz of your world, these exquisite luxury escapes are for you.
Residence on the Rocks – Seychelles
The beautiful Residence on the Rocks is a private estate on the property of the Banyan Tree Resort, situated in the very south of Mahe on the main island of the Seychelles. This part of Mahe still has some virgin areas of indigenous forest and the Residence, is surrounded by this lush greenery and situated on a high ridge, offering absolute and total privacy facing one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
The luxurious four-bedroom complex has a refined yet relaxed colonial, Creole style. This elegance is evoked in a collection of antiques and art objects from around the world collected by the villa’s owners. Two bedrooms are found in two separate guest houses, giving great privacy and making it a good fit for multi-generational families or groups of friends. One of the guest cottages has a separate access path through the gardens that allows a party to come and go without having to interact with the guests in the main house.
There are several large covered verandas where guests meet and relax. The gorgeous infinity pool is a favorite and the nearby plunge pool with some water jet action is generally enjoyed by the children. The Banyan Tree resort hosts one of their famous spas and massage experts are available at the spa or are willing to come to the Residence when booked in advance.
Guests of the Residence can make use of all the resort’s facilities, including a range of restaurants including a Thai and a Creole restaurant. In addition, the caretakers are pleased to take guests food shopping to local markets for acquire fresh fruit, vegetables and a range of seafood items. They can also assist with casual meals at the Residence.
The surrounding area has many lovely beaches, local Creole restaurants and other facilities in the South of Mahe or sailing, fishing or boating excursions to outer islands of the Seychelles can be arranged. Superb snorkeling and diving can be enjoyed on many of the beaches and occasionally killer whales and dolphins can be seen from The Residence’s pool deck.
The owners of Residence on the Rocks work closely with guests to plan the perfect trip to this unique, secluded part of the Seychelles, they can be reached here.
Amara Mountain Resort – Myanmar
Lost in the mountains of Myanmar, the former British guest house Amara Mountain Resort is the ideal setting for getting away from the world. Located near Kalaw at an altitude of 1250 meters, some guest start switching off by arriving via a two-day hike from Lake Inle, though fear not, it can also accessed by bus, car or train or plane into Heho airport, a 45-minute drive away.
Built in 1909, the lodge has been restored and converted into a luxury hotel with a sophisticated colonial ambiance. The various lounges and separate dining room are decorated lovely turn-of-the-century antiques. With just ten rooms, each with an open fireplace, it is a comfortable and tranquil oasis.
You will absorb the peace and privacy while meandering the graceful English gardens, relaxing in the sauna or admiring the spectacular views from the terrace of the Kalaw and Shan Mountains.
Guests can partake in trekking through the Kalaw National Park, teeing off at the nearby 9-hole golf course, touring the colorful Kalaw market or the traditional villages of the Palaung, Danu and Pao people, where you can learn about the local customs and cultures.
Meals at the resort are all healthy, with a variety of traditional Myanmar and Western dishes made with organic fruit and vegetables from the estate’s garden.
Revel in the tranquility of Myanmar by staying with Amara Mountain Resort.
Villa Sirine – Oualidia, Morocco
This stunning villa by Kensington Luxury Properties is in an elevated position above a winding tidal estuary, with panoramic views towards the sea and pastoral farmland. Designed to blend with the landscape, it sits in 2.5 hectares of grounds with lawns, a swimming pool, an extensive kitchen garden, an olive grove and natural farmland.
The villa is a wonderfully peaceful and relaxing place to bask in Oualidia’s ethereal light and space, whilst the sea breezes keep the temperature bearable even on the hottest days (there is air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter). With no neighbors for miles, all you’ll hear is the wind in the trees, birdsong by day, the frog chorus at night and the occasional hee-haw of a donkey. Its friendly, welcoming staff are there to take care of your every need, so all you have to do is relax, unwind and enjoy the view.
Built into the side of a gentle slope, the house is on two levels. On the ground floor, built around a large courtyard lush with palm, olive and orange trees, there are 4 double bedrooms all with en suite bathrooms, a TV room, a large sitting room, a dining room and a kitchen. Two fold-out single beds are available on request. A large roof terrace with extraordinary 360 degree views is reached via a staircase from the inner courtyard.
The sitting room opens onto an 80 ft veranda (25 m) with a wonderful view over the estuary to the sea, and plenty of comfortable seating from which to enjoy it. Try sitting here and watching the sun set over the Atlantic whilst sipping a delicately chilled Moroccan wine accompanied by olives from our own trees, flavoured with fresh rosemary from our herb garden. Bliss.
The dining room leads out onto a charming pergola with a large, green mosaic-tiled communal table and cushioned seating, wonderful for outdoor meals. Under the veranda on the lower level are two further double bedrooms with en suite bathrooms and a ping pong room. All the rooms on this level overlook the estuary, fragrant eucalyptus trees and the swimming pool beyond.
The bedrooms are all spacious, with double beds, attractive rugs and original artworks. All beds have electric blankets in case evenings are chilly. All bathrooms have two sinks and a shower.
As water is very scarce in Morocco there are no bathtubs at Lagoon Lodge. Water comes from our own well, and we’re sure you’ll understand how valuable this resource is. We run an eco-friendly lodge. We heat all the water in the house using solar panels and recycle all our grey water through various filtration tanks. It is then used to water the garden.
Surround yourself in the beauty, tranquility, and luxury of Morocco with Kensington Luxury Properties.
Mahu Whenua – New Zealand
As a Mahu Whenua guest you will enjoy a full hosted, exclusive experience in total privacy on over 55,000 hectares (550sq km or 200sq miles) of majestic beauty – towering mountains, lush green valleys, native bush, forests and meandering rivers. In fact, this land is so private it was completely closed off until now, except for an annual endurance event that runs through this iconic piece of New Zealand landscape.
Located in New Zealand’s South Island just 20 minutes’ drive from central Wanaka, or a 15-minute helicopter flight from Queenstown airport, the Ridgeline Homestead & Eco Sanctuary at Mahu Whenua, available through MajorDomo, is easily accessible while giving you the feeling of seclusion and privacy on what is virtually your own private national park.
Mahu Whenua consists of four adjoining high country sheep stations – Motatapu, Mt Soho, Glencoe and Coronet Peak – which combined, stretch from Glendhu Bay in Wanaka all the way through to Arrowtown in Queenstown.
More than 90% of the land has been protected by covenants to ensure that sustainable farming practices and a plant regeneration and native bird breeding programme continue in perpetuity, making it the largest conservation undertaking on private land in New Zealand’s history.
You can discover more about this unique property here and can start planning your supremely secluded getaway with Majordomo at this link.
Ranawara – Sri Lanka
Hidden behind the palms on a practically uninhabited stretch of coastline of southern Sri Lanka, Ranawara is exquisitely private. The stylish villa sits on 23 acres of tropical gardens next to a small coastal fishing village, 15 kilometres south of city of Tangalle.
The main villa extends over 46,000 sq.ft. of open plan living and five suites within. Two single-suite cottages are located on the grounds. The air-conditioned bedrooms have four-poster king size beds, Indonesian rugs and spacious en-suite bathrooms. The property also has a library, TV room, bar area, open plan kitchen and dining room, al-fresco dining pavilion, a spa and a 100 ft long swimming pool. The professional and discrete resident staff take care of all the needs of guests during their stay.
Your peaceful days can be spent relaxing by the pool, walking or lounging on the virtually abandoned beach or ambling through the estate’s gardens amidst the hundreds of coconut trees and tropical fruit trees including dragon fruit, green oranges, papaya, bananas, mango and wood apple.
If you choose to leave the haven of the villa, various excursions can be organized to nearby villages, turtles sanctuaries, the UNESCO World Heritage Galle Fort or boating excursions to go whale and dolphin watching.
Enjoy the secret beach paradise at Ranawara by contacting them here.
Villa Ixfalia – Saint Barthlémey
The location of the Villa Ixfalia provides the “best of both worlds” as it combines extreme privacy with proximity to St. Jean Village’s vibrant scene of restaurants and shops as well as one of the island’s most popular beaches. Plus, the four bedroom villa, available through Saint Barth Properties, has stellar panoramic views of the sea and the surrounding lush green hills.
The open plan interior of the contemporary villa includes a living room, dining area and a sleek well-equipped kitchen that opens to a covered terrace, perfect for relaxing on the comfortable furnishings or savoring a delicious meal alfresco. The lovely beachy-rustic décor blends crisp whites with warm wood and accent pieces. The stunning vista can be enjoyed from almost every vantage point. All the four equally sized en-suite bedrooms have king beds (one has a king/twin option) and glass sliding doors to showcase the phenomenal ocean views.
An L-shaped heated infinity pool surrounded by plush day beds is the focal point of a vast deck. There is also an intimate lower deck for a quiet moment away from your group. Guests can workout in the air-conditioned mini-gym located in a separate bungalow and a challenge each other to a game or two on the bocce court.
Enjoy a quiet oasis with the benefits bustling St Jean by contacting Saint Barth Properties at this link.
Cottar’s Bush Villa – Kenya
For those that want absolute privacy in the Maasai Mara, combined with dedicated and discrete staff, award-winning guides, and an abundance of wildlife, Cottar’s Bush Villa offers the only real private luxury home in the Maasai Mara.
Cottar’s Bush Villa has a breathtaking view onto the savannah plains that carry the great annual wildebeest migration, and is set amidst a backdrop of the Olderikesi Hills. Guests can enjoy privately guided game drives, night game drives, bush walks, swimming in the Villas exclusive 25m pool to name but a few activities. Cottar’s Bush Villa is rented only on an exclusive basis, so privacy is guaranteed.
For the discerning client, Cottar’s Bush Villa offers complete privacy and is perfect for those who want to immerse themselves in nature.
The Villa has its own 6,000 acre private conservancy and is situated one kilometre from the Masai Mara game reserve. This location provides easy access for day and night game drives to the Masai Mara game reserve and the conservancy, meaning you will rarely come across other vehicles. It’s the Masai Mara minus the crowds!
Envelop yourself in the calm and spectacular nature of the Masai Mara at Cottar’s Bush Villa by reaching out to them at this link. You can discover more about their excellent community engagement work here.
L’Ilot Villa – Mauritius
Have your own private island getaway in Mauritius at the exquisite L’Ilot Villa by Villanovo. Located on a rock platform of 3100 m² approximately 100 m from the coastline in the lagoon of Roches Noires, the rustic chic villa offers complete privacy and comfort.
Accessed via a bridged causeway, the 300 m² villa is on a sand bed and surrounded by filaos trees. It faces northwest, offering its lovely breezes, spectacular sunsets and awe-inspiring views of the turquoise lagoon, seen from any room of the house.
The villa sleeps six adults and two children in four bedrooms. The building and its interiors blend contemporary style with natural building materials such as stone, white or weathered wood, raw concrete along with natural fabrics, linen, comfortable and adaptable furniture.
The large open veranda with a view of the lagoon brings guests together, there is also a dining table under the trees and a 35m² deck overlooking the aquamarine sea, the perfect place for your evening sundowners or lunch with a view lunch with a view. An outdoor shower allows guests to cool down after swimming and a standby generator to start automatically ensures a continuous supply of electricity.
Savor the tranquility and superb sunsets at L’Ilot with Villanovo by reaching out to them here.
Gahinga Lodge – Uganda
Located in the foothills of the majestic Virunga Volcanoes and bordering a lush and beautiful forest, Gahinga Lodge is the perfect place to unwind and experience a real away-from-the-crowds stay.
This exclusive Uganda adventure lodge, by Volcanoes Safaris, was built using local techniques, material, and design features. The main building has a rustic and inviting living room with a central fire, the ideal setting for relaxing after a long day exploring the surrounding forests. Guests can also spend some quiet time on the terrace and spacious sunroom adjoining the living area.
There six private, traditional bandas which have been renovated to offer unrivaled luxury in the region. Each one has a fireplace and an en-suite bathroom with showers and flush toilets. The bandas are accessed by traversing the lodge’s large, lush gardens.
Gahinga Lodge works very closely with the local Batwa Tribe. One of Africa’s oldest tribes, interactive tours through the community, dance performances and other cultural connections with the Batwa can be arranged as well as a range of other activities like Rwanda gorilla safaris.
Learn more about the history and mission of Volcanoes Safaris or contact them to enquire about booking.
Villa Nektaria – Greece
With its ideal position at the tip of a peninsula in Amvrakikos bay, where three rivers merge into the Ionian Sea, the Villa Nektaria by White Key Villas is the ultimate luxury hideaway. The best of the mainland and the best of the sea unite at this unique villa which is a paradise for nature enthusiasts and families,
Well situated off the picturesque town of Vonitsa, home to a historic Venetian castle perched above one of Greece’s hidden gems, amazing Amvrakikos bay with its lagoons, reeds and endemic wildlife. The villa boasts its very own grove in addition to a citrus orchard and a small pond. Guests can enjoy these lovely grounds on long strolls and they provide children with hours of hide and seek or treasure hunts. The property’s in complete isolation allowing guests to enjoy moments of tranquility by the water on one of its three private or in the the large swimming pool.
The estate consists of a main eight-bedroom residence decorated in a classic yet homely feel and a newly-built guest house that has two additional rooms. The main residence has a well-equipped professional kitchen, where your professional chef and host serve delicious meals made with produce from the estate’s vegetable garden and fresh eggs right out of the chicken coup.
Have a well-rounded and tranquil experience of Greece with White Key Villas here.
Schloss Kogl – Austria
With some of the most beautiful forests and mountains of Europe, Austria is an ideal place to retreat to nature. You can have an elegant escape at Schloss Kogl, an exceptional baroque castle in the heart of the the Salzkammergut lake district.
This gorgeous region, north of charming Salzburg was formerly the posh playground of Austria’s aristocracy, including the Emperor and the country’s intellectual and artistic elite. The area boasts pristine lakes, pre-alpine mountains covered in forests, quaint villages and elegant lakeside villas.
Built in 1750, Schloss Kogl has been in the family of the Barons of Mayr-Melnhof since 1872 (more on its history in this article). Extensive renovations where undertaken in the early 2000s to carefully restore the castle to its previous splendor. It is decorated and furnished in a refined fin-du-siècle style. In winter guests enjoy reading by the fireplace in the library and in summer the pool in the garden is a favorite gathering point. Anytime of year you can explore the bucolic grounds or test out their historic bowling lane. The grounds are also idyllic and are encircled by Austria’s largest privately owned forest, owned by the Mayr-Melnhofs.
It’s an excellent base for discovering the many natural and cultural sites of the area from boat trips around the lake to trekking in the national parks.
Experience the elegance of Austria’s heritage in the tranquil setting Schloss Kogl here.