President of Scott Dunn USA, John Spence recently returned from a whirlwind tour of Asia making stops in Indonesia, Hong Kong and Singapore. We’re not saying he’s a trendsetter, but he did beat the Beckhams to Nihi Sumba Island in Indonesia. He was swept away by the magic of the region and returned home wanting more. Here are his thoughts of where to go, where to stay and how to get the most out of a multi-center vacation in Asia.
Even for someone who has been in the travel business for over 20 years I have to confess I am still nervous planning flights to match an itinerary when traveling to Asia. The first thing I do is plan what we want to see and do and where we want to stay. Then, I book the flights to match the trip. I know we arrive in Hong Kong on a Thursday morning and catch an onward flight to Bali arriving that same Thursday afternoon, yet we leave for the airport on Tuesday night. I never got Wednesday, what happened to Wednesday?
Despite losing a day, the long journey has a wonderful adventure. My travel partner is my wife Emma and we honeymooned in Indonesia nineteen years ago and here we are, still occasionally holding hands heading back.
We spent the first night on Bali at an incredible hotel called Alila Villas Uluwatu. To get there we had to run the gauntlet of rush hour kamikaze scooter riders. I thought LA traffic was hectic but unlike LA, this traffic moved with mopeds under and overtaking our cool comfortable air-conditioned van like a swarm of happy bees.
Alila Villas, was the perfect antidote to a long journey. Stunningly cool, beautifully designed rooms and our very own butler and pool greeted us. The hotel is modern, all of the roofs are layered with natural chunks of black volcanic rock which are used to absorb all the heat of the sun and not the roof itself.
The following day, a short flight took us to Sumba Island. The first thing that strikes you, as you look out of the window before landing, is the lack of buildings around the airport and local town. Few buildings are over two stories, and this is the biggest town on the whole island. It’s not a small island either, it’s actually nearly three times bigger than Bali, but unlike Bali, which has numerous hotels all vying for the tourist dollar, Sumba literally only has one resort to stay on the entire island. And this is where we are heading.
A two-hour drive sounds like a chore but it is a perfect ride to set the tone for this remote, special place. A simple two-lane road crosses the island with a few villages, many paddy fields and little traffic. Compared to Bali, it quickly makes you realize you are on an island that’s little changed, and little visited.
Nihi Sumba Resort is set on deserted stretch of private beach, the luxury villas all feature wonderful ocean views and set amongst thick tropical vegetation. The resort’s tagline says it’s set on the ‘edge of wilderness’, for me that is what makes this place so, so special. To be on a vast unspoiled island and knowing you are staying on the only resort on the island, is very extraordinary indeed and a real privilege.
There are numerous excellent hotels, lodges and camps throughout the world but right now this has to be one of the most exclusive. The resort itself is wonderfully comfortable, with a personal butler service. However, when you leave the resort this is when you realize what a privilege it is to see this untouched place and meet its wonderful people. The Sumbanese are the nicest people and the owners of Nihi should be applauded for the way they have worked with and employed so many locals and made sure the community benefits from it tourism.
The Sumba Foundation is a very impressive foundation and guests are encouraged to go out and visit the school, clinic and communities and see first-hand the good work they are doing. I have been fortunate to see many community non-profit projects throughout Africa and this one really feels like a good one.
Other activities like floating down beautiful rivers on a stand-up paddle board or visiting a chocolate factory or going on a ‘spa safari’ where you walk across paddy fields and villages before coming to Shangri-La, a perfect, private spa overlooking the ocean, are all designed to get you out of the resort.
It is hard to drag yourself away from your wonderful villa, and sometimes, it’s important to have some downtime too. However, if you don’t get out and see the place you will miss its magic. Do yourself a favour and go explore and visit before the other hotels and resorts get built on this Indonesian paradise.
Our next stop was Singapore, a first for us, this was to visit our sister Scott Dunn office. Singapore feels so utterly different to Indonesia. Very cosmopolitan and with modern high-rise buildings that can stand alongside any famous city in the world. However, it was not all work, we manged to check out some incredible hotels old and new, and ate some wonderful food too.
The final stop was Hong Kong. Here we checked into The Landmark Mandarin Hotel. Oh wow, this hotel was just so slick. A 5 Star Hotel with real 5 Star service. Years ago on our honeymoon we stayed in the Mandarin Hotel in Bangkok I remember being impressed with how well run it was. Nearly 20 years later, I can say the service at this Mandarin was just as good or even better. I could not fault this hotel on anything.
It was a very quick trip, but we loved Hong Kong, it’s vibrant and the perfect mixture of old and new. The city itself and Kowloon are big and densely populated with great hotels, markets and restaurants yet a comfortable, clean 30 – 40-minute subway ride and you are in open green mountains, with few houses, national parks, scenic walking trails and beautiful coastline. If they ever need someone to work in Scott Dunn’s Hong Kong office I might be tempted.
In all, I think Asia rocks, we were hosted beautifully. I loved the tranquillity and simplicity of Sumba Island as much as I enjoyed the vibrancy and diversity of Singapore and Hong Kong. With a customized trip it is easy to combine whatever you want.