Stepping back in time in Southeast Asia [The Week]


Squeezed between three economic tigers – Vietnam, Thailand, China – Laos is developing fast, but it remains Southeast Asia’s most unspoilt and “laid-back” country...

Squeezed between three economic tigers – Vietnam, Thailand, China – Laos is developing fast, but it remains Southeast Asia’s most unspoilt and “laid-back” country, says David Whitley in National Geographic Traveller. The capital, Vientiane, is a “languorous” little city of crumbling French colonial mansions, bougainvillea-decked gardens and steaming noodle stalls; and Luang Prabang, Laos’s greatest gem, is more “demure” still, with its “orderly” handicrafts markets, lovingly restored old cafés and 32 gold-roofed temples. Across dramatic mountains to the east lies the Plain of Jars, Southeast Asia’s Stonehenge, a rolling landscape studded with thousands of giant stone vessels made roughly 2,000 years ago, perhaps to hold cremated remains. And around the Bolaven Plateau in the far south there are natural wonders including towering waterfalls and ancient Khymer sites such as the majestic thousand-year-old temple of Wat Phu, built into the side of a mountain beside the MekongRiver. Ampersand (020-78199770, has a 17-night trip from £2,795pp incl. flights.

Vanity Fair on Travel: West Papua, Raja Ampat [Vanity Fair]


One the northwest coast of West Papua, Raja Ampat is the bullseye of the Coral Triangle, the richest marine environment in the world...

One the northwest coast of West Papua, Raja Ampat is the bullseye of the Coral Triangle, the richest marine environment in the world. The smart way to enjoy it is sailing on a designer liveaboard such as Tiger Blue, a 34-metre, Dutch-skippered traditional phinisi with red sails and robust teak fittings. There’s no phone signal, just go where you please days sleeping under the stars and saying hello to a fiesta of fashionista fish, slap-happy turles, stealth bomber mantas and the odd seigniorial whale. EN ROUTE: Beat the jet lag with a Balinese massage at Alilia Jakarta. 

Why don't you... Do The New [Harper's Bazaar]


Wild adventure, fashion hotels, and cultural lessons – THE LATEST TRAVEL TRENDS from around the globe

For guaranteed privacy, the world’s last and most romantic uncharted wildernesses are now to be discovered aboard ships. From cutting-edge design vessels that offer Michelin-starred dining to gracious yachts that glide through tropical tides, set sail for the adventure of a lifetime…

For swashbuckling style, charter Tiger Blue. Sailing around the eastern Indonesian islands of Komodo, Sumba, Banda, and Flores, the traditional phinsi schooner is a sight to behold, with teak decks and crimson sails, en suite cabins and chefs who cook the fish you catch during the day. Adventure is at the heart of the trips: diving, swimming with dolphins, and climbing volcanoes. Organised by Ampersand Travel (

A New Wave: Nihiwatu [Conde Nast Traveller]


This is a salutary tale for hotels in the 21st Century – the story of a surf break with cult status that pulled on the heartstrings of a traveller with a conscience, who attracted a millionaire investor, who appealed to the fashion elite, who are all helping the lost-world island of Sumba flourish again. By Sophy Roberts

In the late afternoon Indonesia's honeyed light performs its alchemy, turning the white sands of Sumba island - a 55-minute charter flight east of Bali - into dazzling bullion. A 2.5km-long beach stretches off into the haze, the line between sea and land softened by ocean spray. A cluster of black rock stands as tall as houses, bases eroded by the surf. Sometimes buffalo are led down to this beach to be washed, and when the tide draws back over the reef, villagers emerge to gather seaweed, urchins and crabs.

But for guests at Nihiwatu, the laid-back beach hotel where I'm staying, this view is all about The Wave, at this moment an impressive curl of pale turquoise created with white froth. A couple of Australian girls sit swinging their long, bronzed legs from the edge of the boathouse veranda - a clinker-built construction redolent of 1950s Cape Cod. Around the bar, an American investment banker and a super-yacht broker from Monaco stand in animated conversation. Ka'ale, the hotel's Hawaiian yoga teacher, hangs out on the steps with her two little children, their skin the colour of caramel.

The hotel's new owner, Chris Burch (the US retail entrepreneur and co-founder of Tory Burch), lounges in an Adirondack chair nearby. He's on the island to formalise his relationship with Nihiwatu's creators, Claude and Petra Graves. The deal should extend the resort's visibility beyond the surfing community, while ensuring future profits will be channelled into The Sumba Foundation, which is the philanthropic concern Graves will continue to help drive. This includes tackling the very real issue of malaria, so far reduced by 86 per cent within a 20km radius of Nihiwatu with a convincing strategy overseen by health director Dr Claus Bogh. But that is not the only strand of the foundation's work: it has already provided 172 villages with clean water and is also addressing education and malnutrition. Evidence of success in every village I visit is brought into sharp relief by those island communities that haven't yet been reached by the foundation. Indeed, there's still much to do: another five to eight years work and about £5 million, says Bogh, and there's a chance malaria can be eradicated island-wide. It's a bold statement, and one the resort's new owner says he will take on board. First, he has to ensure Nihiwatu turns a decent profit - and attracts the kind of traveller who might engage with local issues. For this, Burch will rely heavily on another shareholder, James McBride, the South African-born former manager of The Carlyle in New York, who originally brought Graves and Burch to the table. 'When I first came here, the rawness and the tribal culture felt like Africa,' says McBride. 'Then I dug deeper and began to understand the foundation's goals and the islanders, and that changed everything. I had to help make it work.'

But there would be no hotel and no foundation without The Wave. ChristianSea, Ka'ale's husband, nods in assent. 'It's true, man,' he says in his soft American lilt. A professional skipper, surfer and lifeguard, Sea, who changed his name in homage to the ocean, has lived on the island for six years. He speaks reverently of Nihiwatu's left-hand break, one of the best in the world. Limited access to it (the hotel restricts the number of surfers booked into the resort to 10 at any one time) has given Sumba cult status. If he hadn't protected The Wave, says Graves, the beach would now be a Bali 'surf slum'. And without the wealthy guests attracted by the exclusivity of Nihiwatu - whose donations account for around 90 per cent of the foundation's funds - the islanders, who are among Indonesia's poorest, would be considerably worse off. Graves set up the foundation in 2001 with Sean Downs, a US tech millionaire who came to Sumba on a surfing holiday in 2000. It now has chapters in both Australia and the USA, and around 20,000 islanders currently benefit from its work.

From the eighth to the 18th century, Chiense and Arab traders came and went, bringing horses (still central to Sumbanese culture) and taking away sandalwood and slaves. The Dutch East Indies took control of the island in 1866, but it did not conquer the hearts of the fierce, headhunting islanders. The Dutch finally handed over sovereignty to Indonesia in 1950, independence following in 1962.

Fifty years on, Sumba is in many ways a forgotten world. Animist priests read the duodenum of a chicken to determine if a sick child will live or die. The annual festival of Pasola, held when seaworms swarm the coast each spring, is still celebrated, although these days the lances thrown by riders are blunt. Funerals involve the sacrifice of horses and buffalo that most Sumbanese can ill afford to make. In an attempt to curb such profligacy, a limit of three large animals per funeral was declared in 1990. But, as ever on Sumba, the rule of law has proved hard to impose. One day on the island, I drive past a site where, on the previous night, three times that number of buffalo had their throats cut, the severed heads lying in bloody pools upon the ground.

This is the Stone Age world into which Nihiwatu, the hotel, was born and continues to coexist with compelling interdependence: the Sumbanese lend their support to Claude and Petra Graves and, in return, the hotel and foundation benefit local communities. Both strands, while financially independent of each other, seem to capture the attention of wealthy visitors (various Hermes and du Ponts, Lorenz Baumer from LVMH, the d'Ornanos from Sisley cosmetics, Santander bank's Botin family), who return to Nihiwatu again and again, and are significant donors to the foundation.

'The difference comes when you can meet the people you are helping,' says Graves, 'and experience for yourself how your money is spent. Our biggest worry was that we'd be catalysts in the breakdown of Sumbanese society. And it's happening. The other day an Indonesian newspaper called Sumba "the new Bali"; now there is this rapid acceleration in land speculation by people who flash money around to the poorest of the poor. Unless we protect Sumba now, downstream there could be nothing left.'

Graves know and understands how many pig sacrifices it will take to win a tribe's trust; he can also hot-wire a broken vehicle and tinker with a hammer to make a generator restart. Born in Munich to an American father, he moved to Kenya by way of New Jersey and, by the age of 21, was working for his Hungarian uncle, a professional white hunter. By 1980, he owned Stardust on Malindi beach, the hottest nightclub in East Africa. When he sold it in 1984, Graves took off with his wife on a mission to find the most perfect surf break in the world.

The couple washed up on Sumba in the summer of 1988, and camped on the beach for the next four years, drinking water from a creek and spearfishing for food. Undeterred by several bouts of malaria, they started to build a small hotle, one that would tread lightly in its environment and benefit the local people they had come to love. So they set about aquiring some 583 acres to create a protected reserve of which only 65 acres would be developed.

I congratulate Graves on the low-impact look of the place. A night, it is lit by a thousand candles winding through the trees. There are 12 simple villas on the principal headland, all with thatched roofs, woven-reed floors and basins carved out of stone. Bedrooms open onto private verandahs, where guests sink into daybeds and books; plunge pools will be added later this year. There's also the Graves' original home, Haweri, a three-bedroom villa full of precious ikats, which has views of a secret bay. Last August, three new four-suite villas opened, which have the potential to compete with the best boho beach resorts in the world, with sand-floored, open-air bathrooms like Soneva Fushi in the Maldives. The design is more about fresh air than air-con, more natural cottons than rich silks; and the food is straight from the sea and earth, presented with warm service nurtured by Petra over 15 years.

Graves takes a glug of whisky. 'Just don't call it a f***ing eco-hotel,' he says, despite the fact that all the hotel's energy is created by copra, which is in  turn converted into biodesel (a micro-business in itself), and the kitchen waste makes gas for the stoves. 'F**k eco', reiterates Graves, who believes 'eco' should be a given at hotels, not a marketing strategy. 'The key thing is community responsibility.'

'To be honset, I only bought Nihiwatu because of the powerful effect it had on my three sons,' says new owner Chris Burch. 'But now I see how it can provide a positive philosophy oters can take away with them. What Claude has done - well, it's remarkable.'

Grave leans in towards me. 'You know, when Petra and I first heard Chris wanted to invest, she made me promise I wouldn't swear during the meeting,' he says. 'In the first five minutes, I'd said f**k three times.'

Burch laughs. 'We're soul mates in a way. It's Claude's vision. James and I are just the caretakers. All we hve to do is try not to f**k it up,' he says.

Ampersand Travel (020 7289 6100;, an Asia travel specialist, can smooth out logistics, combining a stay at Nihiwatu with a longer Indonesian itinerary. It offers two nights on Bali and a week at Nihiwatu from £4,798 per person, including Singapore Airways flights from Heathrow to Bali via Singapore, and charter flights to and from Sumba.

High Time: Kashmir [Financial Times]


Will 2013 be the year of Kashmir’s tourism revival? By James Crabtree

Tatler Travel Guide 2013 [Tatler]


101 Best Hotels in the World

Maya Tangalle, Sri Lanka

Take the seaplane from Colombo and head south, past the literary festivals of Galle and the expat partying at Wijaya. If Aman hotels had babies (indeed if Amanwella, just round the corner, got frisky with Amangalla), this would be their squidgy newborn. Owner and interior designer Niki Fairchild has nailed that pared-back-but-smart look. So you are inland (only by 15 mins) but the payoff for no beach is a glorious indigo-dark pool and two acres of magical gardens. Aromatic cinnamon-oil burners are lit in the evening while you tuck into phenomenal Sri Lankan curries. Ampersand Travel offers seven nights from £1,240, including flights, transfers and breakfast.

High Seas Adventures [National Geographic Taveller]


Drop anchor and sail the open seas. How turning skipper for a week and heading out on a water-bound experience can make the trip of a lifetime. By Clover Stroud

Shortcuts: London [Financial Times]


James Jayasundera, founder of Ampersand Travel, which specialises in bespoke trips to India and south Asia, is diversifying into UK tourism. By Claire Wrathall

James Jayasundera, founder of Ampersand Travel, which specialises in bespoke trips to India and south Asia, is diversifying into UK tourism. Targeted at the affluent end of the Indian and South American markets, its suggested itineraries focus on British art, literature (taking in Lodnon, Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and Stratford) and sport (Wimbledon, Ascot). There’s also a six-day course (from £1,868pp) entitled “Learn to be an English Gentleman or Lady”, the necessary attributes for which turn out to be an ability to ride, to shoot clay pigeons, to play tennis, croquet and polo, and to develop a taste for afternoon tea at Claridges.

A New Direction [National Geographic Taveller]


Ever wanted to take a holiday and learn a new skill? Try your hand at romance writing, archery, conservation or wilderness guiding and transform your life with an overseas course and a new sense of direction.

Bhutanese archery A five-night stay at Uma Paro costs from £2,980 per person. It includes flights from Heathrow to Paro via Delhi with British Airways and Druk Air, archery tuition and lessons, privately guided sightseeing and transport in Bhutan, full board, and Bhutanese government visa and royalties,

Nautical but Nice... HELLO SAILOR! [Tatler]


The best vessels on the sea: Tiger Blue, Indonesia

The journey to Raja Ampat stretches the definition of long-haul travel. It takes a day and a half – A DAY AND A HALF – to get to this scattering of 1,500 islands in West Papua, part of Indonesia. Four airports, multiple passport stamps, endless baggage controls. Ouch. But unpeeling all those layers of travel takes no time after stepping aboard Tiger Blue. Creaking with romance, she’s a 34-metre Indonesian phinisi schooner with bleached ochre-red sails billowing above mellow teak. She follows four separate 8-10 day routes, but the appeal of Raja Ampat is the sense of crossing into a little-known world, once ruled by headhunters (how’s that for snapping you out of your jetlag?). We cruised through turquoise lagoons, stopping at tiny villages where we hiked through teak forests, trying to spot elusive birds of paradise. We snorkelled among hawksbill sea turtles and above manta rays, the water glittering with thousands of colourful fish. We kayaked through mangroves, and drank cocktails by a bonfire on a white-sand beach strewn with cowrie shells, as the evening belly of blue sky became an orange dusk. There’s every sort of maritime toy – waterskis, scuba gear, speedboats – and lines for pulling up groupers to barbecue. The cabins are comfortable, but the real joy was in sleeping on deck beneath an inky sky spiked with stars. On the last night the stillness of the evening was broken as a giant sperm whale gently lifted it’s head from the sea – a mythical, magical Leviathan farewell.


Aspire News - China [Travel Weekly]


Ampersand adds China itineraries

Ampersand Travel has added China itineraries. The China Selection has been designed for first-timer visitors and return travellers with what the operator says in a good balance of luxury and hand-holding with exploration and offbeat culture. Sample tours include Cultural China, which includes picnicking on the Great Wall of China, and A Taste of the Orient, which is a gastronomic tour of the country.

Canberra Times Online


The Hot Hotels [Conde Nast Traveller]



Lofty Ideals - Ahilya Fort [Telegraph Magazine]


For her first trip to India, Jessamy Calkin wanted to visit one place that would capture its essence. A little-known fort in the heart of the country hit the jackpot

Let's Go Flashpacking [Easy Living]


They’re the kind of places we went to as cash-strapped student backpackers, so what’s it like to revisit Bali, Thailand and Burma in style?

Me & my favourite travelling companion [Easy Living]


Whether you like to holiday with your family, your partner or your dog, we’ve found the perfect destinations. “We discovered a mutual passion for doing nothing in a Sri Lankan paradise”, says Hilary Rose

Out of Office: The Ski Spot - Kashmir [Evening Standard]


From the Arizona Desert to the Irrawaddy River: 2013's hottest destinations...

Skiing in India? Yes, really. Thanks to the Himalayas, Kashmir offers some of the highest, hardest skiing in the world. This is not a destination for beginners: many of the slopes around Gulmarg, the main resort, are unmapped, and the highest lift takes you to 13,400ft – a helicopter even higher. If you’re keen to swap chamois for snow leopards, and chocolat chaud for hot curries, Ampersand Travel’s seven-night Unknown Kashmir ski package starts from £1,8900pp, including hotels in Srinagar and Delhi (

The Travel Hot List [LES Online]


Travel Hot 100 [Harper's Bazar]


Spiritual Elements: Fivelements Bali, hugs the sacred Ayung River, enveloped by lush, green forest and paddy fields. Founded on Balinese spiritual traditions, which is all about balance and realigning chakras, the spa nurtures a sense of inner harmony through meditation, yoga, water therapies and deep massage with expert healers.

Fivelements hugs the sacred Ayung River, enveloped by lush, green forest and paddy fields. Founded on Balinese spiritual traditions, which is all about balance and realigning chakras, the spa nurtures a sense of inner harmony through meditation, yoga, water therapies and deep massage with expert healers. In your sumptuous grass-roofed lodge, you will be lulled to sleep by the sound of the forest. Suites open onto a riverbank verandah, where you can bathe in outdoor stone baths filled with the essences of lime, ginger and orange. The alfresco restaurant serves delectable vegan and raw food with flair. This is more a spiritual life-saver than a honeymoon spot; for yoga-loving couples and those who long to be early to bed and up with the birds, ready to start the day with a shot of wheatgrass. Seven nights at Fivelements, from £1,986 a person, including flights with Emirates, with Ampersand Travel (

Spiritual Health [Harper's Bazar]


check right pdf

Gourmet Travel - Flavours of India [House & Garden]


Insider secrets from Goa to New Delhi - India’s culinary landscape is breathtakingly diverse and often overwhelming

Travel on Sunday [Independent]


Ampersand launches tailormade trips in the UK

Into the Blue [Mayfair Magazine]


Forget landing on a new piece of terra firma, the top holiday destinations are those with a distinctly watery feel. From gorgeous yachts that glide through tropical tides to cutting-edge design vessels that offer Michelin-starred adventures, there’s definitely something in the waters…

Adventures on-board an Indonesian Phinisi For those yearning for a swashbuckling jaunt at sea, then Tiger Blue is the lady to do it with. Sailing around the remote eastern Indonesian islands, such as Komodo, Rinca and Maumere, the traditional phinisi schooner is a breathtaking sight. While adventure is at the heart of these trips – think diving, swimming with dolphins and climbing volcanoes – on-board comfort has an elite party set firmly in mind. There are en-suite cabins, a laundry service and chefs that cook the fish you’ve caught during the day. The seven-night Komodo itinerary costs from £2,180 per person, including food and activities,

My Secret Address Book [Psychologies Magazine]


Travel news – We discover a country bolthole, plus the Far East’s unspoilt spiritual retreats and inspiring travel books

My Secret Address Book

James Jayasundera, founder of Ampersand Travel ( shares his favourite place for a spiritual renewal:

  1. Ahilya Fort, Maheshwar, India. This palace hotel is a non-commercial gem steeped in character, perched high above the River Rarmada. It has been perfectly restored, with pale old stone floors, ancient shuttered doors, carved arches and unusual bathrooms. An extremely romantic and unique place to spend a few nights.
  2. Kahanda Kanda, Galle, Sri Lanka. This is one of Sri Lanka’s most sophisticated boutique hotels, with just eight pavilion suites, the Living Pavilion bar and a great restaurant. Awake to views of rainforest, marshlands and tea fields – and it’s just 15 minutes by tuk-tuk to the beach.
  3. Surya Shanti, Bali. Surya Shanti is an hour from Ubud if shopping is your thing, but surrounded by rice terraces, volcano views from every angle and dramatic valley views down to the sea.

Burma for Beginners [Daily telegraph Travel]


Into the Deep [The Oldie]


Clover Stroud spent five days on a schooner in one of the most remote parts of the world, following in the footsteps of the nineteenth-century anthropologist Alfred Russel Wallace

The Future's Bright [Travel Weekly]


The Experts [Wedding]


Our industry insiders share their tips on making your honeymoon the holiday of a lifetime

Think outside the box – “Why not try a honeymoon with an element of surprise! Song Saa, a private island resort, which launched last year in Cambodia, provides honeymooners with a unique experience. Every detail of the holiday is kept a surprise, with the staff only telling the couple something very special has been planned. The couple walk out on to a jetty where monks from the Pagoda temple, on the the neighbouring island of Koh Rong, give them a blessing. It can be quite emotional!” James Jayasundera, Ampersand Travel (

Dream destinations for mind, body & soul


Temple-hunting treks: Bhutan

Blooming rhododendrons and icy-blue glacial rivers cascading through the valleys make spring the loveliest season to see Bhutan’s magnificent temples. Base yourself at the Como Uma Punakha hotel for an 11-day mountain walking tour (£5,440 per person, of this South Asian paradise.

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Client Testimonials

Ampersand’s preparation, attention to detail and interaction before and during our trip show exactly why good travel agents have a role in today’s internet booking age. They were a delight to deal with!
- Mr David Wallace, North India
We had a wonderful holiday - everything was perfect. Thank you for helping us to make a thoughtful plan to enjoy and make most out of our trip. The places we visited, the guides, the transportation and driver, the hotels selected... Everything was great!
- Jaime Benitez, South India
Difficult to articulate just how good the service from you and your team really was. We know you will continue to do well and hope we have the chance to seek your assistance again before long.
- Mr & Mrs Manson, North India
So many highlights to choose from! The hotels were amazing but Maya Villa was a highlight… I loved just hanging out in the hammock reading my book and watching the peacocks chase the cows!
- Krista Weir, Sri Lanka
I had a very lovely time and was looked after splendidly. My first visit to India could not have been better, save for being longer! But I shall return at some point and I shall look to you to make the arrangements.
- Matthew Nicklin, North India
I would recommend Ampersand without any hesitation!!! The best travel agent that I’ve ever had. Everything – from the individual care and attention in planning the trip, through to the efficiency of the agents on the ground in India – was handled brilliantly. An absolutely first-class service all round!
- Matthew Annable, Rajasthan, India
Without question, you put together the best trip I have ever taken. We were shown around like visiting dignitaries, the hotels were fantastic and the itinerary was just right. Everybody I know will hear about how amazing Ampersand is!
- Leslie Siben, India
Everything you did for us whilst we were away was hugely appreciated, and Ampersand has been exemplary in every way. I'll always recommend you!
- Mr Richard Stoughton, Sri Lanka
I thought the Ampersand team was outstanding. We couldn’t have hoped for anything more.
- Mr Geoffrey Johnson, India
Ampersand provided a bespoke and flexible holiday, tailored to my every whim. Their highly professional staff had only one goal which was to arrange an exceptional holiday and some unforgettable experiences in India. I have no hesitation in fully recommending them and they will be the first company I approach in the future - 10/10
- Anonymous, India

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