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Ampersand's top 5 breathtaking holidays in Asia

Ampersand's MD, James Jayasundera, dips into his knowledge of Asia to find five breathtaking trips for Square Mile magazine

1. Best for adventurous culture-vultures: Jodhpur, India

Want a dose of extreme adrenaline with your history lesson? Try zip-lining over Jodhpur's Mehrangarh Fort in true Batman style (Batman buffs may recognise it as the setting for scenes of the new movie). Built in the 17th century by Maharaja Jaswant Singh, the fort is 400 feet high and zipping across each of the six wire routes provides dramatic views of its ruins. With emerald green moats beneath you and the blue-walled city in the distance, this cutting edge activity is perfect for daredevil sightseers and it is one of the highlights of visiting Rajasthan. You'll be strapped into your harness and given two simple instructions: keep your head to one side of the wire and pull your knees up towards your chest. Those that don’t may end up in a 360 spin or lose momentum, which will leave you dangling mid-line. But don’t worry, you can always use your gloved hands to slowly haul yourself along the line towards the ramp - mildly humiliating but good amusement for everyone else. For a slower but still thrilling way to see the 'Blue City', jump in a hot air balloon at sunset and capture some eagle-eyed photographs.

2. Best for luxury surfing: Sumba Island, Indonesia

For Asia’s sexiest swells, head to Nihiwatu Lodge on Sumba Island – an extremely exclusive retreat with fabled sky-high waves for surfers. A Spice Island first mentioned in the 16th century by a traveling companion of Magellan, Sumba is one of Indonesia’s most unexplored islands, located a two hour's flight southeast of Bali. Nihiwatu has been featured in several surf movies; famously The Drifter featuring world-renowned pro surfer Rob Machado, and The Green Iguana by Billabong. "God’s Left” is the main attraction: these left breaking waves reel for over 300 metres and crest off the resort’s outstretched reef, reserved for a maximum of nine surfers at a time. The surf is good at 2 feet all the way up to 10 feet and it is consistent all year round. Non-surfers will be perfectly pampered, too. Nihiwatu has just 10-thatched roofed villas fronted by a 2.5 mile scoop of sand and backed by 175 hectares of lush jungle and rice terraces. Colourful coral and marine life makes for sensational scuba diving and snorkelling, or you can go on forest treks and village excursions - traditional animist communities and Stone Age sites have remained unchanged here for centuries. Surfing for luxury-lovers (long sun-bleached hair not required) with abundant nature and culture to boot… totally awesome, dude.

3. Best for travel pioneers: Bagan, Burma

For an Indiana Jones-style adventure, head off the beaten track for a spot of temple hunting. Less famous but possibly even more spectacular than Cambodia's Angkor Wat, Burma's Bagan plains are an undiscovered treasure strewn with over 3,000 gold-clad stupas, shrines and ruins. Close to a thousand years ago, Anawrahta, king of the first Myanmar Empire and a staunch advocate of Theravada Buddhism, embarked on one of the most ambitious religious construction programs in history in his kingdom’s capital, Bagan. It is a mesmerising moment when you first set eyes on so many ancient temples peeking out from this vast, savannah-like horizon stretching as far as the Irrawaddy River; some are gnarled by jungle, but most are remarkably untouched. To fully get to grips with the scale of this historical site, take a hot air balloon ride to peer down upon it, or if you prefer to stay grounded, hop on a bicycle at dawn to have the plains to yourself. If you get too templed out, head to the coast to experience one of Asia's best secret beaches: the palm-fringed and footprint-free sands of Ngapali, which has a delightfully quirky resort called Sandoway. Tourism has only recently opened up in Burma, so inquisitive adventurers should go now to experience it ahead of the crowds.

4. Best for wildlife spotting: Sri Lanka's south coast

The tear drop-shaped island of Sri Lanka is a bountiful Page 3 stunner of a nation, spilling over with natural wonders – from the 2,500m peaks in her interior to the long flat panoramas of Yala and the curvaceous caramel sands of the south coast. Base yourself at the Amanwella in Tangalle, a super slick, James Bond-esque resort on one of the island's most beautiful palm-fringed beaches. You'll be within striking distance of the 17th century Dutch walled fort town of Galle (described by some as the St. Tropez of Asia) as well as Yala National Park, one of the best wildlife destinations outside of Africa. Here you can explore the park by open-back jeep safari accompanied by an expert guide and an enchanting chorus of tropical birdlife. You may meet with elephants, monkeys, peacocks, crocodiles, buffalo, deer, bears and, most excitingly, the elusive leopard - more leopards pad through this park per square metre than anywhere else on earth. Just off shore you can take a boat safari to spot blue whales and sperm whales - this stretch of coast is the best place in the world for spotting both at the same time. If you're lucky, you may be escorted by a pod of friendly dolphins, too - sometimes up to 300 dolphins can be spotted racing through these waters!

5. Best for high-altitude romance: Punakha, Bhutan

Love and happiness abound in this magical Himalayan kingdom, ranked No. 1 in the world for Gross National Happiness. The scenery is truly soul-stirring - mountains are blanketed in evergreen forests and dotted with Buddhist temples; monasteries cling to cliffs (the Tiger's Nest Monastery does so most dramatically); valleys are sliced by glacial rivers and the air is delicious and clean. It's a bit like Switzerland, but with dzongs and prayer wheels in place of churches. Dressed in their colourful national costume (ghos for men and kiras for women), the Bhutanese are incredibly charming and quick to laugh. They have a lust for life, evident by their unique style of decorative painting: enormous erect penises can be seen painted on the walls of houses as symbols of good luck to drive away evil spirits. If that's not enough to put you in the mood for romance, the luxury lodges will. COMO Hotel's brand new 11-room Uma Punakha is particularly suited to sporty couples who like yoga, hiking and mountain biking, and there's an incredible COMO Shambhala spa to return to afterwards (traditional hot stone massages works wonders on achy bones). Visit in springtime when the rhododendrons are in bloom, or in winter when the landscape is dusted with snow… there's nothing more romantic than snuggling up by a roaring fire with a blanket and a hot apple tea!

These escapes were brought to you by Ampersand Travel ( (0)20 7289, a London-based luxury tour operator specialising in holidays to the Indian Subcontinent and South East Asia. We provide expert travel advice & inspiration, tailor-made itineraries & full booking services. 

Client Testimonials

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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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

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