As 2018 draws to a close, here are some of Asia's best luxury establishments curated from over 220 hotels, restaurants and spas we've reviewed this year. But there won't be any cause for celebration if the environment buckles under the weight of the industry's shortfalls in conservation efforts.
As the wind of austerity rises in a world shackled by natural calamities, trade wars and political uncertainties, 2018 will be remembered as a year of exponential growth for luxury hotels of all shapes and sizes in many major cities (KL alone boasts 6-7 new luxury hotels in the last 12 months) in Asia. But even as watchers wonder if the spike in supply will be matched by a rise in demand, there are more pressing issues at hand and 2019 must be the year major players move together as one to combat environmental degradation caused by the hospitality sector.
The Ruma Kuala Lumpur is one of the many new luxury hotels to open in 2018
Environmental conservation in the luxury hospitality industry is often paid a lot of lip service but little else. Despite many big chains professing to be green enterprises, bathroom amenities continue to utilize grotesque amounts of plastic and bottled water remains one of the greatest plastic pollutants on the planet. Simple practices devised to save costs and the environment like not replacing a hanged towel with a fresh one or not changing bed linens every day as requested are generally met with apathy from house-keepers who find that the rule of thumb is to blatantly ignore these conservation practices.
And these are just the obvious harm the industry is inflicting on the environment. Factor in the energy consumed just to keep hotels lighted and air-conditioned and the astronomical amount of food waste generated by the industry and it is clear that our level of acceptance on what constitute waste and luxury need to change.
As profit sums up the focus and modus operandi of most luxury hotel brands, It seems that independently run hotels in less developed cities are showing themselves to be greater advocates of the environments. Jaya House River Park in Siem Reap for example, is an exceptional green hotel that recycles its cooking oil into bio-diesel and hand soap and collects rainwater to irrigate its lush gardens. Its management has also been passionately spearheading the end of plastic drinking bottles in the region with its 'Refill not Landfill' initiative that has since spread to Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.
This wonderful boutique hotel with one of the best service orientation in the business has demonstrated that environmental conservation and commercialism are not incompatible manifestos. For its Christmas masterpiece this year, the hotel's management had conceptualised an environmentally friendly Christmas Tree comprising 15,000 glass straw named, “Transparency,” with each straw hung individually on fishing wire. Mindsets need to change with the resolve to act stiffened.
Jaya House River Park's stunning glass Christmas Tree that utilises 15,000 glass straws that are reusable, hung around a live tree that is conserved and incorporated as part of the hotel's restaurant
Within another precinct of Siem Reap the folks at a small outfit named the Sojourn Boutique Villas are actively collecting plastic wastes from villages and recycling them into building materials for the poor. Compared to the grandiose ‘green’ directives of the big chains on the environment, these admirable efforts by small operations are far more simple yet practical steps forward. The industry on the whole cannot continue to rely on surface pleasantries without the resolve to jumpstart plans that actually work to cut down waste and pollution.
Even when our race is not willfully destroying the environment, nature already had her hands mired in its constant destruction. The devastation left behind by typhoon Jebi and Mangkhut are terrifying to say the least. It is also heartbreaking to visit the Maldives this year just to discover that in a mere span of a year the devastating effects of El Nino had delivered doom to many beautiful coral reefs within the oceanic nation. Conservation efforts are an ongoing process and it is heartening to note that resorts like Four Seasons and Banyan Tree in Maldives are fortified with marine centers devoted to reef conservation.
But more needs to be done to conserve and save what is intact whilst restoring what we can salvage.
Maldive's fragile ecosystem is a wake-up call on how the environment is already in a delicate situation without our willful degradation
Environmental degradation is not just an industry anomaly but a global danger. We cannot ignore the ills this industry is collectively inflicting on the environment because it operates on such an enormous scale. We need to trim out the needless excesses in order to save an industry from ruin and the entire world from a certain doom. There is great need to enforce environmentally sustainable practices in all hotels with haste. Getting rid of plastic straws is a small but important step forward. Replacing disposable plastic bathroom amenities and drinking water must be the next goals. Fighting food waste should also rank high on the agenda.
While there might be imperfections aplenty, this is still a lofty industry that fulfill dreams and execute fantasies. As we welcome a hopeful 2019 that may see more positive and practical steps taken by the industry to save the environment, we would like to honour some of the best establishments chosen from over 220 Asian hotels, restaurants and spas that we have reviewed in the year 2018.
LCO Travel Year End List 2018
Top Environmentally Conscious Hotel - Jaya House River Park, Siem Reap
To ring home the environmental message, this is a hotel that is 95% plastic free and recycle their cooking oils into hand soap and bio diesel. Rain water is also collected during the wet season for its lush and amazing gardens over the dry season. This is a tropical Eden that works hard and smart to keep Eden real.
Top Gourmet Establishment - Jin Sha, Four Seasons Hangzhou
Consistently one of China's top fine dining restaurants, Jin Sha under chef Wang Yong dishes out excellent traditional Hangbang cuisine that are updated with modern refinements. The suites here are sumptuously decked and the service, a dream.
Top Island Hideaway - Capella Singapore
This Norman Forster designed luxury resort still retains a colonial charm much dissipated in most parts of Singapore. There is a huge inventory of luxurious rooms and suites as well as uncommonly grand mansions that can hold big families comfortably This is also Capella's big year having just hosted the US-North Korea talks in June 18.
Top Nature Resort - Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, Thailand
A superlative name in tented hospitality since its inception over a decade ago, this lovely cluster of luxury tents set just a river away from the stunning plains of Burma is luxuriously cocooned by hectares of tropical jungles and also acts as a safe haven for rescued elephants from Thailand's streets.
Top Luxury City Hotel - The Temple House, Chengdu
A firm favourite with the designer jet-set, Temple House Chengdu is a gleaming statement of the old-new-east-west amalgamate both architecturally and meaningfully. Fronted by a tastefully restored Chinese building, the eclectically modern interior raised within strikingly blue glass towers harbours the abode of dreams.
Top Heritage Hotel - Amantaka, Luang Prabang
Many Aman properties bear in their blueprint the genius of constant collaborators the likes of Kerry Hill and Ed Tuttle but Amantaka is tantalisingly organic as a restored former hospital bearing all the beauty and charms of Luang Prabang's French colonial era. Few hotels can offer a passage into the past with such panache and tranquility.
Top Boutique Hotel - Villa Mahabhirom, Chiang Mai Thailand
A labour of love amongst 3 partners that took half a lifetime to materialise, Villa Mahabhirom has furtively raised the design stake in Chiang Mai where boutique hotels already have a steady following. Comprising just over a dozen lovingly restored stilt houses hidden amongst handsome palms and bedecked with gorgeous art and antiques, this intimate retreat emanates exotic yet serene eclecticism like no others.
Top Suite Experience - Executive Suite, Wanda Reign Chengdu China
Wanda Reign's penchant for all that glitter and shine has earned it a reputation as the very manifestation of China's tasteless nouveau riche but we beg to differ. Taken in its entirety, Wanda Reign Chengdu with all its labradorite flooring and jade panels is no less or more vulgar than the excesses of Versailles. Factoring in suite details like mother of pearl tissue boxes, 24k gold plated and crystal taps, decadent bedside dessert proffered every evening and a super swell massage recliner, the level of luxury here is palatial, to say the least.
Top Luxury Spa - The Spa at Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle Thailand
There are many contenders for this spot but when one considers that the only room raised in this spa is a vision replete with a jungle's natural symphony and primordial milieu, few can boast of similar details. The treatments, from elephant themed to traditional massages delivered by a skilled therapist, are already divine on their own.
Top Executive Club Lounge - Grand Lounge, Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
Other executive club lounges may have more culinary presentations and flashier interiors but Grand Lounge at Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur towers above its competitors with impeccable service, fabulous culinary spreads and a view that is unmatched within the upmarket KLCC belt.
Top Pool Design - Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai, Thailand
Some pools are built higher but few can claim that their pools are conceived amidst grandeur quite on par with the scale of Dhara Dhevi. There are two gorgeous pools in this uncommonly grand Thai resort, and the colonial pool that bears the ethereal reflections of the resort's stunning architecture is our favourite.
Top Nightspot - Manhattan, Regent Singapore
Consistently voted the top bar in Asia, there is a simply reason why Manhattan is constantly at the top of its game - spirited cocktails masterfully paired with a vibe that spells happy hour better than most drinking holes can conjure. Here one finds the best Negronis served with comforting designer bar grubs.
Top Breakfast Experience - In-villa Dining, Ritz Carlton Langkawi Malaysia
The charming villas of one of the region's most comely Ritz Carlton resorts come with alcoves replete with lovely forest visage and a simple breakfast of comforting local favourites like Nasi Lemak and Kaya Toast washed down with Teh Tarik within its luxe confines induces a good start to any day.
Top Service Orientation - Jaya House River Park, Siem Reap Cambodia
When it comes to service we tend to believe that it can only be delivered by grand hotels with high bearings but the folks at Jaya House has redefined luxury service with uncommon dedication and superb anticipatory instincts. The service is so good, sometimes the staff surprises you with acts that surpass your highest expectations.
Most Promising New Hotel - The Ruma Kuala Lumpur
Freshly minted Ruma Hotel hails from a line of hoteliers that believe in the strength of design that must marry and highlight local culture. The famed Puli in Shanghai is an elder relations, and as its doors officially swung open at the close of 2018, this ravishing vision capped by shiny brass ceiling and carefully curated Malaysian accents will be the top address to visit in 2019.
Top Destination - Luang Prabang, Laos
A medieval town steep in history and natural splendour has been largely undiscovered by travellers near and far. Therein lies its chief allure, and bolstered by a dozen of luxury hotels that dish out the most tantalizing Laotian cuisine and local hospitality, it is almost certain that Luang Prabang won't stay under the radar for much longer. Sadly, there are always expiration dates to pristine destinations open to tourism.