Adventures in Southeast Asia

Adventures in Southeast Asia

Words by Daniel Scheffler

Amantaka, Laos
Amansara, Cambodia
Amanoi, Vietnam


Indochina may be a dated term, but the French grandeur of the last century lives on. The French clubbed together the countries Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos for their sheer beauty. Today they huddle together, but each proudly honours its individual majesty. From landlocked, thickly forested Laos to the low-lying plains of Cambodia, across to watery Vietnam, these three darlings are interwoven in their histories and wonders.

Amantaka, Laos - Luang Prabang, Mekong River Sunset

Laos is the least explored. She holds deep secrets and traditions that she whispers only to her visitors. Subtle festivities rise with the sun: there is almsgiving – Tak Bat, as it’s called (which I have learned to do graciously and silently), where food is handed out to local monks on the street, followed by the pouring of water onto the hands of elders. Such simple acts of kindness have mutual ramifications of joy; that’s the real rapture felt.

Amantaka, Laos - Swimming Pool
Amantaka's historic garden setting
Traditional almsgiving in Luang Prabang

"Make sure you touch your heart every time you put something in their bowl," says Nithakhong Somsanith, my new friend and a member of the Lao royal family.* He’s a sort of attaché at Amantaka and knows the country better than anyone. The sun is yet to greet us, and right outside the gates of the garden estate, we sit cross-legged as the bright citrussy saffron of dozens of monks slowly envelops us. Each monk, with swelled robes, carrying a golden bowl, stops for his libation. In this almost-forgotten country, the untainted nature and quiet commemorations are best experienced from a bicycle, or from a boat on the Mekong River. I want to see rural Laos so I leave the manicured sanctuary of Amantaka and bike out of town. En route, the town’s temples beckon and the slow pace of understated life murmurs through the wind as I pedal harder. The world, so slow, offers me meditation, and the beauty of being swept up in the countryside keeps me present. Exactly where I belong.  

Amansara, Cambodia_046

Spectacular sunrise reflections at Angkor Wat

Spectacular sunrise reflections at Angkor Wat

An almost ineffable flight brings me to Siem Reap. From the sky, the great genius of the archaeological park, Angkor Wat, with all its spires, waterways and mystical beauty, is enchanting. Cambodia, the peaceful sister, is the most eminent of the trio of countries. Siem Reap, in the north, is where the Khmer’s splendour is on show, with Angkor Wat and all the hidden away. It is also here where the secret Amansara is found. 
We wake up early in the royal guesthouse; the sun is not to be seen and my eyes cannot adjust to the complete darkness. The air is momentarily without heat; a cool tickle happily skips over my spine. My tuk-tuk races towards Angkor and the comforting smell of my Aman scarf reminds me of the hours of spa time had yesterday – reflecting on this country and its complex understanding of peace. 

Amansara - a masterpiece of New Khmer architecture

"The light decants itself and the great Angkor Wat starts to breathe. And as I inhale its spell, I imbue a sort of peace not previously known."

Amansara, Cambodia - Angkor Temple

"I’m not taking you to the front part where everyone is waiting for a photo of the lotus flowers. I have a special plan for you – just wait," says Kim, my guide. He had shown me, the day before, his laminated wedding photos, in which he beams proudly in a pink suit – his charm will stay with me. Right now, it’s all about the adventure and he shepherds me in complete darkness towards the temples. I can barely hear my own breathing, and the world is finally taciturn. 

Amansara, Cambodia - Activities, Angkor Temple Tour, Preah Palilay, Buddhist Monk
Where history and culture intertwine
Amansara, Cambodia - Angkor Temple

I am seated against chilly sandstone blocks and as the first shiver of light materialises, I realise where I am – inside the nexus of the temples. Kim is nowhere to be seen. I am completely solo in one of the world’s most staggering sites – with no tourists, no noise, no flashlights, and no camera to capture the moment. I am left alone with my thoughts – creating memories only for myself. The light decants itself and the great Angkor Wat starts to breathe. And as I inhale its spell, I imbue a sort of peace not previously known. 

Amanoi, Water Adventures in Vietnam

Gliding across Vinh Hy Bay

Gliding across Vinh Hy Bay
Amanoi, Vietnam - Accommodation
Amanoi, Vietnam - Beach Club

"The philosophy here is to imbibe wellbeing from an Eastern and Western perspective. This is where old-world healing and new-world pragmatism happily collude."

The bravest sister is Vietnam. She’s the one with the lust for life, and the big ideas. As you travel the country from the cities to the rural and coastal areas, Vietnam is compelling – especially when you let your hair down. From Siem Reap, a short plane hop south and you’re where you need to be. It is Amanoi, with privileged access to the country’s most beautiful aperture, which rises on the east coast just south of the little town of Nha Trang. The dark-coloured pavilions perch above the unruly sea and rose-coloured rocks far below – a great holy temple complex if I ever saw one. Among the elements, the resort calls for fresh air, and, above all, an open mind. It is here where I find not only a glimpse into wellness in its purest form, but a vision for the way wellness could be – not just for me, but for everyone. The philosophy here is to imbibe wellbeing from an Eastern and Western perspective. This is where old-world healing and new-world pragmatism happily collude. 

Sublime seclusion at Amanoi

"People want love, sincerity and someone to fight for them, so they become the best version of themselves," Steve, the visiting wellness practitioner, tells me at the spa pavilion. Although he’s not always on the property, the point is to find someone such as Steve by chance – that is Amanoi’s power. We quietly visit a nearby temple, where nuns teach me how to remain silent. We sit for a simple meditation and then make a fire offering for a friend’s untimely death. When we return to Amanoi – Steve gently leads me down quietly to sit in the pavilion next to the lake, right in the middle of the grand property. After an interminable time, I forget that time even needs to exist.  
Nothing happens, and everything happens. It isn’t enlightenment per se; it is something more important – a small glimpse into the healing power of stillness. 

Aman Ocean Pool Villa Terrace

Daniel Scheffler is a storyteller who has contributed to the New York Times, National Geographic, Wallpaper, and various others for the last 20 years. In the name of travel, he has featured on BBC and CNN, spoken at IMEX, SITE (and others) and has hosted a TEDx talk, plus “Everywhere," his iHeart original podcast’s first season, that garnered more than two million downloads. He is currently working on a book of travel essays to be published in 2023, in preproduction for a TV docuseries, and works as Special Features Editor at Wonderlust Travel. So far, he has travelled to 127 countries. He lives in California and New York with his husband, and their dog, Ella.

*Information correct at time of writing.

Exclusive Offer

Indochina Past & Present

Combine stays at Amansara and Amantaka to experience the temples of Angkor and Unesco-protected Luang Prabang. A minimum stay of three nights at each resort includes breakfast, lunch or dinner and experiences ranging from temple excursions and Baci ceremonies to guided tours.