Wanderlust: Heroes and villas

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Howies' Homestay

Wanderlust with Cynthia Rosenfeld

I rose with the Northern Thai mist, padded barefoot from the teak clad bedroom into the kitchen where a bowl of homemade granola awaited me along with a pot of freshly brewed green tea, my caffeine jolt of choice. Every day here in Mae Rim, just outside Chiang Mai, I faced the same enviable dilemma: swim in the gargantuan pool facing the Himalayan foothills, snuggle back under the 500-thread count sheets, have a massage anywhere I wished around the tropically landscaped property or head into town with my personal chauffeur and insider's shopping list.

Certainly I could have availed myself of similarly indulgent amenities at the Four Seasons down the road but instead I checked into Howie's Homestay (
howieshomestay.com) earlier this year to test drive a provocative offer. American Howard Feldman and his Thai wife Jerri have filled their multi-pavilion Thai-Balinese dream house with a museum's worth of valuable antiques, and, last year, opened one bedroom, the Teak Pavilion, to paying guests, one booking at a time. The seemingly curmudgeonly New Yorker actually delights in escorting guests to his antique dealers and roadside food stalls. Howie's all-inclusive package extends to massages delivered by the Feldmans' personal masseuse, daily laundry, an impressively stocked mini-bar and Thailand's tastiest chocolate chip cookies, homemade by Howie himself.

Howie's Homestay is part of a growing trend across Asia – the luxury, personal villa – each seeking to give their guests a unique perspective of their region's exotic surroundings.

One of the most luxurious must be Ariara (
ariaraisland.com), a collection of airy whitewashed houses on an otherwise deserted island encircled by white sand in the Philippines' Calamian Islands and infused with indigenous pinoy charms from thatched roofs to genuinely caring staff. This swanky sandbox can only accommodate up to 18 guests, meaning you get a virtually private island. It also comes with some serious toys like the 100ft Trimaran yacht, 33ft speedboat, jet skis, diving and snorkelling equipment to explore the kaleidoscopic underwater life.

At Villa Maya (
mayatangallesrilanka.com), just inland from Tangalle along Sri Lanka's southern coast, guests have the run of this early 20th century nobleman's house-turned-five-suite villa. Set across two tropical acres, rich with bird life and boasting a beautiful midnight blue 20m swimming pool, the villa gives you the chance to live among the interior designer-owner's Indonesian, Lao and Chinese antiques. Treasures from Sri Lanka's Dutch and British colonial periods enhance the local flavour, as do chef Darasana's spicy indigenous curries, including one made with mountain goat.

Cambodia has also recently welcomed Maison Polanka (
maisonpolanka.com), adding an entirely new vantage point from which to experience its historic surroundings. Ten minutes from Angkor Wat, Siem Reap's first villa rental combines two Khmer vintage wooden houses on stilts, both filled with colonial furniture and Khmer artifacts. French-Cambodian owner Nathalie Saphon Ridel's experienced, unobtrusive staff treats visitors like honoured houseguests in what was formerly her family home and the chef prepares her ancestor's French and Khmer recipes like the rice paper rolls that sustained me during a recent visit. Each day, I postponed Saphon Ridel's insider temple tour by oxcart in favour of doing nothing by the palm-fringed pool, a blissful villa benefit unavailable to me back home.

Maison Polanka is one of the newest holiday villas in Asia – but with so many exotic locations to explore in the region, it's unlikely to be the last. I, for one, certainly hope so…

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