Imagine yourself winding down the Oi River, greeted by a flock of kingfishers, listening to the sounds of the tranquil river and the songs of frogs and small insects. The river journey ends at Hoshinoya Kyoto, a hotel amidst kaleidoscopic views of green, red, and yellow trees that decorate the neighbouring hills in autumn.
In the past, Japan’s elites would build villas where they could revel in the seasons’ change. The 17th-century tycoon Suminokura Ryoi did exactly that and built a mansion overlooking the Oi River, which became an inn a few hundred years later. Today, the inn has transformed into Hoshinoya Kyoto—it remains timeless and stands as a former playground for local elites.
In each bedroom, the walls are covered in karakami paper, traditional decorative paper introduced to Japan by the Chinese in the Nara Period (710–794). Relax and enjoy the shifting colour of the wallpaper as the sunlight dances over it. A reminder that change is inevitable, yet beautiful nonetheless.
Cherish nature’s various seasons with the hotel’s kaiseki (multi-course) meals, which feature escargot dishes in the rainy season and sweet rice cakes in the month of July.
Take a day or two to experience some of Kyoto’s unique cultural traditions: Take part in Monko, a parlor game played by Kyoto aristocrats, where agarwood is warmed so the aroma can be enjoyed and contemplated. Learn to create beautiful floral arrangements, also known as Kado (which translates to “the way of the flower”). From the art, one may come to realize that the ultimate purpose of Kado is not so much to make pleasant flower arrangements, but rather to cultivate appreciation for each moment, to work with obstacles, and to develop a respect for yourself and all forms of life.
COMO Uma Punakha
Experience Bhutan, a real-life Shangri-la, at the COMO Uma Punakha, nestled in Punakha valley. Fall in love with sweeping views of the valley and of the river that meanders through lush rice paddies and orchards.
Immerse yourself in Bhutan’s rich culture on the Himalayan Explorer tour, where you are guided through the Paro, Punakha, and Thimphu valleys. Hike up the Paro Taktsang Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan’s most sacred site, perched on sheer rock at 3,000 metres above the valleys. According to legend, this cliffside is where the great Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed on the back of a flying tigress.
Step into the COMO Shambhala Retreat for a traditional hot-stone bath followed by a soothing Shambhala massage. For the more adventurous, give Bhutan’s national sport, archery, a try.
Keep an eye out for the blue poppy, one of the rarest flowers in Bhutan, and the country’s national flower. It grows in extreme conditions despite having a delicate appearance. The blue poppy mirrors Bhutan’s gentle nature, for the Bhutanese themselves govern with compassion. The country uses a unique metric, called “Gross National Happiness,” which places emphasis on citizens’ happiness and well-being above materialistic values.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Escape Siem Reap’s bustle to Amansara resort, a former residence for the king’s visitors, and a masterpiece of 1960s Khmer architecture. Situated at the threshold of Angkor, Amansara is only a few minutes away from these vast ruins of the Khmer empire. Travel around in a remork, a rolling trailer linked to a motorbike, and explore thousands of temples on site, such as Angkor Wat. Visit Tonlé Sap Lake, where stilted wooden houses have remained unchanged over the centuries.
With pale terrazzo and timber finishing on the walls, each suite in Amansara opens towards an open-air courtyard, sun loungers, and a reflecting pond. Along the walkways, you may spot a few sandstone sculptures, made to mirror those in the ruins of Angkor itself.
Amansara’s circular dining room offers authentic Cambodian cuisine using a range of locally sourced ingredients. Favourite dishes include the banana blossom chicken salad and quail egg soup. For dessert, opt for the sweet, black sticky rice, served with ripened yellow mango.
For those who wish to embark on a journey to Siem Reap’s less-visited destinations, cycle through Angkor’s secluded ruins, meditate among ancient forests, or cruise through the floating villages of Tonlé Sap.
End your stay with a water blessing at Wat Athvea, a temple built in the 12th century on the outskirts of Siem Reap, as a Buddhist monk lightly sprinkles flower-infused water over your head and loosely ties a white string around your wrist. A sacred ritual to cleanse the mind and the soul.
Hotel Gajoen Tokyo
Omotenashi, a Japanese word meaning “hospitality,” describes how Hotel Gajoen welcomes its guests to Tokyo—with attentiveness to every detail of a guest’s experience. Built in 1935 and formerly known as “Palace of the Dragon King,” Hotel Gajoen Tokyo is now home to elegantly restored pieces of art from the Shōwa Era—pieces that illustrate Japan’s four seasons to perfection.
Reserve a day for an art tour at the Hyakudan Kaidan Museum, conveniently nested in the hotel. The wooden stairs lead up to a series of tatami rooms with arrays of traditional Japanese artwork. The Seikou Room, for instance, showcases works of Kyoto painter Seiko Itakura, who specialized in bijin-ga, or “portraits of beautiful women.” The room itself is inspired by the four seasons: above the doors, you’ll see vividly painted cherry blossoms to signify spring, followed by irises for summer in the next room, chrysanthemums for fall, and peonies for winter. In the Jippo Room, witness rare works of Cloisonné craftsmanship, decorated with metal fittings and enamel flowers. In this room alone, more than 750 such crafts can be found.
The name Hyakudan means 100 steps, but if one were to take the time to count, one would notice only 99 steps in the staircase. It’s likely an intentional design, perhaps a reminder for a continuous refinement of self—to strive for greater heights of excellence.