- Explore Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and watch monks engaged in spirited debate at a Bhutanese monastery.
- Ride camelback across the shifting dunes of the Thar Desert, then enjoy a magical evening under the stars during a stay at a sumptuous tented camp.
- In the enchanting port city of Hoi An, delve into rich Vietnamese traditions alongside local residents, from cast-net fishing to lantern making.
- Step into Nepal’s past amid the medieval temples and palaces of the Kathmandu Valley.
Asia is defined by its very diversity: snow-capped mountains and steamy jungles, marble palaces and gilded temples, ancient plazas and soaring skylines. Join a team of National Geographic experts to discover the best the continent has to offer, flying from high Himalayan peaks to Vietnamese beaches, the deserts of India, and beyond on a spectacular expedition by private jet. Along the way, explore some of the many cultural influences that have shaped Asia’s rich tapestry, from the Newar to the Khmer and maharajas to Buddhist monks; and discover centuries-old traditions that live on in modern-day communities.
Arrive in glittering Dubai, where traditional souks stand in the shadows of sky-scraping towers, and Arabian sands ripple just beyond the city limits. The next day, tour the city’s old town, and join your National Geographic Experts and fellow travelers for a welcome reception and dinner.
Fly by private jet to the high Himalaya, touching down in Kathmandu, the colorful Nepali capital. Upon arrival, visit Bodhnath, one of the largest stupas in the world and the center of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal. Later, settle into our stunning heritage hotel, where a meticulous revival of ancient Newari woodworking is reflected in the architectural and design details, from intricate window and door carvings to handmade furniture.
The next morning, choose from three excursions in the Kathmandu Valley, where a rich tapestry of Newari architecture and Hindu and Buddhist temples have earned the region UNESCO World Heritage status. Venture to the medieval city of Bhaktapur, one of the filming sites for the movie Little Buddha. Discover ancient temples and palaces adorned with intricately carved wooden windows and latticework—some of the region’s best representations of traditional craftsmanship. Or opt to visit Patan on the outskirts of Kathmandu, where we’ll delve into the bustle of Durbar Square and the Hanuman Dhoka palace complex. Though tragically damaged in the devastating 2015 earthquake, many of the temples and palace buildings around Kathmandu still stand, with efforts underway to restore them. Alternatively, you may wish to explore Pashupatinath Temple. Home to nearly 500 temples and the site of several daily cremation ceremonies, this revered landmark is the largest Hindu temple complex in Nepal.
Fly by charter air to Bhutan, the last Buddhist kingdom in the Himalaya. Guarded by the folds of the surrounding mountains, Bhutan’s ancient villages and rippling rice paddies remain unchanged by time, channeling the feeling of a real-life Shangri-La. Travel to the heart of the sweeping Paro Valley, studded with Buddhist monasteries and ancient fortresses called dzongs, and settle into Zhiwa Ling Heritage, a vibrant embodiment of Bhutanese culture and a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World.
Set out to explore the surrounding valley, encircled by soaring peaks. Step inside the imposing walls of the Paro Dzong, home to a large monastic community as well as government offices. At Kyichu Lhakhang—one of the oldest temples in Bhutan that dates to the seventh century—we’ll be offered a special invitation to watch red-robed monks debate—a rollicking event that involves plenty of impassioned speeches, boisterous clapping, and elaborate gesturing.
Venture to the capital of Thimphu to witness the country’s newly embraced modernity and see some of the city’s highlights, including the Royal Textile Academy and the Buddha Dordenma—a massive sitting Buddha statue that contains 125,000 smaller gilded Buddha statues. Or opt to stay back in the Paro Valley and get a closer look at Taktsang Lhakhang, also known as the Tiger’s Nest Temple. Make the trek to the temple; or take a moderately challenging hike to a nearby viewpoint and train your camera lens on this iconic landmark.
Fly to Da Nang and travel overland to Hoi An, an enchanting port city that offers a window on the days when traders from Japan, China, India, and beyond frequented the harbor. The narrow lanes of this World Heritage–listed ancient town look much as they have for centuries—lined by yellow merchant houses, strung with a rainbow of silk lanterns, and free of the motorbikes that speed through other cities across the country. We'll settle into a beachside resort here, and then set out to explore the area in a variety of ways.
If you wish, venture to the ruins at My Son, an ancient Hindu temple complex and World Heritage site that once served as the political and religious capital of the Champa Kingdom. Join a temple preservationist for a walk through the mystical site, where moss-covered, fired-brick monuments stand in the shadow of towering Cat’s Tooth Mountain. Or travel to Hue, a former imperial capital that sat in the crossfire of the north and south during the Vietnam War. Here, we’ll explore the ancient, grand citadel and the imperial tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty.
Back in Hoi An, go for a relaxing bike ride through rippling rice paddies, and meet weavers and farmers who still use ancient methods in their work. Delve into the local fishing culture on a visit to a nearby village, where we’ll join fishermen on the water to cast a net in pursuit of a good catch; then hop into a traditional basket boat and learn the trick to maneuvering these ever-bobbing vessels.
Explore Hoi An's charming old town, discovering local artisan and culinary traditions. Meet with lantern-makers and piece together your own colorful silk creation. Or join a chef for a stroll through the delightfully chaotic central market, and peruse exotic ingredients central to the city’s unique cuisine. At a private hands-on cooking class, stir up steaming noodle dishes and then enjoy your creations for lunch.
Continue by private jet to Yogyakarta on the Indonesian isle of Java. The island is home to Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia; as well as Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world—both designated World Heritage sites.
At Prambanan, gaze up at the central temples, dedicated to three Hindu divinities—Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma—and wander amid more than 200 ancient stone structures that dot the lush Prambanan Valley. Explore Indonesia’s Buddhist influences with a visit to the massive monument at Borobudur, built in the eighth and ninth centuries. Towering above a lush jungle canopy and framed by distant volcanic peaks, the complex’s main temple cascades across three stone tiers and holds 72 stupas, many still harboring a statue of Buddha.
Instead of visiting Borobudur, you may wish to take part in a special meditation session at the Mendut temple, a pilgrimage site that welcomes visitors from across the globe to celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. The group will then gather for a visit to the nearby Pawon temple. The sister temples of Borobudur, Mendut, and Pawon stretch through the jungle in a straight line, and we’re likely to spot pilgrims making the miles-long trek between the three structures.
Glimpse modern Indonesian culture with a visit to the OHD Museum, displaying contemporary works from local artists. Cap off your time on Java with a special dinner, where we’ll sample snacks and dishes cooked up at a typical Indonesian night market.
Our next stop is Luang Prabang, a laid-back, leafy mountain town set at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. The architecture here is a fusion of stately French colonial buildings and traditional wooden Buddhist temples—a unique urban fabric that has earned Luang Prabang World Heritage status.
Discover the Royal Palace, erected in the early 20th century for King Sisavangvong and now home to the golden Phra Bang Buddha statue—the landmark that gave the city its name. Step into some of the city’s most important temples, including the ornate, gilded Wat Xieng Thong and the 16th-century Wat Visounnarath—the oldest temple in Luang Prabang. If you wish, glide along the Mekong to the cliff-side caves of Pak Ou, harboring thousands of Buddha statues in all shapes, sizes, and materials. During our time here, we’ll also have the opportunity to witness a morning almsgiving, the daily tradition in which monks emerge from their temples to the sound of drums and walk the streets to receive food donations from the city residents.
If you wish, gain insight into Laos’ rich heritage at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, exhibiting handicrafts, clothing, musical instruments, and other cultural expressions of the country’s many ethnic groups. In the evenings, stroll the city’s palmy plazas and boulevards, and test your bargaining skills at the night market, where residents of nearby hill tribes sell everything from jewelry and vibrant textiles to spring rolls and French-inspired crepes. You’ll also have the option for a daytime market visit with a local chef, followed by a Laotian cooking class.
The private jet brings us to Jodhpur in India’s fabled Rajasthan state. We’ll spend our time in the region exploring this beguiling “blue city,” with an overnight excursion into the Thar Desert, where shifting sands give way to ancient fortifications and timeless tribal villages.
Soak in the splendor of the maharajas at our royal lodging in Jodhpur, then set out to discover the city highlights. Perched nearly 400 feet above the old town is the 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort, one of the largest and best preserved strongholds in all of India. Take in spectacular views over the city and, if you like, visit the fort’s impressive museum, which houses a spectacular collection of miniature paintings, textiles, weapons, and more. Then delve into the blue-hued historic center, a warren of twisting lanes and bustling spice-scented bazaars. We’ll also visit Jaswant Thada, an elegant marble monument to the maharaja Jaswant Singh II, as well as Toorji Ka Jhalra, a stunning 18th-century stepwell.
Our excursion into the Thar Desert begins with refreshments at the palm-fringed Samsara oasis, followed by a thrilling 4x4 ride across stunningly stark landscapes dotted with timeless villages. Stop to meet with weavers, potters, and shepherds; and witness an amal ka dastoor, or opium ceremony. Later, we’ll settle into our enchanting tented camp before setting out by camelback for a sunset ride across golden sands. Tonight, enjoy a torch-lit banquet under the stars, accompanied by mesmerizing music and tribal dancing.
After breakfast, return to Dubai by private jet. Enjoy cocktails and a farewell dinner and then return home via commercial air the following day.