Four Happy Places in Asia

Happy Thursday Hidden Gem Travelers! 

It’s been SO much fun talking to people about bucket list trips again!  If you haven’t yet scheduled your consultation (and entered yourself to win the prize per below), reach out now by replying to this email or filling out the “contact” form on the website.  Also, sharing is caring so forward this email to anyone you know who would like to get in the game! 

Last week, I was asked for a short list of where I’d like to go on a FAM trip next year once the world has reopened.  In the travel industry, FAM means “familiarization trip” where the purpose of the trip is to meet with a wide variety of suppliers like hoteliers, tour companies, tourism boards, etc.  These trips are not vacations, although I like to tack on a few days to experience the destination as a client might, but an excellent way to make local connections and update myself on what’s new and exciting.  The list I submitted was as follows:  Egypt (specifically on a Nile river cruise), Jordan (private touring with an expert in ancient history and archaeology), Japan (on an escorted small group tour), Thailand (with a focus on wellness experiences), and Russia (preferably another small group escorted tour with a local guide).  I’ve been to some of these destinations before but would like a refresh on all they have to offer.  Exciting right?  Stay tuned as I will make sure that you learn everything I do!

As mentioned last week, recent research shows that just making travel plans can boost our spirits, energy, and well-being,” so I’m dedicating the month of October to boost your happiness, energy, and well-being by highlighting 21 global destinations for travel in 2021 (and beyond).  If you feel motivated to plan your next bucket list trip, then I will have succeeded! 

  • We covered Central & South America (Costa Rica, Galapagos Islands, Argentina, and Chile) and Europe (Croatia, Denmark, Portugal, and Switzerland) over the last two weeks. 
  • This week we head to ASIA & ASIA-PACIFIC!
  • Preview for next week, we will find ourselves in Africa to finish out the month of October. 

DON’T HAVE FOMO:  in the spirit of making sure that your happiness is boosted, I’m offering a chance to win a travel-themed prize for everyone who requests a free consultation and mentions ’21 in 2021’, by November 1st, 2020.  Note – the consultation doesn’t have to be for a highlighted destination or have to be for travel next year but can be anywhere that you want to travel in the future (hopefully the newsletters will inspire you to identify your next best vacation destination!). 

Without further ado, we begin our happiness boosting by highlighting four places in Asia and Asia-Pacific, in our countdown to 21 destinations, that I know you will love based on my own experiences and those of my clients.  See if you agree with the choices!  Read on for the scoop…


Australia was a no-brainer for his countdown list because I’ve been twice, am a certified Aussie Travel Specialist, and have never known anyone not to LOVE-LOVE their time down under!  Yes, the idea of the flight is daunting but it’s so worth it (I have tips for you based on my own experience). 

An enormous country and continent, you can’t do Australia in one trip.  You must pick and choose carefully as there is so much to see and do.  Australia is divided into 6 states and 2 territories so essentially you could spend a week or more in each area.  My go-to local tour operator is Swain Destinations as they take excellent care of my clients!  I couldn’t have described the options any better than they do.

In New South Wales, Australia’s oldest state and probably most well-known, the Sydney area shines with its brilliant landmarks like the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The Opera House will soon be offering virtual tours which allows visitors to go behind the scenes more deeply than the in-person tours.

North of New South Wales is Queensland, the most tropical of all the states with Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and the world-famous Great Barrier Reef. The Whitsunday Islands are a must-visit for beach lovers – it’s not an exaggeration to say that they are out of this world gorgeous!

Victoria is home to the hip, coastal city of Melbourne, dubbed the world’s “Most Livable City”. A day experience to the nearby Yarra Wine Valley is a great add-on to any itinerary. 

Further South, escape to the island of Tasmania and experience wildlife without boundaries as kangaroos and wallaby’s surround you in their natural habitat. Nature lovers will find their nirvana. 

To the west is Perth where you cantake the urban tour highlighting the history of the native Aboriginal people and stay at Virtuoso network hotel and Conde Nast favorite COMO The Treasury – also rated as a top hotel in Australia.  Don’t miss nearby Freemantle, a historic seaside town of convict history, glorious alfresco dining, modern ocean racing yachts, terraced houses, museums, and galleries set between the Indian Ocean and the Swan River.

Australia’s red center, the Northern Territory, is the spiritual heart of the nation. Most famous for the ancient monolith Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, the Northern Territory is rich with heritage and wildlife.  Glamping under the big skies is popular here. 

💎 Hidden Gem Tip:  Australia is +15 hours from EDT and the easy way to remember the time difference is when you are winding down your day, the Australians are starting their day (your tomorrow).  Note that the time difference between Perth and Sydney (opposite coasts) is three hours. 


With the 2020 Olympics postponed until late July 2021, many disappointed tourists had to postpone their trips to this amazing country!  I’ve been to Japan once, but it made my list for 2021 because I need to go back ASAP. 

Japan is appealing year-round, not just during Cherry Blossom season which is a peak time for tourism.  I recommend visiting Japan outside of peak season to avoid the crush of crowds.  Our awesome partners at Kensington Tours have some awesome themed itineraries with focuses on the main highlights, the art/anime scene, culinary experiences, temples & gardens, cherry blossom or fall foliage experiences, or creatively named, “Skyscrapers, Shrines, and Snow Monkeys.”  Families or couples will have an amazing vacation in Japan, and I recommend this destination to families with school-aged children because the educational factor is remarkably high.

My father traveled to Japan dozens of times for business trips and was fortunate to be able to dive deep into the contemporary culture in the context of their ancient history.  I still have some beautiful, authentic souvenirs from his trips and cherish them to this day.  For this reason, the City Lights & Sacred Sites itinerary appeals to me for my next trip.  The experiences include:

>Explore Japan’s ancient past on privately guided tours of Tokyo and Kyoto.

>Spend the night in a Buddhist temple on sacred Mount Koya, originally established in the year 819 and the mountaintop home to over 100 temples and monasteries.

>Experience a special Japanese tea service.

>Visit Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and the giant Buddha statue Daibutsu. 

Does this itinerary appeal to you too?  This is just one example of a Japan itinerary, and I’m able to design the perfect one for you!


Interestingly, Jordan is an Arab country in southwest Asia and has been on my travel bucket list for some time as I’m fascinated by ancient history and love the desert.  I believe the best time to visit is spring (as early as February) or fall for daytime temperatures that aren’t terribly hot and cool nights.  At the top of my list are three places:  Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea.

Petra is a 2,000year-old city hand-carved out of the rosy rock of the mountains and sandstone cliffs. In the third century BC, the Nabataeans sculpted the city from a mountain range, and it’s truly a sight to behold!  It’s over 100 square miles in size and a UNESCO World Heritage site, perfect for an epic hiking experience as you explore the area.  Words can’t begin to do Petra justice, so check out this short video from National Geographic  I hope to have enough time in my itinerary to stay overnight to see this ancient place aglow. A local/private guide is a must to avoid the crowds and access lesser-known areas. 

Wadi Rum is a striking, red-pink sand desert-scape also known as the “Valley of the Moon.”  You can travel by camel or in a 4×4 through the desert and experience the place where the legendary Brit T.E. Lawrence, more commonly known as Lawrence of Arabia, lived with his Bedouin allies during World War I.  Stunning natural arches and prehistoric rock engravings dot the landscape.  For an other-worldly experience, glamp under the stars in a luxury tent – the night skies are beyond incredible!

The Dead Sea will be a perfect place to relax and recharge after my Jordan adventure. Mud treatments and simply floating in the buoyant, bright-blue, mineral-rich waters sounds heavenly.  Alternatively, if my energy is still abundant, snorkeling in the Red Sea sounds amazing with the diversity of coral and fish species. 

Tour operator Abercrombie & Kent has an itinerary called Tailor Made Jordan which looks fantastic.  Highlights include: 

>Take a four-wheel-drive excursion through Wadi Rum, camping under the stars in this desert of otherworldly proportions.

>Explore the less-visited 12th-century castle of Ajloun, a strategic fort used during the Crusades.

>Discover Petra with a private guide.

>Bathe in the buoyant, mineral-rich Dead Sea, the world’s most ancient natural spa

💎 Hidden Gem Tip:  We work with Virtuoso network suppliers to create custom itineraries for our clients.  With so much to do in Jordan, it’s important to prioritize and get behind the scenes access to the most popular activities comfortably.  Yes, that rule applies to most bucket list destinations with much to do and see and so little time 😊.  And if you are interested and would like to form a small group, respond to this email, and let’s make it happen!


Thailand is a country full of diverse, exceptional experiences!  Families, couples, honeymooners, and solo travelers adore Thailand for many reasons, and is a frequently requested vacation destination.

I’m often asked where exactly in the world is Thailand?  The answer is Thailand is in Southeast Asia and bordered by five countries: Myanmar to the north; Laos to the north and east, Cambodia to the east, and Malaysia to the south.  With 76 provinces, over 1,000 miles from its north to south borders, and an unusual shape, Thailand isn’t an easy country to envision.

Fun Fact:  Thailand was known as Siam before 1939, and the name Siam conjures visions of the famous musical The King & I

Focusing on Thai experiences, finding the highest quality tours can be tricky with so many options.  Luckily, Virtuoso travel advisors like me have access to this knowledge which we share in detail with our clients.  A tasting of these experiences are described below:

Life with the Elephants
Don your mahout’s outfit and bond with an elephant in its natural environment in the Mae Taman Valley. During this completely private, hands-on program, you’ll help bathe your elephant and learn training techniques.

The Healing Art of Thai Massage
Learn the basics of healing massage, including the importance of pressure points and energy lines within the body. Then relax with a two-hour massage from a blind masseur whose heightened sense of touch will help you fall into a state of complete relaxation.

A Blissful Day on Phang Nga Bay
Cruise along the emerald waters of Phang Nga Bay aboard a private long-tail boat. Dotted with spectacular limestone islands and pristine beaches, protected Phang Nga Bay offers an idyllic setting to swim, snorkel or sunbathe before a delicious barbecue lunch on a secluded island.  Check out this video but NOTE of caution – a private guide is the safest way to explore and avoid crowds, and I will help you find the best options

Thailand’s Largest Floating Market
Navigate the quiet surrounding waterways and watch the bustle of transactions in Damnoen Saduak Floating Market on an early morning tour by small boat. Later, you’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and have the option of visiting the former home of Jim Thompson, a pioneer in the Thai Silk Industry.

When I make it to Thailand, I’ll be staying at Amanpuri, a Virtuoso Best of the Best resort on the west coast of Phuket.  In Sanskrit, Amanpuri means “place of peace,” a fitting name for such a tranquil destination. Designed for complete relaxation and rejuvenation, the resort is the firstborn in the Aman family. The pavilions and villas are connected via a series of elevated walkways. Beneath the thatched roofs, you’ll find 84 accommodations, each with an outdoor sala, king-size bed, and mesmerizing views.  Venture to the cliffside spa where skilled therapists administer bespoke treatments.

Are you ready to learn more about any of these Asia and Asia-Pacific destinations?  Send me an email or give me a call.  Now is the perfect time to begin planning for next year and beyond.  And of course, experiences make the best holiday gifts!  🎁

💎 Hidden Gem Tip:  Send me any questions you have about the upcoming destinations, and I’ll be sure to answer them in the newsletter! 

Wishing you and your family continued good health,


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Hi, I'm Susan Wilson

I’m the founder of Hidden Gem Travel Consulting. As your personal travel advisor, I craft custom worldwide itineraries that astound and inspire you.


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