Top Asia Tour Guides
Journeys are only as good as their guides. The following are our choices.
Abercrombie & Kent
A&K’s Hong Kong–based Gerald Hatherly developed much of the company’s regional itineraries. His deep expertise, which has attracted the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Clinton, shows at every turn. We turned to the firm for Burma, where we worked with Max Horsley, one of Hatherly’s colleagues. Based in Rangoon, Burma, since 2005, Horsley has driven the country end to end, trekked its Himalayas and takes his holidays sailing the Mergui archipelago. Given a chance, Horsley pushes further, taking clients to travel among the Hkamti Shan people in Putao. He is also working on new trekking routes in the villages of the southern Chin state in Mrauk-U. 800-554-7016; abercrombiekent.com. All prices for the outfitters listed on this page are based on the itinerary and the level of customization.
Countries of Operation: Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam
James Grace-Jayasundera, founder of Ampersand Travel, is half Sri Lankan, half English, and was brought up in Rome and Colombo, Sri Lanka. He’s your go-to man for anything and everything Sri Lankan, but his black book of contacts is filled with gems, the well- and the little-known, across Southeast Asia. He also has deep knowledge of Bali and the Maldives: which hotels are up and which are down, which are overhyped and should be avoided. 44-20/7289-6100; ampersandtravel.com.
Countries of Operation: Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Maldives, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam
Cazenove + Loyd
The UK’s Cazenove + Loyd started out selling luxe safaris in Africa, where it honed its approach focusing on very high-end guiding by using contacts who were specialists in their fields rather than anything overly touristic. The company now does Asia. In Hanoi we have worked with Nguyen Huy Hoang, a food specialist, while guide Pich Sovirak was our man in Siem Reap, where his versatility and flexibility ensured no threat of “temple tiredness.” Cazenove + Loyd also gives access to archaeologists who have worked on some of the temple excavations. Getting around in Cambodia is not at all straightforward or simple, and the drivers the company provided handled the roads with skill and care. 800-409-4233; cazloyd.com.
Countries of Operation: Bhutan, Cambodia, Indonesia, Maldives, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam
A Beijing-based specialist for all of China, Imperial Tours was founded by Brit Guy Rubin and his Korean-American wife, Nancy Kim, in the late 1990s. We used the company’s expertise to bring us all that’s new in the capital city and also called upon its behind-the-scenes tours of both Shanghai and Beijing for “Cruising China’s Silversea.” Many of Imperial’s on-the-ground services include a tour director (a foreigner living in China) to help ease the sometimes huge cultural differences. Its purview is not only city-centric but also includes hard-to-reach parts of Tibet and Yunnan. Most tours are individually customized, though the company also has some group departures. 888-888-1970; imperialtours.net.
Country of Operation: China
With its 7,000-plus islands, the Philippines is not an easy place to negotiate. We turned to Sonia Lazo from Intas Destinations to be our fixer. Lazo, a longtime Philippines resident, helped us sort out everything from hotels and restaurants to tours and shopping in Manila; her range extends from the unspoiled beaches of Palawan to the Sinulog festival in Cebu to, of course, an excursion into the warren of food stalls in Manila. 63-2/772-3312; intas-travel.com.
Country of Operation: Philippines
Other Outfitters to Note
Remote Lands (remotelands.com), with offices in New York and Bangkok, focuses on Asia, from countries like Korea and Bhutan. Bespoke is the only way it does things—and it shows, with a cast of experts providing access to otherwise inaccessible people and places. Artisans of Leisure (artisansofleisure.com) is a deep specialist on Asia whose custom tours, many of which center on specific cities, span the continent and include intelligent cultural encounters with artists and designers. Wild China (wildchina.com) is an adventure-travel outfitter that exposes the deep layers of out-of-the-way locales, with some themed group journeys available on set-date departures. They include Silk Road trips and a tour through Yunnan, tracing the old caravan route once used by tea traders. Canada-based Butterfield & Robinson (butterfield.com) offers exciting Vietnam biking tours among some of its best-selling itineraries, with its expertise in this particular region—Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos—very strong.