With so much attention on Europe’s popularity following the pandemic, we started wondering what was happening in the rest of the world, specifically, Asia. And so we caught up with Catherine Heald, co-founder and CEO of Remote Lands in early June, to get her take on the destination. Remote Lands, based in New York and Bangkok, provides personalized luxury and adventure holidays, exclusively in Asia.

She told us then that she was getting a lot of calls from luxury travel advisors saying, “Europe is insane. The prices are through the roof. There’s no availability. My clients want to go to Asia.”

Bali was on her mind, as she was just about to depart for a trip to the province of Indonesia, which she said has been very popular this summer. 

“Bali is totally back, and there are luxury accommodations and experiences all over. It has 17,000 islands and there are many, many places that are absolutely wonderful, from Sumbawa to Sumba to Java,” she says, adding, “For example, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. It’s on the huge island of Java. Amanjiwo is right there. It’s amazing. There’s Borneo, where you can go and see the orangutans. At Komodo National Park, you go and see the Komodo dragons. So, there are so many different experiences.” 

The “Stans” have also been in demand by luxury travelers seeking an alternative to the crowds. 

Catherine Heald in Kyrgyzstan
Catherine Heald recently visited Kyrgyzstan, exploring the country and immersing in its culture. (Courtesy of Catherine Heald)

“We have had a very large number of inquiries and we’re doing multi-country trips to the "Stans:" Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. It’s very easy to travel between them. There’s no testing required in most of them. The prices are really reasonable. The cultures are fascinating. Samarkand in Uzbekistan was the center of the world at one point on the Silk Road. It was the intellectual and learning center and research center for astronomy and all kinds of scientific R&D and learning. Going back there, the architecture is just off the charts incredible,” says Heald.

She had just been there several weeks ago and drove over the border into Tajikistan, which is completely different, and has a totally different culture from Uzbekistan.

“It’s physically incredibly beautiful,” says Heald. “It has mountains; 93 percent of Tajikistan is covered with mountains. There are mountains everywhere and 25,000 feet high, way higher than in Europe. So, it’s stunningly beautiful. These glacial lakes are crystal-clear, bright turquoise blue lakes, because they’re from glaciers. The minerals that are in the lakes cause an iridescent blue color. So, that is absolutely amazing.”

The cultures within the "Stans" vary widely, and, are in fact, completely different, she advises. 

“Kazakhstan is very rich. You know, that’s where Borat was from. But I’ll tell you Kazakhstan is no joke. There’s a Ritz-Carlton in Almaty, in the capital. It is a beautiful city also surrounded by mountains,” she notes. “You just drive up into the mountains; there’s wonderful skiing in Kazakhstan and in Kyrgyzstan. So, you can just drive right up into the mountains above Almaty, go skiing for the day — or hiking now in the summer. And they do have heli-skiing. We have clients going heli-skiing this summer in Kazakhstan.”

Heald says there are “no tourists” in the "Stans," meaning they are not overrun with visitors. 

“For me, going and learning about these very important historical places is absolutely fantastic. I’m sure I was the only American in those countries,” she says.

Catherine Heald in Kyrgyzstan
Remote Lands doesmulti-country trips to the “Stans:” Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. Heald is shown here in Kyrgyzstan. (Courtesy of Catherine Heald)

Aside from Bali and the rest of Indonesia, clients are going to Thailand and Cambodia this summer, as well as Singapore and northern India, up in the Himalayas. “They’re going to Mustang in Nepal in the summer, which is dry during these months because it’s north of the Himalayas. People don’t realize that. So, there are so many great options.”

For this reason, Remote Lands has been very, very busy of late, also because the company is planning fall trips. 

Japan’s reopening is spurring a lot of demand for that country, particularly because so many travelers had to postpone their trips. 

“Now you really have to jump on grabbing the new dates because it’s just exploding again,” advises Heald, noting that that goes even for later this year, for the fall and for the holiday season. People are going skiing in Niseko, but they’re going all over the country. It’s popular all over. Then, cherry blossom season next year is going to be insane.”

The first part of the pandemic was very rough for Asia but with business coming back in dramatic fashion, Remote Lands has hired four more people and promoted several colleagues from within.

“So, the future is looking very bright,” says Heald. “We suffered long enough. We paid our dues, and we’re just really glad that this is finally happening, and that almost everything in Asia is open or is about to open. The only wild card right now is China, but we’d had less business to China even before the pandemic. There are a lot of political situations over there.”

Heald’s trip to Bali in June was for an Aman Jet Expedition that had been postponed from April 2020. The itinerary started in Bali and went all the way to Amanruya in Turkey, ending up at Amanzoe in Greece. 

The transportation was in an Airbus 319 Jet, which normally has 150 seats, but has been refitted with just 19 seats.

The Aman Jet Expeditions take only eight couples and each couple has its own private car driver and guide every day. 

“So, you really do your own thing,” says Heald. “You’re not thrown on a bus with a bunch of other people and having to do a fixed itinerary. That’s really a big selling point for the Aman Jet Expeditions.”

Remote Lands has four more jet expeditions slated for this fall, including from Kyoto to Greece, and Turkey to Venice. There’s a Southeast Asia program, and a “Mindful” program that goes to China, Bhutan, India and Sri Lanka. 

“We have a Zen master leading that expedition, which is all about mindfulness and going to these very spiritual destinations,” says Heald.

The Himalayas
Travelers are showing a lot of interest in northern India. Seen here is Chaukhamba, a mountain massif in the Gangotri Group of the Garhwal Himalaya. It lies at the head of the Gangotri Glacier in Uttarakhand, India. (Getty Images)

Remote Lands recently announced the Aman Jet Expeditions Adventures in the Americas, which starts at the new Aman in New York. It goes on to the Amans in Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic, Amangani and Amangiri in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and in Utah. 

“Plus, we do touchdowns,” says Heald. “We do a day touchdown in Bermuda on the way down between New York and the Caribbean. Then, after the Dominican Republic, we — on the way up to Amangiri — stop off at the Mayan ruins in Mexico because the airport is right next to them. So, that’s cool if people haven’t seen that. Then, we also do a helicopter over the Grand Canyon. There are a lot of really exciting experiences. It’s actually five countries.”

Speaking to Heald, it was clear to Luxury Travel Advisor that advisors can be real rockstars for their clients if they’re fully knowledgeable on what’s on offer across the world. Clients may be set on one destination they haven’t been to for some time, but if the experience is going to mean crowds and inflated prices, it’s best to have some remarkable alternatives in one’s back pocket. 

“A lot of people are not aware of what’s going on in Asia, and how open it is, and how accessible it is,” said Heald.  “As I said, so many advisors have reached out to us for summer trips because they just can’t get the availability in Europe. The prices are through the roof, and that’s not the case in Asia. The prices are so reasonable and the service is superb. So, the value for money is so much higher in Asia than it is anywhere in Europe or anywhere else.”

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