Take an Age-of-Discovery Sailing Through Southeast Asia
See one of the world's most gorgeous and culturally rich regions like some of the the very first visitors did: on a legit sailing vessel with the dimensions (and sense of adventure) to stop in not just the major ports—but the most stunning and secluded coves as well. Mind you, on a Star Clippers cruise, you'll find mouth-watering meals in place of sailor's rations, Wi-Fi in place of homing pigeons—and all manner of water toys (from kayaks to wakeboards) in place of, say, dice.
But your inner Magellan won't mind the 21st-century upgrades—which also include expert dive instructors and gear, bartenders to shake up your favorite cocktail and pillowtop chocolates at turndown—because you'll still feel like a proper explorer on these sailings.
10 stops throughout Southeast Asia that prove the point:
One of the most engrossing cultures on earth—or on the water, as the case may be—the seafaring, semi-nomadic Moken (often called “sea gypsies”) maintain a village on this Thai island. Drop anchor here, and you’ll find their thatched-roof houseboats, wooden spirit poles (ceremonial statues) and distinct language and traditions (Moken spear fishing is particularly amazing to see). The surrounding waters are known for spectacular marine life, so while you’re in the neighborhood, take a dip among angel fish, butterfly fish, sea turtles, moray eels and—if you time your visit right—whale sharks.
More underwater wonders await in these Thai islands, whether you fancy snorkeling or scuba. You’ll have no problem finding Nemo, for starters (clownfish are common here), but also look out for parrotfish, pufferfish, brain coral and sea fans. Or, if you simply want to bask on a paradisiacal beach, these palm-shaded white sands lapped by clear turquoise waters do the trick beautifully.
This Malaysian archipelago is a UNESCO-designated geopark, with ancient forests, towering waterfalls, fantastical rock formations, vast caves and lush rice paddies cut into limestone hills. To maximize your vista binge here, take the cable car and walk on the awe-inspiring pedestrian bridge that curves out into space from a 2,170-foot mountain peak. And if you’re in the mood for more earthbound pursuits, be aware that the capital, Kuah Town, offers duty-free shopping aplenty.
A lush, devoutly Hindu island, Bali teems with gorgeous temples—and you’ll visit one of the most special when you anchor here: Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, a water temple that attracts pilgrims from all over the island who come to worship the goddess Dewi Danu in hopes she’ll bring them a plentiful and steady supply of water. In fact, this mystical, mountain-ringed complex—which seems to float on Lake Bratan’s surface—is so revered, it’s even pictured on the Indonesian 50,000 rupiah bill. The bonus beauty on your Balinese adventure? A trip through the island’s volcanic highlands for views of two spectacular crater lakes in the caldera of an extinct volcano.
Here be dragons! Or the closest equivalent you’ll find this side of King’s Landing. The Komodo dragons who occupy the Indonesian island that shares their name can reach more than 10 feet in length and 330 pounds. But the planet's largest lizards aren’t especially docile, so you’ll want to keep a safe distance. Still, you can still get close enough for a good look at the special park that was founded to preserve their habitat and let adventurers see these rare, prehistoric creatures in action.
The softer side of Komodo—but equally surreal—this sugary sand beach is one of a handful of pink shorelines on the planet. The color is so vivid, in fact, that the name translates to “Red Beach” in Indonesian. (Thank microscopic animals that lend a reddish pigment to the local reefs.) Sink your toes into the heavenly sand and marvel at its perfect pinkness, set off all the more by the equally perfect turquoise sea.
You’ve never heard of Lombok Island? Exactly! This neighbor to Bali is one of Indonesia’s best-kept secrets. The port of Carik is your ticket to exploration. Look up, and you’ll see massive, volcanic Mount Rinjani. To locals, it’s sacred. Head up the mountain to wander bamboo forests, rice terraces and plantations. A trek takes you to stunning Sendang Gile waterfall, after which the villagers of Senaru welcome you into the rituals of their daily lives—making palm sugar, picking coffee beans and pounding rice, to name a few. Stop at a school in Korangan to help the kids practice a little English. Then head to Baun Pusuk monkey forest, where the mischievous residents entertain you with their antics.
If you’d like to return home with serious treasure from afar, cast your eyes toward this Indonesian island. Here, in the capital, Waingapu, you’ll find the finest Ikat fabrics in all of Indonesia. The yarns are hand-colored in a process much like tie-dying to create intricate, one-of-a-kind patterns. But if it’s photographic treasure you’re after, head to Waikabubak, where the houses’ thatched roofs soar to more than 50 feet—or into the forest, where you can chase the siren song of waterfalls.
If you can’t imagine how people build boats without blueprints or mechanized tools, head to a place where the skill is old hat: an outpost on the eastern portion of this Indonesian island. One of the few boat-building villages left in the world, Wera Sangiang is home to the Bugis people, who’ve passed down know-how from generation to generation. And their boats aren’t puny canoes, mind you—they can reach 70 feet long. Watch the amazing builders in action on the beach, but keep a side-eye on Mount Tambora, a volcano that last blew its top in 1816, sending ash around the world and creating the “the year without a summer.”
This Indonesian beauty is definitely for the birds—in the best possible way. Of 124 bird species found in this part of the world, 86 reside right here on Moyo. These include such rarities as yellow-headed parrots and tanimbar megapodes. The island is also aflutter with clouds of butterflies, plus 21 species of bats. Most of Moyo is a national park, so you might encounter long-tailed macaques and barking deer, as well. (Yes, really. Barking deer.) To complete this explorer’s paradise, there are also waterfalls to be bathed under and coral reefs to be snorkeled.