The best luxury hotels of 2015 - Poplar Travels
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Jan 10 2016

The best luxury hotels of 2015

Narrowing down the best hotels of 2015 was even more difficult than last year. During this past year, we stayed in more than 70 different hotels in 7 different countries. Two of our favorite things about traveling in Southeast Asia are the amazing customer service at the resorts and hotels and the unique design concepts at some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. The region is home to some impressive global brands as well as hidden gems.


A few of these properties stand out most in our mind. It was tough, but we narrowed down our favorites to give you the best hotels of 2015 (with a few ties). You’ll see a few repeats that simply couldn’t be avoided because, did we mention, this region has some of the best hotels in the world? 


Best Grounds


  • Tugu Lombok, Indonesia
  • Dhara Dhevi, Thailand


This was by far the hardest category to select. Tugu Hotel Lombok, which will reappear in several categories here, blew our mind with its unique layout, stylish villas, massive statues and huge pristine beach. The property is large enough to get lost on and the Indonesian fauna is breathtaking. The lobby has strong Indiana Jones vibes and the more you look, the more stone mythical figures seem to pop out of the brush.


Another property that could swallow you whole is the Dhara Dhevi in Chiang Mai. This property is modeled after a Thai Kingdom and even includes rice fields where guests can learn how to farm. Waking up to a view of miniature horses grazing on a manicured lawn next to a pond with a fountain is not a bad way to do it. If you get sick of riding complimentary bikes through the jungle, there is an entire village of shops including the Dhara Dhevi dessert shop.


Nam Hai

Best Pool


  • The Nam Hai, Vietnam
  • Best Plunge Pool: Royal Beach Seminyak, Indonesia


We could pen many a love song dedicated to the pools of Southeast Asia. The heat makes them a crucial element to luxury accommodation, but they always go way above and beyond providing a hole to cool off in. These pools are so elegantly designed that this category was probably the second hardest to narrow down. The Nam Hai eventually came out on top thanks to its expansive, pristine infinity pool overlooking the beach. The adult only pool remains calm as guest sip delicious cocktails in comfortable lounge chairs. Get a spot early during busy season so you can enjoy the sunset as it reflects off the water


We had to make a special plunge pool category because we experienced so many amazing villas with private plunge pools. The best was at our villa at the Royal Beach Seminyak, another infinity pool with a view of the ocean. This spacious Bali resort has two other stunning pools in case you want to leave your private plunge.


Runner Up: The Sarann, Thailand


Best Villas


  • Tugu Hotel, Indonesia
  • The Nam Hai, Vietnam


The villas at Tugu Hotel continued the awe factor right into the bedroom. The oversized canopy bed was framed by columns as thick as the trees surrounding the fenced in property. A 10-foot tall mirror leaned against one wall and a walk-through closet led to the outdoor (but very private) bathroom. Shower under the stars? Check. Koi pond? Check. Huge tub carved out of a giant boulder? Check.


We spent so long trying to get a satisfactory photo of our villa at The Nam Hai that we started taking notes to supplement. To help soak up every aspect of the beach, the villas are designed in a step-like layout so you can see the view from the bathroom, which is right behind the office, which is right behind the bed, right behind the living room. Looking out our glass wall to see the beach (which has been brought right up to the back door) is an ideal way to enjoy that ocean view from the AC. For even more privacy or groups, other villas include a private pool, a “living room” villa for entertaining and, of course, fantastic beach views.


Sofitel Legend Metropole-23

Best Historic Property


  • Sofitel Metropole Hanoi, Vietnam


Sofitel’s Legend property in Hanoi has been a luxury icon since 1901. Under the very fun Bamboo Bar is a bomb shelter from the Vietnam war which overnight guests can tour. Celebrities and politicians have graced the Sofitel Metropole with their presence since before the war as well as during. Plaques along an interior hallway boast photos of visitors from Brad and Angelina to Joan Baez and Charlie Chaplin.



Best Beach


  • Tugu Hotel, Indonesia


Tugu’s beach stretches the length of the property and has an amazing view of a small bay. The water is perfectly clear and you can borrow a kayak to paddle out to a floating dock. We woke up for sunrise and watched some locals wade out into the water to fish. Day beds offer an ideal nap spot as well as some shade to escape the heat.


Most Unique Concept


  • Penaga Hotel, Malaysia


Penaga is a small boutique hotel in Penang, Malaysia, that pulls together a funky concept and really makes it work. Each room is uniquely decorated with handpicked antiques from around the world mixed with modern pieces. An artist in residence program has resulted is several custom installations throughout the grounds. The artsy hotel is in a great location in Georgetown and will put you in the mood to explore the city’s famous street art.


Best Food


  • Tugu Hotel, Indonesia
  • Cameron Highlands Resort, Malaysia


Luckily we stayed two nights at The Cameron Highlands Resort, so we had enough time to squeeze in all their restaurants. The beef medallions in their main dining room were incredible. The formal restaurant at Cameron Highlands Resort was one of our most enjoyable dining experiences this whole year. The staff remembered who we were, engaged with us about our stay, made recommendations and were incredibly polite. This resort alone is enough reason to make the Cameron Highlands a must during any trip to Malaysia.


Tugu Hotel has their breakfasts to thank for landing in this category. The variety of fresh fruit in Indonesia is a huge part, but we were excited to wake up every morning for a (too big) serving of muesli, fruit, bread, several flavors and styles of coffee and pancakes. The local flavors were incredible; our dinner of yellowtail in pandan leaf was unforgettable.


Best Boutique Hotel


  • Ping Nakara, Thailand
  • Heritage Suites, Cambodia


Ping Nakara’s beautiful white building tucked along the river in Chiang Mai feels like a step back in time. Black and white photos of logging elephants line the walls of the all white lounge area overlooking the tranquil pool. The whole environment is soothing and inviting. We enjoyed our meals in the small restaurant and even though Ping Nakara is conveniently located near Chiang Mai’s markets, we never left the property during our stay. We were happy sipping cocktails in the library and working during tea time by the pool.


The small but sophisticated Heritage Suites in Siem Reap, Cambodia, has a surprisingly modern restaurant (with amazing food and a popular jazz night), a pool shaded by huge trees, a spa and beautiful villas. Private outdoor seating for each villa and an amazing basin tub surrounded by glass walls make the well-designed space feel even larger than it is and much more remote. Your shower even comes with an adjoining sauna.


Cameron Highlands-27

Best Spa


  • Cameron Highlands Resort


The overall atmosphere at the Cameron Highlands Resort is soothing, but the spa takes it to another plane. A long fountain runs parallel to the treatment rooms, filling the space with soothing white noise. We recommend spending as much time in the spa as possible so you can experience treatments inspired by the region’s famous strawberries, soak in a tea bath and enjoy a massage. The spa menu is lengthy with treatments like an avocado scalp massage and body wraps. Even our post-treatment tea was delightful.
Where did you stay this year that you’ll never forget? Are you headed to any of our best hotels from 2015 or have you been to one already? Let us know what you thought!

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Evanne Allen

Evanne co-founded Poplar Travels after quitting her job in Washington, D.C. She got itchy feet at a young age and has never lost the urge to explore the planet. A previous museum employee, she is apt to drag travel partners into several cultural institutions anywhere she goes. She wishes she could speak every language and loves meeting new people.

  • ellenfisch

    Just back from Hong Kong & India. The Shangri-La in Hong Kong is wonderful: great food and service. The Taj properties in India are unsurpassed in luxury! Lake Palace Udaipur and Rambah Palace, Jaipur and are dedicated to service, opulent rooms and excellent food. The Taj Chandela in Khajuraho is wonderfully comfortable with exceptional food and service. The Imperial in Delhi is going back in fabulous traditional time with all the modern conveniences. First rate: food, service and rooms! And the Trident Nariman Point is marvelous! As a working architectural photographer trying to get as many photos of some great architecture, these hotels provided me with the best rest, pampering and meals to counterpoint climbing up Temple steps, navigating ruins, hiking to off-the-beaten-track places and tropical weather!

    January 10, 2016 at 6:53 am
  • Davis

    These places are crazy! So beautiful! 🙂

    January 23, 2016 at 11:03 pm
  • Martha

    Just wow! These are some gorgeous places

    January 23, 2016 at 11:54 pm
  • paulandcarolelovetotravel

    Great selection of some fantastic hotels. Thanks for some ideas for future trips!

    November 6, 2016 at 8:04 am

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