In December 2014, the Aqua Mekong became the first luxury vessel to ply the Mekong River between the fascinating Southeast Asian countries of Vietnam and Cambodia. This is the third and newest member of the Aqua fleet; the other two boats operate on the Peruvian Amazon. The Mekong carries 40 passengers in 20 stylishly appointed suites. As with its siblings, it comprises three decks, the first two devoted primarily to guest cabins, with the rear of the second taken up by a lovely dining room. On the top deck, the Mekong has a spacious bar/lounge with seating areas along floor-to-ceiling windows, a media room with a large screen and comfortable Eames chairs, and a small library. At the stern, a gym provides a selection of aerobic machines, while in the bow, a shaded plunge pool offers an idyllic place to relax or to sip a glass of wine. The cuisine is under the supervision of Michelin-starred chef David Thompson, whose restaurant nahm in Bangkok is justly regarded as one of the finest in Asia. Daily excursions include bicycle trips through the idyllic Cambodian countryside and kayak forays into unspoiled floating villages. An exceptional staff helps to make this a ship of great distinction. At the end of our voyage, one of our fellow passengers ventured the opinion that this was one of the most enjoyable trips he and his wife had ever taken. I replied that I entirely agreed with him.
We set out from Skeleton Coast Camp in a Land Cruiser, bumping and lurching on an almost non-existent track, following the dry riverbed until it opened out into the Hoanib floodplain. There, giraffe and springbok browsed the sparse vegetation. Startled by our approach, two honey badgers dashed away in a swirl of dust. A pair of tawny eagles circled overhead. On every side, the horizon was bounded by ridges of gnarled and shattered rock. The sense of being very close to the end of the world was overpowering. After about three hours, we stopped for a drink at the entrance to the dune sea, where we had to negotiate 500-foot berms of sand that blocked our way to the coastal plain. We teetered for a moment at the crest of one dune and then surfed down the side at an alarming angle. Beneath the tires, the sand made a deep humming sound. On a ridge close to the Klein Oasis, a sizeable freshwater lake that arises, bizarrely, in the midst of one of the most desiccated landscapes on earth, we briefly became bogged down. Being out of radio contact, our extreme isolation produced a sudden frisson of fear. We finally reached the Atlantic after a little over four hours. Having sneaked up on an odiferous colony of Cape fur seals, quarreling over desirable beachfront real estate, we stood on a shingle bank above the crashing surf. From the southwestern edge of Africa, we gazed at the heaving ocean in the general direction of Buenos Aires.
“Fancy a walk?” My guide at Singita Pamushana, Mark Friend, nodded in the direction of a herd of browsing elephant about 500 yards away. Clambering down from the relative safety of the vehicle, I watched them through binoculars, suddenly conscious of the hard, sun-baked ground beneath my feet. Friend went through the necessary ritual, loading huge Gibbs cartridges into his .505 rifle and adjusting the strap on the holster containing his .44 Magnum handgun. We set off, Friend in the lead, me about ten feet behind. A passing kudu with magnificent spiral horns looked at us for a second in apparent incredulity and then crashed away into the undergrowth. Our pace slowed until, about 150 feet from the lead bull, Friend signaled a halt. “They know we’re here,” he whispered, "but they’re not worried. It’s easy to tell. But you have to be careful, because sometimes you get elephant in Malilangwe that have migrated from Kruger or Mozambique where they’ve been shot at.” Separated from the herd by nothing but the breeze, I felt hyper-aware of every ticking second of life.
The west coast of Chiloé, a spectacularly scenic and as-yet unspoiled Chilean island, is an extraordinary landscape of rolling meadows that ends abruptly in vertiginous cliffs. After a lunch of empanadas stuffed with fresh razor clams and corvina, five of us from Tierra Chiloé resort hiked through this splendid wildflower-speckled terrain. Steep pastures, backdropped by the Pacific and studded with dramatic wind-sculpted trees, shimmered with mist from the surf. Our goal was the Muelle de las Almas. Legend says that here, between cliffs plunging into the ocean, is where souls of the dead come to meet the local equivalent of Charon, the boatman to the afterlife.
The Enoteca Regionale del Barolo is located in the impressive Marchesi Falletti castle and is run by the commune (town) of Barolo. It offers pours of an impressive number of wines from the eleven districts that comprise the Barolo wine zone. An excellent selection of Barolos and grappas is for sale. Opening hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Wednesday.
Sardinia is the wildest and most unspoiled major island in the Mediterranean. It offers a spectacular variety of landscapes, gorgeous empty beaches, intriguing archaeological sites, superb restaurants and outstanding hotels. Our eight-day tour proved to be one of the best driving trips we’ve ever taken. After two days in Cagliari, the island’s largest city, we headed west to Nora, then retraced our steps and followed the island’s eastern coast north — the SS125 from Santa Maria Navarrese to Dorgali is one of the most beautiful roads in Europe — before heading inland to Oliena. Finally we drove up to the old Catalan-inflected seaport of Alghero. The roads in Sardinia are excellent.
I often find that my journeys, with slight modifications, can readily be followed by you. This was certainly the case with my recent trip to Chile and Argentina, which included visits to top wineries, the urban delights of Santiago and Buenos Aires and stays at several delightful resorts. View the full itinerary here.