The world’s best destinations to travel to with friends

TRAVEL HACKS

Unlike those fleeting romantic relationships, friendships are meant to last forever. But if you feel you’ve been drifting apart (let’s admit it, the virtual happy hour is a poor substitute for alfresco margaritas), planning a trip together could be a great way to reconnect. Here are some of the best retreats in the world to feed your wanderlust and nurture the bonds.

Koh Lanta, Thailand

While staying at storied hotels has its charms, there is a special thrill in “discovering” a destination. Opening in late 2021, Avani+ Koh Lanta Resort is a little slice of paradise in southern Thailand sandwiched between a serene forest and splendid tropical seas. After months in lockdown, the sweeping ocean vistas from the high ground are quite literally a sight for sore eyes.

In the old town of Koh Lanta, watch street life unfold outside 100-year-old wooden shophouses, charismatic souvenir shops and buzzing local eateries. At Tung Yee Peng village, hire a longboat to take you through a tunnel of hushed mangrove forests, stop for lunch at a restaurant on stilts, explore nearby islands and caves or help locals plant seagrass.

And if you want to make some furry friends, Lanta Animal Welfare, an animal rescue foundation near Long Beach, lets dog and cat lovers walk and socialise with the rescue dogs every day of the week.

Luang Prabang, Laos

This one’s for the culture vultures. As the former royal capital of Laos, Luang Prabang is the country’s spiritual centre where ancient traditions are alive and well. The alms-giving ceremony — a ritual that sees Buddhist monks walk down the dawn-tinted streets to collect food — makes you feel instantly connected to the place. It’s well worth rising early to experience it. Peel back the layers of history on a heritage walk around the Old Town where French colonial mansions are a reminder of the town’s European legacy. At Le Banneton Café, buttery croissants served in a Parisian setting demonstrate the point with gusto.

Dedicate a day to self-cate at a river-facing spa on the grounds of Avani+ Luang Prabang Hotel. The signature half-day experience includes morning yoga on a boat, a healthy meal and a two-hour massage as the Mekong River lulls you into slumber.

Quy Nhon, Vietnam

Thanks to the train making a comeback as a sustainable alternative to flying, you can re-live the golden era of the railroad with all the glamour of the legendary Orient Express. Try The Vietage, a custom-designed carriage that offers a luxurious rail journey through south-central Vietnam. You board in Da Nang after spending a few days exploring the sites of Hoi An and disembark at the Quy Nhon station where the hectic pace of Vietnam’s big cities is all but a distant buzz.

Avani Quy Nhon Resort could well be Vietnam’s centre of slow life. The boutique resort makes fantastic use of its mature gardens: there are strategically placed hammocks for you to read amid frangipani tress and a world-class jungle spa that is perched on the edge of a cliff where the air smells of the ocean, sweet herbs and essential oils.

Seminyak, Bali

Ever since Eat, Pray, Love featuring Julia Roberts introduced Ubud to the wider world, Bali’s spiritual hinterland has been drawing steady crowds of wellness-minded holidaymakers. But if you can’t picture yourself staying too far away from the ocean sunsets, trendy bars and fashion boutiques whilst on the Island of the Gods, the trendy Seminyak is a better choice.

At the new Avani Seminyak Bali Resort, the airy two-bedroom pool villas are spacious enough to accommodate six adults. You can spend days lazing around the pool deck, trying your hand at Balinese cuisine in the villa kitchen and sipping frozen margaritas in the living room while getting ready for a big night out.

Victoria Falls, Zambia

For the daredevils in your group, Zambia offers plenty of adrenaline-pumping experiences. Start with the biggest attraction of all — the Victoria Falls. Nicknamed “smoke that thunders”, this natural wonder is best viewed from the sky, as the mist from the falls is too thick on the ground to actually see anything. As you circle above the mighty falls, you will spot multiple rainbows, wildlife, and the bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe with its famous bungee jump. You even get a video and a selection of photos to humble-brag later.

Time permitting, dotted around the country are hundreds of other magnificent waterfalls worth exploring. And, of course, no trip to Africa is complete without a wildlife safari. The Zambezi National Park (surprisingly little-known, despite its proximity to the Victoria Falls) is home to a variety of larger mammal species including lion, elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and Zimbabwe’s national animal, the sable antelope.