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Asia - South East

Mr. Harper's Travel Guide

Southeast Asia continues to enthrall and delight. Very few areas of the world offer such a profound sense of peace; most return from their visits stirred by the beauty of the landscape and the generosity of their hosts. Our most recent trip included a visit ...

Southeast Asia continues to enthrall and delight. Very few areas of the world offer such a profound sense of peace; most return from their visits stirred by the beauty of the landscape and the generosity of their hosts. Our most recent trip included a visit to Burma, which has languished under a military dictatorship for 40 years, and as a result, received just 200,000 visitors last year. The country is safe for foreigners, but there is no outside cell reception, local airlines are prone to delay, and credit cards and ATMs are nonexistent. Sadly, the money the regime gains from tourism is a small percentage of the revenue it earns from Burma’s vast natural resources, so the potential for leverage is minimal. However, the Burmese people themselves welcome the opportunity to share their exceptionally beautiful and culturally fascinating country.

bird icon Recommended Luxury Hotels in Asia - South East

All Andrew Harper-recommended hotels offer impeccable accommodations and high levels of personal service. Only the best of the best make our list, so we rate them on a scale from bird icon 90 to 100.

Best Restaurants in Asia - South East

Located on fashionable Dong Khoi Street, this offbeat shop in an old factory contains a lunchroom that is perfect for light meals, with delicious salads, quiches, tarts and fruit smoothies. As rents rise, the handicraft emporiums that once made central Saigon a great place to shop are being replaced by international brand names. L’Usine is a happy exception to this march of the luxury labels, selling everything from water hyacinth- scented candles to Vietnamese housewares. A fine place to browse for gifts, it is just steps away from both the Park Hyatt Saigon and the Caravelle Hotel.

151 Dong Khoi Street Ho Chi Minh

This stylish café is a good place for a fast, casual meal. Excellent breakfasts, afternoon high tea, and dishes such as homemade lamb sausage with couscous and warm feta-cheese dressing, and steamed apple-and-macadamia-nut pudding.

153-155 Beach Street George Town

One of the most atmospheric restaurants in the city, Spice Market is a marvelous stage set that recreates a traditional Thai spice shop, with burlap sacks, glass jars, ceramic pots and aged wooden shelves. The menu features dishes from all over the country. Some of the standouts are deep-fried spring rolls with crab meat, roasted duck in a red curry with coconut milk, and steamed sea bass with chili and lime. Each evening, there are demonstrations in the art of fruit carving.

155 Rajadamri Road Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok US$75

Young chef Malcolm Lee is on a mission to modernize the Peranakan cooking that is Singapore’s soul food. Also known as Nyonya or Straits Chinese, this cuisine is an intriguing blend of Chinese ingredients with the spices and techniques of the Malaysian and Indonesian kitchens. Though the dining room is rather nondescript, Lee’s cooking is superb, including dishes such as ayam buah keluak, beef short ribs in a pungent black sauce made from the nuts of the Pangium edule tree native to the mangrove swamps of Southeast Asia. Other dishes not to miss include the yellow coconut crab curry flavored with turmeric, galangal and kaffir lime leaf; and the buah keluak ice cream made with Valrhona chocolate on a bed of salted caramel. Closed Sunday.

331 New Bridge Road 01-03 Dorsett Residences Singapore US$60

This simple but spotless little restaurant serves the best Lao food in town, and it is an ideal place to discover an Asian cuisine that remains little known. try the sampler platter to start and then the lemongrass stuffed with ground pork and herbs. For those who develop a taste for Lao food, which is often deliciously tangy and a little smoky, the café offers cooking classes.

Bat Vat Sene Kingkitsarath Road Luang Prabang

This Bangkok favorite occupies a converted house that offers a traditional Thai atmosphere. The menu covers a wide range of dishes, and the curries, especially those with seafood, are excellent. Try the stir-fried tiger prawns with cashews, ginkgo nuts and roasted chili. The level of spice intensity can be adjusted to suit your palate. Unlike many upscale Thai restaurants in the city, the Thais themselves patronize this one, so it is always full, and reservations are essential. 

69 South Sathorn Road Bangkok US$60

One of the most charming and consistently highly rated restaurants in Singapore celebrated its 20th birthday last year with a new chef, Frenchman Sebastien Lepinoy, who spent 17 years in Joël Robuchon’s kitchens. Lepinoy’s forte is applying classic French techniques to Asian ingredients with dazzling results such as his seared scallops with teriyaki sauce, foie gras and freshwater eel; and roasted Challans duck with mushrooms and Tellicherry pepper sauce. 

1 Scotts Road 01-16 Shaw Centre Singapore US$195-US$325

Run by two longtime French expats, this stylish café-restaurant with a charming colonial atmosphere, friendly service and excellent food is just as good for an iced coffee and a slice of mango-pineapple- apple tart after an afternoon of sightseeing as it is for lunch or dinner. The menu features both French and Lao dishes, and among the standouts are the wild-boar terrine, the lamb shank braised with cardamom, and the superb Laotian salads — don’t miss the kranab pa, fish stuffed with ground pork and local herbs and grilled in a banana leaf.

Ban Vat Nong Luang Prabang Dinner for two, US$120.

Despite its unpromising name, the chefs at this hotel restaurant in Mui Ne employ locally sourced ingredients to make it a fine address for Vietnamese cuisine. Tables on a shaded terrace overlook the beach and the South China Sea.

Mia Resort 24 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street Mui Ne

Chef David Thompson is the author of the encyclopedic “Thai Food” and “Thai Street Food.” He also opened the first Thai restaurant to earn a Michelin star, nahm at The Halkin hotel in London. Here in Bangkok, he builds on that success with dishes such as coconut and chicken soup with deep-fried garlic, green mango and chili; minced prawn and cucumber salad; and a sublime curry of coconut and turmeric with blue swimmer crab and calamansi lime. 

Metropolitan by COMO 27 South Sathorn Road Bangkok US$70

In a city that knows and loves Chinese food better than any outside of China, this long-running place is a local favorite, the regulars flocking for seafood dishes such as steamed turbot, and frogs’ legs cooked with deeply reduced chicken stock. Only open for dinner, it’s a noisy, fun spot that’s a great place for an excellent off-the-cuff meal — which is why it’s a favorite of so many of Singapore’s top chefs. 

55 Tiong Bahru Road 01-59 Singapore US$40

Taiwanese-born André Chiang spent years working in France before deciding to open his eponymous restaurant in a chic shophouse on the edge of Chinatown. It has since become the table that many consider to be the best in Singapore. Chiang has a mastery of European and Asian kitchens and a remarkable palate, which explains the provenance of the intriguing dishes that comprise his tasting menus. Offerings evolve, but run to dishes such as warm foie gras jelly with black truffle coulis, and lightly seared swordfish with grilled buckwheat, Brussels sprouts, pickled onions, apple granita and tomato consommé jelly. Reserve weeks ahead to experience this superb high-wire gastronomy. Closed Monday.

41 Bukit Pasoh Road Singapore US$250

This superb restaurant occupies the first floor and expansive terrace of a beautiful pavilion with elements of Thai and Western design. Likewise, chef Ian Kittichai melds Thai techniques and ingredients with Western concepts. Because much of the cooking is market driven, the menu changes regularly. But you will often find the chef’s specialties such as massaman curry with lamb shank, and a delicious jasmine flower flan. 

4 Soi Sri Aksorn Chua Ploeng Road Bangkok US$75

Run by the owners of the Seven Terraces hotel, this casual all-day restaurant serves an eclectic menu that runs from ciabatta chicken to Asian dishes such as Malay rice salad with spiced fried chicken. Don’t miss the caramelized banana fritters.

Muntri Mews 77 Muntri Street George Town

This elegant colonial house was built on a pepper plantation that was once owned by Captain Francis Light, the founder of George Town. It’s a stylish and relaxing place for dinner, with a mostly Western menu that runs to dish such as truffled chicken terrine, and smoked salmon fillet with horseradish and tomato chutney.

250 Jalan Air Itam George Town

Much of the best food in Vietnam is not to be found in the formal surroundings asso- ciated with gastronomy in the West. If you prefer such familiar comforts, this address is not for you. Adventurous diners, however, will be rewarded at this simple restaurant set on an open-air roadside terrace. Run by a charming Vietnamese woman who speaks good English, it specializes in seafood, including delicious sautéed crab and squid; the wild pork casserole is excellent, too. Ask the front desk at the Anantara Mui Ne to make a reservation.

Lo Z1, Z2, Z3 Khu Tttm Bac, Phan Thiet

Set in a lovely old building, this restaurant features a pleasing mix of classic and contemporary Thai food (some might know the restaurant from its branch in London). On the far-ranging menu, you can choose from dishes such as lamb with massaman curry paste in coconut milk, tamarind juice, palm sugar, sweet purple potatoes, roasted peanuts and cashew nuts; grilled spare ribs with organic honey and Thai herbs from the Royal Project Farm; and stir-fried tiger prawns with Blue Elephant black pepper sauce and olive oil garnished with chopped coriander leaves. 

233 South Sathorn Road Bangkok US$65

A prime location in Bangkok means being on the Chao Phraya River, and this lovely restaurant has one of the choicest riverfront spots of all — almost directly across from the Grand Palace. Once home to a Thai woman of consequence, the house has been transformed by her daughter into an inviting place with a large river terrace. The menu features classic Thai dishes, and I particularly recommend the selection of house hors d’oeuvres — deep- fried shrimp with rice noodles, a zesty chicken salad in a crisp pastry dish, and vegetarian spring rolls with a dash of mint and a chili sauce. Supatra’s version of the classic shrimp soup with lemongrass is perfect. And the green curry with chicken has an ideal balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet that are the hallmarks of the Thai kitchen.

266 Soi Wat Rakhang Arunamarin Road Bangkok US$55

The elegant restaurant at the Seven Terraces hotel specializes in Peranakan cooking, including dishes such as minced chicken with herbs wrapped in lettuce, grilled snapper, and pandan-leaf crème brûlée. Excellent wine list and very good service. Dinner only. Reservations essential.

Stewart Lane George Town

Occupying a charming old French villa, this Vietnamese restaurant has a friendly, English-speaking staff and a very good wine list. Start with a Vietnamese-style salad or two — maybe hearts of palm with pork and shrimp, or water lily and lotus sprouts with chicken — then try dishes such as chicken sautéed with lemongrass and shrimp in a passion fruit sauce.

3/5 Hoang Sa Ward Dakao Ho Chi Minh

Working in collaboration with star chef Chiang (see below), Australian pit master Dave Pynt has turned Singapore into a serious barbecue town with the superb meat, fowl and seafood he cooks on his multiple grills and massive, hand-built woodburning oven. Closed Sunday and Monday.

20 Teck Lim Road Singapore US$40.

Chinatown is one of Singapore’s most atmospheric neighborhoods and is also the location of the city’s best brasserie, Luke’s, a perfect choice for an easygoing meal of comfort food in a romantic dining room with white tile walls and brass lamps. Start with oysters that Bostonian owner/chef Travis Masiero imports from New England or with the spicy tuna tartare, then tuck into a steak au poivre with rosemary-seasoned french fries. Nice wine list, stylish crowd and very good service. 

20 Gemmill Lane Singapore US$130

This busy restaurant is widely considered to have the best Chinese kitchen in George Town. Try dishes such as stir-fried shio bak (roasted pork belly), chicken with turmeric and chiles, and braised duck with oysters. Cash only.

18 Lebuh Carnarvon George Town

Inspired by working with David Thompson at nahm in London (see below), Duangporn Songvisava and Dylan Jones opened this restaurant dedicated to preserving the traditions of Thai cooking. There are three set menus — with the somewhat annoying proviso that you can’t switch courses — featuring dishes such as stir-fried pork red curry with kaffir lime leaves and beans, and coconut-based soup of sustainable seafood with a hint of turmeric. Closed Monday.

24 Soi Sukhumvit 53 Bangkok US$55 - US$75
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