15 holidays you have to try once in your life

These incredible happiness holidays need to be ticked off every traveller’s list.

Make sure to catch Cambodia's Angkor Wat at sunrise
  • Tracey Withers
  • May 2019

In need of a little inspo for your next holiday? Why not dine in the sky, visit a World Heritage site or try underwater meditation. Whether you’re heading to New Zealand, Japan, Vietnam or Australia, make it a great trip with one of these amazing, life-changing experiences. Time to start planning…

1. Meet the sunrise at Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia

As the first glow of sunrise lights the spires of the 12th-century Angkor Wat opens in new window temple, you’ll become intrigued by the Hindu gods worshipped in this once-magnificent, still-wondrous city. Guides from Grasshopper Adventures opens in new window in Siem Reap recommend staying for a picnic breakfast in the ruins while the tour bus hordes head back to hotel buffets – that way, you get a less-crowded look at Angkor’s other highlights, including Ta Prohm and the Bayon bas-reliefs. Hire a bicycle and set aside time to see them all.

2. Glamp with elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Seeing Asia’s gentle giants in the jungle above Chiang Mai will swell your heart. There are no shows, riding or touching in the 8000-acre forest on the Mahouts Elephant Foundation’s Walking With Elephants opens in new window project. “You’ll see them doing natural elephant things, like playing in rivers and interacting,” says co-founder Sarah Blaine. “The animals, all rescued from the tourist trade, free-forage for their diet and there are no pens or fences.” Guided by a local mahout custodian on an overnight experience in the forest, you’ll sleep in a large tent equipped with a bed and solar-powered light and be woken by bird call and soft-filtered sunlight in time to track down the elephants having breakfast.

Mahouts Elephant Foundation offer overnight camp outs amongst Thailand's native wildlife
Mahouts Elephant Foundation offer overnight camp outs amongst Thailand's native wildlife.

3. Sip the Margaret River wine trail, Western Australia

This pretty region is any wine lover’s happy place – Margaret River opens in new window cranks out about 20 per cent of Australia’s premium wine. “Here you’ll find some of the world’s best chardonnay and Bordeaux-style cabernets,” says Adam Betar, owner of Margaret River Tours opens in new window. “Don’t miss Vasse Felix winery or Leeuwin Estate and have lunch at Voyager Estate with an outstanding cab merlot.” Even if you’re only able to detect red from white, you can’t go past a tasting flight from Halliday’s 2019 Winemaker of the Year Julian Langworthy at Deep Woods Estate opens in new window. Then head to the Homestead at Cullen Wines opens in new window to sleep amongst the biodynamic vines.

4. Cruise Milford Sound on the South Island of New Zealand

Eleven-armed sea stars and underwater trees of rare white coral (actually called black coral) are held captive in this fjord by some of the most striking sea cliffs in the world. You can kayak or boat along the crystal water but to really grasp why Milford Sound is known as the eighth wonder of the world, you’ve got to go under. Not a diver? An overnight cruise aboard high-end catamaran Fiordland Jewel opens in new window will allow you to gaze the heights from a top-deck hot tub and see the strange depths below via a remote-operated vehicle that beams live underwater footage to the boat.

The Fjordland Jewel's overnight cruise is the greatest way to explore Milford Sound.
The Fjordland Jewel's overnight cruise is the greatest way to explore Milford Sound.

5. Hike the Flinders Ranges, South Australia

Take a journey into Indigenous and pioneering history as you cross sandstone bluffs and wander under river red gums mobbed by wildlife on a hike in the Flinders Ranges – about 450 kilometres north of Adelaide. The hardcore do it with tents on backs, the less so can line up a bush-luxury guided walk. The four-day Arkaba Walking Safari traverses a 45-kilometre stretch through the basin of Wilpena Pound and Arkaba Conservancy opens in new window private reserve. According to guide Charlie Eager, “Set-table dinners, hot under-sky showers and deluxe camp beds with unbelievable views are the reward at the end of the day.”

Hiking the Flinders Ranges is an iconic Australian experience
Hiking the Flinders Ranges is an iconic Australian experience.

6. See Uluru in a different light, Australia

It soars higher into the sky than New York City’s Chrysler Building and pushes another 2.5 kilometres deep into the ground. Up close, where the sandstone is oddly grey and grooved by sacred Dreamtime spirits, the scale of Uluru can knock the air from your lungs. But to get big-picture on this 600-million-year-old land-berg, wade across the surrounding plains on a camel to the Field of Light opens in new window art installation as sunset fires the rock red. When stars start to drop, more than 50,000 kaleidoscope-coloured bulbs spark to life, framing the now-shadowy rock. Surreal.

Uluru becomes even more magical at night with the Field of Light installation
Uluru becomes even more magical at night with the Field of Light installation

7. Dine in the Kuala Lumpur sky, Malaysia

Book a seat for extreme alfresco dining. Even if you’ve made it to the top of the sky-piercing KL Tower or braved the highlands cable car ride at the Awana SkyWay, your nerves will still flutter when the Dinner in the Sky opens in new window “restaurant” platform lifts off solid ground and rises 50 metres into the KL skyline – where you stay for three courses. There’s not even a pane of glass between you and the view. Watch the lights sparkle on Petronas Twin Towers and the city rush beneath your feet as dishes like slow-roasted cinnamon and ginger chicken melt in your mouth.

8. Paddle around World Heritage site Halong Bay, Vietnam

They say dragons spat out great chunks of jade and jewels that formed the mountain-islands of UNESCO World Heritage-listed Halong Bay opens in new window. The tropical holiday hotspot made up of 1600 islands and islets – some dotted with temples and dwellings and others completely uninhabited – still holds its mysteries. Hop on a boat tour that provides kayaks for nudging into secret stalactite-strung caverns and sand-beach lagoons. Pick a tour that takes you to Cat Ba (where rare langur monkeys frolic), Luon and Sung Sot Caves or reef-strewn Cong Do Island.

Ha Long Bay's many islands are full of secrets waiting to be uncovered
Ha Long Bay's many islands are full of secrets waiting to be uncovered.

9. Hit the high country of Queenstown, New Zealand

Calling all adrenaline junkies – ski through perfect powder in winter or try white-knuckle mountain biking in summer in the Central Otago mountains around Queenstown opens in new window. If you want to supercharge the adventure, reach backcountry peaks no chairlift can access with a heli-bike experience. “You get dropped off 1700 to 2000 metres up, enjoying magnificent views of the mountains on the way and a descent you’ll never forget,” says Henry van Asch, owner of HeliBike NZ opens in new window. His favourite route? The Nevis Double Down, which tops off a bike ride down two peaks – in the Doolans and Horn ranges – with an 8.5-second freefall jump off Nevis, the highest bungee in the country.

Heli Biking is the best way to avoid the long climb up Queenstown's mountain peaks.
Heli Biking is the best way to avoid the long climb up Queenstown's mountain peaks.

10. Shop at Bangkok’s famous floating market, Thailand

Thailand’s floating markets are so iconic that Bangkok’s Damnoen Saduak typically has more tourists than vendors. For a more authentic flavour, try local street food legend Chin Chongtong’s Countryside Cooking Class opens in new window tour, which takes you 80 kilometres south-west of the city to Samut Songkhram province’s floating markets. Shop the boats for som kaeo, a kind of sour-sweet orange, or chompoo apples that smell like flowers. Chin then teaches you to pound spices and make local specialties in her thatch and bamboo kitchen beside the canal. “I love to teach old dishes not many people cook anymore,” says Chin. She’ll even let you rifle through her recipe book.

Buying foodstuffs from the Damnoen Saduak floating markets is an authentically Thai experience.
Buying foodstuffs from the Damnoen Saduak floating markets is an authentically Thai experience.

11. Find mindful bliss in Bali, Indonesia

This island in the sun is the place to slow down and do a little soul-searching with everything from silent meditation sanctuaries to ashrams and glossy detox spas. For a more unusual restorative retreat that fuses ancient healing with wow-factor, Zen Resort opens in new window on the north coast runs a program mixing meditation, yoga and diving in a practice they call Zen Harmony Diving (ZHD). Yes, scuba meditation – wearing a full-face mask to optimise breathing. “It can be hard to focus when meditating on land but underwater, you’re in the mode – with deep, slow breathing and quiet focus with gentle movement,” explains the resort’s Dr Mahendra Shah. “Doing ZHD teaches you amazing techniques to take home.”

Wellness enthusiasts must try this underwater meditation class at the Zen Resort in Bali.
Wellness enthusiasts must try this underwater meditation class at the Zen Resort in Bali.

12. Chase the Southern Lights around Tasmania, Australia

You don’t have to go all the way to Norway to see an aurora. Australia’s own Aurora Australis beams spectacular emerald, chartreuse and red-purple light over Tassie opens in new window when the space weather is right. The elusive “lady” can appear in any season, though long, dark winter nights up your chances. Watchers update the Aurora Australis Tasmania Alert Now opens in new window Facebook group with real-time sightings, when celestial indexes, a low-light moon and clear skies align to create magic in the heavens. “Anywhere with a clear southward outlook is a good spot,” explains Margaret Sonnemann, author of The Aurora Chaser’s Handbook. Near Hobart, try Taroona Beach, Mount Wellington or Seven Mile Beach.

The Aurora Australis brings a vibrant light show to Tasmania's night sky.
The Aurora Australis brings a vibrant light show to Tasmania's night sky.

13. Soak in Rotorua’s prehistoric hot springs, New Zealand

Boiling mud volcanoes, sulphuric hot spring spas and waterfalls that steam at 40°C make Rotorua feel like the land before time. For over 700 years, Maori people have gone to Hell’s Gate opens in new window geothermal park to heal and relax. It’s still an ideal place to soak away aches after a bushwalk or a horseride through the redwoods of nearby Whakarewarewa Forest. At twilight, sink through swirling mist into soothing pools and feel aeons away.

14. Wake up on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Get the jump on daytrippers by sleeping out on Cruise Whitsundays’ pontoon opens in new window over marine life magnet Hardy Reef. You’ll be there when turtles nose up to nibble seaweed at dusk, when whale song pierces the starlit dark and, come morning, you’ll see fish close-up as they swim in the world’s biggest coral reef system. “The water’s often calmer – you get optimal snorkelling conditions,” says Master Reef Guide, Crystal Lacey.

Snorkel alongside colourful marine life in the world's largest reef system, the Great Barrier reef.
Snorkel alongside colourful marine life in the world's largest reef system, the Great Barrier reef.

15. Catch the cherry blossoms in Kyoto, Japan

Sakura season is the most beautiful time to see historic Kyoto opens in new window, as delicate pink-white petals dance in the breeze. The flowers give The Philosopher’s Walk, Heian Jingu Shrine and the ryokan-lined lanes of Gion a fairytale feel – but it’s fleeting. Timing hovers around April and shifts with nature’s whims. Tip: travel around the less expensive Osaka, stay tuned into the Sakura Navi app and hop on a bullet train to Kyoto (it takes just 15 minutes from Osaka) when the flowers pop.