"Perhaps, Sir, you will someday come back with books." The words were uttered in 1998 by the headmaster of a grade school in Bahundanda, Nepal -- that had a library, but no books -- to John Wood, a stressed out American senior executive at Microsoft, who was trekking the area's famed Annapurna Circuit.
It is difficult to separate the magic of the Mekong from the magic of Laos, the country through which it flows for much of its meandering route through Southeast Asia. Laos is beautiful, uncrowded and populated by some of the most gracious and gentle people I have ever met. Or maybe it's the river itself, surprisingly peaceful for one so large and significant.
Amantaka is a wonderful distillation of everything there is to love about Luang Prabang, especially the city's delectable atmosphere of monastic calm. Created from a former French colonial hospital, the low-rise 24-suite complex is located close to the Mekong and the Royal Palace and is fronted by an immaculate lawn dotted with flame trees.
While I won't divulge my truly favorite places -- lest they succumb to and suffer from either the so-called Woody Allen Effect or a dreaded Year in Provence-like backlash (aka Loving it to Death Syndrome) -- here are my seven somewhat off-the-radar secret destinations that I love visiting over and over again: