Shelters from the storm: Asia’s best luxury boltholes

The pandemic may linger in the rear-view mirror, but an upsurge in interest in buying second homes means that Asia’s resort residences sector is thriving

Two years on from the first lockdowns, there is little indication of a defining rear-view mirror moment for the pandemic. In the near term, society will likely struggle to psychologically shake off the trauma. And the shackles of the ‘new normal’ will be hard to cut loose.

But for those with the means, second-home investments have proven an antidote to the impact the pandemic continues to have on society and wellbeing.

Unlike during the global financial crisis of 2008, there was no surge in distressed sales across second-home destinations. Quite the opposite: Almost 20 percent of respondents in Knight Frank’s 2021 Global Buyer Survey said they had moved since the start of the pandemic, while 33 percent said they were more likely to buy a second home soon.

“With the rise of remote working, second homes or ‘co-primaries’ are becoming a viable option for more buyers seeking a better work-life balance,” the report noted.

Low-interest rates on home loans, pandemic-era savings, and the trend for hybrid work have made it more feasible for people to live a dual lifestyle. That fundamental change in where and how people live is likely to revitalise second-home markets, which were once reliant on weekenders and seasonal visitors.

Expectations for such properties are inevitably increasing. With greater flexibility around remote working, owners are staying longer and many now view second-home properties as “co-primary” homes. So, there is a greater demand for restaurants, retail and other amenities that make urban living so appealing.

“From fast broadband to cinema rooms, gyms and A-grade technology, second homes now have a much longer wish list to fulfil,” Andrew Shirley, editor of Knight Frank’s annual Wealth Report, explains.

The last 12 months has also been a time in which the health benefits of rural and resort-style living were brought into sharper focus. Demand for homes in locations that offer wellness and wellbeing was already on the rise pre-pandemic, but the trend has been catapulted up ultra-high-net-worth individuals’ (UHNWI) agendas by the pandemic.

The 2021 Attitudes Survey conducted by Knight Frank for the Wealth Report, for instance, reveals that 26 percent of UHNWI plan to purchase a new home in 2021. Some 56 percent of respondents to the survey, meanwhile, said that clients are more likely to buy a property in a coastal or resort destination, and 47 percent in a rural location, because of the virus.

“The attraction of more space at often lower prices, at a time when people were less tethered to offices and schools, is perhaps not a surprise,” Shirley adds.

The story was different in Asia, where only 27% of those surveyed responded positively to the question. Still, the region remains a hotbed for branded residences and, increasingly, homes within integrated communities.

Recent research by hospitality consultancy firm C9 Hotelworks notes that pipeline projects in upscale segments are highly concentrated in Southeast Asia, which accounts for more than 90% of total pipeline stock. Nearly half of the upcoming supply is affiliated with luxury hotel brands.

Globally, Asia Pacific is second only to North America, the largest market by schemes until 2013, with 26% of the total supply of branded residences, according to Savills’ 2021 Branded Residence Spotlight report.

“While North America, the birthplace of branded residences, historically accounted for the majority of global supply, the sector has since diversified geographically,” says Paul Tostevin, director of world research at Savills. “Brands have spread rapidly into other global regions, particularly in Asia Pacific and the Middle East where economic growth and rising domestic wealth has supported expansion over the last decade.”

With demand for coastal, rural, and urban residences expected to continue through 2022 as other segments eye recovery, we round up some of the latest branded, integrated, and boutique resort-style properties from around the region.

Anantara Desaru Coast Residences

One of Malaysia’s most ambitious resort launches in recent years welcomed its first residents in 2020. The result of a joint venture between Minor International and local firm Themed Attractions Resorts & Hotels Sdn. Bhd (a subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional Bhd), Anantara Desaru Coast Residences is the first Malaysia-based investment by the Thai hospitality giant, placing Desaru Coast, in the southern state of Johor, firmly on the radar of both global tourists and affluent homeowners.

The exclusive 20-unit residential project, operated as part of the wider 123-key Anantara Desaru Resort & Villas, comprises three types of pool villas ranging from 3,100 to 6,426 sq ft. Aesthetics draw heavily from traditional kampong houses, designed to suit the tropical Malaysian climate with slanted carved wooden panels, louvres and vents under the roof, and French windows that offer natural airflow throughout the properties. The seamless indoor-outdoor living spaces feature floor-to-ceiling windows, open dining and lounge areas, and spacious pool decks. Each unit is surrounded by greenery for added privacy ANANTARA DESARU COAST RESIDENCESand comes with spacious en suite bedrooms, most boasting ocean, and lagoon views.

Residents, meanwhile, have access to the resort’s signature Anantara amenities, including a spa and well-appointed fitness centre that offers wellness fanatics and adrenaline junkies a welcome respite to relax or revive. Other attractions in the area include The Els Club Desaru Coast, home to two golf courses, and countless eateries, bars, and retail outlets along the coastline.

Intercontinental Halong Bay Resort & Residences

With its iconic limestone karsts, emerald waters, and 1,600-plus islands and islets, Halong Bay is easily one of Southeast Asia’s most striking—and recognisable—landscapes. And it’s against this ethereal backdrop that InterContinental Residences Halong Bay is taking shape.

Due to debut in early 2023, the 60 luxury residences run the gamut from one-bedroom apartments to 41 standalone villas. The property, situated at the bay’s gateway Bai Chay, is part of the larger 175-key InterContinental Halong Bay Resort project. Residents, therefore, have access to a host of immersive resort facilities, including the Spa Village Garden, a multi-purpose gym, Planet Trekkers children’s playground, five restaurants, two bars, and a large conference room. Ownership also comes with inclusion in the rental program, with apartments and villas available for third-party guests to book through IHG’s global channels.

Its headline attraction may be the 580-metre private coastline with postcard vistas of the bay. But the under-construction Halong Marina is bound to elevate the appeal of the global hospitality chain’s latest luxury residences in Vietnam. Upon completion, the development is slated to be Quang Ninh province’s tourism, financial, and commercial services hub, featuring upscale retail, leisure, and entertainment outlets. Further afield, Cat Ba and Ba Be national parks offer some of the country’s prettiest hiking trails, whilst golf enthusiasts can take advantage of the stunning links at both BRG Ruby Tree Golf Resort and FLC Ha Long Bay Golf Club & Luxury Resort.

More: 6 of Asia’s best resorts within mixed-use developments

Istani Villas

Hidden amidst the elevated greenery of Koh Samui’s Chaweng hills, Istani Villas strikes a slightly different tone to the resort island’s typical luxury accommodation. Sure, the exceptional sea views are there, as are the indoor-outdoor living concept—accentuated by full-length floor-to-ceiling windows—and custom wood fittings and cream furniture. Yet Idea Development opts instead for minimalist stone facades and flat-roof terraces across each of the four 500-square-metre properties in a style it dubs “new-age tropical Thai”.

The open-plan interiors incorporate generous living and dining spaces and a fully equipped kitchen divided by a breakfast bar, transitioning onto sleek terraces with infinity plunge pools. Each of the three bedrooms is en suite, outfitted with soaking tubs and rain showers with stunning sea views.

Remote as the villas feel, the usual upscale amenities are only moments away. Top restaurants, retail outlets, the airport, international schools, and ISTANI VILLAS hospitals are easily reached by car. Nearby Central Samui, the island outpost of one of Thailand’s leading shopping mall brands, ticks most retail and entertainment boxes. Meanwhile, culinary highlights in the area range from the hole-in-the-wall local fare to more refined beachside dining at the likes of Poppies and Samui Seafood Grill.

Seafront Residences

Luzon’s San Juan isn’t traditionally the first resort destination that comes to mind when second-home buyers eye the Philippines’ countless coasts. Often overshadowed by Boracay, Bohol, and Palawan, the sleepy municipality on the western shoreline of the archipelago nation’s largest island is better known for historical sites and religious attractions than its upscale investment opportunities. But Cebu-based boutique developer AboitizLand aims to transform the area’s appeal with the launch of its debut Luzon residential development Seafront Residences.

Located in Barangay Calubcub II, the ambitious 43-hectare beach community will comprise 800 residential units enveloping a new town centre and integrated green belts upon completion later this year. The brainchild of internationally renowned Filipino design firm Budji+Royal, Seafront Villas is a cluster of one- and two-bedroom beachfront condominiums—the latter with gardens—and three- and four-bedroom detached villas, some with views of Tayabas Bay and Mount Banahaw. The neighbourhood SEAFRONT RESIDENCESstructure is designed with pedestrian walkways that interconnect lifestyle amenities ranging from a beachfront clubhouse to swimming pools to a multi-purpose sports court.

In recent years, San Juan has become particularly popular with young people from Manila making the five-hour journey from the capital in search of sun, sea, sand, and some of the country’s best surf. Nature, meanwhile, extends beyond the waves to the hiking trails around Tangadan Falls in the neighbouring town of San Gabriel. Although retail, education, and healthcare offerings remain relatively limited in the nascent destination, upcoming development plans suggest this won’t remain the case for long.

More: 5 of the best resort style residences in Asia

Toba Lake Villas

Toba Lake Villas aims to transport the ambience and tranquillity associated with the namesake volcanic lake in the heart of Sumatra to urban East Jakarta. Set on the banks of a 15-hectare lake with sweeping landscaped vistas, the flagship luxury residential component of the master-planned ASYA community feels far removed from the notorious sprawl of the Indonesian capital.

Connectivity and convenience are key, however, to the popularity of this emerging locale, which is easily accessed from the Jakarta Inner Ring Road. The bustling Kelapa Gading and Jakarta Garden City townships are only moments away. Other doorstep amenities include AEON Mall and IKEA, a host of international schools, and world-class healthcare facilities. Closer to home, residents have access to two onsite clubhouses, complete with a top-of-the-range fitness centre, spa, sports courts, an infinity pool embedded into the bank of the lake, and acres of green space dedicated to cycling, jogging, and mindful pursuits such as yoga.

Each of the 94 four-storey properties capitalises on the immediate scenery with floor-to-ceiling windows and spacious balconies. Secluded gardens, meanwhile, enhance the privacy of the villas, which are accessible via smart digital door locks. The property also features an around-the-clock guarded-gated system for added security and peace of mind.

Canterbury Golf Villas

Cricket may well be a national obsession in Sri Lanka, but golf is increasingly finding a place in the affections of both locals and visitors on the “resplendent island”. One of the more recent additions to the burgeoning scene, the nine-hole course at Canterbury Golf Resort Apartments and Residencies functions predominantly as an attractive backdrop to what developer Homelands Skyline claims is the country’s largest residential project to date.

Located just 20 minutes from the capital city Colombo in Piliyandala–Kahathuduwa, the 30 landscaped acres will be home to 1,200 units upon completion in 2024. The latest phase, Canterbury Golf Villas, is undoubtedly the more eye-catching of the two residential components. Home to 163 two-storey pool villas across four distinct categories, the properties are designed with a contemporary nod towards the country’s colonial heritage buildings. Think sleek rows of monotone facades, equipped with slanted roofs, iron railings, and sun terraces. The interiors, meanwhile, are characterised by exposed beams, brick feature walls, and high-spec wood fittings throughout.

Amenities-wise, the golf course, pro shop, and training centre are inevitably the drawcards. But activities ranging from cycling to swimming to court sports, including basketball and tennis, are all catered for inside the gated community. Beyond the fairways, the bright lights of Colombo are within easy reach thanks to the property’s proximity to the main expressway.

The original version of this article appeared in Issue No. 170 of PropertyGuru Property Report Magazine. Write to our editors at [email protected].