Make 2018 your year of epic adventures. Check out these most overlooked destinations in Asia for unique travels
Millennials (myself included) may have a bad rep for everything from avocado toasts to deconstructed dishes, but this generation has changed the face of travel. Paris? Bali? New York? So been there, so done that. In the age of Instagram, authenticity (yes it’s ironic) is key to us experience-hungry folks. Ready for an adventure of a lifetime? Check out some of our top picks of unique destinations in Asia.
Mongolia is an adventurer’s dream. Its landscapes are unparalleled and breathtakingly diverse – they include snowy mountain peaks, the Gobi Desert (the fifth largest in the world), towering sand dunes, red canyons, vast steppes, nature reserves and sprawling grasslands where thousands and thousands of white gazelles roam. It’s also one of the few nomadic countries of the world, with a large population continuing to be pastoral herders. Venture into the wild on a horseback ride through valleys, camel rides through the desert, hike up the mountains and go on eye-opening visits to the monasteries. And here’s a little surprise shopping tip: while you’re there, pick up some of the most amazing, affordable cashmere.
Think Bali is the Island of the Gods? You ain’t seen nothing yet…like Sulawesi. Despite being one of the main islands of Indonesia, it’s quiet on the tourist front (and thank heavens for that). We could wax lyrical about its beauty, but the rough-and-raw isle is teeming with natural landscapes. In Tana Toraja, you’ll be greeted by emerald green rice paddies, rich tribal culture (see the unique death rituals including effigies and cave burials), spellbinding dive spots with diverse marine life in Bunaken and Togean Islands as well as volcanoes and lush rainforests.
Also referred to as East Timor, Timor-Leste is Asia’s newest country – it gained independence from Indonesia in 2002. Still untouched by the tourist hordes, the primarily Catholic and former Portuguese colony boasts incredible natural beauty, crystal clear waters teeming with marine life and tropical reefs as well as magnificent mountainous regions. Take your pick from varied itineraries which can include diving, hiking and cultural visits to traditional Bunak (an ethnic group living in the mountains) houses.
For a unique take on India, skip the busy main cities of Mumbai, Delhi and even Rajasthan and head to Ladakh. A favourite amongst trekking and mountaineering enthusiasts, the region located in Jammu and Kashmir is known for its barren landscapes and awe-inspiring jagged peaks. Visual marvels are aplenty here, with stunning lakes in assorted shades of green and blue nestled in the Himalayas. Buddhism is the way of life here, so expect to see many a monastery nestled deep in the mountains.
Koh Kood, Thailand
With its untamed forestry, untouched beaches and lively fishermen trade, Koh Kood is reminiscent of ancient Siam – a far cry from buzzy Phuket and even Krabi. The best part? It’s only an hour away from Bangkok. Book yourself a luxe stay as your anchor to explore the waterfalls and nature trails. Or better yet, do absolutely nothing but spend your days snoozing away on the beautiful beaches.
Cao Bằng, Vietnam
Located in the Northeast of Vietnam is the province of Cao Bằng, which offers the best of local culture and landscapes. Your adventure will not only take you to spectacular sights within the hidden trails – towering peaks and magnificent caves included – but also to remote villages of the hill tribes. A must stop-over on your trek is the picturesque Ban Gioc Waterfalls, which straddles the border between China and Vietnam, and the largest in Asia.
Republic of Uzbekistan
This often overlooked Central Asian gem has a fascinating past. Here you’ll find icons of the Silk Road in the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, with an arsenal of majestic medressas covered in spellbinding tilework, ancient palaces and mosques to delight even the most hardened of cynics. Beyond that, the city is also abundant in ruined forts, monasteries, and bazaars promising local crafts, embroideries and ikat silk.
The magical Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan isn’t for everyone – getting there is a journey and the airport landing is said to be one of the most hair-raising. But if you’re desperately in need of recharging your spiritual batteries with a side of adventure, keep reading. In a country without high rise buildings, busy roads and shopping malls (well, with the exception of one), the spiritually drained will be well sorted. Make a trek to the sacred temple of Tiger’s Nest (also known as Paro Taktsang) in the Paro Valley your priority – though strenuous, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the picturesque mountain scenery. Also make it a point to visit the grand dzongs littered across the country, and plan your schedule accordingly in time to experience the riotous, colourful festivals.
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