With a near-endless variety of unique destinations, Asia has something to offer every type of traveller, from ski bunnies to surfer dudes and everyone in-between. But if you’re feeling a little like you’ve “been there, done that” when it comes to Asian travel, we’re here to turn your preconceptions upside down, with some destination inspiration that will reinvigorate your regional wanderlust.
Quick Getaway: Ishigaki & Okinawa, Japan
Sparkling blue seas, pristine white beaches, colourful coral reefs and exotic flora and fauna… But no, we aren’t talking about Bali or Boracay! In fact, some of Asia’s best and most beautiful beaches can be found in Japan – and with inexpensive direct flights from Hong Kong to Ishigaki and Okinawa, these blissful destinations are about to become your favourite new island playgrounds.
If you thought you knew Japan, think again – both islands have distinctive landscapes, cultures and cuisines that are all of their own. Ishigaki’s spectacular beaches are what wanderlust is made of; Kabira Bay, Sujuki Beach and Yonehara are favourites for a reason (the latter is particularly great for snorkelling), but get exploring and you might just discover a hidden gem or two. Okinawa’s offerings are just as dreamy, with gorgeous unspoilt beaches and a riot of tropical blooms flowering all-year round; it’s also home to the incredible Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, historic Shuri Castle and opportunities for further island-hopping adventures just a short boat ride away.
Island Bliss: Canggu, Bali, Indonesia
While the Indonesian island of Bali remains top of many visitors’ beach break lists, Seminyak and Nusa Dua are hardly considered “off the beaten track” these days. For a peaceful stay with a more authentic Balinese flavour, pack your sarong and sunglasses and head to sleepy Canggu.
Just twenty minutes outside of Seminyak, Canggu’s volcanic black sand beaches may not be as obviously Insta-worthy as its big sister’s, but they are every bit as pristine… and significantly more serene! Canggu’s coastline draws surfers from all over the world to catch the best of Bali’s breaks; back on dry land, you can saddle up and explore the lush tropical countryside on horseback. As evening beckons, grab sandy-toed sundowners at a chilled-out beach bar, followed by dinner at one of the village’s excellent restaurants. Wondering what to order? Take a look out to sea each morning and you’ll spot local fishermen on traditional outriggers bringing in the catch of the day. Seafood doesn’t come fresher than this.
Culture Vultures: Kathmandu, Nepal
So you’ve ticked off Myanmar’s temples and bathed in the Ganges at Varanasi: where next on your quest for an authentic cultural experience? Beautiful, scenic and endlessly rewarding, Nepal is a seasoned traveller’s dream destination – and with direct flights from Hong Kong taking just over four hours, immersing yourself in the country’s colourful culture really couldn’t be easier.
Capital Kathmandu is where it’s at, so pack your walking shoes to explore the countless temples, monasteries, museums and palaces dotted across this beguiling city nestled in the heart of the Himalayas. Head to Durbar Square, where you’ll find the Hanuman Dhoka, a breathtakingly beautiful complex of royal palaces, along with the Kumari Bahal, home to Kathmandu’s “living goddess. The stunning UNESCO World Heritage site Boudhanath Stupa is Nepal’s largest temple and its vast stature is simply awe-inspiring, whilst the narrow streets of Thamel are packed with independent shops and market stalls, making it a must-visit for Nepalese handicrafts to take back home.
Snow Bunnies: Pyeongchang, Korea
If you’ve already conquered the slopes in Niseko, how about hitting the piste over in Pyeongchang instead? As the host city of 2018’s Winter Olympics and home to Korea’s largest ski resort Yongpyong, you can be guaranteed this place knows a thing or two about the white stuff.
Located amidst the scenic peaks of the Baekdudaegan Mountains and an easy two-hour journey from Seoul airport, Yongpyong has slopes for all level of skier and snowboarder – including the exhilarating alpine courses set to see Olympic action come 2018. Ski season here runs from mid-November to early April, but if you get bored of carving up the powder, there’s also a breathtaking gondola tour over the mountains, golf courses, a water park, sledding, zip lining, a spa and even karaoke rooms… talk about an action-packed trip!
Family Fun: Penang, Malaysia and Sri Lanka
While Kota Kinabalu is an evergreen family destination that ticks plenty of convenience boxes, we think that Penang, with its winning combination of sun, sea, sand and city, and Sri Lanka, an island that’s made for adventuring, just about edge it when it comes to freshening up your family getaways.
Penang’s capital Georgetown is a fascinating colonial city that’s small enough for little legs to wander, and is crammed full of kid-friendly attractions too. Hit the well-kept beach at Batu Ferrenghi during the morning when it’s at its quietest, then head to the fun and informative Entopia butterfly farm nearby for an afternoon of insect-spotting. The views from Penang Hill are made all the more exciting by the ride up on the funicular railway, while a wander around the Botanical Gardens will bring you face-to-face with the native long-tailed macaques, dusky leaf monkeys and black squirrels that call the gardens home. Finally, don’t miss a trip to Kerachut Beach and Penang Turtle Sanctuary, where kids can learn more about these endangered creatures and the conservation work that is underway to preserve their native population.
Alternatively, if your kids are a little older (and, let’s be honest, harder to impress!), then Sri Lanka should definitely be on your radar. Those in search of a real-life Indiana Jones adventure will be fascinated by the ancient monument of Sigiriya, where a steep climb up sheer rock reveals the ruins of an ancient civilisation. Animal lovers will be captivated by the country’s national parks, teeming with rare wildlife including elephants, leopards and flamingos; wannabe surfers can catch some waves over on the east coast, while chilled out sunbathers will love the west coast’s unspoilt stretches of sand. Meanwhile, everyone will appreciate the cooler climes and old-fashioned adventure of a train trip deep into the tea plantations of Sri Lanka’s lush hill country.