Recently, a raft of idyllic and popular destinations across Asia have closed temporarily to visitors, to allow recovery from the damaging effects of mass tourism. Thailand‘s Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi, which shot to fame after starring in The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is currently off-limits until the end of September. Previously, Koh Khai Nok, Koh Khai Nui, and Koh Khai Nai closed to allow rejuvenation to their damaged reefs. In the Philippines, the busy island of Boracay is also off the tourist map until the end of October. It comes as little surprise then, that Lonely Planet’s recommendations for where to visit in Asia should feature more off-the-beaten track destinations.
Topping the list of this year’s Best in Asia is South Korea‘s second city Busan, swiftly followed by the curve-ball entry of Uzbekistan, a central Asian nation known for its Silk Road history, historic Islamic architecture and hopes for improving human rights records.
1.Busan, South Korea
A stunning confluence of scenery, culture and cuisine… Busan packs in an eclectic offering of activities to suit all travellers: hike hills to Buddhist temples, settle into sizzling hot springs and feast on seafood at the country’s largest fish market.
Uzbekistan’s dazzling Islamic architecture
Change is afoot in a country that has remained largely closed off to the wider world due to tight control following the end of the Soviet era. Uzbekistan has long held sway over travellers’ imaginations, with its dreamy, mosaic-clad mosques and Silk Road lore.
In 2017 the nation took huge strides in opening up to tourism, announcing visa-free and e-visa schemes, new air routes and extensions to its shiny high-speed rail line, making access to its arsenal of jewelled architecture and ancient cities easier.
Ho Chi Minh City at sunset
3. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The southern supercity of Ho Chi Minh City somehow keeps getting cooler. Aging apartment blocks are being colonised by vintage clothes stores and independent coffee shops, innovative breweries are fueling one of the best craft beer scenes in Southeast Asia, and eclectic venues are strengthening the local music scene.
The Western Ghats – which run south from Gujarat to Tamil Nadu – offer an atmospheric mirror to Shimla and Darjeeling, with added jungle appeal, coffee, tea and spice plantations, charmingly dated colonial outposts, thundering waterfalls, and a steam-powered mountain railway.
These rugged hills are Unesco listed as one of the top spots for biodiversity in the world, protecting the neelakurinji flower, which blooms only once every 12 years and will be painting the hills in purple livery from August to October 2018.
For most, Nagasaki is synonymous with the tragic atomic bombing of August 1945, but remarkably, the city has converted the catastrophe into a call for peace, exemplified by the tranquil Nagasaki Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb Museum.
However, Nagasaki’s identity transcends one violent act. Visit a new foreign-trade museum housed in Japan’s oldest church, or pass the verdant harbour towards the hiking routes that snake through the surrounding volcanic hills.
6. Chiang Mai, Thailand
This former capital of the Lanna Kingdom feels plucked from the pages of history, where visitors browse stalls of antique jewellery among archaic alleyways. Yet despite this, a young, creative population has taken up residency in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, bringing an exciting buzz.
Buddhist prayer flags in Lumbini
7. Lumbini, Nepal
Today, this central Nepalese city is on the ascendancy. A new international airport is under construction which will offer alternative routes into Nepal when it opens next year, and new temples are springing up. Despite these developments, the town’s cardinal draw will remain its tranquillity.
Arugam Bay on Sri Lanka’s east coast
8. Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka
Barefooted boarders sprawl outside vegan cafes, but if the turquoise swells can’t tug you in, Arugam has expanded its land offering, with beachside bars and makeshift music festivals; plus a handy proximity to Kumana National Park, home to leopards, elephants and crocodiles.
The 71m tall Giant Buddha (Dafo) in Leshan, Sichuan province
Gain perspective surveying the Le Shan Grand Buddha or climb Emei Shan to absolve a lifetime’s sins. There’s also the chance to spot the mushrooming of brewpubs and boutique hotels in cosmopolitan Chengdu. There’s also the region’s bold, spicy cuisine to explore.
Aside from laying eyes on the illustrious Komodo dragon, visitors to this cerulean-silhouetted archipelago can hike to hallowed viewpoints on Padar, sample laid-back beachside living on Kanawa and dive with a mind-boggling array of marine life in the reefs. It’s a nature enthusiast’s nirvana.
Adventure holidays to get the heart racing
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