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Off the beaten path: Asia's best alternative destinations

Written by
Rachel O'Leary, Keith Jarman, Sarah Kounnou, Kit Wong, Riki Ueda & Jess Tang

Asia is a stunning and endlessly popular destination for travellers from around the world. Some of its most exciting destinations are lesser known and truly off the beaten track.

Our offices on the ground in Hong Kong mean that our experts have their fingers right on the pulse when it comes to Asia.

Maybe you've been to all the classic destinations and you want to spice things up a little bit. Maybe you want to get to that offbeat, hidden-gem location before everyone finds out about it and it's all over your Instagram feed. Or maybe you just want a quieter holiday away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist trail.

Our tailored list of the best alternative destinations in Asia is sure to tick your boxes and make you the envy of your friends and family.

Instead of Bali
Travel to Sumba
Instead of Phuket
Travel to Koh Yao Noi
Instead of Nepal
Trek the Indian Himalayas
beach-nihwatu-sumba-island

Indonesia

Instead of Bali...

There’s no denying that Bali is one of the most beautiful and culturally rich islands in Indonesia. However, its worldwide fame and popularity can mean packed beaches, stressful crowds and the very opposite to the relaxing vacation you had in mind. For low-key, unspoiled and luxurious alternatives…

Bali Water Temple - Tanah Lot

...try Java...

A land of legend and beauty, Java boasts 121 active volcanoes and 12 national parks, ranging from rainforest to grassy savannah and idyllic coral islands. It is culturally vibrant, the Dutch colonial streets of Malang city contrasting with the spiritual magic of the 9th century Buddhist temple of Borobudur – for an extra private experience, we can even arrange pre-dawn entry to the temple for a sunrise you will never forget.

Borobudur, Java, Indonesia

...or Sumba

Just an hour from Bali and twice the size, Sumba’s landscape and culture remain virtually untouched, its rainforest, terraced rice paddies and shining white beaches populated predominantly by villagers who continue to follow the ancient traditions of their ancestors. Whether you’re relaxing on the beach, immersing yourself in island culture, trekking through the jungle, swimming in cool waterfall pools or exploring the private coves and vibrant reefs, Sumba is an unparalleled island paradise.

nihi-sumba-island-indonesia
Phi Phi Island Thailand

Thailand

Instead of Phuket...

Known as the “Pearl of the Andaman” for its long sandy beaches and spectacular island hopping, Phuket can be a tourist honeytrap and, as such, puts off those in search of a calmer experience. Luckily, you’ll find exactly that just a stone’s throw away…

Limestone Islands Phuket

...try Koh Yao Noi

Koh Yao Noi is said to be one of the last unspoiled islands in the south of Thailand, and you’ll find it just a one-hour boat ride away from Phuket. Rimmed with peaceful, secluded beaches and picturesque rice paddies, its verdant rubber plantations and mangroves replace the grating nightlife and hectic shopping scene to be found elsewhere.

hammock-beach-koh-yao-noi-thailand
shepherds hut himalayas

The Himalayas

Instead of the Nepalese Himalayas...

It’s no surprise that Nepal’s breathtaking mountain range, home to eight of the world’s ten highest peaks as well as a wealth of cultural and spiritual gems, is an immensely popular destination. But what you might not know is that you can experience similar highs just round the corner in the lesser known Indian Himalayas.

Mount Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse from Renjo La

...try the Kumaon Region...

Bordered by Tibet to the north and Nepal to the east, the Kumaon Region is little known but features the same magnificent snowy Himalayan peaks as you’ll find on the Nepalese side, with magnificent glaciers melting into rivers and streams, where flower-strewn valleys and pretty terraced fields are sprinkled with remote villages and herders grazing their sheep and goats.

Kumaon Region Indian Himalayas

...or Ladakh

Another of India’s most remote and sparsely populated areas is Ladakh, often referred to as Little Tibet with its soaring snowy peaks, sweeping valleys, vast plains and bright blue lakes. Framed by the Himalayas to the south and the Karakoram to the north, it is one of the last reserves of Mahayana Buddhism, with monasteries and whitewashed stupas peppering its rugged cliffs and prayer flags strung across its paths.

ladakh-india-landscape-and-river
taj-mahal-sunset-agra-india

India

Instead of Ranthambore...

Ranthambore National Park is perhaps the most famous place to spot wild tigers in India, and with good reason. However, if you want a more exclusive, magical encounter with these majestic beasts, you might want to venture towards a lesser known location.

tiger-bandhavgarh-india

...try Bandhavgarh

History and wildlife are at their best in this lesser known national park, thought to be home to the highest density of Bengal tigers in the country. What’s more, in this incredibly biodiverse region you can also find leopards, sloth bears, dholes, the four-horned chousinga, immense Indian bison, spotted deer, nilgai and even the occasional Indian wolf. Alongside this wealth of wildlife, the park is the site of incredible cave paintings and an ancient ruined fort dating back an estimated 2000 years.

bandhavgarh-national-park-india
cherry-blossom-castle-japan

Japan

Instead of Hakone...

This stunning national park, just 100km from Tokyo and overlooked by the formidable Mount Fuji, is famous for its therapeutic hot springs. However, there are other more exclusive options for a mind-soothing therapeutic break in Japan.

Lake Ashinoko, Hakone, Japan

...try Kaga Onsen

Yamashiro and Yamanaka on the Kaga Onsen circuit are said to have been discovered by the influential Buddhist priest Gyoki over a thousand years ago, and people in search of a calmer body and mind have been coming to these celebrated hot spring resorts ever since. With the traditional red latticework houses and rich heritage of craftsmanship in the area, you’ll find yourself transported back in time.

view of Mandalay from the top of Mandalay Hill,Myanmar

Myanmar

Instead of Bagan...

After years of being cut off from international tourism, Myanmar (formerly Burma) is back on the map and one of the hottest destinations of the moment. But with travellers flocking to see the temple-strewn landscape of Bagan or the tranquil shores of Inle Lake, many are missing out on the lesser known beach paradise in the south of the country.

bagan-pagoda-sunset

...try Ngapali

An unspoiled beach retreat like nothing you’ve ever seen, this stretch of paradise is so far free from the noisy resorts and bars that arguably spoil many of South East Asia’s better known beaches. Sleepy seaside villages, traditional fishing boats, shining white sands and turquoise waters lined with palm trees all combine to make this a real hidden gem worth catching before the rest of the world catches on.

Ngapali--Amara-Ocean-Resort
ho-chi-minh-city-hall

Colonial Capital Cities

Instead of Hanoi...

With its charming French colonial quarter, ancient temples, picturesque pagodas and winding lanes, Hanoi is a continuously buzzing and fascinating destination at the heart of Vietnam. However, its sheer popularity can make all this hustle and bustle overwhelming.

hanoi-flower-bike-vietnam

...try Vientiane

Although it sports the same well-preserved colonial architecture, lovely Buddhist temples and thriving cultural scene as Hanoi, the laidback, sleepy atmosphere of Laos‘ Vientiane couldn’t be more of a contrast to the fast pace of life in its more famous sister town. It has resisted modernisation long enough to retain its lovely wide boulevards and lack of traffic, alongside the scenic, uncrowded temple complex of Ho Phra Keo and authentic street stalls selling handicrafts, clothes and other knick-knacks.

victory-monument-Vientiane-laos
Lamai Beach Koh Samui, Thailand

Perfect beaches

Instead of Koh Samui...

With it’s abundance of picturesque beaches and glamorous hotels, many people flock to Koh Samui when they’re in search of an easy beach break. But search a little further afield and you can find a much more exclusive experience.

Hamock Koh Samui Thailand

...try Song Saa

Two private islands connected by a simple foot bridge, the Cambodian islands of Song Saa are virtually untouched despite lying only a 45-minute ride away from popular Sihanoukville. With their pristine white beaches and clear, azure waters, these islands are the ultimate secluded paradise.

song-saa-yoga-cambodia
Kyoto Sunset Japan

Urban culture

Instead of Kyoto...

Kyoto is a prime destination for those in search of a melting pot of culture, imperial beauty, tradition and history. However, due to its popularity it can get crowded in peak season, which may not make for the most relaxing way to enjoy its cultural smorgasbord.

Kyoto Autumn Leaves

...try Kuching

If you’re after the same magic combination without the crowds, head for Malaysia. Borneo‘s prettiest and most historic city, Kuching is a lovely historic town with a scenic waterfront, lively markets, fascinating museums and a rich, diverse culture and history.

Kuching Waterfront Borneo

Feeling inspired? Talk to one of our experts today and start creating your unique off-the-beaten-track trip to Asia.

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