Best Alternative Destinations in Asia
Published on: September 5th, 2017
Last modified: July 27th, 2023
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...
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…
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.
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.
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…
...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.
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.
...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.
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.
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.
...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.
Colonial Capital Cities
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.
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.
...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.
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.