What better way to begin the year than with a list of new horizons to chase. If you, like us, are hungry to fill the next twelve months with enlightening cultural experiences and spectacular sights, you’ll be keen to start plotting your travel chart for 2015 pretty soon.
Drawing on the insider knowledge of our Travel Specialists, we’ve compiled a shortlist of emerging destinations around the Asia region that can get your on your way. Listed in no particular order, here are the places we personally vouch for – corners of the Earth where you can find that magical blend of beauty, charm and authentic cultural experiences. How many will you make it to this year?
This hauntingly beautiful mountain region in Wakayama Prefecture is steeped in Japanese history. A monastic center for Shingon Buddhists, the area’s innate spirituality is part of its appeal – not just its temples and Zen gardens, but its serene valley forests and towering peaks. Koyasan is a popular place for pilgrimage, and fascinating for history buffs, having been founded in the 9th century. Stay overnight in temple lodging, marvel at the views on the scenic railway and enjoy healthy Buddhist shojin ryori cuisine as part of your Koyasan visit. Also this year the town will hold multiple celebrations and ceremonies, to commemorate its 1200 birthday.
Champasak, 4 000 islands, Laos
You probably wouldn’t expect to find 4,000 islands in a landlocked country, but Laos is ever full of surprises. Pakse, in Southern Laos, is already quite established on the young traveller scene, but travel a little farther south into Champasak Province and you’ll find some real hidden gems. Laos is already quite a laidback, serene country, but in the 4,000 islands region you’ll truly find peace. The waters of the Mekong and their countless islets are inhabited by fishing villages, still blissfully undeveloped, with no cars and only limited electricity. The region is growing in popularity due to this slow pace and at it’s perfect for thrill seekers as it’s now possible to do a zip-lining adventure over steep gorges and waterfalls before spending a night in truly unique tree-house. For those who prefer a slightly slower pace, check out La Folie on Don Daeng Island, a luxury lodge situated on Rive beach which can extend up to as much as 800 m wide in the dry season.
Banteay Chhmar Village and Temple, Cambodia
You’ve may have visited Angkor Wat and splashed around in Kep, but have you heard of Banteay Chhmar? Located around 100km outside of Siem Reap, close to the Thai border, this commune of 14 villages’ harbors a spectacular secret: the Banteay Chhmar Temple. A temple that rivals any at Angkor, it was built during the reign of Jayavarman VII in the late 12th to early 13th century abd features elaborate bas reliefs of military encounters. Its size and structure and have earned it comparisons with Angkor Thom, a temple ruin similarly being reclaimed by the jungle.
Bai Tu Long Bay, Vietnam
Vietnam remains on our radar for trending travel. This year we predict will be Bai Tu Long Bay’s time to shine, with its clear emerald waters, limestone karst formations and numerous rocky islands. As part of the Halong Bay World Heritage Site, it shares much the same features of its famous neighbor, only with fewer tourists. You can explore the bay on a traditional junk, snorkel its coral reefs and explore its rainforests. For the most picturesque method of arrival, why not arrive by taking the new seaplane service from Hanoi? This new service is sure to draw the more luxury traveller to this stunning part of the world.
Sumba Island, Indonesia
Indonesia is another country with a limitless supply of ‘undiscovered’ beauty. Recently the Island of Sumba has risen to prominence thanks to a greater amount of flights from Bali – and the culture here is completely unique from that of the rest of the archipelago. Sumba is one of the only known places left in the world where the animist religion Marapu is still practised. The results of this are huge stone altars placed over tombs, legacies of the megalithic culture still alive on the island today. It’s a fascinating glimpse into an ancient way of life, though this picturesque island still offers plenty of modernity and is in fact an emerging surf destination as travellers look for new options away from Bali. For accommodation on Sumba Island, we recommend the Mario Hotel combine laidback style with an idyllic beach location.
Gangtey Valley, Bhutan
There has been a buzz about Bhutan ever since the kingdom relaxed its tourism laws, and 2015 is set to be the best year yet, marking the 60th birthday of former king Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Officially ‘Visit Bhutan’ year, there’ll be more festivals and celebrations nationwide, including a special birthday festival for the king Jigme.
There are so many destinations in Bhutan deserving of a hotlist place, but this year we wanted to highlight the spectacular Gangtey Valley. Home to the 16th Century Gangtey Gompa Monastery, which having undergone an 8-year renovation, stands as a testament to Tibetan architecture, with well-preserved structures, paintings and intricate carvings.
The area is also known for its black necked cranes and every year in November the ‘Crane Festival’ takes place at the Monastery, welcoming the black-necked cranes of Tibet as religious blessings. Where to stay? Without doubt the Gangtey Goenpa Lodge is that place with its beautiful Bhutanese architecture, chic rustic interiors and stand-alone tubs that offer panoramic views over the valley.
Northern Shan State, Myanmar
Myanmar keeps delivering. For the traveler who loves to explore off the beaten track, it’s a destination that has preserved its authenticity and its warmth no matter where you go. Its northern Shan State is our hot tip for 2015. The ex-colonial outpost of Pyin Oo Lwin is particularly charming with its cooler climate and English-style gardens, and the train ride to get there from Hsipaw is sure to thrill even the most enthusiastic train trip lover. As Hsipaw develops into one of the country’s prime trekking locations, you’ll find an increase in upscale boutique stays – the Riverside @Hsipaw Resort is just one example, offering modern accommodation with a charming traditional aesthetic.
Travel up into northern Thailand and on the border with Laos you’ll find the picturesque Nan Province. Every year during ‘winter’ (November to March), local Thai tourists visit from the lowlands to enjoy the frosty weather. Nan is replete with natural beauty quite different from the stereotypical island image Thailand has become known for. In Nan it’s all about mountains, lush rainforest, national parkland and remote villages, and a heritage that belongs to the old Lanna city-state, predating Siam. There are several examples of traditional Lanna architecture here, plus little-known museums and temples. Nan makes a fantastic diversion if you’re in neighboring Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, plus new flight routes from Bangkok and an expanding list of gorgeous boutique hotels make this an ideal destination for those looking for a different take on ‘The Land of Smiles’.
If you’d like to know more about our tips for travel to these special destinations in Asia, then get in touch with our expert Travel Specialists who will be delighted to offer their own insider advice.