So hot right now
Looking for hip destinations that will earn you serious traveller kudos? picks eight locales that are mostly neither cheap nor easy to get to – but are all free of the Koh Phangan backpacker crowd
Hot right now because It’s the new Himalayan destination, don’t you know?
What it’s like Bhutan is up there with the likes of North Korea and the Antarctic as one of those prized passport stamps – and instead of dictator-kitsch and sub-zero temperatures (in summer, at least), you get the world’s only Vajrayana Buddhist country, variously described as ‘the last Shangri-La’ or ‘what Tibet was meant to look like’. Return flights aren’t cheap – and that’s before the now-infamous rule enforcing a minimum daily outlay of US$200 when you’re there. Still, after the money’s been spent, you get to explore a beautiful country where GDP is less important than Gross National Happiness and where residents paint protective penises on their houses.
Get there Drukair (drukair.com.bt) flies to Paro from Bangkok from around $6,600 return.
Tenggol Island, Malaysia
Hot right now because Tioman, Redang and the Perhentians are just so ‘been there, lah’.
What it’s like Many divers say the stunning little island of Tenggol has the best diving off peninsular Malaysia, ranging from shallow coral fields to deep dives and wrecks. There’s not much to do on the island except dive and relax – but that’s part of its beauty. The spartan but clean Tenggol Island Beach Resort (pulatenggol.com) does a three-day/two-night package that includes accommodation, six meals and five boat dives for $2,170. This Malay/Chinese-run place isn’t as slickly professional as some but it’s hard to complain at the price.
Get there Malayasia Airlines (malaysiaairlines.com) flies to Kuantan from $5,444 return. From there, it’s a three-hour taxi ride to Kuala Dungun, where you can get a boat transfer to the island (included in dive packages).
Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Hot right now because It’s one of the best diving destinations in the world, set in a jaw-dropping archipelago straight from the pages ofNational Geographic magazine.
What it’s like Lots of places claim to have the world’s best diving but the 1,500 islands of Raja Ampat off Guinea can categorically claim to be the most biodiverse marine region on Earth. The bad news is the archipelago is tricky to get to. You’re best off seeing it from a liveaboard boat, which will cost you upwards of $2,350 a night – Raja Ampat Liveaboard (rajaampat.liveaboarddiving.net) has beautiful old schooners. It may be pricey, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Get there Garuda flies to Manado (via Jakarta) from $7,000. Lion Air (lionair.co.id) flies to Sorong, where the liveaboard boats depart, from $300 return.
Hot right now because 10 years after independence, it’s getting more stable – and because you get great diving and hiking thrown in.
What it’s like The East Timor passport stamp doesn’t come cheap. Once you get there, though, you’ll find a country where infrastructure is still recovering from the brutal civil war of 1999-2002 – but improving. The challenges of travelling here – bad roads, difficulties getting from A to B – are offset by friendly locals and world-class diving and hiking. There are great beaches and brilliant shore dives close to the rickety capital of Dili; more spectacular diving at Atauro Island; and coffee plantations and misty valleys on the way up to Mt Ramelau.
Get there Air Timor (air-timor.com) flights to Dili from Singapore from around $7,400 return.
Hot right now because It’s the must-go destination in Asia’s most of-the-moment country.
What it’s like While Myanmar is still best known for attractions such as Inle Lake and the temple city of Bagan, the beautiful beaches at Ngapali are threatening to become the next big thing. Close to the white-sand-and-fishing-boats resort of your dreams, it has charm to spare. The pick of the accommodation is the Amazing Ngapali Resort(amazingngapaliresort.com) – it may be immodestly named but its parade of wooden villas along a palm-fringed white sandy beach gets a whopping 138 ‘Excellent’ ratings out of 153 on TripAdvisor, with beachfront villas starting at $1,950.
Get there Air Asia flies to Rangoon via Bangkok from around $3,300. From Rangoon, Air Mandalay (airmandalay.com) will fly you to Thandwe, four miles from Ngapali, from around $1,470.
Hot right now because There’s a new leader and the Mass Games have begun. It’s more interesting than ever.
What it’s like North Korea has forever been the ultimate ‘weird’ travel destination. But while it’s still as jaw-dropping as ever to read The Pyongyang Times and bow in front of the waxy Kim Il-sung, there’s an added edge of interest after the accession of ‘The Great Successor’ Kim Jong-un. The famous Arirang Mass Games (huge regimented performances in unison – a sight to behold) also started on August 2 and go right into October. Check out the five-day tour from Koryo Tours that includes a trip to the historical city of Kaesong, near the border, and the factory town of Nampo ($13,200; see koryogroup.com). For more on North Korea, check out the country’s shiny new website, korea-dpr.com, a surprisingly navigable guide to Juche ideology, Songun politics and more.
Get there Multiple airlines, including Cathay Pacific, Shanghai Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines fly to Beijing. From there, Koryo Tours (koryogroup.com) will sort out the rest.
Cambodia’s southern islands
Hot right now because The new Song Saa private island has shone a spotlight on Cambodia’s 60 or so southern islands.
What it’s like Sihanoukville may be a bit of a dump – but it’s a great access point for a series of islands that snobby travellers like to say resemble Thailand 25 years ago. The pick of the bunch are the quiet diving paradises of Koh Tang and Koh Rong, which can be accessed via overnight liveaboard boats ($1,700; divecambodia.com). Or you could splash out a cool $12,360 a night and stay at the mega-exclusive Song Saa private island (songsaa.com), already being talked up as one of the world’s top resorts.
Get there Dragonair (dragonair.com) flies to Phnom Penh from $4,875 return. Buses to Sihanoukville take up to six hours and cost $30-$50, or private taxis (around three hours) cost around $500.
Hot right now because Swimming with millions of jellyfish that won’t sting you is one of the most wondrous experiences on the planet.
What it’s like With the world’s first shark sanctuary (you’ll be swimming with whale sharks) and the famous Jellyfish Lake, home to millions of serene golden jellyfish, this is another picture-perfect archipelago of almost impossible beauty that’s consistently ranked in the world’s top five dive spots. Like many places on this list, it’s neither cheap nor easy to get to – and you’ll again need to get yourself on a liveaboard boat, most of which are expensive. Seven days on the Ocean Hunter, for instance, (oceanhunter.com) sets you back $25,000.
Get there Philippine Airlines (philippineairlines.com) flies to Manila from $1,700 return; United Airlines (united.com) flies from Manila to Koror from $6,800 return.