Ten Destinations Off the Beaten Path in Asia

 

5. Busuanga, Philippines

[Also see our travel article “Busuanga Travel Guide“]

During World War II the island of Busuanga in the Philippines was occupied by Japanese forces. That is, until the American Navy did a bombing run and doomed a large number of Japanese vessels to an eternity under the sea. Today scuba divers come from around the world for the unique experience of scuba diving inside authentic and historic shipwrecks. When they’re not underwater, visitors to Busuanga will most likely be exploring the area’s tropical islands, beaches and lakes.

The easiest way to reach Busuanga is to take a propeller plane from Manila to the small, one-lane airstrip in the interior of the island. Outside of the aforementioned wreck-diving circle, Busuanga is very much off the usual Philippines tourism route.

A diver exploring a sunken World War II-era shipwreck off the coast of Busuanga.

A diver exploring a sunken World War II-era shipwreck off the coast of Busuanga.

4. Jiuzhaigou Valley, China

In the far north of China’s Sichuan province, the Jiuzhaigou Valley Nature Reserve is home to a forested landscape of alpine lakes and jagged peaks that reach a height of 15,000 feet. Inside its nearly 300-square-mile confines travelers can see a number of bird species and lucky travelers may even catch a glimpse of the park’s resident giant pandas.

To reach Jiuzhaigou travelers must first make their way to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, and embark upon an 8-hour drive through the rugged mountains. The payoffs are very much worth it, however, as the valley is off the radar of even most domestic tourists let alone foreign ones.

The impossibly blue waters of the lakes and the vibrant fall foliage are some of the main draws to the Jiuzhaigou Valley.

The impossibly blue waters of the lakes and the vibrant fall foliage are some of the main draws to the Jiuzhaigou Valley.

3. Sipadan, Malaysia

[Also see our travel article “Exploring the Islands of Malaysia“]

Sipadan is a small island that just so happens to lie at the center of the world’s most diverse marine habitat. Because of this, it’s no stretch to say that the island is the world’s best dive site. Literally thousands of different fish species can be found in its clear waters and other marine life include sea turtles and reef sharks. Only 120 divers are allowed to visit Sipadan each day, and because of this the site remains pristine.

Getting to Sipadan is no easy feat, as travelers must first fly into the city of Tawau from Kuala Lumpur or Kota Kinabalu and then bus it to Semporna (2 hours). The boat to Sipadan from Semporna is one hour, and the route is covered mostly by diving operators.

It's not unusual to see schools of barracudas that number in the thousands at Sipadan's Barracuda Point.

It’s not unusual to see schools of barracudas that number in the thousands at Sipadan’s Barracuda Point.

2. Gergeti Trinity Church, Georgia

[Also see our travel article “Ten Remote but Incredible Destinations“]

The Gergeti Trinity Church is a 14th century, relatively modest Orthodox church that has a spectacular cliffside setting high in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia. From the church a panoramic view of the mountain range unfolds, with clear views of the glacier on top of Mount Kazbegi, the small village of Stepantsminda, and of Russia in the distance. The only things that can’t be seen from the church are the tour buses, because there aren’t any.

To reach the church travelers must first make their way to Tbilisi, where they can hire an SUV for the ride to Stepantsminda, which is a four-hour drive north. Once at Stepantsminda all that’s left is the scenic two-hour hike up the mountain to the church.

A hiker makes his way up the snowy mountain to the Gergeti Trinity Church in the Republic of Georgia.

A hiker makes his way up the snowy mountain to the Gergeti Trinity Church in the Republic of Georgia.

1. Similan Islands, Thailand

[Also see our travel article “Liveaboard Experience: Exploring the Similan Islands“]

Forty miles off the west coast of Thailand, the Similan Islands are remote, beautiful and a lot of fun to visit. The island chain’s rocky islands are littered with white-sand beaches and tropical rainforest, while its coast is lined with coral reefs that offer some seriously epic scuba diving opportunities.

Pretty much the only way to reach the Similan Islands is on a liveaboard diving ship. Dive operators make the trip regularly from coastal destinations like Phuket and the journeys usually last for at least four days. The combination of money and time required to reach the islands serves to keep them free from mass tourism.

The white-sand beaches of the Similan Islands are beautiful enough to impress even the most experienced of travelers.

The white-sand beaches of the Similan Islands are beautiful enough to impress even the most experienced of travelers.

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