Uninhabited beaches, prison islands and foodie adventures: Let discover what they are with the Lonely Planet’s top Southeast Asia destinations
You may have ballooned over Bagan, learned the secrets of Thai massage and eaten more pho than you can shake a chopstick at. But don’t tick Southeast Asia off the bucket list just yet, because according to Lonely Planet’s pick of the best places to visit in Southeast Asia over the next year, there are plenty of spots still waiting to be discovered.
The 2016 round-up, says Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia Pacific spokesperson Chris Zeiher, “is a varied hit list of classic destinations offering a fresh twist for travellers, regions packed full of action and edge-of-the-map places you’ve probably never heard of.” So whether it’s visiting the “centre of the universe” in Shanghai, or skiing on Hokkaido’s “perfect powder snow”, you’re sure to find some inspiration for your next Asian adventure. The best bit? Most of them are just a short flight from Yangon.
- Con Dao Islands, Vietnam
During the French colonial era, the Con Dao Islands served as a penal colony for political prisoners and, later, for opponents of the Saigon regime who were kept in cells known as the “tiger cages”. Despite its ugly history, times have changed for the 16-island archipelago, and it now ranks among Asia’s hottest travel destinations.
Besides their interesting history, the Con Dao Islands are also a site of immense natural beauty, with forested hills, deserted sandy beaches and coral reefs that offer Vietnam’s best diving. The old prison buildings are still standing and are open to the public as is a small museum tracing the island’s history.
Only 45 minutes by plane from Ho Chi Minh City, “there is no better place right now to feast on fresh seafood, explore in search of a perfect beach and revel in a castaway vibe,” says Lonely Planet.
- Pemuteran, Indonesia
A small laid-back village near Menjangan Island in Bali’s far northwest corner, Pemuteran has become increasingly popular with visitors in recent years thanks to its kaleidoscope of coloured corals, which have earned it a reputation as a world-class diving site.
“This undersea wonderland is the prime – but far from the only – reason to stay in Pemuteran,” says Lonely Planet. “Emerald-green rice terraces line the road en route from the bustling south of the island to everybody’s next discovery … but don’t wait until everybody arrives; catch the buzz now from this alluring mix of art-filled resorts, inventive new restaurants and the mellowest vibe around.”
- Ipoh, Malaysia
As the centre of the world’s tin industry, Ipoh used to be one of the most important cities in the world. Nowadays, it is quickly developing into a tourist destination and food capital of Malaysia thanks to a host of boutique cafes that have sprung up in its historic quarter.
“Art-cafes like Roquette, Burps & Giggles and Everyday Lifeshop have appeared, among creaky kedai kopi (coffee shops) and elegant colonial buildings. But food pilgrims still clamour for Ipoh’s old favourites: Lou Wong’s chicken with crisp beansprouts, and tau fu fah (tofu pudding) at Funny Mountain,” says Lonely Planet.
But there’s more to Ipoh than its food: Discover wild nature escapes in Kinta Nature Park, go whitewater rafting near Gopeng, and explore clifftop temples and the fragrant Gaharu Tea Valley. There are rumours that the state of Perak is trying to get Ipoh listed as a World Heritage Site, so get here soon to see it without the crowds.
- Trang Islands, Thailand
For travel-junkies living in Myanmar, Thailand isn’t exactly the final frontier in Asian travel. But if you’ve been put off by the hordes of gap-year students, full-moon party goers and sex tourists, the Trang Islands are a good reason to give Thailand another go.
“Thailand’s Trang Islands pack the same knockout punch as their more famous Andaman Coast neighbours, Phuket, Ko Phi-Phi and Ko Lanta; all they lack are the crowds,” the Lonely Planet writers say. “Blonde beaches glisten amid shards of jungle-topped karst; beachfront bungalows line crescents of squeaky sand; rainbows of fish flit through the aquamarine sea.Throw in ever-improving transport links and a sprinkling of development, and Trang’s laid-back isles look as irresistible as a steaming plate of pad thai.”
With caves, coral reefs, rice fields, and the opportunity to spot endangered dugong off mangrove-wrapped Ko Libong, visitors to the Trang Islands may find themselves staying longer than they intended. But get there quickly – this is Thailand, after all.