Many of your world traveling friends have been to Thailand, Hong Kong, and Japan (no, it’s not all capsule hotels, they reported). They’ve probably found some time to go to Shanghai, Beijing, and the Great Wall of China. The adventurous ones have been to India and Vietnam and perhaps lounged on the beaches of Bali and Boracay. What have these world travelers been missing, though?
Here are three overlooked travel destinations in Asia. These not-so-hidden gems are great vacation spots because they aren’t difficult to navigate, your money will go a long way, and you can find tourism infrastructure while still earning a few points in the friendly I’ve-been-there-and-you-haven’t travel competition.
1. Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Cambodia, in general, is a Southeast Asia travel destination on the rise. Travelers stayed away during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror, but the numbers are on the upswing in the years since. Cambodia’s most famous destination is surely Angkor Wat, along with the surrounding temples at Angkor, just a few miles from the center of Siem Reap.
The capital, Phnom Penh, is also a must-visit city. Perhaps less known is Cambodia’s developing beach at Sihanoukville, which is quickly becoming a go-to destination for vacationers, gap year travelers, backpackers, and anyone who would like to spend some time relaxing on the sand with 50-cent beers in hand. There is an airport at Sihanoukville with flights to and from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, but you can also take a simple, air-conditioned bus journey from Phnom Penh that takes under four hours and includes a convenient rest area stop.
Sihanoukville offers a range of hotels and hostels, a variety of cuisines, nightlife on the sand, boat trips to nearby islands, postcards, shops with personal hygiene necessities, and everything else you’ll need if you’d like to travel just a little way off the beaten path.
2. Busan, Korea
If you do know someone who’s been to Korea (and that someone is not a 1950s war veteran or a twenty-something English teaching veteran), chances are that your friend has been to Seoul. And – Seoul. Not getting out of the capital is a big mistake, though, because Korea has a cheap, easy, and convenient bus system as well as an extensive train system that includes high-speed rail. Consider flying into Busan, the second largest city, instead of Seoul.
Busan (formerly spelled Pusan) is on the coast and has all the usual Korean delights: food, mountains, karaoke rooms, and Buddhist temples. It also has Haeundae Beach, harbor cruises, an aquarium, a large fish market, one of the world’s largest department stores (along with plenty of other shopping spots), and no shortage of parks and streets that are worth strolling. Korea in general is an off-the-radar travel destination. It isn’t expensive, and it offers a lot of the things that travelers seek: spicy cuisine, vast amounts of hiking, a few beaches, a bit of skiing, history, temples, big cities, shopping, and the aforementioned karaoke. Oh, and there are signs in English everywhere you go. (How much this has to do with the large U.S. military presence in the country is beside the point for the moment – English signs are quite helpful for the novice traveler who can’t tell anyoung haseyo from kamsa hamnida.)
You could base your entire Korea trip out of Busan, including side trips to Jeju Island, Daegu, and major temples like Jijiksa or Haeinsa, and never even go all the way up to Seoul. However, you can also jump on the KTX, Korea’s high-speed rail, and be in Seoul in just three hours. Busan has a well regarded annual international film festival and a very popular team in Korea’s professional baseball league. Busan, anyone?
Macau is part of China – sort of. Like nearby Hong Kong, Macau is a Special Administrative Region, which means it has a separate legal and political system and a different currency, but it is still Chinese. In Macau, that Chinese comes with a little Portugese on the side, plus a whole lot of English, the lingua franca for travelers who have discovered this destination.
Are you looking for a place that feels like Asia but also has cathedral ruins? A place with cheap, unique culinary specialties, notably pork chop buns and Portugese egg tarts? A place with a strip of casinos to rival those in Las Vegas, including Sands, Venetian, Wynn, MGM Grand, and the big-name hotel chains? Look no further than Macau. It’s cheaper than Hong Kong, but it can be easily combined with your Hong Kong trip by way of a ferry or helicopter ride. Or, you can combine Macau or Hong Kong or both with a trip to Mainland China.
Guangzhou, one of the largest cities in China, is your in-between destination; it offers rail service to Hong Kong and Macau. Be aware, though, that you will need a multiple entry Chinese visa if you are planning to cross into China more than once from either Hong Kong or Macau, whereas travelers from many countries (including most developed countries) can enter Macau itself without a visa.
If you’re spinning that globe in search of a travel destination, or you would like to travel in Asia but aren’t sure where to begin (or continue), spend some time checking out Sihanoukville, Busan, and Macau.