Alternative Asia: the hipster hotlist

They'll be all over your Facebook feed in a matter of months, so get in there first

Alternative Asia: the hipster hotlist Flickr: Gilad Rom
By Toby Skinner

Tenggol Island, Malaysia

Hot because…

Tioman, Redang and the Perhentians are just so ‘been there, done that’.

What’s it 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 does a three-day/two-night package that includes accommodation, six meals and five boat dives for £177. This Malay/Chinese-run place isn’t as slickly professional as some, but it’s hard to complain at the price.

Go

Malaysia Airlines flies to Kuantan from £656 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).

Bhutan

Hot because…

With flights now operating from Singapore, it's finally accessible.

What’s it like?

Bhutan is up there with the likes of North Korea (see below) 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’. The good news is that government carrier Drukair now flies direct from Singapore to Paroinwestern Bhutan. The bad news? Return flights will cost you dearly – and that’s before the now-infamous rule enforcing a minimum daily outlay of US$200/£128 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.

Go

The cheapest way to get there is via Delhi, from where Drukair offer return flights to Paro at around £471.

East Timor

Hot because…

Ten years after independence, it’s getting more stable – and because you get great diving and hiking thrown in.

What’s it 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.

Go

British Airways will fly you to Singapore from £689 return, where you can catch a flight to Dili for around £300 with Air Timor.

Ngapali, Myanmar

Hot because…

It’s the must-go destination in Asia’s most of-the-moment country.

What’s it 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 – 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 beach front villas starting at £160 a night.

Go

Again, the most efficient route is via Singapore. Jetstar flies from Changi to Yangon from £175 return. Air Mandalay flies from Yangon to Thandwe, four miles from Ngapali, from £121 return.

North Korea

Hot because…

With a new leader, and the Mass Games, it’s more interesting than ever.

What’s it 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 also start on August 2, and you can see the opening ceremony on a 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 (£1,112; see www.koryogroup.com). For more on North Korea, check out the country’s shiny new website, a surprisingly navigable guide to Juche ideology, Songun politics and much more.

Go

Air China flies direct from London to Beijing from £687 return. From there, Koryo Tours will sort out the rest.

Cambodia’s southern islands

Hot because…

The new Song Saa private island has shone a spotlight on Cambodia’s 60 or so southern islands.

What’s it 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 (£141; www.divecambodia.com). Or you could splash out a cool £1,022 a night and stay at the mega-exclusive Song Saa private island, already being talked up as one of the world’s top resorts.

Go

Malaysia Airlines flies to Phnom Penh via Kuala Lumpur, with return fares starting at £625.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Hot because…

It’s one of the best diving destinations in the world, set in a jaw-dropping archipelago straight from the pages of National Geographic magazine.

What’s it 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, and you’re best off seeing it from a liveaboard boat, which will cost you upwards of £189 a night – Raja Ampat Liveaboard have beautiful old schooners. It may be pricey, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Go

Singapore Airlines will take you to Manado, via Singapore for around £1,400 return. Lion Air flies to Sorong, where the liveaboard boats depart, from £25 return.

Palau, The Philippines

Hot because…

Swimming with millions of jellyfish that won’t sting you is one of the most wondrous experiences on the planet.

What’s it 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, will cost you £2,025.

Go

Korean Air flies from London to Koror via Seoul from £1,500 return.

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Comments

By karin - Jun 7 2013

Cool spots, but major error: Palau is definitely not the Philippines... but there are some amazing places in the Philippines that should be on this list too!

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