10 trends for travel to Asia in 2017
23rd August 2016 | by Gemma
From a newly discovered ancient wonder to brand new culture, the Selective Asia team predicts the most interesting Asia travel trends for 2017...
1: Turns out that Angkor Wat is the tip of a vast iceberg
Cambodia's popular temple complex is 'just' the core of a much, much larger settlement, recently revealed by archaeologists using LIDAR technology. The airborne, laser-wielding researchers saw an ancient city the size of Phnom Penh, hidden beneath forests around Angkor, and they're discovering similar sites across Cambodia. We anticipate a growing stream of intrepid travellers who want to explore them...
2: Gamification of cities
Games aren't just about escapism. Done right, they can deeply enhance real life. Augmented reality (AR) apps offer a fun, informative way to explore your destination. Up & coming products like PIVOT play geotagged audio tours, let you see how places used to look, highlight routes, and translate signs. Here at Selective Asia, we're developing our own treasure-hunt app, which we play-tested during our 10th birthday trip to Bangkok.
It proved the perfect motive to plunge into the public transport system, and approach local people without time to think about being shy. And if you're not ready for AR just yet, perhaps you'd enjoy sipping a cocktail whilst playing a few retro videogames in one of Tokyo's 8-bit bars...
3: In with the new...
A lot of tourism to Asia is focused on ancient splendour. Tours take in historic sites, grand religious monuments and Colonial architecture, while the old ways of life are held up as idyllic and interesting. We love Asia's ancient charms, but it's satisfying to see that contemporary culture is starting to get the attention it deserves, with new experiences such as the Bangkok street art tour, and our own Hanoi Old & New city tour (day 2, here).
A bright young cafe and arts culture is springing up across the region, and can be experienced in trendy spots like Siem Reap's Kandal Village district, Hanoi's Creative City, and Charoen Krung Road in Bangkok.
4: The grand refurbishment of Yangon
You may have seen news of Yangon's historic Strand Hotel getting a facelift, but that was just a paint-job compared to the much-needed conservation and restoration of the city's oldest buildings planned by the Yangon Heritage Trust. Several pilot projects have already taken place, and some of the less famous hotels, such as the newly renovated Hotel @ Yangon Heritage, are getting in on the act. We're looking forward to seeing such a beautiful city revitalized!
5: Eastwards, Indonesia
Bali remains Indonesia's stalwart tourist favourite, but if you fancy getting ahead of (and away from) the pack, we suggest you go east, along the archipelago to Komodo and Sumba, or up to the wild island of Sulawesi. Komodo National Park is famous for its giant lizards, and offers superb diving, especially from one of the region's beautiful traditional boats (eg the Plataran Felicia) which our Indonesia expert Karl has fallen in love with.
The photo above was taken earlier this year by Natasha, on Sumba, which lies east of Komodo. It's even further off the tourist trail, but you can find extremely luxurious accommodation there if you know where to look (hint: we do!). Kate recently returned from an expedition to visit the Toroja ethnic group on Sulawesi, which lies north of Komodo. She says it's 'not for the faint-hearted', due to local traditions such as animal-sacrifice, and the prominent display of recently mummified corpses, but it's going to be next on the list for clients who are thirsting for tribal adventure.
6: Trekking in Putao, northernmost Myanmar
Putao is a mountainous region in the Himalyan foothills, at the northernmost tip of Myanmar. It's extraordinarily beautiful, famous for its freely growing orchids and brilliant for trekking. The region is impractical to reach by road, and you need enough tourists to fill a plane to justify chartering one for the trip. But interest is growing, and access is improving, so we're really looking forward to sending clients there to enjoy some of the finest trekking in Asia.
7: Experiential travel
We called this one last year, and so far our prediction has proven spot on. We've seen significant growth in experiential and meaningful family travel, and expect to see the trend continue into 2017. Who wants to fly and flop when you can fly and witness Sri Lanka's Elephant Gathering, camp amongst Cambodia's ancient temples, hike up the infamous Anak Krakatau, or whizz through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City on a Vespa one evening, sampling streetfood as you go? Meaningful experiences let you and your kids taste local life, support local initiatives, immerse yourself in nature and delve into the ancient wonders of your destinations. We think this 'trend' makes travel what it should be, and hope it keeps running and running...
8: Exploring lesser-known Japan
Japan is most definitely not all about Tokyo and Kyoto. It's not even about cities. But Tokyo is nonetheless filled with Japanese people who have moved there from all over the country because, for decades now, it's been seen as the city of opportunity. The result is one gigantic metropolis, home to 27% of the country's population, and thousands of beautiful regional areas which aren't getting the attention that the better-travelled amongst you have long known they deserve.
Now, thankfully the secret is out, and things are starting to change. The Japanese government and national tourism organization are investing heavily in regional tourism, and the bullet train has extended to the islands of Hokkaido and Kyushu. Outsiders are growing more aware of the considerable delights of Japan's onsen culture, which involves heading out of town to bathe in natural volcanic hot springs, and feast on plenty of fresh local food.
The green island of Shikoku, which isn't yet on the bullet train network, can be reached by cycling along the Shimanami Kaido. This snaking route of flat roads and graceful bridges connects Honshu (the biggest island, where you'll find the Japanese cities you've heard of) with Shikoku, via six of the charming little islands that are clustered in Japan's Inland Sea.
9: Craft beer explosion
Asia has leapt aboard the craft beer wagon that you may have seen trundling through Europe in recent months, with hipster-friendly beer bars opening up in cities across the region. A trend that is close to many hearts in the Selective Asia office, the craft beer craze is rejuvenating a lot of little streetside bars, and it's always nice to have interesting places to go and sip a cold brew with the locals. As for where to start looking, try Ladprao, Thonglor and Sukhumvit in Bangkok, or in Tokyo, try Asakusa, and the ever-trendy Harajuku.
10. Trends we want to end
We've seen a few travel trends in recent years that we can't wait to see the back of, especially selfie sticks, and people taking nude selfies at sacred sites - not big, not funny, and puts backpackers and tourists in a bad light. And there are plenty of other culturally insensitive selfie scenarios - Angkor Wat recently banned selfies with monks at the temple there. Travel should be about looking outwards, not about vanity and posing for social media. If you love photography that much, try practising respectfully on the people and places you've come to visit...