As part of our Destinations to Watch series, all week we’ll be profiling noteworthy destinations to keep on your radar this year. Whether it’s a hot emerging destination or an established location that’s been given new life, keep your eye on these places this year. We’ve taken a look at cruise ports and places in Central and South America to keep in mind; today, we turn our eyes to Asia.
Sri Lanka: Both Elizabeth Gordon, co-founder and CEO of Extraordinary Journeys, and Catherine Heald, co-founder and CEO of Remote Lands, told us they are booking plenty of trips to the Indian Ocean island. Since the island’s civil war ended in 2009, it’s slowly been gaining popularity and it seems that 2018 will be a big year for the island. A few things that Travel Agent loves about the island are its beaches, its spicy cuisine (a blend of Indian and Southeast Asian), its ancient Buddhist temples and its safari-ready national parks filled with elephants and leopards. There are also eight UNESCO sites on the island.
Virtuoso listed Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort, located on the very southern tip of the island, as a top choice for adventure-seeking travelers, whether it’s for extreme nature emersion or “soft adventure.” At the hotel, guests can discover the area by bicycle, go whale watching and explore national parks. Travelers might also consider the Chena Huts by Uga Escapes, a luxury camp outside Yala National Park.
We haven’t even mentioned the beaches yet—perhaps one of the best reasons to visit. Couples should consider the island for a destination wedding, honeymoon or any other romantic vacation. The beaches aren’t filled with tourists and the white sand is the perfect location for an extravagant wedding or some time alone. And for those that surf: the waves are pretty good, too.
South Korea: Two words why South Korea will be a huge attraction this year: Winter Olympics. Held this February 9 through 25 in the Pyeongchang County, 90 nations will be participating in over 100 events. Tickets are still on sale for a variety of events, ranging in price from $17 upwards of $775. Plenty of visitors are expected to be in the area for the games but it could just as well jump start the destination as a top travel spot for 2018.
Throughout South Korea, travelers will find a blend of antiquity and modernism, much as they would with China or Japan. Seoul, the capital, has a population that is larger than New York City. Shoppers will be delighted to visit Meyong-dong, which is filled with high-end designer products. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a futuristic-looking urban development that serves as a venue for art exhibitions, design shows, festivals and more. For travelers looking to pass on the Olympics, Travel Agent suggests visiting in spring, when you can experience the Yeongdeungpo Yeouido Spring Flower Festival, a seven-day event.
South Korea’s second-largest city, Busan, is a great place to visit for its hot springs, beaches, hiking trails and nature reserves. Culture buffs will also enjoy its museums, temples and various historic sites. If you visit, make sure to save time for the Gamcheon Culture Village, a bright neighborhood with colorful houses, painted murals, shops and cafes.
The “Stans”: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan should definitely be on your radar, especially if you’ve visited the other top Asian destinations. These five Central Asian countries have histories dating back thousands of years, including time as a major network within the Silk Road. In the countries, adventurous travelers will find lush river valleys and snow-capped peaks. However, the altitude (as high as 15,000 feet) and weather (below 0 in winter) can prove to be brutal. Although if you’re traveling to one of the region's hot springs, the difficulty in getting there may only make the prize that much more enjoyable.
Some destinations to consider hiking, camping or road tripping to are: Altyn-Emel, a natural complex that includes archaeological, historical and cultural monuments in Kazakhstan; Khiva, Samarkand and Bukhara for their murals, mosaics, ceramics, needlework, silk cloth and miniaturist paintings in Uzbekistan; the Pamir Mountains, home to crystal-clear lakes, skiing and glacier trekking, in Tajikistan; and Turkmenistan’s Kow Ata Underground Lake. Located an hour from Ashgabad, it is a natural pool 65 feet deep in a cave. Another spot to check out is Kyrgizstan's Issyk Kul Lake. Meaning “hot lake,” it doesn’t freeze because of its salt and mineral content, and it is the world’s second-largest mountain lake.
The region is also seeing the opening of several luxury properties for those who aren’t as fond of roughing it. The St. Regis Astana, located in Kazakhstan’s capital, debuted in September. In Tashkent, Uzbekistan, a Hyatt Regency caters to both leisure and business travelers. Of the five countries, these two have the best infrastructure and top hotels; however, it shouldn’t be long before the other three catch up. Anyone looking for incredible landscapes, plenty of history and, oh, the whole place to yourself should be booking their airline tickets ASAP. Due to the language, culture and literal barriers (at borders), it may be best to opt for a guide rather than FIT.