Global travel authority Lonely Planet revealed its 2017 Best in Asia list – an agenda-setting collection of the continent’s 10 best destinations to visit in the year ahead.
For this second-annual Best in Asia list, Lonely Planet’s in-house Asia experts have named “blissfully well-connected” yet “underrated and relatively crowd-free” Gansu, China as the number-one destination; while the urban scene South of Tokyo, Japan is in second place; and Northern Kerala, India, “emerging slowly like a butterfly from a chrysalis”, comes in at number three.
“Asia is such a vast and diverse continent for anyone dreaming of an escape,” Lonely Planet’s Asia-Pacific Media Spokesperson Chris Zeiher says. “Our experts have combed through thousands of recommendations to pick the best destinations to visit over the next 12 months.”
“From Astana in Kazakhstan, to Xi’an in China,” Chris says, “this is a line-up to inspire a multitude of travellers – whether they’re based in Asia, or maybe they’ve already visited some of the region’s heavy-hitting destinations.”
Lonely Planet’s Best in Asia 2017 is available online, with accompanying articles to each destination, at lonelyplanet.com/best-in-asia.
1. Gansu, China
Blissfully well-connected thanks to high-speed rail services and upgraded highways, and a new metro will ease traffic in provincial capital, Lanzhou, when it opens this year. Gansu’s crown jewel and world-class Buddhist art site, the Mogao Grottoes, received a huge upgrade in 2015, but – just like the entire region – remains underrated and relatively crowd-free.
2. South of Tokyo, Japan
With Japan currently on many travellers’ bucket lists, two cities south of Tokyo are well worth making time for. Yokohama is just a 20-minute train journey from the capital and packs considerable appeal with its bayside location, eclectic architecture, microbreweries and tasty cuisine. Less than an hour from Tokyo, classy seaside town Kamakura is known for its surfing scene, but also offers a tempting selection of relaxed cafes and restaurants.
3. Northern Kerala, India
Northern Kerala has long been the underrated half of the state, concealing its backwater charms and emerging slowly like a butterfly from a chrysalis. 2017 marks India’s 70th year of independence and the opening of a new international airport in Kannur – Kerala’s largest – which will provide an easy introduction to the north. The beaches around Kannur, Thottada and Bekal are pristine.
4. Keong Saik Road, Singapore
Once a crime-riddled red-light district, Keong Saik Road has reinvented itself to become the poster-child for hip “New Singapore”. Behind the beautiful colonial and art-deco buildings you’ll discover the best of Singapore’s famed dining scene—fabulous rooftop views and super-slick cocktail bars draw a trendy crowd, and you can sleep it all off in a boutique hotel room.
5. Astana, Kazakhstan
From mid-June to mid-September 2017, Astana will host the World Expo on the subject of sustainable energy. And as of 2017, citizens of 45 countries may visit Kazakhstan without a visa for up to 30 days. Furthermore, the introduction of LTR (light rail transit) and improvements to the existing bus network are making a visit to this modern, cosmopolitan city even easier.
6. Takayama, Japan
The time to treasure Takayama is now. Secluded in the mountainous Hida region of central Japan, Takayama is a place where Japanese history and tradition flourish in the 21st century. The Hida region has come into the spotlight anew following the success of the 2016 blockbuster film Your Name (Kimi no Na Wa) – history’s highest grossing anime feature – as devoted fans have made the Hida region a pilgrimage destination for location spotting.
7. Xi’an, China
Xi’an’s diverse heritage is supreme. And then there’s the biggie: the Army of Terracotta Warriors, celebrating 30 years as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017. Xi’an is vast, but a relaxed tempo reigns and recent openings have boosted an already superb accommodation market; throw in a crop of new bars and cafes plus the 72-hour visa-free policy and there’s never been a better time to visit.
8. Sri Lanka’s Hill Country
Sri Lanka may be “so hot right now”, but Lonely Planet recommends getting ahead of (and away from) the pack by taking “a scenic train to Sri Lanka’s idyllic Hill Country for a wonderfully temperate escape from the nation’s humid coasts. This tropical isle is endowed with a mountainous interior that is every bit as scenic as the coast, blessed by pleasantly cool temperatures that rarely tip 21 degrees Celsius.
9. Melaka City, Malaysia
Boat rides along the meandering Melaka River are popular and soon water taxis will connect Melaka Sentral bus station with downtown. Check out the waterfront gallery space Zheng He Duo Yun Zuan or rummage for souvenirs at the Trash and Treasure flea market. Then head to the Shore Shopping Gallery where the rooftop Sky Tower provides panoramic views across this alluring metropolis.
10. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Packed with white-sand beaches, lush jungle and unusual mushroom-shaped islets, Raja Ampat is a biological hotspot home to some of the richest, most diverse coral reefs on the planet – over 200 diving spots are still pristine – and this, paired with a growing ecotourism offering, means Raja Ampat will no doubt remain king of the islands.
Visitors to lonelyplanet.com/best-in-asia also have the opportunity to enter a competition for a chance to win an Asian adventure for two with World Expeditions. The winner will be able to choose from World Expeditions’ “Hike and Bike in China”, “Sri Lanka Adventure” or “Cycle Kerala to Goa” tours. Entries are open until 11:59 pm AEST on August 14, 2017. Terms and conditions apply.