*Update March 2020: With COVID-19 officially a pandemic, we’d ask you to seriously consider traveling to some of the locations listed in this article, particularly within China & South Korea. Read our article on traveling in this time here.
Modern travel is changing; Social media – namely Instagram – has changed the landscape of travel. At the same time, an entire generation of the growing global middle class begin to prioritize passport stamps and once-in-a-lifetime experiences over say, taking a mortgage or being an adult.
The increase in global tourism has ironically led to “overtourism” in many gorgeous and very accessible destinations. Pair this with the growing desire to be the first to find the next “hot spot” and enjoy authentic cultural experiences has sparked a rise in “secondary city tourism” – a trend where travelers are ditching popular tourist hubs in favor of smaller, more intimate cities with vibrant cultural offerings.
The Local Insight
Visiting a secondary city will often reveal an often undiscovered and completely different side of a nation’s culture and people; a side which often feels more natural. A nation’s culture isn’t subtle in a popular tourist destination. It is often morphed, exaggerated and forced. It’s okay to blink – you won’t miss it. Secondary cities shimmer rather than shine because they haven’t been transformed to suit the uncultured eye. Small things please a sense naturally, rather than grand ambitions assaulting all five.
If you’re interested in spending more time in secondary (and sometimes tertiary) cities throughout Asia, we’ve compiled a hit list of Asia’s best under-traveled and culturally rich destinations.
Kyoto remains the soul of Japan. Whilst not an unknown destination, the contrast between Kyoto and Tokyo remains one of the culturally significant in the world. The previous capital of the Japanese empire is a truly astonishing secondary city.
You needn’t go far to escape the culture drain of overcrowded Bali. A hop, skip and boat ride away lands you in Lombok, with its pristine beaches and sprawling landscapes free of tourist intervention. Many will find themselves stuck in the must-visit Gili Islands, leaving Lombok an untainted masterpiece.
Mae Hong Son (Thailand)
Bordering Myanmar in the far northwest of Thailand, Mae Hong Son and it’s capital, Pai, offer a more authentic and provincial Thai experience than the likes of Chiang Mai or Phuket. In search of quietude and serenity, as a trip to Mae Hong Son brings you in touch with the peace of untouched natural beauty.
An isolated province in the north of the Philippines, Batanes offers an experience like no other. Untouched by all but only the keenest of travelers, the small archipelago is home to the Ivatan tribe. Cobblestone huts, rolling green hills atop deep blue ocean and the simplest of amenities leave one with just the richness of an ancient culture to explore.
Kolkata is cultural capital of India, a city which many leave off their list in favour of the West Coast. The home of Indian art, writing, academia and all things philosophic (rather than yogic), Kolkata is a must-visit for one looking to understand the roots of modern India and feel the real nature of the nation.
Busan (South Korea)
Busan is South Korea’s second largest city and like Kolkata to India or Kyoto to Japan, Busan is a far more culturally dense city to Seoul. Hipster bars and chic cafes line the streets of this port city, whilst Korea’s natural beauty lay just on the outskirts of the city.
As a travel destination, Malaysia is not so well known as some of it’s close neighbours. Kuching however, offers itself up as a haven for travelers looking for the natural beauty of Borneo. A highlight of a trip to Kuching is the Orangutan conservation effort and a rare chance to appreciate this beautiful species.
Despite being Laos’ capital and largest city, time slows down in Vientiane. Away from the bustling tourist hubs, one is allowed a peaceful and reflective experience, moving slowly and fluidly through the local customs like the Mekong river flows through the city. It’s rare the largest city of a nation provides a wonderfully authentic feel. Spend a day or two here prior to heading off for the pristine rural areas of Laos – you won’t regret it.
Explore the ancient Silk Road with an off-the-beaten-path trip to Dunghuan in China. An the first trading outpost between China and the West, it remains yet another cultural stop in a diverse China. Dunghuan provides a contrast in scenery to much of Asia. As if a mirage dropped into a desert, the Gobi desert’s mountainous dunes straddle it on all sides. Visit the Mogao Caves and Crescent Moon Lake while you’re here.
When planning out your next escape, don’t forget to chat with avendi; your new travel assistant, blending local recommendations with our concierge. We’ll find you the best value flights and accommodation and help you travel like a local with experience recommendations sourced from local bloggers and influencers who live and breathe your destination. Chat with avendi now!