Travelers Tell All: The World’s Most Underrated Destinations

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The World's Most Underrated Destinations

Cover image by Heather from Nomadic American.

Earlier this month, I asked some of my travel blogging peers to comment on what they thought were the most overrated destinations in the world. In addition to generating a lot of interesting debate, the post also got me thinking about what destinations out there are more deserving of our attention.

While I initially had the contributors suggest an alternative to their overrated destination, I thought the topic warranted a post all of its own.

So once again, I’ve asked travel bloggers from all over the world and all walks of life to share their thoughts. What are the world’s most underrated destinations?

Asia’s Most Underrated Destinations

Binondo, The Philippines (Vogue Bites) Twitter|Instagram

It might come as a surprise that someone would think a Chinatown, where many people go, could be considered an underrated destination, but I believe that it could be. Binondo, the Philippines’ beloved Chinatown, is home to authentic Chinese food and really affordable finds.

However, many people find it a dangerous place. As a result, people don’t often come visit. After all, they can find authentic Chinese food and rare finds elsewhere. But I believe that what people don’t often see, due to Binondo’s tarnished reputation, is the old charm that they may find appealing. It’s an old city, and though people might say it feels like time has stopped in Binondo, I believe that it is exactly the source of its charm. It never wanted to be like something else. It maintained its character, its deep Chinese-Filipino culture, and you can definitely see how it celebrates its uniqueness everyday in its vibrant, busy streets.

Binondo manila philippines

Busan, South Korea (One Weird Globe) Facebook|Twitter|Instagram|Pinterest

Ask any random Westerner who hasn’t traveled to Korea to name a Korean city. After the typical joke about ‘North or South Korea?’ you’ll probably hear Pyongyang and Seoul, the two capitals respectively. Busan is the South’s second-largest city, holds the country’s biggest port and beaches, and is a mere three-hour train trip from Seoul. Start at Haeundae Beach if it’s warm, or explore the nightlife scene around the beach area any time of year. A great Buddhist temple sits along the sea – head to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple to check out one of the few temples built by the water.

Editor’s Note: I was lucky enough to call Busan home for six months back in 2011. It was such a fun, diverse city to live in. From its beautiful beaches to its cultural sites, it’s definitely worthy of a visit. You can read my 6 Things to do in Busan post to learn more.

Rub the belly buddha busan south korea

Cebu, The Philippines (La Carmina) Facebook|Twitter|Instagram

I went to Cebu last autumn to be a judge in the Miss Scuba beauty pageant. I confess that the Philippines were never on my bucket list, mainly because I didn’t know too much about them. However, after sailing in Lapu-Lapu, I couldn’t believe that more people didn’t visit these pristine islands. I ate grilled seafood on white sand beaches, waded in clear waters rich with ocean life, and saw almost no other tourists.

Travelers tend to overlook Cebu as a beach destination, but coming here opened my eyes. It’s not expensive to stay in the Philippines, and a roundtrip flight from Hong Kong is only around $200 US. I even found the beaches, scuba and snorkel to be better than in Phuket or Bali — and what a relief to be away from the crowds!

Editor’s Note: Looking for more inspiration for solo travel in Cebu?

cebu beach girl

Coron, The Philippines (Nomadic American) Facebook|Twitter

While it’s easy to overlook an island in the Philippines when there are over 7,000 islands to choose from, Coron isn’t one you want to miss. Coron, conveniently nestled between Manila and Puerto Princessa, is a short and cheap flight away from Manila or Cebu.

Along with the must-haves of a beach island: white sand, clear blue water, and hot, sunny weather, the island boasts several other selling points. The rock formations of Coron create Kayangan Lake and Barracuda Lake where the water is crystal clear and it actually gets warmer as you descend deeper. Mount Tapyas is great for a short hike with a scenic view. Maquinit Hot Springs are just what you’ll need post-hike.

If history is more your thing, there is a former island that was once home to a leper colony for you to explore. You’ll find a fresh meat market in the city center and most hotels and restaurants will cook a meal for you for only a couple dollars if you bring your meat from the market. While all of that might seem appealing, the biggest draws for a visit to Coron are the daily boat trips you can take to snorkel or to dive to see the colorful coral, the bright fish, or the Japanese shipwrecks from World War II.

rest my case. Go book your flight!

Editor’s Note: I really wanted to get to Coron while I was visiting El Nido last year, and now I’m even more eager to go. Wreck diving is something very high on my bucket list, and the photos I’ve seen of the region just make it seem like a place I need to be.

Maybe it’s a potential base of operations for Aussie on the Road in 2016?

longtail boat coron philippines beach girl

Iran (Grand Escapades) Facebook|Twitter|Instagram

Iran is one of the cradles of our civilizations, one of the oldest cultures in the world. The Persian Empire shaped the early history of mankind. It is famous for its craftsmanship, its architecture, tile work, its unparalleled Persian carpets and literature to name a few areas. No wonder, that nowadays the level of education is so high. In two weeks over Easter 2014, I discovered this amazing country, far away from the clichés – besides the fabulous cultural treasures, I experienced probably the friendliest people I have ever met, a highly modern society, and… a country very easy and safe to travel, even though it is still really Off The Beaten Track.

Like so often when I talk about my travelling plans, the question “Isn’t it dangerous to travel there?” pops up. Iran was no exception, on the contrary! Iran has a terrible reputation… What I actually experienced couldn’t be more different than the average prejudices… The highlights of my (too short) trip were:

  • The people – Iranians simply redefine friendliness and hospitality!
  • Esfahan – with it great Islamic architecture, Maydan-e Imam, the string of leavy parks and Julfa, the Armenian Quarter, that invites for strolls, day and night
  • Qom, Iran’s (second) Vatican – Both Fatima’s Holy Shrine and Jamkaran Mosque are spectacular. And no, this city is not THAT conservative
  • Persepolis and the Tombs of the Achaemenidean Kings Cyrius, Darius & Xerxes
  • The diversity of highlights in and around Yazd, a place where you should plan enough time
  • Visiting traditional houses in Kashan
  • Amazing opportunities for photographers: Iranians are eager to pose for photos, even with complete strangers; astonishing architecture; illuminated buildings in the evening…

My advice? Go NOW! Before this becomes common knowledge… I will go back there soon, and longer, to discover Iran more in-depth.

iran tomb of hafez

 

Kampot, Cambodia (Global Gallivanting) Facebook|Twitter|Instagram

Cambodia is one of my all-time favourite destinations. Everyone has heard of the incredible ruins of the temples of Angkor and you can’t miss then when in southeast Asia but Cambodia has so much more to offer.

One of my favourite and totally underrated places is the sleepy, riverside town of Kampot. This laid back town somehow oozes charm from it’s delightfully dilapidated yellow French colonial buildings. It’s not so much a doing place but rather somewhere to kick back, relax and soak up the atmosphere and views over the pretty riverside.

Kampot is also great base to rent a motorbike and explore the almost idyllic, undeveloped, emerald green Cambodian countryside, the abandoned French hill station and national park at Bokor, the nearby once grand and now crumbling French seaside town of Kep and Cambodia’s gorgeous tropical coastline. Also don’t miss trying the region’s specialties Kep Crab and Kampot green pepper and plan on lingering longer than expected in quaint and underrated Kampot.

Editor’s Note: I loved Cambodia, even though we only managed to explore Siem Reap and Phnom Penh while we were there. Kampot looks like it might be my cup of tea!

kampot cambodia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (The Two Week Traveler) Facebook|Twitter|Instagram

Before traveling through Southeast Asia, I’d read a lot of comments saying that Kuala Lumpur was a let down. When I arrived, I was not expecting to fall in love with this hot, sticky Malaysian capital city, but I totally fell hard.

I feel like KL is overshadowed by its neighbors: if you want to party, head to Bangkok; if you want high end shopping, pop into Singapore; if you want a huge city with lots of action, there’s always Hanoi. And that’s exactly why Kuala Lumpur is amazing. It’s unique in its own right, not like any other Southeast Asian city, laid back but not boring, exciting but not crazy.

In my opinion, Malaysia has the best food in Southeast Asia (sorry Thailand) I loved getting some chicken satay and roti from a street vendor and walking around the city at night. The mee hoon noodles are out of this world.

There’s so many great things to do in KL. At the edge of the city is Batu Caves, a massive Hindu shrine in a mountain cave. The KL Bird Park was a surprisingly awesome attraction as well. I wasn’t even planning to go but I was so glad I did. While their Chinatown is not the biggest in the region, it was one of my favorites. The Petronas Towers are incredible at night, and the city also boasts its own high end shopping malls that rival any malls in Asia.

The best thing about KL is how easy it is to get around. It’s a small city, very walkable, and they have a very nice, clean, traveler friendly train that takes you anywhere you want to be.

kuala lumpur malaysia petronas towers

Oman (What Doesn’t Suck) Facebook|Twitter|Instagram

Living in Dubai it can be easy to forget you aren’t just surrounded by endless desert, although it can feel like it. Neighboring Oman provides a nearly endless list of activities from beautiful beaches and coastal towns to vast deserts and high mountains and wadis.
While cheaper than close by UAE, Oman has all of the culture that you’ll miss in Dubai. From goat herders to local markets, fisherman to street side vendors it has it all.
We recently went camping in Jebel Shams and found amazing watering holes in Wadi Dam. Oman definitely surprised us, a country to keep on any travelers radar for sure!

Northwestern Vietnam (Teacake Travels) Facebook|Twitter|Instagram|LinkedIn

Gliding through Vietnam on a motorbike for three months literally changed my life. I became a really nice hard nut who knows how to survive navigating treacherous roads in the pouring rain on the edge of wild mountains. Most backpackers make it between Saigon and Hanoi on their mechanical horses these days but not enough head further: particularly any further than the most well-known destination in the northwest of Vietnam, Sapa.
Be a trooper and don’t cheat yourself out of some of the best views your eyes can feast on in this amazing country. The northwest is incredibly dramatic, foreigner-free and has a hidden jewel for motorbike rebels: HaGiang province, right next to the Chinese border!I was absolutely blown away when I rolled through the limestone giants between Dong Van and Meo Vac. Known as the ‘extreme north loop’, it certainly lives up to its name as the exhilarating journey overwhelms all of your senses and takes you right along the borders of China. I didn’t see another soul for most of the journey and loved every minute of it. In fact, being one of the only women on the road, I picked up a local Vietnamese lady hitchhiker who wanted to get to the next town. Not speaking a single word that we both understood, I’m still not sure if she thought my driving skills were exceptional and had to be immediately taken up or whether she just had no other choice.Push yourself, take yourself further than most others are going you will be truly rewarded.

Taiwan (One Modern Couple) Facebook|Twitter|Instagram|Pinterest

When we first told people we were heading to Taiwan, many were confused as to why we would want to go, what there was to see, and some even said “wait, didn’t you already go to Thailand?” Taiwan doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of many peoples’ minds when looking for exciting and beautiful places to travel. But it should be. This beautiful island nation is a country full of generous, kind people always willing to lend a helping hand. It is a country full of stunning natural beauty with rugged coastlines, beautiful outlying islands and a diverse inland terrain of forests, gorges, and mountains. And it is a country saturated in culture and history from its landmarks to its food and everything in between. We didn’t expect much when we first landed in Taiwan but what we found was one of the most incredible, and underrated, countries we’ve visited.
Editor’s Note: I absolutely loved Taiwan. From spending a day in Taipei to exploring Tainan’s historic sites to spending on a day on Cijin Beach, it was such a treat!

Don’t stop now! The rest of the world’s most underrated destinations are on the next page!

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  • Gilles & Heidi

    Great list… That gives me a lot of interesting travel ideas!
    Surprising, that no one came with African destinations… I would have suggested Zimbabwe in Africa, but also Mali & Uganda. Three stunning countries
    Cheers, Gilles
    PS: and thanks for the invitation to contribute 😉

    • CWBush

      Thank you for contributing!

      I’m pleased that you like Uganda, as I’m headed there in September myself 🙂 I really loved Namibia as well. It’s not a secret, but it’s certainly a place that more people should be aware of.

    • I totally Agree, I’ve never been to Africa, but lately I’m obsessing over visiting it as soon as possible. I don’t even understand why in hell I’ve never considered it as an option!

      • CWBush

        I think a lot of people let themselves be scared off by a combination of negative press and general ignorance. You’d be surprised by how many seemingly intelligent people were telling me not to come to Africa last year because of ebola/terrorism, even though the country I was going to was nowhere near either.

        A lot of people don’t seem to be aware that Africa is a huge continent with a lot of diverse nations.

        • This reply is so true and made me chuckle a little, as my mum’s first reaction when I announced that I wanted to visit Africa was “OMG!!! Malaria, Ebola, terrorists!! are you crazy? you’re NOT going!” and she was not the only one. In my case it wasn’t the reason. I remember being totally mesmerized by the documentaries on TV but I thought about it as a dream, like a place I couldn’t really visit. Go figure.. Thank goodness i woke up from the dream 😉

          • CWBush

            Malaria is the only one of those things worth worrying about, and it phases me so little that I didn’t even bother buying anti-malarials this time around, haha

          • Well, be careful anyway! Asia is also a risky place, but I’m lucky because I’m half immune to it. I can get infected but the bloody bastard can’t kill me 😉

          • CWBush

            So far, so good in Asia! I was lucky to be in a non-malaria province in China, thankfully!

  • I was a bit surprised to find Coron in here! Probably it’s underrated if compared to El Nido, I agree. But when people ask me to pick Coron or El Nido… I really can’t make up my mind, they are both so beautiful. I had the chance to do some free diving and see the shipwrecks and I spent 3 days on a very cool expedition, living on tents, NO INTERNET and discovering secluded islands and villages. An experience like no other! Highly recommended! Oh by the way… if you need any more convincing…this is the famous view point (already featured in here, but still..) 🙂

    • CWBush

      I think Palawan in general is still a somewhat well-kept secret. Most people I know who go to the Philippines don’t seem to venture far from Boracay and Manilla. Even though Coron and El Nido are quite well developed, they’ve still got that charm that comes from being a bit off the beaten track.

      • True, I have a mixed feeling about talking about Palawan.. I’m so glad I went there when it’s still relatively unspoiled, but I’m pretty worried about it becoming the new “Boracay”. Which is beautiful of course but ruined by too many tourists. Such a pity. I don’t want the same happening to Palawan.

        • CWBush

          As long as it takes an uncomfortably bumpy and long van ride to get there, it’s secret is pretty safe :-p

          • ahahhahaha oh yeah I forgot about THAT. When my stomach moved to my right elbow and my kidneys went up to my shoulders. Fun ride indeed!

          • CWBush

            Being sandwiched in between my sweaty brother and my sweatier English friend with nothing to do but stare into the darkness? Such a treat!

          • Ahahah sounds like a nightmare…I was smart as a (dead )fox because I decided to take the WHOLE row on the back..so I could lay down and sleep. It didn’t occur to me that those seats were empty FOR A REASON! 🙂

        • Totally agree with your worries. I stayed in Palawan for over five months and absolutely love the unspoiled life there, but El Nido is already turning into a tourism mayhem. I hope people will stay away from the rest of the island a while more..

    • CWBush

      *Love* that pic, btw! What a view!

      • So beautiful that I didn’t want to leave “the seat” to the other people 😉

  • Teacaketravels

    So happy to see that I’m doing quite well and have visited most of the underrated places in the Asia section! I’m going to Taiwan next week: I can’t contain my excitement on that one!

    • CWBush

      It’s not so surprising that SE Asia has all of these hidden gems in the eyes of most bloggers. It tends to be the region which we all gravitate to. It was interesting to read Adventurous Kate saying that the best thing she ever did (for her blog) was stop traveling in Southeast Asia and writing about the same places everybody else was.

      Still, I can’t say I’m deterred. Hoping to make the Philippines my temporary base of operations next year 🙂

      • Teacaketravels

        As my blog is purely about Asia, I might be in serious trouble there haha ><

        • CWBush

          It depends on where you’re going. Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia etc have been done to death, but there’s mileage in the likes of South Korea, China, India etc.

          Just a matter of getting away from the tourist traps.

  • Edel McCreanor

    Can’t disagree with the Irish one more. Basically it days of you want to go to ireland , go to a different country? Bullshiz. Galway, cork, rent a car and follow the Wild Atlantic way. Seaside towns like Strandhill and the ever growing Enniscrone are windswept, beautiful and dune filled. It’s laziness regards dublin – that’s like going to NY and being pissy the ESB was busy. Get out to How the, Dun Laoighre, wicklow and Dublin mountains. Although I’m a nerd so I’d me more towards the west and see neolithic ruins, fairy fort’s, the waves crashing in Ceide Fields. Fair enough The traditional Dublin experience is a bit cap – but every city has that of you don’t bother scratch the surface. Rant over. ???

    • Edel McCreanor

      I mwant to post in overrated ffs. …

    • CWBush

      Hahaha. How’d you manage that?

      I’ll be sure to pass on your justified outrage to whomever wrote the Ireland bashing section of the post.

      Headed there myself in October, so I’ll get to make up my own mind 🙂

      • Edel McCreanor

        I say I’d backed up on my phone somewhere ??? such a tool

      • Edel McCreanor

        Also, go West. Galway pubs dude, you’ll love them. And if you have to do the Guinness Storehouse (which is cool when you realise how much of Dublin history an economy is due to it) you HAVE to try out the Open Gate Brewery. Only 6 quid with a free drink – it’s the willy wonkas factory of stout 😀 and hit a bitch up for a pint 🙂

        • Good to know! I’ll definitely keep the advice in mind when my trip is a little closer!

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