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.
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.
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?
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.
I 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?
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.
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!
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.