Gems of the region

These lesser-known destinations in Asia are brimming with unique offerings for those who seek the unusual and yet-to-be-discovered

Saga, Japan
Saga prefecture has long been an important trading centre thanks to its location on the north-east coast of Kyushu, which has allowed green tea cultivation and pottery manufacturing to flourish.

At Ureshino-Onsen, which is home to Japan’s oldest green tea tree, visitors can soak in that history with a range of green tea experiences, including a tasting on a tower in a tea plantation overlooking Omura Bay, a cycling tour through the tea fields or a workshop with a green tea sommelier.

Unique experiences also abound in porcelain-producing Arita, where it is possible to visit ceramics museums and theme parks, watch potters in their workshops and even throw your own pot.

From Fukuoka International Airport there are express buses to Ureshino and Arita. It is also possible to travel by train from Hakata Station, riding the bullet train from Takeo-Onsen to Ureshino-Onsen on the Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen, which opened in September 2022. – Kathryn Wortley

Quang Nam, Vietnam
While the Central Vietnamese province of Quang Nam is famous as home to the ancient city of Hoi An and coastal resort of Danang, there is plenty more to enjoy. The year 2022 has seen authorities promote the area as a leading eco-tourism destination, full of immersive experiences that give a glimpse into local life.

For example, Bay Mau coconut forest close to Hoi An gives visitors the chance to set sail on a traditional basket boat to explore the lush coconut forest. At Tra Que vegetable village, also close to Hoi An, visitors can meet an agricultural community and learn first-hand about their livelihood.

Further afield, deep in the heart of Truong San mountain range, about a two-hour drive from Danang, indigenous community-based tourism is emerging.

Home to the Cotu ethnic people, the area offers the chance to check-in at a homestay before spending the day learning about the mountain forest people’s unique way of life. – Marissa Carruthers

Pulau Tuba, Malaysia
Pulau Tuba is the third biggest island in the 99 island chain of Langkawi. It is located just 15 minutes by water taxi from Kuah Jetty on the main island of Langkawi.

Home to some 3,500 people, the idyllic island charms with traditional kampong houses, vast expanse of paddy fields, and assorted farm animals including buffaloes and cows lazing on the roads or cooling in mud holes. The vibe harkens back to simpler times, three decades ago.

People on Pulau Tuba are primarily involved in fishing and farming. The fishermen will also occasionally go to the forest to gather herbs, medicinal plants, wild fruits and honey to sell.

Tourism on the island is new as it is only recently that water taxis with scheduled departures from Kuah Jetty have been made available.

Plans are underway to make the island Malaysia’s first low carbon destination. As most residents own motorcycles, the state government intends to replace combustion-engine motorcycles with electric ones.

At the same time, Friends of Langkawi Geopark (FLAG), a non governmental organisation, has implemented various projects to help improve the quality of life for the island community.

For instance, working with other non-profit organisations and institutions, FLAG organised a workshop last year to upgrade the services provided by 13 homestay operators on the island. FLAG hoped that the expertise provided would empower the operators and build their resilience and confidence.

Another project undertaken by FLAG in 2022 was the training of specialised Tuba and Geopark guides who were given further knowledge and understanding of the Geopark and the art of storytelling about attractions on the island. – S Puvaneswary

Camiguin, the Philippines
Camiguin is as exotic as it sounds. Dubbed the Island Born of Fire, this laidback coastal province in northern Mindanao was literally formed by volcanic eruptions.

Picturesque islands ringed by white beaches and seas teeming with marine life aside, Camiguin has seven volcanoes, natural hot and cold springs, waterfalls and forests waiting to be explored. Old Guiob Church Ruins and Sunken Cemetery literally under water were caused by volcanic eruptions.

Volcanic soil makes lazones (or longkong) fruit sweeter, giving birth to the tourist magnet lanzones festival during the September to November harvest season.

Bernadette de Leon, general manager of Amiable Intertours, agreed with guest reviews in giving the newest resort in town, 150-key Nouveau Resort Camiguin, high marks for aesthetics, cleanliness, food, service, facilities, location and view.

“Camiguin is a peaceful, compact destination with everything in there (so) we don’t want it to be very commercial” in expanding its airport and marine port and adopting a new tourism branding next year, said governor Xavier Jesus Romualdo. – Rosa Ocampo

Jember, Indonesia
Jember, a regency in the south-eastern part of East Java, is working its way to gain recognition as a destination from the national and international market.

The destination is a gateway to Meru Betiri National Park (the other gateway is Banyuwangi), popular among adventure travellers for its pristine jungles and beaches. The Sukamade Beach, for example, is known to have four of six turtle species in Indonesia.

Jember is also a producer of coffee, cocoa and tobacco, particularly the Na-Oogst type that is used for cigars. In fact, Jember is the top producer of this type of tobacco in Indonesia – between 8,000 and 9,000 tonnes are produced annually, and 90 per cent of which is exported. Data from BIN Cigar, one of the four cigar producers in the area, shows that Indonesia is the second world player after Cuba in the cigar market, with an export value of 1.5 trillion rupiah (US$98 million) per year.

So, it is no surprise that Jember offers Museum Tembakau, where travellers can learn about the plant and the cigar-making process.

The destination also organises the annual Jember the Cigar City of Indonesia (JKCI) festival, which comprises a tobacco and cigar mart for the local and international cigar trade community. The fourth edition of the festival was held in 2022.

The regency is also known for its Jember Fashion Carnaval (JFCC), a street carnival combining arts, fashion, culture, dance and music, since 2003. The event has won both national and international accolades.

Jember is currently accessible by car or train (3.5 hours) from Surabaya. Come January 2023, a twice-daily regular chartered flight will be available on that route, partly subsidised by the regency government. It is hoped that commercial airlines would follow suit when they see traffic flowing into the destination.

Plans for an airport runway extension to accommodate larger aircraft are in discussion.

Data from the Indonesia Hotel and Restaurant Association Jember Chapter shows there are around 2,500 rooms of all categories in the destination. Top brands include Dafam Fortuna, Aston and Java Lotus. – Mimi Hudoyo

Northern Tasmania, Australia
Blending nature, culture, history and cuisine, this northern part of Australia’s southmost location is a haven for the wild at heart.

Its towns are rich in Convict-era history, dotted with a trail of world-class wineries and waterways to explore. Visitors can also hike in a dramatic gorge, sled a river or fly between tall trees.

If that wasn’t enough, Northern Tasmania will more than satisfy foodies with Launceston, a UNESCO City of Gastronomy – one of only 36 world cities owning the title.

Traditionally recognised for its unique paddock-to-plate culture, Northern Tasmania offers a selection of dining venues, experiences like cooking workshops, vineyards, and the Cradle to Coast food trail – a popular gastronomic experience among visitors.

It also has Australia’s only floating wood-fired sauna and Tasmania’s first wabi-sabi-inspired stay, aptly named Sabi. This luxurious designer cabin opened in mid-2022.

Lucky ones can even catch the Southern Lights or Aurora Australis, especially in winter.

Visitors will need to travel via a connecting flight from a major Australian city into Launceston Airport or via the Spirit of Tasmania ferry that sails from Geelong (near Melbourne) to Devonport, where a new Novotel hotel has just opened. – Adelaine Ng

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