Places To Visit Before They Change Forever
Holidays can be ten a Dirham when you live in the UAE, and with such hectic schedules it’s often difficult to turn down destinations like Musandam, Muscat and the Maldives in favour of more off-the-beaten-track locales. However, there are a handful of places that warrant passing on your Thai villa and hopping on a flight (or two, or sometimes three!) to experience. We spoke to luxury tour operators Lightfoot Travel and asked them to pick out five out-of-the-way places to visit that haven’t been inundated by mainstream tourists – yet!
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Myanmar (main image)
Since the release of politician Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in 2010, Myanmar has seen tremendous change as the country rapidly opens up to the rest of the world. It has so far managed to avoid the hordes of tourists that have trampled through the rest of Indochina – but not for long! Yangon is often the first stop on any itinerary, with its charmingly ramshackle buildings, local Burmese wearing thanaka (a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark), and its colonial hotels that serve mean gin and tonics in old-fashioned parlours. Magical Bagan is dotted with over 2,000 temples, and it’s often still possible to explore some of them in complete isolation (something unheard of in touristy Angkor Wat). If you’ve visited Bangkok’s floating market, an attraction that exists solely to draw in tourists, you’ll find the exact opposite in sleepy Inle Lake. But the big hotel chains are slowly springing up, and with them will come the crowds, traffic and invariably, a far more commercial approach to what is for now still considered as authentic travel.
As one of the last remaining socialist outposts, Cuba has an entirely unique and authentic atmosphere, and one that you won’t easily find elsewhere. Now that US-Cuba relations are thawing somewhat, tourism has already started to increase from around the world, as realization dawns that the country will develop more rapidly in the coming years. There is concern about whether this relatively small country has the capacity for the expected influx of visitors once visas are easily obtainable and direct flights between Havana and the US mainland inevitably commence. Presently, Cuba is a 1950s time-capsule: brightly coloured colonial buildings, classic US cars and horses pulling carts along the cobbled streets of more remote corners of the island. Infrastructure and appearances will be spruced up in the coming years, and while this will no doubt be a welcome change to many, for travellers looking to experience the Cuba of Che and Hemingway, you better hop on that indirect flight pretty soon!
A visit to the white continent still warrants bragging rights, even amongst well-seasoned travellers, and a major reason for this is the exclusivity. There are a limited number of ice-strengthened ships that can sail to Antarctica each season, meaning the incredible wildlife (penguins, whales, seals, sea lions and countless sea and shore birds) is still relatively unaffected by human influence. While the predicted impact of global warming may not materialise within our lifetime, efforts to keep it at bay will likely result in stricter controls on tourist numbers in the coming years. For those who want to tick it off their bucket list, we highly recommend avoiding standard cruises, as the experience comes nowhere close to matching that of an expedition voyage aboard a smaller ship that leaves a far slighter footprint on this most pristine of environments. Camp out on the ice itself, dive in the waters of Deception Island and observe penguins returning to the sea after mating season. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of commercial tourism to the continent which is sure to boost interest – so even more reason to get there now!
Until recently, the Land of the Thunder Dragon was one of the most isolated and secretive countries on the planet. Even today, tourist numbers are controlled and the minimum daily spend of USD250 acts as something of a deterrent for the backpacker horde, keeping overall tourist numbers down. The country’s renowned festivals are still very much for the local Bhutanese, not in any way artificially staged for foreigners, and this undoubtedly makes them more fascinating to visit. You can still wander through monasteries with virtually no other tourists (some don’t even allow non-locals), and the whole eastern side of the country is hardly visited. The country is a mecca for trekkers, including the notorious Snowman Trek, which only the strongest of hikers can tackle, over 11 passes rising above 4,500 metres, in a 25-day challenge of the mind, body and spirit. While in Bhutan, you really get a sense that you’re visiting someone else’s (intensely beautiful) land as they go about their daily lives.
While numerous tourists visit this little teardrop-shaped island each year (especially from the UAE), it still makes our list by retaining its charm and character, with plenty of unchartered areas ripe for exploring. You can ride the old colonial British trains as they chug up into hill country, sitting on the steps of the open car doorways, watching the tea plantations roll by. A hike up to Adam’s Peak at dawn during pilgrimage season (Dec-May) is a rewarding experience, as you suddensly find yourself alongside thousands of locals making the annual trek to this holiest of mountains. The northernmost tip of the island is only just emerging from the 26-year civil war, which came to an end in 2009, and you won’t want to miss the historic city of Jaffna. Back in the south, you can finish your trip very much back on the beaten track by cracking open an ice-cold Lion beer and sitting on the ramparts of Galle Fort at twilight, with children playing cricket and flying kites while you watch the spectacular sunset unfold over the Indian Ocean – pure magic.
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Lightfoot Travel is a luxury tour operator with offices in Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong. Contact them at +971 4 455 8788 to book your luxury tailor-made holiday, UAE staycation or short break.