Tourism industry changes the face of the Earth. Sometimes it sets up lovely houses in the shade of tropical trees and huts on stilts. But more often it turns heavenly beaches to hell of discos and plastic trash, and corals to dead stones. This is the reality that will not be shown in glamorous travel magazines.
We made a list of popular but disappointing destinations in Asia, gathered advice on how to get the most of your holiday there, or where to go instead.
#7 Phi Phi, Thailand
This island is certainly beautiful: incredible beaches, turquoise waters, jungles and good transportation. One problem –there is catastrophically too many tourists. You will wait in line to take a picture of a nice view. You will hardly be able to find a spot where you can be alone with nature. When swimming, you will have to constantly look out for boats moving between smaller islands. (And boatmen will not take more than 2 people onboard their large boats – everybody has to make money here.) All this means higher prices, a lot of pollution and the feeling of being viewed as a walking purse.
What to do: If you book accommodation online, carefully read reviews and make sure the place you choose has at least 7 points (or 70%) approval rate. If you plan to look for accommodation on the spot try to arrive when there is still enough time before dark, so that you don’t have to settle for the first thing you find. The best time to visit is before late November or after late January.
Alternatives nearby: Try much quieter Railay Beach, a small peninsula between the city of Krabi and Ao Nang. Lovers of Thailand also swear by the east coast islands like Samui which are said to be much less crowded.
#6 in Bali, Indonesia
This island was discovered by Western tourists in the 1930s, when it was a cradle of unique culture. Flash forward 80 years and the island is so commercialized, one has to be prepared for crowds, and the feeling that everything is staged for tourists. Do not expect unique beach scenery. If you have even been anywhere else in Asia, you will them ordinary, or less than that. Remember that Bali is just one of 14,000 Indonesia’s islands! Have you been told that it’s the best? Did the person who told you so visit at least a few other ones?
What to do: If you want peace, tranquility and beaches - go to the north of the island. Head south for nightlife. Be sure to stay in Ubud for a couple of days – it boasts some of the best nature and is considered the cultural center of Bali.
Alternatives nearby: For amazing beaches, diving and privacy head to Maluku, Sulawesi or Flores. Tranquil Gili islands are also nearby.
Do not plan to stay in Singapore for more than three days. The county is so small you will hardly find anything to do for longer time. Get ready for two things: to constantly be surrounded by tourists at all times, and to find no heritage or anything older than a hundred years. Even Chinatown was restored so carefully all life is gone from it. Last but not least - get ready to spend money. Accommodation will cost at least $ 50 per night for a double room.
What to do: Eat in Chinatown, it will add to the joy and save money. The best place is a food court near Chinatown MRT station. Here most families have been running their cooking business for generations and know their craft well. To hang out with locals head to Geylang area in the evening.
Alternatives nearby: Just a few hours by bus – and you are in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. It feels much more authentic and has just as much fun to offer. 4 hours of flight – and you are in Hong Kong, a long-time Singapore’s rival. Hong Kong is much bigger, and has preserved unique colonial Chinese vibe. If you are in Singapore for shopping, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur are very decent alternatives as well.
#4 Langkawi, Malaysia
Popularity of this island can only be explained by laziness of tourist companies. After all, Malaysia has several much better but lesser known islands. Langkawi remains popular because tourist companies have been selling packages here. There are Western tourists, but most come from Russia and Muslim countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Besides beaches, they look for alcohol and duty free shopping - Langkawi is a duty-free zone specializing in alcohol, sweets and cosmetics. Food is a big disappointment. If you are not willing to break the bank, get ready to live on rice and chicken.
What to do: Rent a scooter or a car (there is no public transportation) and explore the island on your own. The roads are excellent, and the island has a lot of secret corners and beautiful spots. Also, ride a cable car - views from up there are fantastic.
Alternatives nearby: Malaysia has several stunningly beautiful alternatives to Langkawi. ThinkPerhentian, Tioman and Redang for beaches and Penang for unique heritage and amazing food.
#3 Goa, India
Goa was once a haven for European and American hippies, and remained pristine up until about a decade ago. But things have gone downhill when it became one of Asia’s hot spots. Beaches are now packed with hotels, guesthouses, cafes, and all sorts of people. The place is especially loved by Russians, Indians and Europeans. They usually come for short time, spend a lot of money, consume a lot of alcohol (it is cheap) and leave piles of garbage behind. Another annoying trend is flourishing beach trade. Get ready to be constantly harassed by sellers of anything you can possibly thing of.
What to do: Try to come before early January or after mid-February, especially if you are heading north. South Goa is usually much less crowded, even during high season.
Alternatives nearby: Two hours away by train - and you're in Gokarna, Karnataka state. It is much less crowded, but the place is sure on its way to becoming another Goa. From North Goa one can also take a ferry to Redi in Maharashtra. Here you can find beaches untouched by tourism, but few accommodation options.
#2 Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur), India
No doubt that all attractions of this route are of great historical value. All the grandeur and glory of India is here. However, do not expect yogic calm and fresh flowers falling from the sky. All three cities are megapolises, with incredible chaos and bustle. Sounds, smells, views will plunge you right into probably the biggest culture shock you have ever experienced. On the other hand, Indian daily life is probably the country’s biggest attraction, and is certainly much more interesting than any Taj Mahal. Buy a package tour implies being constantly brought to expensive stores. Your guides will get a commission of up to 30 percent of what you will pay for anything.
What to do: India in five-star hotels is an absolute bore. Try travelling independently. You will have a lot of impressions and save a lot of money.
Alternatives nearby: There is no alternative. The best of India is here!
#1 in Phuket, Thailand
Called The Pearl of Thailand by tour operators, Phuket is one of the largest islands of the country. It probably was pristine, but those days are long gone. Most people who holiday here are Russians and Ukrainians. A lot of them run business in the area or stay for months at a time. Expect menus in Russian and Russian food. If you ever wondered what it’s like to holiday in Soviet Union – this is it. Alcohol consumption is vile, excursions are expensive. Did your friends recommend Phuket? Ask them where else have they been in Asia or Thailand.
What to do: Find accommodation outside of main beaches and stay away from places that serve Russian food. It’s still possible to find authentic Thai places, most of them in the town of Phuket which is a couple of kilometers away from the beach area.
Alternatives nearby: Head to Krabi or Thailand’s eastern coast instead.