6 great Asian travel destinations for 2012

THE start of a new year is the  perfect time to start flirting with the idea of exciting and different travel destinations. They could be places you’ve long wanted to visit, or somewhere that just offers something different for the 2012 travel palate.

Whatever your wish might be here are six places to consider ticking off in 2012 from isolated Burma (Myanmar) to Malaysia’s tropical islands. Plus we’ve also featured a few places that could do with your tourism dollar this year.

Bagan, Burma (Myanmar)
The gradual relaxing of restrictions in Burma is a welcome sign for tourists that have long desired to visit the isolated nation. Bagan is one of the  stops on the nation’s official golden triangle (the three must sees that also include Mandalay and Inle Lake) and is something akin to the nation’s own Angkor Wat. Bagan features ancient temples that are sprinkled liberally across a vast flat plain outside the town. You can rent a bike and pedal around, jump in a horse and cart and be clip clopped from place to place or hire a taxi to see the sights.

The Bagan temple plain. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Langkawi, Malaysia
Langkawi is like Phuket without the crowds. It has everything you could possibly want from a beach destination but remains mostly unspoiled by tourism and development. There is development of course but it’s been slow and sedate and doesn’t seem to ruin the natural wonders of the island. There is snorkelling, diving and bike riding for the more active, plenty of wonderful beaches to lie on for those with a more sedate holiday plan and wonderful waterfalls, mangroves, forests and animals for those that appreciate nature.

Langkawi Cable Car. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Mui Ne, Vietnam
Those that have tired of Vietnam’s beach offerings at Nha Trang might enjoy the quietness and beauty of another resort to the south, just north of Ho Chi Minh City (200km). At Mui Ne development is minor and you can actually stay at a hotel that fringes right onto the beach shore for a fraction of the price of Nha Trang. While it doesn’t have the nightlife of Nha Trang, it also doesn’t have the seedy side of it either. Days can be spent by the beach, visiting the sand dunes, walking out to the gorge, going to fishing villages or shopping.

The Thung Chai round boat on the beach at Mui Ne, (c) Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Dunedin, New Zealand
With Christchurch still suffering from repeat aftershocks, Dunedin has become the new tourism centre on the south island. And visiting Dunedin is certainly a means of supporting the south without feeling you are in danger of tremors and liquefication. The quaint historic centre has plenty of fine buildings and factories to see such as Cadbury’s and the Gasworks. Or you can venture out about 30km to the splendid Otago Peninsula to see wildlife such as seals, penguins and albatross. There are also fine beaches here to explore. The other fantastic day or extended trip out of Dunedin is the historic Taieri Gorge Railway out to Middlemarch from where you can rent a bike and head out on the Otago Central Rail Trail. Do a day trip only or complete the entire trail over three to four days to Clyde near Queenstown. Jetstar now flies into Dunedin.

Seal on the Otago Peninsula. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Cairns, Australia
If you haven’t yet been to north Queensland it’s time to put it on your travel map for 2012. North Queensland had a rough time in the early part of 2011 with flooding and cyclones, so they’ll certainly appreciate your tourism dollars. Cairns is of course the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and days could easily be filled snorkelling, diving or staying on the islands. But don’t forget about the Daintree further north, the world heritage listed rainforest with superb natural flora and also a good chance to do some croc spotting! If you’re flying into Australia from Asia consider Air Asia to Coolangatta and then Jetstar or Virgin Blue for cheap access to Cairns.

Gili Islands, Indonesia
If you’ve been to Bali and Lombok and are still hunting for that ideal tropical Asian paradise, the laid back Gili islands off Lombok might be what you’ve been looking for. While there is developed tourism on the islands there is nowhere near as much as on Bali or nearby Lombok, largely because there is no airport and it requires a little more effort to get there. There is also a strong push to conserve what is there and that means reef, beach, diving and snorkelling.