Forget Phuket, these are the next-gen Asian tourist hotspots
The lowdown: Pristine beaches, diving sites, a balmy climate. Marinduque has all the postcard charms of other Filipino hotspots such as Boracay and Tagaytay, but none of their tired tourist crowds.
The volcanic island of Marinduque is just a 45-minute flight from bustling Manila, but manages to elude the capital’s frenetic pace. There’s nary a nightclub or souvenir shack in sight. It has a generous sprinkling of hot springs and white sandy beaches, notably the sulphuric hot springs of Malbog, and Poctoy’s White Beach, which doubles as a community hangout. The uninhabited Tres Reyes Islands off the Gasan coast ranks among Marinduque’s best diving sites with azure waters, profuse corals and an underwater cave.
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Come Holy Week, which is a week before Easter, Marinduqueños cover up with gaudy masks to make like Roman soldiers during the crucifixion of Christ for the famous Moriones Festival.
Why it’s next: For years, Marinduque has been under the foreign tripper's radar, but not for long, if politicos and developers have their way. The laid-back island-province is now being touted as the Philippines’ next holiday haven, with the Bellarocca luxury resort set up last year, and new domestic flights on Zest Air and SEAIR connecting it to Manila.
Luzon officials are also on a crusade to raise the area’s public profile.
Ilocos Norte representative Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said earlier this month that “once the Marinduque air and sea ports are modernized, larger volume of local and foreign tourists can be lured to visit its little-known but awesome white sand beaches.” Marcos is also advocating the redevelopment of the abandoned Marcopper mining site into a 18-hole golf course and a hospital complex, to boost medical tourism.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
The lowdown: The sprawling, tear-shaped island of Phu Quoc is being fashioned as the next Phuket, and with good reason. Not only does the southern Vietnam island have the routine beaches and diving spots, it’s also got a distinct regional character -- the locals there produce the best fish sauce in the country and it’s lined with pearl farms.
To check out the renowned fish sauce factories and the night market scene, head down to Duong Dong town. The Ham Ninh fishing village is a picturesque alcove with kaleidoscopic boats at bay, while the Phu Quoc Pearl Farm down at Long Beach has a systematic pearl store with English signboards.
The palm-fringed strip of Long Beach is lined with spotless sandy bays and the An Thoi archipelago is a favorite among divers for its magnificent reefs.
When on the island, keep an eye out for the bizarre Mohawk-sporting dogs running around the island. The Phu Quoc ridgeback dog is native to the island and stands out for the ridge-like whorl running down its back, and its speckled tongue.
Why it’s next: It’s already a favorite domestic holiday destination among the Vietnamese, and the government is working furiously to flesh out the island’s tourist potential. In 2008, the Kien Giang province licensed out 21 infrastructural projects worth US$1.7 billion for the island, mostly for resorts along the coast. The island’s Duong To International Airport, worth VND16 trillion (around US$910 million) and with a capacity of three million passengers per year, is set to be completed in 2012, reports the Saigon Times Daily. Head down quickly if you want to see the retreat as it is, before the sun-tanning masses take over.
Hainan Island, China
The lowdown: Strictly speaking, to say that Hainan Island is one of tomorrow’s tourist hotspots doesn’t quite cut it. The temperate island attracted 20.6 million tourists in 2008, according to official statistics. Property prices and hotel rents have gone through the roof, and it’s already attaining the unsavory reputation of being a Chinese mass tourism locus.
But despite the rubberneck surge, the 'Chinese Hawaii' is still mostly overlooked by foreign travelers, with non-mainland Chinese tourists adding up to a pitiful 8.5 percent of the total in the boom city of Sanya, the South China Morning Post reports.
Perhaps foreign visitors are not giving the island its due. Hainan is China’s only tropical beach destination, and its 1,500km of sandy coastline and budding surf culture makes it a reprieve from garish city lights of the Chinese mainland.
It also has its share of unprocessed charm. For two millenniums Hainan was where subversive officials were exiled to, so it's littered with historically significant sites, such as Temple of Five Lords (a memorial to, you guessed it, five shunned bureaucrats) and the Tomb of Hai Rui. The island has tens of thousands of hectares of primitive forests and homes the Li and Miao ethnic groups.
The poetically-named Tianya Haijiao, or “Edge of the Sky, Rim of the Sea,” is a beach so scenic it’s depicted on the two-dollar Yuan note.
Why it's next: Earlier this year, Beijing announced its intentions for Hainan to become an international holiday destination by 2020. The official approval only sweetens the deal for Chinese and foreign developers, who had been eying the island as a goldmine for years. High end hotel operators such as Mandarin, Banyan Tree and Sheraton have already moved in, and Mission Hills recently unveiled a 22-course golf resort in the city of Haikou.
And the momentum is just starting. A space theme park that's supposed to rival Disneyland is slated to open in three to four years, and duty-free shopping and tax-refund measures are on the cards. And although authorities dismissed old speculations of Hainan becoming the mainland's first casino hub, provincial governor Luo Baoming said the island may be offering experimental sport lotteries in the future.
Ho Tram Strip, Vietnam
The lowdown: Unspoiled beaches in Asia probably won’t stay unspoiled for long. And if the examples above aren’t convincing enough, there’s always the idyllic beach town of Ho Tram in Vietnam to drive the point home.
Ho Tram sits 127 kilometres southeast of Ho Chi Minh City and has a 2.2 km stretch of coastline leading out to the South China Sea. Tourist exploitation is minimal -- most vacationers stay at the quaint Ho Tram Beach Resort & Spa.
Why it's next: It's poised to become the next Asian Vegas following the success of Macau. The communist Vietnamese government issued its one and only gaming license to Canadian developer Asian Coast Development, and since then they've renamed their 169 hectare property Ho Tram Strip, and promised five Vegas-style casinos-resorts in a US$4.2 billion investment.
The first operator to sign on is MGM Mirage, who will be rolling out the first phase of the five-star, 1,114-room MGM Grand Ho Tram by 2012. When completed, MGM Grand Ho Tram will have 90 live table games and 1,000 electronic games, and will be flanked by an 18-hole, Greg Norman-designed championship golf course. The entire Ho Tram Strip is projected to be completely developed in ten year's time.