Getting off the beaten track when travelling is routinely touted as a good and worthy thing, but it almost always requires extra effort and sometimes a little discomfort. Many would argue that any country or region's most popular tourist targets (think Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal) are famous for a reason; they represent the best that that destination has to offer, and these days so many of them are connected by air it's easy to box-tick all regional highlights in a single trip. So why venture further? Besides getting to experience the real soul of a destination, you'll discover the true highlights beyond the tourist traps. One of our Asia experts, Holly, is a firm believer that off-the-beaten-track holidays are the ones that stick in the memory longest and offer the greatest sense of achievement and satisfaction. Read on to find out the rewards of taking the road less travelled…
Remote Locations Mean Fewer Tourists
It doesn't take a genius to work out that following the herd and visiting the tourist traps means you'll be surrounded by tourists. Take the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, where the number of tourists has grown so large in recent years that offering crowd avoidance tours to see the sites there is now de rigueur for the better tour operators. Our very own partners in Cambodia were among the first to offer this type of touring and are still leaders in the field, conducting regular footfall counts at the main sites allowing them to consistently avoid the large tour groups. This is great of course and will give you the best experience of the temples, but stray a little off the main path and you can explore a temple of comparable size and architectural refinement to the grandest temples of Angkor. Banteay Chhmar - one of the crowning glories of King Jayavarman VII (the builder of Angkor Thom and The Bayon is Banteay Chhmar) - can be reached on a day trip from Siem Reap and enjoyed with only a handful of other tourists. Top tip: stay overnight in a homestay and you may very well have the opportunity to explore this site completely by yourself.
The Bits in Between
Flying between major tourist sites is quick and convenient, but there are times when doing this means you will miss out on some incredible places along the way. There's something truly special about off the beaten track holidays spent passing through villages that most people will only ever see as dots on the landscape from the window of an aircraft. Laos has some jaw-dropping nature, with karst formations that are among the highest in the world, and on the road between Luang Prabang and Vientiane - not really that far to stray and requiring only a little extra effort to see - you'll experience views that are out of this world.
A Sense of Achievement
Back in the early 2000s I made an overland trip across Asia, which included a 27-hour journey in the back of a truck from Golmud in China to Lhasa in Tibet. It wasn't fun, in fact it was grueling and thoroughly unpleasant bouncing along endless dodgy roads, over a 17,162ft pass, all the while with a thumping altitude headache (off the beaten track travel at its finest). Now I'm in no way advocating this, but I can honestly say that the following morning - after I had had a good shower, a sleep and some proper food - I caught my first glimpse of the Potala Palace and in that moment, I felt like I had truly soaked up the experience. Why? Because I had earned the right to be there and that makes all the difference.