Whether it’s in-depth travels to tourist favourites like Japan and Thailand, or journeying to remote corners of the Philippines, this much is clear: Travellers from China increasingly prefer to strike out on their own and visit destinations well off the tour-group map.
“It is wonderful that more Chinese travellers are planning their own trips and exploring so many new places in Asia,” says Agoda.com global director (brand and communications) Andy Edwards.
Where, exactly, are the places more independent Chinese travellers have discovered in 2015? Here are the top 10 destinations – many of them surprising – that have seen the most significant increase in Agoda bookings in Asia between 2014 and 2015.
1. Dumaguete, Philippines
Diving excursions, whale-watching cruises, and riveting cultural sites have put this up-and-coming seaside city squarely on the map of Chinese travellers. In fact, compared to 2014, it has seen a staggering 805% more bookings for Dumaguete – that’s almost four times the increase for the next closest destination.
2. Yufu, Japan
Rejuvenating hot springs are the main draw of laid-back Yufu, a handsome mountain town with a swish town centre ideal for shopping, snacking, and strolling. Though still relatively off the beaten track for foreign visitors to Japan, the buzz is clearly growing among adventurous travellers, evidenced by a 239% year-over-year increase in bookings.
3. Koh Lanta, Thailand
Phuket and Koh Samui may still be Thailand’s most well-known islands, but a 219% jump in 2015 bookings for Koh Lanta proves that beach-seeking travellers are delving deeper into The Land of Smiles. Whether lazing on the beach or taking Andaman Sea day trips to spectacular island hideaways like Koh Phi, visitors find plenty reason to linger here.
4. Asahikawa, Japan
The second largest city in Hokkaido, Asahikawa celebrates all things snowy in February during its annual Asahikawa Winter Festival, a Japanese-style winter wonderland comparable to the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Beyond Asahikawa’s wintery festivities, its famous Asahiyama Zoo, where polar bears, wolves, leopards, and penguins are among the headlining inhabitants, is another big reason for a 204% increase in bookings.
5. Nagoya, Japan
Culture vultures are flocking to Nagoya, one of the five largest cities in Japan and home to some of the country’s most compelling museums, including the Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Foodies, too, happily eat their way through the city’s distinct – and delicious – local cuisine, which includes such specialties as miso katsu (pork cutlets in red miso sauce) and hitsumabushi (whole grilled eel). Compared to 2014, independent Chinese travellers booked 187% more rooms in 2015.
6. Beppu, Japan
Getting covered head to toe in mud is a good thing in Beppu, one of Japan’s premier hot springs resorts. One could easily spend a week hopping from one natural hot spring to another, taking steam baths here, mud baths there, and still sand baths at others. To complete the Beppu steaming experience, some restaurants even serve foods cooked by natural steam! The city heated up in 2015 with a 161% increase in bookings.
7. Nha Trang, Vietnam
The first stop for most visitors to fun-loving Nha Trang is its crescent-shaped, white-sand beach, where swimming in turquoise ocean waters and basking in postcard-perfect island views is the stuff from which perfect beach vacations are made. Po Nagar Cham Towers, popular with Chinese Buddhists, and Long Song Pagoda, noted for its massive seated Buddha, are two more lures for a destination that has seen 158% more bookings this year.
8. Nagano, Japan
Its biggest international claim to fame is probably as host of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, but Nagano didn’t draw 142% more bookings on Agoda.com this year based strictly on its Olympic history. Picturesque mountain temples like Togakushi Shrine belong at the top of every must-see list, right alongside the fantastic Togakure Ninpo Museum, a homage to the school of ninja where visitors can try their hand at throwing stars after exploring a series of excellent exhibitions.
9. Krabi, Thailand
A convenient jump-off point for Koh Lanta, Railay Beach, and other Thai islands and beaches, Krabi saw a 142% increase in bookings in 2015. Though many visitors don’t spend more than a night or two here before going further afield, day trips to scenic national parks, visits to beguiling wat, and feasts at Maharaj Market – a veritable buffet of piquant curries due to the town’s large Thai-Muslim population – are among the rewards for those who stay a little longer.
10. Takayama, Japan
Savvy travellers to Takayama, which received 142% more Agoda.com bookings in 2015, plan well in advance if they hope to find a room during the annual Takayama Festival. Held every April and October in the northern and southern areas of the city’s serene old town, this captivating cultural event attracts thousands of domestic and international visitors for spectacles that include ornate floats and a Shinto procession.