As 2018 rolls around, the possibilities for travel are expanding with new flight routes, exciting events and imaginative concepts by tour companies. From a new long-haul budget Scoot flight to Honolulu to fresh forays into once no-go African conflict zones teeming with lava lakes and rare primates, the Singapore traveller has more than enough destinations for a lifetime. What is hot in Asia, what is new in far-flung South America, what is the appeal of deserts – The Sunday Times delves into places far and near for some answers.
While this list aims to inspire ideas for your travels in 2018, as lists go, it can be only a partial one. Other inspiring journeys will surely arise over the year as world politics or personal preferences change, new flight routes are announced or distressed places recover. The ideas here, gathered from travel specialists and travel lovers and fused with my experiences, are a starting point for seven journeys that encompass seven continents.
#1: South Korea
Buoyed by excitement over the Winter Olympics, South Korea is cooler than ever with travellers. The nation is also busily unveiling attractions, from a sky park in Seoul to an integrated resort with K-pop elements on Jeju island. One of the most popular destinations now is Gangneung, the venue for Olympic ice events, including speed skating, from Feb 9 to 25. The coastal city is enjoying a surge of 2,175 per cent in Airbnb bookings for next year, compared with 2017.
This has lifted the city – often portrayed as a summer playground with beautiful beaches and good coffee – to the top of trending destinations worldwide in Airbnb rankings. Gangneung is 60km from its twin Winter Olympics city, mountainous Pyeongchang, often called the Alps of Asia and the venue for ski events. Next year is a generally good time to visit South Korea as the Winter Olympics has prompted the country to upgrade a lot of travel infrastructure. For example, the high-tech Incheon International Airport Terminal 2, which opens officially next month, has roving LG Electronics robots to escort travellers to gates and clean up after them. There are sleep pods and, for the sleepless, gaming zones.
The capital, Seoul, remains as alluring as ever and new developments will further enliven the fashionable and tech-savvy city. There is a new green walkway studded with cafes, bars, stages, libraries and 24,000 plants. Called the Seoullo 7017 sky garden, it is strung along an old elevated highway and has unblocked city views. Old precincts have been revitalised too. The maze-like Ikseon-dong, one of the oldest neighbourhoods, with hidden alleys in the centre of Seoul, is now a hip enclave. Young artists and entrepreneurs have set up cafes, pubs and craft shops in century-old buildings.
Another attractive South Korean destination to visit next year is Jeju, the volcanic island known for its coastal scenery and deep-diving women who forage for sea urchin, abalone and oysters. It is perennially popular with hikers and honeymooners and some 200,000 Singaporeans visit it annually. There is a new reason to fly there in 2018. Jeju Shinhwa World, an integrated resort that has launched in phases since the beginning of the year, is having its grand opening next year. At 2.5 million sq m, it is one of South Korea’s largest integrated resorts. There is a foreigner-only casino, a family theme park, shops, a spa, a convention centre and 2,000 hotel rooms. It is also K-pop-influenced. A cafe contains design ideas from South Korean rapper G-Dragon.
Another popular way to organise a trip to the country is to centre it around health and wellness. The Korea Tourism Organization says it has been looking into wellness tourism since 2016. It groups wellness holidays into four categories: beauty and spa, traditional Korean medicine, nature and forest, and healing and meditation. Twenty-five wellness attractions are highlighted, including a “healing” cypress forest in southerly Jangheung. The area has hiking trails, “salt rooms” (spa treatments where you inhale salty air to brace the respiratory system), and pensions in hanoks, which are traditional Korean houses.
Other Asian Hotspots:
SilkAir, which tends to fly slightly off the beaten path, started a non-stop flight to Hiroshima in October. The city is known for its Peace Memorial Park that stands near Ground Zero, where the atomic bomb struck it during World War II. It is also famous for the “floating” vermilion torii gate, typically found at shrine entrances, on nearby Miyajima island. Also, sup on soul food okonomiyaki, a local pancake filled with vegetables, or cheer along with Japanese baseball fans when their home team, Hiroshima Toyo Carp, plays in the summer.
The country suffered an earthquake in April 2015 and is recovering in stages, with new hotels such as Fairfield by Marriott Kathmandu opening in the capital this year. Bannikin Asia – a new Hong Kong satellite of Toronto-based Bannikin Travel & Tourism, which focuses on adventure travellers – points out that Nepal is seeing a “revival”. Newer and lesser-known treks for the adventurous are becoming popular, such as the hidden valleys of Dolpa in western Nepal. Photography enthusiasts will like the icy, turquoise Phoksundo Lake in the region.