North Korea, Bhutan, East Timor and more places to gain travel kudos
Tenggol Island, Malaysia Hip because… Tioman, Redang and the Perhentians are just so ‘been there, done that’.
What’s it like? Many divers say the stunning little island of Tenggol has the best diving off Malaysia, ranging from shallow coral fields to deep dives and wrecks. There’s not much to do on the island except dive and relax, but that’s part of its beauty. The spartan but clean Tenggol Island Beach Resort does a three-day/two-night package that includes accommodation, six meals and five boat dives for Dhs1,014. This Malay/Chinese-run place isn’t as slickly professional as some, but it’s hard to complain at the price.
Go Emirates (www.emirates.com) flies to Kuala Lumpur from Dhs3,000 return. From here, Malaysia Airlines (www.malaysiaairlines.com) flies to Kuantan, from Dhs1,000 return. Then it’s a three-hour taxi ride to Kuala Dungun, where you can get a boat to the island (included in dive packages).
Bhutan Hip because… There are direct flights from Delhi and Kathmandu, which in turn are only a stone’s throw from Dubai.
What’s it like? Bhutan is up there with the likes of North Korea (see right) and the Antarctic as one of those prized passport stamps – and instead of dictator-kitsch and sub-zero temperatures (in summer, at least), you get the world’s only Vajrayana Buddhist country, variously described as ‘the last Shangri-La’ or ‘what Tibet was meant to look like’. The good news is that government carrier Drukair now flies direct from Singapore to Paroinwestern Bhutan. The bad news? Return flights will cost you dearly – and that’s before the now-infamous rule enforcing a minimum daily outlay of US$200 (Dhs730) when you’re there. Still, after the money’s been spent, you get to explore a beautiful country where GDP is less important than Gross National Happiness.
Go The cheapest way to get there is via Delhi, from Dhs1,800 return (www.airindia.in), from where Drukair (www.drukair.com.bt) offers return flights to Paro from Dhs2,700.
East Timor Hip because… Ten years after independence, it’s getting more stable – and there’s great diving and hiking.
What’s it like? The passport stamp doesn’t come cheap. Once you get there, though, you’ll find the infrastructure is still recovering from the civil war of 1999-2002, but improving. The challenges of travelling here – bad roads, difficulties getting from A to B – are offset by friendly locals, and world-class diving and hiking. There are great beaches close to the rickety capital of Dili; spectacular diving at Atauro Island; and coffee plantations on the way to Mt Ramelau.
North Korea Hip because… With a new leader, and the Mass Games, it’s more interesting than ever.
What’s it like? North Korea has forever been the ultimate ‘weird’ travel destination. But while it’s still as jaw-dropping as ever to read The Pyongyang Times and bow in front of the waxy Kim Il-sung, there’s an added edge of interest after the accession of ‘The Great Successor’ Kim Jong-un. The Arirang Mass Games start on Thursday August 2, and you can see the opening ceremony on a five-day tour from Koryo Tours that includes a trip to the historical city of Kaesong and the town of Nampo (Dhs6,340; www.koryogroup.com). For more on North Korea, check out the country’s new website, a surprisingly navigable guide to Juche ideology, Songun politics and more.
Go Air China (www.airchina.com) flies direct from Dubai to Beijing from Dhs2,150 return. From there, Koryo Tours (www.koryogroup.com) will sort out the rest (prices vary).
Cambodia’s islands Hip because… The new Song Saa private island has shone a spotlight on Cambodia’s 60 or so southern islands.
What’s it like? Sihanoukville may be a bit of a dump, but it’s a great access point for a series of islands that snobby travellers like to say resemble Thailand 25 years ago. The pick of the bunch are Koh Tang and Koh Rong, accessed via overnight liveaboard boats (Dhs808; www.divecambodia.com). Or splash out Dhs5,857 a night and stay at the Song Saa private island, already being touted as one of the world’s top resorts.