1. See Hong Kong from a new vantage point
Shopping, dining and a jaw-dropping view — the Ocean Terminal Deck at Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui, launched just a couple of months ago, condenses these Hong Kong experiences into one easy-to-visit spot. Located on the Ocean Terminal roof deck, the Foster + Partners-designed Terminal Deck shows off a 270º panorama of Victoria Harbour from some five floors off the ground — don’t miss the intense reds and pinks of the sunset over Hong Kong Island and Kowloon from here. Afterwards, enjoy dinner at one of five new restaurants in the immediate vicinity: options include Fu Rong, with its sizzling-hot Sichuan spread, and Japanese restaurant Tsukada Nojo, where the star dish is the bijin nabe, a hotptot of collagen-rich chicken broth with seafood and vegetables. Four other restaurants are due to open this year. Entry to the Ocean Terminal Deck is free of charge, and it is open to the public from 7am to midnight.
2. Visit a castle and a theme park in Nagoya
For 500 years, Nagoya Castle guarded one of Japan’s most important cities but its venerable run was interrupted by its destruction in World War II. This year marks a watershed point for Nagoya Castle in two very different ways. First, the reconstruction of its palace, Honmaru Goten, which started in 2009, will finally be completed in June. Artisans from Kyoto restored the palace using old photographs and Edo Period paintings of the interiors. Its silkscreen paintings and hinoki cypress timber closely replicate what was in the palace during its heyday. The castle is open from 9am to 4.30pm, and the cost of admission is ¥500. Another reason to visit Nagoya this year? Legoland will open, with a replica of Nagoya Castle as its main centerpiece. This intricate reproduction will be constructed from 225,000 Lego bricks, a beautifully apt highlight for Asia’s second (and Japan’s first) Legoland theme park.
3. Feel the festive vibe in Bohol
All of Bohol’s 47 towns are promoting the island’s fiesta culture, with the new Fiesta Package for tourists that’s scheduled to be launched by the province’s tourism council this year. “Fiestas in Bohol [are] not just a religious activity but a celebration of life and thanksgiving,” says Emmylou Palacio-Noel, executive director of the Bohol Provincial Tourism Council. “This is something that travelers should see and experience.” Throughout the month of May — a major fiesta month on the island — visitors will enjoy an immersive fiesta experience wherever they go in Bohol. The culture and cuisine of each town will be on full display for every visit, whether they take a river tour from Cortes, ride a zipline in Danao or check out the mysterious islands off Anda.
4. Escape the crowds in Boracay
Last year’s debut of Station X expanded the island’s culinary offerings with its eclectic approach to upscale dining. This year, the opening of the Crimson Resort & Spa Boracay in March will bring with it a bold new vision. It will rise on a separate stretch of beach rebranded as Station Zero. Wimberly Interiors worked with the terrain to create a lavish space. “We had to ensure we maximized design impact with the compact space we were given. We kept the architecture simple and clean,” says Chiara Calufetti-Lim, associate vice president of WATG. Aside from the major changes going on in Boracay, the much-anticipated fourth-quarter completion of the Caticlan Airport extension is another reason to head back. The expanded passenger terminal, with two floors and 12 air bridges, will be able to handle up to six million passengers a year.
5. Eat till you drop in Taipei
Taipei’s culinary fan base is about to get a lot bigger in 2018, with the launch of the Michelin Guide Taipei. “The guide will introduce the gourmet food of Taiwan to gourmets all over the world,” Michelin spokesman Bruno de Feraudy says. “And it gives one more good reason for people to visit Taiwan.” Only Michelin’s secretive inspectors know for sure what restaurants, food stalls and eateries make the list — when it goes public in the spring, visitors will be able to narrow down their choices — from five-star establishments to hole-in-the-wall finds.
6. Climb up a giant statue in Bali
After 25 years of very slow work, a massive statue of Vishnu and his faithful steed Garuda will finally be completed in 2018. The wait is worth it: Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK), once completed, will be one of the tallest statues in the world, reaching a height of 121m. (For perspective, the Statue of Liberty is 93m tall.) Visitors will be permitted to enter and climb the statue. But out of respect for the Hindu god of preservation, the chest area will be as high as you will be able to climb.
7. Experience Kapampangan culture
This year is looking set to be big for tourism in Pampanga with the launch of the new Comercio Central lifestyle market playing a big role in attracting travelers. Launched just last December, Comercio Central offers several dozen stalls spread out on the Parade Grounds, each hawking a piece of Kapampangan culture — the distinctive cuisine, handicrafts and even performing arts. “Comercio Central is not just a marketplace, it’s a social hub,” explains Bessie Rustia, organizer of the Balik Pinas, Balik Saya tourism program. “Our objective is to elevate Pampanga as a top-of-mind, must-visit destination.”
8. Explore Cebu’s Big Five
The Cebu Provincial Tourism Office’s new Big Five ecotourism initiative highlights five towns in southern Cebu, with experiences unique to each one. The town of Alegria is all about canyoneering and tours of the local organic farms; Argao takes you on a foodie adventure that reveals the traditional production processes behind tuba (palm wine), tablea (chocolate tablets) and torta (Argao’s native pastry, produced with tuba for a nice, boozy flavor). Aloguinsan’s Bojo River and Hermit Cove underpin the town’s water-based fun, while bird watchers and nature lovers will find what they seek in Alcoy’s Nug-as Forest Reserve. Finally, the town of Boljoon is the site of a heritage walk centered around the centuries-old Boljoon Church. The Big Five initiative is also about empowering the community. “It will level the playing field for small-time players, especially local communities who are supposed to take care of their own local natural and cultural heritage,” Cebu provincial tourism officer Joselito Costas says.
9. Take the kids surfing in Siargao
Despite Siargao’s rising reputation as a top world surfing spot, the waves on this island are suitable for all levels. Elaine Abonal, proprietor of surfing tourism company Surfista Travels and a certified ISA Level 1 International Surf Instructor, ensures that even Siargao’s challenging surf breaks can be welcoming to surf-ready kids. That’s why she launched kids’ packages last year. “When we teach kids, we never force them,” explains Elaine. “The Surfista way is the fun way. We don’t believe in pushing a student into a wave. We encourage them and catch them when they fall,” says Elaine. Surfista Kids’ sessions take place at the island’s tamer surf spots for an age-appropriate challenge. “This is a good way for them to get out of their comfort zone, and try something new.”
10. Shop at a retro market in Lopburi
For authentic Thai local experiences, you’ll have to move a little away from Bangkok and on to the nearby province of Lopburi, home to a new “retro” market. Opened in November, Talat Boran Ban Si Phak looks and feels different from most other markets. For starters, the market’s 70-plus shops use one- and two-storey wooden shophouses built in traditional Thai styles. Products include local souvenirs, indigenous arts and crafts, and local food and drinks. Lopburi is just a short drive northeast from Bangkok, and in exchange for the schlep, you get a greater variety of goods, lower prices and a more small-town feel.
11. Come into the light in Sydney
From May 25 to June 16, lasers, spotlights and projectors will transform the Harbour City into a brilliantly animated light show. The Vivid Sydney festival — billed as “the world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas” — celebrates its 10th year in 2018, promising three weeks of artistic exhibitions, musical performances and seminars by scientists, business leaders and other great minds. Among the things to look forward to are the light sculptures at the Museum of Contemporary Art; wildlife-themed light and sound shows at Taronga Zoo; and “light walks” through major Sydney neighborhoods. See Sydney landmarks like the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge covered in brilliant, compelling images as this year’s evening light shows promise to be the most spectacular yet.
12. Be a culture vulture in Iloilo
The new Western Visayas Regional Museum in Iloilo is slated for a soft opening in time for this month’s Dinagyang Festival. Housed in the former Iloilo Rehabilitation Center building, the five galleries on the ground floor will be filled with treasures that showcase Panay Island’s and Negros Occidental’s cultural and natural heritage. These include a gold death mask (found in Oton, Iloilo) and a 750,000-year-old fossilized elephant molar (found in Cabatuan, Iloilo).
13. Witness snowy excellence in Pyeongchang
The 23rd Olympic Winter Games will be an unbeatable sporting spectacle, with over 4,500 athletes and officials participating in 15 separate disciplines covering snowboarding, figure skating, bobsledding and alpine skiing, among others. A new high-speed railway connects travelers arriving at Seoul to the host city of Pyeongchang, taking an hour and a half to cover the 180km between the two cities. The 23rd Olympic Winter Games will begin on February 9 with the closing ceremony taking place on February 25.
14. Live local in Puerto Princesa
Princesa airport runway, and we don’t just mean the brand-new airport terminal that opened in May 2017. Canvas Hotel, located just outside the new terminal’s entrance, embodies a newer, more tuned-in tourism outlook that shuns the usual luxuries of older hotels. “People’s travel behavior has changed,” explains Belle Camarsi, head of marketing at Oak Drive Hotels and Resorts. “They don’t stay in their rooms as much. They want to experience the destination.” This is why the rooms at Canvas are less cushy than traditional hotels. The bathrooms are more spartan, and room service is not available. “We tried to connect as much of it as we could to the local community, the local culture and the destination,” explains Belle. The open-air lobby features a chandelier inspired by the Puerto Princesa Underground River’s stalactites, and each room in the hotel has a mural created by a Filipino artist collective. Some of the furniture was built by inmates at the nearby Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm. “Almost everything here has meaning,” Belle says.
15. See street art in Singapore
Singapore feels like the last place for graffiti artist Banksy to find an avid following, but 2018’s Singapore Art Week, which runs from January 17 to 28, aims to upend those expectations. In Southeast Asia’s first major street art retrospective, Banksy, Obama portraitist Shepard Fairey and an array of notable graffiti maestros will take the spotlight at Art from the Streets. The show presents 40 years of street art with over 200 examples taken from around the world. The exhibit at Marina Bay Sands’ ArtScience Museum covers paintings, sketches, installations and on-site projects.
16. Fly high in Kota Kinabalu
Paragliding is hardly a new sport in Kota Kinabalu, but launching a paraglider from 4,000m — now that’s a first. Organized by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah and Sabah Parks, a new paragliding project, test-flown back in November and projected to launch this year, involves taking a helicopter service up to Mount Kinabalu’s Summit Pluton and gliding magnificently down to Kundasang which, depending on wind conditions, takes about an hour. Among the highest paragliding launching bases in the world, Summit Pluton is located close to Ranau, one of the world’s best sites for air sports thanks to its favorable wind conditions and natural beauty. Just last year, Ranau saw some 14,000 paragliders, and with the new base, numbers to the area are set to soar as well.
17. Test your strength in Davao
Set to take place on March 25, the Alveo Ironman 70.3 Davao triathlon isn’t just the first official Ironman in Mindanao; it also marks 10 years of Ironman events in the Philippines. Slots for the individual and relay events are already sold out, but you can still register for the waitlist or simply catch all the action of the race as a spectator.
18. Get off the beaten path in Leyte
French cruise ship company Compagnie du Ponant will be adding Leyte’s Cuatro Islas to their route map in 2018, according to the Department of Tourism. The four islands — Apid, Digyo, Himokilan and Mahaba — comprise 12,500ha of protected landscape and seascape, and offer tourists a blissful experience that’s hard to find on more popular beaches. Sandbars and crystal-clear waters teeming with marine life should put Cuatro Islas high on any traveler’s list of top beach experiences. You can beat the crowds to these paradisiacal islands by flying in via Ormoc or Tacloban and hiring a ride from there.
This story first appeared in the January 2018 issue of Smile magazine.