Tourists taking road less travelled

STAYING on the best island in the world, riding on a luxury private train between Beijing and Moscow and venturing into Burma are among the exotic experiences tempting Australian travellers to go off the beaten track.

Small escorted groups of Aussies are also stepping into forbidden territory in North Korea, where Kim Jong-un rules with an iron fist, and others are going into communist Cuba.

Other destinations creeping back on to the Australian travel itinerary include Japan (two years after the tsunami), Sri Lanka, Las Vegas, the Galapagos Islands and Boracay Island in the Philippines, which has just been voted best island in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine.

As record numbers of Australians continue to travel overseas, they are increasingly turning to quirky places. ''People are becoming bored with the usual. When they travel they want it to be authentic and original,'' said Bridget McDonald, the co-owner of Cherry Picked Travel.

Phil Asker, the managing director of The Captain's Choice Tour, said Burma was the destination of the moment.

''Now that a form of democracy has come in, thanks to efforts by [Aung] San Suu Kyi, it is booming,'' he said. ''This is all going to change in the next five years, but at the moment it is still pretty much untouched.

''We are putting on extra tours and people are coming back with glowing reports. It has wonderful scenery, beautiful, gentle people, and some architectural treasures.

''It is off the beaten track and hasn't been commercialised. There are none of the neon signs and hoardings that you see next door in Thailand or the rest of south-east Asia.

''This is all going to change in the next five years, but at the moment it is still pretty much untouched.''

He added that Cuba remained in ''original condition'' while American sanctions continued.

''It is so different to anywhere else in the world,'' he said.

''It hasn't got the trappings of Americanisation, except old cars from the '50s.

''Havana has beautiful old Spanish colonial buildings, some in terrible disrepair and some beautifully restored into shops or boutique hotels. It is a place to go now.

''Once the Americans lift sanctions on Cuba - and they surely will - it is going to change.

''I believe just about every cruise company in the world has a contingency plan to go there on their Caribbean itineraries when it opens up, and Havana will change from a laid-back city to a place of tacky souvenir shops.''

Mr Asker says cruises around Sumatra have almost booked out for late next year and that his company's Silk Road Tour by train between Beijing and Moscow is back in demand.

Flight Centre says the movies Skyfall, in which James Bond plays his cards at a Macau casino, and The Hobbit, filmed in New Zealand, will boost visitor numbers to those places.

Intrepid's regional manager of marketing and sales, Alison Mead, says the film The Life of Pi will also boost travel to India, which is already one of the company's most popular destinations alongside Vietnam.

''The Philippines is also growing. It is open to exploration and is untouched. There are beautiful rice terraces, trekking and beaches. It is a good value low-cost destination,'' she says.

Travel agents suggest that the strength in the Australian dollar, airline deals, easy air accessibility, and social media buzz are factors that encourage Australians to head to the less familiar.

''The airlines have a lot of sway on what's hot and what's not,'' Ms Mead says.

Have you opted for a more exotic getaway than the typical destinations Australians head for? Post your comment below.

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