By Murali Nair
Planning an off-season trip is a hack loved by most globetrotters. You benefit from low airfares, cheaper accommodation, and the least crowds - given that airfares and accommodation tend to be expensive during the peak holiday season. The weather may not be ideal, but there are plenty of compensating factors that can make an off-season holiday can turn out to be a great experience You get flexibility in booking hotel rooms and transportation at affordable rates, you confront lesser crowds at the destination and queues at tourist attractions tend to be shorter. Tropical regions look lusher during the rains, and the air is cleaner. You get to spend more time with local people allowing you to immerse yourself in imbibing nuance of the local culture.
Visa’s latest Global Travel Intention (GTI) Report indicated that Indian travellers take longer trips, more frequently, and spend 40% more than their regional counterparts. And, the most visited countries were Japan, the United States and Australia. Here’s a quick pick of destinations beyond these three countries, to broaden your travel horizons. Pack your bags to any of these six destinations for a cleverly planned, off-season holiday over the rest of 2019.
Hanoi, Sapa, and Mu Cang Chai, Vietnam
Off-season varies slightly across the country, but in general, September to November is when the weather is warm and wet, and you get great holiday deals. Get acquainted with Hanoi’s colonial architecture, pagodas and Buddhist temples, street food and cultural diversity with a walking tour. Shop at Dong Xuan Market, drop by eclectic cafes, boutiques, and get a flavour of the city’s buzzing nightlife from a rooftop bar. Ask for Egg Nog Latter at a café and sip fresh Bia Hoi beer on the street. In the nearby mountain villages of Sapa or Mu Cang Chai, this is the start of the harvest season, with terraced paddy fields turning golden. Follow hiking trails in Sapa taking in gorgeous vistas, and experience village life and the rich local culture in Mu Cang Chai.
A city of theme parks, nature reserves, beaches, and modern attractions, Singapore is a popular destination for families and large tourist groups. So, the period from September to November is rewarding without a crowded ambience, and good flight and hotel bargains. Browse through the many tourist attractions like Universal Studios, Sentosa Island, the botanic gardens or the bird park without losing time on long queues. During a downpour, enjoy indoor attractions such as the underwater aquarium, Gardens by the Bay, art galleries or museums. The city’s food scene encompasses swanky, cutting-edge restaurants and an array of cocktail bars on one hand and buzzing hawker centres serving multi-ethnic dishes on the other.
November marks the beginning of the five-month low season in Taiwan – ideal for good discounts. The capital city, Taipei, offers an interesting blend of Chinese culture with Japanese, Southeast Asian and American influences. Enjoy the energetic city with its elaborate temples, Japanese colonial lanes, quaint tea shops and busy shopping streets. Shopping enthusiasts will love ambling along the Ximending pedestrian zone, or the narrow alleyways with stores selling a range of goods from vintage fashion magazines to Japanese selvage denim. Taste traditional dumplings or take it to the streets for a night market experience. Karaoke is a popular local recreation, and plenty of bars and private karaoke rooms enliven Taipei nights. The city outskirts will surprise you with stunning natural beauty – suspension bridges, pristine waterfalls, and sulfuric thermal valleys.
Busan and Jeju Island, South Korea
The best times to visit South Korea are September and October when the weather is mild, and tourists are few, or November to February, if you’re keen on a ski vacation. Apart from the capital city Seoul, the country offers idyllic locales and exotic cultural landmarks for which Busan and Jeju Island are perfect stops. Some of Busan’s must-visits are its temples especially the scenic Yonggungsa, Taejongdae – a monument by a rock beach, the Gamcheon Cultural Village known for its edgy street art, and the BIFF square. Warm-up with hot odeng or spicy tteokbokki at street food stalls. Explore the city’s nightlife and live music scene in the districts of Haeundae, Gwangalli and Seomyeon. Jeju Island – the country’s largest island located off the southern coast – offers hiking trails on dormant volcanos such as Hallasan (a UNESCO World Heritage site), a scenic coastline dotted with rugged cliffs, and gorgeous waterfalls. Relish local dishes at the Korean-style sushi stalls situated at the foot of Seongsan Ilchulbong peak.
Rainy winter months from September to November see lower airfares and hotel rates, and far fewer crowds in this popular bucket-list destination. The Aloha State is home to a colourful culture, spectacular landscapes and idyllic beaches in Maui, Oahu, and Kauai – but stick to one island or two to rein in costs. When it rains, head to indoor museums such as the Bishop Museum, art galleries, and dive into Hawaiian culture at heritage sites including Queen Emma Summer Palace, and the Mission Houses. Experience the Hawaii International Film Festival (October), the Food and Wine Festival (October), Kauai Chocolate & Coffee Festival (October), and the Annual Kona Coffee Cultural Festival (November). Shop at Ala Moana or Ward Village in Oahu, Lahaina’s Front Street in Maui, or the Kukui Grove Shopping Center in Kauai. Lavish on exotic seafood dining experiences and Lomi lomi massages.
Budapest in late autumn (October and November) offers pleasant weather, way lesser crowds than summer, and great deals on accommodations. This intriguing city will surprise you with its stunning architecture, UNESCO World Heritage sites, spectacular street art, steamy thermal baths and buzzing nightlife. Stroll around the historic district of Castle Hill for a taste of medieval Budapest, wander past iconic sights along the Danube river, or visit the island parks. Fall brings with it the Oktoberfest, the Night of Baths for thermal-bath hopping, and the Christmas Fair on Vörösmarty Square starting November. Shop for souvenirs at the Great Market Hall or mingle with local youth over a cup of coffee. Feast on Hungarian delicacies at the Pálinka & Sausage Festival in early October, and the Festival of New Wine and Cheese in November. Don’t forget to sample savoury Lángos, gulyás (goulash), chicken paprikash, and pair your dinner with Hungarian wines at any of the hip restaurants in the city.
Remember to plan smartly with activities that are available during the non-peak season so that weather fluctuations don’t impact your itinerary. For instance, boat tours and cruises might get cancelled in case of impending thunderstorms. Water sports or mountain biking may not be a good idea as well. Also, be equipped to beat the weather with appropriate clothing and shoes. Happy holidaying!
(Murali Nair is Head of Client Relationship Management at Visa India, views expressed are personal)