Tourism in Asia has been growing at an impressive, consistent rate for some time now. Every once in a while the numbers will dip in the wake of a natural disaster or political upheaval, but still… the numbers keep climbing.
For a bit of perspective: in 2010, the ten member countries of ASEAN saw a combined total of 73,750,000 tourists. In just 4 years, by 2014, that number had climbed to 105,083,000.
This is a double-edged sword for many who want to visit the region. On one hand, an increasing number of people mean attractions make more money, which will (hopefully) be invested in improvements and upkeep to ensure the site stays in good condition. On the other hand… ugh, people. People everywhere.
But the smart traveler doesn’t let this deter them. In fact, you might be surprised at how much difference a few simple tactics can have, sometimes being the difference between pushing your way through sweaty, sunburned crowds and touring the same attraction at your leisure, in peace and quiet.
- Go early – as in, line up outside before it opens.
This is an obvious one, but no matter what time an attraction opens, you’ll invariably see the thickest, noisiest crowds from mid-morning onward. Showing up when the doors open can get you inside and on your way while the rest of the crowd are still trying to find a seat at their hotel buffet.
- Hire a guide.
You might think this is purely out of self-interest, but it really isn’t! Whether you join a guided trip by Smiling Albino or choose to go with someone else, the fact of the matter is that registered guides who offer to show you around a place will (usually) have the inside scoop on a whole host of details, including shortcuts, crowd movements, restrictions, and special situations that you can use to your advantage. Our favorite example of this is a friend who visited the Taj Mahal, but only had a punishingly short 45 minutes to spare. The guide ended up giving him a quick tour of all the major spots, avoiding lineups and slow-moving crowds, that finished exactly 45 minutes after it started. A good guide is indispensible.
- Avoid the mainstays
Most people travel in roughly the same way – they have a limited amount of time to see an endless list of attractions, so it makes sense to hit the “Wow!” ones first. But while there’s a good reason they’re considered “Wow!” attractions, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of others that offer a similar – some would even say better – experience over and above the lack of crowds. For every grand temple or beautiful waterfall or sunset vista heaving with crowds, there’s another one with far less people jockeying for a picture. Do some research and you might be surprised what you find.
- Book tickets in advance
This one doesn’t always work, obviously, as some attractions don’t even offer this service, but you might be surprised to learn that many do. Sometimes all it takes is an email or a phone call, and you can find yourself walking right past the sweaty masses and through the front door like the VIP we all know you are.
Give some thought to what you value the most – experiencing the famous historical but crowded attractions, or discovering, at your leisure, lesser-known sites that you may be able to enjoy all to yourself. There are always ways to improve on one’s travel experience – hindsight is one, preparation is a better one. Regardless, the most important thought to keep in mind is to travel with an open mind and enjoy the adventure, don’t waste your time and energy fretting over ‘what if’s and you will find you’ll return home with many more happy memories.