5 up-and-coming Asia-Pacific destinations to visit this fall

CNN  — 

For those planning their first trip to the Asia-Pacific region, major destinations usually top the list, such as Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore or Hong Kong.

These power-hitters promise international flights and easy infrastructure, making them logical entryways for travelers trekking around the world.

In many cases, it’s not until the second, third or fourth visits that people have time to explore a country’s tertiary cities, little islands and countryside villages.

But with shoulder-season prices and better weather – cooler days in Southeast Asia and warmer temperatures Down Under – fall is the perfect season to explore the region more deeply.

Here, we’ve rounded up some inspiration for less predictable, but equally worthy, destinations across Asia and Australia for the fall of 2018:

Chengdu, China

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Baby pandas being trained in China
01:07 - Source: CNN

Shanghai and Beijing are often the first stops on most travelers’ China itineraries.

But Chengdu, in southwest China, has become more connected than ever with new direct flights to destinations such as San Francisco, Copenhagen, Sydney, Tel Aviv and London.

And with another airport due to open in 2020, the city will only get easier to reach.

The capital of Sichuan province, Chengdu has long been synonymous with its fiery food and adorable pandas.

You can learn all about Sichuan cuisine – and try a cooking class too – at the Sichuan Cuisine Museum northwest of the city, where an alfresco restaurant serves up more than 20 types of snacks.

These include rich, peanut-infused dandian mian noodles, spicy cold Sichuan noodles and pork-stuffed zhong dumplings in a sweet and spicy red oil sauce.

Travelers can dig deeper into this UNESCO City of Gastronomy with gut-scorching Sichuan cuisine at popular local spots such as Chen Mapo Tofu, Shu Jiu Xiang Hot Pot Restaurant and Ming Ting Restaurant.

A hot pot restaurant in Chengdu.

As for pandas? The best place to see these vulnerable balls of fluff is the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, outside of the city center, where you might catch a glimpse of a new pair of twin cubs that were born in July this year.

The city has also seen a flurry of architectural development, including the ritzy Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li shopping center, an upcoming Hi-Tech Zone and an influx of international hotel towers.

Among the most notable debuts is the Waldorf Astoria Chengdu, which joined the likes of Ritz-Carlton, St Regis, Shangri-La and Niccolo when it opened in 2017.

Designed by New York-based Champalimaud, the hotel combines glamorous art deco style with delicate Chinese motifs.

Fukuoka, Japan

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Tea traditions inside Japan's first Zen temple
03:02 - Source: CNN

Japan is in the midst of a tourism boom, seeing 20% year-on-year growth between 2016 and 2017.

While cities like Tokyo and Kyoto draw the lion’s share of visitors, the smaller city of Fukuoka – on southern Kyushu island – makes for a worthy alternative.

The capital of Kyushu is beloved for its edo-era samurai castles, Hakata ramen (made with rich, savory pork bone broth) and riverside yatai (food stalls).

Fukuoka is also an ideal starting point for an eco adventure around Kyushu island.

Travelers can head inland to hike up to the edge of Mt. Aso’s smoking caldera – the largest active volcano in Japan – relax in tiny villages like Oita, explore hot spring towns such as Beppu on the east coast or make their way south to Kagoshima or Obi.

In Beppu, travelers can experience the onsens (hot springs) half a dozen different ways.

You can wander through the boiling blue “hells” at Umi Jigoku park, lie down for a hot “sand bath” to boost circulation, devour onsen-steamed fish and vegetables at local restaurants or take a soak in your hotel’s own baths.

New accommodation offerings include Kiraku Obi – a samurai-era home converted into a six-person villa.

Jeju, South Korea

Jeju island is a hub of nature tourism.

A quick hour-long plane ride from Seoul, Jeju is beautiful in the autumn, when the leafy mountains turn brilliant shades of rust and gold.

On the “Hawaii of South Korea”, travelers will find a series of international hotels including an upcoming Grand Hyatt hotel and Four Seasons Resort.

It’s all about nature on this two-million-year-old volcanic island.

Travelers can look out for olle trekking trails that weave across the countryside, freshly caught seafood, waterfalls, wildflowers, citrus farms, green tea plantations and the longest lava tube in the world – a UNESCO Geopark.

Most travelers try to make time for a hike up to Mount Hallasan, which can be done in a day, and enjoy the sunrise over the Seongsan ilchulbong crater.

Just down the hill on the beach, you can devour the plunders of Jeju’s “mermaids.”

A haenyo, one of South Korea's legendary water women, works off the coast of Jeju.

Usually in their 60s, these women divers (called haenyo) plunge 10-20 meters without breathing support to collect abalone, octopus, clams and more.

At the beach, you can eat freshly caught squid and clams, sold by vendors on the rocks.

Located about 30 minutes by ferry off the eastern coast, the photogenic island of Udo (aka Peanut Island) is another outdoorsy experience.

You can rent bikes and circle the little island, stopping to admire wildflower fields and devour famed seaweed soup and peanut ice cream along the way.

Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Phu Quoc's dry season starts in November.

If you’re dreaming of a beach getaway in Asia this fall, Phu Quoc in Vietnam should be a top contender.

For starters, the dry season begins in November and runs till April.

In addition, it’s is just an hour from Ho Chi Minh City and offers a 30-day visa exemption policy for all foreign passports.

Formerly a prison island during French colonial times, Phu Quoc’s photogenic setting and clear waters caught the attention of international brands like JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay, which debuted its Bill Bensley-designed resort late last year.

There’s plenty to do aside from lounging and snorkeling around Ong Lang Beach.

The Phu Quoc Prison museum offers a peek into the island’s dark history while the Phu Quoc National Park and Suoi Tranh Waterfall will spoil nature lovers.

As for the food, this island is famous for its fish sauce, so don’t miss every chance to try it – which shouldn’t be hard, seeing as it’s a main ingredient of most Vietnamese dishes.

Perth, Australia

A view of Perth from King's Park.

A historic gold rush town and mining metropolis, Perth has enjoyed quite a few economic booms.

But the most recent development has little to do with petroleum or minerals.

Over the past three years, the capital of Western Australia has seen an influx of new hotels – such as the just-opened QT Perth design hotel, the glamorous Westin and the incoming Ritz-Carlton – as well as a brand-new Optus Stadium and the refreshed Elizabeth Quay that’s now under development.

The city has also poured new life into its sleepy urban heart – evidenced by artsy murals painted all over town, alleyway restaurants and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cocktail bars.

Then there’s the revitalized 19th-century architecture.

The best examples are the State Buildings – once an abandoned government complex, they’ve been transformed into the city’s most buzzing lifestyle destination.

Sporting a grand facade, high ceilings and historic iron details, the complex is home to popular restaurants such as Wildflower, David Thompson’s Long Chim and the Kerry Hill-designed COMO hotel with its extra-large bedrooms, signature spa and views of Cathedral Square.

Inside Wildflower restaurant -- one of Perth's top eateries.

As for day trips? To the northeast, Swan Valley is just a 45-minute-drive or a scenic river cruise away, promising homegrown vineyards – mostly cultivating Viognier, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz – chocolate, cheese, honey, craft beer at Feral brewery and artisan gin at Old Young’s.

Southwest along the coast, find ever-creative Fremantle where street art, buzzing weekend markets, vegan cafes and old-world architecture are the order of the day.

We recommend staying a few nights to explore culinary gems like Bread in Common, animated craft brewery Little Creatures and boutique design hotels, such as the Hougoumont Hotel – built inside stylish shipping containers as a tribute to the area’s history as a key port city.

To the southeast, Millbrook Winery sits pretty with a lake and stone manor house amidst the jarrah forests. You can easily spend a day lingering over the wines and farm-fresh food by award-winning chef Guy Jeffreys.

Travelers can reach the winery by car – a picturesque 45-minute journey through the woods – or splurge on COMO hotel’s new 20-minute chopper experience, which lifts off from Langley Park in the heart of the city.