One of our writers spent 2018 traveling around Asia in search of delicious frozen desserts, and wanted to share a list of his favorite cities he had never heard of. Naturally, since this is an ice cream blog, he also felt obligated to include the best ice cream to get when you go!
Important Note: These cities have been chosen solely based on tourism activities and personal enjoyment. Deliciousness of the frozen desserts did NOT factor into the rankings. We’ll write another post soon ranking the best ice cream we ate in 2018!
Rabaul, Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is up and coming on the travel stage, especially for travelers who enjoy less-touristed places, and Rabaul is the best city there to visit. With beautiful scenery, traditional villages and markets, snorkeling, and World War II history, there’s something for everyone.
(Note: Things change quickly in Papua New Guinea, so your best bet is to consult blogs or a travel guide like Lonely Planet, but if you can’t find any information don’t be afraid just to show up! The locals are quite friendly and many people speak great English. Our information is accurate as of July 2018.)
Be sure to hike Tavurvur, the active volcano which erupted in 1994, for great views of the landscape and harbor. It’s a short but steep hike, though you may need to arrange transportation to the base of it; alternately, it’s about an 8 km walk from the center of town, and three makeshift “gates” will demand a 5 kina fee for crossing their land.
Also hike Mt. Mother, a 2-3 hour hike to the highest peak in Rabaul, for more amazing views. You’ll (probably?) need a guide for this one as it crosses private land.
For a snorkeling and history combo, check out Submarine Base. There are some Japanese tunnels and bunkers that you can get a short tour of, and there’s a beach and pretty nice snorkeling. Bring your own snorkel gear.
For more war history, there are various Japanese tunnels that you can tour, including an underground hospital and an underground barge tunnel with seven barges in it.
Your experience in Rabaul really wouldn’t be a complete without a village homestay. Not only will they be able to give you a lot of information and take you to most of these places and also cook you some delicious food, but seeing the traditional lifestyle that remains in Rabaul is a truly unique experience. We did a homestay with Advance Tours Limited and everything was incredible for an extremely reasonable price; email them directly for the latest information.
Ice Cream in Papua New Guinea
It’s a bit difficult to find ice cream in Papua New Guinea, though supermarkets often sell cheap and not particularly delicious ice cream for cheap. But we found a frozen dessert called a “T-Shake” that’s kind of like frozen chocolate milk that’s quite tasty. It comes in several flavors, but chocolate is the best, the rest taste too artificial.
If you love the outdoors and being active, well, anywhere in New Zealand is incredible, but Nelson is an absolute must-visit! There is some decent mountain biking within city limits, you can walk (although it takes about an hour) to the beach from the city, and there’s also kiteboarding when it’s windy!
But the real star of the show is Abel Tasman National Park. One of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, it is a must-hike in New Zealand. The scenery is completely different from the rest of New Zealand and will remind you of the Mediterranean. If hiking isn’t for you, day kayak trips are an alternative incredible way to enjoy the scenery.
Nelson itself claims to be the sunniest city in New Zealand and is called the Craft Beer Capital in New Zealand, as it is the only place in New Zealand where hops are grown.
If all that sunshine and outdoor activity leaves you craving some ice cream, check out Penguino Ice Cream Cafe, a shop notable for New Zealand themed flavors, including Kiwifruit Sorbet, Feijoa and Ginger Sorbet, and Pic’s Peanut Butter.
Suzaka, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
To be upfront about it, there is nothing really to do in Suzaka itself, but it’s the perfect gateway to a number of beautiful spots nearby. We also recommend Suzaka because you can borrow an electric bike from the tourist information center for free, which is a really nice way to explore the surrounding area, and because our number one favorite guesthouse we stayed at during three months of travel in Japan is there.
Shichimi Onsen is a nearby onsen (Japanese hot spring bath) nestled in the middle of the mountains and is beautiful, especially if you are lucky enough to go in autumn and see the fall colors.
The nearby town of Obuse is just a few kilometers away by train and is a cute traditional old town to walk around. The main attraction is this museum featuring the works of Katsushika Hokusai, the guy who drew all those famous pictures of Mount Fuji that you’ve definitely seen (just google his name).
If you’re interested in going a bit further, maybe with the help of that electric bike (or a car), Yonako Waterfalls feature two absolutely stunning waterfalls and some gorgeous scenery. The road there is also extremely nice.
Another nearby option is the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, the onsen where the snow monkeys hop in in the frigid winter cold.
Last but most certainly not least, as we hinted above, our favorite guesthouse in Japan is here- Kura Guesthouse. The staff is incredibly kind and friendly, always happy to talk or give advice, and can sometimes give you a lift to these nearby onsen or mountain attractions. In the evening, people are always chatting in the common area, and if you ask nicely, a takoyaki-making party can definitely be arranged.
Konbini (Convenience Store) Ice Cream!
Having a takoyaki party and you’re in charge of bringing the ice cream? There are no notable ice cream vendors in Suzaka, but luckily in Japan even convenience store (konbini) ice cream is cheap and delicious. Our favorites were the Shirokuma (a white bear on the cup) and frozen mandarin juice ice cream balls, which we like because they contain 80% fruit juice so we can claim we’re being healthy. As usual in Japan, the nearest convenience store is a one-minute walk away.
Gyeongju, South Korea
Called by some as the Kyoto of South Korea, Gyeongju has quite a lot of sightseeing and history. The ancient burial mounds were my favorite, enormous man-made hills that are surprisingly photogenic.
Another famous attraction is the Bulguksa Temple, a large Buddhist temple on the Unesco World Cultural Heritage list. From there, you can hike a pleasant 2 kilometers to Seokguram Grotto, with a large famous Buddha statue carved out of granite.
There are also plenty of other pagodas, temples, and traditional villages scattered in and around Gyeongju. Another must-see is the Gyeongju National Museum, a surprisingly good and free museum full of information about the old Silla dynasty. It also contains some incredible gold crowns that the old kings wore, excavated from the burial tombs.
The local frozen dessert to eat in Korea is Patbingsu, a shaved ice dessert traditionally with red bean topping, though most cafes now offer a variety of toppings such as fruit, ice cream, or chocolate. We hear the best place to get it in Gyeongju is “Bingjeom” Cafe, but it was unfortunately closed for the season when we visited in December.
Possibly you’ve heard of Yogyakarta, but when we researched Indonesia it seems people only go to Bali. Indonesia has many more islands and wonders to behold than just Bali. Yogyakarta is in the middle of Java, the big island, and holds a wealth of cultural treasures.
The two must-dos are two temples, Borobudur Temple and Prambanan Temple, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist temple, and is full of incredible carvings and statues. Apparently the sunrise is beautiful too, but our writer slept in instead. Prambanan is Indonesia’s largest Hindu temple and also has great sunsets. Both are absolute must-visits from Yogyakarta.
Other recommendations are Mount Merapi, an active volcano that can be climbed depending on conditions, and Malioboro Street, the most famous street in Yogyakarta good for walking, eating, and shopping, especially at night. Also at night many street musicians come out and play traditional Indonesian instruments with quite unique sounds.
Be sure to eat “gudeg”, a traditional Yogyakartan dish that is a bit like a curry made with caramelized jackfruit and coconut milk, served with a hardboiled egg and chicken. It’s mostly sweet and a bit spicy, and was our writer’s number one favorite food he ate in the entire year of traveling.
If you’ve got a hankering for ice cream, you can find random ice cream stands all around the city, but you can find Thai rolled ice cream inside the Malioboro Mall, on the second floor. You can also find normal ice cream right inside the entrance.
Melaka is a town on the Southern Malaysian peninsula, just a few hours away from Singapore by bus.
To be honest, the best thing to do in Melaka is to eat, and the best place to eat is the Jonker Street Night Market. Held only on weekends, the street comes to life with both food and souvenir vendors.
Obviously, we’d recommend eating ice cream, and there are many styles to choose from! Thai rolled ice cream (though we’re not sure if it actually originated in Thailand), fried ice cream, and even Korean liquid nitrogen snacks (which aren’t actually ice cream), but which let you blow smoke out of your nose and mouth and are quite fun.
Besides eating, Melaka is also a very nice city to walk around with many historic red brick buildings and several rivers running through the city.
Located about an hour east of Hiroshima City, Onomichi is an overlooked gem, especially great is you’d like to escape some of the larger, more crowded cities in Japan.
The number one attraction to us is the Shimanami Kaido cycling road, a mostly flat bicycle road which, if you cycle the whole 70 kilometers, crosses 6 islands and as many bridges, and is incredibly beautiful. The bike lanes and car lanes are separate along the bridges, so it is very safe and relaxing. Information online is only in Japanese, but here is a website with a map. When riding, there are numerous signs and maps in English and Japanese, and the recommended bike route is marked on the highway with a blue line, so you can’t miss it or get lost.
Within Onomichi itself, there is a temple walk connecting over twenty famous old temples. If you hike to the top of the mountain, you are rewarded with a great view of the city, and also citrus soft-serve ice cream. Onomichi is the only city we visited in Japan where we saw citrus ice cream, so be sure to try it!
You also must try Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese dinner pancake (not sweet) stuffed with cabbage, topped with a special sauce and seaweed flakes. Hiroshima-style serves the cabbage pancake atop fried soba noodles and an egg.
70 km of Cycling Deserves Ice Cream
If you cycle the Shimanami Kaido, you will definitely need and deserve ice cream, and there is a sea salt soft serve ice cream at this rest area. If you make it to the Kirosan Observatory, offering an incredible view of the scenery but extremely steep and difficult to ascend on bike (no shame in walking and pushing your bike), there is sea salt ice cream at the top.
Queenstown and Wanaka, NZ
Another New Zealand destination… if you love nature and the outdoors, Queenstown is the place for you! With a beautiful lake with the epic “The Remarkables” mountain range in the background, it’s worth the trip just to see the scenery.
Within the city itself, there’s a nice walking and biking trail around the lake, a free disc golf course that’s quite fun, and a gondola or hike up to Bob’s Peak for an amazing view.
New Zealand and specifically Queenstown also seems to have every adventure sport imaginable? Be sure you budget for it as it’s not cheap, but if you’re looking for whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, skydiving, paragliding, you name it and it’s here.
Queenstown is also the jumping off point for more epic hiking adventures. The Milford, Routeburn, and Kepler Tracks, three of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks, are all best accessed from Queenstown.
So is there a problem? Queenstown is quite touristy and crowded. For just as epic scenery with less crowds, though also less to do, head over to Wanaka, about an hour’s drive away. The best thing to do here is hike Roy’s Peak, a half day but quite steep hike that offers a stunning view.
You can also photograph #thatwanakatree , a lone tree in the lake that in our opinion is kind of lame but makes for a good photo. And yes, it has its own hashtag.
After all this hiking and outdoors fun you’ll definitely need some ice cream as a reward. There are numerous gelato shops in the area, and they are all good, but Black Peak Gelato in Wanaka is probably the most popular and was our favorite; our favorite flavor was the Central Otago Peach Sorbet. All their sorbets are made with fresh local fruit!
Savaii is the larger and slightly more remote of the islands that make up Samoa, and as a result it is beautiful and not very crowded.
As it’s a tropical island, one of the best things to do is simply relax and visit the beautiful beaches. The water is beautiful and there is plenty of great snorkeling.
The island has a number of tourist attractions which are best visited by renting a motor scooter for a day or two. These include the Alofaaga Blowholes, where sometimes a local guy tosses coconuts in so they get skyrocketed into the air, the Afu Aau Falls where you can take a beautiful refreshing swim, and the Saleaula Lava Fields.
It’s also worth checking out Upola, the other island, for a day or two. The main attraction is the To-Sua Ocean Trench, which supposedly is the number one thing on Pintrest. It doesn’t deserve to be the number one thing on Pintrest, but it’s definitely worth a visit and is certainly Pinnable/Instagramable/Whateverable.
One of the reasons we liked Savaii is that it’s cheap! We stayed at Lauiula Beach Fales and absolutely loved it, your fale (small hut) is literally on the beach, and the owners are a very kind couple who cook incredible and healthy meals every day (with vegetarian and vegan options, and salad every night), which are included in the room rate. Many guests told us it was the best place they stayed in Samoa; we were lucky and just happened to stay there the entire time.
No Ice Cream in Samoa 🙁
Unfortunately, there is not really ice cream to be found. If you go into town you might be able to find imported Tip Top Ice Cream from New Zealand, or a random frozen dessert thing at a convenience store.
Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines
Philippines is an up-and-coming tourist destination, and with over 7,000 islands, it’s hard to go wrong. If you’re looking for underwater beauty, Moalboal is a top pick.
The best thing to do is snorkel or dive the sardine run. The sardines can be seen year-round, and there must be millions of sardines seeming to stretch endlessly in either direction- it’s definitely a sight unlike anything else you’ve ever seen before. Don’t forget a good underwater case for your phone or camera- you’ll definitely want to take pictures. It’s fun to freedive down in the middle of the sardines, they’ll in unison shift out of the way and swirl around you, and then return to their place in line once you float back to the surface.
In addition to the sardines, there is fantastic snorkeling in the area. Tons of unbroken colorful coral, and you are very likely to see a turtle or two.
You can also take a day tour to go canyoning in a beautiful canyon, which has a number of fun slides and jumps and culminates in an (optional) 12 meter jump from a very pretty waterfall.
Other activities include the White Beach, which looks great in pictures but we actually heard just mixed reviews about, and swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, which sounds incredible but apparently they feed them to attract them, which isn’t really ethical or healthy for the sharks.
Eat Halo Halo in the Philippines
We’re sure you’ll want some ice cream after a long day on the beach, and the Filipino specialty is halo-halo. It seems that it must contain Ube (purple sweet potato) ice cream, and a mix of other fruit and jelly ingredients, but those other ingredients are totally up to the shop! We got it three times and each time it was totally different, even though twice was from the same shop! Our favorite had ube ice cream and a mix of bananas and pineapples, coconut jelly, marshmallows, and chocolate syrup. It was decadent.
There is our line-up for the best cities we visited in 2018 that we, at least, had never heard of. We’d truly love to hear your thoughts. Have you heard of or been to these places? Any good ice cream we missed? Where should we visit in 2019?