The Asia/Oceania Smackdown

After a harrowing week of pre-tournament voting, or what we like to call the conference tournaments, the final field of 64 is set.

Here are the breakdowns and voting pages for each region.

This could be the strongest overall region in the tournament this year.  Countries from traditional powerhouse Southeast Asia and the #1 seed in the region, New Zealand, are top indie travel destinations. Add in countries like India, Australia, and Mongolia, and you have a strong region top to bottom. It will be interesting to see which country makes it through to the Final Four and if they will have the strength to win the whole thing.

#1 New Zealand vs. #16 South Korea

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The #1 seed New Zealand is primed and ready to make a deep run into the tournament. Known as one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the entire country is an indie traveler’s dream, but it is in the toughest region in the tournament, which could prove challenging as the tournament rolls on. South Korea is a surprise entrance into this year’s tournament. Though it doesn’t get a lot of hype as an indie travel destination, it has plenty of highlights and might give New Zealand a run for its money.

#8 Vietnam vs. #9 Myanmar

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An interesting match-up, as the #8 vs. #9 games typically are. First there’s Vietnam, a polarizing Southeast Asian country. Travelers seem to either love or hate travel here, but one thing’s for sure – it’s a great place to travel independently, if you have the patience. Myanmar (Burma) is slowly but surely entering the travel radar as a more authentic Asian experience than more touristy countries like Thailand (and Vietnam for that matter). It’s not quite as popular, yet, so I’m not sure if it has what it takes to upset a country like Vietnam, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Myanmar moving on to face New Zealand in the next round.

#5 Laos vs. #12 Cambodia

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The selection committee pitted these two bordering Southeast Asian countries against each other, and even though Laos is the #5 seed and Cambodia the #12, either could win this match-up. Both countries have overcome their fair share of adversity over the last half-decade, and both have a multitude of highlights. Will the Cambodia prevail with one of the most popular sites in the world with Angkor Wat, or will sleepy Laos, who has been awakened in recent years, pull off the victory?

#4 Australia vs. #13 Mongolia

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Australia is a massive country that can be difficult to get around independently without having some funds in the bank. We all know that indie travel doesn’t mean you have to do it on a shoestring budget, which is why Oz is sitting pretty with the #4 seed despite the high costs of travel there. The #13 seed, Mongolia, offers a tremendous amount of indie travel possibilities. The problem is that it’s not exactly a tourist hotbed. It could put up a good fight, though.

#6 Philippines vs. #11 Japan

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The #11 seed Japan has had a rough year, having to overcome a devastating earthquake that crippled part of the country and sent tourism into a tailspin. They have battled back admirably, though, and it still remains a popular and sought after travel destination. The Phillipines could have been seeded higher with their mix of beautiful white sand beaches, plethora of islands and off-the-beaten-path opportunities, and low prices. Japan has its hands full if it wants to pull off the upset here.

#3 India vs. #14 Taiwan

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India has a good argument to be the #2 seed in this region, and it had an outside chance at battling New Zealand for the top spot. But here it sits at #3, and if you’ve ever been to India, you know that few places are more indie. Taiwan isn’t at the top of most people’s lists when it comes to Asia, but it should be. Just because you know little about it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have lots to offer. This diverse little country has a bustling metropolis in Taipei, lush mountains, and plenty of hiking opportunities for the outdoorsman.

#7 Malaysia vs. #10 Indonesia

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In a match-up of neighbors, this first round game is sure to be a doozy. Malaysia is so unique and diverse it could be looked at as two countries – mainland Malaysia and Borneo. Mainland Malaysia sits on a peninsula and has a fantastic mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures. If you’re looking for jungles, wildlife, and the great outdoors, look no further than Borneo. Indonesia counters with beautiful island after beautiful island after beautiful island (there’s over 17,000 of them). Add in some smoldering, still-active volcanoes and plenty of culture, and this match-up is going to come down to the wire.

#2 Thailand vs. #15 Singapore

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The most jaded of backpacker may turn his or her nose up at Thailand and scoff at its #2 seed, but the people have spoken. Large crowds and a well-trodden tourist trail doesn’t mean that Thailand still isn’t one of the most popular indie travel destinations in the world. Singapore is somewhat misunderstood. It is (unfairly) seen as a sterile place that is known for arresting and fining people for the most minor of offenses. But if you dig in a bit, you’ll find a cornucopia of culture, and while it seems unlikely, an upset is possible here.

The Schedule

Voting begins again today in the Europe region and the Asia/Oceania region. Voting began yesterday in the Americas Region and the Africa/Middle East region. Simply click on the “Rate It” button to give your Indie Travel Rating next to each country to vote for the winner in each match-up. The country with the highest indie travel rating at the end of the round moves on. Voting for this round ends this Sunday, March 18 at 11:59pm PST.

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