Tribal Festivals, Birds of Paradise and Slow-roasted Pig: Why you should visit Papua New Guinea

Article by John McGovern

If you ask an expat in China what their plans are for holiday, you’re most likely to hear Japan or South Korea, the Philippines or Thailand, or of course one of China’s own amazing destinations. Rarely does Papua New Guinea grace that list, but I’m here to tell you why you should consider taking a trip there.

I t’s common to hear people talk about getting “off the beaten track” or not wanting to go to places because they’re too touristy. Well, PNG only receives 200,000 tourists per year and most stick to Port Moresby, the capital. So, avoid the tour buses, insistent peddlers and baseball cap tour groups and visit a place where the locals are genuinely curious and welcoming to outsiders.

PNG has had its fair share of tribal wars and unrest, but when I was there this year it now seems like the country is ready to leave this side of its past behind. Although, some parts are dangerous and impossible to get to, and it’s best to have a local guide with you at all times, including in Port Moresby; in a group, safety is no problem.

The locals in PNG are probably the only people who have thanked me after taking a photo of them! Some people can speak English but many more a form of pidgin English, which is good because PNG itself is home to more than 600 languages spread through the highlands and islands, so don’t complain about the difficulty of learning the Shaanxi accent, which is child’s play in comparison!

What’s more, the myriad cultures of PNG provide an amazing diversity, and although young people now are very different from their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, there is a keenness to preserve their various cultures, but not in the kind of way that is packaged for tourists.

I was there in August for the Mount Hagen Festival, which I think is the absolute best time of year to visit. For this festival the various tribes of the region come together to put on a show, and you’ll come face to face with fierce tribal warriors, head-hunters and witch doctors, all part of the show of course! For those interested in photography, it doesn’t get better than this.

Late one morning, my guide asked if I wanted to eat “pig mumu.” My natural instincts told me yes, but, just to be safe, I asked for a description. “Well, it’s a pig, and we cook it in a hole in the ground, covered with hot rocks, with yams and corn.” Absolutely! It’s hard to really express the deliciousness of pig mumu, and while I was waiting for the pork, a local guy even helped me hone my archery skills.

If human cultures in PNG are astonishing, then the natural environment is amongst the most pristine remaining in the world. From the birds of paradise in the jungle to the waterfalls, which are the perfect place to cool down, to the beaches, which rival many others in SE Asia.

In fact, Papua New Guinea is a great mix of South East Asia and the Western Pacific, and a truly off the beaten track destination for your holidays.

If you’re interested in joining a tour to Central Asia, Xinjiang, or even North Korea contact for more information and a special discount for Xianease readers.