From sexy weekends to serious culture trips, we’ve got a year’s worth of destinations sorted.
Chiang Rai – fab for the aspiring Indiana Jones
Located in the Golden Triangle — where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos converge — you’ll find ruins of ancient civilisations, magnificent scenery and ethnic tribes.
By Day: Visit the sprawling White Temple, the life’s work of noted local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat who continues to work on it today.
Wat Rhong Khun, also known as the White Temple in Chiang Rai, Thailand
By Night: Shop handmade items by the native tribes at the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar, and chill out with an icy beer at the open air beer garden afterwards.
Stay here: For the backpacking culture seeker, Nak Nakara (from $40 a night) provides homely basics with warm local hospitality, while the Le Meridien Chiang Rai Resort (from $111 a night) situated right on the banks of the Mae Kok River offers breathtaking views from private balconies.
Get there: 5 hours, with a direct flight to Chiang Mai from Singapore before a land transfer.
Palawan, Philippines – fab for discovering untouched lands
The last frontier, land of the promise, Southeast Asia’s Alaska. For an archipelago of islands, Palawan sure has a lot of nicknames. And for good reason; the dazzling beaches and pulsing jungles are irresistible to any globetrotter.
By Day: Get back to nature and visit the Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, sail down the Puerto Princesa underground river — one of the new seven wonders of nature — that goes on for more than 8km, and dive into the sunken Japanese wrecks teeming with marine life.
Puerto Princesa subterranean river, Philippines
By Night: Take a chill pill and watch life roll on by. Palawan as a whole is still considered one of the more untouched destinations so don’t expect throbbing lights and fancy cocktails.
Stay here: The top-rated Hibiscus Garden Hotel is a total steal (from $50 a night), but what we wouldn’t give for a little slice of heaven that is the water cottages at El Nido resorts (from $500 a night).
Get there: 3.5 hours by direct flight from Singapore to Puerto Princesa.
Bandung, Indonesia – fab for shopping till you drop
Calling all shopaholics! Nicknamed Paris of Java by the Dutch, Bandung is factory outlet shopping central for label lovers. The colonial architecture is also not to be missed, with much of it dating back to the 18th century.
A Dutch colonial building in Bandung’s city centre.
By Day: While Bandung is peppered with factory outlets in obscure locations, the quality and workmanship of the products differ from place to place. A few of the bigger ones are Rumah Mode, Heritage and Dago. Sightseeing spots are aplenty, such as the dormant volcano Tangkuban Perahu and the white crater lake at 2,430m above sea level.
By Night: Roof top bars and restaurants such as the Valley or Maja House offer dinner and drinks with a killer view and a great atmosphere. Otherwise, head to nightclubs such as Amnesia or Legacy for a tub-thumping good time.
Stay here: Get bang for your buck at Banana Inn Hotel and Spa (from $50 a night), or splash out on Padma Hotel Bandung (from $140 a night).
Get there: 2 hours by direct flight from Singapore to Bandung.
Tip: “The food here is generally good (albeit a little heavy on the seasoning), but if you want a meal to remember head to Kampong Daun and dine in a hut next to a waterfall. It’s magical.” – Mavis Ngui, Features Writer
Luang Prabang, Laos – fab for postcard moments
Get snapping, shutterbugs. Postcard moments rule here in the former capital of Laos, as robed monks stroll past while you nibble on a baguette and sip authentic French coffee in a chic sidewalk cafe. A long, fascinating history and idyllic beauty has made the entire city one of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites.
Kuang Si Waterfall, Luang Prabang, Laos
By Day: Wake at dawn to catch the famous (and entirely silent) alms ceremony, where saffron-clad monks line the street to receive gifts of food from kneeling locals. Then take a day trip to the Elephant Village, where you can get up close and personal with these mammals in a place once known as the Land of a Million Elephants.
By Night: Trawl the night market for great river fish, Khmer food and delicious authentic pho noodles. Affordable souvenirs such as cheap locally spun silk are worth lugging home too. There’s a curfew for the entire city, and while bars begin shutting down around 11pm (yikes!), some brave business owners operate speakeasies with drawn shades and dimmed lights.
Stay here: Spend the night in Le Bel Air Boutique Resort’s private wooden bungalows (from $100 a night), or get closer to nature with Kiridara (from $340 a night), a boutique hotel located on a hill.
Get there: 3 hours, with a flight to Vientiane from Singapore before transferring to a domestic flight to Luang Prabang.
Tip: “Come sunset, grab a book and head down to the river. It’s super pretty as the sky begins to sparkle, beer in hand.” – Jo Upcraft, Editor-in-Chief.
Ipoh, Malaysia – fab for a foodie fest
Ready to indulge in a weekend of gluttony? Ipoh is the perfect place to sharpen that palate, for its marriage of old-world charm with modern amenities means it has endless authentic fare to serve up. Bon appetit!
By Day: Known as a foodie’s city, Ipoh has everything from melt-in-your-mouth traditional beancurd, salt-baked chicken to kaya glutinous rice. Walk off the calories by taking a jaunt through the famous limestone caves or try out the new water theme park, Lost World of Tambun, with its own natural hot springs.
Tempurung limestones caves outside of Ipoh, Malaysia.
By Night: Let your hair down with a pint of the best-selling beer in the world, Snow Beer, at Old Town, or have a late bite at new hipster gastro bars with live music at Bricks and Barrels.
Stay here: Lodgings in Ipoh are a steal. Go back to basics with Hotel Station 18 (from $15 a night), or live like a king at The Ipoh French Hotel (from $40 a night).
Get there: 1.5 hours via direct flight from Singapore.
Tip: “A must try — famous flaky kaya puffs from Sin Eng Heong. The locals buy them in hundreds!” – Kathleen Chan, Senior Graphic Designer.
Yangon, Myanmar – fab for travel bragging (you entered the forbidden city)
Previously the capital of Myanmar, Yangon is a melting pot of British, Myanmarese, Chinese and Indian cultures, with turn of the century architecture and tranquil landscapes.
By Day: Instead of celebrating Vesak Day, the Myanmarese has the Kason Festival, and there is no better time to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. At more than 2,600 years old, it’s the oldest pagoda in the world, and thousands of devouts flock here to celebrate and pray during this time.
The magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmmar.
By Night: Cooler-than-thou venues have been springing up to cater to the surge in tourists and changing tastes of the natives. Check out the Water Library or Ginki Kids, a locals’ favourite decked out with quirky furniture.
Stay here: Get in on the action of downtown Yangon at the Hotel Grand United (from $70 a night), or indulge in royal hospitality at The Traders Hotel Yangon (from $215 a night).
Get there: 3 hours by direct flight from Singapore to Yangon.
Gili Islands, Indonesia – fab for an underwater romp
If the beaches of Bali are getting a little crowded for your taste, head to the Gilis in Lombok. Made up of three islands, the backpacker mecca of the ’90s has gained prominence in recent years for its powdery white sand and sparkling waters, while retaining its laid-back vibe. With 19 gorgeous dive sites, underwater activities are the main commerce of the islands, and everyone from beginners to experts are welcome.
By Day: Get diving lessons from the pros at this globally renowned teaching centre among reef sharks and bumphead parrotfish, or watch baby turtles hatch at the turtle sanctuary. If a little R&R is just what the doctor ordered, one of the main attractions of this beach bum isle is doing nothing.
Sand beaches, clear waters… What’s not to like?
By Night: Gili Trawangan is known as the party island. Restaurants and bars line the main strip and beach until 2am daily, while DJs spin till 4am on party nights.
Stay here: Live it up at one of Manta Dive’s cool bungalows (from $70 a night), or splurge on an environmentally friendly stay at Gili Eco Villas (from $200 a night).
Get there: 4.5 hours. Take a direct flight to Lombok, Indonesia, before transferring to a speedboat.
Tip: “Get up when the sun rises and walk or cycle around Gili Trawangan. It’s only tiny, so you can do this in an hour.” – Jo Upcraft, Editor-in-Chief.
Gaya Island, Malaysia – fab for a sexy, weekend for two
Located just 10 minutes from Kota Kinabalu, Gaya Island is the largest of four that form the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. If you’re looking for a quiet getaway without hordes of tourists crowding up the beaches, this is it.
Catch the stunning sunset on the beaches of Gaya Island.
By Day: The beach at Police Bay is legendary, with 400m of powdery white sand sloping out gently to crystalline waters, where breath-taking coral reefs lay waiting to be discovered. If you manage to leave your spot, go on a guided trail tour of Borneo or explore the other three islands.
By Night: Go on a sunset cruise or have a private moonlit picnic on Tavajun Bay personalised to your taste.
Stay here: Splash out on one of the 120 villas at Gaya Island Resort (from $325 a night) for a most luxurious getaway.
Get there: 3 hours, with a direct flight to Kota Kinabalu from Singapore before transferring to a speedboat.
A whopping 85% of Singaporeans book their vacations online, according to a study by Trend Micro. Here’s how to prevent online fraud from ruining your getaway.
- Stay on reputable sites — whether it’s booking or researching for travel tips!
- Ensure the site is marked secure with ‘https’ in the URL before disclosing information.
- Be vigilant. Most ads and promotions hide terms and conditions in their fine print. If a deal is too good to be true, it most likely is.
By Mavis Ngui, Cosmopolitan, January 2014