School’s out and the mid-year holiday season is upon us. If the summer malaise and thoughts of clamorous crowds have made you procrastinate your travel plans, there’s still time to take out the jejune in June put some fun into the month.
Thankfully, our sunny little isle is strategically situated within Asia which makes it easy to drop everything and scoot off at the drop of a hat. Here are some breath-taking hidden gem destinations worth considering that are less than 3 hours away and yet offer an array of experiences ranging from extravagant to exciting.
Indonesia, easily one of the most under rated destinations in South East Asia boasts a wealth of islands set in azure seas, amongst lush coral gardens. The island of Lombok, the Easterly neighbour of Bali that is separated by a narrow strait can be reached by a 3 hour ferry ride or, more conveniently, fly directly from Singapore in around the same amount of time.
Tourism has developed more cautiously here with development having sprouted up in 3 main areas: Sengigi beach in the West, Kuta in the South and on the 3 famous Gili Islands. Entertainment in these places rival those on Bali but elsewhere, the island retains its gritty laid back charm that many flock to.
Lombok sees most of its visitors engage in outdoor activities, most notably summiting Gunung Rijani, taking a dip in Tiu Kelip waterfalls and scuba diving at the reefs. Others can be found lounging on the beach with a beer, relaxing on the villa deckchairs, cocktail in hand, or enjoying a relaxing massage.
At 3,700 meters high, trekking up Gunung Rinjani is a minimum 3 day, 2 night affair where the successful mountaineer can witness the stirring sight of sunrise at the peak and descend to the caldera to splash in the crater lake, created by a 1257 eruption that led to a mini ice age around the world.
Tiu Kelep waterfall is an idyllic vision of paradise set in verdant tropical forests. Cascading from a height of about 40 meters, the falls are impressive as they are beautiful. At the bottom, a cloud of mist formed by streams of water broken into minute droplets sets a romantic scene.
The island cluster of Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan lie half an hour off the mainland’s North Western coast and boasts a vibrant party scene on land and vibrant coral live below the waves.
Those content to watch the days drift languidly by can do so in luxury at the many resorts at Sengigi beach or Kuta beach, where your every whim is attended to. Those with tighter wallets have the option to partake in the same empty schedule with simpler accommodation options.
History, culture and spiritual enlightenment are the main draws of this former capital of a pariah state. As of 2011, with the change of its flag to a new design, the country embarked on a path to open the country to increased tourism and increased involvement in the global community.
While here, do not miss the chance to immerse yourself in the omnipresent Buddhist culture. The Shwedagon pagoda and Sule Paya which dominate their respective quarters of city skyline with both dramatic architecture and gilded stupas that glimmer a resplendent yellow in the sun, are the center of spiritual life in the country. Completed in the 6 century and 500 BC respectively, the structures are venerated by the devout. Vispannas – schools where various forms of meditation are taught, are open to the public for stints of up to a month.
The romantic allure of the colonial period is still very much intact in the aesthetics of the city, with many buildings from that era still standing, especially at the venerable Strand Hotel. This 5-star, all-suite hotel exudes a timeless colonial charm and, as a contemporary of our very own Raffles Hotel, has been doing so for a good 115 years.
As a veritable time capsule, after near isolation from the world, a fast developing Yangon is best explored by foot, ducking down alleys and snaking through markets. Do stop at the ubiquitous tea shops, where plastic chairs with legs sawn ridiculously short forces you into a half squat, half sitting position, and engage in some chit chat with eager locals.
For the intrepid traveller, a scenic cruise from Yangon up the river to Mandalay in a paddle steamer is an unforgettable experience. Catch a glimpse of remote communities and riverine life on the unhurried journey. Be sure to bring your own mat, on which to sleep.
With year round cool weather, this French colonial era hill resort, situated in the South Central highlands is slightly under an hour’s flight from Ho Chi Min City which is, itself 2 hours away from Singapore.
Pamper yourself and splurge on a stay at a refurbished French colonial villa with working fire place at a resort such as the charming Ana Mandala Villas Dalat Resort and Spa. This is the kind of rustic extravagance that even pampered city folk can lose themselves in.
The surrounding hills boast a wealth of waterfalls and hiking trails to keep one occupied. A perennial favourite of couples is to arrange a picnic lunch by the Ho Xuan Huong lakeside.
The town itself is a delightful symbiosis of Vietnamese and French influences – the two main ethnic features of a chaotic market place and imposing catholic churches jostle side by side for dominance of the city center. Make sure that if you come during winter in January, the city is decorated in carpets of lush colours from the seasonal flowers that are in bloom. This vibrant display is how Dalat earned its moniker – “the city of thousands flowers”.
The furthest places one can travel to are not necessarily always the most charming or memorable. Now that you know a few charming destinations just around the corner, why not go out there to discover a few more?