One of the major drawing points of Singapore is what lies around the nation state. Unlike many other locations favoured by expats, Singapore is quite unique in that it is located in one of the most culturally diverse and vibrant regions of the world. If you are fascinated by the Singaporean melting pot, let your wanderlust guide you to the many other treasures of South East Asia.
Singapore as a regional hub
Singapore boasts excellent travel amenities. Of course, it is home to one of the world’s best and most connected airports, but flying is not the only way of getting around. Singapore is also home to ferry terminals which provide daily services to Malaysia and Indonesia, and the ferry is a hassle-free way of discovering remote islands, leafy spas or private islands. Additionally, Singapore is connected to Malaysia by the Johor-Singapore causeway and can be a convenient way of discovering the country’s beautiful parks, sandy beaches, eclectic food and bountiful lagoons.
But if air travel is your thing, Singapore abounds with air carriers, ranging from low cost options such as Air Asia, to the major full-service carriers. To top it all, many countries have special arrangements for permanent residents of Singapore or have put in place visa policies to encourage tourism, so grab your passport and backpack because adventure is only a short flight away.
The motto of Malaysia’s tourism office is “Malaysia, truly Asia”. In many ways, this motto is right in that Singapore’s neighbor encompasses many of Asia’s riches. For example, its cuisine is influenced not only by its endemic Malay cuisine, but also bears the influence of Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisine, resulting in a rich and diverse culinary experience. In terms of things to do and visit, Malaysia will not fail to impress.
It is home to the beautiful beaches of Langkawi, where you will find a wide range of hotels including both high-end and more affordable options. Although Langkawi, which is only one hour away, is one of the most popular destination for beach breaks, make sure to add Tioman, Perhentian, Redang and Rawa to your list. Some of these destinations are very close to Singapore, and can be a good option for a short weekend break.
If you want to travel inland, the Cameron Highlands and its silky tea plantations will provide a leafy respite, whilst Taman Negara will appeal to hikers willing to experience a rainforest which is 130 million years old. Canopies, river trips and a rich flora and fauna await. If Singapore City is too manicured for you, be sure to visit Kuala Lumpur, which might offer a more realistic perspective of what life in an Asian city looks like. KL boasts a rich history, and offers a rich palette of nightlife options, including speakeasies well-hidden in quiet backyards and the intensity venues in Bangsar, a popular option for revelers. If you are in KL for a weekend, the Batu Caves are an impressive trip away from the hustle of bustle of KL.
The term “private island” is the dream of many, but is often considered as the preserve of the rich and famous. Fear not – if you can cobble up a large enough group, you could soon find yourself spending a weekend on a private island with a group of friends. This is a great idea if you want to hold a reunion with a group of friends and is not as outlandish as one might think.
Pulau Joyo, Pangkil Island or Tiger Islands are great options if you are travelling with a group of friends, and Krakal island is a more romantic outpost. Very often, these islands are manned by a friendly and devoted team of cooks and waiters, and on top of great food, the team will also take care of setting up bonfires, firework displays and many more activities. A getaway on a private island is truly exceptional and very few experiences beat star-gazing in the clear skies of an isolated island in the company of a good group of friends.
If you would rather stick to the well-trodden path, Indonesia offers a very diverse set of options, including UNESCO world heritage sites in Yogyakarta, which is easily accessible by air, or the more popular rice fields, jungle walks and beaches of Bali. It is quite popular for large groups to book individual villas, and very often these will cost as much or less than five-star hotels and are often fully-serviced. The islands of Bintam, Batam, Telunas or Nikoi islands are closer and accessible by ferry and are a wonderful option for a very short break, but if you have more time on your hands, make sure to travel to Lombok, which suffers less from the tourist onslaught visible in Bali. Gili islands and Manado are also good options for peace and quiet.
Indonesian private islands indonesia.tripcanvas.co/
Malaysia and Indonesia are perfectly suited for short breaks, as are the capital cities of Asia. A weekend trip to Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh or Bangkok can constitute a great and practical getaway from Singapore, since there is a high frequency of flights, many of which are very cheap. However, if you can carve up more free time, there are a wealth of trips whether you are more into beaches, jungles or history.
Once you have experienced the street food and overwhelming intensity of Bangkok, make sure you extend your discovery of Thailand to the Thai components of the Golden Triangle. The triangle covers three countries: Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. The term Golden Triangle was given by the CIA because of the region’s opium production, but rest assured that drug trafficking is now a thing of the past. Instead, the Thai area of the triangle offers exhilarating views of rice fields and landmarks such as the magnificent Wat Rong Khun temple. Chiang Mai is also a must-see as it is home to elaborate and well-preserved Buddhist temple. The region can be accessed by air and will provide a diversity of activities. For those likely to greet temples with a “meh”, jungle adventures and treks abound in the area.
Further north lies a country which deserves a few weeks of travel. Vietnam, which has long been made popular by American movies, has experienced tremendous economic growth in recent years. The country is undergoing a rapid metamorphosis and has an energy which can be difficultly matched. Vietnam is also immensely rich from a cultural perspective. Its two major cities, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, are exceptional. They are the best way of starting your visit and are easily accessible from Singapore. The two cities boast a rich offering of food, and be sure to try a street food tour, which for only around $25, is a great window into the culinary riches of Vietnam. The quiet and isolated villages of Sapa in the North, the jaw-dropping Halong Bay and the canals of Hoi An will allow you to walk back in time into history. Unfortunately, these sites are generally busy and you are unlikely to ever find yourself not surrounded by hordes of tourists.
It is impossible to think of the wonders of the world without mentioning the magnificent Angkor Wat temples. Living in Asia would be an incomplete experience if one does not see the temples of the largest religious complex in the world. Whether you are a Tomb Raider fan or an avid history fan, Angkor will not fail to impress, and can be accessed very easily from Singapore. There are direct flights to Siem Reap, which is the primary hub on a visit to Angkor. Siem Reap offers an extensive range of cheap hotels which will happily arrange for a tuk-tuk to take you around the temples, located a few kilometres away. The tuk-tuk is by far the best way of seeing the temples, and be sure to visit Banteay Srei. It more than an hour away from the major temples but has some of the best-preserved temple carvings and the tuk-tuk ride will allow you to get a taste of life in traditional Cambodian villages.
Chiang Mai Guide www.theguardian.com/travel/