I don’t know about you, but I instantly become a thousand times more socially inept around my extended relatives - you know, the cousin who says “Why?” instead of “Congratulations!” when a relative announces their pregnancy; the niece who makes 5 runs to the toilet every hour to avoid the painful banter of her relatives.
Whether you’re looking to escape Singapore’s CNY madness, or simply to satisfy your wanderlust - here are 10 great escapes under $300 that will make you want to forgo all those red packets.
1. Delve into Vietnam’s war-torn history in Ho Chi Minh City
History junkies delight - there’s no better place to approach Vietnam’s war-torn history than Ho Chi Minh City.
You’ll find yourself spending the better half of the day hitting the museums around the city. Tour the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, formerly the Palace of the Vietnamese Prime Minister during the WWII days, where exhibitions document the country’s history through the war. The War Remnants Museums is equal parts chilling and intriguing; housing bomb remnants, war weapons, armoured vehicles and more.
The Ho Chi Minh City Museum Source
A war tank in the War Remnants Museum Source
A section in the War Remnants Museum Source
Of course, it’s not all tear-inducing memorials. In Vietnam’s busiest and most boisterous city, its central market, Ben Thanh Market, is everything you’d expect it to be: loud, crowded, and of course, full of goodies.
Enjoy a night of luxe at...
Hotel Majestic Saigon is exactly what its name suggests it is, a luxury riverside hotel in the heart of Dong Khoi, one of Ho Chi Minh’s posh districts. So you can expect to throw your feet up and unwind like a majesty at the end of the day.
Total Damage (inclusive of flight and hotel): $270/pax for 3D2N trip
2. Explore a revamped Kuala Lumpur (and more!)
Aether Cafe - one of KL’s many cafes Source
Kuala Lumpur is the destination we’ve all visited at some point in our lives - perhaps for the bigger arcades; or some of us simply never got bored of marveling at the sublime Petronas towers. Either way, KL’s much more hip now!
With hipster cafes sprouting in every direction, what better way to escape the CNY buzz, than with endless cups of coffee? A fresh cafe-hopping experience awaits you, so get your coffee connoisseur game on!
Rainy Day Coffee at Lepaq Lepaq Cafe - fancy a cotton candy cloud hovering above your coffee? Source
Fluffy pandan pancakes topped with caramelised cinnamon bananas. And shredded coconut. And whipped cream. AND drizzled with gula melaka syrup. GASP. Source
If you want to do more than just kick back with a warm cuppa joe, then soak up the atmosphere of Jalan Petaling, and bargain your way around KL’s very own Chinatown. Eat your way through this street, and decide once and for all who takes the cake for the best Char Kuey Teow or Hokkien Mee - us or our neighbors?
The Istana Negara Source
Plan a visit to Aquaria KLCC, a sprawling oceanarium showcasing over 5,000 marine creatures; or peek into the lives of royalty at the Istana Negara, KL’s palace-turned-museum.
KL also makes for a great base to venture out for day trips. We recommend the awe-inspiring Batu Caves, a geographical wonder of limestone caves, home to a historical Hindu temple and shrine. Some other nearby getaways include Genting Highlands, Port Dickson, and Kuala Selangor.
The Batu Caves Source
Wind down for a relaxing night at...
D’Majestic Place by Swiss Garden: Even if it’s just a weekend getaway, live it up in this elegant 4-star hotel - unwind in the rooftop pool after a long day of exploring the happening city.
Total Damage (inclusive of flight and hotel): $154/pax for 3D2N trip
3. Travel back in time in the historical city of Malacca
Malacca is a UNESCO city for good reason - retaining its former glory as a key trading port, the city’s architecture boasts a diverse mix of cultures including Chinese, Javanese, Arab and Dutch. The historical city houses a plethora of heritage museums, temples, mosques, and even kampongs.
The Malacca Straits Mosque Source
Maritime Museum Melaka Source
Nobody leaves Malacca without visiting Jonker Street, a bustling street market where you’ll find just about anything you fancy - street eats, keepsakes, electronics, and apparel. Every Friday to Sunday night, the street is closed off to vehicles and transforms into a full-fledged vibrant night market.
Enjoy a king’s night sleep at...
Courtyard @ Heeren Boutique Hotel: Seated right smack in the middle of Melaka’s old Chinatown area, this 15-room boutique hotel is a blast from the past and perfectly embodies the rustic style and glamour of Peranakan living.
Total Damage (inclusive of flight and hotel): $143/pax for 3D2N trip
4. Shop and eat till you drop in Bangkok
If you’re going to miss out on all those CNY goodies, it’s only right that you make up for it with equally good, if not better food. And what better place to feast your heart out, than Bangkok?
Head over to Sukhumvit Soi 38, Bangkok’s most iconic destination for authentic street food, to begin your sinful journey of indulgence. This food street will only be open till February 2016, so make sure you pay them a visit before then!
While you’re there, don’t take Bangkok’s reputation as shopping heaven for naught. And if you’re a loyal patron of Platinum Mall, Chatuchak Market and Siam Paragon, be sure to check out the new kid on the block, Artbox, a flea market housed in shipping containers. Think local designers, live bands, and all sorts of spirited vibes.
Get a weekend of comfort for a steal at...
Siam@Siam Design Hotel Bangkok: An affordable, comfortable, and artsy hotel in the heart of Bangkok city - who’s complaining? With plenty of restaurants and bars peppering the vicinity, its convenient location allows you to easily drop your shopping loot back in your hotel room before heading out for dinner, drinks, and maybe even a second round of shopping.
Total Damage (inclusive of flight and hotel): $299/pax for 3D2N trip
5. Unwind on the lesser trekked beaches of Pattaya
It’s a shame Pattaya is often overlooked when it comes to beach holidays, because it’s every bit as beautiful and exciting as Thailand’s more popular beachside destinations like Phuket or Koh Samui.
Break away from the norm and set your heart on adventure. Christabel and Beatrice had a splashing time in Pattaya - think snorkelling, jet-skiing, parasailing, you name it! Charter a private speedboat for half a day at just 1,875 THB (S$75), and zip out to one of Pattaya’s many small surrounding islands - who knows, you might just find a hidden beach you can have all to yourself!
If the above list of water adventures had your heart beating faster, wait till you hear about what you can do on land. If you’ve got that need for speed - hop on a motorcycle and race to your heart’s content around a motocross track, or set off on a quad bike jungle adventure you’ll never forget. It’s impossible to run out of adrenaline-pumping activities to do on this idyllic island.
Or if you fancy taking it a little slower, take a stroll through the Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Gardens, a sprawling 500 acres of magnificent green. The Botanical Gardens is segmented into different themes, from a French Garden to an Ant Tower and even one devoted entirely to different species of cacti. Trust me when I say that it’s next level gardening.
Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Gardens Source
When night falls, the city is equally vibrant, if not more. Evident from the boulevard of neon signs, Walking Street is home to a dynamic mix of bars, clubs, and dare we say vices - setting you up for a night of non-stop fun. Even if binge-watching netflix in your pyjamas is more of your thing, it’s still worth taking a stroll down this entertainment district to soak up the atmosphere.
Stay in a room with a view at...
Dusit Thani Hotel Pattaya: Did someone say beach resort? Yes please! Sat right by the beach, you’ll be waking up to a fantabulous view of the glimmering sea every morning.
Total Damage (inclusive of flight and hotel): $143/pax for 3D2N trip
6. Explore 1000-year-old Hanoi
The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi, is pleasantly cosmopolitan while having proudly preserved its wealth of heritage. Much of its colonial and post-war infrastructure is still intact and very much utilised to this very day, giving the place some real rustic vibes.
Hop over to the old quarter, where you’ll find a string of artisans and merchants selling all sorts of wares from pottery to silk and little trinkets. It’s quite an experience in itself, simply strolling along the streets, and observing the locals in their natural habitat.
Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city with a slow walk around the scenic Hoan Kiem Lake, and across the iconic red bridge for an instagram-worthy shot that will perfectly capture the essence of this laid-back holiday.
Embrace some European glamour at...
Hanoi Morgans Hotel: This charming boutique hotel fully encapsulates the beauty of the Old Quarter, and will have you instantly transported to the cobblestone streets of Paris. Bien!
Conveniently located in the historical district, many of Hanoi’s key tourist attractions are within walking distance of the hotel.
Total Damage (inclusive of flight and hotel): $272/pax for 3D2N trip
7. Live in a treehouse in Sri Lanka
CNY is barely two months into the new year, but life is hard and we’re sure an early suburban getaway is exactly what we need to re-energise ourselves for the months ahead. If you’re looking for a retreat to break away from the stress of school or the corporate world - this is it.
Be one with nature in...
A TREEHOUSE. Yes, you heard us - a treehouse! Don’t tell me your childhood dreams weren’t made of treehouses and imaginary animal friends.
The Saraii Village treehouses are a luxury suburban ecolodge - just far enough from the fast pace of the busy city, but close enough to civilisation (read: wi-fi).
Rent a bicycle from the resort, and take a short 15 minute ride to Bundala National Park, a grassy seaside park home to a myriad species of colourful birds and lazy elephants amongst other wildlife. Who needs South Africa when you have Sri Lanka?
And if all the nature activities are not enough to invigorate your body and mind, sign yourself up for a pampering treat at the resort’s spa. There’s nothing like a good deep tissue massage to loosen the knots in your back... or life.
Total Damage (inclusive of flight and hotel): $298/pax for 3D2N trip
8. Take a classic tropical vacay to Bali
Kuta Beach, Bali Source
Envision yourself with a cocktail in hand, lazing on parasol-shaded deck chairs by an ocean of azure blue. Even if there isn’t a good enough reason to treat yourself to a relaxing tropical vacay so early in the year - Bali is calling, and you must go.
Rejuvenate yourself at...
Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort: Or as I like to call it - Nirvana.
Sitting on the top of a private cliff, the Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort overlooks an incredible 103 hectares of land with a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean that promises to calm every last nerve.
And if that view alone isn’t enough to make you feel completely zen, maybe the resort’s multiple outdoor pools and waterslides will. An in-house salon, tennis court, and golf court are just some of the facilities the resort has that will convince you that staying there will guarantee your lifelong happiness.
Total Damage (inclusive of flight and hotel): $234/pax for 3D2N trip
9. Rejuvenate your body and mind in Chiang Mai
With its 300-odd temples dating as far back as the 13th century, each with its own unique charm, it's no wonder Chiang Mai is famous for its old-world charm. If you’re looking for a more spiritual experience to cleanse the soul, Chiang Mai is the place to be.
Visit the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai’s most sacred temple, atop the Doi Suthep mountain. You can pay 50 THB (S$1.95) for a two-way tram; but if you’re up for a challenge, climb the 300 stairs up to the temple grounds for that extra sense of satisfaction!
Legend has it, that if you walk around the golden shrine 3 times while praying, your wishes will come true!
Pay a visit to Wat Chedi Luang, a beautiful temple in the heart of Chiang Mai to catch a glimpse of the emerald buddha, hidden somewhere in the eastern enclave.
A trip to Thailand is never complete without a quintessential elephant ride. Pick from an array of tours and enjoy the slower (pun intended) side of the city. Try Blue Elephant Thailand Tours or Eddy Elephant Chiang Mai.
Have an artsy fartsy stay at...
Art Mai Gallery Nimman Hotel: Another boutique hotel that calls out to the ultimate hipster. If quirky and unconventional is your life's motto, then the Art Mai Gallery Nimman Hotel has just the thing you need. Each room sports a different distinct style that’s bound to satisfy even the most picky hipster.
Total Damage (inclusive of flight and hotel): $266/pax for 3D2N trip
10. Experience the dynamic city of Jakarta
With desolate slums speckled among massive skyscrapers, Jakarta is a vibrant city of stark contrasts. Megamalls sit comfortably beside street stores with rickety signboards - it’s quite a sight to behold.
While the day away in one of the shopping malls - Grand Indonesia Shopping Town, the newest, swankiest kid in the hood - or head to Kota Tua, Jakarta’s old town, to admire its colonial relics and indulge in some local street food.
After all that shopping, there’s only one thing left to do. Treat yourself to a day at the spa - even the luxury massage parlours are insanely cheap and good. On my previous visit, a quality 90-minute full-body massage only set me back by about S$25. Score!
Hawker carts peddling street food in the old town Source
Cosy up for the night at…
ARTOTEL Thamrin: From its edgy facade to its quirky restaurant and bar, every single room in this urban boutique hotel is bursting with whimsical street art. Situated right in the heart of all the action, you’ll have shopping malls, restaurants, and more right at your doorstep.
Total Damage (inclusive of flight and hotel): $142/pax for 3D2N trip
February’s only a little less than a month away, so it’s high time you start planning in advance what to do with your angpao money. No more losing it all to your relatives at the cruel mahjong table - it’s a mistake I make every year, and it has to stop.
Expedia.com.sg susses out the cheapest flights across multiple airlines and the best hotel deals in town - who knew you could snag a treehouse getaway in Sri Lanka, or a long weekend escapade in Hanoi for just under $300?
*Price is accurate at the time of writing. Terms and conditions apply.
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