Cool Getaways Without Breaking The Bank
I love Singapore to bits, but what I don’t always love is the sweltering heat and erratic weather. When the sun isn’t beating down in our faces, it usually means the rain is pelting down on us, and 1 very unfortunate tree along Orchard Road.
Every now and then, you just wanna escape to a cold country. But when a holiday to the snowy slopes of Korea doesn’t look good for both your bank account AND annual leave balance, where should you seek this respite?
Believe it or not, there are places close to home that offer the perfect climate. You need not wrap yourself up like a dumpling, nor will you have to sweat buckets while exploring their streets! There may not be snow, but if it means an “air-con” weather all day, we’ll take it.
Here are 10 unexpected getaways in Asia that are literally cool. With some careful planning, you can have a 3D2N trip to these ‘Winter Wonderlands’ for under $500!
Sweater weather everyday!
1. Chiang Rai, Thailand
Breathtaking and peaceful, Chiang Rai is a relatively unknown part of Thailand that makes for a great winter getaway. With temperatures averaging 25°C from December – February, it’s a great place to be at one with nature in comfort. It’s far more of a countryside destination than its sister city, Chiang Mai.
Here’s recommending a top vantage point to catch the sunrise or sunset – depending on whether you’re a morning person. The cliff of Phu Chi Fah translates to ‘mountain pointing to the sky’, standing at 1628 metres above sea level. It’s a 2-hour drive from the city, but it’ll be worth every minute of the ride! If the skies are clear, you’ll be able to see Northern Laos and the Mekong River from the summit.
Another way to bask in Chiang Rai’s colorful tranquility is through a visit to Boon Rawd Farm, also known as Singha Park. If you don’t already recognize the icon above, yes, this park is named after the greatest beer in Thailand. I like this place already.
There’s so much to do in the park, from taking a leisurely stroll with picturesque sceneries to ziplining through trees blossoming with flowers. It’s also home to gorgeous lawns and flowers that will make you forget you’re in Thailand. Who knew Chiang Rai had such perfect backdrops for wedding photoshoots or family vacation shots?
Compared to popular Thai destinations like Bangkok, Chiang Rai is definitely off the beaten track. But if you crave a vacation like Julia Roberts’ in Eat, Pray, Love, this is the place for you.
2. Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is a tourist destination famed for its cultural monuments, like the golden temple Wat Phra Doi Suthep that enshrines Buddha’s cremated collarbone. Not many know that Chiang Mai even has a winter season, and even fewer knows of its transformation once November dawns.
In the months between November to February, the temperature averages around 25°C. This is the time when Chiang Mai transforms. Why do I say that?
Because that’s when the sakura blossoms bloom.
Yes, I’m not kidding. There’s no need to travel all the way to Tokyo for cherry blossoms. Doi Inthanon National Park in Chiang Mai is home to beautiful sakura trees that blossom in the early part of the year, making for a spectacular sight that spruces up the typical Thai vacation.
The National Park is where you can immerse yourself in the sakura’s ephemeral beauty, but if you want the ultimate winter chill of Chiang Mai, head up to Doi Inthanon’s summit.
Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in the whole of Thailand. At its summit, temperatures can even dip below 0°C, so be sure to come prepared and warmly-clothed. Take it the fresh air from 2565 metres above sea level and snuggle up with a cup of hot coffee before you leave!
On the drive up, take the time to appreciate the beauty of Thai mountainside – you may be able to stop at a tribal village where the Hmong community resides, or visit a temple located near the summit.
Did you know that you can even ride a hot air balloon in Chiang Mai? Read our complete guide to the city here.
Getting There:: You can get round-trip tickets to Chiang Mai from SGD$287.
Where to stay:: There are plenty of hotels to stay in when you visit Chiang Mai, from as low as $15/night!
Total Cost:: SGD$317
3. Sagada, Philippines
For a taste of the true, indigenous Philippines, head over to Sagada. Up in the mountains, Sagada experiences relatively cool temperatures throughout the year, averaging 20°C. The best time to visit is in December, when they hold their annual bonfire festival.
One thing you definitely should do is head up to the Kiltepan Viewpoint to see the sunrise. Surrounded by nature and the vastness of the mountains, watching the landscape waking up in such magnificence will have you truly appreciate the intense majesty of our planet.
Sumaguing Cave Source
Sagada is home to breathtaking landforms. Apart from the quintessential rice terraces, the Sumaguing Cave is equally intriguing, with unusual limestone formations. Make like Indiana Jones as you spelunk and explore the caves – you can even swim in the natural pools formed in within!
Last but not least, the one thing any visitor to Sagada needs to see are the hanging coffins.
The hanging coffins of Sagada Source
This traditional burial method has been utilised in the Philippines for eons, and is an honour accorded to few. These coffins can be found hanging from cliffs in Sagada, a half an hour walk from the town itself. There’s a kind of creepy beauty to this honoured tradition that is at once both startling and grounding.
Getting There:: You can get a direct flight to Manila for SGD$175.52, and then take a bus ride to Baguio or Banaue. From Baguio or Banaue, take another bus in order to get to Sagada. The bus ride costs about 525 PHP (SGD$16) from Baguio and 665 PHP (SGD$20) from Banaue. For more details on how to get to Sagada, check out this guide.
Where to stay: : Stay in hotels with a homely vibe from SGD$42/night.
Total cost: SGD$288.90
4. Baguio, Philippines
Most of us don’t know much about the Philippines aside from Manila and balut, and Baguio is one such hidden gem. The summer capital of the Philippines, temperatures are cool all year round, averaging 18-20°C.
Baguio has a rich history in the arts – painters and sculptors flocked to it in the 1970s, and the annual Baguio Arts Festival attracts multitudes of artists every year. It’s also home to beautiful parks and churches, such as the Baguio Cathedral. Most of Baguio’s main attractions are located near each other, which makes getting around a breeze.
For the more adventurous sort, go for a hike up Mt Cabuyao, where you’ll get a beautiful panoramic view of the entire city of Baguio. When the weather is clear, you can even spot cargo shippings moving across the South China sea!
The annual Panagbënga Festival Source
The best time to visit Baguio is in February, when they have their Panagbënga Festival, created to rise up from the Luzon earthquake in 1990 and to celebrate the ‘season of blooming’. Today, it is an annual flower festival with bazaars, exhibitions, parades and street dancing – kinda like a month long party.
Getting There:: You can get a direct flight to Manila for SGD$175.52, before taking a 5-hour bus ride from Manila to Baguio for 450 PHP (SGD$13.38).
Where to stay: : There is plenty of accommodation in Baguio from SGD$62/night.
Total cost: SGD$312.90
5. Tagaytay, Philippines
A two-hour drive from Manila, Tagaytay is a laid-back destination even locals frequent to unwind. With temperatures ranging between 22°C – 25°C year-round, Tagaytay is host to leisure activities popular with both tourists and weekenders in the Philippines.
Taal Lake Source
Before any man-made attractions or festivities, one thing you need to see is the Taal Lake. From the lake, you can bask in the breathtaking beauty of the Taal Volcano, the second most active volcano in the Philippines. It’s far from dormant, but part of its appeal lies in the danger it holds.
Head over to the Tagaytay Picnic Grove for a great view of Taal Lake while having a picnic, or fly through the forest on a zipline. You could also get a cable car ride across the mountains, but be forewarned that those capsules will look nothing like what we’re used to in Singapore!
Sky Ranch Theme Park Source
If cable cars aren’t for you, head for the ferris wheel at the Sky Ranch Theme Park, where you can relive fond memories of old carnivals because this place still uses old-fashioned ticket stubs for the rides. #nostalgia.
Whether you’re looking for an action-packed getaway or a relaxing vacation, Tagaytay’s a place to let your hair down.
Getting There:: You can get a direct flight to Manila for SGD$175.52, and then take a bus from Manila to Tagaytay for 80 PHP (SGD$2.40). Get more detailed instructions here.
Where to stay : You can get a room in Tagaytay from $59/night.
Total cost: SGD$295.92
6. Bukit Tinggi, Pahang, Malaysia
Colmar Tropicale Source
Located in the Bentong district of Pahang, Bukit Tinggi is an idyllic getaway to get away from the bustle of city life. While it’s definitely on the warmer side, with temperatures around 25°C – 27°C, Bukit Tinggi is definitely cooler than the sweltering Singapore heat. Think Genting Highlands, but only 100 times more photogenic.
How’s it that such a beautiful place exists in our neighboring country without our knowing?! Colmar Tropicale is a French-themed resort replicated after the beautiful Alsace region of France. Take an evening stroll through the cobblestone walkways and delight in the old-world decor as it lights up come nighttime.
Japanese Village Source
At 3500 feet above sea level, French architecture isn’t the only thing that makes the novel experience at Bukit Tinggi. The Japanese Village is the only one of its kind out of Japan, sitting in the middle of a lush rainforest. At the village, you can go for a relaxing spa in the garden, rent a kimono or experience an authentic tea ceremony.
Getting There:: You can get flights from Singapore to KL from $60. From KL, you can drive up to Bukit Tinggi via the KL-Karak Expressway. Alternatively, there’s a shuttle bus service from Berjaya Times Square that will cost you 38 RM (SGD$12.44).
Where to stay : Most visitors to Bukit Tinggi stay at the Colmar Tropicale resort, from $70/night.
Total cost: SGD$212.44
7. Kundasang, Sabah, Malaysia
A small town in the Ranau district in Sabah, temperatures in Kundasang can drop to as low as 13°C at night. The picturesque sceneries make for postcard-perfect photos. If there ever existed a Southeast Asian rendition of New Zealand, Kundasang would be it.
Of course, no version of NZ is ever complete without cows. Desa Dairy Cattle farm is a family-friendly attraction where visitors can feed calves and goats, and watch how milk is processed and bottled. Don’t forget to pick up some dairy products like ice-cream and milk – they don’t get any fresher than this!
Kundasang is often a stopover for tourists en route to Mount Kinabalu, so you can’t make this trip without visiting the Kinabalu National Park! Even if you aren’t planning on ascending the mountain, swing by the Poring Hot Spring or take your treetop walk adventures to the Canopy Walkway.
Getting There:: You can get flights to Kota Kinabalu from $177. From Kota Kinabalu, you can either drive or board a bus to Kundasang.
Where to stay : Most hotels in Kundasang have a very cosy and homey vibe, but we recommend staying in this guesthouse from SGD$131/night.
Total cost: SGD$439
8. Hanoi, Vietnam
In the capital of Vietnam, temperatures are at their coldest from Dec – Feb, from about 16°C – 20°C. Sometimes dubbed as ‘the Paris of Asia’, Hanoi is a quaint and charming city, a fusion of modernity and tradition.
Hoan Kiem Lake Source
Pop down to Hanoi Old Quarter to see the narrow shophouses and street vendors peddling Vietnamese food for pennies, or catch a performance at the Hanoi Opera House. As you admire the colonial architecture, temples and pagodas, you’ll realize how much Hanoi is characterised by this juxtaposition.
Needless to say, Halong Bay should be in the itinerary of every Hanoi holiday. Only a 3-4 hour bus ride from Hanoi city, this natural wonder is possibly the most stunning view in Vietnam.
If you’re an adventurous soul willing to brave the cold, going on the Halong Bay cruise in the winter will be an experience to remember. There’s something captivating about exploring the floating villages and caves in the cold, seemingly frozen like a painting. But do come prepared!
If you, like me, find yourself piling on the layers once the office’s aircon temperature drops to 24°C, you’re better off headed to Halong Bay when it’s warmer. Besides, there’s a better chance of water sports then!
Getting There:: You can get a round-trip flight direct to Hanoi from Singapore on Vietnam Airlines from SGD$356.
Where to stay : Hanoi is no stranger to tourists, so hotels are aplenty from SGD$17/night.
Total cost: SGD$390
9. Mt Rinjani, Lombok
Lombok is known as an island of beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters, an alternative version of Bali seemingly from a parallel universe.
But for a more unusual Lombok adventure, head for Mt Rinjani. The second highest volcano in Indonesia, temperatures at night can drop to as low 9°C, making for a mountainous winter getaway.
For the true adventure-seekers and adrenaline junkies, you definitely need to trek up Mt Rinjani. It usually takes at least two days and a night, but once you hit the summit, you’ll be treated to a panoramic view of the sun setting over Mt Rinjani, Bali and the Gili Islands.
Combined with the dazzling blue waters of the Segara Anak lake, formed in a crater, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. If you feel like fainting at the thought of stumbling through a forest for two whole days, there are far less strenuous alternatives.
Take a stroll out to the Sendang Gile waterfall, located in the Mt Rinjani National Park. Just be aware that you’ll have to do a fair bit of walking to get to the waterfall! Local myth has it that a prince hid behind the waterfall in order to escape from a crazy lion, hence why the name ‘Sendang Gile’ translates to ‘Crazy Spring’.
You could also pay a visit to a local village in Lombok. There are many villages that welcome tourists, such as the Sukarara Village, but located in an old caldera east of Mt Rinjani lies the weaving village of Sembalun Lawang.
Watch the weavers at work in their home workshops, using traditional techniques that have been passed down for generations. You may even get a chance to try your hand at weaving the way these women do!
Staying on Mt Rinjani is definitely something to do if you want to get back in touch with nature and really immerse yourself in the beauty of the mountain and witness how the locals live their lives.
Check out our full guide to Lombok and the Gili Islands to find out what more you can do in this wonderful island.
10. New Delhi, India
New Delhi isn’t in Southeast Asia, but it’s too iconic a wintry destination to miss. The capital of India is known for being a cultural hotspot. While most people have the impression that India is a nation of sweltering heat, things get more than just a little chilly. From late November to February, New Delhi experiences temperatures of 15°C – 20°C. Temperatures have also been known to drop to near zero, so be sure to bundle up warm!
The Jama Masjid Source
Delhi is home to beautiful temples and mosques, remnants of the ancient Mughal Empire. This beauty you see above is the Jama Masjid – largest mosque in the whole of India and masterpiece of Shah Jahan, the man behind the Taj Mahal. Don a set of rented robes at the Northern gates and fit right in with the locals!
Right next to the mosque is the Chawri Bazar, the first wholesale market of Old Delhi. It largely specialises in metal products, alongside vases, oil lamps and traditional jewelry boxes. You’ll also find a vibrant street food culture here, with prices ranging from 40 – 60 rupees (SGD $0.85 – $1.28).
Another place worth visiting is the Lotus Temple. Of the Bahá’í Faith, the temple is open to all to visit and meditate for as long as they please, regardless of race, language or religion. The Lotus Temple cuts an impressive figure across Delhi, and is one of the most well-known landmarks in the city. It’s even more beautiful when illuminated by the sun.
Delhi is generally safe for tourists, but the usual precautions apply. Don’t travel alone, and stick to the main roads and brightly-lit areas!
Ready, set, explore!
From bustling night markets to magnificent temples, sunrise from astounding heights to elusive floral blooms, these cool getaways will make you forget that you’re still in South Asia. Whether you’re planning a lepak getaway or an action-packed vacation, there’s something for everyone if you knew just where to look.
Fortunately for us, 2016 abounds with many long weekends we can spend abroad. Get some strategic planning done, pack your sweaters and knitwear, and be well on your way to see the Thai Sakura!
Traveling with your sole-mate
I can’t be the only one who finds footwear-packing one of the most acute first world problems ever. I love traveling, but I don’t fancy the idea of freeing up half my suitcase to fit 3 pairs of shoes – sneakers, boots, and pumps. If the same FWP troubles you, GEOX shoes with their patented breathable technology will put an end to your packing woes.
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