Dive into nature and culture at these underrated Asian destinations – perfect for a quick weekend getaway.
You’re planning for a getaway and are in a bind. You long for quiet moments, great food, and a place to escape the city. But you’ve got a limited amount of time and, as a seasoned traveller, you’re tired of the same old destinations close to Singapore.
All is not lost. We shine the spotlight on these off-the-radar hotels, resorts and locales, which are 4 hours away (or less!) from our little red dot.
The Island of Gods might sound like a done and dusted holiday spot but you are probably only thinking about the south, where you’ll find Seminyak, Kuta and Canggu (yawn). Instead, head north for your next trip and be surprised by the change of scenery and pace in a place where there’s less traffic and fewer crowds to contend with.
Head straight for Lovina, where fishing boats dot the beaches. Book a tour on a local boat for a spot of dolphin-watching, visit nearby temples and waterfalls, and take a short drive to dip in the ancient Banjar Hot Springs. Go further towards the northeast and check into Spa Village Resort Tembok (rates start at around $350 per night). Owned by the luxury group YTL Hotels, you’ll find a wellness retreat steeped in tranquillity against the backdrop of a rugged mountain range and black volcanic sand beaches.
Travel time: 2.5 hours from Singapore by plane (search the usual budget airlines like Scoot for deals). Lovina is around a 90-minute drive away from the airport.
Chiang Rai was the ancient capital of the Lanna kingdom in northern Thailand from the 13th to the 18th centuries, and it still feels like a city lost in time. Nature lovers should head for the mountains where wildlife, wilderness and indigenous hill tribes abound. A good number of rooms at the lush Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort offers panoramas of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. Animal lovers will enjoy interacting with rescued and rehabilitated elephants.
Travel time: 3 hours from Singapore by plane (Scoot flies direct from Singapore three times a week).
The southernmost islands in Indonesia’s Anambas archipelago — that’s where you’ll find private beaches and clear, turquoise waters teeming with coral and marine life. Where you want to be is the chic eco-resort Bawah Reserve, which owns six private isles in the archipelago. A trip here requires a ride on a ferry, before you’re dropped into the location via seaplane. Wifi is currently only available in the main bar and in the villas themselves, making Bawah the perfect getaway for a digital detox.
Overwater bungalows, 13 quiet beaches and amazing water activities have led this group of islands to being hailed as the “Maldives of Asia”. Did we mention that spa treatments come along with your stay, in an all-inclusive price? A minimum stay of three nights applies (rates start at around US$1780 per night for two people).
Travel time: 4 hours from Singapore by ferry and seaplane.
This is an unpolished Cambodian gem close to the water that’s just 40mins away by plane from Phnom Penh. It teems with cheap eateries, casinos and cheesy French cafes, but is about to be given a huge boost in the class factor. Come November, Six Senses, the luxury hospitality brand with a strong emphasis on wellness and sustainability, will open its Krabey Island resort. It is just a short ferry ride away from Sihanoukville.
Travel time: The fastest way to get there is to take a plane to Kuala Lumpur (50 mins away from Singapore). Then, take a flight from the Malaysian capital to Sihanoukville (around 40 mins, regular flights can be found on AirAsia).
Just north of Semarang in Indonesia, a skip and a hop away from Singapore, lies a beautiful cluster of 23 quiet islands with turquoise waters teeming with marine life. It’s little wonder Singaporeans are making their way there in droves. The marine park holds many underwater attractions including large numbers of reef sharks. Stay at Kura Kura Resort, a higher-end option (rates start at around US$210 per night), and visit other nearby islands for a picnic or snorkel session.
Travel time: A 2 hour and 10 min flight from Singapore will get you to Semarang by SilkAir or AirAsia. From there, it’s a 40 min chartered flight to the islands, if you are staying at Kura Kura Resort.
This Vietnamese coastal city lies between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh and boasts colonial French architecture, powdery beaches or breathtaking landscapes. The Museum of Cham Sculpture is a must-visit for history buffs, while a hike to the peak of Monkey Mountain is worthwhile for the spectacular mountain views. If you love both history and nature, you’d enjoy the trek to Thuy Son, a natural cave in the Marble Mountains, which were pilgrimage sites for Hindus and Buddhists.
Travel time: 2.5 hours away from Singapore by plane (Jetstar and AirAsia fly to Da Nang, while full-service airlines like Singapore Airlines also run regular flights).
Despite being so close to Singapore, Melaka is still an under-the-radar location for most of us here and there’s plenty of reasons to visit. Firstly, it’s a step back in time as you wander around the streets — because of its colourful history, Melaka is a place where you’ll find beautiful colonial architecture influenced by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British, the Chinese, and the Malays. But the quiet city’s main draw has to be its food, and it’s a hotbed of authentic Peranakan and Kristang cuisines. Visit The Majestic Malacca for delectable Kristang dishes, and stay for the night if you are into luxurious digs (rates start at around $165 a night). Visit its spa, one of the only places you’ll be able to indulge in treatments based on Peranakan healing therapies.
Travel time: 3 hours from Singapore by car.
Wildlife enthusiasts should venture into the jungles of Malaysia’s Borneo and Sarawak is where the majority of the Ibans, an indigenous people, live. Jungle animals, particularly the orangutan, are crucial to their culture, and the tribes consider sightings of the primate to be portents of major events. Learn about the local folklore and efforts to preserve the orangutan, as well as other wildlife such as the endangered Bornean Sun Bear and the proboscis monkey. Join Borneo Eco Tours for a guided tour of the conservation parks. The company is also able to help arrange accommodation.
Travel time: 2.5 hours by plane from Singapore to Kota Kinabalu (search for flights via Singapore Airlines and AirAsia).
Bunaken National Marine Park and the Lembeh Strait may be a divers’ paradise, but the terra firma of Manado is also worth a visit for those who prefer to stay dry. Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi, Indonesia, is home to a stunning diversity of wildlife, including the Tarsius, one of the world’s smallest primates. Food is another attraction here. Sample a range of mouthwatering local fare that draws on indigenous tribal, Indonesian, and even Dutch cuisines.
Travel time: 3 hours and 35 mins from Singapore by SilkAir.