For a scenic driving holiday in Asia, consider these seven routes. By Winnie Tan
With global positioning systems (GPS) easing the way and the rising popularity of smartphones and travel apps, more people are opting to drive on their trips abroad.
Before embarking on such an adventure, it is important to be prepared.
“It is recommended to apply for an International Driving Permit should you intend to drive overseas,” says a spokesman for Automobile Association Singapore (AAS). “Also consider applying for an overseas prepaid SIM card or pack a mobile Wi-Fi router with you, which would come in handy during emergencies.”
One of the top concerns of driving on a trip is getting lost. Google Maps may provide drivers with assistance, but the AAS points out that a local navigation device or GPS would be a good back-up.
In certain countries, such as South Korea, driving routes via Google Maps are widely unavailable. Those who do not understand the country’s national language should also ensure that the GPS comes with an English option.
If you plan to take a break from Singapore’s urban jungle and go on a ride, here are seven short scenic drives to choose from.
1. HENAN, CHINA
Guoliang Tunnel is carved into China’s Taihang Mountains. Photo: 陈 世乐 / 123rf.com
Xinxiang, Henan, to Guoliang Cun
Distance: 131 km
Time: 2 hours
Nestled in the Taihang Mountains in Henan province, Guoliang Tunnel is one of the most famous tunnel roads in the world, treating its visitors to thrilling sights of mountains from high above en route to the entrance.
Before the tunnel was constructed, Guoliang village, located high up in the mountains, was largely inaccessible.
To get to the city of Huixian below, village inhabitants had to use a steep and narrow staircase of more than 700 steps carved into the side of a cliff.
In 1972, 13 villagers decided to carve through the mountain to create a more convenient path, with chisels and explosives.
It took five years for the path to be completed, and quickly attracted attention with its breathtaking views of the cliffs 1,200m above sea level.
The 1.2km-long tunnel road, which is a tourist attraction, can be reached from the prefectural city in Xinxiang, Henan.
The sight of stunning layers of coloured rock and waterfalls flowing from valleys flanked by steep cliffs will excite mountain enthusiasts.
Along the drive, appreciate the beauty of Zhengmian Reservoir or stop by a mountain village for a bite. For lovers of spicy food, Nanzhai Village has a Chinese speciality – mala hotpot.
Drive with utmost caution as there are unpredictable twists and dips along the tunnel route.
2. HOKKAIDO, JAPAN
Irodori field, consisting of purple lavender, white baby’s breath, red poppies, pink garden catchflies and orange California poppies, is the best-known flower field at Farm Tomita in Furano. PHOTO: JAPAN NATIONAL TOURISM ORGANIZATION
Asahikawa to Furano
Duration: 2.5 hours
From May to October, tourists flock to Hokkaido to see the annual bloom of colourful flowers, such as lavender and marigolds.
Flora enthusiasts should do this drive from early June to early October, when most of the flowers are in full bloom.
This drive will take you along a winding road flanked with endless fields of multicoloured flowers and greenery.
Make a pit stop at the Hokusei- no-oka Observatory Park, a uniquely shaped triangular building at the top of a small hill in the town of Biei, for a picturesque view of flower beds and gentle hill slopes. Admission is free.
As you drive towards the town of Furano, stop at at Kanno Farm for a breathtaking view of its row upon row of vivid blooms.
Next, head to Farm Tomita (www.farm-tomita.co.jp/en) for a taste for its popular lavender ice cream, made from flowers cultivated on the farm.
For wine lovers, stop by Furano Winery (www.furanowine.jp/en#st_en_05), where admission and wine tasting are free.
3. PERAK, MALAYSIA
Tea plantations at Cameron Highlands. PHOTO: MALAYSIA TOURISM PROMOTION BOARD
Tapah to Brinchang
Duration: 2 hours
Famous for its rolling hills and tea plantations, many seek a short retreat by driving up to Cameron Highlands.
“The roads can be quite narrow and bumpy, which can be bad for people with motion sickness,” university graduate Huan Ting Ang, 26, says.
However, visitors will be rewarded with sights of lush plantations and cool temperatures away from Malaysia’s hot tropical climate.
Up the winding road, drive by several strawberry farms, such as Big Red Strawberry Farm (bigredstrawberryfarm.com) and EQ Strawberry Farm, for a glimpse of strawberry plantations or an afternoon of strawberry picking. Continue towards Kea Farm Market (bit.ly/2qIlnHD), where colourful stalls filled with local produce and souvenirs line both sides of the road.
Two kilometres from the Kea Farm Market, past Butterfly Garden, take the Jalan Gunung Brinchang route to Sungai Palas Garden (bit.ly/2rmwJTy) – a spacious tea plantation with its own tea centre, gallery and factory.
4. JEJU ISLAND, SOUTH KOREA
A stretch of cafes along Woljeongri Beach. PHOTO: KOREA TOURISM ORGANIZATION
Woljeongri Beach to Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak
Duration: 1 hour
Begin the drive at Woljeongri Beach, a peaceful stretch of pristine white sand and turquoise waters. Before setting off, explore the charming cafes along the shore and grab a bite to eat. Lowa Cafe offers Hallabong Tea, a Jeju Island speciality made from a type of tangerine.
Take the coastal road towards Jongdal-ri, lined with several stone towers. These towers look like breakwaters shielding the shore against the coastal currents, but were built by locals hoping that their efforts would help their wishes to come true.
The destination of this drive, Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak, also known as Sunrise Peak, is an attraction in its own right. Reaching 182m above sea level, it is known for breathtaking views of the sea.
Take a hike up the mountain. Its peak can be reached in 20 to 30 minutes, where a stunning view of Jeju Island awaits.
Many also choose to do the hike in the early morning to catch the sunrise. The peak opens an hour before sunrise daily, so plan ahead.
Time the trip in spring and be treated to the sight of bright yellow canola flowers at the peak.
Student and avid traveller Phyllys Yeo Kai-Lyn, 19, suggests going boating after the hike, at $12.50 a person.
“The ride was about seven minutes long and a motor boat took us on a fast ride along the side of the peak. It was fun and everyone stayed dry,” she says.
Hoi An, a city on Vietnam’s central coast, is a Unesco World Heritage site. PHOTO: DENISE LIM
Hoi An to Hue
Duration: 3 hours
Touted by Jeremy Clarkson, former presenter of the BBC programme Top Gear, as “one of the best coast roads in the world”, the view of the South China Sea along this scenic stretch is filled with lush greenery and a sublime view of the cerulean sea.
Named the Hai Van Pass, the stretch connects the major port city of Danang to the historic town of Hue and hugs the Annamite Range.
This route starts at Unesco World Heritage site Hoi An, an attraction in its own right with an amalgamation of colonial-style buildings and pagodas.
Drive out of this ancient town and pass by the Marble Mountains – five marble and limestone hills nestled among quaint houses south of Danang.
This road will also take you across the longest suspension bridge in Vietnam, the Thuan Phuoc Bridge, which spans 1.8km. Take in the sight of the sea against the backdrop of mountains and the city.
The Hai Van Pass will also give drivers a view of the lagoon of Lang Co, famous for its white-sand shores and freshly caught seafood. Make a pit stop here for a meal from the seafood stalls – there is an array of shellfish and snails.
Full-time national serviceman Cowan Ho, 19, who did the drive with his family, says it was worth the effort.
They hired a driver for US$60 (S$83) for the day-long scenic trip, with help from a Vietnamese hotel owner.
“Make sure you agree on the price first and check that the driver has sufficient fuel,” he says.
6. NEW TERRITORIES, HONG KONG
Clear Water Bay is located at the rugged peninsula in south-eastern New Territories and comprises two beaches. PHOTO: HONG KONG TOURISM BOARD
Ma On Shan to Po Toi O
Duration: 1 hour
Hong Kong has a reputation for being a fast-paced urban jungle, but the New Territories, which is a stone’s throw away from the city, offers calming views of hills and oceans.
From the town of Ma On Shan, easily accessible by public transport or a short drive from Hong Kong Island, drive south towards the Sai Kung District (bit.ly/2qCO6Cz), where you will traverse through Sai Kung Country Park, offering a tranquil ride through a canopy of trees.
Along Hiram’s Highway, take in the sight of rural settlements, a stark contrast to Hong Kong Island’s glitzy structures. Continue towards Silverstrand Beach. Stop here to soak in the sun at this small seaside nook.
Next up is the Clear Water Bay curve, where travellers breeze past the azure sea from the elevated road, heading towards the quaint fishing village, Po Toi O.
Hong Kong permanent resident Josaline Kay, 49, who has been on this road trip four times, says that a relaxing stroll around Po Toi O is best done in autumn. She says: “The drive may be long, but it is beautiful. Visit with friends or family when the weather is breezy, for a weekend-long walk by the sea away from the bustling city.”
Just beyond Po Toi O is the Tin Hau Temple, recognisable by the porcelain figurines perched upon its traditional, jade green roof. Stop to take a look inside, or for a break to enjoy the sea breeze.
7. KINTAMANI, BALI, INDONESIA
Mount Batur, an active volcano, is relatively safe and a popular tourist destination. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF TOURISM REPUBLIC INDONESIA
Ubud to Mount Batur
Duration: 1.5 hours
Take a break from the usual scene of sandy coasts and beachside villas in this land of sun and sea. Instead, head up to Mount Batur for a lush view of the active volcano.
On the way there, from the central town of Ubud, make a pit stop at the Tegallalang Rice Terrace (bit.ly/1ebJ2Kw), famous for its verdant scenes of rice paddies.
Next, drive to the Penelokan village, situated 1,450m above sea level, for the best view of Lake Batur, one of two calderas on Mount Batur. This is also where you can catch a view of Mount Batur in the distance.
Although it is an active volcano, it is relatively safe and a popular tourist location. Mount Batur is also famous for its sunrise trek, so a guided hike (bit.ly/2qCxlHy) up the mountain will satisfy any nature lover with its dramatic sunrise hues. Travellers can make a detour to see a conglomeration of 285 shrines and pavilions at Pura Ulun Danu Batur, the second most important temple in Bali dedicated to Dewi Danu, the goddess of lakes and rivers.
Finally, drive eastward towards the Batur Natural Hot Spring (bit.ly/2qCVMVk) for a soak in one of the hot pools facing the vast, calm waters of Lake Batur. Entry can cost up to $16 for adults and $8 for children.
Marketing assistant Charline Gourdon, 21, who took this route with her family in March, hired a driver from the villa they stayed at in Ubud. For $10 an hour, the private driver took them to the Tegallalang Rice Terrace.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 04, 2017, with the headline ‘Scenic road trips’.