Discover remnants of old colonial settlements in pockets of Southeast Asia. By Yuen Yi Ying
You don’t have to go too far west for a taste of France, Italy, Spain or Holland. Instead, jet off to one of our neighbouring cities in Southeast Asia during one of the long weekends to soak up the European vibes. It’s much more pocket-friendly too!
(Psst, for peace of mind, remember to register online with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs so that you can be contactable in case of any emergency or crisis, like a natural disaster or civil unrest.)
1. Where to Go During the Long Weekend: Head to Batangas, Philippines on Good Friday (Mar 25)
Inside the Basilica of St Martin de Tours in Batangas, Philippines. (Photo: Cirilo Bathan / www.123rf.com)
Make some Spanish memories in Batangas, Philippines
Travel time: 3.5hr flight to Manila + 2.5hr drive
Best time to visit: November to April, when it’s dry and temperatures hover between 20 and 34.5 deg C.
Sightseeing in Batangas, Philippines
A visit to the town of Taal is like stepping into a time machine and travelling back to pre-20th century Spain. It’s home to the Basilica of St Martin de Tours, reportedly the biggest church in Asia, as well as the Shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay. Many grand mansions remain too – sneak a peek inside: They still retain the decor, fittings and furniture from the era.
Get Moving in Batangas, Philippines
While in Batangas, be sure to scuba-dive in its pristine waters. Taal Volcano is another popular site, especially among shutterbugs and hikers. But beware, the volcano is still active – it’s supposedly the smallest active volcano in the world – and potentially deadly. To explore the place, you’ll need a permit from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. Their site (www.phivolcs.dost.gov.ph) publishes alerts on volcanic activity, so check it regularly if you’ve planned a trip there.
2. Where to Go During the Long Weekend: Head to Jakarta, Indonesia on Labour Day (May 1) or Vesak Day (May 21)
Take in the remaining Dutch colonial architecture around the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. (Photo: Florian Blümm / www.123rf.com)
Soak up Dutch nostalgia in Jakata, Indonesia
Travel time: 1.5hr flight
Best time to visit: May to September, as the rainy season starts in October and lasts till April. (Note: If you’re thinking of going to Indonesia during Hari Raya Haji, don’t. Most of the stores will be shut during the festivities – maybe, even your hotel’s services will be temporarily suspended.)
Sightseeing in Jakarta, Indonesia
Back in the 17th century, Jakarta was known as Batavia. Dutch-style buildings constructed then were said to be even grander and more luxurious than those back in the Netherlands, which earned it the nickname, “Queen of the East”.
Close-up of a colonial structure in Jakarta. (Photo: denysabri/www.pixabay.com)
Get Moving in Jakarta, Indonesia
Sadly, many monuments have since been demolished, or are left in a state of decay. However, those that remain deserve a visit – on foot. We recommend Toko Merah, the former residence of a Dutch governor; the Jakarta History Museum (former City Hall of Batavia) and Istana Bogor. History buffs shouldn’t miss the Kota Intan Bridge as well, a traditional drawbridge that’s the last of its kind in the city.
3. Where to Go During the Long Weekend: Head to Hanoi, Vietnam on Hari Raya Haji (Sep 12) or Deepavali (Oct 29)
Close-up of St Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Photo: kytrangho/www.pixabay.com)
Take a step back into old-world France in Hanoi, Vietnam
Travel time: 3hr flight
Best time to visit: February to April (temperatures range from 15 to 27 deg C) or September to November (18.5 to 31 deg C), when it’s less likely to rain.
Sightseeing in Hanoi, Vietnam
Chic cafes aren’t the only things the French left behind. Venture into Ba Dinh District, commonly known as the French Quarter, where the streets and buildings can easily be mistaken for those in Paris. Wander down tree-lined lanes, admire the clipped gardens around the Presidential Palace, and pose for pictures in front of St Joseph’s Cathedral, Notre Dame’s Asian doppelganger.
Walk down to the iconic red bridge along Hoan Kiem Lake… (Photo: Robin Pho)
Then, people watch at a French-style bistro, such as Green Tangerine pictured here. (Photo: Robin Pho)
Get Moving in Hanoi, Vietnam
Work out with the locals every morning by the scenic Hoan Kiem Lake. Popular morning exercises include tai chi, badminton and cycling. Afterwards, have breakfast at a bistro. The Vietnamese love pairing banh mi (ham and pate baguette sandwich) with a piping hot cup of coffee.
4. Where to Go During the Long Weekend: Head to Khao Yai, Thailand on Christmas Day (Dec 25)
An Italian-style shopping street in Khao Yai, Thailand. (Photo: stockphotoatinat / www.123rf.com)
Get captivated by Italian charm in Khao Yai, Thailand
Travel time: 3hr flight to Bangkok + 3hr drive
Best time to visit: November to February; the weather is perfect for hiking (temperatures range from 10 to 22 deg C).
Sightseeing in Khao Yai, Thailand
Its sprawling vineyards, quaint towns and picturesque mountains have earned this region the moniker, “Tuscany of Thailand”. Cycling enthusiasts will love the long scenic stretches of relatively flat terrain.
Suss out the Haeo Suwat Falls, where Leonardo DiCaprio filmed The Beach. (Photo: Josch13 / www.pixabay.com)
Get Moving in Khao Yai, Thailand
Hike across Khao Yai National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site. It’s one of the biggest in the country (about three times the size of Singapore) and boasts trails of varying difficulties. Breathtaking waterfalls – including one shot for The Beach, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio – dot the park. If you’re afraid of getting lost, hire a guide as he’ll also be able to point out the park’s wildlife (think gibbons, sambar deer and the occasional black bear or elephant).