9 ideas for nine long weekends

With possibly nine long weekends next year, it is time to start planning quick getaways

It is not even halfway into the year, but Ms Janice Lim is already looking forward to 2018.

After hearing the recent news that those working in Singapore could enjoy a bumper crop of nine long weekends next year with some planning, the 25-year-old is hoping to go on more weekend trips around the region with her partner.

Ms Lim, who manages financial comparison site GoBear, says: "We are making a point next year to travel more, to gain new experiences and take a break once in a while. So having more long weekends next year is definitely good news."

Four public holidays - New Year's Day, Chinese New Year, Good Friday and Hari Raya Puasa - will fall on a Friday or Monday next year, giving workers a three-day weekend.

Another five holidays fall on a Tuesday or a Thursday, so those who want a four-day weekend would need only to take a day off.

 
 

Long weekends are the perfect opportunity for a short getaway. And with midnight flights, more affordable air tickets and the plethora of budget airlines, Singaporeans need not limit themselves to neighbouring countries. They can even squeeze in a jaunt to China, Japan or Australia.

Of course, do not expect to cover everything in four days, but you can still have a memorable and enjoyable trip with proper planning.

Mr James Lee, 42, a sales representative with lifestyle and travel membership company WorldVentures, travels during at least three or four long weekends every year, mostly with his family.

His advice? Ensure that your transportation is well-planned and arranged so that moving from place to place can be hassle-free.

Or if planning ahead is too much of a fuss, he suggests signing up for a tour.

Digital entrepreneur Nelson Lee, 30, who has travelled to Bali, Surabaya, Kuala Lumpur and Jakartaover long weekends, says: "Stay open-minded. And stay off the mobile phone."

Recalling his trip to Surabaya in 2014, he says: "It is just a short flight away. And there are short or long itineraries which you can work out with a local guide from your hotel."

There are also tools online to help you plan.

Travel search engine Skyscanner, for example, has the Public Holiday Planner Tool (www.skyscanner.com.sg/publicholidayplanner) featuring a range of destinations with wallet-friendly deals. It also tells you how many days of leave are required to enjoy a long weekend in these locations.

Ms Alicia Seah, 51, director of public relations and communications at Dynasty Travel, says that when it comes to short getaways, Singaporeans are spoilt for choice.

"We are close to internationally well-regarded travel destinations such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong," she adds.

"Some places in the region are also relatively unknown to many Singaporeans, such as Palawan island in the Philippines. They may make perfect getaways because they are exotic, easy to get to and you don't have to jostle with the crowds."

The Sunday Times recommends nine short getaways for the nine long weekends.



Chef Nakanoue Hiroki of two- Michelin-starred Sushiyoshi, located in Osaka, Japan, roasting tuna over a small fire of burning hay outside his restaurant. PHOTO: SUSHIYOSHI

1 Osaka, Japan

Nicknamed "the nation's kitchen" for once playing a vital role in managing Japan's economy and distribution of goods, this city has also gained a reputation for its fine cuisine in recent years.

If you are concerned that a long weekend is too short for a foodie trip there, Singapore Airlines has an overnight flight there and back, leaving you with more time to, well, eat.

You will need it. Numerous websites are dedicated to its must-visit restaurants and cafes.

For example, Sushiyoshi in the Kita-ku ward, known for its sushi, has two Michelin stars.

Fancy super-fresh squid cooked and served in a thickened sauce accentuated with yuzu? Or tuna maki with thick strips of tuna in varying shades of fattiness?

The Kani Doraku chain of restaurants, famous for its crab dishes, is worth checking out for dishes such as these.

Mr Martin Foo, 50, executive head chef of modern Chinese restaurant VLV, ate at its original restaurant, Dotombori Honten, in central Osaka in 2015.

He says: "I had a massive crab feast with my family - grilled crab, steamed crab, crab sashimi, crab chawanmushi, crab sushi and much more. Most Singaporeans love crab dishes and I would highly recommend this place to them."


2 Palawan, the Philippines

This Philippine island, with its pristine beaches, coral reefs and limestone cliffs, would make a perfect beach getaway.

Travel magazine Travel + Leisure gave it the top spot in its ranking of The World's Best Islands last year, noting it had "mountains rising out of impossibly turquoise waters".

The flight from Singapore takes about seven hours.

One of the island's treasures is the Puerto Princesa Underground River, which was named one of the world's seven wonders of nature in 2012.

Previous reports say the 8.2km- long river has caverns abloom with limestone, in shapes that evoke mediaeval cities, frozen waves and a cloud-like cathedral.

Nobody knows exactly when the hidden river, which flows into the South China Sea, was first discovered. But Australian and Italian teams began exploring its chambers in the 1980s.

Another attraction is El Nido, an area known for its white sandy beaches.

Ms Janice Lim, 25, who manages GoBear, a website that provides comparisons of financial products, visited the island last month.

"Most people travel to Palawan for El Nido, but it is overrun with backpackers," she says.

"I stayed at the Tapik Beach Park Guest House, which is on the edge of a quiet beach with plenty of islands and snorkelling spots nearby. The tranquillity and natural scenery there made it the highlight of the trip."



The Cage
of Death in
Crocosaurus
Cove includes
15 minutes in
the enclosure
with one of the
reptiles. PHOTO:
CROCOSAURUS COVE
DARWIN NORTHERN
TERRITORY

3 Darwin, Australia

When Down Under, always be prepared for an adventure. And Darwin, Australia's only tropical capital city, has that in spades.

Those unafraid of heights can go sky-diving with Top End Tandems and enjoy a free fall at more than 200kmh against the blue sky, while taking in magnificent views of Lee Point Beach.

At the Crocosaurus Cove, you can sign up for an experience in its famous Cage of Death, Australia's only crocodile dive, which includes 15 minutes in the enclosure with one of the massive reptiles.

While inside the cage, you will be suspended above the reptiles and lowered into the pen to get an up close and personal look.

A 11/2-hour drive away is Kakadu National Park, Australia's largest national park.

There, you can take a plane or helicopter ride, following the snaking rivers and looking down on the ancient stone escarpments.

Those into trekking can explore the rock art galleries of Nourlangie Rock.

Darwin is a 41/2-hour flight from Singapore.



A baby panda
at the Chengdu
Research Base
of Giant Panda
Breeding.
PHOTO: REUTERS

4 Chengdu, China

If you are tired of seeing Kai Kai and Jia Jia at Singapore's River Safari, but cannot get enough of pandas, this city - about a 41/2-hour flight from Singapore - is the perfect vacation spot as it is famous for being a panda paradise.

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is home to 152 giant pandas, as well as several red pandas, according to its website. The view of the pandas here is reportedly much closer than that at most Western zoos.

Mr Xavier Tan, 29, SilkAir's Sichuan station manager, who has been there, says: "The numerous enclosures within mean you get to see many pandas doing a variety of activities, such as eating, climbing trees and interacting with one another.

"There is also a panda museum and a beautiful bamboo forest in the panda base."

Another panda attraction, the Dujiangyan Panda Base and Center for Disease Control, offers volunteer programmes that let visitors get closer to the animals.

During these programmes, which last one to two days, volunteers prepare panda food, clean panda enclosures, plant bamboo and trees as well as watch films about pandas, among other activities.

Besides pandas, Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, is also known for traditional Sichuan opera, characterised by crowd-pleasing elements such as acrobatics and fire spitting. The Shufeng Sichuan Opera House, for example, has performances every evening, according to travel websites.



The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, built in an artificial lagoon on the banks of a river, boasts golden domes and marble minarets. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN FILE

5 Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Brunei's capital and largest city may not be as well-known as other South-east Asian cities, but its architecture is stunning and it is home to some of the most beautiful mosques in South-east Asia.

And it is just a two-hour flight from Singapore.

The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque is built in an artificial lagoon on the banks of a river and its golden domes and marble minarets will take your breath away.

The Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque is especially striking when lit at night. According to the Lonely Planet website, it was built in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of the current sultan's reign.

The best time to visit the city, according to those who have been there, is Hari Raya Puasa. That is when Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who is also the Prime Minister, hosts an open house at his official residence, the Istana Nurul Iman.

During this time, male visitors reportedly get a chance to meet and shake hands with him, and all visitors are treated to a sumptuous feast. Just be prepared to wait as the royals are said to greet about 40,000 people a day during the festivities.

Mr Patrick Fiat, 64, general manager and chief experience officer of Royal Plaza on Scotts, has been to the city and met the sultan before.

He says: "It was a solemn and truly unique experience that you will not get in other parts of the world."



Witness the early morning ritual of monks receiving alms from locals in Luang Prabang. PHOTO: SILKAIR

6 Luang Prabang, Laos

This Unesco World Heritage Site is just 40 minutes by plane from Laos' capital, Vientiane.

The town of Luang Prabang is noted for its unaffectedness and languid charm, and an early morning ritual that involves monks receiving alms from the locals.

Every morning, a wet market pops up in the alleyways off Sisavangvong Road, the city's high street. Expect to see glistening fresh fruit, vegetables and meat laid out on mats at stalls run mostly by women who speak in quickfire Lao.

A bustling night market stretches from Sisavangvong Road to Settathilat Road, selling shawls, rugs and handbags that showcase Lao weaving and embroidery. Pop by at about 10pm, when stall owners start to pack up and you are more likely to get a generous discount.

Ms Janet Loh, a communications professional at a tertiary institution, has visited Luang Prabang thrice and describes it as a "very quiet, friendly and laid-back town".

She adds: "I recall going to its one and only disco, Dao Fa nightclub. I visited it out of curiosity as I had read that it was the only place that was open past 11.30pm.

"We danced, drank beer, tried to talk above the loud music and people-watched until past 2am."

Vientiane is about three hours by plane from Singapore.



Take a day trip from Surabaya to see Mount Bromo, an active volcano. PHOTO: ZULKEFLI ISMAIL

7 Surabaya, Indonesia

Indonesia's second-largest city is considered a gateway to some of the country's scenic mountain landscape.

About a two-hour-drive away is Mount Arjuno-Welirang, which is dotted with temples, graves and other historical sites and where tour companies organise treks.

The Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, about a 31/2-hour drive from Surabaya, is named after two of its mountains - Mount Semeru and Mount Bromo - both active volcanoes.

Mount Bromo, which is more famous, erupted as recently as last year and the crater inside is known to throw up white smoke.

The overall scene has often been described as unearthly as the sand around the volcano contrasts with the lush, green landscapes in the park, fed by rivers originating from the mountains.

Mr James Lee, 42, a sales representative with lifestyle and travel membership company WorldVentures, was in Surabaya in July last year and visited Mount Bromo.

He says: "I was standing on the mountain and smoke was coming out from below. The experience was simply mind-blowing."

It takes around 21/2 hours to fly to Surabaya.



The Sam Poh Tong Temple is located in a natural limestone hill about 5km from Ipoh. PHOTO: EXPRESS & EXCURSION BUS ASSOCIATION

8 Ipoh, Malaysia

If you have kids in tow, you will need attractions and activities that can keep the little ones occupied. And Malaysia's fourth-biggest city has plenty of those.

The Lost World Of Tambun theme park is a child's wonderland, with a water park, petting zoo, amusement park and adventure park, among other attractions.

Thrill-seekers can roll and tumble around in giant zorb balls or take part in a super adventure race that involves rafting, jungle trekking, caving and cliff racing.

Those who do not mind getting wet can enjoy the country's longest inflatable tube ride, biggest wave pool and longest man-made adventure river.

The kids might also enjoy the Sam Poh Tong Temple, located in a natural limestone hill about 5km from Ipoh.

Its colourful statues and designs make for great photos and its turtle pond is said to be filled with hundreds of the reptiles, which visitors can feed with vegetables and bread.

Visitors have noted that the animals will "rush" to you if they believe you have food in your hands.

There are budget airlines flying to Ipoh from Singapore. The flight is about 11/2 hours long.



Sri Lankan traditional dancers performing during the Navam Perahera festival in Colombo. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

9 Colombo, Sri Lanka

With SilkAir launching thrice-weekly flights to Colombo this month, the bustling city, which retains many traditional elements, is another alternative for spending a long weekend.

It takes less than four hours to fly there.

Among its many beautiful temples is the Gangaramaya Temple, which organises the city's most- talked-about annual cultural pageant, the Navam Perahera festival, in February.

The event features hundreds of monks clad in colourful robes solemnly walking in the procession, with youth clad in white carrying Buddhist flags, dancers, drummers and brightly decorated elephants.

Another cultural attraction is the Traditional Puppet Art Museum, which was established to preserve the memory of traditional arts.

Puppet shows were part of the entertainment in Sri Lankan villages and the country has its own style of presenting these performances because of its unique mix of cultures and religions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline 'Nine ideas for nine long weekends in 2018'. Print Edition | Subscribe