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Best short breaks from Singapore

One of the major bonuses of being an expat in Singapore is being able to treat Asia as your backyard and squeeze in lots of quick trips to nearby countries each year. There are countless adventures only a plane-hop away, from lazing on a palm-fringed sandy beach in the Gili Islands to trekking through the jungles of Laos. In some cases, you won’t even need time off from work – a long weekend from Friday night to Sunday night plus a public holiday will suffice. Here are some of the most popular destinations for expats living in Singapore. Hit the blue links below for interesting EL articles on that area.

A local fishing village off Malaysia's coast
A local fishing village off Malaysia’s coast


Right on Singapore’s doorstep, Malaysia has plenty to offer as a holiday destination: bustling cities, beautiful beaches, historical towns and delicious food.

Across the causeway, Johor Bahru (“JB”) can be good for the occasional shopping and eating experience (get there by car, taxi or bus). Kids will love Legoland which is barely an hour’s drive from home.

The Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur has areas of historical and cultural interest, fabulous views from the Petronas Towers, and buzzing nightlife in Bangsar. The nearby Batu Caves are worth visiting.

For beaches, Langkawi off the peninsular west coast and Perhentian and Redang islands off the east coast are among the highlights. Tioman, Sibu and Rawa are close to Singapore. Kota Kinabalu in Borneo (East Malaysia) is a stepping-stone to Mabul and Sipadan.

Elsewhere, Penang and Malacca hit the spot for history; Taman Negara has the world’s oldest rainforest; the Cameron Highlands and tea plantations are located on the spine of the peninsula; and don’t forget the orangutans in Sabah.

Reader tips…

“In terms of proximity it has to be Langkawi – I absolutely loved it there and it was only a one-hour flight. Would definitely go back and stay at The Danna hotel like last time.” – Lucy

“I usually try to explore a new destination each time. However, for a quick beach getaway I like Tioman island – it’s close, so there is no wasting time on travel. For a more adventurous holiday, I choose Kuching: plenty of activities to take part in, and lots of jungle, wildlife, and local longhouses. With plenty of flights and short travel time it’s perfect for a long weekend getaway.” – Monika

A gorgeous, colourful Gili scene
A gorgeous, colourful Gili scene


There are an estimated 17,508 islands in Indonesia, of which only about 6,000 are inhabited. The main islands are Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Irian Jaya and, last but not least, Java, home to 70 percent of the country’s population.

For a relaxing beach holiday less than an hour away by ferry, pop over to the islands of Bintan and Batam or try lesser known Telunas or Nikoi.

Head to Bali for beaches, terraced rice paddies, temples, ruins and jungle walks. Luxury villas can be rented for a great price, particularly if you travel with a group of friends. It’s no wonder it’s a favourite among Singapore-based expats.

Lombok is making a name for itself as “the Bali of 20 years ago” while the nearby Gili Islands are an idyllic hideaway. Perfect for scuba diving and snorkelling enthusiasts, Manado boasts stunning scenery and volcanoes.

Our tips…
– Take a direct flight to Yogyakarta which is an easy stepping-stone to the ancient temples of Borobodur.
– For splendid isolation, interesting culture and perfect surfing, visit Sumba Island.

Did You Know?
– Try Jetstar, AirAsia, Tigerair and Scoot for flights that won’t break the bank. Deals can’t start from as little as $20, one way.
– SilkAir is handy for some of the destinations that other airlines don’t fly to. Firefly is useful for flights into Malaysia, while KLM and Qatar Airways have great deals to Bali. Cebu Pacific Air is good for flights to and within the Philippines and Berjaya Air makes short hops to smaller destinations in Malaysia.

The iconic Great Wall of China
The iconic Great Wall of China


Buildings steeped in history, sweeping landscapes and a cultural revolution still in motion: China is one of the most exciting travel destinations in Asia. Highlights undoubtedly include the Great Wall near Beijing, the famous Terracotta warriors of Xi’an and the cutting-edge city of Shanghai.

Other popular destinations include Hangzhou, a pretty lake city mentioned by Marco Polo; Chengdu, whose bamboo forests are the last strongholds of the endangered giant panda; and Hainan Island with international resorts, sandy beaches and golf courses.

Harbour cruises, gourmet food, museums, culture and heritage make Hong Kong a wonderful city break.

Over the past few years, Macau has evolved from a sleepy city with Portuguese forts and food into Asia’s Las Vegas.

Our tips…
– May and October are the best months to travel in most of China, though be wary of busy national holiday periods at the beginning of both months.
– Yunnan Province offers a window into the lives of China’s minority cultures, along with majestic scenery. – There is some brilliant hiking to be done on the various islands that make up Hong Kong.
– On Macau, escape the casinos and explore the rustic corners of Coloane Island.

Travel to Thailand
Get some culture this CNY


Colourful but busy Bangkok has amazing food, fabulous temples, numerous markets and malls, and interesting nightlife. Not far away are the stunning temples of Ayuthaya which are best seen by bicycle.

For a beach holiday less than two hours away by air, visit Phuket, Koh Samui or Krabi and take a boat trip around the breathtaking Ao Phang Nga National Park.

Up north, a jungle adventure involving elephants, teak forests and numerous hill tribes awaits you in the Golden Triangle’s Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

Reader tips…
“I love Railay Bay at Krabi for the vast beauty of the area and the amazing rock climbing – you can do a climb in the morning and be on the beach by midday soaking up the sun.” – Jessi

“I love Koh Lipe. It’s a short flight to Langkawi and then a boat to the island – short enough for a three-day trip, but it’s less developed than other touristy islands. Even though you enter via Malaysia, Koh Lipe is actually part of Thailand, so you get great Thai food. The island itself is small and relatively simple, but that suits me for a quick relaxing trip. The beaches are beautiful, with clear water and white sand.” – Kristy

“There are so many places to go within a few hours of Singapore; we like to try as many as possible. We do keep returning to Thailand though!” – Caitlin

Take a boat to Halong Bay
Take a boat to Halong Bay


Cruise along the Mekong Delta and visit the astonishing Cu Chi tunnels just outside Ho Chi Minh City for a reminder of the war years. In the north, soak up the colonial French atmosphere of Hanoi, then leave the city for a boat trip around picturesque Halong Bay. The middle of the country boasts culturally significant Hue and the photogenic, sleepy Hoi An, a must-visit for a step back in time.

Our tips…
– The rural area around Sapa, in the northwest, is highly recommended as a destination for everything from village retreats to rugged cycling trips.
– Do yourself a favour and take a cooking lesson; you’ll bring your holiday experience home.

Fishing in Inlay Lake, Burma
Fishing in Inlay Lake, Burma

Laos, Cambodia, Burma

No stay in Asia is complete without a trip to Cambodia’s Siem Reap to see the incredible ruins of Angkor Wat. Phnom Penh is also worth a visit for the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda, and the reminder of the country’s tragic history at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

In Laos, visit charming Luang Prabang for its tranquil riverside ambience, beautiful temples, crowds of friendly monks and excellent French fusion cuisine. If you can spare the time take a cruise on the mighty Mekong.

Of Burma’s “big four” destinations – Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake – we recommend the final two. Bagan is little short of mind-blowing: picture Angkor Wat and then turn the dial up to 11. Inle Lake has floating veggie gardens and villages on stilts.

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