Editor’s Note: *Due to the current Covid-19 outbreak, international travel is highly discouraged at the moment – this article is meant to serve as inspiration for a future trip once the pandemic has come to an end.*
While Singapore is a spectacular tourist destination all on its own, the glittering city-state is perfectly positioned for inter-Asia travel, with a wealth of fascinating cities and islands located just a short trip outside of its borders. Some destinations – Bangkok, Bali, or Kuala Lumpur, to name a few – have earned widespread acclaim as vacation spots, while countless others have yet to enter the public eye, making them perfect destinations for those who seek to travel off the beaten path. Whether you’re a lifelong Singaporean resident or a short-term visitor looking to add another stop before jetting back home, here are some highly underrated destinations perfectly suited for a weekend getaway.
One of the smallest capital cities in Southeast Asia, Vientiane’s relaxed atmosphere is a far cry from the bustling urban chaos encountered within other regional cities like Bangkok or Jakarta. First-time visitors can begin their tour of the city on foot, strolling past ornate Buddhist temples and tiny cafés on Rue Setthathilath before heading to Patuxai, a towering arch completed in 1968 to commemorate those who gave their lives during the battle for independence against France. While there’s no shortage of Buddhist temples to be visited across the city, one particularly interesting destination is Wat Sisaket – this handsome structure is packed with thousands of Buddha sculptures, and is one of the few temples in the city to have survived the sack of Vientiane, during which troops from modern-day Thailand burnt the city to the ground after a failed rebellion in the late 1820s. Before leaving the city, be sure to pay a visit to Pha That Luang – this glittering golden temple is one of the most recognizable national symbols to be found throughout Laos.
For those who are wary of air travel, Mersing and its surrounding islands serve as the perfect destination for a weekend getaway, with the town located roughly two hours north of the Singapore border by car. After a leisurely stroll around the quiet streets of downtown Mersing, visitors can head to the jetty to begin their weekend getaway at one of the region’s idyllic islands. One particularly stunning island is Pulau Besar, a treasure trove of soft sandy beaches, forest trails, and laid-back resorts, with Aseania Beach Resort standing out as a particularly upscale accommodation by the islands’ standards. While Pulau Besar and its neighbors aren’t terribly far from the mainland, it’s best to stock up on supplies before boarding the ferry – there are no ATMs available on any of the islands, meaning that you’ll be forced to head back to the town of Mersing if you run low on ringgit.
Rife with idyllic beaches, jagged peaks, and a laid-back culture that permeates the entire island, Hainan is often referred to as the “Hawai’i of China”. Visitors to the island should begin with a tour of Haikou, Hainan’s capital city, with the Hainan Museum offering a wealth of exhibits highlighting the history of China’s smallest province. After a thorough exploration of Hainan’s urban hub, head south to the interior of the island, a region packed with lush rainforests and towering mountains that are perfectly suited for outdoor adventure enthusiasts. For a truly glamorous finale, head to the southern city of Sanya, where luxury hotels, fine dining, and a wide array of water sports can all be found. Whether your goal is to explore tiny fishing villages hidden away in the wilderness, or sip cocktails shoreside at an opulent resort, Hainan has something to offer for everybody.
While Bali has earned worldwide acclaim for its spectacular natural beauty, the neighboring island of Lombok offers similar attractions without having to deal with huge crowds. Begin your journey in the western city of Mataram, where local food stalls offer visitors a first-hand glimpse into the culinary culture of the island, before heading into Lombok’s more remote southern region, where idyllic sandy beaches and spectacular cliffs can be found in abundance. Those who enjoy surfing will feel most at home in the south, while experienced hikers should be sure to explore the island’s northern region, where Mount Rinjani National Park awaits eager explorers. The towering peak is the second-tallest volcano in all of Indonesia, and it’s most famous for its crescent-shaped caldera, a volcanic crater lake lined with hot springs and waterfalls.
While Dili receives very few international visitors each year, the city’s intricate history and culture make it a hidden gem within Maritime Southeast Asia. Dili serves as the capital of one of the youngest nations on earth – located on the eastern edge of the island of Timor, the aptly-named East Timor was officially established in 2002, the product of roughly two centuries of Portuguese colonization followed by a quarter-century of occupation by Indonesia. Today, visitors to this tranquil city can sample tasty Timorese cuisine alongside rich coffee – a specialty within the country – before heading east to Areira Branca, one of the nation’s most popular beaches. For some insight into the country’s complex history, be sure to head to the Museum of East Timorese Resistance, and don’t leave without catching a sunset at Cristo Rei – this 88-foot-tall statue of Jesus is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the nation.
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