If you’re into travel, which we are in a big way, you’ll be keen to know the en-vogue (well, according to Team EL) places to visit in Southeast Asia for 2017. Are you constantly on the hunt for a relaxing new holiday spot? We hear you, and if it’s cheap, so much the better! Nothing more satisfying than finding an unspoilt destination before the masses do. Whether you’re an adventure traveller, a solo backpacker or are planning a family trip, get choosing. Oh, and don’t forget that travel insurance before you go too; HSBC has some comprehensive packages, plus we hear they have a special credit card that gives you better deals when used overseas.
Pulau Perhentian Besar
If you’re tired of Batu Batu and Nikoi (first world problems!) but still want something within driving distance, then this little island off Malaysia’s East coast, might be an option. It’s a fair drive (9-ish hours) from Singapore but driving through Malaysia will be an adventure! Alternatively, overnight buses are available. This island paradise is still relatively unvisited, although there are more and more small hotels cropping up. Think lazy days shell-collecting along the pristine white sandy beaches, beer in hand, whilst the kids frolic in the shallow clear waters around. Take us there, now!
When: March – September. The monsoon season is from October to February and many resorts close down during this time.
How: From Singapore, it’s over a 9 hour drive to Kuala Terengganu and then a boat from Kuala Besut jetty (30 min speed boat or 1.5 hour slow boat). You can also fly into Kuala Terengganu or Kota Bharu, take either a bus or taxi from the airport to Kuala Besut jetty and then hop on the boat.
Stay: There are a few 2 or 3 star options, including The Barat Perhentian Resort and the Tuna Bay Island Resort. Note that this is more back-packers territory and places look rather dated, but you’re not there to sleep or be indoors!
If you love nothing more than a resort pool and a long, languid stretch of beach, then Umphang may not be your first destination of choice in Thailand. But for those who love hiking in nature, mountain air, cooling streams and more, this interesting escape near the Burmese border in Thailand’s western reaches will be just the thing. Among the highlights is Thi Lor Su, the country’s biggest waterfall, which boasts three tiers over its 250-metre height!
When: While you can visit Umphang all year round, access to Thi Lor Su is tricky in the wet season (June to October). The driest and coolest time to go is between November and February.
How: Take a one hour flight on a prop plane from Bangkok to Mae Sot, or an overnight bus. Umphang is a further four hours on a twisting but beautiful mountain road.
Stay: Unsurprisingly, there are no international chain hotels in Umphang. Most of the available accommodation is in the form of modest guesthouses.
The laidback riverside town of Kratie (say “kra-cheh”) in eastern Cambodia is notable for its legacy of French colonial and traditional Khmer architecture – much of it located right beside the Mekong. (The old Governor’s Residence is a prime example.) People come here to catch a glimpse of the famed freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin, and there are also opportunities for exploring river islands, kayaking and seeing local temples. Otherwise, just chill out with a sun-downer and enjoy one of the phenomenal Mekong sunsets that the town is known for.
When: While the dolphins can be seen all year round, the most frequent sightings are between March and August, since the river levels are lower in those months.
How: Buses from Phnom Penh to Kratie take around six hours.
Stay: Because it’s a travel hub for those journeying between Phnom Penh and Champasak in southern Laos, there is plenty of accommodation in Kratie. Try to book a homestay or guesthouse on the island of Koh Trong, just across from the town itself. Rajabori Villas Resort is one place that finds favour with many visitors.
Let’s take a breather here. If you’re starting to feel guilty already about how much this is all going to cost, HSBC has a credit card that offers you greater benefits as you spend. The HSBC Advance Visa Platinum Credit Card gives you perks such as a 10% cash rebate when you shop and dine overseas from now till 31 December 2016! Plus, redeem up to S$50 CapitaVouchers when you charge to any of your HSBC credit card (hurry, as offer ends 26 December 2016!). Don’t worry, there will be more perks with the HSBC Advance Visa Platinum credit card after the festive season too, so keep your eyes peeled on their Card Promotions’ site! So, now you feel less bad about your travel budget, these final two destinations are pure gems:
4. The Philippines
For a place with such fiery origins – most of the island was formed as a result of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes – Camiguin in Northern Mindanao is a super cool and refreshing place. Aside from white-sand beaches and fantastic swimming, snorkelling and diving, highlights include the ruins of old cemeteries and churches, and, unsurprisingly, visits to volcanoes. There are seven of these on tiny Camiguin, which spans approximately 23km by 14km, including Mount Hibok-Hibok, an active volcano that last erupted in 1951; you can hike to the top, if you feel so inclined!
When: A great time to go is in October to catch the Lanzones Festival, a harvest celebration named after a local fruit. Any other time of the year is fine too, though try to avoid major holidays when local tourists like to visit.
How: Fly to Cagayan de Oro city from Manila or Cebu, then take a bus from Agora Bus Terminal, and a ferry to Camiguin.
Stay: There are a couple of dozen resorts, bungalows and cottages on the island; try Balai sa Baibai or SomeWhere Else Boutique Resort.
This Indonesian archipelago off the Northern tip of West Papua comprises over 1500 islands and is known for being somewhat of a holy grail circuit for divers and snorkellers. The four main islands – Waigeo, Salawi, Batanta and Misool – are best taken in by sail boat. If it’s remoteness, and the feeling that you’re seeing something before anyone else that you want, head here! It is a must-see before leaving Asia, but it might be worth waiting until your kids are older – if you’re going to take them, that is!
When: March, April, September and October, when the seas are calmest.
How: Fly from Singapore to Manado, with Silk Air, then from Manado to Sarong with Lion Air. Boats depart from Sarong and onto all the smaller islands.
Stay: It’s got to be on board a (luxury) motor yacht!
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