[dropcap size=small]L[/dropcap]ong weekends are perfect for short trips. Living in this part of the world, we are lucky to be able to get to most of the region’s major cities in mere hours. But for a quick getaway with a difference, give the usual nearby spots a miss and book a stay in one of these destinations. They are all within a four-hour travel duration and have plenty to offer the modern and sophisticated traveller.
- Ipoh, Malaysia
Travel time: 90 minutes’ flight
Penang and Malacca are well-known havens for foodies, but if you are looking for a new destination to get your fix of Malaysian cuisine, it is hard to ignore Ipoh. This lesser-known food capital has plenty of old coffee shops and hawker stalls where you can enjoy heritage dishes like sar hor fun (a stir-fried flat rice noodle dish), Ipoh-style laksa (similar to tangy Penang-style assam laksa but with different toppings), Hakka mee (noodles topped with a minced pork gravy), rendang tok (a dry version of rendang), nga choy kai (blanched beansprouts and chicken dressed with soya sauce and sesame oil), and tau fu fa (sweet tofu pudding).In recent years, Ipoh has also seen a rise in the number of hip cafes selling artisanal baked goods and modern and fusion fare. At establishments like Jose & Deli Eatery and Burps & Giggles, you can expect mostly Western-style dishes like marinated grilled meats, burgers and pasta, while Patisserie Boutique and Café de Eight are famous for its cakes, pastries and desserts. Of course, excellent coffee is also guaranteed at these trendy dining spots.Where to stay: Book a room at Sekeping Kong Heng while you’re here. This rejuvenated, three-storey, neo-classical building offers Standard and Family rooms with plush bedding and modern conveniences, as well as an inner courtyard and communal spaces. Downstairs, you will find a coffee shop of the same name serving great coffee and local dishes.
- Yangon, Myanmar
Travel time: Three hours’ flight
Myanmar is still mostly untouched by tourism and development. This is exactly what makes it appealing for adventure travellers and those with an interest in indigenous cultures.Yangon, the country’s capital is the best place to start your journey. From here, you can take a half- or full-day trip to the heart of the country. Cycle through picturesque villages, for instance, kayak along Inle Lake, or go bird watching at Yangon’s Hlawga Park.If you have extra time, take a short internal flight to Lashio in the north. In this remote and pristine region, you can indulge your passion for all kinds of adventure activities and mingle with the local communities. Myanmar Adventure Outfitters (MAO) can help with planning your trip.Started by Byron and Eileen Hartzler, an American and Canadian couple, MAO lets you customise a guided adventure off the beaten path. Choose from hiking and trekking, waterfall swimming and exploration, stand-up paddle boarding, and motorcycle trips. If you are interested in learning about the local culture, book an overnight village homestay. In addition to sharing their love of the Northern Shan state with travellers, Byron and Eileen also invest their company’s profits into the communities they work with, so you’ll be helping the locals while exploring a new place.Where to stay: In Yangon, stay at the new Melia Yangon, a five-star hotel located opposite Inya Lake and connected to the new Myanmar Plaza shopping centre.
- Spa Trip: Sanya, China
Travel time: Three hours’ flight
The southernmost city on Hainan Island is frequently referred to as the “Hawaii of the East”, and for good reason – the weather is almost always pleasant and the beaches, stunning, with postcard-perfect, powder-white sands and clear blue waters. It’s perfect to visit if you love water-sports, but, if you’re craving some downtime, the beaches are great for strolling, or you can rent a bicycle and enjoy a leisurely scenic ride along any of the coastal roads.If retail therapy is your idea of relaxation, Sanya has no shortage of shopping outlets and artisan markets. Sanya Haitang Bay International Shopping Mall – the world’s largest duty-free shopping centre – has an impressive selection of luxury fashion and beauty boutiques. Sanya produces some of the world’s finest pearls, and you will also come across many stores selling this famous export.Spa resorts abound in Sanya, too. All of the city’s top hotels and resorts boast spa facilities, with treatments inspired by Sanya’s location and exoticism.Where to stay: Centrally located in Haitang Bay, The Sanya Edition is the city’s newest spa hotel, boasting a full-service spa with 12 treatment rooms and suite pavilions, hydrotherapy rooms, a sauna and steam room, and a tea lounge. The spa menu includes an extensive range of facials, massages and body scrubs, and nail services.
But the boutique hotel itself is a wonderful place to while away a long weekend. All 500 guestrooms have ocean views. The horseshoe-shaped property is divided into several zones, each designed for different purposes and types of guests. The sensory and relaxation zone, for instance, has a meditation forest for guests who need some quiet time. If you crave a restful break, you cannot beat a stay here.
- Arts & Culture: Hanoi, Vietnam
Travel time: just over three hours’ flight
Vietnam’s second-largest city is also its art and cultural capital. Here, you can spend days browsing the many art galleries and museums, which showcase the works of some of the country’s most prolific artists.The French colonisers introduced European painting to the Vietnamese in the 19th and 20th centuries, but by then, Vietnam also had many local artisans who were skilled in woodcarving, pottery, lacquer art, and ceramics. Vietnam Fine Arts Museum is a good place to discover this art heritage. The building houses a range of artworks spanning a variety of styles and mediums.If you prefer a smaller, more intimate setting, drop by Nguyen Art Gallery, which exhibits works from emerging and established Vietnamese artists; Apricot Gallery, which sells only top-quality, original art by some of the country’s top artists; and Thanh Binh Gallery, whose pieces reflect everyday life in Vietnam.For more culture, head to the city’s culture and history museums – like the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology – and the Goethe Institut and the L’Institut Francais de Hanoi, which regularly host film festivals, classical music concerts, dramatic performances, and more.Where to stay: The three-month-old Pan Pacific Hanoi is a great base from which to explore the city. This five-star luxury hotel has over 270 elegantly furnished rooms and suites and an indoor pool with a natural skylight. It also has views of the Red River and West Lake.