From essential experiences to can't-miss destinations, we've partnered with Qantas to bring you an incredible travel tale each month.
Singapore is a sweet hub all on its own: amazing food, a chilled atmosphere, a perfect getaway. But it’s also your gateway to the very best of South-East Asia. It’s truly the best place in Asia – and maybe the world – for accessing a whole lot of incredible destinations. It’s centrally located within South-East Asia, a half-way stopping point en route to Europe from Australia, and has a whole bunch of places closer by that everyone should explore.
Using Singapore as central point, we dish up the best and most spectacular South-East Asian experiences you can hope to have.
Sentosa Island, Singapore
The list of choices of where to head from Singapore are as good as endless, but it’s just as fine an idea to keep things local. Singapore’s Sentosa Island (aka ‘The State of Fun’) – located just south of the urban action along the Singapore Strait – is an awesome adventure waiting to happen.
Sentosa has a little bit of everything for everyone: amazing dining, deluxe beach scenes, vibrant nightlife, as well as a whole bunch of amusement – Resorts World Sentosa lives here, comprising Universal Studios Singapore, Adventure Cove Waterpark, SEA Aquarium and Dolphin Island (and so much more). It’s the perfect jaunt for those keen on fun times, all within an easy drive, taxi, monorail ride, or leisurely wander from Singapore central.
Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
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We shift our wanderlust lens to one of the most sought after highland retreats in Malaysia: Cameron Highlands, a stunning verdant district in the heart of the country just north of Kuala Lumpur. At over 1800m above sea level, this is Malaysia’s highest spot, a gloriously lush, hilly sprawl of tea plantations, mossy forests, and trekking wonderland.
Accessible through cities Brinchang in the north, Ringlet in the south, and Tanah Rata in the centre, the Highlands make for a beautiful step away from the hustle and bustle of South-East Asian big-city life.
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For food lovers, Penang is heaven on earth. This cherished Malaysian hotspot offers one of the most tantalising taste experiences anywhere (which is saying a in a region that thrives on mind-blowing culinary moments). Penang actually encompasses two areas: mainland Seberang Pera, and the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage listed island offshore, but the latter gains our full attention here.
As Malaysia’s unquestioned food capital, you’ll find all your favourites in and around Georgetown’s countless hawker markets: Nasi Lemak, Char Quay Teow, Hokkien Mee, Mee Goreng, Assam Laksa – all totally authentic, steaming hot and delicious. After digesting one of your many feasts, be sure to pay the local vipers a visit at the Buddhist Snake Temple, relish in the amazing views from the funicular railway at Penang Hill, and kick back by the coastal glories of beachside Tanjung Bungah.
A bustling Asian hub in its own right, Bangkok remains one of the big urban players, and its never fails to entice with its sheer sprawling enormity, cosmopolitan nightlife, and epic food scene. Whether a weekender or a longer stint, it’s not possible to be bored in Bangkok. Carve out some time for the 46-metre-long golden Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, take a boat trip along the “Venice of the East”, Chao Phraya River, and ride the futuristic BTW SkyTrain to get from A to B.
Feeling peckish? The Chef’s Table-famous Gaggan and Bo.Lan will bring the flavour. After hours, dig a hot speakeasy jazz show off the grid at Smalls, followed by a cooling cocktail at the incredible Sky Bar, suspended on an 820-foot precipice above the fancy Lebua Hotel (as seen in the film Hangover II). The view from here is everything.
Word of warning: when it comes to Hong Kong, a quick trip will not suffice. By all means make your way from Singapore to this fabulous city, but don’t think you’re getting out of there too quick – there’s too much to take in (a lot of it, thankfully, via the tastebuds). Just when you thought you’d had your culinary fill, here comes Hong Kong with its heavenly array of colloquial offerings: dumplings and dim sum galore, roast goose and char siu pork, brisket noodles and so much more.
Revel in the city’s lush green spaces, lose yourself in the amazing shopping at Temple Street Night Market, and revel after dark by the stunning lights of Victoria Harbour.
Nestled next to Brunei, Indonesia’s Kalimantan, and the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, Borneo remains one of the most unique experiences you can have in South-East Asia. Welcome to the jungle, baby: a land rich with equatorial rainforests, stunning mountain peaks, and rich local culture. Thrill seekers will get their endorphin rush from a climb of epic Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia’s highest peak and first ever UNESCO listed site.
If diving’s your bag, Sipadan is the place to be, one of the region’s most sought after underwater diving spots. For something a little more low key, the islands off the Sabah coastline provide an idyllic tropical respite, and for a more dedicated local perspective, be sure to check out Borneo Eco Tours: an ethical and unforgettable take on Borneo’s nature, wildlife and stunning adventure.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Vietnam’s bustling southern capital is famous for a lot of things: French colonial architecture, its role as a centre point of the Vietnam war, its countless stunning temples and alluring beaches. And, of course, the food. Lovers of Vietnamese street fare ought to make this a high priority pilgrimage – Ho Chi Minh is a magical place where the pho, banh mi and bun bo can be slurped, crunched and savoured in abundance (if not deep-fried snake and fermented scorpion wine!).
With over 3000 stores, Bến Thành Market is a great place to hang out for maximum bustle, while a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels (famously used by the Vietcong guerrillas during the Vietnam War) makes for a vital local history lesson. Knock back a decent share of the local brew bia hoi, and get lost in Ho Chi Minh’s wonderfully ordered chaos.
Sometimes there’s just no looking past a local favourite. Bali remains a cherished tropical home away from home for Aussie vacayers, and with Singapore as the gateway, Denpasar makes for an even more exotic jaunt.
Already absorbed Bali’s beauty? Check out a Bali-less-travelled – make for the art, food and yoga scenes of Ubud, the stunning peak of Gunnung Agung, and the incredible ancient water palace of Taman Tirrta Ganga. Around these parts, there’s always something fresh to take in.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Why wouldn’t you go to Colombo? Sri Lanka’s ocean city is a buzzing HQ these days, and it’s also your gateway to a new adventure altogether: a Sri Lankan odyssey, complete with incredibly unique and diverse landscapes, sub-continental tea plantations, stunning rainforests, waterfalls, and beaches to satiate every tropical longing.
Sri Lanka really is an adventure lovers’ paradise – white-water rafting, kayaking and diving are all on offer, with awesome year-round surfing to be had, particularly south along Ahangama or Arungam Bay in the east.
Seriously, does it get any better than Tokyo? Is there a package of culture, shopping, entertainment and cuisine anywhere near as dynamic and unique?
The wild, bustling Japanese capital dishes up a wild fusion of the future and the ancient: ultra-modern neon skyscrapers historic temples, and immaculate natural sites. Roam around anime central at Akhiba-kei, take in a little Lost in Translation-inspired karaoke at Shinjuku’s Karaoke-Kan, get your historical fill at the tranquil Meji Shrine, and stop to eat – everywhere.
“When it’s three o’clock in New York, it’s still 1938 in London,” as the old saying goes. These days, you might add: “… and it’s a decade ahead in Shanghai. Respected TV-chef Anthony Bourdain dubbed the buzzing Chinese tech and finance hub a “go-go” place, choc full of surprises, perspective, of things that you didn’t realise were happening, at a pace you wouldn’t imagine.
An urban experience unlike anywhere else, Shanghai will not disappoint – check out the thriving M50 Art District, take a ride on the world’s fastest commercial train the Maglev, and dine on the delectable street food, including Sichuan mala tangi and xiao long bao dumplings, and shansi leng mian (thick wheat noodles with eel). For a mind-blowing accom choice, consider Shimao Wonderland, the world’s first abandoned water-filled quarry hotel complex.
(Lead image: Shutterstock)