Whether near a lake, by the beach, on a river or a houseboat through canals, adding aqua to the equation elevates the holiday to brand new heights.
Words: Efi Hafizah Hamzah Images: Getty Images
Ha Long Bay
With its impressive natural wonders of hundreds of limestone pillars, karsts and islets, Ha Long Bay, located about 3.5 hours northeast of Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, is certainly a perfect spot for a tranquil boating holiday. The best time to visit is between March and June, as the weather can get a bit unpredictable in other months due to its geographical location. Ha Long Bay offers you a moment in history when you travel through coves, tunnels and grottoes that took thousands of years to form. Stopping by Van Gia Fishing Village, about 20 kilometres from the Ha Long Bay tourist boat wharf, will certainly be worth your while. It is one of the four UNESCO World Heritage fishing villages in Vietnam, where fishing traditions from a by gone era remain strong. The locals there live in houseboats where almost every activity takes place on the boats, including schooling the children. This is a houseboat community in every sense of the word. www.vietnamtourism.com, www.cruisehalong.com
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies daily to Hanoi, Vietnam from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Go to www.airasia.com for details.
Ark Artistry of Amsterdam
The capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, is a houseboat holiday haven, because not only are the boats equipped with modern comforts like Jacuzzis and hot tubs, most of them are upgraded barges and boats that are rich in history and traditions. Many of these boats are docked in Amstel where visitors get to view the historic Skinny Bridge, buildings and ships. Unlike other houseboat rentals in some parts of the world, the guides are usually the boat owners themselves. Houseboat living is becoming a sought-after lifestyle in Europe, especially among the young. If you do plan on a houseboat vacation in Amsterdam, be sure to put the houseboat museum in Prinsengracht on your itinerary, which offers a glimpse of house boating life in Netherlands. Do also visit the famous ‘cat boats’ on the Singel that’s docked near house #40. This boat is a sanctuary and refuge for abandoned and stray cats, a quaint sight on the canal belt that has become a tourist attraction. www.houseboathotel.nl
Besides the sunny weather in Queensland, Australia, there are a host of activities to be had here that includes taking a cruise, boating and yachting. This part of Australia is popular amongst the young and young-at heart, attracting travellers who crave both sedate and high-octane activities. There are many areas from which you can begin your ‘watery’ holiday – the Gold Coast, Fraser Coast, Gympie or Whitsunday areas. Short-term charters are available in practically every port in this state, and each stop at any of the coastal harbours offers a huge list of things to do. While the beaches offer powdery white sand and azure waters to frolic in, the towns and cities along the coast attract visitors with arts and culture offerings, entertainment and shopping. This state of endless natural beauty is also home to six World Heritage listed preservation sites that include the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites at Riversleigh in the Gulf Country, Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, Fraser Island, the famous Great Barrier Reef, Lamington National Park and the Wet Tropics of Queensland. www.tq.com.au
GETTING THERE AirAsia X flies five times a week to Gold Coast, Queensland in Australia from Kuala Lumpur. Go to www.airasia.com for details.
Islands of Legends
This island in Peninsula Malaysia’s northwest corner is part of an archipelago of 99 islands that straddles the point where the Andaman Sea meets the Straits of Malacca. Rich in myths and legends, Langkawi is also renowned for its natural beauty, being part of the ancient Machinchang Cambrian geological formation that’s said to be over 550 million years old. The island offers magnifi cent diving and boating spots located around the many, uninhabited islands. One of the best ways to experience this would be to hop onto a cruise charter and experience the beauty of the islands up close. Guests can either charter a boat with a guide to explain the natural formations and, flora and fauna or book customised cruises that allow them to enjoy the natural beauty of these islands. They can also experience fun activities such as swimming, diving, snorkelling, jungle walks and barbeques by the beach, amongst others. Tropical Charters is one such operator that offers many options to enjoy the lush and legendary Langkawi islands onboard their vessels. Guests can choose from the standard and private packages to customised cruises to celebrate honeymoons and other special occasions. The most popular cruise is the Day Cruise that takes guests to secluded beaches for some quiet time swimming and dining alfresco by the beach. www.tropicalcharters.com.my, www.tourismlangkawi.com
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to daily to Langkawi from Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Singapore. Go to www.airasia.com for details.
Venice of the East
Thailand, specifically Bangkok, is a paradise for shopping, food and entertainment but you can make it even more exciting by embarking on a ‘floating’ vacation. There are many breathtaking lakes like Lake Khao Laem (Northwest sector of central Thailand) where you can hire a houseboat for a relaxing holiday with activities like visiting quaint little villages around the area, shopping or even go elephant trekking. Of course, there is Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi, where tourists from all over the world flock to take a cruise on a traditional long-tailed boat to shop and enjoy their meals, as they meander along narrow river canals that were dug by King Rama IV’s army for transportation and trade purposes. Today, it remains as active as ever with local farmers, fishermen and craftsmen selling their goods from boat to boat. Alternatively, hop onto one of the converted rice barges that travel the Chao Phraya to see Bangkok from a totally new angle. But if you just want a quick introduction to life on the river, join the locals on one of the many boats that criss cross the river daily, taking city folks from one bank to another. This would cost you about THB20 only and there are lots of shopping and sightseeing options along Phra Arthit Road that runs parallel to the river! www.tourismthailand.org
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok from various destinations.Go to www.airasia.com for details.
The picturesque terrain of Wong Chuk Hang in the southern district of Hong Kong, near the fishing industry community of Aberdeen Floating Village, is an amazing place to embark on a houseboat holiday. Most of the shortterm, boat room rentals are docked here. The Aberdeen Harbour has been a famous fishing port in Hong Kong since the 19th century, although its population has decreased sizeably in the last two decades due to high operational costs. However, this quaint little village remains one of the best tourist attractions that include floating seafood restaurants and sight-seeing tours. For a more luxurious houseboat experience in Hong Kong, you can opt to get a room on the elegant boats at the Saffron Marina, which runs the gamut from small yachts to cruise-liners and spruced up Chinese junks. While houseboat holidays in Hong Kong may set you back a pretty penny, if you can afford it, it certainly is worth the money because experiencing the congested city from the coast is a whole different encounter. www.discoverhongkong.com, www.saffron-cruises.com
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Hong Kong from various destinations. Go to www.airasia.com for details.
God’s own country
Houseboat stays are a wonderful way to experience the treasures of India. It is in the backwaters of quaint and diverse towns that you get to experience the culture and history, and most importantly, an intimate glimpse of how the locals go about their daily lives. Cruising through beautiful lagoons, lakes and canals fringed by lush vegetation in southern India is an experience quite unlike others. The views of local life slowly unfolding in the morning and finally coming to a sleepy end in the late evening is an amazing mix of hustle and bustle, and tranquillity. Not just for families, the backwater trips are also popular amongst couples looking for some quiet time together, gently lulled by the waves of the rivers and coastal areas. Guests can enjoy backwater tours in India at the popular coastal towns of Alleppey, Kumarakom and Munnar in Kerala. If you plan to visit in August or September, there is certainly more to experience, as it coincides with the famous Kerala Boat Races, an event with a 400-year-old history. www.keralahouseboat.org
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies daily to Kochi in Kerala, India from Kuala Lumpur. Go to www.airasia.com for details.