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Great Escapes

Travelling has a way of altering perspectives on life, and can even be a catalyst to life-changing experiences. Here’s a list of the best places for specific experiences, be it rekindling romance or savouring history. 

Words: Efi Eqbal

Clubbing Holiday


If the time has arrived for you to gather your buddies and take a trip to let loose and party all day and all night, look no further than these hot party cities!


Sydney has dance clubs and a nightlife scene that will keep you on your toes. From techno and house to salsa, retro and soul music, there’s a club for every vibe in the music scene here. While the King’s Cross area is exciting, the place to be is none other than Darling Harbour where the Home Nightclub is located. It’s a massive club at Cockle Bay Wharf that can accommodate 2,100 guests at any one time, and is fitted with a cool sound system. homesydney.com


Endless events are organised at clubs in Manila throughout the year. With music pulsing in the veins of the native Pinoy peeps, it’s always easy to find a hot place to party be it in Makati, Taguig, Bonifacio Global City (The Fort), Pasig, Pasay (Resorts World and Entertainment City) or QC (Quezon City). It really is one big party all year round in Manila. manilaclubbing.com


If you’re new to Seoul, start your party holiday at Itaewon, the most foreigner-friendly district in town with loads of international-vibe clubs, restaurants and bars. Most locals who hang out here speak English well, so you’ll feel at ease. For a more Korean vibe, try the college town of Hongdae. Once initiated into the South Korean nightclub culture, you’ll be ready to take on the nightlife scenes in Gangnam and Apgujeong – the ultimate party spot of Seoul. www.seouleats.com/your-party-options/  

Srirangam temple

The eloborate carvings and statues on the gopura (gate tower) of the Srirangam temple in Trichy.


Exploring the past can be a lesson for the present, and these places are steeped in history. 


Also known as Tiruchi or Trichy, this city’s history dates back to centuries before the Christian era, to a time when its rule changed hands between the Pallavas and Pandyas, and then the Cholas, before it was taken over by the Vijayanagar kings of Hampi, and finally conquered by the Deccan Sultans. The city was built by the Nayaks of Madurai with countless historic forts and temples. Tales of the British-French wars for supremacy in India abound proffering insight into its extensive present-day cultures and traits. This is a land of temples, churches and mosques, built with numerous hands and much struggle over many decades. No one describes India as succinctly as London-born Indian author, journalist, human rights advocate and Member of Parliament in Kerala, Shashi Tharoor: “India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly-developed one in an advanced state of decay.” Trichy is a must-experience for any history and culture buff. www.tn.gov.in/trichytourism/


Makassar has been a thriving sea port since the 16th century with European, Arab and Chinese traders, and continues to serve as a domestic and international shipping port that is the central nerve connecting the Indonesian archipelago. Known as Ujung Pandang up till 1999, this capital of South Sulawesi looks out over the deep Makassar Strait, and was famous as a spice storage and trading port. Its rich history is evident in the melding of cultures, foods and dialects spoken here. http://goo.gl/NCtQVD 


Guilin is like a roadmap of ancient times; intricate stone carvings and stone Buddhas offer insight into Chinese Buddhism as practised today. Throughout China’s reign from one dynasty to the next, Guilin was not spared from the warring lords; its strategic location made it a political centre for ambitious schemers, who eventually turned it into a base for revolutionists and warlords during China’s War of Resistance against Japan. Today, ancient forts, buildings and pagodas stand proud, and Guilin’s old world charm continues to lure travellers from across the world. www.visitguilin.org 

Taroko National Park

The mountainous landscape of Taroko National Park in Hualien, Tainan, Taiwan.


Whether you’re looking for a light adventure or a challenging one, these places offer the best of nature’s wonders.


Should avifauna be your thing, this is the place to be. Tainan is famous as a starting point for comprehensive bird watching, as well as flora and fauna tours. Trips can be arranged to some of the most diverse landscapes of Taiwan’s six well-protected National Parks: Kenting, Yushan, Yangmingshan, Taroko Gorge, Shei-pa and Kinmen. All these parks see a migration of at least 70 species of birds each year, many of which are endangered.  go2taiwan.net


The island of Raja Ampat, covering 9.8 million acres of land and sea area, is surrounded by one of the richest marine biodiversity sites on earth. No avid diver can resist this place, and taking in the underwater world here would pretty much ruin you for most other places. The waters of Raja Ampat are home to almost 75 percent of the world’s marine species, and its land offers an abundance of wildlife. Two words will be well-understood when you set foot here: ‘Pristine’ and ‘serene’. www.gorajaampat.com  


If you have yet to experience elephants up-close, the Pho Kyar Elephant Camp in Taung Ngu is a great pick. The eight-hour drive to the world-renowned camp from Yangon is worth the adventure. Despite its growing fame, Pho Kyar remains uncommercialised. Trekking with elephants is just one of the many interesting activities offered. There are also elephant-bathing sessions and elephant shows that will have you falling in love with these gentle giants. www.traveltomyanmar.com/eco_phokyar.htm  

Patuxai monument in Vientiane, Laos

Patuxai monument in Vientiane, Laos


Given the hectic lives we lead, it’s always good to get away for some quality couple time – just the two of you.


The air of romance in this old French colonial city is unmistakable; little cafes and quaint shops can be found in and around the city in some of the most remarkably-preserved old buildings. With its ambience and warm people, there’s little wonder that Vientiane is fast becoming a choice honeymoon destination. Besides being deliciously relaxing and laid-back, Laos is also incredibly affordable, and Vientiane offers a selection of hotels to suit any couple’s budget. When your money stretches further, you can soak up the wonder of your loved one for even longer. www.tourismlaos.org 


Many have fallen for the mystical allure of the Far East, and many will continue to do so. There is a saying that reflects the beauty of Hangzhou: ‘Above is paradise, below is Hangzhou’. This charming city offers a perfectly romantic escape with very few modern distractions. The fresh air, breathtaking landscape and historical sites create a serene setting for you to fall in love with each other all over again. www.cnto.org 


Vietnam’s capital city, which is famous for the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake, has been the backdrop for many a Southeast Asian couple’s pre-wedding photography. Hanoi reflects the strains and struggles of a poetic era, and with its quiet beauty, it has flourished. www.vietnamtourism.com 

Ayurvedic spa treatment

Ayurvedic spa treatment


If the inner you has been screaming for attention having recognised the punishments you’ve been imposing on the outer you, get set for a healthy and holistic holiday. 


Kerala is the land where the practice of Ayurveda was born. Its breathtaking vistas set the perfect backdrop for a rejuvenating retreat for mind, body and soul. Nowhere on Earth are there as many options for a great health retreat than in Kerala; there are Ayurvedic centres nestled amidst the natural beauty of what’s fondly known as ‘God’s Own Country’ – from the palm-fringed beaches of Kovalam and Varkala, and undulating hills of Munnar and Vagamon, to the serenity of the Kumarakom and Kuttanad backwaters and the enchanting woods and forests of Thekkady and the Silent Valley. www.keralatourism.org 


There are quite a number of health retreats to be found in the Philippines, but The Farm is one of those rare treasures that few know of. Every single person who has experienced it has given it a golden stamp. Located in San Benito (a two hour drive from Manila), this is where you go to detoxify yourself, in every sense of the word. It prides itself on being one of the few ‘truly medical’ spas in the world, dedicated to educating its visitors on healthy eating and lifestyle. www.thefarm.com.ph


This is where you go for a serious health bootcamp experience. The routine is strict and its meals largely vegetarian, making it a perfect spot for those who fall short of losing those last couple of kilogrammes. Situated about one and a half hours from Colombo, the Barberyn Reef Ayurveda Resort is fairly old school; it offers yoga, Ayurvedic concoctions and treatments to help you unwind, lose weight and get healthy. www.barberynresorts.com 

Tying the knot in Phuket.

Tying the knot in Phuket.


Whether you’re getting married or renewing your vows, here are sweet spots to make lasting memories.


Having a western style reception or opting for a traditional Thai style wedding is a breeze on this tropical island. Most bridal houses here will also assist you in sorting out the paperwork to guarantee the legality of your marriage in Thailand, so you can have an actual wedding here without the need to preregister back home. www.wedding-phuket.com 


Almost all beach resorts in Male offer or can arrange a wedding blessing ceremony and wedding vow renewal packages. You will have to pre-register your wedding back home, but there’s nothing stopping you from having a romantic reception here. www.maldivestourism.net 


The wedding of your dreams may be organised by professional planners here, and if you’d like a traditional Balinese wedding ceremony, this can be arranged too at an affordable price. Spiritual and romantic, this would certainly be a worthy love story to share with your grandchildren one day. The planners here are also experienced in making all the necessary applications so your marriage is legal in your native land.  www.baliweddingsinternational.com 

Chatuchak, Bangkok


Kick off your heels and strap on those comfy loafers; these cities offer shopping like no other on this side of the world. 


Land of the wholesalers – from Chatuchak market to Platinum Mall, and MBK to the famous stalls along Sukhumvit Road – Bangkok offers variety in price, quality and quantity. In fact, the more you buy from one place, the easier it is to bargain. Terminal 21, Siam City and Siam Square offer local designer boutiques, crafts and jewellery. Besides offering shopping for personal, home, gadget and kitschy items, this city is probably one of the cheapest places to shop in Asia. www.bangkok.com/shopping.htm 


The best for bargain shopping are Mangga Dua, Ambassador Mall and Tanah Abang in Jakarta. If you have a penchant for high-end goodies, there’s Plaza Indonesia and now, opposite it, is the Grand Indonesia Shopping Town – the latest addition to feed a shopaholic’s addiction. http://goo.gl/CTv2hE 


The mall culture in KL makes it a real shopping haven. There’s street shopping at Petaling Street and a wide variety of shopping options to be found from high end items to bargain bins in various malls like the fabulous Pavilion, Mid Valley, 1Utama, KLCC and many more. www.kualalumpur.ws/klshopping/ 

Hatsune Miku costume with cosplay girl in Tokyo.

Hatsune Miku costume with cosplay girl in Tokyo.


Keep young children entertained while on vacation, especially if your little ones range from pre-school kids to teenagers. 


Tokyo is paradise for kids of all ages – from kindie-going kids to techloving teenagers – and when children are happy, the parents are too! There’s Hello Kitty Sanrio Puroland for the little ones, Harajuku or Yoyogi Park for teenagers to meet other teenagers in anime cosplay (costume play) attire of their favourite manga characters, and the Tokyo Tower’s Special Observatory for the whole family, where on a clear day, you can see all the way to Mount Fuji. Great food, kitsch shopping and endless entertainment await your family in Tokyo. www.tokyowithkids.com 


Set in the family friendly island of Sentosa, Universal Studios Singapore offers more than just a family getaway. There are many fun experiences and loads of photo opportunities to capture memories of your family for life – not to mention the awesome rides that even you, as parents, will thoroughly enjoy! www.rwsentosa.com 


Legoland is a recent addition to a host of family theme parks scattered around Malaysia, and is fast becoming a favourite among tourists, and for good reason: It’s highly affordable! There are 40 interactive rides, shows and attractions in this 76-acre park catering for everyone in the family. www.legoland.com.my

Enjoying a sunny day



Your destination wedding or vow renewal plans will go smoother if you! 

Plan way in advance if you want to fly guests over as well.

Make sure you get a professional wedding planner.

Ensure your guests are well taken care of during the trip.

Make contingency plans for all kinds of weather.

Pace yourself. 


When travelling with children, it’s almost impossible to pack light. These are some essentials that will help make your kid-friendly holiday a lot more fun for everyone. 

Download games and quizzes on your smartphone, tablet or iPad to keep your young children occupied so you won’t have to continually hear, “Are we there yet?”

Research where the nearest clinics or hospitals are to where you will be staying in case of emergencies.

Check that your travel insurance is up-to-date. AirAsia offers insurance coverage specific to your travel.



Stretch your shopping budget with these easy tips. Check with the hotel you’re staying at if they offer shopping packages – discount cards and coupons are merely the beginning of it. 

If you don’t want to bust your budget, get a prepaid credit card and load your cash into it so you spend within the limit you’ve set. AirAsia offers the BIG CARD, a prepaid Visa and

Loyalty card, where the benefits are endless. www.tune2big.com 


Things can go awry when you’re having too much fun, but here’s how you can stay safe. 

Carry only essential items to the club and pay with credit.

Make sure you and your clubbing buddies set out an action plan in case anything goes wrong i.e. one of you gets separated from the group or a fight breaks out.

Be sensible even if you’re there to let loose.

NEVER accept a drink from a stranger; not everyone has honourable intentions. Always keep an eye on your drink.

Stay with people you can trust. 


Make the most of your health retreat by keeping motivated.

List your goals for going on this trip so you don’t lose focus.

Bring along something that inspires and reminds you why you’re there when the going gets tough. 


Here are habits to break when you’re trying to ignite or rekindle romance.

Carry your mobile phone with you in case of emergencies, but stop fiddling around with it!

There is such a thing as too much romance. Set aside some ‘me’ time, so when you reunite, it’ll be sweeter than ever.

Plan on doing something he likes, and something she likes, together. You’re making memories. 


If you’re a newbie to ecotourism, here are some guidelines to help you along. 

Be sure that the agency you’re booking with has a good and reliable record. Check reviews on travel forums to find out how other travellers found the service provided by the agency you’re considering.

If you have doubts, clear them via email or a phone call. Make up your mind only once you are satisfied that you have the information you require. 


If you’re already into history and culture, this won’t be hard to do. 

Get a reliable guidebook to map out all the places you’d like to visit.

Spend a bit more for a reliable tour guide to fill you in on the history, but make sure the stories are not made-up. Do your homework and read up so you know if your tour guide is making up stories.

Get to know some locals as they will offer you the uncensored version of their history and culture.

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