Header image photo credit @cmashup
If you’re reading this article, it probably means you’ve just successfully gotten leave during the Chinese New Year holidays and you are looking to get out of tiresome family dinners. It’s never too late to book a quick and easy getaway, and we’ve picked the 8 best affordable and easily accessible destinations for you to escape to this month. Why eight, you ask? Eight is the luckiest number in Chinese culture as the Chinese pronunciation sounds like that of 發 (fa), means meaning fortune and prosper.
Localiiz tip: As 25 to 28 January are public holidays, try to get the 29th to the 31st off so you can have a week off from work comprising of two weekends.
Halfway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is Da Nang, a fast-growing coastal city that is a melting pot of old and new. Not only is Da Nang home to beautiful beaches and an increasingly cosmopolitan city centre, but its proximity to the gorgeous sights of Hai Van Pass, Son Tra Peninsula, and historical Hoi An Old Town as well as Hue Imperial City make it a versatile destination for those who want a little something of everything. It’s definitely more laid-back than its big-city cousins and caters to all budgets.
If you hold a Hong Kong passport, make sure you apply for a Vietnamese entry visa prior to your trip, which usually only takes two business days to process. If you do choose to visit Da Nang, keep in mind that the Vietnamese people also celebrate Lunar New Year (Tet in Vietnamese), so businesses may be shut (for at least the first three days) and locals may also flock to the beaches on holiday.
Must-see: Dragon Bridge, Non Nuoc Beach, Phap Lam Pagoda, Cham Museum, Bà Nà Hills (pictured above)
Flight duration: 1.5–2 hours
The flight to Taipei takes less time than some of our daily commutes, which is why it’s been a longtime local favourite for a weekend break. If your New Year’s Resolutions included “Go on a diet”, prepare to break that promise as Taipei is packed full of delicious eats, from street food at the bustling night markets to fine dining at Michelin-starred establishments. Art and history lovers will also have an enriching time in this city exploring the vibrant cultural scene, with its collection of grand temples, historical relics, art parks, and museums. Fancy a day of pampering? Take a day trip out to Beitou Hot Springs, the most popular and easily accessible hot springs region out of all the geothermal activity that surrounds Taipei.
Unlike most places that celebrate Lunar New Year, there are very few public events in Taipei during this festive period. Firecrackers will be set off around nighttime in nearly every neighbourhood, so don’t be too alarmed. If you visit during this auspicious time, keep in mind that the most popular tourist attractions (e.g. Taipei 101, museums, and more) will close early, and some restaurants and night markets may do so as well. Don’t spend all your red pocket money at the places that do remain open, though!
Must-see: Elephant Mountain, National Palace Museum, Ningxia Night Market, Huashan 1914 Creative Park, Longshan Temple
Flight duration: 1 hour or less
South Korea’s capital Seoul is an Asian city that combines gorgeous history and cutting-edge tech, and with the frenzied rise of Korean pop culture, it’s become increasingly tourist-friendly. The four most popular neighbourhoods in the city are: 1) Myeongdong, the bustling beauty and fashion hub, 2) Insadong, an artsy and historic district where you can relax in a cafe or teahouse, 3) Hongdae, the centre of three universities and thus a breeding ground for youth culture and indie music, and 4) Itaewon, the diverse international nightlife district.
We highly recommend renting and wearing a hanbok (traditional Korean festive dress) and exploring the royal palaces to live your Korean period drama fantasy. Some attractions will even give you discounted entry if you’re wearing one! Of course, it’s easy to get away from the big city lights in Seoul as well; just take a day trip to the DMZ between North and South Korea, spend the day at Everland Resort or Lotte World, Seoul’s two theme parks, or book an all-inclusive ski trip to the nearby Oak Valley Snow Park.
Be sure to bundle up, as Seoul in January and February is freezing cold. Keep in mind that Koreans also celebrate Lunar New Year (Seollal) and during the first four days of the holiday, many locals will leave the capital to be with family or travel. National parks, palaces, theme parks, and other tourist attractions will stay open (with adjusted hours). Remember to check and see if the spots you want to check out is open!
Must-see: Gyeongbokgung Palace, Bukchon Hanok Village, Dongdaemun Design Plaza (designed by the late renowned architect Zaha Hadid!), Gwangjang Market, Myeongdong
Flight times: 3–4 hours
If you want to visit a city where the Chinese New Year festivities are traditional and rambunctious, head to Penang. Known for fabulous food, gorgeous historical and cultural sights, and pretty beaches, Penang goes hard when it comes to auspicious festivities. Penang’s public holiday and weeklong festivities begin on Chinese New Year’s Eve and end on the sixth day of the New Year, and every day is packed full of activities.
The stunning Kek Lok Si Temple, a 19th-century Buddhist temple sitting high on Air Itam near Penang Hill, is lit up with more than 10,000 lights and lanterns, and you can see it twinkling from miles away. The Snake Temple, with its real live snakes, hosts a street party with a traditional Fire Watching ceremony that supposedly predicts the city’s economy for the year. The biggest celebration is the Penang Miaohui, with dances, food stalls, prayers, martial arts performances and more traditional cultural activities held till late night in the George Town UNESCO heritage precinct. It’s definitely a festive Chinese New Year experience that we’d recommend staying for.
Must-see: Kek Lok Si Temple, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, George Town, Hin Bus Depot, Chew Jetty, Batu Ferringhi Night Bazaar
Flight duration: 3–4 hours
Okinawa is a beautiful summer holiday destination, for sure, but visiting in the winter has its perks. Firstly, flights and accommodation are cheaper; secondly, Okinawan cherry blossoms start blooming at as early as the end of January; and thirdly, there’s still lots to do but with way fewer visitors!
Though it may be winter, temperatures in Okinawa are moderate between 10 to 21 degrees Celsius. If you still fancy participating in watersports like diving, surfing, and whale-watching, the water temperature in the ocean around Okinawa remains largely around 20 to 25 degrees Celsius, If you or a loved one can drive (with a valid license, of course), we recommend renting a car and touring the capital Naha and its surrounding islands at your own pace with beautiful nature to accompany your drive.
Okinawan cuisine is also very different from mainland Japan’s, due to its warmer climate and Ryukyu culture, utilizing fresh local delicacies like pork, bitter melon, sea grapes, and pineapple. Although if you’re a seafood lover, the fresh catches at Makishi Public Market in Naha aren’t to be missed. Lastly, some bad news: Okinawa’s Shuri Castle, a major historical relic from the Ryukyu Kingdom, was destroyed in a fire. However, repair works are underway and about 80 percent of the surrounding park are still open to public.
Must-see: Kokusai Dori Street, Churaumi Aquarium, Seifa Utaki, Okinawa Caves, Okinawa World, Peace Memorial Park, Cape Manza, Yonaha Maehama Beach, Ishigaki Island
Flight duration: 2–3 hours
Chiang Mai is the spiritual capital of Thailand. It’s a completely different vibe from the popular seaside destinations of South Thailand, with humble and helpful locals, mountainous nature dotted with amazing temples, and charming regional cuisine.
There are over 300 wats (temples) around Chiang Mai alone, making it the perfect place to go temple-hopping. Start in the Old City, the historical city centre home to an 800-year old moat, cultural centres, and a busy nightlife district. Here, you’ll find Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh, both just a stone’s throw away from the night markets. The most important temple in Chiang Mai, and possibly all of Thailand, is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Wai Doi Suthep is a magnificent golden temple overlooking the Chiang Mai valley and is an impressively maintained relic of Lanna Kingdom culture. Take a red songthaew from the city up the winding mountain roads, or if you’re feeling adventurous, take the three-hour hike up to the base of the temple, from which you can either take the additional 300 steps up or take a funicular style cable car.
Thailand is famous for its wildlife, but many zoos and parks advertising animals on display are often cruel and unethical. Northern Thailand is elephant country and if you want to visit a sanctuary where elephants are treated well, Chiang Mai is the place to go. At sanctuaries like Chiang Mai Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and Hug Elephant Sanctuary, elephant rides are strictly forbidden and the gentle giants are properly cared for and free to roam around the grounds.
Must-see: Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai “Grand Canyon”, One Nimman, Doi Inthanon National Park, Khao Soi Mae Sai, Chiang Mai Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
Flight duration: 3 hours
Finally, we have Perth, a longer-haul destination and one of the world’s most isolated cities. Perth is the capital of Western Australia and sits where the Swan River meets the Indian Ocean, making it a fast-growing cosmopolitan hub for arts, food, and wine, as well as a convenient hub for day trips out to scenic sights like the Swan Valley wineries, Pinnacles Desert, Fremantle Port, and of course, Rottnest Island, home to the adorable quokkas.
Summer is just beginning in Australia at this time of year, and there are ample activities to fill the itinerary in Perth. Unwind with a picnic at the world’s largest inner-city park, King’s Park and Botanic Garden. It offers sprawling, uninterrupted views of downtown Perth and the winding Swan River and is also home to more than 300 native West Australian flora. Nearby you’ll find Barrack Street Jetty, where hip bars and eateries line the waterfront and you can catch a ferry to one of the many idyllic islands surrounding Perth. In addition to the food, Barrack Street Jetty is also home to the iconic Bell Tower, which has an open-air Observation Deck and houses several historic bells including the oldest one in Australia which dates all the way back to 1550.
Journey out to Fremantle, known lovingly to locals as Freo. Freo is a port city just outside of downtown Perth that’s known for its maritime history and Victorian architecture from its past as a British penal colony. Take a tour around Fremantle Prison, which housed convicts until the early 1990s, as well as the 12-sided Round House, a landmark built in 1831, which also briefly functioned as a jail.
Must-see: King’s Park, Cottesloe Beach, Rottnest Island, Fremantle Prison, Fremantle Market, Swan River
Flight duration: 7–8 hours
If you’re short on annual leave, or just don’t have the time to get away, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a little break. Treat yourself while supporting Hong Kong and make the most out of staying in town by booking a relaxing staycation! Check here for our favourite staycation deals and let your worries melt away while you coop up in a comfortable room (or suite, we know you fancy), order heaps of room service, maybe get a massage or two. Take advantage of the warmer winter days and check into a hotel with a pool, and if you’ve got pets, pamper the pooches as well by taking them on staycation along with you to these pet-friendly hotels.