Must-try short trips: Destinations for an escape during a long weekend

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Sometimes a short weekend getaway is the perfect remedy for a tired soul. The upcoming long weekend (thank you public holidays!) is just the right time to reward yourself with a quick trip to some beautiful places near Singapore, and I imagine you'd like to avoid the tourist crowd on your escape.

This year, National Day will fall on Friday (9 August) and Hari Raya Haji will fall on Sunday (10 August) which means you have a 4-day long weekend.

Add a few days of your annual leaves (wink, wink) before or after either public holiday and you have yourself enough time for a vacation. Start planning here!

1. KOH KOOD, THAILAND

Budget flight tickets from Singapore to Bangkok are considerably cheap which makes Thailand a perfect destination for a short getaway. However, Bangkok is full of tourists and the traffic can be unbearable. Not a good recipe for a short escape from the city life in Singapore.

However, 5 hours away by bus sits Koh Kood, a small paradise island surrounded by pristine waterfalls and beaches.

Koh Kood is relatively untouched with a local population of only about 1,000. Due to its quiet vibe, the island is more suited for couples looking for a romantic vacation. Resorts are sprinkled across the island along with backpacking hostels.

Looking to reenact the romance between Tarzan and Jane? Koh Kood is perfect with its huge trees and waterfalls. Be sure to take a dip in the pool of the Khlong Chao Waterfall or use the rope swing and cannonball in.

How to get there: Take a flight to Bangkok from Singapore. From Bangkok, take a bus to Laem Sok Pier and then take a ferry from the pier to Koh Kood.

2. KO RONG, CAMBODIA

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Diving enthusiasts will find Ko Rong an ideal place for a short trip. The waterfront across the island is alive with many species of corals and sea creatures, making a dive colorful and mesmerizing.

If you're not interested in diving, you can try other activities like mountain biking, trekking, kayaking and island hopping. Activities are in abundance so you'll never have a boring moment on this island in Cambodia.

Don't fret if you're looking for some quiet time.

There are a number of hidden beaches across the island that are protected from overwhelming crowds. The only drawback to this island would be its struggle in transitioning into a holiday spot as it was previously undeveloped.

Some problems like litter and waste are not handled properly by some resorts which can lead to tainted scenery in some spots.

How to get there: Take a flight from Singapore to Sihanoukville. Then take a ferry from Sihanoukville to Ko Rong Samloem.

3. MABUL ISLAND, MALAYSIA

Not keen on travelling too far? Our neighbours up North have an ideal location for sandy beaches and the clearest of waters.

Mabul Island is 15 minutes by boat from the more popular Sipadan Island. Mabul in comparison is more of untouched beauty and is home to one of the ethnic groups of Sabah: the Bajau Laut tribe.

The reefs in Mabul Island are rather shallow which makes it perfect for snorkeling. Keep a lookout for turtles that have been spotted across the reefs of Mabul. No prior experience is needed for snorkeling at Mabul but it is recommended that you go in a group.

Don't forget to immerse yourself in the culture of Mabul by visiting the villages of the Bajau Laut tribe. Interestingly, they do not live on land but instead on houses built on stilts across the sea. They rarely go on land unless for important occasions and are the true Sea Gypsies of Malaysia.

How to get there: Take a flight to Kota Kinabalu or KL from Singapore. Then take a flight from either airport to Tawau. From Tawau, take a taxi to Semporna and then a speed boat to Mabul.

4. EL NIDO, PHILIPPINES

What's better than 1 island for a vacation? 45 islands!

El Nido is a group of 45 islands near Palawan Island in the Philippines. El Nido is a better option as compared to the commercialized beaches of Boracay which are filled to the brim with tourists. There are many different places to explore in this archipelago of islands, making sure you'll never be bored.

Kayaking would be a great activity in El Nido as you get to explore many coves and caves. If you're too lazy to kayak your way to these places, hop on an island-hopping boat that will visit 4-5 islands in a day. If you're feeling a bit more wealthy, opt for a private tour.

Adrenaline junkies who are less inclined with water activities can choose to do mountain biking or rock climbing across many islands. There are a number of dirt trails and cliffs for these activities.

How to get there: The fastest way is to take a flight to Manila from Singapore. From Manila, you can book a direct flight to El Nido.

5. REDANG ISLAND, MALAYSIA

Malaysia is no stranger to beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters. Up in Terengganu is Redang Island, an increasingly popular vacation spot in Malaysia.

Unlike the other names on this list, Redang is pretty developed. If you happen to feel like splurging, we recommend finding a resort with a private beach for the best experience.

Even if you don't manage to book a resort with a private beach, you can visit the famed Pasir Panjang beach. Despite being pretty packed most of the time, the atmosphere makes it all worthwhile for a visit to the beach.

If you're keen to burn off the calories, I suggest going on a jungle trek on Redang Island where you'll get a chance to see monkeys, monitor lizards, and exotic birds. The course isn't too taxing as well as there are not many steep slopes or complicated trails.

How to get there: Fly to Kuala Terengganu from Singapore. From Kuala Terengganu, take a taxi to Shahbandar Jetty and then take a ferry to Redang Island.

6. PENANG, MALAYSIA

An escape shouldn't always need to be on an island or somewhere secluded. Penang is full of history and culture despite not boasting the best beaches or scenery. Georgetown in Penang is lined with British colonial architecture which transports you back many decades.

However, eateries serving food of different ethnicities have made these colonial buildings their home which makes it truly Malaysian.

Learn more about the state's history at the Penang War Museum which houses many relics and even a few torture chambers used by the Japanese. Be warned, some exhibitions may be a bit graphic.

Nearby the war museum is two Chinese temples worth visiting: Sam Poh Footprint Temple and Snake Temple. And yes, there are snakes in the Snake Temple.

How to get there: Take a direct flight from Singapore to Penang.

7. OKINAWA, JAPAN

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Budget flights direct to Okinawa are heaven-sent. Contrary to popular belief, Okinawa is great for a short vacation despite being all the way in Japan. Even Japanese locals escape to Okinawa for short getaways.

Far away from bustling Tokyo and Osaka, Okinawa has the island life we all dreamed of. Because of the presence of American army camps here, the place is developed like the rest of Japan but with a great number of sandy beaches and a laid back vibe. Go island hopping, snorkeling, diving and many more if you want.

Culture in Okinawa is also different from mainland Japan. Food seems familiar but the cuisine essentially is different and a must-try. We recommend trying the Pork Tamago Onigiri for a different gastronomical experience. Also, try Hawaiian-influenced desserts and snacks across the island!

How to get there: Take a direct flight from Singapore to Okinawa.

8. MALE, MALDIVES

Nothing in Asia can rival Maldives' white sandy beaches. Male is the capital of Maldives which comprises of many little islands split apart from each other. Most of the hotels and resorts are concentrated in the capital near where the airport is.

A vacation in the Maldives may be a bit pricey but the resorts and activities play out like a dream. Newlyweds look no further for your honeymoon! The service at the resorts are top quality and almost everything screams luxury.

Being surrounded by the ocean on all sides gives many options for water activities as well.

How to get there: Take a direct flight from Singapore to Maldives.

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