These days, people are spending more on experiences, rather than materials goods. No longer satisfied with just the typical shopping and eating trips (although these have their place as well), many are seeking vacations that are one-of-a-kind, meaningful or life-altering.
From seeing the wildebeest migration in South Africa to trekking the Tiger’s Nest in the happiest country in the world, the world is your oyster if you’re looking at more unconventional yet amazing spots to spend your vacation at.
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For your next voyage, take a pick from our wish list of 17 unforgettable destinations to start planning for…where you’d be spending those precious leave days.
If cruising azure waters and swimming with manta rays, stingrays and dolphins is high on your bucket list, then follow in the footsteps of Captain Cook some 250 years ago to Tahiti. The French Polynesian island will celebrate his legacy in 2019 through a number of experiences including a visit to Point Venus, the spot where longitude was first calculated.
For a less historical take, visit in July during the annual Heiva I Tahiti where Tahiti (and its surrounding islands like Bora Bora, Moorea and Huahine) comes alive with an array of cultural shows and graceful Tahitian dance performances, the heart and soul of its people.
For an authentic experience, and not just one from the vantage point of an overwater bungalow, choose a Tahitian Guesthouse (or pensiones) for a unique immersion into Polynesian life and hospitality – homemade poisson cru is the best – complete with all the expected creature comforts, and perhaps an oceanfront view.
Fly to Papetee on Air New Zealand from approximately $2,000. Visit here for more information on staying in a guesthouse.
It doesn’t get more remote than this. Located on the Southwestern tip of New Zealand is Fiordland National Park, the ideal escape for any urbanite looking for respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
With almost 5,000 square miles of pristine natural wildlands, stunning fiords (there’s 14 in total) and waterfalls with snow-capped peaks and lush valleys, it’s hard to imagine a prettier picture of paradise. The agenda of this vacation is simple, immerse yourself in nature – hike, kayak, camp or mountain climb – and allow yourself to admire what Rudyard Kipling described as the ‘eight wonder of the world’.
Fly to Queenstown on Air New Zealand from approximately S$2,000 and drive the Southern Scenic Route for about four hours. For more information, visit here.
Two words: Solar Minimum. That’s kicking in sometime in 2019-2020, and when when it does, catching the gorgeous green-blue auroras will be a tad more challenging to spot even if you go during the peak months of September to April.
While catching the Northern Lights remains fairly unpredictable – this fantastic light show is driven by the sun’s activity after all– if you’re determined to snap that aurora selfie sooner rather than later, you might want to get planning. In between chasing the light, keep yourself occupied with any of the following: Dips in the Blue Lagoon, learning about viking heritage and ice-walking on some glaciers.
Fly to Reykjavik from Singapore on Finn Air from approximately $1,200 (SGD?). For more information, visit here.
The Balkans remain one of Europe’s most underrated gems, particularly Montenegro which has slowly transformed itself into the French Riviera of Eastern Europe. From the coastal town of Budva to the UNESCO-protected Bay of Kotor and Tivat’s luxury yacht marina, its location along the Adriatic sea, flanked by the picturesque Dinaric Alps and coupled with its rich history, has made it an increasingly popular summer vacation spot.
And while it is more affordable than the neighbouring Croatia, it’s not short on luxury hotel options. The Aman Sveti Stefan calls Budva’s pretty pink sand home, while The Chedi recently opened up a sleek, 111 room property in the luxe locale of Lustica Bay.
Fly to Podgorica on Qatar Airlines from S$1,200. For more information, visit here.
Newly-opened air routes are a good way to decide where to vacay. With Finn Air’s new route to Portugal’s second largest city, Porto should be on your 2019 travel radar. Aside from taste testing as many port wines (this is where Port gets its name) as possible, plan to spend some time admiring its opulent gold churches – the Igreja de São Francisco is particularly impressive with its facade supposedly made with 100kg of gold leaf – and navigating the alleys of Porto’s Ribeira with a walking tour by Context Travel (from US$75 per person).
A word to the wise though: Pack comfortable walking shoes, the city is built on two massive hills so you’ll be looking at daily city “hikes” – all the more reason to stuff your face with ceviche, sardines and cheese.
Fly to Porto on Finn Air from July from approximately S$1,261. For more information, visit here.
For the art fiend who has exhausted Europe’s exhaustive museums and galleries, it’s time to plan a trip to Tasmania. While the island state is known for craft brews and natural produce, the Museum of Old and New Art (entry from AUS$28) is attracting a niche type of traveller to its shores. Home to David Walsh’s $110 million private collection of art and antiquities – there’s about 1,900 pieces of art, from painting to conceptual sculptures and even Ai Wei Wei’s White House, to be installed in mid-2019 – the museum carved into the sandstone cliffs of the Berridale Peninsula recently added its Pharos Wing.
Home to experimental pieces that celebrate light as art, visitors have the rare opportunity to immerse themselves in American artist James Turrell’s Amarn, a light bath gazebo if you like, as well as Unseen Seen, a trippy 15-minute experience that takes place in pairs inside a silver sphere.
Fly to Hobart on Qantas Airways for approximately S$1,200. For more information, visit here.
Now that they’ve undergone a six month clean up, the white sand island paradise of Boracay is open again for business. While it’ll be harder to plan that week in paradise – they’re limiting the island to just 19,200 tourists at any given day – when you do get there, there will be less rubbish, a tout-free beach (vendors and masseuses, amongst others, have been banned) free of single-use plastics and watersports only allowed after 100 meters from the shoreline.
While the no-drinking-on-the-beach ruling might damper the party vibes, the trade-off for a more zen-like beach ambience is worth it. Too bad selfie sticks are still allowed.
Fly to Malay via Philippines Airlines from approximately S$650. Take a vehicle to Caticlan Jetty Port, then a 20 minute boat ride. For more information, visit here.
You don’t need to go to Africa to embark on a safari, Amala Destinations combines a visit to the Gal Oya National Park where you can spot wild elephants and leopards roaming freely. The tour includes a visit to the ancient rock fortress Sigiriya with its awe-inspiring cave frescos and some down time and whale watching in the port city of Trincomalee built by the Portuguese in the 17th century. The trip ends in the capital Colombo which is fast becoming a cosmopolitan hot spot with its array of trendy restaurants, hip cafes and an up-and-coming designer scene.
Fly to Colombo via Sri Lanka Airlines from S$641 or contact www.amaladestinations.com to customise your own itinerary. For more information, visit here.
If getting out of your comfort zone and being in the midst of one of earth’s most pristine wilderness areas puts you on a high, put this no man’s land on your list now. Besides towering icebergs that rise out of the sea, you will also see colonies of penguins, fur and leopard seals, and whales – just to name a few.
One of the leading operators for these life-changing trips is Aurora Expeditions, with rigorous safety standards on their vessels for the terrain and guided trips with marine biologists and other experts. They have a wide range of packages for travellers of all kinds, so you’ll be spoilt for choice.
The 15th century Incan citadel may seem like a cliché on the bucket list but it’s still on the list of most people who have not been to Peru — and for very good reasons. It’s well preserved, and breathtakingly beautiful.
The sight of the jagged green precipices of the Huayna Picchu framing the ancient settlement that greets visitors after a two- or four-day (depending on where you start walking) hike or train ride, is one to behold. Once there, the air is thin – adding to the out-of-the-world feeling (and altitude sickness that some may experience) of being in a truly special place.
Visit the birthplace of Santa Claus to relive your childhood and maybe, to realise an adult dream of seeing the Northern lights. If you are from the tropics, you would find the snowscape from November to March to be astoundingly stark and beautiful. In this winter wonderland, reindeer and huskies are aplenty, making it a treat for animal lovers.
Seeing the Aurelia Borealis during your trip would be the icing on the cake — if you should be lucky enough. If you are not, take heart in the fact that the Santa Village is open every day of the year.
The sight of rolling hills, and frothy waves crashing against treacherous cliffs are the things that a mention of rural Scotland evokes. If you love the creations of Mother Nature, make a trip to the Isle of Skye. From waterfalls at Fairy Pool (so called because local folklore has it that fairies guard the waters purported to have magical health-restoring properties) to the valleys of Quairag, the Isle of Skye has it all.
To warm your bones after exploring the coastline and being exposed to the blustery Scottish winds, down a smoky Talisker whisky, distilled locally.
There’s more than one reason to travel to Tanzania, but the wildlife alone is compelling enough. During the annual wildlife migration an estimated 1.5 million animals including wildebeest and zebras will travel 3,000 miles from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara.
You can imagine the sounds and sights surrounding you. This is the way to experience Africa at its most natural. For a seamless safari experience, check out Paveway Explorer Holidays’ packages that start from eight days — it’ll be a truly unforgettable experience.
With a population of 1.94 people per square kilometre, the land of the eternal blue sky is one of the least densely populated places in the world, making it the perfect escape for peopled-out people from crowded cities. It’s possible to walk for days across grasslands and under star-filled skies and not see anyone except for the occasional herd of cattle or horses.
However, we would recommend that you journey across national parks on the back of a horse, in a pack, just like Genghis Khan did when he conquered vast land from Turkey to Eastern China. Stone Horse Expeditions and Travel offers guided horse riding experiences with nomadic family stays or camping trips that go up to 14 days, and also trips to the Gobi desert, the fourth largest desert in the world.
As the world’s largest coral reef and marine park, this 2,300km stretch of marine wonderland is home to 1,500 species of fish from tropical fish to manatees and 4,000 types of mollusc. With environment protection and conservation weighing more on travellers’ conscience than ever before, a need to see epic landmarks or destinations of phenomenal natural beauty and diverse wildlife seems to have taken on a greater sense of urgency.
Especially when it’s one that has been opined by numerous experts to be dying due to global warming. Though there are reassuring reports from other sources as well that the Great Barrier Reef’s health has greatly improved, we still say you should tarry no further.
The landlocked country may have welcomed its first foreign visitor in 1974, but you still won’t find the maddening crowds of tourists ruining the pristine landscape of ragged mountain ranges and verdant valleys. Besides having a rather isolated geographical position, there are also requirements such as a minimum daily spend that keeps visitor numbers low.
City folks who crave isolation, remote landscapes and the sincere hospitality of villagers, usually fall in love with Bhutan and want to return. A crop of luxury lodges in the country also offers travellers who love their creature comforts a fitting place to check in at night. The biggest opening this year is the luxurious Six Senses in the western and central parts of Bhutan. Set to make their debut in December are the first three lodges in Thimphu, Paro and Punakha, while the last remaining two will open in Gangtey and Bhumtang next year.
The famous 2,000-year-old terracotta army in Xian is a must-see for history lovers, but there is more to the former city called Chang An, the epicentre of Chinese civilisation during the Tang Dynasty. It was also the heart of the Silk Road route and the legacy of its position on the famous trade route is still evident in the diverse creed and cultures you see among the locals today, and also the breadth of foodie experiences.
Besides feasting on the best hand-pulled and hand-cut noodles in China, you can also snack on flavoursome lamb kebabs made by the Muslim minorities. If you have the luxury of time, savour the Silk Road by rail.
Luxury train operator, Golden Eagle’s Silk Road itinerary usually includes a two-day stopover in Xian. The uber-luxe cabins typically sell out a year in advance — a testament to how popular this journey is.
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Text: Charlene Fang and Mavis Teo
Photo: Golden Eagle Luxury Trains
This post was updated on July 20, 2019.