By: Kelsey Ax
If you’re a teacher at a tuition center like me here in Singapore, your weekends are not your typical Saturdays and Sundays. Most teachers (at least at the company where I work) finish work around 6 PM on Sunday and are not needed to be back at work until Wednesday afternoon. This unconventional schedule provides the perfect opportunity to travel all around Southeast Asia more affordably and take some time away from this little red dot we call home.
Since moving to Singapore shortly after completing the 170-hour online TEFL course with the International TEFL Academy, I’ve been able to travel all over Asia thanks to term break holidays and this peculiar weekly schedule. So, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite, totally doable “weekend” trips (with direct flights) from my beloved base airport - Singapore Changi Airport.
#1 BANGKOK, THAILAND
For those of you that have visited Bangkok, you know why it’s high on my list. The food alone is worth the two hour flight. My husband and I spent our weekend in Bangkok boating down the Chao Phraya, roaming around Khao San Road (and most definitely not eating any scorpions), and soaking in the nightlife. For those who enjoy early mornings, even a visit to a Thai floating market is possible. Bangkok’s fun; there’s fantastic food and fascinating sights. Tons of airlines offer affordable flights to Bangkok daily from Singapore. Airlines include: AirAsia, Scoot, Thai Lion Air, Thai Airways, and Jetstar.
#2 KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
Flying to Kuala Lumpur ("KL" to those in the know) from Singapore is so quick and easy to do that you’ll definitely consider taking this trip more than once. When in KL, my husband and I enjoy spending an evening at Heli - the iconic bar on a former helipad atop one of KL’s numerous skyscrapers. It provides the perfect evening view of the illuminated Petronas Towers.
You can also fill your days exploring the Batu Caves near the city or wandering around Chinatown or Little India. There are so many flights going between KL and Singapore that you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with timing options when booking your flight. Scoot, AirAsia, and Jetstar are your airlines of choice in affordability.
#3 HO CHI MINH CITY (HCMC), VIETNAM
Rivaling Thailand in delicious food, I had some of the best food during my weekend trip to HCMC. The chaos of the motorbikes and street vendors will give you that necessary glimpse of Southeast Asia that one’s not used to when living in Singapore. It only takes two hours on an airplane to experience a completely different culture and way of life. I think those who have spent time in Southeast Asia can agree when I say that food tastes better and beers taste more refreshing when sitting on a plastic stool watching vehicles race by on the bustling streets. Airlines include: Scoot, JetStar, Vietjet, and Vietnam Airlines at affordable prices. You do have to factor in the cost of the visa for Vietnam which has changed price and policy every time I’ve applied for it. If you plan on visiting Vietnam multiple times within a year, I recommend investing in a multiple entry visa.
#4 PHUKET, THAILAND
Visiting Phuket not only gives you a weekend away to relax and party on the beach but also the opportunity to revel in the beauty of Phang Nga Bay, home to the popular James Bond Island as well as several other geological wonders. Also, the chance to eat Thai food should really go without saying. Phuket is such a quick flight from Singapore that within a few hours from take off, you’ll find yourself wandering down Bangla Road with a beer in hand. And, you guessed it, you can fly there with AirAsia, Scoot, and Jetstar.
#5 PENANG, MALAYSIA
Penang is a truly special destination and a backpackers delight. Cute and hip coffee shops, bars, and hostels line the streets in old colonial style buildings sporting a variety of colors. The flight is nearly as short as the flight to KL but the difference is clear once you disembark. Penang has often been called the cultural capital of Malaysia with the Georgetown area being recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. Riding up Penang Hill on the funicular for a fantastic view is also a must. Fly to Penang with AirAsia, Scoot, Jetstar, Malaysia Airlines, Silk Air, or Singapore Airlines depending on how much you’re willing to spend.
#6 KUCHING, BORNEO, MALAYSIA
I went on a girls' trip to Borneo one weekend with some of my fellow teacher friends back in 2015 and would go back again in a heartbeat. Nature enthusiasts will feel right at home on this half Malaysian, half Indonesian landmass - the largest island in Asia. We left on Monday morning and arrived back in Singapore on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday, there was plenty of time to get the feel of this smaller city and we even got to visit an orangutan sanctuary, a typical longhouse community, and eat a delicious homemade lunch at a homestay. Airlines, unsurprisingly, include AirAsia and Scoot but also Malaysia Airlines and Malindo Air.
#7 BALI, INDONESIA
Bali is an obvious weekend trip from Singapore as nearly every Singaporean or expat living in Singapore has visited the island destination at least once, especially with the easing of visa requirements for Indonesia. Getting there and back is your only concern and it’s not much of a concern at all. Although Bali is one of the most highly visited tourist destinations in Southeast Asia, if you know where to look, you can still find untouched areas worth exploring. Again, flying with AirAsia and Scoot is your best chance for a good deal.
#8 HONG KONG
This destination might alarm many people since it’s not considered a part of Southeast Asia. It’s also one of the more tiring places to visit for such a short duration, but the real appeal is how cheap flights can actually get between Singapore and Hong Kong depending on your dates.
So for those that can handle a little more exhaustion on that Wednesday back at work in exchange for a few days in the hustle and bustle of HK, this is a must. (My husband even once did a day trip to Shenzhen, China, during one of his weekend trips to HK) Your weekend in Hong Kong can be filled with gorging on dim sum, shopping in the markets of Mongkok, or checking out the views on Victoria Peak. HK can be easily reached using Cathay Airlines, Jetstar, or Scoot.
I want to note that there are many more destinations one can visit from Singapore for a quick few days away. For instance, Langkawi in Malaysia and Jakarta in Indonesia are easy to fly to from Singapore. I just can’t speak on behalf of those destinations as I haven’t made it there myself yet. Also, depending on your patience with connections, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (including the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat) in Cambodia as well as Brunei are also definite possibilities. Malacca in Malaysia, another cultural hub, can be reached by bus departing from many central Singapore locations, and if you don’t mind a longer flight, take a look into visiting Manila or Cebu in the Philippines.
Want more info? All flight information can easily be found on the Skyscanner website and app or directly on the airlines’ own websites.
Kelsey Ax is 25 from Rockford, IL, with a BA in International Studies and German from the University of Illinois. She began teaching in Barcelona in 2014 for several months before moving to Singapore. She has been teaching there for over two years. Kelsey has been lucky enough to have visited over 40 countries and counting and loves sharing her insight and experience with fellow travel-lovers.
Looking for more tips for traveling in Asia? Check out 11 Top Tips for Budget Travel in Asia