Weekend Getaways
By Kurt Ganapathy

Singapore was founded as an ideal central port from which many other destinations could be reached easily. Today, that accessibility remains unchanged, to the benefit of anyone with a thirst for travel.

Strategically located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore lies within a seven-hour flight radius of neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Hong Kong. With its proximity to tourist destinations such as the sandy beaches of Phuket and contemporary cities like Kuala Lumpur, weekend getaways are very popular with Singaporeans and tourists alike.

In fact, Singapore makes a great springboard for travelling around the region. With the availability of low cost carriers, easy access to neighbouring cities and an abundance of tour packages and tour agencies to choose from, it'd be a waste not to!

Drive There
With the Johor-Singapore Causeway and the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link connecting Singapore and her neighbour, driving up to Malaysia for the weekend is simple and convenient. You can either hop on a public bus, a taxi, or take your car for a spin and you'll soon arrive in the southern state of Johor. Most Singaporeans make a beeline for Johor Bahru, the state capital of Johor, to indulge in cheap shopping and delicious seafood.

For a more fulfilling weekend, travel down to the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur (KL), via travel coaches like Grassland Express & Tours. If you’re a bit more adventurous, you could also take the daily train service that runs from the Malaysian railway train station at Tanjong Pagar, operated by KTM Berhad.

Visit attractions such as the Batu Caves, a limestone hill with a series of caves and cave temples, or view the city skyline from the famous Petronas Twin Towers, one of the world's tallest buildings. You can also shop at Berjaya Times Square KL, which houses Asia's largest indoor theme park, Cosmo's World.

Also, don't forget to visit Genting Highlands, also known as the Las Vegas of Malaysia. The casino at Genting is the only legal land-based casino in Malaysia, and was voted the World's Leading Casino Resort in November 2005 by the World Travel Awards.  

Another famous tourist locale is Langkawi, off the coast of Kedah. There, you can enjoy leisurely strolls down its beautiful beaches, appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature while trekking through its lush mangroves, or simply enjoy the amazing landscape of its padi fields.

Tioman Island is another beach paradise off the coast of Pahang. Perfect for spending lazy days under the sun, the island also features granite formations that are excellent for rock-climbing expeditions.

For a mainland beach experience, Desaru is an excellent place to go. About two hours from Singapore, there are many resorts to choose from there. Activities are as varied as go-karting, surfing, fishing and firefly-watching. There's even an Ostrich Farm, while river resort Sebana Cove is one of the top places for accommodation here. With excellent food, warm service and an award-winning golf course, satisfaction is guaranteed.

For travel information, visit http://www.grassland.com.sg for coach services and http://www.ktmb.com.my for train services.

Fly There
The emergence of budget airlines has greatly reduced the cost of regional air travel, allowing Singaporeans to get out of the country every once in a while without burning big holes in their pockets. Low-cost carriers deliver cheap fares, very little administrative hassle, "class-free" seating, along with quality service and reliability.

Since Valuair's first flights in May 2004, Singapore's budget aviation industry has grown steadily to include other airlines like Jetstar Asia, and a budget terminal that was built in March 2006 to handle the increase in budget airline traffic. Here’s a lowdown on the types of low-cost carriers available and what they can offer to every budget traveller.

As the first low-cost airline to begin operations in Singapore, Valuair offered flight services to Bangkok and Hong Kong, along with frills such as in-flight food, allocated seats and an over-20kg baggage allowance. In 2005, Valuair merged with Jetstar Asia to form Orange Star, in the first major consolidation of the region's low-cost airline industry. Since then, Valuair has stopped its routes to Hong Kong, Xiamen and Perth, and flies mainly to major cities in Indonesia like Jakarta and Surabaya.

Today, Valuair still offers flights to Bangkok, but as a codeshare with sister company, Jetstar Asia. For flight bookings and more information on Valuair, check out http://www.valuair.com.sg.

Jetstar Asia
Jetstar started as a budget carrier within Australia in May 2004, and within six months, decided to branch into low-cost travel in Southeast Asia. A Singapore-based partnership between local businesses and Australian carrier Qantas, Jetstar Asia promises the lowest fares, alongside an enjoyable and refreshing travel experience. It was voted the "Best Asian Low-cost Carrier" at TTG Travel Awards 2006 and won the "Top 10 Airlines by Passenger Carriage 2006" and "Top 5 Airlines by Growth in Passenger Carriage 2006" at the Changi Airline Awards.

With a fleet of single-aisle Airbus A320s that can carry 180 passengers on each intra-Asia flight, Jetstar Asia flies daily from Singapore to popular destinations like Hong Kong and Bangkok, from as low as $58 for a one-way ticket, excluding airport taxes, administrative fees, insurance and fuel charges. During non-peak holiday seasons, Jetstar often offers promotional rates, where airfares can get even lower. 

As of 2008, Jetstar Asia also flies to other cities like Manila, Ho Chi Minh City, Siem Reap, Taipei and several major Australian cities. For the full list of destinations and air fares, visit http://www.jetstar.com.

Tiger Airways
Established in December 2003, Tiger Airways first took to the skies in September 2004 with its inaugural flights from Changi Airport and Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok. Based in Singapore, Tiger Airways is primarily owned by Singapore Airlines Limited, and it currently flies to many destinations within a four-hour flying radius of Singapore, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Perth and Macau.

Tiger Airways is the first budget airline to operate from the Budget Terminal at Changi Airport. Since its inception, it has gone on to extend its operating radius to include several destinations in Australia and India. For more details, visit http://www.tigerairways.com.

Where to Head

Also known as "The Land of Smiles", Thailand is one of Singaporeans' favourite travel haunts, with Bangkok being the most popular. Shopping at mega malls like Mah Boon Krong and Siam Paragon in the country's capital is a huge draw, where you can find designer knock-offs, global brands, and the city's finest fashion at affordable prices.

If you love a good bargain, a must-visit will be the Chatuchak weekend market. With over 15,000 stalls and 200,000 visitors every Saturday and Sunday, it is one of the biggest and most famous markets in the world - you'll be amazed at the sheer variety of merchandise. From pets to furniture, beads to music CDs, there is something for everyone at Chatuchak. Just remember to put your bartering skills to the test when you're there!    

Shopping aside, take some time to soak in the rich Thai culture. Visit the Grand Palace, the official residence of the King of Thailand from the 18th to 20th century, which also contains the statue of the Emerald Buddha; cruise down the Chao Phraya River, which brings you to other attractions like the Temple of Dawn; hop onto the tuk-tuk, a traditional three-wheeled vehicle, to places like Patpong to experience the underbelly of the Thai society.

However, if you're simply looking for a relaxing time and a great tan, head to Phuket, Thailand's largest island which comprises a stretch of idyllic beaches, or Phi Phi Island, a gorgeous island with a vibrant nightlife, where scenes from the Hollywood movie "The Beach" were filmed.

Bali is also another popular attraction; the majority of international tourists who visit Indonesia flock to this well-known clubbing destination. Its spectacular beaches with great surfing and diving facilities make Bali Indonesia's number one tourist destination. Spend the day visiting one of its heritage-rich Hindu temples, and appreciate their famous Balinese dances, gamelan orchestra and wayang kulit (shadow puppet) performances.

Cruise There
Singapore is classically a port city and many new worlds still remain to be discovered just beyond our shores.

Built in 1991, the Singapore Cruise Centre at HarbourFront is the place to go to if you wish to set sail, with ferry services catering mostly to Indonesian and Malaysian destinations at affordable prices. This is also home of the Star Cruise Line and its massive flagship, the SuperStar Virgo. Towering over you on the wharf, one can only imagine the experiences to be had within. With top restaurants, sports facilities, bars, clubs and relaxing saunas, it would be a challenge to take in all that is available, even on a six-day cruise. From here, one can cruise off to destinations as far off as Japan and Hong Kong. To simply relax on board and not have to worry about immigration, there is also a Cruise to Nowhere available where one will spend their trip simply enjoying the experience of being out in the open sea.

Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal
Located on the Eastern side of the country near the airport, Tanah Merah serves many of the same destinations as the ferries at HarbourFront. However, there are also ferries which serve quieter and more laidback locations off the beaten trail. Instead of taking you to the Batam city centre, a ferry from here takes you to Nongsapura, a serene seaside area with just the right mix of modern facilities and old world charm. 

Where to Head

Bintan is the largest island in the nearby Riau Archipelago. The northern part of Bintan is lined with beach resorts such as Nirwana Beach Club and Bintan Lagoon Resort. Entertain yourself with water sports activities, or indulge in a round of golf on one of their well-manicured courses. If you're looking for some self-pampering, try out the various spas and massage packages offered by the resorts.

Have extra cash to spare? Then check out the opulent Banyan Tree Bintan, where accommodation is in the form of private villas, either equipped with your own jacuzzi or pool – ideal for a romantic getaway!

Unlike Bintan, Batam has a wide range of budget accommodations, from downtown motels to rustic resort chalets by the beach. This makes the island a favourite with travellers who prefer to move around on their own. Water sports enthusiasts will be pleased to know that the cable ski park in Batam offers highly affordable packages for cable skiing and cable wakeboarding, alongside staple water sports like canoeing, jet skiing and surfing. The island's main town, Nagoya, consists of many quaint stores peddling everything from food to electronics at low prices, for tourists to indulge in some retail therapy before heading home.

Solve your tour woes
It's always comforting to know that someone can help you with your holiday plans. Besides waiting for the bi-annual National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (NATAS) travel fair that happens in March every year, you can opt to check out tour packages and promotions at the various tour agencies in the country. The more reputable ones include Chan Brothers Travel, Dynasty Travel, and Five Stars Tours, which offer both corporate and leisure getaways to a wide range of places, as well as free-and-easy tour packages for weekend trips to Genting Highlands in Malaysia or Krabi in Thailand.

Most of these tour agencies can be easily found in shopping malls around the country, with a sizeable amount at People's Park Centre in Chinatown. Do collect the different travel brochures to compare packages and prices, so as to get the best deal for that weekend vacation you deserve!