The Singaporean guide to taking leave for travel – Jan-Jun 2017

All Occasional Travellers love it when the public holidays for the following year are announced. The well-prepared ones (read: kiasu) immediately strategise the best dates to utilise their previous 1-2 weeks worth of leave days for travel.

The public holiday calendar is just one small part of planning your vacations and leave days – it really is a complicated balance of a multitude of factors: weather, activities, cost and how busy your workplace is among many others. What I’ve done here is applied my tips and tricks for maximising leave days to the 2017 calendar, and shared a bit of thinking behind my recommendations. These are based off some of my personal experiences and may not apply to your job or industry.

I’ve always managed to get more than a month’s worth of travel with just 18 days of leave in my previous job (2015 / 2014), there’s no reason that you can’t do so either if you really wanted to!

Chope Leave 2017 - Calendar Jan-Jun

I’ve also included some suggestions on where you could go during each month as well because one thing that often stumps me is when is the best time to travel to a particular place. I’ve stuck to the Asian region as it involves less flying, and tried to include less common suggestions – you don’t need me to tell you to go to Bintan or Bali or Bangkok – but other less commonly visited spots that will make your travels in 2017 a little more interesting. You can see more of my past travels right here. A useful site I found for checking weather is Selective Asia, where you can look at the weather condition by country and month!

Hope you find this useful! Share this guide with your travel buddies to plan your upcoming holidays, or just take off on your own. Share your own tips in the comments as well so we can make this useful for everyone! I’m splitting this into 2 posts so that it doesn’t get too overwhelming – this post focuses on the first 6 months in 2017.

Click on the months for a detailed breakdown:

JANUARY 2017

January never feels quite like work has properly started for the year as most people are coming off their year end holidays and still feeling festive. In Singapore, it’s a bit of a public holiday onslaught with Christmas, New Year’s Day and Chinese New Year all happening in a space of about 5 weeks. In 2017 the public holidays fall on Sundays, so that means Mondays are public holidays, and it feels like you’ve earned some extra days of vacation!

In general, the Indochina region is great during this time of the year because it’s dry season and the weather is not as sweltering, perfect for outdoor hikes or temple hopping without the sweatiness. I’ve got some recommendations on Vietnam to get you started.

Chope2017 Calendar Jan

SUGGESTED LEAVE DAYS:

  • 2 Days: 13 & 16 Jan [4-day weekend 13-16 Jan]

Sure you have to use an extra day of leave, but you won’t be competing for the hot public holiday dates. Also, your break is right smack between the two public holidays, so your month will feel extremely short as you’ll practically be working 4-day weeks the entire month!

For something festive and a little different from your typical weekend getaway during this period, my friend Ami from Thrilling Travel recommends heading to southern India and the Tamil Nadu region where they celebrate the harvest festival Pongal and the Uttaraya Kite Festival. To maximise your time, you can fly there direct via Singapore Airlines but it’s a tad expensive!

Uttarayan Kite Festival by Sandeepachetan.com Travel Photography
Uttarayan Kite Festival by Sandeepachetan.com Travel Photography via Flickr CC
  • 1 Day: 30 Dec 2016 [4-day weekend 30 Dec 2016 – 2 Jan 2017]

If you haven’t already booked this, chances are you’re unlikely to get leave at this point, nor get any decent flights or accommodation. Even if you do, everything is going to be really expensive – book this only if you have specific plans to spend an epic NYE somewhere, and make sure you do this way in advance.

For real party atmospheres, stick to major cosmopolitan cities to ring in the New Year – Some places to get you started here.

New Year's Eve Ho Chi Minh City by Christopher Porter
New Year’s Eve in Ho Chi Minh City by Christopher Porter via Flickr CC
  • 1 Day: 31 Jan [4-day weekend 28 – 31 Jan]

Also a highly popular date, prices are bound to be sky high. While Chinese New Year tends to involve a lot of visiting, an increasing number of Chinese Singaporeans are skipping tradition and choosing to escape the country instead. Here’s more detail on what a typical Chinese New Year celebration looks like in Singapore.

You could book 27 Jan as well, but chances are if you are in an office job that you may get a half day off – many companies let their workers leave early to prep for the traditional reunion dinner at night. If you are in an even more traditional company that has a lot of overseas Chinese workers, you may even have block leave for a week or two as these companies let their workers go back to their home countries to be with their families.

Unless you want to soak in the Chinese New Year festivities, I’d suggest avoiding countries like China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, parts of Malaysia and Singapore at month’s end. CNY usually sees a lot of people movement so getting transport booked at reasonable prices in these countries will be tough, if you can even book a seat at all. Also, many things may be closed as people opt to spend time with their families.

In particular, avoid China as this is one of two Golden Week periods for them unless you have a penchant for extreme crowds. You do not want to be caught in that mass wave of movement that is China’s Golden Week if you can help it! Note that the surrounding regions are likely to see a sharp increase in Chinese tourists as well during this period

Chinese New Year decor in Chinatown 2014 - Year of the Horse
Singapore’s Chinatown is always crowded in the lead up to Chinese New Year

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FEBRUARY 2017

Boo, no public holidays or school holidays whatsoever in February, but luckily for us it’s a short month. If you were covering for your erstwhile colleagues in the previous two festive season months, this might be your month to plan a getaway.

Chope2017 Calendar Feb

SUGGESTED LEAVE DAYS:

  • 2 Days: 23 & 24 Feb [4-day weekend 23-26 Feb]

You’ll notice I’m avoiding the middle part of the month, because while Valentine’s Day isn’t a holiday, it tends to be a period where hotels and restaurants jack up their prices considerably as lovey-dovey couples celebrate this day en masse. Unless you’re lucky enough to score a great promotional deal, I suggest not travelling during this period to avoid those inflated prices. This particular period is also outside of the Chinese New Year period, so those Chinese countries should be back to business as usual by then.

If you’re looking for a short holiday, why not consider checking out Laos? Indochina is still nice at this time of the year. Or maybe Sri Lanka for something a little different?

Laos Vientiane Patuxai Buddha View
Go to Laos before other tourists discover it! Here’s a guide to Vientiane where you can get this view right in the middle of the city
  • 2 Days: 9 & 10 Feb [4-day weekend 9-12 Feb]

If you do want something kinda atmospheric and romantic anyway, consider heading up to Taiwan for their annual Lantern Festival on 11 Feb, the 15th day of Chinese New Year. The easiest option is to head up to Pingxi just north of Taipei, a place famous for their releasing of sky lanterns throughout the year and extra festive on this day. The official 2017 editions of the Lantern Festival will be hosted in Tainan on the south west coast of Taiwan this year – head down to Yunlin for lantern festivities or Yanshui where the beehive fireworks festival happens.

Taiwan Lantern Festival by Sheng-Fa Lin
Taiwan Lantern Festival means countless beautiful lanterns floating in the sky. Photo by Sheng-Fa Lin via Flickr CC

Another great festival to catch is Thaipusam, a Hindu thanksgiving festival that is really colourful. The rituals and processions which involve things like firewalking and devotees carrying scary-looking spiky structures (kavadi) pierced through their body is quite a visual spectacle. The best part if you don’t even need to go anywhere far if you want to save your leave days – Singapore’s Little India area is a great place to see Thaipusam close to home, but if you do want to travel, India, Sri Lanka and the Batu Caves just outside of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia are where you can head to as well.

Thaipusam at Batu Caves by seng_tslee
Thaipusam at Batu Caves is a really crowded affair. Photo by seng_tslee via Flickr CC

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MARCH 2017

Another month with no public holidays, but the school holidays happen for a week in the middle of March, which is when you typically get teachers, students and families doing their travels. March is also closer to spring for most countries in the Northern hemisphere where things are starting to warm up, but before the summer crowds kick in.

Chope2017 Calendar Mar

 

SUGGESTED LEAVE DAYS:

  • 2 Days: 13, 14 March  [4-day holiday 11-14 Mar]

If you can swing the time, consider Nepal during this period. Trekking season just opens and the weather is mild, perfect if you love mountain ranges and the outdoors. Also, yet another colourful Hindu festival of Holi takes place on 12/13 Mar depending on whether you are in Nepal or India, which is also great if you love festivities. My suggested dates hopefully let you travel cheaper before the school-goers are let loose, and come back in mid-week where it is typically cheaper as well.

Nepal Mountains by Mariusz Kluzniak
Nepal Mountains by Mariusz Kluzniak via Flickr CC
  • 2 Days: 23 & 24 March [4-day weekend 23-26 Mar]

I suggest to avoid travelling during the week-long school holiday period if you can help it so you don’t compete with the school-going crowd who only have this free week in March to travel. Late March is also closer to summer – so the weather is not as bitterly cold, but not crazy hot yet either.

Around this time last year I was in Tokyo which was just in time for Hanami – the Sakura blooming season – more on my Hanami experience in this blog post. Absolutely beautiful, I’d definitely recommend anyone to go during this period, but note that it gets crowded! Also, you’ll need to monitor the dates closer to season, as the forecast blooming season is very dependent on the weather.

Tokyo Yoyogi Park Sakura Crowds
Crowded but beautiful – Japan in late March / early April during Hanami

Generally, anywhere in East Asia is pretty nice around this time of the year – go cycling in central Japan on the Shimanami Kaido, or I was in Hong Kong in March for the various art fairs in March and it was great weather for outdoor trekking and exploration of the islands.

Hong Kong Cheung Chau - Cheung Po Tsai Cave Exit View
Hong Kong’s nearby outer islands are a nice way to escape the city – try Cheung Chau or Lamma Island

Bali is a pretty popular destination for Singaporeans throughout the year, but Nyepi is not a good time to go as the Balinese are forbidden to work or travel on this day – tourists are usually confined to their hotels and there is a skeletal staff, so not the best way to enjoy your holiday.

 

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APRIL 2017

Finally, it’s Good Friday and Easter weekend which is a public holiday in Singapore! You’ve made it through the first quarter of the year and if you haven’t had a holiday yet, why not now? Many companies in Singapore give out their bonuses at this time of the year, so it’s worth considering a quick vacation with that extra cash at this period! Weather wise is great – you’re at spring>summer in the northern hemisphere and autumn in the southern hemisphere, nice weather before it gets too hot or cold.

Chope2017 Calendar Apr

SUGGESTED LEAVE DAYS:

  • 2 Days: 12 & 13 Apr [5-day weekend 12-16 Feb]

Many countries celebrate their new year during this period – predominantly Buddhist-culture countries in the Indochina region like Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia along with some in the North Asian region like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Tamil parts of India. Most popular festivities that attract tourists are Thailand’s Songkran festival, which is a pretty wet and wild time with water being thrown at everyone on the streets. Laos also has Songkran while Myanmar has a similar version called Thingyan.

Songkran in Thailand by Adam Howarth
Wet and wild during Songkran in Thailand by Adam Howarth via Flickr CC

Meanwhile, countries like Philippines, Australia and New Zealand have some serious Good Friday and Easter celebrations – I spent Easter in Margaret River in Western Australia, which was a tad crowded but very lovely weather.

  • 1 Day: 28 Apr [4-day weekend 28 Apr – 1 May]

The Labour day weekend is great to get away – Down Under in Australia is nice to visit as the stifling heat of summer starts to go down – Melbourne is always a popular option, but how about heading to nearby Daylesford or Gippsland instead for something a little different?

Gippsland Wilsons Promontory Norman Bay
Beautiful Wilson’s Promontory in Gippsland awaits!

 

Meanwhile, my friend Kimi from The Escape Journal recommends April as a great time to visit the Philippines as it’s warm, sunny and perfect for the beaches! I’m a big scuba diving fan and Philippines has excellent waters along with its beautiful coasts!

Philippines Anilao Crystal Blue Resort Dive Boat Shore
Go diving in the Philippines!

I suggest to avoid Japan during this period as Japan’s Golden Week happens from 29 Apr –  7 May, which means a lot of movement and sky-high accom and transportation costs.

 

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MAY 2017

Another public holiday extravaganza! Labour Day and Vesak Day fall in the early part of the month, and if you want to do a long trip, this is the best time as you could use these 2 public holidays to give yourself a 16-day holiday with 8 days of leave! The later part of the month is when school holidays start, so get your travel done earlier to avoid the crowds.

Chope2017 Calendar May

SUGGESTED LEAVE DAYS:

  • 2-5 May / 8-9 + 10-11 May (4 days leave for a 9 day long holiday if you can afford it)

If you want to take a long holiday for the year, this is an ideal time to do so. May is also great because it’s not quite full-on summer peak season yet – the crowds have yet to descend and the weather is still cool. For something a little out of the normal, why not try Central Asia – Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan – my pals Sunrise Odyssey spent a good amount of time backpacking there.

Uzbekistan by LM TP
Uzbekistan by LM TP via Flickr CC

You will want to avoid Japan in the 1st week of May because it’s Golden Week which means sky-high prices and a ton of movement! I highly recommend going to Taiwan if you can, and perhaps going down the east coast of Taitung. The offshore islands Lyudao and Lanyu are perfect places to visit at this time of the year, nice and warm before the monsoon season hits. Summer means more crowds on these islands, but it still isn’t overwhelming and you get the best weather to enjoy the coast. Seoul is also a nice alternative option and good weather during this period.

Taiwan Lanyu Cold Spring Mountains
I love Lanyu! This is quite an amazing island 🙂

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JUNE 2017

Again it’s school holiday month so you’re going to see lots of kids and families travelling during this period. It might be hard for the single folk to take leave as you will have to compete with colleagues planning big family vacations during this period.  It’s summer in the northern hemisphere, expect it to be hot in most places that you go, but also when monsoon kicks in for many parts of Asia.

Chope2017 Calendar June

SUGGESTED LEAVE DAYS:

  • 23 and 27 June (2-days leave for for 5-day weekend)

Hari Raya Puasa falls on the tail end of the month – capitalise on this public holiday if you can, and consider coming back on 28 or 29 instead so you don’t compete with the school kids who have to be back in school.

Hari Raya Puasa is similar to Chinese New Year in that you’ll see lots of Muslim families all dressed up and travelling around to visit their kin. Because of our close ties with neighbouring countries Malaysia and Indonesia, expect travel to these countries during this period to be more expensive and crowded – the causeway between Singapore and Malaysia especially on Hari Raya Puasa as the custom is to have a shared meal with your extended family, so you might want to avoid travelling to these countries during this particular period.

Indonesia is a good place to be in the earlier part of June, with sunny weather and relatively drier compared to the other monsoon hit regions. For somewhere a little different, why not check out Flores in Indonesia? Just an hour away from Bali, you can hang with Komodo Dragons and enjoy some of the most beautiful beaches without the tourist hordes of Kuta and Seminyak. Yogyakarta and the temples of Borobudur are also another spot worth considering.

Flores Koka Beach Me Lucie
Paradise found at Koka Beach in Flores near Maumere

Also for your consideration – China. I’ve only ever been to Shanghai, but this country is so big and has so much to offer! A sight that might entice you are the flowers blooming in the summer season – Hangzhou’s West Lake (Xi Hu) is abloom with lotus flowers, Huocheng in the Yili region of Xinjiang is covered with lavender flowers, while Xining in Qinghai lures in visitors with its fields of lilacs.

Lotus Xihu Hangzhou by VT Polywoda
Lotus on Xi Hu in Hangzhou by VT Polywoda via Flickr CC

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Where are you headed in 2017? Share your travel plans and inspire someone else to get off their butts and travel more!

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