Occasional Travellers like me love it when the public holidays for the following year are announced and get into a flurry as everyone tries to strategise the best dates to utilise their precious 1-2 weeks worth of leave days for travel. If you are one of those who likes to plan way in advance, I’ve put together a guide to help you decide where and when is the best time to travel.
Using 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. Here are some of my recommendations based off my personal experiences – I’ve always managed to get more than a month’s worth of travel with just 18 days of leave in my previous job (check out my round-ups to see for yourself), there’s no reason that you can’t do so either if you really wanted to!
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 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 of the year.
Cover photo by Estée Janssens via Unsplash
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 in December-January with Christmas, New Year’s Day and Chinese New Year all happening in a space of about 5 weeks.
New Year’s Day: 1 January
If you plan to do a New Year’s Eve celebration overseas, make sure you plan this way in advance or it will be nigh impossible and really expensive to do anything last minute. The best New Year’s celebrations tend to take place in the major cosmopolitan cities which will be bustling with people and nightlife more than the smaller villages or town.
Chinese New Year (Late Jan or early Feb)
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.
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.
Where to go
For somewhere cheaper, 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, but Myanmar and Laos are great options too.
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.
Where to avoid
Unless you want to soak in the Chinese New Year festivities, I’d suggest avoiding countries with large Chinese populations like China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, parts of Malaysia and Singapore during the Chinese New year period. 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
There may or may not be public holidays in February depending on when Chinese New Year falls that year. If you were covering for your erstwhile colleagues in the previous two festive season months, this might be your month to plan a getaway.
- Chinese New Year – January/February (see January for details)
- Valentine’s Day – 14 February
- Thaipusam – January/February
While Valentine’s Day isn’t a public 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.
Where to go
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?
If you do want something kinda atmospheric and romantic anyway, consider heading up to Taiwan for their annual Lantern Festival on the 15th day of Chinese New Year – it is held in different parts of Taiwan every year, or another option is to head up to Pingxi just north of Taipei, a place famous for their releasing of sky lanterns throughout the year that will be extra festive on this day.
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.
School holidays happen for a week in the middle of March for most schools in Singapore, 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.
March School Holidays (mid March)
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.
Where to go
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 usually takes place around this time, which is also great if you love festivities.
Around this time is also peak Hanami period – the Sakura blooming season that is very popular in Japan, but also can be seen in other countries like South Korea, Taiwan and even in other parts of the world like North America. It’s absolutely beautiful – I experienced it for myself in Tokyo and I’d definitely recommend anyone to go during this period, but note that it gets crowded! Also, you’ll need to monitor the actual blooming dates as the forecast blooming season is very dependent on the weather.
Generally, most of 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 during Art Season in March for the various art fairs and it was great weather for outdoor trekking and exploration of the islands.
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.
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 the spring to summer transition in the northern hemisphere, and autumn in the southern hemisphere, nice weather before it gets too hot or cold.
Good Friday on the Easter weekend is an actual public holiday in Singapore. It typically happens end March/early April. Note that only Friday is an actual public holiday, the rest of the days and Easter Sunday aren’t usually holidays
Where to go
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. The most well known is 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.
If festivals are your thing, these spots might be interesting for you, if not consider avoiding because the local people will be travelling in droves, so it will get hectic and might be expensive as well.
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.
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!
Japan will be pretty in the early part due to Sakura blooming, but I suggest to avoid the latter half of the month as Japan’s Golden Week happens in late April, which means a lot of movement and sky-high accommodation and transportation costs.
Yay public holiday extravaganza! Labour Day and Vesak Day typically fall in May, 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 longer holiday if the dates work out. The later part of the month is when school holidays start, so get your travel done earlier to avoid the crowds.
- Labour Day – 1 May
- Vesak Day – Depends, but it usually falls around mid May
- School Holidays – usually start in the last week of May
Where to go
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.
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.
Down Under in Australia is nice to visit as the stifling heat of summer starts to abate – Melbourne is always a popular option, but how about heading to nearby Daylesford or Gippsland instead for something a little different?
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.
- School Holidays – this lasts for about a month
- Hari Raya Puasa – typically some time in June
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.
Where to go
Indonesia is a good place to be in June other than the Hari Raya Puasa period which might be crowded, 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.
Also for your consideration – China. I’ve only ever been to bits of Shanghai, Beijing and Xiamen, 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.
Did you find this list useful? Share your travel plans and inspire someone else to get off their butts and travel more!