The swarms of Singaporeans trying to flee the country during Chinese New Year bring to mind refugees pouring out of a war-torn country en masse. Booking air tickets becomes so darned costly it’s like buying them on the black market. ($500 flights to Bangkok, anyone?)
Things are particularly bad this year because Chinese New Year falls on a Monday, which basically gives everyone a four day weekend.
If you haven’t booked your CNY holiday yet, we’ll be the first to tell you your options are limited. But there are still a few relatively affordable refuges for those who refuse to be left behind to die while being tortured by Chinese New Year songs sung in high pitched children’s voices.
While air tickets are at an all-time high this time of year, return ferry tickets to Batam are still a comfortable $50 or so, which makes this island a good choice. Tickets are still available, and you can choose to leave on Saturday and return on Tuesday so you won’t even have to take leave.
You can choose between luxuriating at a resort or living closer to the city and going for cheap massages and seafood. Most shops in Batam remain open over CNY, which makes it a touch more happening than Singapore over the same period. Batam is also an extremely popular destination during CNY because of the ability to get your hands on fireworks, something that Singaporeans seem desperately attracted to.
Partly because of the recent terrorist incident and party because there are so many flights a day, air tickets to Jakarta, while marked up considerably, are still fairly affordable, and it’s possible to get budget tickets at under $200 if you mix and match the cheapest fares from budget carriers like Tiger Air, Lion Air and Jetstar.
In Jakarta, the main thing standing in your way of an enjoyable vacation is the traffic. Spending 5 hours in a taxi are a very real possibility. If you’ve got a strong stomach, you can bypass traffic jams by relying on an ojek or moto taxi, which basically means you ride pillion on some guy’s motorbike.
Because of the traffic situation it’s a good idea to do some research on the shops and restaurants your want to visit ahead of time so you can stay nearby. Jakarta might not be the most beautiful city around, but you get to eat at fancy restaurants and party at upscale clubs for a fraction of what it would cost you in Singapore, and that’s a winner in our books.
Visiting the capital city of our neighbours up north is going to be way more expensive if you fly—at the time of writing, tickets are over the $300 mark.
But if you take a coach from Golden Mile, you’re looking at affordable return tickets of about $120 to $150. The ride typically takes about 5 hours+, but will take longer over the CNY weekend given the jams.
While many Chinese-owned shops will be closed over CNY, tourist attractions like the twin towers will still be open. Malls will remain open although Chinese-owned shops and stalls within are likely to be closed. If you’re going there to party, most of the major clubs will remain open. If you’re not going there to eat Chinese food, you’ll be fine. You also get to see real fireworks in Chinatown.
It takes only about 3-4 hours to get to Malacca from Singapore by coach at $60 to $110 for a return ticket. This place is one of my favourite cities in Malaysia, and CNY is as good a time to visit as any other.
Many Singaporeans avoid Malacca during Chinese New Year because most of the go-to food places around Jonker Walk are Chinese-owned, and they assume everything will be closed.
That’s not strictly true as many shops where you can buy snacks and souvenirs tend to stay open over CNY, so you’ll still be able to buy lao po bing for your friends back home. Many of the popular restaurants selling classics like chicken rice balls and durian chendol will be open as well.
Most tourist and cultural attractions and big shopping malls like AEON will be open as well, so the city is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’ve never bothered venturing off the Jonker stretch.
Image credits: Franck Vervial, kaybee07 , Christopher Chan, Symphonex
Are you going on an overseas holiday this Chinese New Year? Tell us where you’re going in the comments!