Whether you need a break from the city’s frenetic energy, are keen to make the most of the annual public holiday allowance, or simply want a few days to explore something different there are a multitude of quick getaway options nearby.
We’ve looked into the best short break options – all less than three hours direct flight from Hong Kong – to make the best of any long weekend.
To really maximise your time check into a lounge as soon as you’ve cleared immigration at HKIA. The Plaza Premium First offers a la carte dining, a massage service, and an excellent bar with an array of cocktails, as well as comfortable seating, showers, WIFI and magazines. Opting for this pay-as-you-use service means you can escape the crowds, and enjoy some peace so the holiday feeling starts early.
Bangkok is not a beautiful city but it makes up for that with an abundance of character and its an ideal short break option because it offers something for everyone from fabulous street food and vibrant nightlife to a booming spa and wellness industry. The traffic is horrendous but can be swerved by taking the Skytrain or the fantastic hop-on, hop-off riverboat where you can choose between the frenetic orange commuter vessels, or the leisurely blue tourist ones. Amble through Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road where hawkers offer a taste of the weird and wonderful. Culture lovers should head to the Grand Palace and Bangkok’s National Museum, as well as the unforgettable Wat Pho, which can take a few hours to fully explore, or to the sublime Wat Arun, best visited in the early morning. There’s an array of cooking schools but insiders rave about BBC star Khun Poo’s classes. If you prefer to slow the pace down then search out a massage at the dedicated school at Wat Pho temple, where students learn from ancient texts and can offer herbal remedies from on-site plants for your ailments.
Where to stay: The Mandarin Oriental is a Bangkok stalwart and is beloved by the jetset. There’s lush foliage and a stunning infinity pool so despite it’s central location it is still possible to feel you are getting away from it all.
Where to eat: The seven or four course menu at Ton Tassanakajohn’s Le Du which marries the best of local ingredients and flavours with innovative cooking.
Travel time from Hong Kong: 3 hour flight
This one-time sleepy fishing outpost has transformed in the past ten years into a popular sun-sea-sand minibreak favourite. If you’re looking for accessible beaches, an array of restaurants and bars, as well as plenty of watersports – this is your spot. Non Nuoc and My Khe beaches are lovely for lazy days, or for those feeling restless Da Nang Scuba offer excursions off the coast. Alternatively, rent a scooter and head to the Ba Na Hills and visit the Golden Bridge, famously held aloft by two vast stone hands. There’s no question it’s touristy, but there is something compelling about seeing it too. Nearby is the Sun World park which has beautiful gardens. Go early to avoid the big crowds and tour buses.
Where to stay: Beloved by everyone from world leaders to celebrities the Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort is nestled in the Son Tra Nature Reserve, known locally as Monkey Mountain, which is home to hundreds of species of animals including the endangered pangolin. The hotel, which has a resident zoologist, offers guests a chance to explore its rich natural surroundings – from forest to private beach. It also has world-class restaurants and a stylish bar and spa.
Where to eat: Kome’s Restaurant serves up authentic, yummy Vietnamese cuisine at very reasonable prices, or if you’re looking for haute cuisine then Pierre Gagnaire’s La Maison 1888 is hugely popular.
Travel time from Hong Kong: 2 hour flight
This is a city for adventurous foodies with the night markets of Shilin, Raohe and Huaxi selling everything from skewered insects and stinky tofu to the ubiquitous Gua Bao (pork belly nestled in a steamed bun). The bar scene is achingly hip with an array of curious cocktail bars and speakeasies hidden behind secret doors or tucked away on unmarked side streets, Ounce Taipei is a perennial favourite as is Mono Mono – expect a night you’ll struggle to remember.
The landmark Taipei 101 is well known, but for an unbeatable view of the city, make the short hike up Elephant Mountain at dusk. History buffs should make a stop at the National Palace Museum, which has an enormous collection of artefacts dating back as much as 8,000 years and from numerous Chinese dynasties. Take two hours to wander through the cavernous building, look out for the famous cabbage and braised pork carved from jadeite. The Lungshan Temple – a riot of colour and worship – is also worth a trip.
Where to stay: Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel is perfectly located and offers excellent deals whether its celebration packages for special occasions or family-focused offers including toys and games for the kids, free travel passes, and kids eating free. Staff are exceptionally helpful, and the rooftop pool, with views out to Taipei 101 is beautiful.
Where to eat: Head to Michelin-recommended Fuhang Soy Milk Stall at Huashan Market, which is renowned for its traditional breakfast sandwich and the eponymous drink it serves. The former is a simple fried egg mixed with spring onions inside a sesame roll, but it is addicitively good. So much so that queues to get in can be upwards of an hour – go as early as you can. For a classic Taiwanese lunch, visit Fuhong Beef Noodles near Ximending and get the dish they’ve taken their name from. It’s hugely popular with locals, and there’s no English menu, so you’ll have to point to what you want.
Travel time from Hong Kong: 2 hour flight
Arguably one of Asia’s prettiest cities Hanoi makes a fantastic weekend break destintation. There’s a plethora of cafes, markets and parks to amble through, even though the streets swarm with mopeds. The Old Quarter is full of life with many streets dedicated to stalls with a speciality – Han Gai is where people head for silks and tailoring, Lan Ong to peruse herbal medicines. Nearby is the French Quarter where European style bistros, galleries, and vintage stores proliferate. There’s a coffee shop on every corner so even if fatigue sets in, your just moments away from the next delicious pick-me-up.
Bia Hoi Junction seems to be where Hanoi bursts to life – it’s busy in the day, but once dusk falls things get really lively. Order a Banh Mi and a beer from one of the street-side stalls, pull up a plastic pew, and people watch to your heart’s content.
It’s possible to visit the famed Halong Bay, where vast limestone karsts jut out of the sea, for a day, but it’s much better to spend a night on board to make the most of sailing through such an unusual landscape.
Where to stay: The Metropole Hanoi has been beloved by generations and its history is intertwined with the city. It opened in 1901 when Vietnam was part of French Indo-China, it created a vast air raid shelter for guests as the region descended into war, and stars from Charlie Chapman to Graham Greene stayed there. The place still exudes charm even after all these years and the service is impeccable, plus its in an unbeatable location as a base for exploring.
Where to eat: Home Hanoi boasts varied menus, a vibrant setting, and exceptional seafood. Book in advance as it is hugely popular.
Travel time from Hong Kong: 2 hour flight
Flying into this Japanese island takes your breath away – a glorious mix of turquoise, gold, and green. Without doubt this is an option for water babies as the seas are so clear – there’s a variety of activities depending on how energetic you feel. The diving and snorkelling are excellent, and there are some nice kayaking spots too. Book a boat trip and visit Kabira Bay as the area has stunning beaches and on quiet days it is possible to swim alongside turtles and occasionally manta rays. If the weather is good, then try an evening stargazing. Around 84 constellations are visible on a clear night and Hirata Tourism organises trips to the ideal location to observe. They also have tour guides to detail what’s visible but that service is in Japanese only. For another evening adventure, head to Bar Live Free. It’s a farm until sunset, and then as dusk falls transforms into a torch-lit festival venue complete with live music and fire dancing.
Where to stay: The Intercontinental-ANA Ishigaki. One of the first major hotels on the island, many of the staff have lived and worked at the hotel for decades and seize every opportunity to help guests understand their home and the bounty it offers. Chefs at the Teppanyaki Omoto know exactly where the beef they serve up is from, and the local vegetables, while the spa team takes great pride is using mainly locally sourced produce for many treatments.
Where to eat: Tofu no Higa is one of the best-loved breakfast spots on the island. Their produce is made fresh every morning and can be eaten with broth, egg, and seaweed. A real taste of the Okinawan region. Akaishi Shokudo is an excellent choice for those keen on local cuisine for lunch (its closed in the evenings), though it is a little off the beaten track and there can be queues. turtles and occasionally manta rays.
Travel time from Hong Kong: 2 hour flight
One of Thailand’s fastest growing tourist destinations, in the past few years Chiang Mai has seen an influx of luxury hotels and spas. And while it does make an ideal spot for three days of rest and relaxation – there is plenty to occupy those craving culture or nature.
An excellent way to explore the city is by bicycle – Grasshopper Adventures offer an excellent option that takes around three hours and is an easy tour of the most famous sights including the renowned white Buddha and the 1,000-year-old Tha Phae Gate.
For something a little out of the ordinary, visit the Doi Suthep temple and meet the monks there. Every weekday from 5pm to 7pm they welcome visitors to simply sit and down and converse with them. This ‘Monk Chat’ aims to help improve their English, but many visitors find the experience incredibly soothing. It’s free to drop-in, though most temples expect some kind of donation, and within appropriate boundaries – you can ask them anything.
There’s no shortage of ‘elephant sanctuaries’ across Asia, but finding ones that are committed to the wellbeing of the creatures they showcase is tricky. In Chiang Mai, the Elephant Nature Park, founded by a renowned conservationist, is arguably the best option for the ethical traveller. The focus is on rescue and rehabilitation rather than entertaining humans, and this is essentially a place for rescued elephants, as well as other animals, to live out their years in safety.
Those after a quintessentially Thai experience should take a stroll through the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, which stretches from Tha Pae Gate to Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Here you will find all the trinkets and handicrafts you could imagine, as well as street stalls offering fresh coconut, sticky rice, and an array of regional delicacies – including deep fried insects.
Where to stay: There’s something for every budget in this city, but the Four Seasons Resort is consistently excellent if you’re looking for long weekend escape. It’s in the Mae Rim Valley, where rice terraces, hill-tribe villages, and elephant camps dot the lush landscape, and so some 30 minutes from the action. If you want to be in the thick of things, try the beautiful and very traditional Ruen Come In – an oasis in the Old City.
Where to eat: Try Woo Cafe which is an eatery, art gallery and store all rolled into one. Serving up both Western and Thai dishes this is one of those places that feels reassuringly like home, wherever in the world that might be. If you want a distinctly local feast, then the family-run Nun’s Restaurant is well worth a visit.
Travel time from Hong Kong: 3 hour flight
Shenzhen is working hard to shed its image as a place solely for shoppers seeking out copies of designer handbags and art, or a place for inexpensive tailoring. It’s trying to build up a reputation as a sophisticated 21st century city – as well as a tech and creative centre to rival Hong Kong. It’s not there, yet, but if you feel like an escape that doesn’t require a day of travel, or flying, then hop on the train here and explore this new hub of innovation and design.
Stop by the OCT LOFT Creative Culture, a treasure trove of stores showcasing everything from classic literature to eccentric homewares. The Artron Art Center – home to the famous 50 metre wall of floor to ceiling books on art – is also well worth a visit.
There’s a remarkable amout of green space in the city, and one of the nicest places to stop and smell the flowers is Lianhua Shan Park. If you’re feeling energetic then make the brisk 30-minute hike to the top of the hill for some remarkable views.
If you feel compelled to shop – then Luohu Commerical City is where most head for bargains. Art buyers should visit Dafen Oil Painters’ Village where there’s little you can’t find, or commission.
Where to stay: All the big name brands have a property in Shenzhen but The Langham and The St Regis are known for their attention to detail and excellent service, while ticking all the boxes for location, comfort, style, and views.
Where to eat: Victory Restaurant first opened in 1989 and remains a firm favourite with locals seeking out dim sum and seafood. Despite the slightly garish decor, Haidilao Hot Pot is another great option if you’re seeking Asian flavours as it is renowned for its helpful staff, range of menu options, and reasonable prices.
Travel time from Hong Kong: About 1 hour by MTR or Ferry (plus additional time for border formalities)
The casinos, boutiques, and malls make it a popular spot for a wide range of tourists, and the main town can get overwhelmed with visitors. A far better way to spend a short break in this curious melting pot of Chinese and Portuguese history, is to head to Coloane. There the villages remain relatively peaceful and easy to amble through, there are some excellent hikes, and the crowds are mostly day-trippers. Opt for a continental European approach to life while staying here – plan your activities in the morning and evenings, and enjoy long lunches and pool side snoozes during the hottest hours of the day.
Where to stay: There’s no shortage of hotels to choose from but for something unique opt for the Grand Coloane Hotel. The grounds are vast, there’s an enormous pool, and it’s right next to its own beach – plus it is far from the casino crowds. The place is getting a little dated, but retains the atmosphere of a vintage European resort with archways, an abundance of flowers and distinctive white and terracotta tiling.
Where to eat: A much-loved haunt for foodies is Fernandos, just a beach stroll away from the Grand Coloane Hotel. It’s charmingly rustic and while the menu is simple, it’s all delicious. There’s no reservations so go early to secure your place. For an excellent option close to the main tourist trail, try Antonio’s in Taipa Village.
Travel time from Hong Kong: Approximately 1 hour by ferry
This UNESCO World Heritage city could be combined with a break in Danang, but actually it’s well worth a weekend trip. The preservation of its architecture means that spending time here feels a little like wandering into the past. Visitors can spot French, Chinese and Japanese influences in the homes, stores, and bridges. Be prepared, Hoi An is a very popular tourist destination and mornings are the least busy time to take a stroll around the old town. The city is famed for its colourful lanterns, these look especially stunning in the evenings as they illuminate the Thu Bon river. After dinner at a riverside restuarant, take a walk through the night market where you can browse all kinds of trinkets and souveniers. Another tip, Hoi An is renowned for its speedy and cheap tailors, so pack your favourite clothes and get some copies made. You can also combine a city break with a beach trip by spending some time at nearby An Bang beach.
Where to stay: In Hoi An you have two options, stay at the beach and visit the town (it’s 20 minutes drive and taxis are plentiful) or stay in the town itself. We love the Victoria, a luxurious hotel designed in an elegant French Colonial style with touches of Vietnamese flair, right on Cua Dai beach and a short taxi ride into Hoi An town. In Hoi An itself we recommend the Hoi An River Town Hotel, which is within walking distance of the ancient town.
Where to eat: The Vietnamese cuisine at Morning Glory comes highly recommended, or their sister restaurant Cargo Club serves both Vietnamese and Western food and has an nice terrace overlooking the river. Across the river Mango Mango serves great Vietnamese food and has lovely river views. Meanwhile, Dive Bar is good for some late night drinks and live music. There are also some fun beach restaurants to try, we like Soul Kitchen and Shore Beach Club.
Travel time from Hong Kong: 2 hour flight to Danang plus approximately 1 hour transfer by car
LT Thomas is a journalist with more than 15 years’ experience. She is also the co-founder of the #Ittasteslikelove campaign to normalise breastfeeding in Hong Kong
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