While we love where we live, sometimes we need to get away from the big city, especially during the hot and sticky summer months. Thankfully there’s a ton of exciting destinations nearby, many just a short flight away! We’ve selected our favourite summer holidays in Asia for adventure, sightseeing or simply relaxation.
Non-stop flight to Da Nang from Hong Kong (1 hr 50m)
A quaint historic city, declared UNESCO World Heritage in 1999 for its well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port, Hoi An is one of our top picks for a summer getaway. With its charming canals, streets adorned with colourful lanterns, and beautiful beaches nearby, you’ll see why. There’s no airport, but the neighbouring city of Da Nang has one. From there, hop in a taxi or bus, and you’ll be in what we think is the most gorgeous spot in Vietnam. The locals are super friendly, the food is tremendously good, and there’s great hotels, from boutique riverside hotels in the Ancient Town to luxurious beachside resorts.
Non-stop flight from Hong Kong (3 hr 20m)
Some get put off by Koh Samui,Thailand’s second-largest island after Phuket, because they imagine hordes of backpackers and busy nightlife. While you may stumble upon those things, Koh Samui has a wide appeal for solo travellers, couples and families too. Think coral reefs, tropical greenery and coconut trees, and of course, stunning beaches, many with private bungalows and luxury villas. Chaweng Beach is the biggest and busiest on the island, Lamai Beach has a more relaxed and peaceful feel, and Lipa Noi Beach is best for families with kids due to its shallow waters. Couples wanting a romantic escape will love its remote location with pretty sunsets.
Non-stop flight to Denpasar from Hong Kong (5 hr)
It means a five hour plane ride to Denpasar, then an hour’s drive from the airport, but boy is it worth it. Ubud in the opulent setting of Bali is for families, a group of friends, honeymooners – no one leaves unhappy. Nature is the star here, with verdant green rice terraces, tranquil lotus ponds, accommodation in jungle settings…you’ll feel relaxed and rejuvenated when it’s time to head home. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary and Saraswati Hindu temple are popular with visitors, as is the street food, like nasi jinggo (small banana leaf pouches stuffed with rice and a mix of meat, vegetables, peanuts), martabak (savoury pancake) or pisang rai (boiled banana rolled in rice flour and grated coconut).
Non-stop flight from Hong Kong (2 hr)
Closer to the coast of Taiwan than to mainland Japan, Ishigaki, part of Okinawa, is an island you will quickly fall in love with. We came for what we heard were spectacular beaches (true), awesome snorkelling (indeed) and incredible food (oh, yes!). Kabira Bay, with its emerald-coloured water, is great for snorkelling, where you can spot manta rays and other exotic sea life. Nearby Sukuji Beach is a beautiful setting for relaxation on the long stretch of white sand, and around the island are plenty of shops and eateries, including open-air ones with fantastic views. Make sure to sample the famous Ishigaki beef, Yaeyama soba, sata andagi (traditional Okinawan donuts), washed down with some awamori, Okinawa sake.
Non-stop flight from Hong Kong (2 hr 50m)
Cebu province in the Philippines is great for those wanting a dose of beaches and culture. Cebu City, the capital and the country’s oldest city, is a cultural hub, with past Spanish influence on display in the old architecture and churches. Street food is also a big draw, especially the famous lechon, stuffed roast pig that Anthony Bourdain once praised as “the best pig ever.” Over on the outlying islands are white sand beaches with budget or luxury accommodation, like the Shangri-La Resort and Spa on Mactan Island, boasting its own private beach and coral reef. Also worth a look are Bantayan, Camotes and Nalusuan, the latter a prime diving locale for adventurous folk looking to make friends with whale sharks and sea turtles.
Non-stop flight from Hong Kong (2 hr 35m)
Tourists flock to Cambodia for historic Angkor and the temple ruins of the Khmer Empire. Siem Reap, a resort town in northwestern Cambodia, is the historic gateway city to the ruins. Its rich culture is rooted in Buddhism, so be respectful when visiting the many holy areas and temples (cover your shoulders, no photos, the usual etiquette). You will need a few days to see the vast area of the Angkor temples, done the usual way on foot, or why not take a hot air balloon ride over the ruins? There’s scores of top class hotels, spas, and wonderful food – don’t leave without sampling some fish amok, the national dish of steamed fish in a sweet curry sauce, often served in a banana leaf.
Non-stop flight from Hong Kong (3 hr 10m)
Sublime beaches, lush countryside and a picturesque volcanic landscape make the South Korean island of Jeju a must-see. It’s called “the Hawaii of South Korea” for a reason, with jaw-dropping craters and lava tubes, and scenery that will fill up your Instagram. Walk the trails or take a hike up Hallasan Mountain, a dormant volcano and South Korea’s highest peak, for some remarkable views. If being down in the water is more your thing, Jungmun Beach’s powerful rips are a surfer’s paradise, but be careful with the little ones, as the currents are strong. Speaking of little ones, there’s a cute teddy bear museum with thousands of teddies on view, and parents will enjoy kicking back in one of the many kid-friendly coffee shops scattered about.
Non-stop flight from Hong Kong (3 hr)
What is there bad to say about Borneo? With abundant rainforests, beaches boasting turquoise waters, impressive mountains, it’s a place you’ll want to check out at least once. Fly to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Malaysia’s Sabah state in the northern part of the island of Borneo in three hours, and from there embark on a tropical adventure. Trek Mount Kinabalu for some wicked views from the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia, take a relaxing Klias River cruise and enjoy breathtaking forest scenery, or simply stroll the famed waterfront lined with plenty of cool pubs and restaurants serving fresh seafood. Want to really get away from it all? Head to Gaya Island, a 20 minute boat journey from Kota Kinabalu, and treat yourself to a stay at luxury resort with a private beach.
Non-stop flight from Hong Kong (1 hr 30m)
There is more to China than the sprawling capital of Beijing and the futuristic buildings of Shanghai. Imagine lush countrysides, green hills, rice terraces and a population with a diverse mix of ethnic minorities. South China’s Guangxi Region, close to Hong Kong, is home to all of this in the city of Guilin. In just an hour and a half you’ll be transported to a China famous for dramatic limestone karsts (oddly-shaped hills), clear waters leading to impressive caves, and peaceful rivers and lakes. The natural beauty can even be seen in the city centre, where you’ll be greeted with the dazzling Two Rivers and Four Lakes, particularly pretty at night when lit up by colourful lights.
Non-stop flight from Hong Kong (1 hr 45m)
A quick hop on a direct flight and you’re in Taiwan – a small country with a lot going for it. The locals are some of the friendliest people you’ll encounter, it’s safe, the cuisine is a treat, and there’s lots to discover. Get a dose of city life with a day or two in Taipei, with its iconic building, Taipei 101 (that’s how many floors it has!) and dazzling views of the city below. A hike up Elephant Mountain is a must for some equally fabulous views, followed by an evening meal of xiaochi (small eats) perfect for sampling a bit of everything, like savoury dumplings and beef noodle soup. About an hour north of Taipei is Laomei with its amazing green troughs formed by lava, and the clear blue water of Baishawan Beach is a mere 45 minutes away.
Nancy Matos is a lifestyle and culture writer from Vancouver, Canada currently based in Hong Kong and London. You can find her under a coconut tree this summer, tropical cocktail in hand.