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A bargain shopper’s delight is just across the causeway in Malaysia, with numerous bus and train services available to ferry travelers across the border. The largest and most popular malls are easily accessible from the checkpoint and offer a blend of name-brand and knockoff shopping. Dig deeper and you’ll appreciate the city’s differences, good and bad, from Singapore, though rumors of rampant crime are overblown. Museums and places of worship abound, along with good dining for any budget. A new premium outlet mall opened just outside the city in December 2011, and keep an eye on the new Legoland Malaysia, slated to open at the end of 2012.
Singapore is known as a bustling metropolis that also happens to be one of the cleanest and safest cities of its size in the world. (Just make sure you heed the local laws—something like spitting in the street might merely be considered rude in your hometown, but here, it carries a severe penalty.) You'll find historic sites like the Thian Hock Keng temple, superlative shopping (including gargantuan malls) and numerous beaches.
Sentosa is Singapore’s premier island resort getaway. This 500-hectare resort island is home to an exciting array of themed attractions, award-winning spa retreats, and resort accommodations alongside lush rainforests and golden sandy beaches. Popular attractions among business and leisure visitors include Wings of Time – an award winning night show, the iconic Sentosa Merlion, as well as Madame Tussauds Singapore.
Just a speedboat ride from Singapore, Batam’s beaches and bars tempt visitors with dishes of chili crab, grilled lobster, and freshly caught fish. While travellers golf, snorkel, and spa-hop, the island’s traditional culture thrives in fishing villages built on wooden stilts.
A popular destination for golfers looking for better rates and more accessible courses, Bintan is also a nice way to escape the bustle of Singapore. A ferry ride takes between one and two hours, depending on where you’re headed. From there you can relax on one of the beaches or head inland for hiking and ATV rides or take a ride at the elephant park. There are a couple of towns on Bintan, but the island’s natural beauty is what draws visitors.
Chaotic, crowded, and cosmopolitan, Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is a city of contrasts. Home to millions of people from around the world, the city is a mixture of languages and cultures, poverty and wealth. The city boasts some of the best nightlife in Asia and some of the worst traffic. Every holiday, the locals escape the pollution and the crowds to enjoy relaxing diversions like Ancol Dreamland, an amusement area featuring water parks, beaches, golf courses, and a SeaWorld.
Bandung is Indonesia's third-largest city but lies close enough to Jakarta and offers cooler weather. Bandung features a large collection of Dutch Colonial architecture, as well as a beautiful botanic garden, zoo, golf courses and a wide variety of culinary offerings.
Vietnam's bustling largest city sets the cultural and economic pace for the country. The former Saigon boasts charming French colonial architecture and wide boulevards, usually thronged and choked with traffic. Taxis are an option for seeing the sprawling city. The War Remnants Museum shows the Vietnam War through Vietnamese eyes. Don't miss the impressive Jade Emperor Pagoda. Go to the frenetic Ben Thanh Market for food, flowers or frogs. Tour through the Mekong Delta, past rice paddies and houseboats.
Bangkok is full of exquisitely decorated Buddhist temples—as you go from one to the next you’ll be continually blown away by the craftsmanship and elabourate details. But if you’d rather seek enlightenment in a gourmet meal, or dance the night away, you’ll also enjoy Bangkok—the restaurant and nightclub scenes here are among the best in the world.
Bali is a living postcard, an Indonesian paradise that feels like a fantasy. Soak up the sun on a stretch of fine white sand, or commune with the tropical creatures as you dive along coral ridges or the colorful wreck of a WWII war ship. On shore, the lush jungle shelters stone temples and mischievous monkeys. The “artistic capital” of Ubud is the perfect place to see a cultural dance performance, take a batik or silver-smithing workshop, or invigorate your mind and body in a yoga class.
Da Nang is laid-back and friendly, maybe because everyone you meet has just finished an amazing meal. Culinary tours are a hugely popular way to experience literal local flavor. After you’ve stuffed yourself with bold noodle soups and savory street foods, walk it off by exploring the limestone caves and Buddhist grottos of the Marble Mountains.
You could spend your whole Chiang Mai holiday exploring the famous Night Bazaar. Once you’ve exhausted the art of the cheerful haggle, however, there’s plenty more to explore. The National Museum and Botanic Garden are great places to soak up some local culture and to breathe in the delicate fragrance of Thai orchids. In the city’s centre, the remains of ancient walls embrace over 30 temples. Limber travellers can climb 300 stairs to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, an ornate Buddhist temple in the hills.
The charming Vietnamese capital has aged well, preserving the Old Quarter, monuments and colonial architecture, while making room for modern developments alongside. Hanoi may have shrugged off several former names, including Thang Long, or "ascending dragon", but it hasn't forgotten its past, as sites such as Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and Hoa Lo Prison attest. Lakes, parks, shady boulevards and more than 600 temples and pagodas add to the appeal of this city, which is easily explored by taxi.
Metropolitan Manila encompasses six cities and 12 towns. Located on Manila Bay in the South China Sea, and bisected by the Pasig River, the capital of the Philippines is historic and modern, rich and poor. A popular sight is the Intramuros, a walled area that was the capital during Spanish rule. Intramuros has retained old dungeons and gunpowder rooms but added art galleries and theatres. The city is filled with museums, shops, parks and churches, plus enough nightlife to last until dawn.
Tradition collides with pop culture in Tokyo, where you can reverently wander ancient temples before rocking out at a karaoke bar. Wake up before the sun to catch the lively fish auction at the Toyosu Market, then refresh with a walk beneath the cherry blossom trees that line the Sumida River. Spend some time in the beautiful East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, then brush up on your Japanese history at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Don’t forget to eat as much sushi, udon noodles, and wagashi (Japanese sweets) as your belly can handle.