This new year, pick holiday breaks that are novel and refreshing yet suited for the whole family. You’ll be surprised that in some cases, you won’t need to travel far at all to gain precious new experiences.
Here are some choice picks:
For the adventurous family
Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Located within the Kinabalu Park UNESCO World Heritage area, with a hike typically spread over two or three days, a Mount Kinabalu summit attempt is doable for adventure seekers over a good range of ages and fitness levels. At 4,095.2m high, Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. Besides encountering interesting geographical transitions as you hike, the mountain plays host to a rich assemblage of plants and animals. Park regulations require climbers to engage the services of a registered mountain guide on top of registering for a permit, and porters are also available.
Besides summiting Mount K, as the peak is fondly known locally, there are various jungle hikes and treks, including a Canopy Walk, to try.
Have peace of mind while you indulge in Kinabalu’s thrilling offerings with travel insurance from AIG – SAFRA members enjoy 20% off the purchase of any single trip plan. Find out more at safra.sg/travelinsurance
For the foodie family
Besides visiting the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda breeding – one of China’s top tourist attractions and a must-do – travellers should really indulge in Chengdu’s gastronomic offerings. Food is such an integral part of its culture and everyday life that the city has been awarded the title of UNESCO City of Gastronomy.
Well known for Sichuan cuisine which embraces the heat of Sichuan peppercorns (mala) and spicy doubanjiang (fermented bean paste), Chengdu is the birthplace of well-loved Chinese dishes such as mapo tofu, dandan noodles and kung pao chicken. If you, or the kids, can’t take the heat, answer “bù là” (not spicy) when your server inevitably asks, “là bù là” (spicy or not spicy).
Join a food tour to not only sample authentic foods – and drinks, such as the boozy baijiu – but learn how they are made, and hear of their histories and meaning to the local population.
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Widely considered the ramen capital of Japan, the city was named one of Lonely Planet’s best places to travel in 2023 specifically for its food options. It is the birthplace of tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen, also known as Hakata ramen. The dish was named after the old port city and merchant quarter of Hakata, which was merged with the castle town of Fukuoka in 1889. The internationally popular Ichiran ramen chain originated in the city and offers an interesting experience: diners order from a ticketing machine and eat in individual cubicles.
Another Fukuoka speciality is the spicy salted cod roe, known as Karashi Mentaiko. It can be served as a side dish, as a sake accompaniment or atop chazuke (rice in hot tea or broth).
Visiting Fukuoka as a family is advantageous for the purposes of sampling yet another of its specialities, which is usually served as a large portion: motsunabe, a traditional hotpot of various beef or pork offal (such as intestines, tripe, etc.) stewed with vegetables such as cabbage and leek. Carbs such as rice or noodles are usually added at the end, to be savoured with the delicious broth.
For the cultural family
Siem Reap, Cambodia
If there’s one thing to do in the city that plays host to the world renowned Angkor UNESCO World Heritage Centre, it’s temple hopping. Besides the majestic Angkor Wat, temples more suited for a family outing that involves a range of interests are Ta Prohm (featured in the Tomb Raider movies) and Bayon (richly decorated with the mysterious faces). Hire a local accredited English-speaking guide who will be able to regale the family with fascinating – and accurate – historical and cultural background that will bring the “stony” complexes to “life”.
A popular day tour to the floating villages of Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia – and one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world – will offer great insight into some of the Cambodians’ most enduring cultural practices and way of life.
Accommodation-wise, book yours through Agoda, where SAFRA members get 8% off. Find out more at safra.sg/promotions/agoda
For the chillax family
Koh Lipe, Thailand
While not as well known as Phuket and Koh Samui, this small island in southern Thailand, near the Malaysian border, is arguably a perfect option for a relaxed family getaway. Going by Singapore’s rather frenzied standards, life on Koh Lipe is slow and thoroughly undemanding; your days can consist of lounging by the hotel pool, swimming in the warm crystal waters of the ocean, playing on the soft powdery sand of its pristine beaches, and snorkelling amid colourful corals and fish. Apart from the beaches – there are three main ones including the main entry point, Pattaya Beach – there is Walking Street, where you’ll find shops, bars, restaurants and massage parlours.
In Koh Lipe, the itinerary is, basically, to do as little or as much as you fancy.
Book your hotels and transfers, including island-hopping excursions, through Klook, where SAFRA members enjoy $15 off all activities with a minimum $200 spend. Find out more at safra.sg/promotions/klook-sg
Lazarus Island, Singapore
Though it’s not a common choice among Singapore holidaymakers, Lazarus Island is a secluded gem that you can get to easily without a passport! Also known as Pulau Sakijang Pelepah, the uninhabited island is one of Singapore’s southernmost and boasts a clean beach and clear waters.
One of the island’s most novel experiences is the opportunity to live in an eco-friendly tiny house by Tiny Away, the same company that offers unique destination accommodations in Australia and New Zealand, among others. You can also go glamping in a beachfront air-conditioned tent.
Activities-wise, the Lazarus Sea Sports Centre offers non-motorised activities such as stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking and waterbiking, under the guidance of experienced instructors. Additionally, besides spending time by the beach and in the ocean, relax and bond as a family by reading together or playing board games.
SAFRA members enjoy 20% off published rates for bookings of stays at Tiny Away Escape@Lazarus Island from now till 30 June 2025. Find out more at safra.sg/promotions/tiny-away-escape-@-lazarus-island
Save more with SAFRA! Enjoy special deals and discounts on dining, shopping, entertainment, travel, fitness and more from over 1,500 merchant outlets islandwide. Sign up or renew your SAFRA membership for three years at the price of 1 year ($43.20 inclusive of GST)! Plus, get your spouse and children on board to enjoy the same privileges too – 1st dependent pays $5.40/year, and it’s free for the 2nd dependent onwards. Visit safra.sg/savemore for more details.
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Main photo: Peggy Marco from Pixabay