Rejoice, oh disorganised work slaves! Bargains still abound for those who don't book their summer holidays a year ahead, discovers Belinda Jackson.
All the expats get out of town when the temperatures soar but Singapore gets its sparkle on with fairy lights galore, dining and shopping deals. Like most of Asia, Christmas is an excuse for hyperventilatingly good sales in Singapore. It's free to wander around the wildly different Little India, Chinatown and the gorgeously named Kampong Glam (home of Malay culture in Singapore) and eating on the street is compulsory - Singapore's food stalls are scrupulously monitored and one bad review will kill a stand in its tracks. If you want a blowout after all the belt-tightening, take the family to Universal Studios or blitz the shopping malls along Orchard Road. Check out Creative Holidays' Christmas in the Tropics deals, which include flights. www.creativeholidays.com, yoursingapore.com.
Everything about Malaysia screams "bargain" and it's all done so nicely. Getting to Kuala Lumpur is cheap, thanks to respectable Malaysian budget airline AirAsia, and the shopping is fabulous, with Chrissy sales making it even better (psst, and heaps cheaper than Singapore). You can snap up a city five-star hotel for as little as $100 a night but for a cheap, authentic experience, try a home stay in a kampong (village) house with a local family, eating home cooking and experiencing the culture. The government-monitored initiative costs from $27 a day. In January, the holiday islands of Penang and Langkawi are starting to dry out from their November deluge but new hotels are keeping the competition fierce - check out the new Four Points by Sheraton on Langkawi and Penang's new Hard Rock Hotel.
airasia.com, go2homestay.com, tourismmalaysia.com.au.
Say g'day to our cousins over the ditch. On the South Island, winter wonderland Queenstown wants to lure summer visitors to its walking tracks, which include the new 8.5-kilometre Gibbston River Trail that skips around the vineyards. For accommodation deals, try the Oaks. Lending a helping hand, from December 23, Jetstar flies twice-weekly from Sydney to Queenstown from $199 one-way. If soft hotel beds and gourmet treats leave you wanting, go north on a nature road trip to Northland. Travelling by campervan, you can set your own budget and pace, stopping at the region's deserted beaches, boulder valleys, limestone caves and ancient trees.
queenstownnz.co.nz, jetstar.com, northlandnz.com, newzealand.com.
Imagine your own little Khmer cottage in the historic market area of Siem Reap. New to Australian holidaymakers, Roomorama hooks you up with short-term rentals such as this sweet little pad (left) for as little as $55. And with all that lovely money you've saved, you can afford to splash out on a pile of postcards and tips for the hard-working kids at Angkor Wat. While Cambodia's famed temple complex is well and truly bathed in the international spotlight, the country's capital, Phnom Penh, is shaping up as the new star, with its delightful French quarter, the winding Mekong River and five-star hotels such as the sparkling new Sofitel Phnom Penh coming in under the $200 mark.
Escape the holiday crowds and soak up the hotel deals when Broome goes off-peak as it heads into the wet season. Sure, January sees plenty of warm rain showers and the temperatures are in the mid-30s but then it's the same in most of tropical Asia, the locals say. The West Australian version of paradise includes hotels dropping their rates or tacking an extra night on gratis: feel the serenity in the Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa, with its Buddha sanctuary and delicious spa, or the self-contained apartments of Seashells Broome. Qantas has also ramped up its seats from Perth to Broome to sweeten the deals.
cablebeachclub.com, seashells.com.au, qantas.com.au, westernaustralia.com.
Still battling the international perception that the state is under water or has been blown away, far north Queensland wants us all to head up and spend our cash in its sleepy resorts. Palm Cove's Peppers Beach Club & Spa is throwing in extra nights free, while in the party town of Cairns, hoteliers are jostling for business, with the Holiday Inn handing out restaurant vouchers and the Hilton group holding a December fire sale. Further south, Magnetic Island is 20 minutes by ferry from Townsville and has a strong local population, so you get all the benefits of a tropical getaway but at the price locals pay, from backpacker to splash-out. Remember, December comes with high humidity and, yes, it's stinger season when bitey jellyfish come out to play but stinger suits are so hot right now.
peppers.com.au, holidayinn.com, hilton.com, queensland.com.
Obviously, there are not enough visitors to the Beijing section of the Great Wall of China till you've set your little feet there. Jetstar has just launched daily Melbourne-Singapore-Beijing flights, giving another option to join the city's 20 million souls. If that thought is just a tad daunting, the doyenne of Asian travel, Helen Wong, has just released a fire sale of tours to Beijing, sophisticated Shanghai and Xian to visit the terracotta warriors. Rug up, it's damned nippy in December-January but those chilly mornings mean fewer fellow tourists on the wall and as the temperatures plunge, so do the hotels' prices, though they'll soar briefly for Chinese New Year, on January 23.
Apparently, the world's happiest people live in Vanuatu: that's because the water is so blue, the snorkelling so clear and the diving so good. Just 3½ hours' flight from Sydney, family-friendly Vanuatu is going into its slow season until Easter, as summer runs its hot, humid course until March. This means the hotels, of which the latest arrival in Port Vila is the Holiday Inn, are waving deals in our faces to lure us over. Hot off the press: Air Vanuatu has just launched its kids' super special, with return flights from Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne to Port Vila for $199. The national airline also hops between the nation's 83 beautiful islands, so you can find your own private paradise.
This tiny Pacific nation just got a whole lot closer to Sydney with direct flights by Air New Zealand to the main island, Rarotonga. Put six hours aside any Saturday and you'll find yourself in the tropical island idyll, complete with white-sand beaches, coconut palms and a warm Maori welcome. Summer is the low season here, when the humidity kicks in, but what are white-sand beaches for, anyway? Happy hoteliers have celebrated the launch of the new flights with summer land packages until April, allowing kids under 12 to stay free and throwing in couples' massages or a seventh night free. And with hideaways about $110, it's hard to see what's not to love.
A perpetual backpacker's delight, travel in Vietnam is as good as it gets for the tight-fisted traveller, with super-cheap food, travel and accommodation, from grand dames to beachside shacks. And despite the general craziness, it's also fast becoming a family destination for a first taste of authentic Asia. Get in before the crowds at Vietnam's iconic Halong Bay, recently named one of the new seven wonders of nature. Check out Travel Indochina's late getaways, its small-group and family tours cruising the bay, going underground in the infamous Cu Chi tunnels and taking a basket boat out in Hoi An. If groups aren't your thing, visit the recently launched Australian arm of wego.com.au and click on the tag "Fast: Deals", which it says offers up to 75 per cent off the regular price on Vietnamese getaways.
We love Hawaii for its outrageously good shopping, which makes it a bargain even before you start to add in flights and accommodation. And it's all happening this week: Hawaiian Airlines starts daily flights from Sydney to Honolulu, while Air Australia (formerly Strategic Airlines) begins flying from Brisbane and Melbourne and Virgin Australia starts code-sharing with Hawaiian, which connects to the state's many outer islands. Winter is a delicious 25 degrees, good hotel deals abound and it's cheap to eat, be entertained and get around. Bonus points: December to May is the season for whale watching, when the humpbacks arrive to breed and calve in Hawaii's warm waters.
hawaiianair.com.au, airaustralia.com, virginaustralia.com, gohawaii.com.
Even nirvana has a price tag that can be bargained down, as the current sale on Tahitian hotels proves. OK, so they're not backpacker prices but with up to 40 per cent off air-and-land packages, including the big names, such as Manava Suite Resort Tahiti and the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa, the South Pacific has never looked so good. Mind you, the rainy season runs from November to March, with high winds on the cards, proving paradise on earth has its own quibbles. But when you're loved up in your over-water bungalow, do you really mind?
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