For most Malaysians, blue skies seem like a distant dream at this point. As past years have shown, the haze likes to play peek-a-boo with us – now you see it, now you don’t. Of course, the only thing hazier than the skies is the spending power of our ringgit – or as one clever person coined, the “shringgit”.
But hey, there are some places left where we won’t burn a hole in our pockets like the hole in the ozone layer. Here’s our pick of five affordable places around the region to escape hazy conditions during this “time of the year”.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An might not be a familiar name, but as far as graceful lifestyle and history are concerned, this is the Vietnamese venue to check out. This delightful destination was once a major port. Remnants of those old golden age are still evident, from the grand architecture to the charming riverside.
The old town is a well-preserved fishing village today with barely any signs of traffic or pollution. Walking around, you’ll find Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples and quaint tea warehouses.
Best of all, Hoi An is quite cheap to visit even by local standards. Hotels, despite their low star levels, are well furnished with comfortable amenities included. Food and beverage are also affordable. The haze aside, it’s a great respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Over in the foothills of northern Thailand is Chiang Mai, a venue long touted as a sanctuary – and a haven is exactly what you need to recharge from the bad haze. With a picturesque landscape and age-old traditions, the city offers a dynamic blend of sights, culture and history. It is surrounded by a moat and is filled with ancient temples. Beyond the historic centre though, you’ll find a brewing creative atmosphere at the many shophouses.
Stay for a week and fill your days with sightseeing, outdoor activities and, of course, eating. Thai street food, Burmese curries and vegetarian health food are some of the cuisines you’ll find here.
Chiang Mai is a great travel bargain. You can get a room at a three-star hotel for the price of a hostel in northern Europe. The majority of attractions, from waterfalls to temple tours, are free or quite cheap. That will leave you enough money to buy something for your friends at home stuck with the haze.
Boracay Island, The Philippines
Unlike other places on this list, Boracay Island has almost zilch cultural sights. But it’s a great destination for some R&R by the beach. The White Beach, with its 4km-long of gorgeous white sands, is a postcard-perfect award-winning venue. Of course, you’ll find many visitors here. For a little less crowd, head north to the peaceful Diniwid Beach or east to Bulabog Beach with its welcoming community vibe.
Compared to places like Phuket or Goa, Boracay is more mid-range. You’ll get plenty of bang for your buck when booking a comfortable accommodation. As for dining, steer away from the beaches and you’ll find many affordable establishments. If you’d like to catch the sunset by the sea, do look around. If you’re lucky, you might find an all-you-can-eat buffet for a modest price. Boracay was closed for a six-month cleanup from April to October 2018.
Whether you call it Yangon or by its old name Rangoon, it is Myanmar’s largest city. Despite being an important commercial city, the presence of culture and tradition still stand strong. Prime example is the ‘winking wonder’ Shwedagon Pagoda. The dazzling Buddhist temple dominates the downtown skyline and attracts pilgrims from all over the world.
Semi-official tourism boycott was lifted in 2012 and tourism infrastructures are still at an infant stage. That said, things for tourists are generally cheap. You’ll find some of the cheapest dining options when you scour for street food. The hotel scene is relatively new. But some searches on the web should reveal comfortable accommodations with fair rates.
Bet you didn’t see this coming, seeing how the haze has been attributed to forest fires in Indonesia. However, Bali has been left unscathed by smoke from the peat fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan. It’s a paradise that’s worth visiting again and again. There’s no shortage of fantastic experiences at this island paradise. More than anything, it’s easy to be enamoured by the friendly disposition of the locals.
Apart from the many splendid temples, Bali is also much celebrated for its exciting surfing and nightlife scene. Lose yourself in the chaos of Kuta and catch the intricate temple ceremonies. Hotels – as long as you don’t stay on 5-star properties – start at great prices. Food and drinks are affordable by most standards, with beer being the cheapest drinking option at many restaurants. In other words, Bali is a fantastic place to be merry.
The story has been updated from an article originally published in The Star, Oct 12, 2015.