This is the first part of a three-part feature. That will be featured in coming days.
Spring Fling – Get into gear for Chinese New Year
Although it’s not 2015 yet, believe us – in travel terms, Chunjie is almost here. The Spring Festival sees an annual exodus from Beijing to all parts of China, Asia, and beyond. And it’s not just the Chinese who are on the move; the Lunar New Year is a major holiday in many neighboring countries. The fact that 2015 is a lunar “leap” year, which means that the first day of Chunjie falls much later than usual on February 19, that’s no excuse to dawdle on booking plane tickets and accommodations. We feature ten gorgeous domestic and international destinations, and focus on what makes them great for families. We’ve done your homework for you, so now it’s really time for you to get the credit card out!
Suitable for: All ages
Flight duration: Three hours
Visa information: Visitors from 148 countries can visit Hong Kong visa-free, while Chinese nationals must apply for an entry permit (details at www.immd.gov.hk).
Recommended vaccinations: Hepatitis A and typhoid
Hong Kong may conjure up images of a claustrophobic metropolis, but within and around its modern exterior lurk plenty of kid-friendly activities. Easily accessed on the MTR, Hong Kong Disneyland is no doubt first on the list for families.
The ever-popular Ocean Park on the south coast of Hong Kong Island is less convenient to access (accessible by taxi and bus only), but also worth it. Split into two levels, the upper and lower floors are connected by a cable car that provides great views and can be a thrilling ride in itself on a windy February day. Attractions include an aquarium, pandas, dolphins, and rollercoasters.
Cross Victoria Harbor on the iconic Star Ferry before catching the Symphony of Lights, a laser, lights, and music show that takes place every night at 8pm. It’s best observed from the Avenue of the Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui or the Hong Kong Cultural Center at Wan Chai. Take a short, steep tram ride to the Peak for panoramic views of Hong Kong. Various family-friendly walking trails fan out from the summit.
Hong Kong’s New Year’s celebrations are spectacular. If you’re there on February 19, be sure to take in the International Chinese New Year Night Parade (also at Tsim Sha Tsui), a dazzling procession of lion dancers, floats, and performers from around the world.
Interactivity is key at Hong Kong’s Science Museum, where the optical illusion playground in particular is fun for all ages. Future astronauts are sure to love the Space Museum, where they can ride a gyroscope, watch the Sky Show, and pilot a moon lander.
Kid-friendly snacks include sweet mini-egg puffs with crunchy shells, the city’s famous milk tea, wonton stuffed with shrimp and pork, and curried fish balls.
Suitable for: All ages
Flight duration: Two hours
Visa information: Travelers from 45 nations, including most North American and European countries, can travel to Taiwan visa-free (see www.boca.gov.tw for details).
Recommended vaccinations: Hepatitis A
Taiwan’s vibrant capital city is located in a subtropical climate with balmy temperatures year-round. To escape the heat, head to Formosa Fun Coast for a day of splashing around on the lazy river and water slides, including the largest one in Asia.
For another huge attraction, check out Taipei Zoo, the largest in Asia, where the Giant Panda House is especially popular. Tired families can take the shuttle train to tour the exhibits.
For something on a more intimate scale, Miniatures Museum of Taipei has over 200 tiny items on show. Little houses can be fascinating for little people, and peering into the museum’s exhibits is a charming way to spend a few hours.
The daring can ride the Sky Cycle, a bike 20m in the air at the National Taiwan Science Education Center. Exhibits include a Kid’s Learning and Discovery Playground, a 3D theater, and a virtual reality theater.
During Chunjie, many streets are decorated with plum blossoms. The city’s cultural program includes folk performances, temple fairs, the Sky Lantern Festival, and ubiquitous fireworks.
Be sure to eat out at the famous Shihlin Night Market; look out for pan-fried dumplings, oyster omelets, Taiwanese sausages, and bubble tea.
Suitable for: All ages
Flight duration: Six hours
Visa information: Most nationalities can stay 30 to 90 days without a visa in Singapore, while many Asian travelers can apply for an e-visa online (details at www.mfa.gov.sg).
Recommended vaccinations (according to the Center for Disease Control): Hepatitis A and typhoid
Safe, modern, and immaculate, Singapore is an ideal destination for families wishing to get a taste of Southeast Asia without any of the hassle. Its amenities and infrastructure are amazingly kid-friendly; even the airport terminals have adventure playgrounds (check out the Kinetic Rain installation at Changi Terminal 1). A comprehensive public transport network, cheap cabs, and the absence of a language barrier make it easy to get around.
Singapore’s tropical rainforest climate means year-round hot and humid weather, so cool off at one of the city’s many beaches or water parks, from the free children’s water play area at the Gardens by the Bay to Adventure Cove Waterpark (just one of several attractions on man-made Sentosa Island, including Universal Studios, S.E.A. Aquarium, and Dolphin Island).
If aquatic animals aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other animal adventures on offer. The rainforest landscape at Singapore Zoo is populated with elephants, snakes, and most famously, orangutans. In addition, Jurong Bird Park has over 5,000 birds across 400 species. If you’re traveling with little ones, the tram at the Night Safari provides a welcome respite for tired legs.
Retaining much of its British colonial charm as well as a unique fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures, Singapore has a wide choice of authentic cuisines. Visit the Newton hawker markets for a dinner of otah-otah (fish cooked in banana leaves). Be sure to check out Little India, Kampong Glam (the Malay area), and Chinatown, the center of the New Year’s festivities.
Chinese New Year is a major event on the Singaporean calendar, with highlights like the Chingay Parade, a street carnival with floats, fire-eaters, and dancers held along the marina waterfront.
Photos: Courtesy of Gary, Prachanart Viriyaraks, Dans (Flickr)