Padar Island
See & Do

6 lesser-known destinations in Southeast Asia where you can steer clear of the school holiday crowd

Usually when I’m planning my travels, I check to make sure my dates don’t coincide with school holidays – be it locally or at the destination I’m headed to. Because the last thing you want on what’s supposed to be a chilled-out holiday is to bump into crowds filled with tiny, shrieky humans.

But sometimes it can’t be avoided, so for fellow travelers who wish to avoid the school holidayers, here are some alternative destinations from the typical tourist traps where you can truly sit back and relax.

Instead of Phuket, go to… Koh Kood

Koh Kood

The resort island of Phuket was made for families, so if you’re looking to enjoy the white sandy beaches of Thailand in some relative peace and quiet, Phuket is the last place you should go. Instead, check out Koh Kood, an idyllic island to the east of the Gulf of Thailand.

Koh Kood

You’ll have to catch a speedboat from Koh Chang or Koh Mak to get to the island, and getting around will involve either walking, cycling or renting a motorbike, but the sheer beauty of the island makes it all worthwhile. Koh Kood remains largely undeveloped – most of the budget stays are concentrated off Khlong Chao Beach on the western side of the island, while the eastern side has two sleepy fishing villages.

Khlong Chao Waterfall

All of the island’s beaches are open to the public, so you can walk along the west coast to find the perfect spot to watch the sunset. You can also hike up to the top of Khlong Chao Waterfall to take a rejuvenating dip in its natural plunge pool.


Instead of Ipoh, go to… Taiping

Taiping Lake Gardens

Okay, we all know Melaka and Penang will be teeming with visitors during the school holidays, especially day-trippers over the weekend. So you may think to yourself, “Hmm, maybe Ipoh?” NO. Trust us, Ipoh will be full of families headed to Lost World of Tambun.

Mee Udang

Just an hour’s drive north of Ipoh is the easygoing town of Taiping. Nature lovers will surely want to explore the sprawling Lake Gardens, with 10 man-made lakes and ponds that are perfect for a stroll or cycling. For cooler weather, head up Bukit Larut (also known as Maxwell Hill), which has a climate similar to Cameron Highlands. Here, you’ll find old British colonial-style buildings and charming English gardens.

Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve
Eagle feeding at Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve.

Foodies shouldn’t miss out on Mee Udang Mak Jah, a roadside stall just 30 minutes away from town on the way to Kuala Sepetang, which serves slurptastic mee udang (prawn noodles) that doesn’t skimp on the prawns. While you’re in the area, you should also make the trip to Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve, where you can take a river cruise. During the day, you might come across some friendly Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphins, while at night, you can catch Mother Nature’s magical light show – fireflies.


Instead of Boracay, go to… Bohol

Chocolate Hills

Highly-commercialized, touristy Boracay is popular for a reason – it’s got pretty beaches and turquoise blue waters galore. But hey, the Philippines has tons of beautiful islands that have yet to appear on the tourist radar. Try Bohol – it’s easily accessible by ferry from Cebu, which has an international airport.


Top on your list should be to take in the spectacular sight of the Chocolate Hills, comprising over 1,000 ancient limestone hills that are best seen from the main viewing deck in Carmen town. And don’t miss out on cooing over adorable Tarsiers at the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary.

Panglao Island
Credit: Dino Geromella / Shutterstock

If you’re looking to go diving or snorkeling, then head to the smaller Panglao Island, which is connected to Bohol by bridge. The island has a reef flat off its southern tip that is home to all kinds of marine life. There’s also Hinagdanan Cave – the deep lagoon hidden within is a popular photography spot, thanks to the cavern being filled with plenty of natural light.  


Instead of Hanoi, go to… Hue

Hue Citadel
Hien Lam Pavilion Gate at Hue Citadel.

Vietnam’s bustling capital is known for its centuries-old architecture inspired by Chinese and French colonial styles. Its food – from pho to banh mi – is also definitely something to shout about. But expect the number of tourists to shoot up over the school holidays. Travel further south to Hue (pronounced “whey”), where you’ll get an authentic taste of Vietnam’s history and culture.

Thien Mu Pagoda

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hue Imperial City, situated along the riverbank of Perfume River, is an impressive complex that includes the Forbidden Purple City, royal tombs, pagodas, temples, a library and museum. For a breathtaking view of the city, go to Thien Mu Pagoda, set atop a hill just outside Hue City Centre.

Bun Bo Hue
Bun Bo Hue.

Though Hue is not a beachside town, it’s not far from the coast, either. Underrated beaches such as Thuan An Beach are just 15 minutes away – you can even hop on a bike and cycle there! Be sure to sample Hue’s unique dishes, like Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup (Bun Bo Hue) or Banh Hue (rice flour pancakes typically topped with shrimp and/or pork).


Instead of Sentosa, go to… Pulau Ubin

Pekan Quarry

While everyone else goes to Sentosa for some family-friendly fun in the sun, you can find your way to Pulau Ubin – its rustic, unspoiled surroundings provide a refreshing contrast to Sentosa’s ultra-developed attractions. Situated to the east of Singapore, you can get to the island via a 15-minute boat ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal. Pekan Quarry offers one of the most picturesque views on the island, and is only a 15-minute walk from the jetty.

Chek Jawa boardwalk
Chek Jawa boardwalk.

Wander through the Chek Jawa wetlands from the safety of the boardwalk. During low tide, you’ll be able to observe all kinds of sea creatures, such as Fiddler crabs and mudskippers. For a bird’s eye view of the area, climb up 120 steps to the top of Jejawi Tower. There are also several restored heritage houses, like House No 1, a quaint Tudor-style home that’s been converted into a visitor center.

Jejawi Tower
Credit: Sengkang / Wikimedia Commons

To best experience all the wonders of Pulau Ubin, take the Sensory Trail, located on the southern part of the island. It usually takes an hour to explore the path, which takes you through fruit orchards and gardens. Up for something more difficult? Hit the trail up Puaka Hill – if the hike doesn’t leave you short of breath, the view of the old granite quarry and greenery surely will.


Instead of Bali, go to… Flores

Kelimutu National Park

There’s far more to Indonesia’s islands than fun-yet-overcrowded Bali – thousands more, in fact. If you’re the adventurous sort, then you’ve got to explore the wild and largely uninhabited island of Flores. Splash around Koka Beach, a hidden paradise of two beaches in a cove on the southern side of the island, and catch the fascinating sight of three different colored lakes that can change their hue at Kelimutu National Park.

Pink Beach

Feeling brave? Then tread carefully on Komodo Island just to the west of Flores, so you don’t catch the attention of a hungry Komodo Dragon. The island’s other main attraction is the cotton candy-colored Pink Beach, one of the few pink-colored beaches in the world.

Padar Island

So you’ve probably seen breathtaking photos of the view from the top of a hill on Padar Island, where you can see three beaches of different colors. Here’s how you can get a profile photo to remember: get a boat from Labuan Bajo on the western tip of Flores island and make sure you have a sturdy pair of hiking shoes and plenty of water and sunscreen – the hike is a challenging one. But once you reach the top, the magnificent vistas are unforgettable.

Just because it’s the school holidays, doesn’t mean you can’t have a crowd-free holiday – it just depends on where you go. For a carefree holiday, book your flights and hotel to these destinations with Traveloka!

A storyteller with an insatiable sense of curiosity. Travel junkie. Card-carrying member of many fandoms. Heavily dependent on caffeine. Loyal cat servant. Former journalist at the New Straits Times and Hybrid News.

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