Here in Hong Kong, we’re blessed with an abundance of public holidays, thoughtfully spread out throughout the year. If you’re looking to maximise your travel time, while minimising the impact on your valuable annual leave, read on for the best suggestions to make the most of the year in travel. Kate Farr suggests an action-packed itinerary.
February: Chinese New Year
Start the year right by enjoying a full 10-day escape, while cashing in just four days of your annual leave. 2018’s Lunar New Year holidays fall on February 16 to 19 (Friday through Monday), giving you a nice long weekend to welcome in the Year of the Dog. But with Valentine’s Day on February 14 (the previous Wednesday), why not whisk your loved one away for a romantic break à deux? Trade those Friday night after-work drinks for a trip to the airport on February 9, booking February 12 to 15 as annual leave to bag a 10-day break.
Of course, the location most likely to set hearts a-flutter is the City Of Lights itself: Paris. You’ll arrive just in time to experience the Paris Carnival, a vibrant celebration of music, dancing and costume that winds through the city streets on February 11. And while a scenic Valentine’s Day cruise along the Seine may be enduringly popular, why not hark back to the golden age of travel, by enjoying a romantic dinner at Le Train Bleu instead?
Located within the bustling Gare de Lyon station, Le Train Bleu was originally conceived in 1901 as a railway buffet, but over the years has become a popular haunt for Paris’ beautiful people (Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot and Jean Cocteau were all regulars). Its imposing art nouveau decor was recently restored to its original glory, making it the perfect place to enjoy a truly memorable meal.
March/ April: Easter and Ching Ming
Another opportunity to maximise your holiday allowance presents itself over Easter, when the public holiday again falls over a long weekend: March 30 to April 2. This neatly coincides with Ching Ming, which falls on April 5 (a Thursday), enabling you to allocate just three days of leave to enjoy yet another 10-day break. Head off after work on Thursday March 29, book April 3, 4 and 6 as annual leave, and you’ll be back at your desk on Monday April 9, refreshed and raring to go.
April is sakura (cherry blossom) season in Japan, and a 10-day break gives you ample time to venture out of Tokyo’s neon jungle and see a little more of this fascinating country. Kyoto is famous for its sakura, and is hard to beat for picture-perfect scenery, classical Japanese architecture and sheer charm. Wander the lanes of Gion in search of Kyoto’s iconic geisha, and ensure you leave space in your schedule to attend a traditional Miyako Odori show.
Held four times per day at the iconic Gion Kobu Kaburenjo theatre, these traditional music and dance recitals are performed by Kyoto’s geisha and maiko (trainee) community, and you can also catch a traditional tea ceremony before each show.
From Kyoto, hop aboard a bullet train to Okayama, around 90 minutes southwest, and head to the 300-year-old Koraku-en – one of the three ‘great gardens’ of Japan. Covering over 130,000 square metres, this is one of the best places in the region to experience Japan’s sakura in full bloom. To explore more of this charming, mostly rural, farming and fishing region, simply pick up a hire car, or opt to be chauffeured around.
December/ January: Christmas and New Year
This year’s third top holiday hack falls over Christmas, giving you the perfect opportunity to escape the commercialism (and cooking!), and kick back. Catch a late flight on Friday December 21, and you’ll only need to book Christmas Eve (a Monday) as annual leave to enjoy a clear five-day festive break. Alternatively, if you’ve been exceptionally good this year, ask Santa if you can jingle all the way through to the New Year by adding December 27, 28 and 31 on to your leave, giving you a total of 11 days off for the bargain price of four.
Whichever option you choose, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy a merry Christmas in sunny Sri Lanka, just five-and-a-half hours’ direct flight from Hong Kong.
Landing in Colombo, head south to the walled city of Galle, a former Dutch colonial fortification. This quaint and peaceful town is the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding area, including the chilled-out beach at Unawatuna, a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride away. If you plan to stay longer, hire a driver to take you inland to Udawalawe National Park, where you can spot wild elephants, peacocks, mongoose and water buffalo in their natural habitat.
Alternatively, for a taste of Sri Lanka’s colonial past, catch the scenic tourist train from Colombo to Kandy, then onwards to Hatton.
Notable stops along the way include Gampaha, Sri Lanka’s de facto capital of Ayurveda, where you can indulge in bespoke spa treatments, and Rambukkana, home of the famous Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. Perched atop a lush mountain range, the city of Kandy harbours the holy Temple Of The Sacred Tooth Relic, which reputedly houses a tooth belonging to Buddha himself.
From Kandy, ride the rails towards Hatton, through Sri Lanka’s hill country, to see some of the many tea plantations that have made Ceylon a byword for a quality cuppa for over 150 years.
– Le Train Bleu, www.le-train-bleu.com
– Miyako Odori show, www.miyako-odori.jp
– Okayama Koraku-en, www.okayama-korakuen.jp/english
– Paris Carnival, www.carnaval-paris.org
– Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, nationalzoo.gov.lk
– Udawalawe National Park, udawalawe.national.park.ww.lk