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Holiday planner 2019: How to make the most of your annual leave

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Looking to make the most of your precious annual leave in 2019? Ray Robertson has it all worked out for you, with suggestions for an action-packed year-long itinerary to boot.

Many employers have a more enlightened attitude but, by law, the most paid leave we can expect per year is 14 days, and that only kicks in once we’ve been with the same company, on a continuous contract, for nine years. This gives us plenty of time to work hard certainly, but what if we want to play hard too?

The solution is actually pretty simple – plan your holidays around Hong Kong’s wealth of public holidays (17 in total). If you’re on the ball with this, you’ll already have booked Christmas Eve (a Monday) as annual leave and be looking forward to a five-day festive break. Better yet, you’ll have added on December 27, 28 and 31, giving you a total of 11 days off for the bargain price of four, and the opportunity to kick-back and relax all the way into 2019.

The trick is to maximise your travel time, while minimising the impact on your valuable annual leave… and here’s your guide to doing just that in 2019.

February 2019 – 9 days for 2

At Chinese New Year, you can enjoy a full nine-day escape, while cashing in just two days of your annual leave. 2019’s Lunar New Year holidays fall from February 5 to 7 (Tuesday through Thursday), so by taking leave on the Monday and Friday, you’ll have a generous amount of time to welcome in the Year of the Pig.

In the first few months of the year, Cambodia enjoys low humidity and cool breezes, making February an ideal time to visit. While first-time visitors can’t miss Siem Reap and its mind-blowing temple complex of Angkor, for anyone returning for a second or third visit, particularly with nine days to spare, the sleepy south-west coast beckons.

Heading south from Phnom Penh, take some time out in Kep-sur-Mer and Kampot, two tiny time-forgotten towns that were frequented by the French and Cambodian elite right up until the 1960s. Most of the elegant colonial villas are run down now and overgrown with bougainvillea but a couple have been turned into charming guesthouses.

A Kep highlight is to wake with the sun and walk to the market where the women of the town sort, dry and steam that morning’s catch. At Kampot, you can take a stroll along the promenade and watch the fishing boats bobbing lazily on the estuary, before making your way to the old-colonial hill station at Bokor and the outlying Buddhist cave temples.

Back on the coast, a little further to the west, you find yourself in sleepy, no-frills Sihanoukville, which has the whitest beaches on the mainland. In Koh Kong Province, even closer to the Thai border, you can round off your trip with a foray into the Cardamom Mountains to hike and kayak in the wildlife-rich rainforests.

April 2019 – 10 days for 4

With the Easter public holidays falling on April 19 (Friday) and April 22 (Monday), you can enjoy a tasty long weekend without cashing in any annual leave at all. Alternatively, by booking holiday April 23, 24, 25 and 26, you can grab yourself a 10-day break for the price of four.

If the long Hong Kong winter has left you in need of a steamy 30ºC beach holiday, the Philippines is a superb choice at this time of year. With four days in hand, you can indulge in some serious R&R in Cebu, while a 10-day break gives you ample time to get off the beaten track and head to Bohol Province, which is routinely listed as one of the top 10 dive destinations in the world.

Alona Beach on Bohol’s Panglao Island is an excellent place to base yourself. Numerous accredited dive operators offer PADI and SDI courses, as well as daily dive and dolphin-watching trips. The sea is generally calm and the currents manageable, coupled with excellent visibility.

At Balicasag Island, a 30-minute boat trip from Panglao, you’re guaranteed even more colourful coral and exotic marine life. A shallow reef shelf surrounds the island, and over its edge a perpendicular wall sinks down to depths of 80 metres and more. The shelf is home to a fantastic coral garden filled with all kinds of reef fish, anemones and clownfish. Added to which, this is your chance to swim with giant turtles.

Adventure divers combine this trip with a visit to Cervera Shoal, a sunken island, also known as Snake Island. Due to its mid-ocean location en route to Pamilacan, the currents are fierce, and big waves can make the dive entry and exit satisfyingly difficult. Brave this dive, and you’re likely to spot pelagic fish such as anchovies and trevally, as well as butterfly fish, scorpion fish, sturgeon and sea snakes.

October 2019 – 9 days for 4

Another great opportunity to maximise your annual leave presents itself in October, since National Day falls on October 1 (Tuesday) and the Chung Yeung Festival holiday on October 7 (Monday). Take four days leave (September 30, and October 2, 3 and 4) for a well-earned nine-day break.

With nine days at your disposal, you’re free to tick off a bucket-list destination, so why not make 2019 your year to explore Rajasthan? October is a great time to visit – the air is fresh, temperatures are low (20ºC, and even cooler at night) and the monsoon rains (July to September) are over.

Making your way anti-clockwise from Delhi through Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaipur and Agra (which is incidentally just across the state line in Uttar Pradesh), Rajasthan’s magnificent sites are simply staggering.

Picture yourself in Jaisalmer, an ancient Mughal sandstone city that rises magically from the sand dunes; in the blue-painted medieval streets of Jodhpur; in Udaipur, an enchanting place where intricate medieval temples and palaces overlook shimmering lakes; in pink-painted Jaipur with its Rajput- and Mughal-style palaces and forts; and of course, in Agra at sunrise, getting your first glimpse of the Taj Mahal.

You’re in the Thar Desert for much of your trip and if you find it to your liking, check out Bikaner and Pushkar. These holy, hippy desert towns see a lot less traffic than Jaisalmer. Bundi also often gets overlooked by tourists, yet it’s a captivating place to visit, with its lakes, markets, temples and blue-painted houses similar to Jodhpur.

Try too to include something of Shekhawati in your itinerary; this region, with its frescoed 18th century mansions, is often referred to as the world’s largest open-air art gallery. Find time to visit Rajasthan’s Ranthambore National Park and your chances of spotting a tiger in the wild are among the best in India.

December 2019 – 12 days for 5

Get ready to enjoy a work-free Christmas and/ or New Year. While taking three days off (December 23, 24 and 27) gives you eight days leave, you can treat yourself to a 12-day holiday by also forgoing the office on December 30 and 31.

With this long a break on your hands, why not take the opportunity to get a real handle on China, beginning with its capital. The true Paris of the East, Beijing’s a romantic city all year round, and it’s particularly compelling when there’s snow on the ground and everyone’s bundled up against the bitter winter chill.

Rather surprisingly, Old Peking is holding its own against New Beijing’s onslaught of skyscrapers, luxury hotels, museums and shopping malls. Walk through the hutongs, small cobbled alleyways lined with traditional courtyard homes, and you find that life goes on much as it did in the 14th century. If you’re lucky, you’ll happen upon a temple fair, complete with an impromptu performance by ruddy-faced acrobats and lion dancers.

The Forbidden City (and nearby Tiananmen Square) get busy, especially on festival days, so choose carefully when you visit the evocative collection of homes of Emperors past. Let your imagination wander and bring classic Chinese movies to mind – like The Last Emperor. Another must-see is the Summer Palace, originally created in 1750 and rebuilt by Empress Dowager Cixi in the late 19th century. Designed for summer-use, it looks magical in the snow and you can usually skate on Kunming Lake in the winter months.

Beijing is, of course, a short taxi-ride from The Great Wall (best seen from Huang Hua rather than touristy Badaling), and it’s also your gateway to the Silk Road. If you’re enjoying a 12-day break, transfer to Xi’an. You can use the old walled city as a base from which to visit Lintong (where you’ll find the Terracotta Army) and Lanzhou, one of the oasis towns at which Silk Road traders watered on their way from Beijing to the Mediterranean. Safe travels!

Hong Kong Public Holidays 2019

The first day of January – January 1 (Tuesday)

Lunar New Year’s Day – February 5 (Tuesday)

The second day of Lunar New Year – February 6 (Wednesday)

The third day of Lunar New Year – February 7 (Thursday)

Ching Ming Festival – April 5 (Friday)

Good Friday – April 19 (Friday)

The day following Good Friday – April 20 (Saturday)

Easter Monday –April 22 (Monday)

Labour Day – May 1 (Wednesday)

The day following Buddha’s Birthday – May 13 (Monday)

Tuen Ng Festival – June 7 (Saturday)

HK SAR Establishment Day –July 1 (Monday)

The day following Mid-Autumn Festival –September 14 (Saturday)

National Day – October 1 (Tuesday)

Chung Yeung Festival – October 7 (Monday)

Christmas Day – December 25 (Wednesday)

The first weekday after Christmas Day – December 26 (Thursday)

Photos courtesy of www.wikimedia.org

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