Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. Image: Bernard Spragg. NZ / Public Domain / Flickr
Welcome to Meanwhile in ASEAN, our blog series exploring all the best Southeast Asian destinations to escape the cold, this winter. So far, we’ve covered our favorite local events and activities across six, sunny destinations for you to enjoy both beautiful weather and local culture, all in one trip.
From awe-inspiring palaces to stunning white sand beaches, we’ve picked out the best local activities for an unforgettable experience. Get your sunglasses ready, as we check out what’s happening from January to March in two delightfully warm nations - Brunei and the Philippines.
National Day Rehearsal, Brunei. Image: Lisa Omarali / CC-BY-2.0 / Flickr
Average temperatures in Brunei range between 26 - 28°C from January to March, treating travelers to consistently warm weather and making it ideal for daytime activities. Whilst not the most obvious destination on traveler’s lists, Brunei offers a leisurely escape where the relaxed atmosphere and chilled pace is hard to resist.
For holiday-seekers travelling to Brunei around the third week of February, the commemoration of the National Day of Brunei (Hari in Malay) is a celebration well worth seeing. It’s a great opportunity to experience several colorful dance performances, traditional Bruneian music, and the spectacular procession featuring schoolchildren, government officials, and NGO staff marching together in celebration of this significant day.
Istana Nurul Iman. Image: Benutzer:Chtrede / CC BY-SA 3.0 de / Wikipedia
The incredible Istana Nurul Iman is not only considered the largest residential palace in the world, it also holds a Guinness World Record. Home to the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, the stunning palace was built in 1984 and boasts an incredible 1,788 rooms. Costing a total of $1.4 billion to construct, the spectacular palace features over 200 bathrooms, a large mosque and five swimming pools. For those curious to see how the Bruneian Sultan lives – this impressive building is worth adding to your Brunei hit list (The palace can only be view at the front gate and the opening of the palace to the public is only during Eid for three days and begins on the second day of Eid).
Shipwrecks are a popular exploratory diving experience just off the coast of Brunei.
Brunei offers a niche and fascinating diving landscape for those looking for something a little different, like macro-diving and exploring World War II wreckage-sites. For those preferring more underwater space, Brunei is a great spot to take advantage of low-diver population and enjoy comfortable diving temperatures.
Travel between Brunei and the Philippines
Cross-travel between these two Southeast Asian countries couldn’t be easier with several airlines offering direct flights from Manila to Bandar Seri Begawan. Total travel time via air takes only two hours and 20 minutes, meaning you can include both destinations on your travel list with plenty of holiday-time to spare.
White sand beach, Boracay. Image: Dianne Rosete / CC-BY-2.0 / Flickr
With similar temperatures to Brunei, the Philippines ranges from a pleasantly warm 26°C in January to a hot 28°C in March.
One of the best things to enjoy while in the Philippines is the various festivals each month. Known locally as fiestas, Filipinos love celebrating small and large traditions and the Filipino Dinagyang Festival is one not to be missed. Celebrated in Panay, this religious festival is a great chance to experience a cultural event that’s integral to Filipino society. Held in January, visitors head to Iloilo City on the southern tip of Panay island to join in with the festivities. Dance performances depict Panay’s cultural transformation before and after Spanish colonization and the introduction of Catholicism. A fascinating and entertaining insight into local history and culture, it’s a festival well worth visiting.
Sinulog Festival in Cebu, Philippines. Image: Kobby Dagan / Shutterstock.com
Known as the “mother of all festivals” in the Philippines, the Sinulog Festival draws together nearly two million people from around the Philippines in joint celebration of this colorful event. Held towards the end of January in the city of Cebu, the Sinulog festival is a religious celebration famed for its street parties and dancing in the streets. Showcasing an array of colorful costumes, dance performances and the lively sounds of drums and trumpets – expect to taste a lively flavor of local Filipino culture.
For those seeking nothing more than beautiful beaches and glittering sunsets, the island of Boracay in central Philippines is the spot for you. Recently reopened after allowing the environment time to recover and refresh, the area features the stunning ‘white beach’, visitors can expect to find bars, restaurants and resorts. For those wanting to burn some energy, there’s plenty of water sports on offer, alongside diving, zorbing, and ziplining. The perfect sunshine spot - Boracay offers both relaxation and high-energy activities, to entertain all tastes.
Of course, there are also quieter, less frequented areas to experience in the region, with just as beautiful beaches. For an environmentally conscious route and to provide some much respected attention to the hidden gems of the Philippines, plan a visit to areas like Maniwaya Island or the Caramoan Islands!
Thank you for joining us on our Southeast Asian quest for sunshine instead of wintry chills. Next time, we conclude our ventures in the fantastically sunny Cambodia and Malaysia. Join us then for more inspiration to help you plan your next winter escape.