I know that November isn't prime holiday planning time: Christmas is coming way too fast and any forward planning thoughts are most likely focussed on regular 'feeding' of a fruit cake. But even if travel is not currently on the radar I thought it might be helpful to park this one: A starter of Singapore, (where we lived from 2014-2019) with a main of Lombok and side order of the Gili Islands, that can boast the rare accolade of allowing my husband to fast track to the holiday utopia of full relaxation (This is a BIG deal) Plus don't we all need a little November escapism when its raining outside? Here's what we did and how we did it....
Days 1-4: Singapore
We fly Singapore airlines (A night flight makes the 13 hours more doable and gives everyone a chance of a decent nights sleep- you arrive just in time for dinner in Singapore) Yes flights are pricey but October is a more cost effective way to do it, if you don't mind playing a little Russian roulette with the rainy season (We arrive to a storm, but have beautiful weather otherwise). With only three days to revisit our favourites, with old friend reunions shoe horned in, it's tight, but Singapore is TINY, so any destination is at most twenty minutes in a taxi, making it an excellent city break. Also as an alternative the MRT is sparkling, civilised and costs pennies per journey. ( We ignore the kids public transport moans).
To Stay Fact: Singapore hotels are not kindly towards families of 5, so if this is not your criteria you may feel suitably smug. I spend way more time than is healthy trawling and discover that my three teen/tween children can fit in one room, but only if they sleep in one bed. Enter the new Pullman on Hillstreet, which opens weeks before we arrive and has the holy grail of not only a sofa bed in a twin room, but one that interconnects with our double. They have me at sofa bed, but on top of that the design is on point: Singapore slick but with quirks (think a Pullman rail carriage at the entrance and a Mexican style rooftop bar with colourful day beds) Hillstreet is walkable to many of Singapore's must do's ( which is a bonus if you don't want to spend all your time taxiing), has a fabulous indoor outdoor gym (teen ticked) and two pools, including a rooftop one with views of Marina Bay Sands 'boat' Hotel. Plus the biggie: As Singapore rolls it's on the affordable side.
To Eat Singapore is so much more than just 'fine dining', and with four nights to play with we switch it up: We drink cocktails at Spago's on Marina Bay Sands rooftop (a must for the skyline views but eyewatering on the budget) and go retro Miami at the pastel hued Tanjong Beachclub on the beach in Sentosa. We eat like locals with noodles and iced coffee in plastic bags at the hawker centre in Holland Village, and have dinner at the famous Satay Street in the centre of the CBD, sitting at pop up tables with beer and lime juice and never ending satay sticks. We show the kids some Singapore 'edge' at Potato Head on uber cool Keong Saik Road, with its eclectic decor and individually wrapped burgers on the roof, have spectacular (very jetlagged) curry in the buzzy 'Kampong Glam' Arab District, full of street art and colourful shophouses, and eat tacos riverside at old favourite Super Loco on the quayside ( Robertson is least touristy) . Food is a BIG deal here.
We edit to fit our three days, prioritising old favourites: Gardens by the bay with its futuristic Super Tree Grove (Best at sunset. Best if you aren't scared of heights); Our old neighbourhood the lush Botanic Gardens where a glimpse of an enormous prehistoric looking monitor lizard is always a possibility; The beaches of Sentosa island, with its amusements (we partake in 'The Luge' go karting- with a ski lift style trip to the top giving views across Sentosa- again a vertigo sufferer's error on my part); the historic quaysides with the beautiful national gallery and the famous rainbow coloured shutters of the Old Police Station. We dip into China Town and buy chopsticks and rice bowls, and zoom through the glitz of orchard road with its mega malls. ( I raid Daiso: the brilliant Japanese $2 store, and check out Korean beauty products in local pharmacy Guardian.) But there is so much more: The east coast with it's beaches and vintage shops, the west coast parks, the northern jungle areas, and the big ticket sights like Raffles hotel and the Singapore Flyer with it's city views, to name a few. Yes we love Singapore.
Days 4 - 8: Lombok and the Gili's
Singapore ticked we are up at 5am to jump on a speedy Scoot flight over to Lombok, Bali's lesser known quieter sister. I book our flights through Skyscanner, my go to flight booking app. Lombok is picked with a finger in the air for a tropical beach destination near Singapore that we haven't visited, but also because the rainy season doesn't arrive until November and Scoot now flies direct from Singapore in two hours. Oh and also the nearby Gili Islands, a ten minute boat ride from Lombok, are rumoured to be the stuff of dreams. Win win. We have a split flight for the return journey meaning we are only allowed a gulp inducing 5 kilos of hand luggage each for 4 days. We decant at midnight the night before, and yes I experience a panic ridden realisation that my beauty and wardrobe requirements make this an actual impossiblity. The reality? A streamlined lightness of being for four days that makes me think perhaps I can get used to this minimal packing lark.
To Stay/To Eat We eschew the famous beaches of the south coast in favour of the north west coast, with it's close proximity to the Gilli's: Tregawan, Meno and Air. There are a few key resorts on this coast, namely the scandi chic Lombok Lodge, the authentic Hotel Tugu , and the original Bali outpost The Oberoi. All gorgeous, but we opt for a collection of 5 traditionally styled indoor/outdoor Beach Villas Lombok I stumble across on Booking.com. Our private plot (Villa Joglo) turns out to be enormous, with infinity pool, huge gardens for morning yoga, oh, and a private beach of deserted white sand with a fairy light strung fire pit and use of paddleboards and canoes. To say we are giddy is an understatement. We eat either at our villa where the chef cooks authentic dishes from scratch three times a day, and can barbecue freshly caught fish you can catch yourself, or at the hotel Tugu a stroll along the beach. We're in heaven.
To Do Although Lombok is relatively undiscovered it's a large island ( we are a two hour drive from the airport) so with only four days to play with we make the Gilli's our priority, which have been on the long term bucket list, mixing it up with canoeing and beach time. We spend two days boating with a skipper (booked through our villa- we are collected from our 'back door' on the beach) , island hopping around the coral reefs. The snorkelling ( even for me with low level skills) is incredible with huge sea turtles and shoals of electric coloured fish to be spotted. The islands are a delight, with no cars, and small enough to explore by bicycle in an hour. Gili Air has a slight retro backpacker feel, teamed with chic beach bars with days beds and bean bags on the sand. We catch a spectacular sunset on the quietest island Gili Meno, eating barbequed fish facing the sea and listening to live music at Diana . We buy local Lombok coffee, hand made bracelets and locally woven beach sheets. We slow down. We never want to leave. Earmarked for a future trip are visits to north Lombok's many waterfalls, and a climb up Mount Rinjani. ( both vetoed by the kids) but for once not trying to do EVERYTHING feels liberating. We leave feeling like we 've been away for a month.
Days 9-10: Sentosa
One rather slow two tier return to Singapore later ( If you are more organised with your dates that we are you can book direct flights that run a few times a week) we are back in Singapore, for our final night at the W hotel on Sentosa Island, just a bridge away from the mainland. Yes, with its man made beach and palm trees there is a touch of the Truman Show about Sentosa in the sunshine, but its escapism is it's appeal. (Singapore residents will often have a weekend 'staycation' twenty minutes from their homes, such are its mood boosting powers) The W has a wow factor pool complete with designer water slide, insta friendly striped lilos, a swim up bar, purple mood lighting in the rooms and gym, and the most extensive breakfast buffet ever. It's 'a lot' , but excellent fun for a last hurrah and my kids LOVE it. Obvs. What swings it for me is that once again it actually fits all my kids and has interconnecting rooms. (Yes I do hear myself sounding this dull). We leave with excellent takeaway bath products and last day sunburn on an epic scale. I blame it on the distractions )
So Singapore, Lombok and the Gili Islands ticked in 9/10 nights. Yes it was tight, and yes my jet lag on return to the UK lasted a week, but we managed to do everything we wanted, and still achieve hardcore relaxation. Budget wise it came in around the same as ten night's in Ibiza during high summer, which has compelled us to return to thinking about more long haul family trips. But for the time being? I'm ready to get started with the Christmas cake.
I hope this has been helpful if you are planning a similar trip! Please do subscribe if you are interested in receiving my free Sunday blog that covers style and considered shopping, with a side hustle of travel.