Fed up of the cold weather and the dark days? Don’t feel like cooking Christmas dinner for the entire family, and maybe more? A last-minute Christmas getaway to Asia is the perfect solution.
Whether you want to don your party hat and celebrate, or would rather just escape from it all, here are our suggestions for an alternative festive season:
Sapa in winter is magical. While snow is not guaranteed, the air is crisp and cold, often with blue skies and sunshine. On Christmas Eve the locals pour into the centre of the town for celebrations in front of the Holy Rosary Church. For Christmas Day with a difference, why not conquer Mount Fansipan, known as the Roof of Indochina. The adventurous can trek up the mountain – allow two days for that. If time is of the essence, soar over the scenery on a 15-minute cable car ride. From the summit, the views over Sapa town and valleys of rice terraces are stunning. Just wrap up warm!
Some of Bali’s best clubs are on the beach and they’re all going to be throwing lavish parties over the festive season. Restaurants and hotels will be offering full Christmas dinners, but why not go Balinese instead and feast on ‘babi guling’ – the famous suckling pig slathered in spices. Coming with the family? Kids will have a whale of a time at Waterborn Bali with its pools, games and waterslides. They can learn to surf, wakeboard or drag the entire family onto a banana boat! If your cheeky little monkeys are getting out of hand, then take them up to the Monkey Forest in Ubud to meet the long-tail macaques.
With its turreted palaces, whitewashed havelis and narrow crooked streets, Udaipur has the feel of a fairytale. Indulge in afternoon tea in the Lake Palace hotel which seems to float on the surface of the lake. On the water’s edge is an 18th century palace where you can catch a live performance of traditional Rajasthani entertainment. Women dressed in vibrant colours and laden with silver ornaments, gracefully swirl and dance in rhythmic circles to traditional Indian music. Panto will never have the same allure.
Thais just love to party! Even though Christmas is not an official holiday, the locals will join the expats and tourists in the Christmas celebrations. The shopping malls seem to compete with each other for the biggest and most spectacular Christmas tree, while the streets are festooned with fairy lights. Hotels put on elaborate turkey dinners with all the trimmings; carol concerts can be heard all over the city; and Santa Claus becomes a regular in the restaurants and bars. For shopaholics, there are holiday sales and promotions that offer incredible bargains.
Ngapali Beach, Myanmar
If you’re craving peace and quiet, head to Myanmar’s Ngapali Beach – a tranquil beach that has managed to avoid mass tourism (for the time being). Beyond the beaches, take a hike into the jungle, cycle into the nearby mountain range or watch the fishermen at work in the quaint fishing villages. Early evening, find a bar and sip a cocktail while watching the sun set into the Bay of Bengal. Follow this with dinner by the beach, feasting on the fresh fish that you saw being caught earlier in the day.
Do you want to spend the Yuletide season doing some soul searching? Take a journey of discovery into the Land of the Thunder Dragon and make a pilgrimage to the iconic Taktsang Monastery or Tiger’s Nest as it is commonly known. This incredible gravity-defying monastery clings to a sheer cliff face 900 metres above the Paro Valley. If you do feel nostalgic for a traditional white Christmas, then just glance up at those incredible snow-capped Himalayan mountains.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
For a fun-filled Christmas day for all the family you may not immediately think of Angkor Wat. However, what if the kids could do a Lara Croft-style treasure hunt by tuk-tuk among the ancient stupas and temples? Follow that with an exhilarating zip ride – flying through the tropical rain forest, zipping between suspended sky bridges and abseiling from towering trees. End the day watching young Khmer artistes performing acrobatics, aerial arts and modern dance at Phare, the Cambodian Circus.
Luang Prabang, Laos
For a laid back festive season, look no further than Luang Prabang. Stay in a cosy, family run hotel in a converted colonial villa. For dinner, swap turkey and roast spuds for sticky rice and fresh fish from the Mekong. On Christmas morning wake before dawn and set out into the dark streets to see the long lines of saffron-clad monks making their way through the empty streets. Earn merit through offering alms to the monks – a ceremony conducted in silence. If you’ve forgotten to buy any Christmas presents then head to the night market for locally made handicrafts.