For many, December is the best time for a well-deserved holiday. Not only do these four Asian destinations enjoy perfect weather, they also cater to the discerning traveler looking for something more exclusive when going on a year-end vacation.
And good news if you want to avoid the December holiday crowds: We also rated each destination according to how far off they’re from the tourist trail, 1 being right at the crossroads and 5 being furthest and most untouched for explorers who value peace and quiet.
Asian Destination #1: Hokkaido
Best for: Snowsports
Off-the-tourist trail index: 2/5 (Snowsports enthusiasts come from far and wide.)
About the size of England and Scotland combined, the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido is home to several world-class ski and snowboarding resorts drawing visitors from all over the world. Its claim to fame is its powdery fine snow that it gets in winter, although the scenery and seascapes are also noteworthy. The variety of slopes cater to various skill levels, which also make it a popular family/group destination.
Many ski and snowboard enthusiasts head straight for Niseko, widely regarded as the best ski resort in Japan. In addition to kilometers of ski trails, many of Niseko’s resorts offer winter adventure seekers the option to explore off-trail backcountry skiing, a relatively uncommon attraction at most other ski resorts in Japan.
For the ultimate luxury accommodation, the newly opened AYA Niseko might tick the boxes. Designed by renowned local architect Koichi Ishiguro, it’s possible to ski in and out of this resort. There are a total of 79 luxury apartments and penthouses and amenities include a natural onsen (Japanese hot spring), private onsens, ski valet, concierge, kid’s club and spa.
Bonus: Ride the Shiki-shima luxury sleeper train, which takes travelers on a multi-day voyage from Tokyo to Hokkaido with amenities such as a lounge car with ceiling windows, seasonal local five-star cuisine and traditional Japanese bathtubs made of cypress wood.
Getting there: Fly to direct to Sapporo or via Tokyo.
Asian Destination #2: The Mekong
Best for: Culture
Off-the-tourist trail index: 4/5 (The Mekong plain is vast enough for river cruise ships to steer clear of one another, even during this popular season.)
If you’ve enjoyed great river journeys in Europe or the Nile, then the Mekong is probably the best there is in Asia.
Originating from the Tibetan plateaus, the Mekong winds a 4,000km-long course down into Indochina, where the river is at the heart of a lush basin feeding over 60 million people across Cambodia and Vietnam.
The history of the Lower Mekong Basin is immense. This is where one of the world’s greatest ancient civilizations, the Khmer empire, flourished between the 9th and 13th centuries. Harnessing the Mekong, the Khmer built the city of Angkor and the world’s largest temple complex of Angkor Wat. Today, Angkor Wat and the equally astounding Bayon temple are UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites worthy of anyone’s bucket list.
All along the Mekong river, rice fields are being harvested around this time of the year. And in this region are quaint Cambodian villages where the descendants of the great Khmer empire live. They carry on centuries-old practices such as silk weaving and silversmithing, offering visitors a highly rewarding cultural odyssey with first-hand anthropological experiences.
Traveling by cruise ship is the only logistically feasible way of exploring the Mekong and the cleverest way to segue an itinerary from Vietnam to Cambodia or vice versa. Luxury comforts await on river cruise ships such as the Aqua Mekong, which also sails with experienced local English-speaking guides and, notably, a five-star menu featuring the region’s cuisine crafted by Michelin-starred chef David Thompson.
“There’s not exactly a ‘best time’ to sail the Mekong”, says Nakey Em, Aqua Mekong’s cruise director. Coinciding with the rice harvest season, December enjoys low rainfall and temperatures that are a few degrees lower at times in the tropical Indochina climate, which explains why many Aqua guests have no qualms picking a 7-night Expedition Cruise itinerary that showcases the full splendor of the region.
Read more about a Mekong river cruise here.
Bonus: Despite the low rainfall, December is also the high-water season on the Tonle Sap, home of floating villages and UNESCO Biosphere Reserves housing the largest collection of waterbirds on the planet.
Getting there: Fly to Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (Cambodia)
Asian Destination #3: Hong Kong
Best for: Urban exploration
Off-the-tourist trail index: 1/5 (Highly accessible, and very frequently accessed by travelers of every kind.)
One of the best cities in Asia to visit any time of year, Hong Kong is pulsating with energy and charm in equal measure. In December, winter arrives but the weather is still pleasant, with average daytime highs of 21 degrees Celsius and night-time lows of around 15 deg C. Despite the slight chill, it’s surprising that December also see the fewest days of rainfall, with just two rainy days on average. Humidity is also at its lowest (68%).
Come December, the former British colony also gets into the Christmas spirit in a big way, with spectacular light-ups such as the Lumieres Hong Kong festival going hand in hand with the year-end sale period. With no GST and VAT, Hong Kong is arguably the best place in Asia for luxury purchases.
Presiding over Victoria Harbour, the grand old dame of The Peninsula is your accommodation of choice to explore Hong Kong in style. Not only is this the oldest and most history-rich hotel in Hong Kong, the level of luxury is unmatched, with a helicopter tour of the rugged, skyscraper-filled city one of the must-dos as part of your stay.
Bonus: A side trip to Macau’s glitzy casinos is a 50-minute ferry ride away.
Getting there: Hong Kong is an international air hub with connections to the rest of the world.
Asian Destination #4: Raja Ampat
Best for: Sea and marine exploration
Off-the-tourist trail index: 5/5 (Only one non-charter cruise yacht, the 15-cabin Aqua Blu, operates here along with a handful of inconspicuous liveaboards.)
The best thing about Indonesia, other than the fact that it’s an incredibly picturesque country, is that there’s always a location that is ‘in season’ during the year (i.e. with ideal weather conditions). From April To September, the southern region of Indonesia sees an abundance of sunshine and rarely any rain, making it ideal to visit Komodo National Park, Flores and Bali.
In the transition season of October and November, the pleasant climate extends northwards into the Banda Sea and Sulawesi, making it a great time to cruise the culture-rich Spice Islands.
From December to March, the Raja Ampat archipelago, a cluster of islands on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, present the perfect condition for explorers to dive and snorkel. December also marks the start of a period of calm waters and excellent underwater visibility, sometimes even up to 40 metres at some dive sites!
A little bit more about Raja Ampat: Widely regarded as Number 1 Dive and Snorkeling destination in the world, this officially protected region is right in the heart of the Coral Triangle. Cruising the region on board the Aqua Blu luxury cruise yacht, you can expect to discover the highest diversity of marine habitat and species on Earth, with more than 600 species of coral (nearly 75% of all known species of reef-building corals) in addition to manta rays, rare sea turtle species and schooling hammerheads.
Read more about Raja Ampat here.
Bonus: December is among the best times to see manta rays in action in Raja Ampat.
Getting there: Fly into Sorong from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta
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