It’s almost that time of year again… the temperature has already dropped, the summer wardrobe is gathering dust once more and t’s only a matter of weeks until Christmas cards and mince pies start appearing on the supermarket shelves. Are you ready for the endless shopping, the wrapping of presents, the cooking, the money, the decorating? Not so sure? Then fret not, I have a plan… sod it all off and just jump on a plane to Asia this Christmas – the sun will be shining, the beaches inviting and that summer wardrobe can come out once more.
After spending the last three Christmases in Asia I am delighted to share with you some of my favourite places to hibernate for the festive period.
Where to go for Christmas in south-east Asia…
1. Luang Prabang, Laos
I spent Christmas 2015 here and it was bloody brilliant. In fact seeing so many handsome* bare-footed, robed monks wandering down the pretty streets and river paths made me almost forget there were no mince pies! Luang Prabang is Laos’ charming UNESCO heritage town, full of ornamental temples, charming wooden homes and a plethora of fabulous restaurants and bars. Caught between two rivers; it is a feast for the eye if you’re into natural beauty and what’s more you can enjoy your favourite tipple on Christmas Eve at the legendary 525 Bar, which is home to enough gin varieties to make even the biggest gin snob cackle in delight. My top three accommodation options for Luang Prabang are as follows (prices true for Christmas, cheaper at other times):
- Mid-range boutique: Maison Dalabua from £90 per night
- Ooh having a bit of a splash out: Satri House from £230 per night
- It’s Christmas – I’m going ALL OUT: Luang Say Residence from £480 per night
*I know one is not technically allowed to find monks handsome but what the hell, it’s Christmas.
2. Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Did somebody say Paradise?! If you’re after the perfect beach break this Christmas complete with isolated beaches, tranquil water and sunset cocktails with the feeling of sand between your toes than look no further. I’ve visited the island a few times now and apart from Six Senses Con Dao (which will set you back about £900 per night if you stay at Christmas) it’s the best beach in Vietnam (in my, oh so humble opinion!). Spend Christmas Day soaking up the rays, bobbing in the water and enjoy an alternative Christmas dinner at one of the many casual candle-lit restaurants along the beach. My top accommodation options for Phu Quoc are as follows (prices true for Christmas, cheaper at other times):
- Mid range boutique: Cassia Cottages from £150 per night
- Ooh having a splash out: Salina Resort Phu Quoc from £320 per night
3. The 4,000 Islands, Laos
If your idea of Christmas bliss is hanging hammock-style with more waterfalls than cars in sight than be sure to check out the 4,000 Islands in southern Laos. These lovely islands (there are not quite 4,000 of them but lots nevertheless) are dotted in the mighty Mekong river – some no more that trees on sand banks, while others have sleepy towns with some shops and guesthouses on them. Hire a bike, cycle to some waterfalls and if you’re really lucky – spot a rare river dolphin or two! This is a perfect break when combined with Luang Prabang. My top accommodation options for southern Laos and the 4,000 Islands are as follows (prices true for Christmas, cheaper at other times):
- Mid range boutique: Sala Done Khone from £55 per night.
- Ooh having a splash out: The River Resort from £130 per night (this is actually about an hour from the 4,000 islands but has a stunning quite river location with excellent sunset river trips and it is a fantastic base for exploring the local area including the nearby coffee region).
4.Koh Rong Samoem, Cambodia
If you’re looking to hibernate in a rustic beach bungalow on one of south-east Asia’s most stunning islands then book your ticket to Koh Rong Samloem this Christmas. Less developed than other islands in the region, it is a haven of white sand, turquoise waters and more simple style accommodation. Be sure to take the 20 minute walk through the jungle in the middle of the island during the day and wander down the shore at night and enjoy some casual dining at the beachside restaurants and bars. To get here you can fly to Sihanoukville from Siem Reap or drive from Phnom Penh and then take a speedboat for about an hour. My top accommodation options for Koh Rong Samloem are as follows (prices true for Christmas, cheaper at other times):
- Bargain boutique: Lazy Beach from £50 per night
- Mid-range boutique: Sol Beach Resort from £140 per night
- It’s Christmas – I’m going ALL OUT: Song Saa Private Island from £2,000 per night for an all-inclusive paradise resort on a private island next door… it may have a hefty price tag but read here to see why it’s totally worth it.
5. Ngapali Bay, Myanmar
This crescent shaped bay is my most recent discovery in south-east Asia. What I love most about Ngapali Bay is that when you are in the inviting, calm sea looking back at the beach all you can see is jungle with some thatched roofing – you would have no idea there are so many fabulous boutique hotels nestled in the jungle. It’s developed in the perfect way – there’s lots of luxury and lovely hotels on offer but it’s still a quiet and peaceful destination with a fabulous wide sandy beach. I went for two nights and could have stayed for so many more… combine it with a trip to Bagan and Inle Lake for the perfect Christmas getaway. My top accommodation options for Ngapali Bay are as follows (prices true for Christmas, cheaper at other times):
- Mid-range boutique: Yoma Cherry from £215 per night
- Ooh having a splash out: Ngapali Bay Villas & Spa from £310 per night
6. Siem Reap, Cambodia
Because admiring ancient temples is a brilliantly alternative way to spend Christmas! Siem Reap is home to some of the largest and most impressive temples of south-east Asia; with Angkor Wat having the biggest wow-wee feeling of all. Spend your day wandering around the jungle-clad ruins of Ta Phrom temple, admiring the intricate faces of Bayon Temple and head further out to Banteay Srei to see a lesser-visited wonder. Hire a bicycle, tuk-tuk or even a quad bike to get around and stay in some of the best hotels in Asia. My top three accommodation options for Siem Reap are as follows (prices true for Christmas, cheaper at other times):
- Mid-range boutique: The Mulberry from £65 per night
- Ooh having a bit of a splash out: Heritage Suites from £265 per night
- It’s Christmas – I’m going ALL OUT: Phum Baitang from £450 per night
7. Mekong Delta, Vietnam
The Mekong Delta is home to hundreds of criss-crossing streams, rivers and canals – this vast river way is the lifeline of the people in south Vietnam who live, work and breath the river. Observe how coconuts are turned into everything from candy to drinks and bowls, watch how rice noodles are made and cycle through lush fruit orchards. Rise before sunrise to catch the floating markets at their most authentic and be sure to enjoy a sunset tipple on the river as you watch the rice barges make their way up and down the mighty Mekong.
- Mid-price boutique: The Mekong Lodge from £100 per night
- Ooh having a bit of a splash out: The Bassac Cruise is my favourite way to see the Mekong Delta – take a one or two night cruise in a rice-barge style boat – no better way to observe river life than on the river itself. From £200 per night.
8. Myeik Archipelago, Myanmar (Burma)
Want to get completely off the beaten track? Explore the virtually-undiscovered archipelago of more than 800 islands off southern Myanmar by boat. There are no hotels on the islands to the only way to do it is to hop on board a luxury sailing boat, or take a small cruise boat, and spend a few lazy days island hopping and jumping off the boat for snorkelling in crystal clear turquoise waters. The best company to do it with is Burma Boating – which have a beautiful selection of sailing boats and explorer vessels. Most boats offer a minimum of six-day itineraries – for more details check out my Burma Boating info here or drop me an email for more details.
And there you have it. After spending the last three winters abroad these are, in my opinion, eight of the best places to spend Christmas in south-east Asia. You may not get your fill of mince pies or turkey, but you will get blue skies, sunny adventures and a taste of a totally different culture. And if you’re really lucky you might even find an Asian Father Christmas walking the streets… I was delighted to find this chap in Saigon on Christmas Eve!
PS If you would like me to arrange your tropical Christmas holiday this year don’t hesitate to contact me at Fleewinter or via my contact tab here – I specialise in putting together private, tailor made holidays around Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.