December is just around the corner, and with the holiday season soon approaching it's better to start planning ahead if you want to get the best pick of airfares, accommodation and experiences to make the most of your time and budget.
Asia is at the top of the list for many travellers to celebrate an unforgettable Christmas away from home. The region combines all of the essential ingredients of the perfect adventure holiday – nature, culture, history, food and plenty of outdoor activities.
An active adventure often presents a wonderful opportunity to experience authentic interactions with locals, stay in less travelled locations and create more memorable experiences than laying on the beach all week (though it's always nice to fit a bit of that in as well!).
From participating in a local cooking class in Laos, or cycling around the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia; to trekking through the luscious green hills of Northern Thailand, or kayaking through the emerald green waters of Hanoi in Vietnam, we've put together a list of places and hidden gems you should celebrate the holiday season at if you're after a truly memorable escape.
1. Laos – an unspoiled gem of Southeast Asia
A place full of unique landscapes, colourful cultures and a delicious cuisine - Laos is an unspoiled gem of Southeast Asia. With meandering rivers, remote villages and tranquil cities, Laos is famous for its gentle pace that invites you to slow down, relax and absorb your surroundings.
Yet, whilst it may be relaxing, by no means is it boring! Laos’ cities are a mixture of golden Buddhist temples, French colonial architecture, and colourful markets that are thick with aromas of incense and street food. These cities are not too far away from crystal waterfalls, caves and jungle-clad mountains to explore, making Laos a fantastic destination for an adventure-filled Christmas getaway!
Since Christmas is all about family, why not take them with you on an adventure through Laos on World Expeditions’ 7-day Las Family Adventure. This guided adventure starts in the UNESCO World Heritage listed Luang Prabang where you will explore peaceful temples, spectacular monasteries and wander through bustling markets.
Learn to cook local dishes in a cooking class, take a boat trip down Nam Ou River, experience the stunning scenery at Kuang Si Waterfall and explore the Pak Ou Caves. This trip provides something for the whole family!
Sunset on the Mekong River, Laos. Photo by Ken Campbell.
2. Vietnam – stunning natural beauty with a distinctive heritage
With its striking landscapes, gripping history and rich culture - Vietnam is astoundingly exotic, absolutely compelling and is full of unforgettable experiences. It’s a country with stunning natural beauty and a distinctive heritage that keeps you coming back for more.
From the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, to the breathtaking waters of Ha Long Bay, one of Asia’s most spectacular sights – wherever you choose to go in Vietnam, you are in for an incredible adventure.
World Expeditions’ Vietnam by Bike is a 14-day tour that provides you with the opportunity to see the best of coastal Vietnam. Explore the ever-changing landscapes of tranquil highlands, palm fringed beaches and country roads that lead through mango and coconut groves. Without a doubt cycling is one of the finest ways to discover a country where hospitality comes as second nature.
The active 11-day Bike, Hike and Kayak Northern Vietnam adventure will allow you to gain a rich and diverse perspective of Vietnam, as you interact and stay with ethnic minorities, explore national parks and kayak, swim and relax at the turquoise waters of Ha Long Bay.
Coloured lanterns in the streets of Vietnam. Photo credit: Richard I'Anson
3. Thailand – from lush mountains to bustling cities this is a place to ignite your senses!
Thailand is an enthralling land of lush mountains, emerald green rice paddies, pristine beaches, jungle-clad mountains, oversized Buddha’s and majestic temples – making it an excellent choice for a Christmas adventure. With a wonderful mix of ancient cultural traditions, colourful religious festivals, fragrant cuisines and bustling cities, Thailand is sure to ignite your senses!
Perhaps you'd like to explore Bangkok, where you can visit sacred temples, indulge in a Thai massage or shop til you drop. Or maybe you'd like an action-packed adventure, cycling through the picturesque countryside, trekking the remote hilltribes and staying with a local family. If you’d like to slow down the pace, then you could visit the tranquil, temple-laden capital of Chiang Mai and head to Pai to see natural springs, waterfalls and stunning scenery. There really is something for everyone in Thailand!
Skip the tourist crowds this Christmas on our 11-day Cycling Coastal Thailand trip that goes along the quiet roads of coastal Thailand past pineapple plantations, through national parks with limestone hills and alongside turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. This relaxed itinerary will give you the opportunity to have a cultural immersion as you soak up the friendly rural landscape of coastal Thailand.
Ground of the King's Summer Palace, Thailand.
4. Cambodia – the perfect place to get off-the-beaten path
A small country with a big history, Cambodia was once Asia’s most impressive early civilisations - the great empire of Angkor, whose legendary temples attract masses of visitors every year. Yet beyond the temples, much of Cambodia remains much less ‘touristy’ than its neighbouring countries Vietnam and Thailand, with many places in Cambodia untouched.
Cambodia is well-known for its incredible ruins of Angkor, yet it is the secluded coastlines, charismatic villages, superb temples and friendly locals that also make Cambodia so special. An intriguing land of jungles, rice paddies and great rivers, with an ancient culture and marvellous temples, Cambodia is a destination full of adventures.
By far the best way to experience the real essence of Cambodia is to get off-the-beaten path and away from the crowds of the main tourist sites. You could hike, bike or paddle your way through the peaceful back-country and rural communities.
Mix things up with a multi-activity adventure this Christmas on World Expeditions’ 12-day Bike, Hike and Kayak Cambodia trip. Commencing at Siem Reap and concluding in Phnom Penh, this adventurous itinerary takes you through timeless villages where you will be greeted with generous Cambodian hospitality. Hike along remote and secluded trails and explore impressive archaeological sites, diverse ecosystems and abundant wildlife.
Or you could cycle from the fast-paced Ho Chi Minh City of Vietnam, to the lush green country-side of Cambodia and finish in Siem Reap visiting the iconic Angkor by bike on World Expeditions’ 8-day Ho Chi Minh City To Angkor Wat Cycle trip. This action-packed adventure will take you through some of Southeast Asia’s most stunning landscapes.
A golden sunrise over Angkor Wat at Siem Reap, Cambodia.
5. Myanmar – a place so undiscovered
Yet to be consumed by Western culture, now is the perfect time to visit Myanmar, a place that is blessed with cultural riches and striking beauty where the generous spirit of the Burmese people rise above the country's challenging history.
The awe inspiring city of Bagan, one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites, is filled with thousands of incredible Buddhist temples, pagodas, palaces and monasteries. In Yangon you’ll enjoy bustling open-air markets, colonial architecture and the golden complex of Shwedagon Pagoda. Cruise along the tranquil Irrawaddy, kayak among floating markets or embark on a trek through quiet forests and overnight in a rural village at a home-stay with a local family.
Now is the time to visit the beautiful and untouched country of Myanmar with your family on World Expeditions’ 13-day Myanmar Adventure. This trip offers the best of Myanmar and will take you right to the heart of this incredibly friendly land, where you will be greeted by exceptional hospitality.
Local women at the market in Myanmar.
6. China – never disappoints with staggering depth and variety
When many people think of China they conjure up images of jam-packed overpopulated cities, yet there is so much more to this remarkable and overwhelming country than people give it credit for. Trek along the awe-inspiring Great Wall, marvel at the imposing palatial buildings of the Forbidden City, explore the tranquil lakes and gardens of Summer Palace and witness the surreal sculpted Terracotta Warriors.
Hike through the breathtaking Tiger Leaping Gorge or cycle along the country roads of south China and meet locals at small villages. Whether you are interested in nature, cities, history, culture or an active adventure, China will give you a Christmas you’ll never forget!
Experience China by Bike this Christmas on our 16-day cycling trip that will take you through rural villages in southern China, past vast limestone pinnacles near colourful Yangshou, and to the highlights of northern China including the Terracotta Warriors in Xian and remote sections of the Great Wall in Beijing.
Cycling in rural villages in Yangshuo, China.
The holiday season presents a fantastic opportunity to escape away from the masses of shoppers and crowds at the beaches and take off on a unique adventure through Asia to experience new cultures, flavours, local interactions among awe-inspiring landscapes and monuments. So pack your bags and get ready for the experience of a lifetime in Asia. Make this Christmas one you’ll never forget!
Featured image: The beautiful Maya Bay at Phi Phi Island, Thailand. Photo credit Cain Doherty.
What's your favourite Asian destination?