We’re trading the pumpkin-glazed days of fall for winter as 2019 inches towards its curtain call, and with that draw to a close comes the scramble to arrange year-end vacations. As most in the West choose to seek refuge from the cold in Southeast Asia, we chase the reverse — cold, scenic winter wonderlands that offer fairytale-esque refuges from the tropics.
The diversity of Asia’s topography means you don’t have to travel across the globe to experience the magic of winter. A sojourn to any of these regional destinations at the end of the year, well-stocked with heat tech and cold-weather gear, is all it takes to relish in the reality of being sweat-free and surrounded by snowy scapes.
Here are some of the best winter destinations in Asia to bookmark as your next holiday.
Hokkaido is king when it comes to the best of Japan in winter, but apart from signature cities like Sapporo and Niseko, there are some hidden gems on the island worth venturing to. These are less saturated with tourists, and therefore more enjoyable. One such treasure is Otaru, a harbour city in the northwest of Sapporo that is lined by a beautiful canal and herring mansions dating back to the 19th-century. When the snow falls over the evening, a walk through the city centre feels like you’re deep in a curious mixture of Asian and Scandinavian.
China’s most renowned winter destination is not an easy one to get to but offers sights that you’ll remember for a lifetime. Temperatures here drop to cold extremes, so during the winter, locals transform their town into the site of the world’s biggest winter festival, with ice carvings that near 50 metres in height, decorated with stunning lights. Beyond the winter festival, Harbin’s status as a former Russian colony sees its architecture and culture marry borders.
Avid skiers and snowboarders or those keen to dip their toes into these winter sports can visit Yongpyong in South Korea. Though this is not technically a town or a city, this ski resort is an expansive playground of powdery slopes, mountains and snow-topped everything. Korea is a popular cold-weather destination as it is, but Yongpyong is where you’d go to check all the quintessential winter activities off your bucket list.
Sapa is beloved all-year-round, but this breathtaking provincial town reveals a completely different side to itself in the winter. The normally lush green terraces of its paddy fields are speckled with snow, making treks around the town all the more visually arresting. Sapa, being in Southeast Asia, is not overwhelmingly cold either, so for those that fear temperatures that inch below freezing, this Vietnamese haven makes for an excellent middle ground.
Serious adventurers can turn to Ulaanbaatar in the winter, where the heart of Mongolia beats. The city makes for a bustling home base to kickstart your adventure through the Trans-Siberian landscape. With steppes reminiscent of a Christmastime fantasy, a variety of national parks, as well as cultural attractions bordering the city, Ulaanbaatar is where you can get up close and personal with Mongolia’s unique sights and way of life.