IT’S the most wonderful time of the year, with kids jingle-belling and… you get the gist. If you think that Christmas isn’t really Christmas without the winter chill, the relentless snow and the smell of pine in the air – you’re obviously long overdue on a trip to Asia. We bring to you some of the best places to let your hair down and soak up the sun (yes, the sun) this winter.
An Indonesian island located between Java and Lombok, Bali is famous for its beautiful blue waters, extensive networks of coral reefs, white shores and black sand beaches. Bali is often the destination of choice for honeymooning and eloping couples. Adventure junkies can have their bit of fun rafting down the rapids of the Ayung river. Hiking enthusiasts should look no further than climbing to the peak of Penelokan Kintamani. It is a two hour hike, but the view from the top proves to be well worth the effort. For the uninitiated, Bali is also a land rife with temples. The Ulutawa temple located at the southwestern tip of the landmass enables visitors to view one of the most magical sunsets imaginable. Entry into this temple demands a fee, and for a little extra money, you can also participate in a traditional Balinese dance that is performed on the premises. The Gunung Kawi temple dates back to around 1049, and is the best place to indulge in meditation and a spot of soul searching. When it comes to cuisine, tourists have a luxury of choice between traditional Indonesian restaurants and other eateries that aim at whetting the western palate. Bali is also a great place to party, and the nightclubs are loved by locals and visitors alike. However, a warning is in order, avoid wearing flashy clothes and jewellery, the Balinese monkeys are famous for their nimble fingers and pick-pocketing ways.
Simply put, Goa is one of the best places to be in India. This destination was once a Portuguese colony, and it retains its quaint, relaxed and mildly European feel. The Indian and Western cultures have collided to bring about a laidback ‘hippie’ lifestyle where bowties are taboo and there is always time for a siesta! Goa’s beautiful beaches offer fantastic sporting activities. The ubiquitous “shacks” that dot the shore add to the chilled-out vibe by serving chilled beer and various varieties of fresh and delectable sea food to visitors. For those who love to shop, the various flea markets and the night markets are the perfect places to put your bargaining skills to the test. There is no dearth of history in Goa either, in fact, the Bascilica de Bom Jesus cathedral is considered to be one of the most sacred Christian shrines in India, and would be the perfect place to attend a Christmas Eve mass. You can also check out the Fort Aguada, which once served the Portuguese as a lighthouse and as a fort. And if all you want to do is put your feet up, what better way to do so than recline on a lounger set by the beach?
Located to the south of India, the island nation with its white sand beaches and balmy temperatures makes for an ideal tropical getaway. Till recent years, Sri Lanka was ravaged by war. But as the era of peace began, the country has been working consistently to reel in the tourists. The capital city of Colombo offers fantastic shopping opportunities to visitors, the outlet malls and stores are filled to the brim with the best branded apparel available at dirt-cheap rates. The city also offers impressive scuba and deep sea diving opportunities, where tourists get to see breathtaking coral reefs as well as the sobering remains of once-mighty ships. A stone’s throw away from Colombo is a tiny and quaint hill station called Kandy, of which the lush green terrain and cascading waterfalls have to be seen to be believed. Another famous Sri Lankan attraction is the Pinnawela Elephant orphanage, which is a home and playground to hundreds of orphaned elephants. Visiting tourists are provided an opportunity to watch the majestic (and sometimes adorable) elephants in their natural habitat. If you’re lucky, you might even get to play with a baby elephant. Sri Lanka is a county of unparalleled gastronomical delights, be sure to sample their prawn preparations, and also their oh-so-spicy meat curries with rice.
If you’re the person on whom winter is wasted without snow, despair not, for Asia has more than a few conventional wintry destinations up her sleeve. The Chimbulak Ski Resort is breathtaking, yet a well-kept secret. Located in the underrated, often ignored but wildly beautiful country of Kazakhstan, Chimbulak is projected by experts to soon become a shoo-in to the list of the world’s 10 best ski resorts. The Kazakh government also plans to bid for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Located relatively close to the capital city of Almaty, Chimbulak is within the magnificent gorge, Zailiysky Alatau, in the Tian Shan mountain range. It is situated at a grand total of 2260 meters above sea level. Sports junkies can participate in a host of activities that range from skiing, snowboarding, sledging, spirited snowball fights, hiking, mountain biking and mountain climbing. The highest point in this ski resort is the Talgar Pass, which is accessible only after a 20 minute ride on the chairlift. Apart from all the sporting activities, the resort is home to some serene walkways and breathtaking views. And the best part is that come summer or winter, the sun is (almost) always shining. In fact, reports state that Chimbulak is actually a lot warmer than the cities in the plains.
A winter visit to the majestic state of Rajasthan will leave you feeling like you have been imported into one of those ‘Incredible India’ adverts – the ones with the ethnic, bangle-wearing women, turban-clad men and beleaguered looking camels. Rajasthan is home to India’s famous Thar Desert. The capital state of Jaipur is a hop, skip and jump away from New Delhi (in fact, the commute takes less than four hours). Jaipur was once the seat of the great Rajput dynasty – and the landscape is dotted with rugged forts and elaborate palaces. The Amber fort, Jaigarh fort, Jal Mahal and Rambagh Palace cannot be missed. Chokhi Dani is a popular village-themed resort where tourists can get a taste of the rustic despite being in the middle of the city. If you visit Jaipur in January, make sure your trip coincides with the famed Jaipur Literature Festival, which is often touted to be one of the best English Literature festivals in the world. Another Rajasthani city that has earned the pride of place in tourist itineraries is Udaipur (the city of lakes). The famous Udaipur Lake Palace is an elaborate marble structure built in the middle of Lake Pichola. Udaipur’s Monsoon Palace offers fantastic views as it is located well above the city’s numerous water bodies. Other Rajasthani cities that will leave you spellbound include Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Ajmer and Pushkar.
Sanya bears the distinction of being the southernmost city in China. It is also the best known tropical beach destination in the country. This remote city is often referred to by the locals as “the end of sky and ocean”. The clear blue oceans and pristine beaches aside, Sanya is home to the Guanyin Statue of Hainan, which is one of the tallest statues in the world standing at an impressive 108 meters. The Yalong bay beach spreads out across seven kilometers, and provides the necessary amenities for any sort of beachside activity that you could imagine. The Yalong bay central square has more than a few attractive dining and entertainment options. The nearby Wuzhizhou Island is an ideal honeymooner’s paradise. This island plays host to a variety of incredibly rare flora and fauna. If you happen to be a water baby, Wuzhizhou Island offers exciting scuba diving and sailing activities. No trip to Sanya could ever be complete without Luhuitou Hill Park – the perfect place to ascend and feat your eyes on the most spectacular views and the most poignant of sunrises and sunsets.
Article by Rayman Gill