For a festive season unlike any other you’ve had, you can’t beat a Christmas holidays in Asia. With ‘winter’ bringing the cool, sunny days on the beaches and powdery snow up north of the continent, there are limitless options for an unforgettable holiday.
In fact, there are so many great places to see in Asia at Christmas time, we’ve made a list of all our picks, based on our years of travel experience in the region.
What countries in Asia celebrate Christmas?
Firstly, you’re probably wondering: what countries in Asia celebrate Christmas? You’ll find some level of seasonal cheer in every Asian country, though in most it is purely a commercial affair – the general rule is, the more Christians a country has, the bigger the Christmas will be (Google can help you with that).
At the top of the list is The Philippines, where more than 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and celebrations officially begin on December 16, continuing with much verve until the final mass on Christmas Day. It’s more intensely Christmassy than you’ll probably experience anywhere else outside the Vatican.
In South Korea, you’ll also get to see more of the spiritual side of Christmas, with services and religious mass, while down in Singapore the balance between consumerism and Christian values tips more towards the former. Hong Kong is also a keen celebrator of Christmas, with a big expat population and a healthy attitude toward revelry. But this list isn’t about traditional festivities; it’s about a Christmas with a difference.
Best Places to Celebrate Christmas in Asia
The following 20 destinations are just a taste of what you can enjoy – as a family, couple or group of friends – when you go off the festive radar for your Christmas holidays in Asia.
1. Koh Kood, Thailand
Who doesn’t love the idea of escaping to an idyllic tropical island? Especially if that island is touted by visitors and local residents alike as having Thailand’s best beaches? Koh Kood is one such island and one of the best places to spend christmas in Asia. It’s surrounded by blissfully beautiful coastline, and with far fewer tourists than seems right for somewhere so perfect. Koh Kood has a narrow high season, with a long rainy season and limited access, but December brings clear blue skies and dry weather. The ideal setting for fun in the sun.
2. Angkor’s ancient sites
Spend your Christmas holidays in Asia exploring one of the world’s most incredible ancient sites. Angkor Wat in Cambodia is a must-see for any traveler, and what better time to visit than when the temperatures cool and the rains ease? For a truly special experience, spend time exploring the entire Angkor site – ideally with a local guide – and make time to catch a bit of local contemporary culture, such as the incredible Phare Circus Troupe.
3. The Mekong Delta
For a cruisy Christmas vacation, why not head to one of Asia’s most famous waterways? The mighty Mekong River holds endless discoveries, with a new experience around every bend. Floating markets, colonial towns, war relics and more, with ever-changing countryside as you journey further south.
For that unforgettable insider activity during your Christmas holidays in Asia, a local guide can organize a family homestay. Fish, cook, or go row-boating with your hosts and relax into the pace of rural life, before heading back home to the rush of the new year.
4.The Mekong Delta
If you’re inspired by the spirit of giving at Christmas, a trip to Luang Prabang in Laos will let you indulge your generosity. Plan an itinerary that takes in the ancient city’s historic sights, but also gives you a chance to support some charitable local works.
Visit a non-profit museum, such as the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center, then try your hand at silk weaving at the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Center. To round out the perfect Christmas holidays in Asia, take in a cultural performance at the Royal Ballet Theater, and maybe even team up with some locals in a game of the kingdom’s favorite sport: petanque.
5. Christmas holidays in Asia across Indochina
Why see only one country when you can see three? This Christmas, the intrigue of Indochina awaits the intrepid explorer. Ancient sites in three cities – Luang Prabang, Siem Reap and Hanoi, majestic mountains, hidden caves, vast lakes that house whole overwater communities.
Float downriver from Laos through Cambodia to Vietnam, stopping to wander the temples of Angkor, the caves of Pak Ou, the streets of Hanoi Old Town. End your epic journey with an overnight cruise on stunning Halong Bay, where legend says the spines of giant dragons form karst mountains in the sea.
6. Exploring Okinawa
Here’s an island escape you probably hadn’t thought of: Okinawa in southern Japan. The winter months are milder here than in the north of the country, and just the right temperature for exploring the island’s terrain. Aside from dreamy beaches and kaleidoscopic coral reefs (where you can dive with manta rays), Okinawa’s got plenty to discover when it comes to culture. With its own distinct Ryukyu heritage, the archipelago is home to architecture, cuisine and customs distinct from the rest of Japan. It’s also got lots of tiny islands to explore and sparkling-blue coastline so you can work on your tan.
7. Cambodia’s culinary coastline
Forget the ham and turkey this Christmas – if you’re on a foodie tour of Cambodia you’ll be feasting on local seafood (the healthier option, anyway). Idyllic beaches, deserted islands, sleepy coastal villages and crumbling colonial architecture – the Cambodian coastline serves up one beautiful scene after another… and one amazing meal after the next. Seafood is one highlight of your travels here, while the distinctive Kampot pepper brings fresh zing to Kep’s famous crab.
The perfect Christmas holidays in Asia, this laidback holiday gives you plenty to savor against the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Thailand.
8. Bhutan’s holy grounds
Christmas has deep spiritual meaning for many, and if a holiday with plenty of reverence and reflectiveness is what you’re after, Bhutan can give you just that. Bhutan is an innately spiritual country – you can trace its Buddhist roots through the temple-dotted terrain, prayer flags fluttering between trees and stupas. To really delve into the kingdom’s religious history and culture, travel with a guide to monasteries and learn the meaning behind their rituals, see pilgrimage sites and even make your own mandala.
9. On the pistes of northern Japan
If it’s a white Christmas you’re yearning for, the snowy slopes of northern Japan can give you the winter magic you crave. The nation’s pristine alps are impossibly scenic and easily accessible via bullet train from Tokyo, making it the best place to spend Christmas in Asia in you’re a die-hard snow bunny. Nagano Prefecture is home to a number of family-friendly ski resorts that have runs for all levels and plenty of things to see and do when you’re taking a break from the slopes.
10. In Borneo’s jungles
Fancy monkeying around this Christmas holidays in Asia? A family visit to the jungles of Borneo will have to spotting macaques, proboscis monkeys and their primate friends – orangutans! When you’re not trekking through lush national parkland or drifting down a rushing jungle river, you can visit the intriguing ‘cat city’ of Kuching, where (much) larger-than-life cat statues watch over the streets and a cat museum raises more questions than it answers.
11. Shopping in Hong Kong for an exciting Christmas holidays in Asia
Bored by the beach? Don’t care for the snow? Just want to spend Christmas in one of the world’s greatest cities? Perhaps a multi-city trip is more your thing. Why not start in Beijing, to see the sights and get your fill of culture and history before zipping over to Hong Kong for a spot of shopping and fine dining?
Get inspired by the art of Ai Weiwei in Beijing’s art district before hitting up the boutique of central in Hong Kong. Spend some time in Mongkok, indulging in some delicious street food. Before you leave, make the pilgrimage to Po Ling Monastery up the Wisdom Path, to see one of Hong Kong’s most iconic sites – the Tian Tan Buddha.
12. Cruising through Myanmar
It’s the cool, dry season – the perfect weather for cruising through Myanmar! Begin in the former capital of Yangon, before setting sail along the Irrawaddy River on a luxurious traditional-style riverboat. Sink into the pace of life on the river, as you explore the ancient capitals of Ava, Sagaing and Amarapura. Stop in the city of Mandalay, then head to the remarkable Inle Lake to explore the villages that live over the water. Make sure to visit Sagar to marvel at the stupas sunken into the shallows of the lake.
13. China done right
You really need time to ‘do’ China properly, and the extended Christmas break gives you extra days to spend on a comprehensive cross-country trip. With two-and-a-half weeks in China, you can fit in quite a few iconic sights (provided you can plan an itinerary like a local.)
Begin the most epic Christmas holidays in Asia in Beijing and cross off some major landmarks – the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven – before taking in the ancient sites of Datong, Ping Yao and Xian, site of the Terracotta Warriors. Guilin is also a must-see, with its breathtaking karst mountains and shimmering lakes. Then there’s Hangzhou, Marco Polo’s ‘heaven on Earth,’ with its vast West Lake, a UNESCO site. And who could forget Shanghai? A must with its glitzy skyscrapers, luxury boutiques and gorgeous French Concession.
14. Bali family adventure
If you like blue skies and warm days, December is the best time to visit Bali. It’s also the best (and only) time to celebrate Christmas holidays in Asia with your family on the adventure of a lifetime. The perfect family holiday in Bali might include some colorful culture, such as catching a traditional kecak dance or seeing some famous and ancient Hindu temples.
It might also incorporate some fun family activities, like learning to surf or zip-lining through the trees. It should definitely have some island time with swimming, snorkeling and a beach barbecue. There’s also volcanic terrain, rainforest jungles, black beaches and more in Bali – plenty to keep the kids on their toes (and off your back).
15. A Myanmar tropical getaway
If Myanmar’s sleepy coastline is more your idea of the perfect Christmas holidays in Asia, a holiday to Ngwe Saung should be on list for Santa. As with any idyllic beach, there are no crowds to battle for a patch of sand, and nothing much to do besides relax, sun bathe and indulge in your favorite ‘summer’ holiday read.
16. Beautiful Yunnan by train
For those who can’t resist the romance of the rails, a train trip across Yunnan province is the perfect way to spend Christmas holiday in Asia. Rolling across rugged countryside, you cut a path through incredible scenery, past towering mountain ranges, bright flower fields and intriguing urban terrain.
Stop and catch a glimpse of the lives of some of China’s myriad minorities, ride a trusty steed along the Lijiang Horse Tea Trail, visit charming Dali Old Town and see plains of wild yak (even better than reindeer).
17. Something truly wild
Why not challenge yourself to something totally different from what you’d usually find yourself doing at Christmas? No cold, snowy days (or street cricket and beach barbie, if you’re Aussie), just a wild entanglement of jungles in the backcountry of Laos. Get lost – figuratively – and find yourself in nature, get right off the beaten path, take a moonlit night safari, see caves and a ‘hidden’ city, then relax in Luang Prabang.
18. Traversing Vietnam
Vietnam is a long, thin country where the north and the south are home to distinct landscapes, food, customs and even people. We would never ask you to choose just one part – if you’re traveling at Christmas you probably have plenty of time to see the whole country on an epic multi-region tour. Start in Saigon, the most accessible city, before flying north to the hill station of Dalat, then east to the idyllic coastline of Nha Trang for some swimming and snorkeling.
Head to the historic Hoi An and pretty Hue, before finding history and culture in the capital Hanoi. Don’t forget the lush green rice fields of Sa Pa or the dramatic limestone karsts of Halong Bay. Could you even imagine a more perfect place to spend Christmas holidays in Asia?
19. Tokyo – arigatoo!
Christmas is a time for giving, and a family trip across Japan is pretty much the best present ever, no matter what your age. The weather’s cool and dry in Tokyo – around 17 degrees Celsius – and perfect for long days exploring the city on foot.
There are fewer tourist crowds at Christmas, and because there are no national holidays for Yuletide, you get an authentic glimpse of this futuristic city. Throw in some history, culture and insider experiences (like manga-drawing or chopstick-gilding) and you’ve got a vacation you’ll want to go on every Christmas.
20. Chiang Mai – festive families in the forest
If a little adventure is on your Christmas list, a family trip in the north of Thailand is Santa’s gift to you. Hill tribes, hot springs, ziplining and mountain hiking are just some of the activities this city has to offer, and at the end of December the temperature is very nearly chilly – just right for the great outdoors.
For an unbeatable insider experience in Chiang Mai, get a local guide to organize a village visit and spend time with a local family – going to the market for produce, coming ‘home’ to prepare the family meal, and wandering around town to see how local cottage crafts are still made every day. And, for the traveler who has everything, Chiang Mai has the ultimate Christmas gift: tending to and bathing an elephant at a local elephant farm.
Inspired to travel yet? This is just a sample of what you could get up to this Christmas break. For more ideas, see our full list of tours, or contact one of our Travel Specialists to tailor-make a tour just for you.