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Remote Lands: Asia’s Top 10 Hot and Cold Winter Holiday Destinations

Whether you’re celebrating Christmas or Chanukah or looking for ice diving or ultra-lux resorts, Remote Lands’ experts have suggestions for every persuasion.

Tyler Roney

September 4, 2017

China, Japan, Russia, Kazakhstan
India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka
Thailand, Philippines

It may be too early to start decking the halls, but it’s the right time to start making plans for an Asian getaway this holiday season. The key to the Remote Lands experience is exclusivity, and the key to exclusivity is booking early.

Remote Lands has made its picks for the top tropical and frozen holiday destinations this year – ranging from the show-covered wastes of Russia to luxury resorts in Thailand. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas or Chanukah or looking for ice diving or spas, Remote Lands’ experts have suggestions for every persuasion. So, for the upcoming holiday season, bespoke tour operator Remote Lands has made a little list – and checked it twice.

Asia’s Winter Wonderlands

Ice Castles in Harbin, China

In China’s northern reaches, Harbin carves a dream world out of ice. Held from the end of December to February, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival make the harsh winters of North China into icy magic. More than 10 million people make their way to Harbin for the ice sculptures – 600,000 square meters of wintery wonders. Fed with a stream of cold air flowing in from Siberia, temperatures can drop to -16.8 °C (1.8 °F). Snow sculptures, ice castles, ski resorts, and tiger shows – for a few months a year, Harbin is the very spirit of winter.

Diving and Driving Lake Baikal, Russia

It’s Earth’s deepest lake and has more than 20 percent of the planet’s freshwater. Lake Baikal is big – almost ridiculously big. Found in the heart of Siberia, the ice is more than a meter and a half thick in some places, and travelers can traverse it on foot, in their vehicle, or dig a hole and dive underneath it to catch a glimpse of some of the curious freshwater life, including Baikal seals. The surrounding area is filled with fascinating cultural treats – from the Old Believers and Buryat people to the charming Legend of Baikal hotel. Travelers will certainly want to take advantage of the planes, dog sleds, and vehicles that make this frozen wilderness such an exciting and charming destination.

Kashmir Skiing at Gulmarg, India

ABOVE: The luxury lodges at the Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa in the restive Kashmir region.

Found in the restive region of Kashmir, Gulmarg isn’t your everyday skiing destination. Atop the Pirpanjal range of the Himalayas, in the summer Gulmarg makes for an excellent Himalayan hiking destination, but ski season begins in late December and the hills take on new thrills. Here, in the Kashmir mountains, there is still luxury, namely in the form of the Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa, where guests will find world-class dining, luxurious accommodations, a spa, and an all-round holistic basecamp to prepare for Himalayan adventures, as well as trekking and golf in the summer seasons. This ski haven is certainly a cut above the rest; even the chair lift, the Gulmarg Gondola, is the world’s highest.

Big Almaty Lake, Kazakhstan

For those wishing to completely eschew the tourist throngs, Kazakhstan’s capital of Almaty is just a stone’s throw away from some of the most picturesque areas of natural beauty in Central Asia. As destinations go, Kazakhstan has been upping its game as it pertains to luxury travel, with the Ritz-Carlton Almaty and the InterContinental Almaty to while away the winter hours. In the general vicinity is Big Almaty Lake, located just a short 30-kilometer drive from the city’s center. Travelers can also daytrip from the city to the Shymbulak Ski Resort or any of the remarkable areas to be found within the Ile-Alatau National Park. Beyond that, Kazakhstan is filled with picturesque road trips in every direction.

Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan

ABOVE: An ice sculpture at the annual Sapporo Snow Festival.

The Sapporo Snow Festival – found in Hokkaido’s capital – mixes the wintery, communal feel of a snow festival with the fun of a modern Japanese city. Cars pass by, the streets bustle with travelers from around the globe, and at 8pm the lights go up. The festival includes snow slides and the ever-popular ice sculpture shows. Taking place the first week of February, the Sapporo Snow Festival is the perfect end to an Asian holiday adventure, and one might easily spend a month-long holiday in Hokkaido alone: taking ice-breakers cruise from Shiretoko or relaxing in the onsens of Hokkaido’s famous ryokans.

Holidays in the Sun

Sailing the Raja Ampat Archipelago, Indonesia

There are few places on earth as unspoiled as Raja Ampat, one of the most pristine beach and diving destinations on the planet. What has kept Raja Ampat pleasantly isolated is the difficulty in getting there, but that isn’t a problem aboard a private yacht or schooner. Coral reefs, untouched islands, untamed jungles, and an ocean bursting with wildlife – Raja Ampat is an ideal destination in mid-December for ocean lovers; the clarity in Cenderawasih Bay should be great for swimming with whale sharks. On board, guests can expect resort-quality service, including fine dining, sports equipment, and luxury rooms. From the deck of an ultra-luxe sailing experience, the archipelago’s more than 1,500 islands are a short, pleasant journey through clear blue seas.

Eco-friendly Con Dao, Vietnam

ABOVE: Ocean view from a pool villa at the Six Senses Con Dao, an eco-friendly luxury resort.

Fishing, rain forest treks, history, and the best snorkeling in Vietnam, Con Dao is an ideal Southeast Asian getaway. Found far from the mainland, Con Dao sits in the South China Sea and is a rarity among Vietnamese islands: quiet, natural, and conservation conscious. It’s a world away from the high-rise beach tourism found further north. Indeed, there is no where quite like the Six Senses Con Dao – a brand known for its high-end, sustainable luxury – to experience the idyllic island life this Vietnamese paradise. Not only do they provide the finest dining on the island, but a stay at a Six Senses is always a guilt-free holiday built on local cooperation and environmental protection.

Family Safari at Yala, Sri Lanka

The heartland of Sri Lanka is an exciting wildlife Safari, and there is nowhere quite like Yala National Park for animal lovers. The glamping experience at Leopard Trails in Yala is like nothing else found in Asia: elephants, crocodiles, aquatic birds, and the highest density of leopards anywhere on earth. For a family wanting to rent a car and hit the road, the coasts are a haven of resorts meant for the whole tribe – from Negombo Jetwing Beach Resort all the way to the whales of Trincomalee. December, by the way, is peak whale watching season in Sri Lanka, perhaps the best possible chance to catch a glimpse of sperm whales in their natural habitat.

Romance on Koh Kood, Thailand

ABOVE: The Treepod dining experience at Soneva Kiri on Thailand’s Koh Kood.

An hour’s flight from Bangkok and just off the coasts of Thailand and Cambodia, barefoot luxury awaits in Koh Kood – tucked away in the Gulf of Thailand. From the island hopping to the Klong Chao waterfall, the entirety Koh Kood is a romantic paradise. The most intimate place from which one might discover the island is from the decadent pleasures of Soneva Kiri. An intimate cinema over a lagoon, a private beach, and an observatory for stargazing – nowhere quite does romance like Soneva Kiri. Perhaps the most fascinating experience is the Treepod Dining; guests are pulled more than a dozen feet into the jungle canopy over the ocean for a decadent menu brought to diners by zip-lining waiters.

Palawan Picks, Philippines

ABOVE: Apulit Island on the eastern side of Palawan, featuring one of the finest of the El Nido Resort brand.

Palawan is fast becoming the Philippines’ premier travel destination. The thin, eponymous island branches out into private getaways galore, and on them are some of the finest resorts in Southeast Asia. El Nido is a common tourist stop on Palawan, but it’s recommended to run straight for one of the El Nido Resorts locations, including Miniloc, Pangulasian, and Lagen island resorts.  On the eastern side of the island is the El Nido Apulit Resort, and travelers are spoiled for choice when it comes to activities in the area. Divers will want to head a little further north to Coron for wreck diving – and a little pampering at Two Seasons Coron Island Resort. Those wanting to get really far from the hurly-burly will be looking for Amanpulo – an Aman destination on a private island.