If you’ve been daydreaming a lot of late along the lines of “All I want for Christmas is…”, then consider one of these five locations in your ultimate Christmas-destination bucket list.
While not all Asian countries celebrate Christmas in the western tradition, there are still a number of places you could consider for a snowy and/or festive holiday even if they might be without the trimmings of Saint Nick or turkey and puddings.
Even though December 25th is just a week away, you don’t necessarily have to get to these spots just for that date. Let’s take a look:
1. Manali, India
At 1,950 m in altitude and with winter averages between −7 °C and 10 °C, Manali is truly one of India’s best Christmas locations and almost guaranteed to be covered in snow at some point during the winter. Manali is something of a hillside adventure sports destination and offers skiing, hiking, mountaineering, paragliding, rafting, trekking, kayaking and mountain biking for the intrepid. However come winter and yak skiing is what you really want to try. In yak skiing you wait at the bottom of a slope, connected by a rope and pulley to a yak at the top of the hill. The idea is for the skier to shake and release a bucket of pony nuts to attract the yak. The said beast will then hurtle downhill to get to the nuts while pulling you upwards and out of harms way. Sound good? Well you certainly wouldn’t want to muck up the timing. If that sounds just a little too intrepid you can simply enjoy Manali’s Tibetan Buddhist elements, hot springs and fine views instead.
Children slide on snow after fresh snowfall in Solang Nallah, in the outskirts of Manali. Pic: AP.
2. Thimpu, Bhutan
When it comes to wonderlands, Bhutan certainly takes the cake. The capital Thimpu is the heart and soul of the nation and while it lies between 2,248 metres and 2,648 metres it actually enjoys a reasonably temperate winter of 5–15 °. Still it’s cool enough to enjoy the rich butter tea proferred in this region and a good chance to soak up the arts and culture of indoor galleries, shops and restaurants in the town centre. However the high altitude of the 7,000 metres high hills surrounding makes for some beautiful winter wonderlands and you can trek up to surrounding monasteries, visit snowfields or simply enjoy the views.
Snowy vistas near Paro airport, Bhutan, (c) Joanne Lane, www.vistedplanet.com
3. Sydney, Australia
If you fancy the heat instead of the cold head, downunder for a Christmas with a difference. Bondi Beach on December 25th is where the action all happens in Sydney. Here you might find an array of Santa’s in board shorts, on surf boards or simply chilling out on the golden sands. The great thing about Bondi is the communal and international atmosphere as people from all around the world come to celebrate the day together. Bring your own Santa hat and join the fun.
French tourists on Sydney’s Bondi Beach. Pic: AP.
4. Harbin, China
Harbin is famous for its annual ice festival and there’s good reason for this – the average temperature in winter is -16.8 degrees! And it has been known to drop to almost 40 below. That means all those ice sculptures won’t melt in a hurry. While the festival gets underway on January 5 every year, weather permitting the exhibits are often open much earlier and later. The ice sculptures are created by carving blocks from the frozen Songhua River, which are designed into anything as intricate as palaces, animals, ice slides, lanterns or mythical creatures. Lasers and multicoloured lights make them come alive. Festivities also include ice-lantern exhibitions, alpine skiing at the Yabuli resort and winter-swimming in the Songhua River if you’re game!
Visitors pose near giant sculptures in Harbin. Pic: AP.
There are more fantastic images from the 2010 festivities to get you in the mood here: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/01/harbin_ice_and_snow_sculpture.html
Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan
The snow statues and ice scultpures in Japan are just as famous as the Chinese varieties. And if you can’t take your Christmas holidays until February, the timing of this event may suit you perfectly. In 2011 it will be held from February 7-13 in Odori Park, Susukino and Tusodome in Sapporo. Apart from the impressive 400-some statues, there’s plenty of good regional foods to enjoy, musical performances, ice slides and snow mazes. Or if you just want a skiing holiday, then look no further than Japan’s ski fields such as Hakuba, Nagano and Hokkaido.
Kids enjoy a slide made of ice at a Sapporo park. Pic: AP.