10 alternative Asian Christmas holiday spots for Hongkongers
Fancy getting away from the city this festive season? Here are some of the best off-the-beaten-track destinations in the region
Who wants to celebrate Christmas around a plastic tree in an apartment the size of a shoebox, or at a restaurant that will drain your wallet with an overpriced set menu?
Skipping town is the obvious option, especially with dozens of sunny Asian destinations just a couple of hours away. Finding an escape that’s truly off the beaten path isn’t easy in these days of low-cost airlines, however. But we’ve rounded up some of the best up-and-coming holiday spots in the region.
Thailand is an obvious choice for a short holiday, just 2½ hours away, with near-perfect weather and full of distractions, from beaches to boozing. But its many idyllic spots are quickly becoming tourist traps – an exception being Khanom, a southern fishing town on the edge of a pristine 9km-long beach. Spend your days on the sand, or head out on the water for dolphin and turtle spotting (contact Khanom Fishing and Tour, khanomtour.com). It’s perfect for Thailand enthusiasts looking for something a little more chilled out.
Getting there: from Bangkok, it’s a short flight to Surat Thani, before a one-hour taxi to Khanom.
Stay: Aava Resort & Spa (aavaresort.com), a Scandinavian-style hotel with bungalows and international amenities.
Taiwan is a favourite bolt hole among Hongkongers, so expect Taipei to be crammed with holidaymakers seeking a city break. Check out the underrated Hualien instead, an east coast city that could be likened to a compilation of the island’s greatest hits. Ride a bicycle down tree-lined streets to the ancient Shenan Temple and pebbly Qixingtan beach, or head out of town for a hair-raising tour along the Taroko Gorge (contact Hualien Outdoors, hualienoutdoors.org). And don’t forget to fill up on the region’s cuisine, including bianshi (pork-and-shrimp soup dumplings) and muaji (sticky rice cakes), served up at the city’s two night markets.
Getting there: HK Express will start offering direct flights to Hualien from December 6. Otherwise, fly into Taipei, and then hop on a two-hour train to Hualien.
Stay: Hotel Les Champs (leschamps.com.tw), a property that blends French and Asian design, located right next to the downtown night market.
Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia
This island was once a go-to destination for celebrity holidays, with everyone from former British prime minister Tony Blair to late opera star Luciano Pavarotti enjoying its charms. Yet while it’s lost a bit of its luxury glamour, it’s gained entirely new appeal as a wildlife hotspot. It still has fancy resorts and the white-sand Coral Beach, but an eco-tourism approach now allows visitors to explore the island at their leisure. There’s abundant fauna roaming free, including monkeys, hornbills and the endangered pangolin.
Getting there: fly to Kuala Lumpur, grab a bus or train to Lumut and then take a 45-minute ferry ride to Pangkor.
Stay: Tiger Rock (tigerrock.info), a family-owned sustainable property in the jungle with easy access to the island's attractions.
Diving enthusiasts will need a bit of ambition and plenty of cash to head to out to this Micronesian archipelago nation – but those who do are rewarded with one of the most unique destinations in the Pacific. Its paradise islands play host to the impressive Pala-U Waterfall and Jellyfish Lake, but the real reason to visit is the diving: massive vertical walls, lots of second world war wrecks and the famed Rock Islands, whose coral reefs teem with sea life.
Getting there: Palau Pacific Airways charters regular flights from Hong Kong to the country’s hub of Koror.
Stay: Palau Royal Resort (palau-royal-resort.com), a gorgeous, old-world property with a private beach and spa.
Family getaways aren’t easy, especially over the pricey Christmas season – but opting for the Philippines can help ensure your break is cheap and cheerful. You can avoid the tourist hordes at Tagaytay: hike up the Taal volcano, or take the whole clan out for a day of zip-lining and horse-riding at the picnic grove. Drop the kids off at Sky Ranch theme park, and then binge on the country’s Spanish-tinged cuisine at Mahogany Market.
Getting there: fly to Manila, then hire a private car for the two-hour journey to Tagaytay.
Stay: Nurture Wellness Village (nurturewellnessvillage.com), a relaxing escape famed for its spa treatments.
Who doesn’t love Japan? It’s rich in culture, awash with ancient sites, packed with fine eateries – and the devalued yen makes it a more affordable option. Make your way to the Mediterranean-like island of Shodoshima, situated in the Inland Sea. Fans of classic Japan make pilgrimages to its many temples built into mountain caves, while those looking for a slice of Europe wander through Olive Park, a massive grove that makes the country’s finest olive oil. Dine on fresh seafood at its family-owned restaurants (Nonoka is a favourite) and, weather permitting, chill out on the sandy Olive Beach.
Getting there: HK Express have direct flights to Takamatsu, where you can hop on a ferry to Shodoshima.
Stay: Mari (mari.co.jp), an old-world Japanese ryokan inn, with Zen gardens and traditional cuisine.
Puttalam, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s striking environments, plentiful wildlife and friendly people make it well worth exploring.Puttalam offers a mix of the country’s cultures, plus rainforests, reserves and lagoons. See leopards and winged creatures on safari in the jungle-like Wilpattu National Park, take a dip in the Puttalam lagoon, or explore Moorish and Tamil heritage in Chilaw town (contact Wilpattu Safaris, wilpattunationalpark.com).
Getting there: fly to the capital, Colombo, before taking a three-hour train or taxi to Puttalam.
Stay: Serenity Villa (stayserenity.com), a gorgeous four-bedroom boutique property with a massive pool.
Most people know it as the home of the giant dragons, but Komodo is quickly gaining popularity as a superb Indonesian destination for divers. The deep waters are full of turtles, whales and sharks, and you can spend your off-days visiting the neighbouring island of Mawan, with its white beaches, and the famous pink beach on Komodo itself (contact Komodo Tour, komodotour.com).
Getting there: fly to Bali, then take a short flight to Bandara Komodo on nearby Flores, the ideal base from which to explore the island.
Stay: Komodo Resort Diving Club (komodoresort.com), practically your only option if not in Flores, and the ideal spot for divers.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Get deeper into Vietnam’s unique blend of French and Asian influences on the southern island of Phu Quoc, a place simply bursting with traditional Vietnamese character. Beach bums can take it easy on the unspoilt Vung Bau Beach, while nature lovers can trek along mountains and up to the Da Ngon Waterfalls at the rainforest national park.
Getting there: fly to Ho Chi Minh City, before taking one of the many frequent flights to Phu Quoc.
Stay: Cassia Cottage (cassiacottage.com), a colonial-style property right on the beach.
Koh Rong, Cambodia
Of Asia’s many beach destinations, Cambodia is easily the least developed – but that gives places such as Koh Rong an old-world charm lacking in many a neighbouring spot. The bungalows are amenity-free, the parties unrestrained and the prices very cheap. There are 28 beaches to explore, not counting the hundreds across neighbouring islands, but we recommend Koh Toch, a white-sand shore that has easy access to the nearby village.
Getting there: fly to Phnom Penh, hire a car to Sihanoukville, and then hop on a ferry to Koh Rong.
Stay: Bong’s Guesthouse (bongsguesthouse.com), a bit of a backpacker spot, but a great way to embrace the island’s beach-bum vibes.