Montenegro Why Catch some sightseeing with your skiing, and avoid the herd. When Between November and February. Sick of traffic-jammed ski resorts? Try planting your poles in Montenegro. After gaining independence from Serbia just two years ago, the country of 700,000 is only recently beginning to find its feet back on the tourist circuit. This despite the tiny country’s possession of some impressive European records: deepest canyon, southernmost fjord, largest bird reserve and last virgin forest. Northern Montenegro contains some of the country’s most breathtaking natural landscapes, as well as its most famous ski resort in Zabljak, a town of some 2,000 perched on the mountain Durmitor (highest point: 2,575m). Zabljak provides cable cars, chair lifts and ample services for both skiers and snowboarders. Sights to behold on the slopes of Durmitor include any of its eighteen glaciers – “Crno jezero” being the finest and the closest to Zabljak – and the Tara Canyon, that deepest one in Europe thing, and after the Grand Canyon, the second deepest in the world. There’s also the Unesco World Heritage national park with the Ledina Pecina ice cave. At night, you can retire to the roaring fire and free-flowing varnac at Javorca Restaurant, where every meal starts with homemade bread, fresh cream cheese and local honey. Accommodation is cheap at Zabljak’s private guesthouses (“sobe”). And while bookings do get tight on New Year’s Eve, any other night the town is known to be a population of welcoming landladies simply waiting for visitors to knock at the door (just look for the “sobe” sign). How to get there The most pleasant way to get into Montenegro is to fly on British Airways to Dubrovnik, Croatia ($6,440) then hire a car. The drive is about an hour (have your passport ready for border checks). Rental cars: www.dubrovnik.affordablecarrental-europe.com Luang Prabang, Laos Why This gorgeous, romantic little town is the ultimate spot long, lazy week off. When Laos never gets too unpleasant, but the cool, dry November to February months are the best time to visit, as it’s also when national and regional festivals start cropping up. The late folk singer Dave Van Ronk named an anti-war song after this sleepy colonial town – possibly because Laos holds the dubious honor of being the world’s most bombed country. Tiny Luang Prabang is the one-time royal capital and home to about 22,000. As a World Heritage site, development has been limited and the area retains its old charm. You can reach just about anywhere by foot or bicycle, and it’s definitely the sort of place where you’ll have no need for a watch. And the food is incredible – once under French colonial rule, Luang Prabang is home to excellent French restaurants, Laotian ones and some fine-dining fusion of the two, as well as incredibly varied, delicious street market fare. In fact, as far as Southeast Asia goes, Laos is up there with Vietnam in terms of fine cuisine. Don’t miss the nightly markets when food, as well as handicrafts and rice paper paintings go for as little US$2. Accommodation runs the gamut from backpacker hostels to elegant, temple-style lodgings with a touch of European flair. How to get there Vietnam Airlines flies into Luang Prabang for $3,100. Accommodation ranges from US$10 a night to US$150, depending how fancy you want to go. Iceland Why To confront nature at its most raw, extreme and beautiful. When Go in the coldest, darkest months of December to February, which is when the Northern Lights fully reveal themselves. According to this year’s just released UN index on human development, Iceland is now the world’s most desirable place to live. Granted, only about 300,000 people are actually mad enough to live there, but they’re starting to see rapidly growing swarms of visitors each year. Most come to witness some of the world’s most sublime natural spectacles: glaciers, geysers, mountains, volcanoes, lava deserts, and the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis, if you must). Not only is the last of these a widely declared must-see at least once in your life, but to lay eyes on it you’ve no choice but to brave the raw temperatures and minimal daylight of an Icelandic winter. The dainty little capital of Reykjavik is where the majority of the country’s population resides, along with a number of rich museums and culture houses showing off the country’s vast cultural history, stretching back to the earliest Viking sagas and ancient folklore. Just a few miles south of Reykjavik is the country’s most famous natural site, the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa located in the middle of a lava field, conveniently located next to Keflavik International Airport. Meanwhile, 20 to 30 miles east of the capital and accessible by bus or mini-plane is Pingvellir National Park, where water-cut lava fields have become home to Iceland’s parliament (the longest-running in the world, since 930 AD). Yet further east are the massive Gullfoss waterfalls and Geysir (origin of the word “geyser.”) How to get there KLM has flights to Reykjavik from $8,500, Scandinavian Airlines from $9,300. Hotel accommodation ranges from $344-$4,000 per night. Nairobi, Kenya Why Kenya’s cosmopolitan capital is also known as the world’s safari capital. When OK, so it’s not really a winter destination. The area is best during dry season - July to February. Classic safari season is from July to September. Everyone goes to Africa for the lions, and if you’re going to safari, you may as well catch the biggest one of all – the annual migration in the Masai Mara National Reserve, 224 km from Nairobi. It’s a pretty gruesome but incredible sight – herds and herds of wildebeest and zebra stampede to cross the Mara river, and many of them don’t make it, their bodies trampled and bloodied from the animals behind. Meanwhile, lions and hyenas track the herbivores the whole way, and whether you catch the actual migration or not, the stench of decaying bodies has a life of its own. Within the city proper, catch a game at one of the city’s many stadiums – Nairobi is the sporting center of East Africa and popular sports include rugby and soccer. It also boasts a great music scene, with Kenyan hip-hop and benga jazz-fusion being the most popular. The place is also a hub for soukous, a highly danceable African rumba. And if you can’t stomach the idea of an four-hour ride to Masai Mara, the Nairobi National Park is just 15 minutes from the city center and home to lions, giraffes, and over 400 species of bird, more than the entire British Isles. How to get there Kenya Airways flies direct to Nairobi ($5,210). Once there, any number of safari touts can help book you a tour to Masai Mara. Alternatively, get in touch with Asia’s only African safari company, Asia to Africa, www.atoasafaris.com . Hotel accomodation starts at around $1,000. Preah Vihear, Cambodia Why The province is home to Prasat Preah Vihear, a ninth-century Khmer temple and fortress that’s older than Angkor Wat. When November to January, the cool dry season when the countryside is greenest. The temple predates Angkor by about a hundred years and is perched atop a 525-meter-high cliff. The first leg of the journey is a 162-step climb while the temple itself is consists of five beautiful old pavilions, decorated with nagas, Cambodian flags and the odd rusting artillery gun. The Khmer Rouge settled here in 1993, and it was only in 2003 when this lesser-known temple was reopened and access built. Further up is the main sanctuary, the centerpiece of the site and currently home to a small Buddhist temple. Just outside is the Pei Ta Da Cliff, a 500-meter drop and an incredible panorama of the Cambodia jungles. There’s not much of a tourist trade here yet, but a World Heritage Site nomination is pending, so expect the requisite architecture to pop up within the next few years. For now, there are simply some very, very basic guesthouses at the foot of the cliff. However, the site is also accessible from Thailand and is only a few hours away from sizeable Thai towns. How to get there The easiest way is to fly to Siem Reap (Vietnam Airlines, from $2,400) and hire a car or join a coach party for the 200km drive via Anlong Veng. Nepal Why You don’t need to be a hippie backpacker to crave a little dreamy mysticism once in a while. When November to February is dry season, which means clean air (a wonder in and of itself for Hong Kongers these days) and more amiable weather than the stifling heat and monsoon rains during other stretches of the year. The best reason to visit Kathmandu in the cooler months is to truly appreciate the warmth of the city’s thick aromas, incenses and spices. Visit temples such as the famous Pashupanitath to tickle the senses during the day, and ensconce yourself in Thamel’s cozy, feverish cafes and restaurants in the evenings. Local cuisine works its magic best this time of year, whether you’re sipping chia (milky spiced tea), enjoying rich soup and curry dishes with lentil, or munching on momos – traditional Tibetan dumplings stuffed with meat and spices. Naturally, the travel books recommend the more tourist-orientated restaurants such as the legendary Fire & Ice or Caffe Mittra (along Tridevi Marg), but great local food can be found on your own just by wandering into little nooks and crannies just beyond Thamel. If you’re feeling doubly adventurous, winter also allows for good trekking in the lower Himalayas, just a quick flight away. Trails are dry and sturdy (not slushy) this time of year, and clear skies afford the perfect view of snow-capped mountains. Keep an eye out for the occasionally disgruntled Maoist or yak. How to get there Dragonair has flights to Kathmandu from $3,700. Accommodation rates can be as low as $15 a night at lodgings like the famous Star; between $50-450 at mid-range hotels like the Kathmandu Guesthouse; and up to $2,600 at five-star hotels like the Hyatt Regency. Beijing, China Why Avoid the Olympic crowds and check out our dear capital’s art and culture scene. When Now! It’ll be impossible to get a ticket when the Olympics start next summer. If you’re not interested in the sports, it’s worth paying Beijing a visit before the Olympics. The games have been an effective catalyst for development, so much so that the capital is starting to look more and more like a city of the future, with avant-garde architectural jewels sprouting up around town. Start with Olympic Stadium (nicknamed “The Bird’s Nest”) and the futuristic Beijing National Aquatics Centre (or Watercube) at the Olympic Park in Northern Beijing. Then head to the soon-to-be-completed CCTV Headquarters (at the intersection of East 3rd Ring Rd. and Guanghua Lu), which was designed by red-hot architects Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren. Continue your architectural tour to New Poly Plaza (14 Dongzhimen Nandajie, Dongcheng District), where you can experience a mixture of new and old thanks to the historic Nanxincang area just across the street. Nanxincang has been renovated from a 600-year-old government barn, and is now dubbed the new Sanlitun chockfull of hip bars and restaurants. Our favorite is Japanese restaurant Liu Ba Nian (86-10-5169-0120), where old Chinese architecture crosses over with excellent sashimi and teppanyaki. How to get there Book a Cathay Pacific holiday package to Beijing. The three-day package is only $2,699 with return flight by Dragonair and also two-night accommodation at their deluxe garden view room in the brand new Ritz-Carlton (1 Jin Cheng Fang St. East, 86-10-6601-6666). Offers from Dec 14 to Feb 23 next year, 2747-6070, www.cxholidays.com . Grab that sunblock and those fancy shades, as we take a look at some of the best beaches that are really just a (ok maybe two) stone's throw away. OR, check out some of the best places in the world where freezing your butt off is really part of the fun.