Winter has become a favorite time to squeeze in an escape from the routine. The holidays give us extra time for vacation and except for the days immediately around Christmas, winter can be a cheaper time to travel. Like snowbirds, many of us head south in pursuit of the sun, but not everyone is looking to escape the cold. For travelers who relish all that our cold months have to offer, an unforgettable winter vacation in Asia is certainly something to consider. The continent offers magnificent views and pulsating, culturally rich and affordable destinations that are sure to lift you out of your winter routine. Here are a few examples.
Harbin has earned the name “Ice City” for good reason. It hosts one of the top four ice and snow festivals in the world: the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. The Festival has taken place every January since 1963, with a short interruption during the Cultural Revolution. It began as a local event but gradually gained popularity around the world due to its unique beauty. The 2018 Festival officially opens on January 5 and will run until the end of February, but many of the exhibits are built before and remain standing after. During the festival, the entire city turns into a magical icy funfair, with an international ice sculpture contest, an ice lantern show, sparkling wedding ceremonies, and just about every winter sports activity you can dream of.
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The snow-covered hillside of Shirakawa-go looks like something out of a winter fairy tale. Nestled in the Chubu region of Japan and surrounded by the high mountains of central Japan, Shirakawa-go was isolated from the world for a very long time. Its 250-year old gassho-zukuri farmhouses are a rarity in the world today, prompting a historic designation by UNESCO. You can stay in one of these houses and watch the snow pile up on the hills around you.
Tibet is off the beaten track for most travelers, regardless of the time of year. It’s a complicated destination that requires some permits and travel arrangements. It’s also very cold. Because of its elevation winter, there is always serious. But, the scenery is overwhelming and it may be one of the most affordable destinations in Asia. You can easily sweep up some great savings on airline tickets, hotel rooms, and entertainment. If you go there, don’t forget to visit the ancient Potala Palace – the highest palace in the world.
Gokyo Ri, Nepal
If your idea of a winter getaway is trekking through a frozen landscape, you might want to head to Nepal. It may not be the right time of year to attempt an ascent to the summit, but you could climb to the base camp of Mt. Everest. This should be enough to get your heart racing. The surrounding vistas are breathtaking, truly a unique vacation experience. You can also link up with the local Sherpas, who are expert mountaineers and know the area like the back of their hand. There are also many Sherpa monasteries and museums to visit if you wish to learn about their special culture and history.
And Finally, a Couple of Ski Resorts
The Niseko Resort in Japan has the distinction of being one of the snowiest resorts in the world. The cold winds of neighboring Siberia feed Niseko with chest-deep powder snow, enough to attract even Colorado ski fans. Niseko is actually four interconnected ski resorts, each with its own base area, accommodation, spas, and off-the-slope activities such as snowmobiling.
South Korea’s reputation as a ski destination is soon to receive a big boost, as it will be hosting the Winter Olympics in February. In advance of this international sports event, the country has been busy building and upgrading ski resorts and infrastructure. During the Olympics, it will be more expensive, and probably difficult to find a place to stay too. But outside of this window, you can find some great ski runs for affordable prices.
Whether you choose to travel or stay close to home this winter, this is a great opportunity to wish you a very warm and happy New Year.