Making the most of an Asian winter

Harbin, China

Eight great places to enjoy the cold

While westerners flock to Asia in the winter for sun, sea and sand, Thais prefer to think about chilly weather, pristine white snow and the chance to wear the cold weather gear that spends most of the year in their wardrobes. For many years they headed to Europe or the US in search of their dream weather. Now, though, thanks to the advent of low cost airlines and the opening up of the world, they need travel no longer than a few hours to literally chill.

We take a look at the best winter destinations.

Lijiang, Chiana
ULAANBATOR, MONGOLIA
Billed as the coldest capital in the world, the windswept capital of Mongolia, which is surrounded by the steppes, ensures a chilly winter treat. With an average temperature of -1 degree Celsius, visitors can warm up in a traditional yurt or a modern shopping mall. Prosperity has come to gas-rich Ulaanbator in recent years and the city’s Sukhbaatar Square is now home to such luxury brands as Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Hugo Boss. Thirteen kilometres from Ulaanbator is the Sky Resort, which typically offers skiing from November to March or April.

HOW TO GET THERE: Fly to Beijing and then take the Trans-Mongolian train to Mongolia’s capital.

LIJIANG, YUNNAN, CHINA

Tucked away in Northern Yunnan province, Li Jiang means “beautiful river” in Chinese, and you’ll have no trouble seeing why. The 800-year-old town is built where the Jade River splits into three and streams coming off the main waterway flow along the streets of the old town. An attractive tourist destination for 800 years, Lijang once drew the caravans of ancient traders as they travelled along the Tea Horse Road – an ancient network of mule caravan paths winding through the mountains of Yunnan and Tibetan Plateau. Today the Unesco World Heritage Site draws visitors for its charming historic townscape. The city is famous for Naxi traditional houses and it’s easy to spend a week getting lost in the narrow pathways, people watching, shopping and drinking and eating.

HOW TO GET THERE: Fly to Kunming, Yunnan’s capital and catch a connecting flight to Lijiang. Flight time is just one hour. Thai Airways and Thai AirAsia operate flights between Bangkok and Kunming.

Sapporo, Japan
NISEKO, JAPAN

Niseko is a resort town in Hokkaido, northern Japan. Located in a massive valley, Niseko sits between Mount Yotei-zan to the east and Niseko Annupuri to the west. When the snow is falling (and it does a lot), sounds are dampened, making even a walk out to the car seem like a magic sleigh ride. Skiing at Niseko, with its jaw-dropping views of mountains and its plethora of onsen, is unequalled. Like it’s northern cousin Furano, Niseko enjoys perfect powder snow. If you’re one of the first on the slopes, you’ll feel like you’ve left Earth as you float downhill. For the best winter playground, check into Niseko Village (www.Niseko-Village.com/en). This ski in-and-ski out resort has around 60 beginner, intermediate and advanced runs with a 2m to 3m snow base.

HOW TO GET THERE: Thai Airways operates direct flights between Bangkok and Sapporo (Hokkaido’s capital). Niseko is about three hours on the bus from the airport.

GANGWON, SOUTH KOREA

Three-quarters of South Korea is covered by mountains so it’s no wonder that thousands of tourists fly in every winter to hit the slopes. Many Thai snow-virgins fly to Seoul then travel by bus to Gangwon before taking their first run on the pistes and heading straight into the bushes. For an affordable white holiday, Gangwon Province is the place to go. From November to March, the Gangwon-do mountains transform into a skiing paradise that is sure to excite the most rabid aficionado. Whether you’re in search of an adrenaline-fuelled adventure, the perfect family chalet, or tips on the best way to jump off a cliff, there’s something new for you in here. Check out the Yongpyong Resort (www.Yongpyong.co.kr) for 28 slopes spread across beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert levels or head to Vivaldi Park, an hour’s drive from Seoul, to rub shoulders with the younger crowd. Visit http://www.Daemyungresort. com.

HOW TO GET THERE: Fly to Seoul.

OTARU, JAPAN

Otaru, a little resort town just a short train ride from Sapporo, is known for the freshest sushi in Hokkaido. A romantic port steeped in a rich history that dates back to its glory days as a major herring centre, it’s a great place to stroll along snowy paths by Otaru canal before defrosting at the Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery and Otaru Music Box Museum.

HOW TO GET THERE: Fly to Sapporo.

Niseko, Japan
LEH, INDIA

Perched at a dizzying altitude of more than 3,500 metres , the remote paradise of Ladakh was the capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, now Leh district in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. In summer Leh is filled with backpackers, souvenir shops, pizza restaurants and guesthouses. In winter, it’s the epitome of solitude and silence as snow blocks the narrow zigzag dirt roads and cuts the small town off from the rest of the world. Despite the harsh conditions, the local market is fully operational and bustling with activity. If you’re looking for a rustic experience, stay with a local family as a paying guest.

HOW TO GET THERE: Air India, Jet Airways and GoAir have daily flights between Delhi and Leh.

HARBIN, CHINA

Tucked away in China’s north, Harbin means “a place for drying fishing net” in Manchu, but has evolved into a world-class winter destination. From November to January, Harbin draws tourists for its International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. The festival features a grand opening ceremony, firework display and theatrical performances. Visitors can also enjoy snow activities in Sun Island, Ice and Snow Amusement World, and Zhaolin Park. It’s also the best place in the world to enjoy a hot pot.

HOW TO GET THERE: Fly to Beijing, and then take a domestic flight or train to Harbin.

SAPPORO, JAPAN

The capital of Hokkaido Prefecture, Sapporo offers endless treats from three-star Michelin French restaurants to Japan’s haute kaiseki cusine. The best place to be in Sapporo is, of course, in winter when the city is hosting the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. The upcoming festival runs from February 5 to 11 and will see the streets around the Susukino neighbourhood and Odori Park filled with snow sculptures and ice carvings. Street vendors ply their trade offering delicious Hokkaido seafood delicacies like snow crab. End the day with a visit to Sapporo Beer Museum. Kanpei!

Leh, India
Source: The Nation
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