10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have

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First published 19th December, 2010

It's just a hop, skip and jump till Christmas Day 2010. The tree is set up downstairs (though the kids keep nicking the presents) and friends are scattering across the globe to catch up with friends and family or just to grab some quiet time. Us? We'll be slumming it in Lombok somewhere -- probably in the back seat of the car given we never got around to booking anything -- but that's another story. We've had more than our fair share of beach Christmases but here are a few Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have.


Stuff yourself at the Sukhothai

We were great fans of the Chocolate Buffet (yes, a buffet entirely of chocolate) they once had at the Sukhothai Hotel in Bangkok, but we never got around to trying their offerings with Santa. It's a sumptuous hotel, lacking the shmarm of the more modern, minimalist Metropolitan hotel nearby, but there's just something about the place that we found charming. So what if staying here was always (and remains) well out of our budget: the Christmas brunch is a steal at 1,100B ++ but if you're really after death by food, the Christmas Eve Gala Dinner at the hotel's La Scala (3,500B ++) had me put on a kilo just by reading it.
Ask Santa for 1,100B ++. Be greedy, ask for 4,600B and do both :)

Kep Crab Kep Crab

At the other end of the scale, hit the crab market in Kep on the Cambodian south coast. A bucket of fresh crabs should set you back not much more than a couple of dollars; throw down $10 and you'll get enough beer and extras to keep you going into the afternoon. You could do this at the crab market itself, or rustle up a bunch and get a boat over to nearby Ko Tonsay. Not recommended for first dates. There are lots of great places to stay in Kep.
Ask Santa for $10.


Scoffing crab on Ko Tonsay

Fairy light madness in Singapore

If you thought Thailand was the World Champion in the "waste electricity with needless millions of fairy lights" category, you've obviously never been to Orchard Road in Singapore. The decorative lighting up and down Orchard Road is, quite simply, totally and utterly insane. The department stores (yes there are a few in Singapore) also get in on the deal. We'd guess you could see it from space -- but you'd still need sunglasses.
Ask Santa for: Walk is free but $20 for a dorm bed.

Put the Falang in Tha Falang

Look let's be honest: Everyone seems to be piling into Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng this Christmas, but we couldn't think of many things worse (well, we probably could but ... ). Head in the opposite direction, halfway down the Lao panhandle to Tha Khaek. Grab a room in a good guesthouse, jump in a tuk tuk and head to the market. Pick up some baguettes, a large washing tub plus shard ice, BeerLao and perhaps a nice French white or two, then head off to Tha Falang where you can picnic by the water's edge and float all afternoon.
Ask Santa for $20.


Floating at Tha Falang

Eat Penang

Deservedly, Penang is famous for its food, offering a mouth-watering array of Chinese, Indian and Malay specialities and you could have a week of Sundays and barely touch the surface. (Requiring a banana pancake infusion? Head to Chulia Street). World Heritage Georgetown is a fascinating, fabulous area that thrives on aimless walks, so spend your Christmas morning in Penang at the market then eat your way through the rest of the day. While they're unfortunately out of town for this Xmas, the foodwalks by Robyn Eckhardt and David Hagerman sound great, so perhaps pencil them in for Christmas in Penang in 2012.
Ask Santa for $30.

Beach blast at Phu Quoc

Assuming you were actually able to find a room on Phu Quoc over Christmas, there are no shortage of great beaches to angle for. Our personal preference would be about half way down Long Beach. Sure there's a road just back off the beach, but once you're down on the sand you're pretty much out of eyesight and it's hardly Highway One traffic wise. Pack food and drink (lots of water and sunscreen), books, mats for laying on, and, well, your significant other.
Ask Santa for $20 and a good dose of privacy.


Long Beach on Phu Quoc Island

In Asia, Santa uses hornbills not reindeer

Just in case you didn't know, in Thailand Santa has his sleigh drawn by hornbills rather than reindeer and while we won't bore you with their names, we will tell you that one of the best places to see them is Kaeng Krachan National Park in Southern Thailand. So, head down to Phetburi on the south coast, swing by the Rabieng Guesthouse and enquire after an overnight trip into the park. There's both national park accommodation and camping available and the bird watching is fabulous.
Ask Santa for 2,000B.

Slow days in Sangkhom

Sangkhom is a blip of a Thai town on the southern bank of the Mekong River roughly halfway between Nong Khai and Chiang Khan. It's one of those throwbacks to old-style backpackerdom, with a handful of basic backpacker digs including the very long-running Buoy Guesthouse, about the best of the lot. While there's not much to do except lounge by the river (no problems there!) if you're feeling a bit more energetic do a trip up to the hill top temple behind Sangkhom. The views are terrific and it'd make for a great spot to while away a couple of hours.
Ask Santa for 300B.


Dawn at Sangkhom

Christmas lunch: one carrot juice. Christmas dinner: broth.

You've probably noticed that much of the above is very food focused. Let's face it, Christmas is, for many, an (over)eating affair. But, if you've spent the entire year eating, perhaps it's time to turn the year on it's head and do a seven day colonic fast on Ko Pha Ngan instead. On the upside you'll get to stay on one of Ko Pha Ngan's nicer beaches. On the downside you won't be eating. On the seriously downside there is a fabulous restaurant right next door. On the bottom of the pit downside, you'll be doing colonics twice a day!
Ask Santa for US$400.

Turtle time

Christmas can be a pretty magical time for children so what could be more magical than swimming with turtles at Pulau Menjangan off the far northwest coast of Bali. It's a tremendous spot just an hour by car then boat from the resort area of Permuteran. There's a 40 metre drop-off boasting deep blues and coral ferns like I'd never seen. And kid friendly too. Friends who went they day after us snorkelled with their four-year-old and he got to swim with a turtle that was just passing through. He still talks about it a month later!
Ask Santa for $50.


Pulau Menjangan

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton and he spends most of his time in Bali, Indonesia.


Read 2 comment(s)

  • In Singapore the double-decker sight-seeing buses are doing special tours of the Christmas lights. You can try Duck & Hippo Tours (http://www.ducktours.com.sg/promo_cit.php) or FunVee (http://citytours.sg/christmas-2010/christmas-light-up.html. Rates are around SGD22 for adults and SGD12 for kids.

    Tanglin Mall at the western end of Orchard Road has a Christmas Village set-up and does bubble snow every night. Be prepared to get sticky :)



    Posted by idreamofdurian on 20th December, 2010

  • Hmmmm... Just been thinking about hitting the beach before settling in Ubud for a bit. This one sounds like a goodie...

    Posted by Theodora on 11th January, 2011

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