Asian hotspots keep the shivers away

A cultural break in Hanoi, Vietnam

WINTER holidays often revolve around dusting off your ski boots and dreaming about powdery snow. But what if you are a sun-seeker and prefer to keep warm in the winter months? With Asian increasingly looking to attract tourists from the Middle East, there are some good deals and interesting destinations to investigate. Here’s an insight into what the region has to offer.


Best time to visit: November to March when temperatures are mid to low 20s °C.

When you think of cultural trips the iconic Taj Mahal or Angkor Wat might be top of your mind, but Hanoi often makes it to the top of the list with a fascinating mix of colonial and communist history.

The Hoan Kiem Lake is at the very heart of Vietnam’s history. Hoan Kiem means “Lake of the Returned Sword”, and it is thought that an emperor was given a sword by a turtle in the lake. The emperor used the sword to drive the Chinese out of Vietnam.

Today the lake is a peaceful place to stroll and popular venue for wedding photography. A short walk away is the Old Quarter, a triangle of meandering and weaving streets, named after the products that are sold: it’s the place to buy souvenirs. Spend your time at the Hanoi Opera House, the Hoa Lo Prison or the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to get a real perspective of the city’s diverse history.

Hanoi is also a great base for trips to the Sapa Mountains and Halong Bay, a Unesco World Heritage Site.


Best time to visit: November to March when temperatures are low to mid 30s°C.

The hotel is on a tropical island in the Lamai Bay, in the Gulf of Thailand. This award-winning spa offers Asian-inspired treatments along with and east meet west hydrothermal therapy. Banyan Tree Spa therapists are formally trained at the Banyan Tree Spa Academy in Phuket, Thailand.

Today, Banyan Tree is Asia’s largest spa operator. As the owner of the first luxury oriental spa in Phuket, the brand is now a global provider, offering spa services to 60 spas in more than 20 countries.


Best time to visit: January to May when temperatures are low to mid 30s°C.

One of the Philippines’ best assets is its 7,000 islands, which are surrounded by white sand and turquoise waters. Tourism has risen above the devastation caused by recent typhoons and the beaches are open for business.

White Beach in Boracay is one of the most popular destinations, although you can still find a secluded haven in one of the many coves, cliffs and caves. It’s a haven for sunbathers during the day and partygoers in the evening, thanks to the restaurants and bars.

The strong winds make the beach popular with water sport enthusiasts, and the International Funboard Cup, an annual competitive event for kiteboarders and windsurfers, takes place in January. The island has won several awards for best beach, best island in the world and top destination for tranquillity and nightlife.


Best time to visit: November to March when temperatures are low to mid 30s°C.

If you wanted an authentic island experience the top destination used to be Thailand’s Ko Samui or Ko Pha-Ngan. These islands have now grown up and there is a new kid on the block; Ko Toa. Measuring only 21sq km, this tiny island has a lot to offer. Surrounded by clear blue waters, packed with marine life, neon coral, sharks and rays, it’s a diver’s paradise. Walkers can enjoy the coastal jungles, and the spirit of Tom Hanks in Cast Away, or Robinson Crusoe, are never far away. Nature lovers will enjoy the hawksbill and green turtles that breed on the island.

Mae Haad is the most developed area with shops, cars and cafes. And if you’re looking for the top beach head to Sairee Beach. Ko Tao is the place to go to escape large corporate resorts if you fancy a rustic experience.


Best time to visit: December to March, which are the driest months. Being so close to the equator the temperature is hot and tropical all year, with a slight dip in temperatures in January.

Singapore has the top restaurants, bars and hotels that your would expect to find in a modern, bustling city, and it could be easy to dismiss it as another efficient metropolis. However, you don’t have to scratch very deep to find the history and foundations that have turned the Little Red Dot into a tourism destination. A Singapore Sling cocktail in the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel will set the scene nicely, offering a flavour of the colonial past and vision of Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore.

Singapore is easier to navigate than most Asian cities, due to the network of buses and underground trains. Its major success has been the integration and tolerance of different races and religions living side by side, enabling you to enjoy the cultural delights of the Malay, Chinese and India areas. Shopping, museums, theme parks and history – there is something for everyone.

By Helen McClure