Christmas never feels so until I am cold. Spending Christmas in a warm country is just not the same. In my mind, the season to be jolly comes with a side of chilly air, darker shorter days and sparkling street lights. A BBQ lunch on Christmas Day can never replace the fireplace, the warm soup and the thick wool sweaters. It is just not the same. But sometimes, you just can’t get away and are *stuck* in the warmer countries of Southeast Asia craving a bit of that winter feeling. And, it is possible. Just. With a little bit of imagination. Here are 5 places where you can still celebrate Christmas in Southeast and feel like you are closer to home.

1. Cameron Highlands – Malaysia


Cameron Highlands Resort Christmas

Cameron Highlands Resort Christmas

Did you know that the average altitude in the main towns within the Highlands is 1,500m above sea level? That is right, expect temperatures to hoover around the 17 to 24 degrees throughout the year. They rarely drop below that but also rarely get to the warmer temperatures in the rest of Malaysia. Enjoy a cup of tea with scones and strawberry jam, the area’s specialty, and watch the rain pour down as it does on more than half of the days. What is more, Cameron Highlands was a British Hill Station so Christmas trees and lighting may be up, especially at the Cameron Highlands Resort where the fireplace burns in the evening and you can sit in front of the fire on plush leather sofas. Read my guide here.

2. Hong Kong


Hong Kong Bay

Hong Kong Bay at Christmas

I still remember landing in Hong Kong in early December five years ago for a Board Meeting at my client when the freezing air hit my face like a brick. It is not that Hong Kong gets to the freezing temperatures of other countries further North and East in Asia like Japan or Korea where temperatures are well below zero for most of the winter, but the contrast with balmy and hot Manila. Christmas is for sure in the air in Hong Kong. It is obvious in the neon signs, the street lights and the towering Christmas trees in all hotel lobbies and shopping malls. For a special dose of Christmas splendor stroll through the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental, the brand’s first and flagship hotel in the CBD is a Christmas paradise. I still remember the lingering smell of the thousands of roses they had made a Christmas tree of, high in the lobby. It was magical.

3. Macau


Christmas in Macau

Christmas in Macau

Hong Kong’s neighbor and former Portuguese colony of Macau enjoys much the same cold winter as Hong Kong. Here, expect the large casino resort chains to put up a real show of lights and Christmas delights. You will feel exactly like in Vegas, a bit like an adult’s playground and plenty of Christmassy elements to keep you entertained. Christmas trees, street lights, overdoing the already over the top ongoing bright lights of the casinos and resorts, and nativity scenes everywhere. Check my guide to Macau here.

4. Baguio – Philippines


Christmas Village Baguio

Christmas Village Baguio (Source: sunstar.com)

The high elevation of the area converted Baguio into the center of power during the American occupation when the governor used to move the seat of power to the higher altitudes to escape hot Manila. Today, Baguio is still a great place to enjoy Christmas and a favorite among locals. Expect not only street lights but also Christmas Villages mimicking the Christmas markets of Europe. Having spent 3 Christmas in the Philippines I know the countdown starts early, as early as September, 90 days to Christmas Day. Filipinos are devoted Catholics.

5. Chiang Mai – Thailand


"Wat Phra Singh"

Wat Phra Singh


Head out from Chiang Mai to the mountains for cooler temperatures, at least in the evening. Chiang Rai enjoys below 20 Celsius levels curing Christmas, although day temperatures are pretty warm still. Although Thais are not Christian, some of the hotels will  be putting up Christmas lights, hanging some bright balls and dressing up trees for the few expats and tourists. Anything for an excuse to party in the land of smiles.

  • I’ll be spending the holidays this year in Thailand and Hong Kong. Your picture of Hong Kong’s harbor got me very excited about that upcoming trip!

  • It was SO weird being in Vietnam last year over Christmas, as it was basically just another day. I really missed not having a holiday celebration, but oh well! We then spent NYE in Hong Kong (bc we knew they had a good fireworks show) which was…uuum…a different NYE experience than we planned! http://www.economicalexcursionists.com/new-years-eve-in-hong-kong/hong-kong-nye/
    We love SE Asia though, so I’ll def. have to keep this list in mind if we find ourselves back there over Christmas time, thanks!

  • Kathrin

    I never spend Christmas in a warm country, as I prefer spending it with my family in Germany. For me, Christmas is also warm jumpers, hot chocolate in front of the fire place and eating “plätzchen” (cookies). However, for everyone who can’t spend Christmas in a cold country, your suggestions are perfect! I think I would enjoy spending some time in the Cameron Highlands Resort, it looks very festive. Hong Kong would maybe be a bit too kitschy for my taste 😉

  • I love your suggestions of where to get more of a Christmas ‘feel’ in southeast Asia. I have to say though, that whenever i have been in a ‘warm’ country for Christmas, I have never missed the cold of northern Europe!!

  • Megan Claire

    Great list mar – see I’m the exact opposite 😀 Having grown up in Australia, it doesn’t feel like Christmas for me unless it’s searingly hot and we’re all outside in shorts and T-shirts for a Christmas BBQ lunch, kids running out in the backyard underneath the sprinklers!! Though I’ve had one or two white Christmas’ throughout my tarvels, as this was always the picture of Christmas we were sold on TV and in American movies. Funny how it never feels the same though!

    Merry Christmas 🙂

  • Antonette Spaan

    We celebrated Xmas once in Bangkok – it felt a bit strange because everyone was out shopping at the malls, not like my regular Xmas. So if you want to escape from it, that would be my pick 🙂

  • Heidi Wagoner

    This is a wonderful list. We have celebrated Christmas in many countries. We were surprised last year in Vietnam with the Christmas spirit in Hoi An.

  • Bethaney

    We found KL surprisingly christmassy when we were these in 2013. Lots of decorations, santas, carousels etc.

  • Jen Ryder

    Great suggestions for cooler spots to spend the holiday season in SEA! The Cameron Highlands look beautifully festive, and I absolutely love rain so that’s right up my alley! We’ll be in southern India for Christmas this year, so it definitely won’t be chilly, but we plan to head up to Rishikesh in the mountains shortly after for a taste of winter. Looking forward to feeling cold for the first time in months!

    • Hey Jen thanks for dropping by! Yes, warm Christmases are always a bit weird to me 😉 Hope you enjoy India! Merry Christmas!

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