When most people think of traveling to Asia they may be imagining the pristine beaches of Thailand or the sweltering heat while walking through markets in Hong Kong, but there is much more to Asia than just fun in the sun. There are, in fact, a surprising number of locales to visit in Asia if you prefer luxurious ski resorts and breathtaking ice festivals to developing a tan. The destinations on this list may be warm, and maybe even hot, in the summertime, but in winter they are snowy paradises with temperatures often falling well below zero. Historically, Asia didn't get the praise it deserved as being a place for world-class skiing, but these days it rivals North America and Europe. China has eight ski resorts, South Korea has 17, and Japan has over 100!
If you visit a place like northern Japan in the winter you can experience the joy of being warm in a hot spring (onsen) while snow covers the ground around you. If you are in northern China, do as the locales do and head inside and stuff your face if it gets too cold outside. If you are in South Korea in the winter try ice fishing; you can also partake in some street food that’s only available in the winter like sweet potatoes or chestnuts. The destinations on this list offer fantastic high-end shopping, hotels where you can be pampered, world-class restaurants and breathtaking scenery. Some of these tourist stops even offer first-class options for cruises. If you are thinking of visiting Asia this winter and want to embrace the cold rather than escape it, here are some of your best options. Just make sure you bring your winter coat and boots.
10 Ulan Bator, Mongolia
Forget shopping in New York or Paris, the capital of Mongolia is the newest spot for luxurious fashion. Thanks to it’s recent independence and vast minerals deposits, luxury brand retailers like Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Hugo Boss are opening shops in Sükhbaatar Square. For the most high-end place to stay in the city try the Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace. Thirteen kilometres from Ulan Bator is Sky Resort, which is a year-round resort that typically offers skiing from November to March or April.
9 Niseko and Kutchan, Japan
This world-class skiing destination is one of the most visited ski resorts in Japan and consists of six ski areas, which never have a shortage of snowfall. Onsens, snowmobiling and spas are also popular in the area. At the Wakka Spa at Hilton Niseko village guests are pampered with Asian-influenced massage techniques.
8 Harbin, China
Harbin is the northernmost major city in China and it’s famous for its ice festival. The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival held its 30th anniversary this January, and if you plan to visit next year and stay in luxury then check out the Sofitel Harbin or the Shangri-La Hotel. The Shangri-La Hotel features the luxurious Ice Palace Restaurant and Ice Bar, which is only open during the winter, where patrons can enjoy world-class Chinese hot pot dishes and expensive alcohol.
7 Otaru, Japan
This little resort town just is a short train ride from Sapporo, and it is known to have the freshest sushi in Hokkaido. It’s famous for salmon, uni (sea urchin) and ikura (salmon roe). Visitors can take a short, relaxing cruise down the Otaru canal; the canal is the most breathtaking in the winter at night when it is lined with snow and glowing lights. The luxurious Grand Park Otaru offers spectacular views of the canal and palatial rooms.
6 Beijing, China
The Raffles is an extremely elegant place to stay if you want to splurge on your accommodation while staying in China’s capital city. The hotel exudes class and style and provides guests with a historic feel newer luxury hotels can’t offer. Duck de Chine is the finest example of classic, up-scale Cantonese cuisine in Beijing. The restaurant is famous for its Peking duck. The Great Wall of China is open year round, and it can be visited in winter. Nanshan Ski Resort and Village is just 80km from the capital’s downtown core.
5 Yamagata, Japan
Japan is famous for its wagyu beef, and it is widely regarded that the best wagyu cattle are raised in the country. The number one spot goes to Kobe beef of course, but Yonezawa beef from the Yamagata Prefecture is one of the other big three beefs along with Matsusaka beef. The Yamagata Prefecture is also home to the Yamagata Zao Onsen Ski Resort where tourists flock to see Juhyo or “ice monsters” - trees caked in a thick layer of windswept snow.
4 Muju, South Korea
This small town in South Korea is best known for its annual Firefly Festival, which takes place in June. The abundance of fireflies is a testament to the clean air in the area because these delicate insects require ideal environmental standards to survive. When the snow arrives visitors enjoy nature in a different way – by hitting the slopes. Muju Resort is located in Deogyusan National Park. The Silk Road Slope, one of six courses at the resort, is the longest in South Korea.
3 Hakodate, Japan
From December 1 until Christmas Day Hakodate is a holiday wonderland. During the Christmas Fantasy Festival, a massive floating Christmas tree (it’s on a barge) is lit and sent drifting along the bay. Fifty thousand lights adorn the tree and fireworks displays are held during the nearly month long festival. The five star La Vista Hakodate Bay features a rooftop onsen and spa complex.
2 Seoul, South Korea
Famous guests like Bill Gates and Tom Cruise have frequented the presidential suites at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul. If you are willing to spend $8,7000 a night you will be treated to 24-hour butler service and a Finnish dry sauna. You can land your helicopter on the roof, head down to the main floor and take your limo to the Gangnam district to enjoy shopping and nightlife. Si Wha Dam is one of the best restaurants in the city and features a 23-course tasting menu that will set you back approximately $330 USD. The Grand Hyatt features a spectacular outdoor ice rink that is always in operation on time thanks to it’s built in cooler.
1 Sapporo, Japan
The capital of Hokkaido Prefecture and largest city on Japan’s northernmost main island, Sapporo has an endless selection of luxurious pastimes. The city is home to three 3-star Michelin restaurants: Sushi Tanabe, Nukumi (a kaiseki style haute cuisine restaurant) and French restaurant Moliere. Earlier in the year when there is plenty of snow lining the streets, the city holds the Sapporo Snow Festival. The streets around the Susukino neighbourhood and Odori Park are filled with snow sculptures and ice carvings. Street vendors fill the area selling delicious Hokkaido seafood delicacies like snow crab and uni. Classic staples of the island’s agricultural prowess like corn, potatoes and cheese can also be bought to fill your stomach. Built in 1936, the luxurious Sapporo Grand Hotel is elegant and classy. A leisurely stroll down any main street in Sapporo is a dream compared to other snow-filled cities that to the innovation of heated sidewalks that melt the snow away.