Chiang Mai, Thailand
Located in the northern Thai highlands, Chiang Mai is a bustling town full of culture, food and outdoor activities. Whilst it can reach high temperatures in the 30s, the months of December and January are remarkably cool for Thailand, with average lows of around 15°C – no need to worry about sun burn here. Whilst it may get nippy, its locations amongst mountains and rolling hills means there are a number of great treks for travellers of all shapes and sizes to keep your warm. The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is a great market full of tasty, spicy food to warm your soul, and it’s a great place to pick up handmade crafts and extra clothes – because let’s face it, who really things about bringing a warm hat or scarf to Thailand?
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Also in the northern highlands of Thailand, Chiang Rai is around 200km from Chiang Mai and even further north. With an average yearly temperature of 24.6°C that drops into the teens around the New Year period, Chiang Rai is perfect for those who are a little sick of sweating their clothes off and want a destination where they can cool down. That said, there’s more to Chiang Rai than just a colder climate; the stunningly ornate White Temple – or Wat Rong Khun – is a must see for anyone in the region and is amongst Thailand’s most striking temples. As well as a great temple, it also features intricately detailed sculptural masterpieces that need to be seen in person to fully appreciate them. As well as jaw-dropping temples, the nature around Chiang Mai offers great hiking routes, with waterfalls, mountains and rainforests just waiting to be explored.
Few people who head to the scenic mountainous town of Sapa in Vietnam leave feeling anything but spellbound. Mornings are shared with dreamy views of the rolling hills and rice terraces enveloped in the thick, cold mist that sets in the valleys. Friendly local hill tribes such as the Hmong are happy to show off their wares, and with a yearly average of 16°C – falling to 10°C in January – you’d be wise to purchase a blanket or extra layers from them for warmth. It’s a region of unrivaled beauty, with mountains and hills in all directions and more trekking trails than you could count, more often than not culminating with gorgeous views or natural features such as waterfalls. You’ll get goosebumps in more than one way here – simply a must-visit in Southeast Asia.
Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Whilst parts of Malaysia can get pretty hot, the Cameron Highlands stay cool all year, rarely reaching above 25°C and dropping to the low teens quite frequently. The high altitude and cooler climate makes it an ideal place for growing tea, and so a common sight is that of tea plantations stretching out as far as the eye can see. As well as seeing it, you can also taste it – a welcome relief once the cold starts to set in. The Cameron Highlands are also ideal for growing strawberries, so count on tasty smoothies and cakes to provide you with energy for the many trekking routes through the area and any adventures you may take. Down in the towns such as Tanah Rata, there are markets selling delicious, fresh, local cuisine, with the curries sure to warm your bones.
There’s more to Indonesia than diving and the beaches of Bali, so for something a little different head to Bukittinggi. Located 930m above sea level in Western Sumatra, Bukittingi is a charming city with a comfortably cool climate, usually between 16-24°C. Located near both active and inactive volcanoes, there are plenty of things to do for those who love the great outdoors; visits to Sianok Canyon for example feature rivers, forests, rice paddies and stunning canyons to take in on your trek. If you’re all trekked out, then you might want to visit Colmar Tropicale. It’s a unique place designed to look like a typical French village, with colourful, architecturally French-styled building that’ll make you feel like you’ve wandered out of Indonesia and straight into the French countryside.
Another mountainous region on the list, Sagada is a sleepy town that offers a cooler alternative to those Filipino beaches and islands that have been plastered all over social media lately. With temperatures ranging from 13-24°c, there’s no need to pack your swimsuit – though a decent pair of hiking shoes will come in handy. The vistas are straight out of Lord of the Rings, with a few added rice terraces, and as one might expect hiking is a popular activity for visitors to the area. As well as walks, there are valleys, caves and waterfalls to enjoy, with Bomod-Ok Falls a wonderful example of the majesty of nature. Not feeling particularly in the mood for the outdoors? Check out the hanging coffins of Sagada; though macabre sounding, the sight of real coffins hanging in the valley isn’t something you see every day, and it’s an interesting tidbit of culture from the local area.