This will probably sound strange, or even blasphemous, to some, but the merry Christmas I dream of, is not white, it’s palm fringed along the Mekong. I guess most people look forward to the holidays all year, and would never consider missing cherished family traditions, and I completely understand that. This post is for those that share my wanderlust, and may wonder what it is like to skip our version of X’mas one year, in favor of an adventure!
Traveling during the Christmas season is a great way to stretch your minimal vacation time, escape the expensive December shopping frenzy, and for me, relax and embrace the JOY of the season. The downside is that it’s high season in Southeast Asia, so you will need to book early. And, of course, if you have a family that requires your attendance at holiday festivities, this may not work for you. But, I say, if you are one of those over-worked Americans with only 2 or 3 weeks vacation, give it some consideration, your family can probably live without you for one holiday season, and you will have a “proper” holiday! (proper, as in longer than 2 weeks!)
Why am I drawn to Southeast Asia for the Christian holiday season?? Honestly, I am not really sure how this happened. Christmas was a big deal at our house growing up. All I know, is after honeymooning in Thailand and Vietnam over the holidays almost twenty years ago, I wanted to go back every year.
Need reasons?….The countries of Southeast Asia are predominantly Buddhist, but they love any excuse to put up colorful decorations, and wear Santa hats. Not to mention, the weather is delightful in Dec-Jan (if you like warm and humid) and shopping is WAY more fun (and a heck of a lot cheaper!). Plus, there are enough expats from Western countries, that you can easily find traditional Christian festivities, even church services, if you want them. I think the main draw for me, particularly at this time of year, is he “vibe” – in contrast to our hectic, often exhausting, holiday rush, Southeast Asia is very relaxed – everyday life flows gently along the Mekong, and we happily fall right into this laid-back pace.
We have spent several Christmas holidays in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. At home, the decorations, and shopping ads that appear just after Halloween, drive me nuts. They make me want to leave the country (almost as much as the politcal ads) In Asia, it’s not about gifts, it’s just a celebration! Most of the hotels have tastefully decorated trees in the lobby, and many offer western style Christmas dinners. We prefer to find a cute French restaurant and use the holiday as an excuse to treat ourselves to a nice bottle of Bordeaux and a pepper steak, at half the price of a similar meal at home. We have watched spectacular New Years Eve fireworks displays in Bangkok & Phnom Penh, even though they celebrate the Chinese, or Lunar New Year, which falls typically in late Jan or early Feb. One of my favorite memories – hanging out at sidewalk bar in Vientienne, on X’mas day, drinking “Beer Lao” with locals in Santa hats – it was classic!
Another thing we enjoy about holiday travel in Southeast Asia is that many of the foreigners working in Asia and the Middle East, instead of returning home for the holidays, use their vacation to explore neighboring countries. So you get to meet interesting expats, that have lived all over the world, wherever you go.
There is nothing more exciting to me than having a ticket to BKK (Bangkok) in December! My mind spins with the options – so many places we have yet to visit, and so many we love to return to. I feel so at home there, and have so many great memories, and I am looking forward to creating many more this Dec-January! Watch for my posts starting SOON!