Why I Take My Kids to Asia for Christmas

  • cameron highlands
    Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, the perfect winter getaway.
Masa writes about why he loves spending Christmas holidays in South and Southeast Asia:

Let’s just say, we are not a sit-down-and-enjoy-Christmas-dinner kind of family. I consider myself very lucky that my 4 kids are infected with the travel bug just as their parents. We’ve spent the last 10 Christmases or so travelling in South and Southeast Asia. My bemused friends constantly ask me why I bother to pack 4 kids and fly all the way to the other side of the planet. Well, where else could we enjoy these:

  • Cross the world’s longest canopy bridge

Instead of white Christmases, why not green Christmases? Everyone in my family loves nature adventures. We’ve jungle trekked, gone on countless jeep safaris, and spent overnights in tree houses surrounded by nothing but forest as far as the eyes could see. One of our favorite places to escape to during the winter season is the incomparable Taman Negara National Park in Malaysia, which came highly recommended by my colleague Tanja. All she had to mention was luminous mushrooms and we were already packing our bags. But our favorite experience was crossing the world’s longest canopy walk through verdant tops of trees. We couldn’t have had a better panoramic view of the park had we ridden a helicopter over it!

Taman negara

At Taman Negara National Park one Christmas

  • Enjoy the tropical sun on a white-sand beach without worries

It’s not the easiest task in the world to find a kid-friendly beach anywhere. It’s hardest during the Christmas season when the beaches are packed to the hilt. I look for places where my wife and I can enjoy some quality time under the sun, without having to worry about the kids being bored. After some thorough looking around, we had a wonderful time on the alluring beach of Seminyak, Bali. No, it wasn’t as isolated as we hoped it would be. However, we chose it for the facilities the area offered. Our hotel was incredibly family-friendly and had an amazing play area to keep the kids occupied. My older teens loved playing pool at the hotel and we didn’t have to worry about their safety. The sea was also calm enough for swimming. All in all, we simply loved it.

seminyak bali

Kid-friendly beach at Seminyak, Bali

  • Explore caves by boat

Personally, I think Vietnam’s best attractions are in the country’s pristine north. Incidentally, that’s where we enjoyed one memorable Christmas vacation activity—taking a sampan cruise to explore the Tam Coc Caves. We cruised on a narrow canal flanked by scenery that took my breath away. The kids gushed over the verdant paddy fields and karst hills we were seeing. The scenery was so incredible it managed to make my boisterous offspring silent. By boat we approached the caves, feeling like we were about to enter a treasure cove. Still on the boat, we went through the dark and rain-eroded limestone tunnels of the three caves here, which were colossal and ancient. It was an amazing holiday experience none of us would ever forget.

boat ride to Tam Coc

Jaw-dropping boat ride to Tam Coc

  • Snorkel at a private lagoon

My kids really got into snorkeling during a family vacation in El Nido, Philippines. They became experts at it during a winter getaway to the Maldives. We found this gorgeous resort at Kaafu Atoll that had its own private lagoon! Even if it was the high tourist season, the atoll was relatively isolated. The scenery was postcard perfect—azure waters and blindingly white sand. The Maldivian underwater world is renowned for its beauty. So all of us had a really good time snorkeling among corals and colorful schools of fish. My older kids quickly took to our Maldivian snorkeling guide, who could hold his breath underwater for a long time. He told us he began to swim before he could walk. This certainly motivated my youngest, who’s more reluctant than his siblings to try anything new. After a lot of swimming and sunbathing, we spent the New Year’s Eve enjoying an elegant gala dinner at our resort. It was the perfect luxurious winter escape.

snorkeling

My oldest son showing off

  • Watch baby elephants playing

We spent the last Christmas in Sri Lanka. After touring the charming city of Kandy, we stopped by the Pinnawala elephant orphanage on our way back to Colombo. And it has becomes one of my all-time vacation experiences ever. The orphanage takes care of abandoned and injured elephants on the island. There are older elephants who prefer to spend their time bathing in the nearby river. But what really caught our attention, and melted our hearts, were the baby elephants who ran around and played with each other. My kids were mesmerized by them. This is pretty much all my kids can remember about Sri Lanka.

pinnawela

Adorable elephants at Pinnawala

  • Take a boat cruise through an ancient temple city

All right, we love templing, but to an extent. On one Christmas vacation in Myanmar, my wife and I wanted to do something different to let the kids experience the Bagan heritage site. Bagan is famous for hundreds and thousands of temples scattered throughout a vast abandoned city. We thought (well knew) that a walking or a tuk tuk tour would bore our kids real quick. So, after an over-the-top Christmas-themed breakfast at our hotel, we went on a river cruise through the site. We didn’t get close to the temples but they were equally magnificent from a distance. The kids loved cruising so didn’t have time to complain about the sun or anything else. It was perfect!

bagan

View of Bagan from our cruise

  • Walk through verdant tea plantations

Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands is truly an otherworldly place where tea is god. It’s an amazing to place to escape to during the holiday season. Everywhere we looked was a lush sea of tea bushes. We retreated to a hilltop hotel so we can sleep in on the mornings and go on short hikes in the evenings. The kids didn’t complain. They loved playing in the estates, trying to strike up broken English conversations with tea pluckers and touring the factories. We loved the tranquility of the area in general and had a blast sampling different kinds of tea.

cameron highlands

The verdant sea at Cameron Highlands

South and Southeast Asia may not be the first places that come to mind when planning Christmas holidays, but they offer such quirky and jaw-dropping attractions few other places can match. That’s why, I think, everyone should take their kids to Asia for Christmas.