Southeast Asia is an exotic place to visit in winter simply because it doesn't get cold, at least not in the way North America or Europe does. At the same time, the recent ubiquity of Southeast Asia among travelers can make you think there are no stones left unturned amid its jungles and temples. Here are five places to escape the cold and venture of the beaten path in Southeast Asia this winter.
The Philippines' Other Famous Volcano
When you think of volcanoes in the Philippines, your mind no doubt heads to Pinatubo, whose 1991 eruption shook the entire world—parts of it quite literally. Although laying eyes upon the chilly peak of Pinatubo and hiking up it is a great winter travel experience, there's an equally awe-inspiring volcano much closer to your Manila hotel.
What's more is that Ta'al is two destinations in one: A lake inside a volcano inside a lake and a colonial heritage town, home to one of the most flamboyant Catholic Cathedrals on Luzon Island. Even better is the fact that Ta'al is within easy day-trip distance of Manila, but feels far enough away that you could make it into a weekend escape—or an even longer one.
Hanoi's Fabulous Street Food Scene
Hanoi recently celebrated its 1000th birthday, so many tourists who visit Vietnam's capital focus on its history, from Hoan Kiem Lake, to the Museum of Ethnology, to the Temple of Literature. For a spicy-hot surprise in Vietnam this winter, spend your time in Hanoi exploring its incredible street food scene. Whether you do this independently, by stayingnear the city's night market, or book a food tour or even a cooking class, your temperature is sure to rise, even if it's a chilly day or night.
A Hidden Hike in Bali
Booking a stay at a hotel in Jimbaran, Bali has the potential to be ordinary—Jimbaran is just a stone's throw from famous beaches like Kuta and Nusa Dua, which are admittedly great places to forget about the snow back home. An alternative option is to hire a driver for the day and hike at Kinatamani, whether you scale the slopes of Mount Batur, marvel at the gleaming waters of Lake Batur, or visit with local villages in the town of Trunyan.
Obviously, while a hidden hike in Bali is a great idea, you should take steps to make sure you don't end up "hidden" on the island. Stay tuned to updates about volcanic activity on the island (Mount Batus, for example, is an active volcano) and if there's a chance of an eruption, plan to hike elsewhere.
If there's one place visitors to Cambodia flock, it's Angkor Wat. While the temptation will simply be to visit the main Angkor temple, instruct your driver to visit some of the lesser-known temples of the Angkor Archaeological Site—just tell him to drive the "Little Circuit" or, if you've got the whole day, the "Big Circuit." At night, party on lively Pub Street, whose bars, restaurants, and bizarre "Fish Massage" will have you forgetting all about the cold you left behind.
If you have longer in Cambodia, make sure to check out destinations further afield. Cambodian history abounds in the capital of Phnom Penh, while coastal Sihanoukville is the gateway of choice to paradise islands such as Koh Rong.
See a Buffalo Fight in Koh Samui
Koh Samui is famous for its beaches, so if you're in search of a truly unique experience on the paradise island this winter, you'll need to think outside the box. To be sure, buffalo fights on the island might have you thinking more of Spain than Siam, but they've been a tradition here at least as long as they have on the Iberian peninsula. Some of the best fights are also the most low-key, so ask a local where to go for the action.
If you're on the hunt for a different kind of "wild" action while in Koh Samui, you can make a one- or two-day excursion to nearby Koh Phangan, which is home to Thailand's infamous "Full Moon" parties.