Flee the north: China early winter getaways

Culture | by Miller Wey
Posted: November 14th, 2012 | Updated: November 14th, 2012 | Comments
Winter is here. Last Friday was Lìdōng (立冬) on the Chinese lunar calendar, which marks the official start of winter when "Beijing, the lack of pheasants along with the massive blizzards might have tipped you off. Down here in Shanghai, the sudden need for sweaters and waking up at 4am with ice-cold feet because I didn't wear socks to bed have been more subtle indicators. With the holidays coming up, some are planning to fly home for Christmas and Ctrip is offering special Christmas travel deals (now is the time to buy!) and they'll be unveiling a new one each day for the twelve (early) days of Christmas. But whether you're spending the holidays in China or going abroad, there's still plenty of places to stay warm while the weather up north gets cold. The other day, Luis gave us the rundown on vacationing in Sanya, which is definitely a winter travel hotspot along with the rest of Hainan. While that's about as tropical as you get in the Middle Kingdom, 'China's Hawaii' is not the only place to stay warm. Grab yourself a hot cup of pu'er tea (普洱) and read on for more early winter China vacation getaways....

Yunnan

Xishuangbanna

China's gateway to Southeast Asia, Xishuangbanna Prefecture borders Laos and Burma (Myanmar) and is not far from the border with Vietnam and is about as close as China gets to Thailand. Like Laos, Xishuangbanna is landlocked, but also like Laos it shares the amazing culinary culture of the Dai people. The prefectural capital, Jinghong, is the place to stay. It's a small town, but the biggest there and a good place to start exploring the province. Live large at the Empark Grand Hotel Xishuangbanna or stay for less (starting from RMB 120) at the Yuntel Inn Jinghong, both with good locations in town. From the airport, hop in a cab and say, "Mei Mei Café."  Your cabbie will know what to do (the English and Chinese pronunciation are virtually the same). Plop down with a cup of pu'er (originating from the eponymous county nearby) or Wild Elephant Valley, stroll through tropical gardens at the Tropical Plant Research Institute and Tropical Flowers and Plants Garden or trek to Dai minority villages like the one near Mandian Waterfall. Save some cash by flying to Chengdu or flying to Kunming before your flight to Jinghong. Dali travel

Dali

Another smaller town in Yunnan, Dali has long been a popular backpacker destination for it's small size (Dali Old Town, that is) and nearby Cang Shan and Er Lake. Rent a bike on Bo'ai Lu (Bó'ài Lù, 博爱路) near Renmin Lu (Rénmín Lù, 人民路) and get exploring. Check out Xizhou Village and, if you're really feeling like a longer ride, bike around the entire lake. Like Jinghong, the best part of staying in Dali is getting out around the town. Aforementioned ChinaTravel.net blogger Luis made his own trip to Dali recently and learned well the somewhat contradictory values of curious wandering and careful planning, both of which come in handy in Dali. If you're looking for four or five star accommodation, get out of town to the pristine Linden Centre, check out the Dali Old Town or aim for accommodation in Dali New Town. There are also plenty of budget hotels in Dali as well as hostels like the Jade Emu. Get there on the cheap with a flight to Kunming, then take a bus or fly to Dali. China travel guide

Honghe Prefecture

Honghe is more for the rugged, off-the-beaten path China traveler. This Yunnan minority prefecture may be best known for its amazing Yuanyang Rice Terraces, serpentine rice paddies turning the tumbling hills of Honghe into a stair-stepped wonderland. Also worth exploring are a number of caves in the region, like the Ancient Alu Cave, and Jianshui Ancient Town.

Guangxi and Guangdong

Yangshuo travel

Yangshuo

Yangshuo is another great getaway from the big city and the cold. Jagged karst peaks jut up around this little town beside the Li River. While the countryside is just a short bike ride away, great local food along with burritos, banana pancakes and more may be as close as downstairs if you're staying on West Street. The beauty of the countryside, Yangshuo. Getting there isn't difficult: fly to Guilin and take the hour and a half bus ride to Yangshuo. Shamian Island travel

Guangzhou

The capital of Guangdong Province is a must go destination for lovers of Cantonese cuisine. Known in the West as Canton, this former treaty port is full of historic destinations, from the ancient but incredibly well-preserved Mausoleum of the Nanyue King to the recently gussied-up old foreign settlement Shamian Island. Guangzhou also sports a number of art galleries including the Vitamin Creative Space, Art 64 and Guangzhou Museum of Art.

Greater China

  Hong Kong travel

Hong Kong

Autumn is the best time to visit Hong Kong as the typhoon season is over. With winter coming on, cold weather will be starting, but with its sub-tropical climate, temperatures in early winter generally stay just above 20° C (68° F). While it might be too cold to swim, you can still hit Hong Kong's beaches for a peaceful stroll. It's also a better time than the hot, sticky Hong Kong summer to do some hiking in Hong Kong at sights like the MacLehose Trail (pictured) or Lamma Island. The nightlife scene at Lan Kwai Fong, the view from Victoria Peak and the shopping at spots like the Ladies Market are still enjoyable even when the weather does start dropping in January and February. For travelers on a tighter budget, Shenzhen Airport travel directly to Hong Kong.

Macau

Autumn and early winter are also quite kind to visitors seeing Macau. September to December is the best period to visit the city, which can easily be combined with a Hong Kong trip via fast ferry. While gambling is the main activity for many domestic Chinese visitors to Macau (it's the only legal place to gamble in China and casino revenues from gambling are five times those of Las Vegas), there's more to see in this island city. The Ruins of the St. Paul Cathedral mark what was once deemed the "greatest monument to Christiandom in Asia" before a fire left only the building's front façade. Nearby, the park at Fortaleza do Monte, an old Jesuit fortress, is worth a wander before checking out the colonial Portuguese architecture, dining and shopping around Senado Square and Avenida de Almeida Ribeiron. Out of the city center is the A-Ma Temple, which may have contributed to the island's current name, and the black-sand Hac Sa Beach. If you arrive via Hong Kong, numerous casinos offer complimentary shuttles to the center of town regardless of which Macau hotel you're staying in.

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