Ever thought about spending Christmas in Asia? Whether you’re trying to avoid festive overindulgence, or simply seek warmer azure shores, there’s an Asian island waiting to welcome you home
1 Thaa Atoll, Maldives
Why go? Swap your roast dinner for a Robinson Crusoe-style family picnic on Christmas Day on Thaa Atoll (known as Kolhumadulu locally). Ocean and land blend seamlessly at the Maldives, so spend this year’s festive season in your diving gear. Explore submerged islands and swap bad cracker jokes with whale sharks, turtles, batfish, and manta rays. Reach Thaa Atoll by seaplane from Malé, and wile away the hours exploring these vibrant waters on a traditional dhoni fishing boat.
Stay here: You can have your own white Christmas underfoot on the flawless beach at Como Maalfushi. If you’ve got little ones who are keen to know if Santa can reach this far-flung private paradise there’s a cracking kids’ club to keep them entertained. Prices and occupancy will be higher in December, but this location is worth it.
Price: from £635
2 Koh Rong, Cambodia
Why go? It may have become a haven for partygoers who stomp until sunrise but a visit to Koh Rong is still a return to the basics. There’s dodgy WiFi reception (great for some), no ATMs and no roads despite being a short boat trip from built-up Sihanoukville. But with 27 miles of beach, seven bays and 30 square miles of dense forest to explore on foot, you won’t mind missing the Doctor Who Christmas special this year.
Stay here: Spend your Christmas in Asia relaxing in a villa wrapped around jungle trees or suspended over the ocean. This collection of palm-roofed villas sits in a marine conservation reserve surrounding an undeveloped archipelago and even has its own established time zone to soak up every second of that sunset. All-inclusive rates are available, but this is a resort unlike anything you’ve seen before. December offers dry, clearer days with balmy moonlit evenings.
3 Koh Samui, Thailand
Why go? Look up and you’ll see no buildings taller than a palm tree on Koh Samui. And, thankfully, there are still pockets of peace to retreat from the creeping westernisation of this jungled gem surrounded by the coves, coral and islets that inspired Alex Garland’s novel The Beach. The government is cracking down on mass tourism to protect its fragile environs, so spend Christmas somewhere that is in harmony with its natural surroundings.
Stay here: Looking for healing and rejuvenation this Christmas? This serene wellness sanctuary is tucked away from Koh Samui’s party hotspots. It’s a haven for spa-seekers on the undeveloped southeast coast of the island. Kamalaya is a spiritually-minded getaway with a close-knit atmosphere. Instead of turkey and all the trimmings, indulge in steam rooms, tai chi, yoga, a detox veggie menu (which promises to be just as mouthwatering as that roast) and meditation.
Price: from £196
4 Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Why go? If you think life is better on two wheels, then Phu Quoc beckons. Hire your own motorbike and head towards the northern tip of the island, where the pace is sleepier, the beaches quieter and canh chua ca (sour fish soup) is readily available. Save some to share with a Phu Quoc Ridgeback, the island’s very own dog breed. There are weekly direct flights from the UK or a quick transfer from Ho Chi Minh City.
Stay here: This laid back eco-friendly island escape has limited mod-cons, is totally affordable and offers uninterrupted chilled beach vibes. Spend Christmas Day with your feet in the warm ocean and swap carols for birdsong and cicadas. Mango Bay is an ideal festive stopover as a retreat from Ho Chi Minh city’s craziness, as part of a longer trip.
Price: from £75
5 Langkawi, Malaysia
Why go? Christmas shoppers, rejoice! Langkawi may be a wild archipelago of around 100 islands (of which only two are inhabited) but this virgin jungle landscape is also a duty-free area. You can indulge in festive revelry one day, and hike waterfalls while watching for flying squirrels and monitor lizards the next. Hire a bike or scooter if you prefer, but getting around by taxi is a breeze, with one fixed price for the whole island.
Stay here: Although the area gets busier in December, this heritage project is in the perfect location for a hassle-free family Christmas escape. It’s a 10-minute drive from the airport but not too close to the island’s ‘main strip’. Younger kids will enjoy the tropical gardens, pools and animal sanctuary. The whole family could stay in 1920s Colonial House, but the whole resort is a fascinating insight into traditional Malaysian living.
Prices: from £69
6 Havelock, Andaman Islands
Why go? Havelock is home to swimming elephants, otherworldly coral reef and – officially – the best beach in Asia. If you’re seeking complete peace at Christmas (helped by lack of mobile signal, internet connection and absence of typical beach bars) then make the most of the driest time of year here. Explore Havelock’s seven tropical talcum powder bays and hidden waterfalls. Jump on a boat from Port Blair, the capital of the Andamans, and sail across in a couple of hours.
Stay here: Choose to’ be present’ rather than give presents at this eco-hideaway. It’s on that very same ‘best beach in Asia’, called Beach No.7. Immerse yourself in virgin rainforest and completely unplug (that’s right, there’s no WiFi). Spend this Christmas in Asia without distraction from smartphones and instead kayak through mangrove creeks, snorkel the reef and treat yourself at the Ayurvedic spa.
Price: from £166
7 Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand
Why go? The fifth biggest Thai island is synonymous with the Full Moon party. The fact that its population nearly doubles once a month might sound off-putting but Koh Phangan’s hippie, relaxed vibes can still be found if you explore away from Haad Rin town. Hire an open-top 4×4 or scooter and veer down winding jungle pathways with chattering monkeys overhead. You’ll stumble upon hidden beaches and quiet spots, so sip a fresh coconut while the sun gently rolls down towards the horizon.
Stay here: For peace, privacy and independence for the whole family or a group of friends, choose this self-catered villa. It’s perched on a hillside among coconut groves and is a world away from Koh Pha Ngan’s infamous party scene. It even has its own infinity pool for lazing about and looking over Tong Nai Pan Bay. There’s no surcharge for empty rooms and it’s still available to rent over Christmas, so why not split the bill with your loved ones and take over the whole property?
Price: from £132
8 Con Dao, Vietnam
Why go? Navigate the same route as Captain James Cook’s ship the Endeavour and stop by this archipelago of 80 islands 177km off the southeast coast of Vietnam – it’s less than an hour by plane from Ho Chi Minh. If its thick jungle interior, murky infamous prison past and military population aren’t enough to stir your curiosity (where better to read a historical war novel), then perhaps its pure white beach fringe, protected national park status and looming mountains will lure you ashore.
Stay here: This collection of sea-front villas on the edge of a stunning national park is likely to get booked up quickly. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time 25 years: crystalline seascape, soaring cliffs and minimal development. Barefoot vibes mean parents can relax at the spa or by their private plunge pool while the kids watch films and enjoy supper together.
Price: from £623
9 Tioman, Malaysia
Why go? Satisfy your inner naturalist by stepping ashore Tioman (a 90-minute boat journey from the east coast of Malaysia). The island is home to a number of endemic species like the Kajang slender litter frog and the Tioman walking catfish. Spot the Devil’s Peak shooting up from the ocean as you moor up onto the set of 1958’s iconic film South Pacific. Or you could make like a pirate and take shelter in a secluded cove – Tioman was rife with them in the 19th-century – though you may prefer to head to Genting village and explore a simpler life mingling with local fisherman.
Stay here: Watch the sunset on Christmas Day at the end of a jetty with a complimentary cocktail in hand. For adults wanting to get away from it all, these spacious villas are set in lush jungle on a private beach only reachable by boat. So instead of jostling with last-minute Christmas shoppers, the only worries you’ll have this festive season are which restaurant to eat at and watching out for the local monkeys (who are apparently big fans of an unguarded minibar…)