The Best Places to Travel in Asia in January
Tourists are clearing out, flight prices are low, and the weather is warm (no sign of an Arctic freeze here). That makes Asia a perfect place to recover from an exhausting holiday season. Make that an exhausting 2017, actually.
January is an awesome — albeit overlooked — month to travel, and there are a number of exciting destinations in Asia to consider for your first trip of the year. Whether you're a photography buff, an adventure seeker, or a serious beach lounger, every type of traveler can find a getaway to fit his or her style on this continent.
With so many destinations to consider, we sought local expertise, ideal weather, and looked at popular or noteworthy events and major hotel or restaurant openings to assemble our list of the top destinations to visit in Asia in January.
That's why you'll recognize some of these destinations from our list of the 50 Best Places to Travel in 2018, like hot spot Luang Prabang, in landlocked Laos, and increasingly upscale Bali.
Stunning all-villa resorts, firework festivals, and improved connectivity are just a few reasons these 18 places in Asia are on our travel list for this January.
With a new 12-lane highway and a seriously upgraded airport, it's finally getting easier to travel around the Thai island of Phuket. And thanks to a slew of new luxury hotel openings, the infamous party island is taking a more upscale turn. One of the most anticipated openings, Rosewood Phuket, has upped the ante on the island with 71 eco-villas and pavilions overlooking Emerald Bay on the southeastern coast. Meanwhile, the 40-room Baba Beach Club brings a bit of Ibiza to the Phang Nga’s pristine shores. On Chalong Bay, travelers can also bed down at the new Anayara Retreat Panwa: an all-villa hillside boutique resort.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang’s gilded spires and dramatic mountains are reason enough to have the city on your travel list. But a burgeoning arts scene, easy-going cafe culture, and influx of new luxury hotels are quickly transforming the sleepy town into the region’s next hot spot. Last year, hotel legend Adrian Zecha, of Aman Resorts, opened 53-room Azerai in a cluster of century-old heritage-style buildings. Also raising the stakes is Rosewood Luang Prabang, a tent and villa encampment tucked into the nearby jungle, which is set to open later this year.
Whether it’s the booming creative scene, recently announced Michelin guide, or new hotel openings that attract you, Bangkok is the place to be — just ask the 21 million international visitors who made their way to the capital in 2016. Stay at the Park Hyatt Bangkok (last year’s most talked about opening) and visit one of the capital’s many new art spaces. Travelers should also book a table at Jay Fai, the Chinatown street food stall that recently received a Michelin star. Best of all, the weather is at its most enjoyable this time of year, making it easy to enjoy the bustling city.
Iya Valley, Japan
On the often overlooked island of Shikoku, the Iya Valley offers dramatic mountain landscapes dotted by thatched-roof farmhouses and vine-covered bridges. The picturesque area is teeming with top-notch onsens and hiking trails in a setting that remains unspoiled, despite Japan’s tourist boom.
Singapore City, Singapore
The Lion City is at its coolest this time of year, making it the perfect time for an outdoor music festival. St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival will take place in the Meadow at Gardens by the Bay, and feature international headliners like Father John Misty and The War on Drugs. With a few major hotel openings — including a new InterContinental — and a stunning nature-inspired terminal at Changi Airport, now is the time to visit.
Tangalle, Sri Lanka
Tangalle is a gateway to Sri Lanka’s best beaches, incredible wildlife, and impressive heritage sites. Anantara Tangalle Peace Haven opened this year, adding a touch of luxury to this stretch of southern coast. Between a standalone cooking school and a vast spa, the resort — which sits on a private bay near town — is setting the bar high for properties opening in southern Sri Lanka.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
This sleepy island south of Saigon has recently been put on the map with new direct flights from Bangkok and around the country, in addition to a bevy of new openings. Most notable is the JW Marriott Phu Quoc Emerald Bay Resort & Spa, a 244-room hotel on the coast. Designer Bill Bensley introduced whimsy (jewel-tone textiles, graphic mosaics and tiled floors, gilded canine statues) to the otherwise stately, French-colonial property.
This bustling metropolis is teeming with new restaurants that are catching the attention of foodies around the world. Cuisine as diverse as its islands is being served up by a rising generation of adventurous gourmands. Of these culinary wunderkinds is Josh Boutwood, who opened up the 22-seat The Test Kitchen, where a produce-driven menu changes nightly. Also of note is Bruce Rickett’s Mecha Uma, an innovative Japanese restaurant in the Fort Bonifacio district.
Pyeongchang, South Korea
The Olympic city Pyeongchang is an exciting destination even before the games commence in February. With a new 70-minute train from Incheon International Airport, it’s easy to get to the resort town in the country’s northeast. Bed down at the InterContinental Alpensia Pyeongchang Resort, which offers luxurious digs at the foot of the Alpensia ski slopes and stellar views of the Taebaek Mountains.
The Chinese city has always been a destination to get excited about, but last year’s slew of openings is bringing new attention to Shanghai. The W Shanghai is a hip addition to the Bund, thanks to its sleek design and cool rooftop bar. Amanyangyun Shanghai is a city break set in restored Ming and Qing dynasty houses just outside the metropolis. And culture takes center stage at the Capella Shanghai, located in the preservation zone of Xuhui District. The estate was built in the 1930s and comprises 22 rows of shikumen buildings, which have been restored with Shanghai-meets-Paris flair.
The annual Jaipur Literature Festival takes place this month, and with several noteworthy new openings in the northwestern state, this might be the year to visit Rajasthan. In central Jaipur, 28 Kothi is a five-room boutique housed in a two-story home owned by one of the region’s most famous jewelry designers. Travelers can also get out of the city and stay at Alila Fort Bishangarh, which sits on a hilltop in a refitted 18th-century fort.
In the coldest province in China, the International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is celebrated each year with elaborate ice sculptures (think: three-story castles and life-sized replicas of the Great Sphinx) illuminated by fluorescent, multi-colored lights. Aside from expos and competitions, other activities here include skiing, sledding, and ice skating. It's a perfect getaway for travelers more interested in embracing — rather than fleeing — winter.
Under the radar Langkawi has been put on the map with the opening of the Ritz-Carlton Langkawi, which debuted on a private bay to the island’s southeast. Contemporary luxury meets tropical jungle in their 75 guest rooms, 15 suits, and 29 villas. Because January falls in the middle of dry season, adventurous travelers can go zip-lining or join a sea safari without fear of getting caught in a downpour.
Tainan has always been in the shadows of Taipei and Taichung, but as Taiwan’s oldest city and the country’s cultural hub, it’s a destination intrepid travelers are beginning to set their eyes on. Hip food joints dot the old streets and night markets offer regional delicacies, but coming to Tainan in January means joining the Yanshui Beehive Firecracker Festival. After a day of celebrating, participants don helmets and cover their body head-to-toe as fireworks are shot out of towers to resemble a swarm of bees.
Safe and affordable, Uzbekistan is a culturally-rich destination — particularly the Silk Road cities like Samarkand — that remains remote and well-preserved. Tourism is high on the agenda for the country's new president, who just replaced the former authoritarian leader, Islam Karimov. Seen as the region’s cradle of culture, Uzbekistan is full of ancient cities brimming with interesting architecture; and still delightfully devoid of foreigners.
Bali continues to keep our attention with its ever-buzzing food scene and chic boutique openings. Whether it’s a vegan cafe you are looking for (Moska in Ubud), or something a bit more sinful (try Room4Dessert), the dining options are plentiful. One of the most exciting hotels to debut in 2017 was Hoshinoya Bali, by the Japanese chain Hoshino Resorts. Its 30 luxury thatched-roof villas are set in the rainforest just outside Ubud.
Shiga Prefecture, Japan
A stone’s throw from Kyoto, Shiga prefecture is bursting with charm. Tiny towns like Omihachiman, where old homes and storehouses will transport travelers back in time, offer an authentic taste of Japan. Hikone, on the other hand, is famous for its Japanese castle (and the small town serves some of the best Omi beef in the region). But there are new things to be excited about in Shiga, too. At the recently debuted Lake Biwa Marriott, mere steps from the shores of Japan’s largest lake, each room includes an en suite onsen.
Thanks to a new train from Phnom Penh to Kampot, travelers can be whisked to the sleepy riverside town in only four hours. The understated area has a budding food and beverage scene, and its bucolic surrounds are ripe for exploration. The Kampot Art Festival happening this month will bring together the best of Cambodian arts, showcasing the talents of photographers, traditional and contemporary dancers, and local authors.