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November 29 2013If cold weather is not your thing, head south to the subtropical region of Xishuangbanna. Nestled in the southernmost tip of Yunnan province, just between neighboring Myanmar and Laos, this region hosts a vibrant intermingling of cultures and landscapes. With average daily highs of 26 degrees Celsius in January, the forests and villages here are immune to the annual chill that is felt in the north. It's no wonder Xishuangbanna was picked as Travel+Leisure's 2012 Hottest Travel Destinations. What better way to spend the winter than in the mountains and rainforests of Southeast Asia? The winter months are the ideal time to visit this part of the world, as they mark the end of the wet season. Imagine finding your inner naturalist as you walk among the regional flora, keeping an ear out for the song of the elusive black-crested gibbon. The home of peacocks, wild oxen and various primates, Xishuangbanna is also the only place in China that still has a wild Asian elephant population. Xishuangbanna’s biodiversity is matched by an equally astounding cultural presence. Of more than a dozen different ethnic groups living here, the most prominent is the Dai population, which makes up nearly a third of the region's one-million inhabitants. Dai culture is markedly different from that of other Chinese populations. The language spoken here is more similar to that of the Thai, which draws heavily upon Theravada Buddhism and the indigenous practices that predate it. Both geographically and culturally, this is the one part of China that really belongs to Southeast Asia, and that feeling is impossible to miss. If you are looking to get a taste of this unique cultural identity, your best bet is to take a trip into one of the many villages that dot this region. Here, you experience life as it has existed for centuries – something that is increasingly precious in a country that is rocketing into the 21st century. Visit the age old Buddhist pagodas, or step into a villager’s home for a cup of tea. This is, after all, the corner of the world where tea originated. If you'd like more travel ideas or to join WildChina on a trip to China's subtropical south, see our journey: Pushing China’s Southern Boundary: Trekking in Xishuangbanna. [caption id="attachment_12658" align="aligncenter" width="400"] On the road in Xishuangbanna: Manfeilong Stupas.Photo Credit: Chris Horton[/caption]
November 22 2013Hong Kong may not be a place you would think to spend the holidays, but a visit to this historic trade city offers a chance to put an eastern twist on a western tradition. Each year as December approaches its end, Hong Kong’s skyline takes on a festive air. Christmas imagery adorns the towering walls of city skyscrapers, while at street-level holiday decorations abound. It is impossible not to notice the commercialism that drives this activity; it is fascinating to see the degree to which this far eastern metropolis has embraced the “Christmas Spirit”. One of the most apparent ways in which this spirit manifests is the shopping activity. Every year, Hong Kong’s famous shopping malls out do themselves with extravagant Christmas displays and holiday sales. Hong Kong’s theme parks also do their best to spread the holiday cheer, with Santa and his reindeer making regular visits at Ocean Park and Disneyland’s gingerbread village. Although Hong Kong celebrates its annual Winterfest during this period, it really feels more like spring or early autumn. In fact, the cool, dry weather makes winter one of the best times to visit this famously hot and humid city, as you can comfortably enjoy a range of outdoor activities. While Hong Kong is well known for its densely packed urban landscape, people often overlook the incredible beaches countryside just outside the city. Nearly 40% of Hong Kong’s land has been preserved in the form of parks and nature reserves, making it an unlikely destination for sports such as hiking, surfing and mountain biking. As no holiday is complete without a proper feast, be sure to explore the rich food culture that has earned this city nicknames such as “Gourmet Paradise” and “World’s Fair of Food”. With the highest concentration of Michelin star restaurants of anywhere in the world, Hong Kong offers fine dining options that range from international cuisine to local dim sum favorites.Whether you're in the mood for south Asian cuisine or New York style pizza, you can find the best of it here. If it’s a more traditional Christmas dinner that you’re after, you’re in luck. Every Christmas, Hong Kong’s hotels compete among themselves to see who can provide the most delicious holiday spread. So this year, why not have a very Hong-Kong holiday?