Jingle bells, jingle bell, jingle all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh.
Unless you’re lucky enough to live in the north of Scotland, it’s likely that you don’t know how fun it could be to ride in an actual one-horse open sleigh in the snow. However, you’re probably familiar with the feeling of spraying fake snow on your fake Christmas tree and sticking a fake beard on an elderly gentleman to pretend he’s Santa. The UK, unfortunately, isn’t exactly blessed with snow over the festive season. Sure, we’ve got plenty of frost, mist, and fog, without mentioning the icy rain, but snow is a rarity at any time of the year. Proof is that we all remember that one time when it snowed in December, and it was in 2010. So, let’s be honest: You’re not likely to see any snow this year either. But is that a reason to celebrate Christmas under the British rain and battle with a plate full of over-boiled sprouts? Sorry if you’re a sprout lover, but these things are commonly perceived as the annoyance people need to go through to earn the right to a Christmas pudding extravaganza. So, instead of a moist and sprouty Christmas, this year, how about forgetting about the snowy landscapes and taking a break under the sun of an exotic destination? Bonus points if you’re in your gap year because it means that you can spend a lot more than just a week abroad!
Admittedly the first question you might ask yourself is where to go. Is Italy warm enough? Greece? Or should you aim for Australia where the sunny season has just started? Think bolder and a lot cheaper: south-east Asia has a lot to offer for holidaymaker during the winter season. If you want to enjoy a mix of traditions and modernism, Malaysia is the place to go to at Christmas.
Treat yourself to a Malaysian festive celebration
Okay, admittedly planning a trip to Malaysia for Christmas might sound at first like a brutally spontaneous and poorly planned idea. But when you take the time to think about it, you come to realise that Christmas in south-east Asia is ideal. For a start, if you decide to travel as a tourist only and to stay only for the duration of the seasonal festivities, you’ll be pleased to know that December is the ultimate low tourist season. In fact, you’ll find some of the cheapest round-trip flight packages to get there and back, for less than £600. December is unfortunately rainy in Malaysia, which is why fewer people come to visit the country around this time. You can encounter up to 22 rainy days, but, and here’s the most important part, it doesn’t matter if you’re planning on staying for a few weeks. Also, the temperatures can get as high as 36°C, which means that you might enjoy the wet weather after all! The dryest destination for the season is Kota Kinabalu, with only 61mm precipitations. But if you’re after something more exciting have a look at the Christmas celebration on Penang island. You will never have seen that many Christmas trees and decorations anywhere else in the world! Don’t worry about the rain, instead go down to the Queensbay Mall for a shopping trip about this decorative universe. Mainly because what Penang does on the 25th is go shopping. So you’ll be spoiled for choice of branded shops, independent boutiques and restaurants during your holiday.
Where to stay and how long?
How can you make the most of your stay by not missing any of the amazing Malaysian spots? Here’s a hint for you: try to plan at least 2 weeks and include a lot of internal travel. Spend a day or two in Kota Bharu, which is at the Thailand border and revolves around marketplaces bustling with flavours. Not your cup of tea? Have a wander across the Cameron Highlands, which is one of the oldest tourist destinations in Malaysia, combining lush scenery of forests, lakes and wildlife as well as tea plantations and strawberry farms. And finally don’t miss Penang Island, the popular tourist destination with its beautiful historic George Town. If you’re planning to stay for a long time – aka if you’re on a gap year – you can look for a house for rent in Penang. As a rule of the thumb, you can plan for a 6-month stay from December until July, as it enables you to leave before the start of the high tourist season.
What to do?
You may be wondering what the main ways of celebrating Christmas in Malaysia are. In Penang, if you choose to stay in Penang, you can enjoy a whole day of shopping at the best prices in the town’s mall. Admittedly not everyone is enthusiastic about a 24 hours shopping trip. Maybe you’re after a simple Christmas meal with friends and family? You’re in for a treat: Christmas is celebrated around the whole country so that you will find plenty of restaurants offering their flavoursome takes on Christmas, from Italian to Indian meals. If you’re a fitness enthusiast, you’ll appreciate the idea of signing in for the Penang’s big Christmas run, a 7km or 10km run or walk, depending on your fitness level. That’s the perfect excuse to get your best activewear gear and bring your favourite fitness tracker with you. There’s nothing like a brand new pair of high-quality running shoes to start your Christmas break! If you want something a little more traditional to celebrate in style, have a look at the old George Town in Penang, the bright and colourful capital of the island. You can walk across lines of British colonial buildings that will take you back to the Georgian and Victorian empire. If you fancy an exploratory walk, you can even find the grave of Francis Light, the founder of the British East India Company in Penang, in the Old Protestant Cemetery in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, previously known as the Northam Road. Let’s call it a trip down the memory lane, and probably the first person to bring Christmas to Penang.
How to monetise your vacation?
If you’re planning on settling down in Malaysia for a few months – that is if you are taking a gap year in your studies or your work – you will soon realise that regardless of how affordable life in Malaysia might seem, you still need to monetise your trip to make it work. If you’re a keen writer and love to share new cultures and landscapes with others, you might try your hand at travel blogging. You don’t need to start your own blog for that! In fact, there are plenty of online blogs and magazines which will be happy to pay for your account of Malaysia. If you’re a qualified digital expert, from SEO to web developer, you can make the most of your spare time to sell your skills remotely as a digital freelancer. If you prefer an easier option, you can take a part-time job in the area, either to work in close connection to tourist attractions or as a professional expert for a private or public employer. You can also plan for your future career move with a language qualification to teach English in Malaysia. You will need to pass the exam to become a TEFL teacher, in other words, someone who can teach English as a foreign language, but you’ll find plenty of opportunities in Malaysia as a private tutor for children and as a trainer for adults.
So, at the end of this one question is left for you to answer: Are you ready to pack your pack for Malaysia this Christmas?