For many of us in Southeast Asia, a welcome change to the sweltering heat lies in the promise of a winter getaway – cold weather, breathtaking scenery and plenty of white, powdery snow. The good news is you don’t have to travel very far to experience a winter wonderland.

From December until late February, countries in East Asia are abuzz with exciting festivals filled with thrilling activities, winter traditions and incredible snow art – all to welcome the coolest season of the year.

1. The Garden of Morning Calm, South Korea

This idyllic botanical garden, a two-hour train ride from Seoul, is home to 5,000 species of plants, set against the backdrop of Chungryeongsan Mountain. The garden’s stunning landscape forms a canopy of colours throughout the seasons, but in winter, it is transformed into an enchanting venue for the Lighting Festival.

For this annual event that runs from December to March, the 30-hectare garden is adorned with thousands of twinkling lights, making it one of South Korea’s top winter draws. Enjoy a stroll along the snow-covered paths fringed by plants draped in the luminous glow of colourful lights.

You’ll also spot lights set up in the shape of musical instruments and animals all around the place, as well as beautifully lit arches that take you to different parts of the arboretum.

2. Yokote Kamakura Festival, Japan

This 450-year-old folk festival honouring Suijin, the Shinto water deity, is one of Japan’s most unique. Every year on 14 and 15 February, the people of Yokote city in Akita Prefecture build kamakura, an igloo-like structure featuring an altar of Suijin within.

Inside these cosy snow huts, children prepare grilled rice cakes and amazake (sweet fermented rice drink) for visitors, who in turn make offerings to the deity. Also not to be missed are the spectacular sights of mini lantern-type kamakura that have been lit up with candles and placed along the banks of the Yokote River.

You can take leisurely walks around the city to view these festive attractions and even participate in kamakura building at Komyoji Park.

3. Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, China

What started out as a small ice lantern fair in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin in 1963 has become the biggest ice and snow festival on the planet. First organised to showcase the talent of local ice sculptors, today, the festival also reels in international participants who craft intricate, radiant ice and snow sculptures.

Millions of visitors from all over the world now make their way to Harbin for this festival that is held annually between December and February. The event is spread across two venues – Sun Island, where you’ll find mammoth-sized, three-dimensional snow sculptures, and the Harbin Ice and Snow World theme park, filled with around 2,000 life-sized buildings, castles, and landscapes crafted from ice.

4. Pyeongchang Trout Festival, South Korea

Mountainous Pyeongchang County, located 180 kilometres east of Seoul, is perhaps best known as the site of the 2018 Winter Olympics. But for locals, it has long been the home of the Pyeongchang Trout Festival. When Pyeongchang’s Odaecheon River freezes over between December and February, families arrive here in droves to continue the tradition of their ancestors – trout fishing.

Locals punch holes in the icy river surface to catch these fish, known for their firm yet chewy flesh and take them to nearby restaurants to enjoy their fresh catch sashimi-style or grilled. Festival highlights also include snow sledding and ice skating, but nothing beats barehand fishing for the adventurous.

For this, daredevils strip down to their shorts and T-shirts, jump into a pool at sub-zero temperatures and attempt to catch trout using only their hands.

5. Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, Japan

Every February, more than two million people flock to Hokkaido’s capital for Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, the largest snow festival in Japan. The festival dates back to the 1950s when a group of school students built a few snow figurines in Odori Park and unexpectedly drew in crowds.

By the 1970s, this tradition of creating ice sculptures in Sapporo had snowballed into a full-scale event, with professional sculptors from across the world displaying their mesmerising snow art at the park. Today, you can feast your eyes on up to 400 incredibly elaborate snow and ice sculptures, from giant replicas of renowned landmarks like the Taj Mahal – India’s monument to timeless love – and White House to characters from Star Wars and popular anime.

The week-long festival takes place across three venues, including Odori Park, the entertainment district of Susukino and the family favourite Tsu Dome, where kids can enjoy the thrills of snow slides and rafts alongside myriad snow sculptures.

This story was originally published on AirAsia. Zafigo republished this story in full with permission from the publisher, simply because good stories should be read by as many people as possible! If you have stories that will be of interest and useful to women travellers, especially in Asia, please get in touch with us at