December is the second month of winter in most parts of China. You still can visit China's most popular three tourist cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi'an. Most of their popular attractions are historical sites and cold weather won't stop you appreciating their charms. However, you need to prepare for chilly and windy weather.
December is off-peak time in most parts of China. Avoid crowds and enjoy cost-efficient travel. However, China's ski resorts are in full swing and Harbin's snow and ice activities have begun.
1. Hong Kong — for a Delightful Shopping Tour
There are at least two benefits of traveling to Hong Kong in December: mild weather and plenty of discounted goods.
Mild weather: Hong Kong in December is mild with lower humidity, and the average temperature is about 21℃ (70 °F). Though it is often cloudy, rain is light and infrequent, and typhoons don't occur in this month. So the weather is nice for visiting Hong Kong's attractions.
Shopping: Hong Kong is arguably one of the best shopping places in Asia. In December, especially during the days around the Christmas holidays, almost all shops will hold sales promotions. Shopping in Hong Kong in December should be a money saver and a delightful experience. Make your Christmas shopping list and plan your Hong Kong tour now.
2. Beijing — Enjoy a Less-Crowded Historical Trip
Traveling to Beijing in December, you can enjoy a less-crowded and relatively quiet trip, in the off season. If you only have this month available for travel, you won't be able to see the best of Beijing's natural scenery, but the special silence of winter with fewer tourists will make your visits to historical sites much more peaceful.
Weather: December is the second month of Beijing's winter, with temperatures just getting above freezing during the day. If it is windy, the weather can be very chilly with dust and fog. If you happen to see snowy weather (some snow always falls on December), you can appreciate the capital's graceful snow scenery, especially the awesome scenery of the Great Wall — with the mountains in snow.
Skiing is one of the most popular activities when traveling to Beijing in December. By December all Beijing's ski resorts are open. The most recommended four are Nanshan Ski Resort, Wanlong Ski Resort, Jundushan Ski Resort, and Shijinglong Ski Resort.
3. Xishuangbanna — Tropical Rain Forest Culture
Different from most parts of China, Xishuangbanna's tourist peak season lasts from November to April. Located in southernmost mainland China and quite near Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam, the customs there are more similar to Thailand. There you can see various types of tropical plants, and may even come across an elephant in Wild Elephant Valley.
The Dai Minority has its biggest population in Xishuangbanna. You can taste delicious and different food (it is said that Dai people love to eat ant eggs), experience unique ethnic customs. Dai dancing is very elegant, and a typical example is the peacock dance.
Mild to warm: In December the temperature averages from 13 to 24℃ (55–75 °F) and the rainfall is very low, far better than the hot, wet summer.
4. Harbin — Skiing and a World of Ice and Snow
The best times to travel to Harbin is from December to January, when the city is decorated with silver ice and snow. Though the annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival opens on January 5, the themed ice and snow celebration activities begin in December, including enjoying ice sculptures, winter swimming, playing football on snow fields, and skiing.
Weather: December is already well into Harbin's long winter, which is chilly, dry, and clear with some snow. The temperatures stay well below freezing, on average -10℃ (14 °F) to -20℃ (-4 °F). Remember to prepare warm winter clothes. You can buy (bargain) warm clothes in Harbin. It is warm indoors, because central heating is available in most buildings.
There are several ski resorts near Harbin, and the top three are Yabuli Skiing Center, Erlongshan Skiing Resort, and Jihua Skiing Resort.
5. Mount Emei — Views, Pandas, Skiing, and Hotpot
Mount Emei is about 169 kilometers (about a two-hour drive) from Chengdu City. The snow scenery on Mount Emei is fantastic. Mount Emei rises 3,099 meters above sea level, and it becomes a world of snow during winter. Wear comfortable, waterproof, and skid-proof boots when climbing the mountain. Bathing in a hot spring, seeing the sunrise, and skiing are also recommended activities around Mount Emei.
In December the temperature on Mount Emei is below zero, especially on its top, and the lowest temperature in December of 2011 was -12℃ (10 °F). You can rent a coat on the top (the Golden Summit). If you plan to stay a night on Mount Emei, you can choose a hotel or a temple. If you want to see the sunrise, you might need to get up early and choose a suitable position, because it might be a little crowded.
Though it is cold in December, you also can see the giant pandas in the Panda Breeding and Research Center in Chengdu. Tasting a spicy Sichuan hot pot in cold December can make you much warmer.
6. The Yellow Mountains — Magnificent Snow Scenery
The Yellow Mountains are worth a visit all the year round. Different from the famous pictures of the Yellow Mountains, with verdant pine trees and exposed peculiar rocks, the Yellow Mountains in December are large scrolls of peace, pure white, and breathtaking views of snow.
In December, the average temperature on the Yellow Mountains is about -5℃ (23°F). It is more likely for visitors' to see magnificent seas of cloud in winter. The sunrises and sunsets on the mountains are also splendid. These are photographers' favorite scenes.
Entrance fees, hotel rates, and cable car costs are all significantly reduced in winter, but some paths are closed in winter if they become dangerous.