The farther, and cheaper, option is Bangkok. A flight would cost more and you might end up having to change planes in Dubai on your way, but once you get there you can find nice hotels starting around US$25 per night, although paying more for a better place is probably worth it. The whole central area of Bangkok around what is called Siam Square is surrounded by about 15 or 20 large shopping malls, many of which focus on clothing. It’s mostly chain stores and prices are good, although it’s not like they are much different from Europe except taxes are a bit lower. You can get locally made clothes at local markets for much lower prices than the chain stores in the malls. Also, Bangkok is a really fun city with plenty to see and do. For what it’s worth, alcohol is much cheaper in Bangkok than in Dubai, and much easier to get as well. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
I have been reading the thread with great interest. I took my 2 daughters aged 11 and 18 to SE Asia in December and they loved it. Siem Reap – lovely vibe over new year and not too busy. Would stay longer than 3 days because the heat and humidity slows you down and you would rather want to cool down in the hotel pool in afternoons and try and squeeze in more than 1 wat in a day. Easy to get around and good food and vibe in Pub Street.
December is the end of the rainy season in Boracay, but by the middle of December you would probably only get a few quick tropical showers a week. Room rates are a bit lower at that time as well, so it can be a great time to visit. If you were looking for a place to go for 2 or 3 days, I wouldn’t recommend it because it does take some time to get there and you could be a bit unlucky with the rain. But if you are going for longer than that I’d highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful little island that feels like you’ve gone back in time to before mass-market tourism in places like Phuket.
On my own trip I spent 3 nights on the North Island after leaving Auckland, and then 4 nights on the South Island. The South Island is more scenic and interesting, and much less crowded, so I would have liked to have stayed another 2 or 3 nights if I had the time. So I’d recommend 3 or 4 nights on the North Island and 5 to 7 nights on the South Island. With smaller towns and smaller crowds on the South Island, that is the better place for star gazing, though most of the North Island is fairly empty as well. It’s an amazing place and I’m sure you’ll love it. Have a great trip. -Roger
There's a massive range of quality and prices when it comes to hotels in Bangkok, and the city is enormous as well, so you really want to do your research for this place. Most people are happier paying a bit more to stay near the river and all the tourist attractions, or even in the infamous Khosan Road backpacker district, which is cheap and fun, if tacky.
Gorgeous weather, an enviable winter suntan, and thriving dining and nightlife are obvious reasons for heading to Miami in December. Art Basel Miami Beach 2018, a contemporary art extravaganza and America’s premier art fair, is another incentive for a Miami trip. With celebrities, parties, and unmatched celebrations throughout the city, over 250 world-renowned galleries and 4,000 participating artists will display their creations and collections. The Betsy South Beach, centrally located in Miami Beach’s Art Deco district, will be a major Art Basel venue. Another noteworthy accommodation is The Setai Miami Beach, situated oceanside in South Beach. Featuring 87 Art Deco rooms and 49 ocean suites, the Setai will debut five new retail stores by the end of the year. There is no shortage of family-friendly fun in the Magic City, so named for its rapid growth from 1,000 residents to over 5 million in the past 120 years. Santa’s Enchanted Forest at Tropical Park is the largest holiday theme park in the world featuring carnival rides, shows, games, race cars, food, holiday displays, music, and dazzling Christmas lights. The Miami Lantern Light Festival at the Fair Expo Center celebrates Chinese culture, featuring food, acrobats, handmade souvenirs, rides, and huge handmade lanterns symbolic of illuminating the future and the reunion of family.
Without knowing more about your interests, my top suggestion would be to focus on Sydney and Melbourne and the areas around both. The Blue Mountains near Sydney are also nice for a couple days or so. The main challenge you’d have in seeing a lot of Australia is that it’s all so spread out. You can hire a car for Melbourne and Sydney and that whole area, but it’s better to fly to get to Uluru (near Alice Springs) or Brisbane or Cairns/Great Barrier Reef or Perth. You’d be driving for days in between those places if you started from the southeast area where most people live.
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, head to Tallinn to see the medieval city decked out in a blanket of snow, complete with flickering candles lining the streets and markets flogging quintessential Christmas curiosities and festive treats. And if that’s not enough seasonal charm for you, make for Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland, the ‘official home’ of Santa Claus. Once you’ve dropped your gift list off with the big man himself, treat yourself to a husky sledding excursion or reindeer safari to explore the region in full effect.
Tamarindo and Smara are two of the most popular beach areas, but there are other good choices in the area as well. This part of Costa Rica is known for large chain resorts on the beach, and the 4-star resorts can be pricey, while the more traditional 3-star hotels are still very reasonable. Costa Rica is obviously one of the hot countries in December in both temperature and popularity, so book early.
If you are going to that region I suggest you visit a site called travelfish.org, which is by far the best website on SE Asia and it’s run by a friend of mine who lives in Bali. They have busy forums where you can ask questions and quickly get them answered by experts on every imaginable topic there. I’m happy to help more as you are planning, so let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Unfortunately, it can be a bit complicated and time consuming to reach any of these Philippines resort areas. I don’t think I’d recommend doing more than 2 of them in a 8 to 10 day trip. The nice thing is that they are very secluded-feeling once you get there because they are so out of the way. Partly for that reason, I think staying for 4 or 5 days each is very nice.
As for Malaysia, you could book online and it might cost a bit more, but more things go by a fixed price in Malaysia so it might not be much different. Personally I’d probably book tours through my hotel once I got there, just as in Vietnam. But there is a BIG difference between the countries in that Malaysia is a much richer country and there are very few scams to worry about. Vietnam is still fairly poor and they were communist for so long that people got used to trying to scam people a bit as the only way of getting ahead. So the good news is that Vietnam is a gorgeous country with excellent food and very low prices on almost everything. But the bad news is that you have to be more careful in Vietnam because people will try to overcharge you if they can, even though it still might seem cheap to you. That’s one reason I like to book with hotels, because they put the reputation of the hotel on the line when they book something for you, and they can’t afford to get a string of bad reviews by charging an extra US$5 on a cut-rate tour. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
That definitely helps! Though I think I was quite unclear in the first place. Being in the same region is definitely not a constraint. We’ve been considering Africa as well, for example! Also, a couple of days of beach time is also sort of desirable, and we’re not really into visiting cities as such. Ideally, we wish to have some time to spend on beaches/resorts/hotels along with some time in a place like a safari or something.
You could go somewhere that’s cute in December, or you could go somewhere that’s iconic. If you choose the latter, here’s absolutely everything you need to know about traveling to Yellowstone. In brief: There are tons of winter activities (snowmobiling, skiing, etc.), and even though most of the roads will be closed, there’s oversnow transport to get you around the park. Look for wolves at dawn and dusk, watch frost-covered bison plowing through the deep snow, and see the steam rise off Mammoth Hot Springs. If you’re a backcountry camper who knows what they’re doing, permits in wintertime are free.
Even cheaper than that is Cartagena, although the flight would probably be a bit more expensive. Cartagena has a gorgeous walled colonial Old City filled with cool hotels, shops, and restaurants, and it’s a 10-minute cheap taxi ride to a strip of beachfront hotels in a modern neighborhood. It helps if you know Spanish in both places, but Playa del Carmen has so many English speakers that it’s easy to get by on that alone. Those are my best picks in our region for inexpensive places that are fun with a lot to offer a solo traveler or small group. Let me know if you have any questions. -Roger
If those flights are too expensive you might think about going somewhere else in Mexico or to Costa Rica. The area around Cancun including Playa del Carmen and Tulum and Cozumel has a LOT going on. And if you’ve been there you could instead go to the Puerto Vallarta area, which is very different and also great. For activities though it’s hard to beat Costa Rica. I think they invented zip-lining and the country is about one-third national parks with all kinds of fun activities. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger