In her dynamite cookbook “Martha Stewart’s Vegetables,” the queen of domesticity shows how acorn squash can be a canvas for a variety of flavors. Roasted with sesame seeds and cumin, the squash takes on the warmth of the Mediterranean. Tossed with bacon, maple syrup and a touch of cayenne, it echoes the comfort of the breakfast table. And paired with orange peel, sage leaves and a touch of grated Parmigiano offers the perfect balance to rich gravy and herbed stuffing.
But again, Vietnam can be a bit complicated for first-timers. Specifically, you need to book trains and tours through travel agencies, and Vietnam’s many travel agencies have a worldwide reputation for being hard to trust. They are all great salespeople but the product they deliver isn’t always what you expected. I spent 4 months in Vietnam and loved most of it, though I think it was much easier as a solo traveler who didn’t have a set schedule.
As for alternatives you might consider Argentina, where of course it will be late spring in November. Buenos Aires is a wonderful city and recently they’ve been going through a financial meltdown again so their currency has dropped a lot, making things unusually cheap again. You could spend 3 or 4 days in Buenos Aires and the rest in the Mendoza wine country or Iguazu Falls or Bariloche for some adventure. From everything I have heard it’s all safe and civil there, so it’s just a matter of the local currency going down in value.
Weirdly enough, Central America and South America aren’t really known as top “culture” destinations, as the colonial history has mostly wiped out the indigenous history in the larger places. There are Aztec, Maya, and Inca ruins and sights, but not really enough to build a whole trip around. I’d say the most interest of those would be the Inca culture of Peru, specifically around Machu Picchu and the valley around Cusco. Alternatively, visiting Argentina is pretty much like visiting Europe from a culture standpoint. It’s quite nice there and prices are low if you know about the blue market for currency, but otherwise it may not be what you are looking for.
Hmmm…this is a tricky one. Since you want to get out of SEA, you might have to go a long way to reach someplace that could be considered cheap and also has decent weather in December. Japan and South Korea will be cold, and not really cheap. If you go south you hit Australia, which is very expensive by most SEA standards (although not bad by Singapore standards). Perth is obviously closest and it’s a real city, and of course Sydney and Melbourne will be in early summer in December so those could work if your budget allows. Brisbane and Cairns are both known for outdoor activities, although nightlife might be tough for teenagers and there are no real cultural sights.
By early December the rainy season is pretty much over in Cartagena, and it cools down just a bit more as well, so the weather really doesn't get any better than this. As with most others on this list, right around Christmas you'll find that hotels get more expensive and are more crowded, so if you can go earlier in the month you'll be paying less and dealing with fewer crowds.
Trekking in Nepal during peak season might not sound like the most sensible choice for penny-pinching backpackers. But you can still enjoy the ideal weather without spending a fortune on in-demand hotels and expensive permits if you're happy to swap big-name trails, like Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit, for quieter treks to Kanchenjunga Base Camp and around the Langtang Valley. Idyllic conditions (dry but not witheringly hot) are also on offer in Rajasthan, one of India’s most vibrant and varied states. Chug between notable, attraction-rich cities like Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur on an atmospheric and wallet-friendly Indian train, snacking on spicy pakoras and sipping sugary chai en route.