Mother Nature is the gift that keeps on giving this December. In the snowy Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi day-long darkness provides the backdrop for the most magical light show on earth, the swirling aurora borealis, while opportunities to hang out with Rudolf and co. or try husky sledding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing abound. Swap the blanket of white for a kaleidoscope of colour in the Amazon rainforest. Now is the ideal time to spot dazzling birdlife, especially the rainbow-feathered macaws that come to munch on the mineral-rich clay in Peru’s Tambopata National Reserve.
If I were you I’d fly to Bangkok and stay at least 2 or 3 nights in the famous Khosan Road area, which has a bad reputation with some people, but it’s really fun. It’s also cheap, and a short walk from most of the main cultural sights. After that you could fly to Ko Samui or Ko Phagnan or Ko Phi Phi, and easily find the better party spots. You could also go to Phuket, but I prefer the others for younger people. Phuket has loads of nice beaches for families and couples, but the one “party town” (Patong Beach) is a bit over the top, and mostly geared for groups of men who want to go to the “beer bars” and strip clubs and whatnot. The smaller islands will have a more mixed crowd, including many backpacking females. Hopefully this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
There are many other Thai islands that could also be ideal and have what you are looking for. Another option is Boracay Island and I mention it because I spent an evening hanging out with some guys visiting from Saudi Arabia and they liked it a lot. The weather won’t be “cool” but it should be nice, and they do have very good nightlife in the Boat Station 1 area.
There’s really nothing like the holidays in Manhattan. December tends not to be too cold in New York -- you may actually pine a bit for snow as you mosey past Fifth Avenue shops, peering in at the elaborate holiday window displays. The rink at Rockefeller Center gets crowded, but catch it midweek and you’ll have room to skate a lap beneath the most famous Christmas tree in the world. And if you’re still picking up last-minute gifts, you really can’t beat the shopping in this town. Even usually gruff New Yorkers seem to have a brighter spirit this time of year, and carols echo through the subway stations thanks to the city’s many transit musicians. There’s no better time to go and bask in the Home Alone 2 Christmas vibes.
As Christmas approaches the city will fill up much more, so if you can go early in the month you'll be much better off. But even if you can't go before the last week of the month you'll still find Mexico City to be a tremendous bargain compared to pretty much anywhere else in North America. It's a great shopping destination, and not just for goofy souvenirs, so that's something to think about as well.
The food, including its famous ceviche dishes, is a particular highlight here, and the tourist district of Miraflores is packed with interesting and cheap restaurants. Basic and cheap hotels are in the same neighborhood, so it's a better alternative to the historic center of Lima for most people. By the way, the rainy season in Cusco starts in December, so the trails can sometimes be cut off, although many people go anyway.
The most important holiday in Japan is oshogatsu (New Year), and the month leading up to it is packed with fun festivals and markets. Standouts are Shimai Kobo (December 21) and Shimai Tenjin (December 25) both of which offer great ceramics and handicraft shopping, in addition to lots of good things to eat and drink. From December 8 through the 17th, thousands of lanterns will be placed around Arashiyama, including in the enchanting bamboo forest. If you’re there on New Year’s, you’ll catch the famous the bell-ringing ceremonies -- get up real early and see the monks at Kyoto’s largest temple, Chion-in, or drop by a small-scale local shrine instead.
If you’re a bit more on the timid side, you can always use Yelp and TripAdvisor to get good insights on places people have visited. As a disclaimer, some of the ratings may not be accurate on these sites, so make sure you go through and read some of the more recent reviews that people have written. We did this for a few of the places we visited and had no issues.