The biggest single highlight in the region is the Angkor Wat temples near Siem Reap in Cambodia. It’s one of the most impressive tourist sights in the entire world, and Siem Reap is a fun and mellow town that you can linger in for a while. Vietnam is really lovely and cheap as well. The food there is excellent, as it’s a fusion of French and traditional Asian. You can go from Ho Chi Minh City in the south on the train to Hoi An near Da Nang, and then up to Hanoi to see Halong Bay. I wouldn’t start in Vietnam because it can be a bit trickier than the others. In the rest of the region it’s easy to book tours and buses and such, but in Vietnam the travel agencies are a bit harder to trust, so you have to be more careful. Things there are very cheap though, so even if you pay more for a reputable agency, it’ll still be cheap.
Fortunately, it rarely rains at all in Cairo, so even though December is one of the wetter months, that means nothing and you are unlikely to see even a drop of rain. Hotel prices do reach their peak in Cairo starting late in December, so it's best to go early in the month if possible. Egypt is definitely one of the cheapest places to travel in December, and the weather is surprisingly nice as well.
When it comes to flights over the Christmas holidays, you should book as early as possible. The airlines know they can fill every seat at a high price so they don’t have an incentive to lower fares like they do for flights in January or February. Air Asia now flies from the US to Asia and at good fares. Aside from them it’s just the major airlines as well as some Chinese airlines that do those routes.
Thank you so much for the kind words and I’m always happy to hear that people find this information useful. As far as Turkey in December is concerned, I wouldn’t recommend it. I actually lived in a small town near Antalya on the Mediterranean for a bit over a year and I was surprised by the fact that almost everything closed down around 1-November and didn’t start opening again until March or April. Actually, I think Istanbul would still be enjoyable in December and so would Bodrum or any of the other larger cities including Antalya. But anywhere on the coast will be a ghost town and I’m pretty sure that Cappadocia would also be mostly shut for the winter. Ephesus probably stays open, but similar to Cappadocia, the attractions are all outdoors and they can get pretty fierce rainstorms in winter.
From exquisitely decorated storefronts to the amazing Rockettes Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall, New York City attracts thousands of tourists every December. Visit the Big Apple during the holidays! It’s a sight to behold. We recommend visiting Rockefeller Center to go ice skating, go shopping at new pop-up shops or just enjoy a cup of hot chocolate at Serendipity 3.
Dubai has pretty much perfect weather in November, and this is really the first month since April when it's not scorching here. Fortunately, the crowds are also light because most people wait until Christmas to start traveling to warmer places. Dubai can be incredibly expensive if you have a big budget, but it doesn't have to be. You can get good deals on non-chain hotels and even apartment hotels this month, and if you skip the hotel restaurants and the fancier places in malls, you can eat well on a modest budget here.
Assuming you might be in the US or Canada, my first hunch is Costa Rica, or Panama, which is a bit cheaper though not as well organized. Costa Rica has good surfing on its Pacific beaches, and there are very few all-inclusive resorts, which means that the restaurant scenes in resort areas are vibrant and interesting. Costa Rica also has limitless adventure opportunities, like zip-line tours and such, although they aren’t exactly cheap. Going inland you’ve got loads of national parks, as well as the famous volcano and its little spa town.
While December is quite busy in Lima, as a very popular summer beach destination for South Americans, it's also still very reasonably priced so it's worth considering if you are exploring the continent. The beaches aren't spectacular as they are in Brazil and elsewhere, but Lima is still a great summer city with great outdoor life this time of year.
Overall this is a perfect time of year to visit almost anywhere in Argentina. When December arrives things really start filling up and all the locals are on their own holidays, so November is the ideal mix of great weather that isn't too steamy, and modest crowds and prices. With Argentina's recent inflation and currency devaluation, it can be hard to know how expensive this trip will be, but for most people it will be cheaper than in recent years.
Cancun is at the north end of the Riviera Maya, which also includes the island of Cozumel, so this is a huge area with over a thousand hotels to choose from. All that competition keeps prices down until the high season begins, so November is still a buyer's market. There are even ruins nearby and other cultural opportunities, so it's not all about sitting on the beach here. If you prefer a high-rise hotel overlooking a beach then stay in Cancun itself, but if you prefer to stay in a friendly town with many restaurant and shopping choices then head to Playa del Carmen, just a bit to the south, instead.
Rio is probably the most beautiful city in the world as far as the setting is concerned, but it’s also famous for petty crime. As you mentioned, I think it’s quite easy to stay safe as long as you are aware of the situation. The biggest problem by far is tourists getting robbed by someone holding a knife or sometimes a gun, and they are often in groups. However, this almost always happens to people who are walking close to the water on the beaches after the crowds have gone for the day. The sidewalks along Copacabana and Ipanema are brightly lit and safe, but there is a mound of sand between the sidewalk and the water, so if you go to the water you can’t be seen by the security guards and police on the street. As long as you avoid that, and any other situation where you are alone in a dark place late at night, you’ll be fine.
All of my best suggestions are in the article above, but I’ll try to expand a bit more. The tricky thing, as you probably know, is that November is part of the heavy rain season in most of Thailand and the other popular southeast Asian countries. There are wet months in summer with just short rain storms, but in November it can often be rainy all day.
As for Malaysia, I love it there too, but it has very few nice beaches in the main part of the country (not including Borneo). But now that you mention it, they do have some nice beaches in Penang, which is the best tourist area anyway. If you search for hotels in Penang, make sure that they are on or very near a nice beach. Most of the island does not have sandy beaches, but some parts do.
Southeast Asia is easier to deal with, and there are cheap flights connecting in the Middle East and landing in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Each of those is a very interesting city, and there are many smaller places to go in the same region. In Malaysia there is Penang and Melaka. In Thailand there is Chiang Mai and quite a few others in that area. In Laos you can visit Luang Prabang, which sounds like it could be a winner for you. And there is also Siem Reap, which is home to the amazing Angkor Wat temple complex.