The rainy season is over so it's an ideal time to base yourself in Chiang Mai for some outdoor activities in the area. There are temples like crazy in the city center between the old walls, but even more interesting ones in the area just around Chiang Mai. There's also great trekking and such, available quite affordably from any travel agency in the city.
Yes I travelled a bit by train in southern India, I got lucky on my first few journeys with lack of people, then I hit some Indian holidays and it was hellish. I remember the trains being booked up for all the upgraded a/c and upper class carriages. One time even the Indians were fainting on the over packed carriage so you can imagine the heat for little old gringo me!
That was very nice of you to take the time to mention this. Interestingly, I’ve been to Bali exactly twice so far (going again in early 2016) and both times have been in December. As you have probably noticed, the rainy season in Bali can be VERY rainy at times, which is why I didn’t put it on the list during the worst months. I still clearly remember standing in almost 2 feet of water trying to push the minibus I was riding in to a dry enough area to start the engine again. That was on the way to Ubud, but most of the time the rain isn’t problematic and I’d go back again again in December if given the chance. Just don’t expect any Christmas decorations or celebrations because they pretty much ignore it there, even in tourist areas. Have a great trip. -Roger
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
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.
Another destination that might not exactly have “great” weather in December, yet deserves to be on the list, Sharm el-Sheikh is famously Egypt's most popular Red Sea beach resort. Those following the news might still hesitate to book a trip here, whether that is a rational decision or not. But at the very least this is one to consider in the future, as it's an amazing bargain once you get here.
Montreal’s oldest Catholic Church, dating to 1656, includes stained glass that chronicles the history of the city. The city’s Parisian-style historic district, with cultural landmarks, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants, can be toured in a horse-drawn carriage for the full vintage effect. La Grande Degustation de Montreal (Nov. 2-3) attracts wine producers, distillers, and brewers from around the world. Montreal also hosts the 24th-annual French Language Film Festival (Nov. 1-11) featuring contemporary films from around the world subtitled in English. When it’s cold, visitors can head to the underground city, a network of tunnels, corridors, and plazas with more than 1,000 retailers and restaurants. The Montreal Tower Observatory, the world’s tallest inclined tower, provides breathtaking views of the city, the Laurentian Mountains, and St. Lawrence River Valley.
The only other suggestion I have, which gets almost no rain in November, is Goa, India. There are about 20 different beach areas in Goa, and some of them (Anjuna and Vagator) are famous as party beaches, while many others are more mellow and family oriented. It’s also very cheap and beach massages and that sort of thing are excellent value. Let me know if you have more questions about that. I hope one of these things works out for you. -Roger
We are looking to explore warm Central American destinations safe for kids and affordable in price. We love beaches. Not in the typical sun-bathing type of way, but rather appreciating the raw beauty of the nature. We also like to eat out and having activities for the kids and as a family would be excellent. Could you suggest a destination that fits the bill? Central America appeals to me but open to other suggestions you may find worth mentioning.
In spite of its image of being blazing hot all the time, December in Cairo can actually be on the cool side, at least in the evenings. This is great though because almost all the important sights are outdoors and requite a lot of walking between them. For 9 months of the year it can get very hot doing that, so these few cooler months are ideal for visiting the famous sights.
This popular island in the Andaman Sea boasts mountains, rainforests, white sand beaches, nightlife, and a range of hotels from casual to ultra-luxury. Watersports of all kinds are popular, with snorkeling and scuba diving among the colorful fish and coral reefs a favorite. Boat trips take visitors to smaller nearby islands and among the limestone cliffs, caves, and karsts — steep limestone structures rising from the clear aqua sea. The white marble “Big Buddha” statue, nearly 150 feet tall, on top of Nakkerd Hills is visible from miles around, and it provides a stunning viewpoint. The island has been settled from early times and through the years with migrants from India, Arabia, China, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Netherlands, France, and Great Britain, all attracted by Phuket’s natural resources. Old Phuket Town’s shrines, temples, museums, shophouses, and buildings provide some evidence of the island’s history. Today, for lively nightlife, head to Bangla Road at Patong Beach for restaurants, pubs, music, open air cafes, and street performers. For many visitors, Phuket’s beaches are the main attraction, and with more than 30 around the island along with ideal December weather, everyone can find the perfect spot for sunning and swimming. For the ultimate in luxury, the beachfront Banyan Tree Phuket offers villas with private pools and open-air bathtubs, an award-winning spa, several dining options, golf, and a tranquil saltwater lagoon.
If you ask at a hotel in India about getting train tickets, they almost certainly know a way of getting them for you. They share in the profits of the commission, so they will usually find a way. However, perhaps in Goa it is less common because the train stations are a long way from the beaches so it could be a 3-hour return trip to the station instead of a 20-minute trip in the cities.
If you are looking for an island that is moderately priced in late November I would probably head to Thailand. The rainy season typically ends in the middle of November in Phuket and Ko Samui and the other popular islands, although you might still get a few quick storms in late November. One nice thing is the crowds don’t start coming until mid December so you have a huge selection of hotels at really good prices.
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.
Vietnam might be your best choice of the three. Most people (if they can) fly into Hanoi and fly out of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) or the other way around. Again, you can travel between them by train, although getting tickets can be a bit complicated. Hanoi is really interesting and nice (and super cheap). The best tourist city in Vietnam is Hoi An, which is between the two big cities. There’s a nice beach there and a bit farther away is Denang, which has large resorts along an excellent beach. Nha Trang is another good beach city in Vietnam, but probably not great for families. Ho Chi Minh City is bigger and more crowded than Saigon, but it’s also more modern (and hotter). You could spend two really nice weeks going north to south in Vietnam with a long stop in Hoi An.
On the hunt for a non-traditional ski vacation? Look no further than the Japanese Alps. According to American Express Travel, the region has seen an increase in bookings during the holidays in recent years. And while December has historically been less popular than Japan’s peak season—April-November—adventurous travelers are now intrigued by the wilderness of Japan in the winter. The Hida, Kiso, and Akaishi alps are home to indigenous snow monkeys, volcanoes, and lava plateaus, plus, visitors are drawn to the area for its pristine ski offerings, natural hot springs, and rural hiking.
Venice can get pretty cold and they also have those famous Acqua Alta floods in winter, so read up on that before you go. But Rome and Munich should be easy to visit in December. One suggestion I will make is to consider visiting Rome for 3 or 4 nights and then base yourself down on Sorrento for the remaining 2 or 3 nights. Rome is one of those cities that is crowded and chaotic even in winter, to the point that just crossing the street can be frustrating, so many people get tired of that after they’ve seen the main sights. And Sorrento, on the other hand, is a lovely small city that is close to Amalfi, Pompeii, Naples, and the Isle of Capri, so it’s an ideal base to visit all of those. Sorrento is also cheaper than Rome, and a surprising number of locals speak English there, so it’s easy and pleasant. That time of year I’m not even sure if the tourist buses are running to Amalfi, although the local ones will be.
I’m sure you’ll have a great time. I don’t have any good suggestions for where to celebrate Christmas, but I’m sure you’ll have no problems finding something by just walking around or checking online. The top draw in Barcelona is the architecture, and especially the 20th Century buildings by Gaudi. I recommend the hop-on, hop-off bus tour because it allows you to see almost all of the famous buildings from the street in just a few hours. Park Guell is worth a visit, but of course the main attraction is the Sagrada Familia cathedral. Check opening times and reserve a ticket in advance if you can.
You mention New Zealand and of course it’s summer there then, so it would be a good choice. However, all of these places will be crowded and near peak hotel rates if they are warm. So I’ll be happy to give you advice if you tell me if you’d rather visit one or more European cities in the cold season, or if you are looking for a warm place like New Zealand where it will be fairly crowded. By the way, the southern European cities such as Rome and Barcelona are lively and enjoyable that time of year, as the Christmas season goes on, and there aren’t too many tourists except for a few that travel to see their families around the holidays. So it can be a good time for southern Europe, as long as you don’t mind wearing a jacket or jumper during the day, and maybe a bit more in the evening. Give me a bit more guidance and I’ll be happy to try to help. -Roger