6 Places to Escape Christmas

Enough with the baubles, bells and sleigh-rides. These places offer a culture shift and a different way to get your merry

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Pattaya, Thailand

Most of Thailand’s population is Buddhist, so you can feast your eyes on ornate temples (there are more than 40,000) instead of santas. And if you’d like to experience gorgeous stretches of white, sandy beach during your escape, head for the coastal resort, Pattaya, just 2 hours south of Bangkok. November to February is the “cool,” mostly dry, season, with temperatures in the 80s. Get more information on visiting Thailand here.


Marrakesh, Morocco

December 25 is a regular business day in this country, where 99 percent of the population is Muslim. If you’re a dedicated shopper, that’s just as well, as Marrakesh is renowned for it’s markets, or souks, where you can buy jewelry, kaftans, rugs, nuts, dried fruits, spices, teas, olives, leather goods—the selection is mind-boggling. Paul Sullivan, in his book A Hedonist’s Guide to Marrakesh, writes: "A honeycomb of intricately connected alleyways, this fundamental section of the old city is a micro-medina in itself, comprising a dizzying number of stalls and shops that range from itsy kiosks no bigger than an elf's wardrobe to scruffy store-fronts that morph into glittering Aladdin's Caves once you're inside." Get more information about visiting Morocco here.

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Vajrayana Buddhism is the dominant religion in Bhutan, and many of the attractions here are focused on Bhutan’s vibrant religious history. Nestled on the eastern slopes of the Himalayas, the country is one of the most biologically diverse in the world, and a haven for rare and endangered wildlife like red pandas, barking deer, golden langurs, and royal Bengal tigers.  The climate varies considerably, depending on where you go, but December is winter in Bhutan, and while you won’t encounter any reindeer you can expect snow. Get more information on visiting Bhutan here.


Istanbul, Turkey

Christians make up less than one percent of the population in this predominantly Muslim country, so it's easy to escape the yuletide festivities here and instead steep youself in Turkey’s fascinating history and architecture. The attractions in Istanbul include the spectacular Aya Sofiya—a church-turned-mosque-turned-museum—the Topkapi Palace, with its famous harem, and several Ottoman bathhouses. Protests wracked Turkey earlier this year, but Istanbul appears to have recovered from the disturbances: As of mid-December 2013, the US government did not have a travel warning for this country. Get more information on visiting Turkey here.

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St. Petersburg, Russia

This city is an art-lover’s paradise, with more than 100 museums and many famous works on view at the Hermitage and the Kustkammer. The residents are mostly Russian Orthodox and they don’t celebrate Christmas until January 7, so a visit around December 25 will be free of jingle bells. Russian winters have gotten bad press, but St. Petersburg’s temperatures during the week of December 16, 2013 were warmer than New York City’s. Get more information on visting St. Petersburg here.

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Kyoto, Japan

Most Japanese citizens follow Shinto religious practices, and only a tiny minority call themselves Christians. Although Santa has managed to stake a toe-hold here, egged on by commercial interests. there are pockets of resistance—historic palaces, temples, shrines and gardens in Kyoto—where you can imagine yourself in a bauble-free, bygone world. Kyoto is the former imperial capital of Japan and it was spared destruction in World War II. Many of its attractions have been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. The city is also home to a vibrant artisanal crafting community. Get more information on visiting Kyoto here.

Next: Healthy Holiday Desserts

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How about visiting Eilat, Israel at Christmas? Great beaches and not much tinsel as most of the country is Jewish.

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