Until now, tourism on the beautiful islands strung along Cambodia's 440km coastline has centred on simple, laid-back beach shacks. Now, the first luxury resort has opened. Song Saa (songsaa.com) is a collection of 27 villas spread over two jungle-clad islands in the Gulf of Thailand. Tourism development in Cambodia has not been without controversy, but the owners of Song Saa are keen to stress their commitment to sustainability, employing a team of four to oversee the protection of the marine reserve surrounding the islands and to manage projects with local communities.
But above all Song Saa is about luxury – the villas are vast and each has its own pool, the restaurant is headed by Neil Wager, formerly chef at the insanely luxurious North Island in the Seychelles, and a typical day will be spent wafting between the spa, water sports centre, yoga centre and infinity pool. Of course, private islands where you are pampered to within an inch of your life do not come cheap. But for the next three months the resort is offering a major discount, so if you are going to splash out on a once-in-a-lifetime week of luxury, now is the time to do it. Between 23 December and 13 February, an eight-night stay with full board in a jungle villa, plus a night's B&B in Phnom Penh and private flight transfers, costs from £2,141pp with AboutAsia (aboutasiatravel.com), a saving of £1,981pp. Offer excludes international flights.
Or for a tenth of that, a week's trip combining B&B at The Independence hotel in Sihanoukville and a B&B stay at Lazy Beach (lazybeachcambodia.com) on the island of Koh Rong Samloem, a two-hour boat ride from Sihanoukville, costs around £225pp in early December, including transfers, also through AboutAsia. Flights extra.
How do you enjoy the year-round sunshine of the Canary Islands on a budget without booking a tacky package? Answer: set sail! Tall Ships Adventures (023-9283 2055, tallships.org) is offering a seven-night voyage around the islands, starting and finishing in Tenerife. Open to anyone aged 18 to 75 – sailors and non-sailors – it's all hands on deck with everyone expected to muck in and help sail the ship alongside the professional crew. That means you might find yourself on night watch in the wee hours, rather than sleeping soundly in your bunk. A special two-for-one offer this December means it's cheap as chips: £382.50 full-board for two. The catch? You get what you pay for – crew sleep in "pipe cots" in shared cabins with eight to a cabin. Spacious it ain't. The trip departs 11 December, so you'll be home in time to celebrate Christmas with a healthy glow.
Does the prospect of the festive season bring you out in a cold sweat (all that shopping, the annual debate over who's going where and cooking what?) Then a cheeky pre-Christmas break at the Bell, a new pub with rooms in Ticehurst, East Sussex, could be just the ticket (01580 200234, thebellinticehurst.com, rooms from £90 to £145). It's so new (opening 11 November) its website isn't even up and running yet – though the holding page is enough to make us want to go.
If the relentless gentrification of tired pubs irks you, the Bell definitely isn't one for you. The new owner has pumped an astonishing £2.8m into the former coaching inn – surely some sort of gastrofication record. As well as the pub, it has seven guest rooms that mix quirky vintage finds with modern must-haves, including iPads and plasma screens, and some with real log fires, a guest parlour with honesty bar and a restaurant. It's so hot off the press we don't have details yet of the menu but the marketing blurb describes it as "traditional with a modern twist, using local ingredients". Twenty minutes' drive from Tunbridge Wells, Ticehurst is an archetypal south-east England village with a ramshackle churchyard, a handful of unreconstructed pubs and great walking on the doorstep.
Christmas shopping is one of those activities that should be fun but nearly always feels like a chore and ends up with a last-minute trudge along the highstreet or a trawl through amazon.co.uk. Bring back the fun – spend the weekend in Istanbul, and you can pick up some fantastic bargains that you know no one else will have bought, in between gawping at world-class sights from the Byzantine Ayasofya mosque to the Archaeological Museum, which houses the tomb of Alexander the Great.
If bargain hunting in the Grand Bazaar leaves you in need of a rest, book into a hammam for a restorative massage – the Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam is a 16th-century bathhouse where you can sweat out the grime of the city in spectacular surroundings, before hitting the bars and restaurants in the evening. For places to drink, eat and party, take a look at our brilliant insider's guide to the city.
Exclusive Escapes (020-8605 3500, exclusiveescapes.co.uk) has an offer on Istanbul breaks until mid-December. A three-night stay at the Sirkeci Konak boutique hotel costs £720pp, including return flights with Turkish Airlines, transfers and a private guide for half a day.
Bruges is atmospheric at any time of year; in the run up to Christmas it is even more fairytale-like, its pretty squares and cobbled streets strung with lights, and tempting aromas drifting from market stalls. An added festive factor is the 300 tonnes of ice and 400 tonnes of snow shipped in for the annual Snow & Ice Sculpture festival (25 November-15 January, icesculpture.be, adults €11, children €7). Sculptors create their frosty art works in a giant thermal tent where it's a permanent -6C. This year's theme is Disneyland Paris. A two-night stay at the Hotel Aragon on a B&B basis costs from £238pp including return Eurostar (London St Pancras to Brussels) and onward rail to Bruges with Inntravel (01653 617000, inntravel.co.uk). If you prefer to DIY your trip, the Bread and Butter B&B (+32 5033 4726, breadandbutter.be, doubles from €85 B&B) is a quirky guesthouse with vintage wallpaper and salvaged furniture, but check availability – it only has one guestroom.
Anyone who has considered volunteering over Christmas should check out Hands Up Holidays' (handsupholidays.com) selection of trips, which incoporate an element of charity work into the itinerary. It's not all give – you get to holiday in a fantastic destinations while doing your bit to help. In New Orleans community groups are still working on rebuilding lives – both literally and metaphorically – six years after Hurriance Katrina devastated the city. On this eight-day trip you can do your bit by helping to renovate houses, assisting in a homeless shelter, teaching IT skills or helping in a home for the elderly. You can stay in five-star B&B accommodation for £1,670pp based on two sharing, as shown on the website – or for £1,200pp at the four-star Hotel Monteleone on a B&B basis. The trip includes three full days' volunteering plus sightseeing with a local guide, but not international flights. The price also includes a £150 per person donation to the volunteer project. Dates are flexible.