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Asia Postings

/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

• Apr. 6, 2005 | 12:30 PM

Discount trips to Hong Kong and Beijing

You expect to part with at least a couple thousand dollars in airfare and a week’s hotel stay when planning a trip to, say, China, right? We thought so, too. But here’s a tempting deal those of us who’ve been dreaming of standing on the Great Wall might not be able to resist.

There are some last-minute spring getaway specials out there right now that will let you sample some of Asia’s finest spots for nearly half of what you’d count on paying. Our favorite is ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ package by e-BestofAsia.com partnered with the Hong Kong Tourism Board, which will let you spend some quality time—seven nights—in Hong Kong and Beijing for $1,074. Roundtrip air on Cathay Pacific from New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles to Hong Kong and a return flight between Hong Kong and Beijing are part of the deal.

The Hong Kong portion of the trip includes four nights at the Newton Kowloon, Nathan or Wharney Hotels and perks like a Museum of History pass and Cultural Kaleidoscope programs. While in Beijing, where you’ll be spending three nights at the Rainbow Hotel, you’ll be escorted by an English-speaking guide on complementary full-day tours of the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall and Ming Tombs.

The package is good for travel in April and May departing on Wednesdays. The deal pays for itself, given that air alone, which from New York to Hong Kong starts from $500 (NWA) and from Hong Kong to Beijing from about $687 (Cathay), costs more than the package itself. Travel in June and July is pricier—$1,599.

For more Hong Kong trips, visit the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Thai me up, bring costs down: Three affordable Asian adventures

As we told you last week, times are tough for the Thai tourism industry. Yesterday, Mr. Sonthaya Khunpluem, the country's tourism and sports minister, told the Bangkok Post that he expected the revenue loss to total $1.27 billion dollars by year's end. This drop in visitor dollars was not just expected in the areas hit by the Tsunami; travel to other parts of Thailand are apparantly way down as well.

Which gives us, dear readers, the opportunity of a lifetime. If you've ever wanted to meditate in front of a 140-foot golden Buddha, free of tourists and surrounded only by Buddhist monks now's the time to do it (at Wat Po, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha). Or perhaps you have a yen to try Thai massage, that athletic and totally unsexual art where the masseuse kneeds your muscles as she wraps your limbs into positions that would make a yogi wince. Go now— you won't have any problems getting an appointment with the top masseuses in town.

Whatever adventure you have in mind—elephant rides in Chiang Mai, overnights with hill tribes, buying custom-tailored suits in Bangkok—will be easier and cheaper this year. Here are just a couple of the offers we've come across to lure travelers back to Thailand:

  • 10 Night Escorted tour for $899: Offerred by well-established Gate 1 Travel on just one date (Oct. 9), this promises to be a thorough introduction to the Land of Smiles. Hitting all of the hotspots of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phitsanulok, and Lampang the tour includes all transportation (including airfare from LA; other gateways also available at a mark-up); loads of guided sightseeing; entrance fees; and all breakfasts (you'll pay for all but one dinner, and all lunches). For what you get, the price is remarkable, and the tour looks well-planned. Departures on Nov. 6 and 16 are $50 more.
  • Six nights' hotel and airfare to Bangkok from $629: For those who prefer getting to know a city (and there's far more than a week's worth of activities and sites in Thailand's capital), web-based travel company Go-Today is offering a week in Bangkok with air from Los Angeles for travel betweeen Apr. 1 and May 20. At the lowest rate, airfare is from LA but there are numerous other gateways available including San Francisco ($60 more); New York ($120 more); Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Detroit, Denver, Washington, DC ($490 more). To read about the hotels on offer, go direction to the Go-Today website. Departures in March are $70 more.
  • Bangkok and Singapore for $899: This last one is an interesting exercise in "compare and contrast"—two nights in hyper-organized, somewhat formal Singapore and three nights experiencing all of the friendly chaos that is Bangkok. What's nice about this package is that not only all flights are involved (including the long hop from either San Francisco or Los Angeles), but the hotels are quite spiffy three-star properties, and some sightseeing is included in the initial costs. Singles pay $160 more and as always, this can be booked from any gateway for a reasonable add-on fee. The company behind this one is Asian specialist Escapes Unlimited.

From the department of good deeds...

To try and encourage more people to visit Thailand and Sri Lanka, Emory California's Adventure Center will be giving away one free tour to any group of four that books places on one of the following exotic getaways:

  • The Best of Thailand (Mar. 12 and Apr. 23): a fourteen-night whirlwind journey covering Bangkok, Chian Mai and the river Kwai, among other areas. All lodgings (including one night on a raft house and one night's homestay in a village), guided tours, transportation and most meals come to $840 on this one (exept for the member of your group who'll be travelling free). Airfare is not included in this rate.
  • Northern Explorer: A slightly shorter version of the Thai tour above at 10 days for $795. Bangkok, Chiang Mai and the River Kwai are once again included. The dates for the freebie are Mar. 26 and Apr. 23.
  • Sri Lanka Discovery:  A fifteen-day tour for $795, which covers many of the country's highlights including the sacred city of Anuradhapura, the Buddhist caves of Dambulla, an elephant orphanage and the former British hill station of Nuwara Eliya. In the course of the tour, participants cycle, canoe and hike, staying all nights in hotels except one (when they camp out under the stars). Free tours will be given away for the Apr. 9, June 18 and July 2 departures.

Both Thailand and Sri Lanka have been suffering from a dearth of tourists ever since the tragic tsunamis. This goes for the areas that were directly affected as well as those thousands of miles away from the scene of the disaster. If you want to spend your tourist dollars in a socially conscious way—and get a nice freebie to boot—consider taking one of these adventurous, affordable tours. We can't think of money better spent.

Donate your frequent flyer miles to tsunami relief efforts, and other good causes

Most are giving money to help communities ravaged by the Dec. 26 tsunami, but did you know you can also donate part of all of your frequent flier miles to the relief efforts in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand? It’s true: FlyerTalk.com, a website bulletin board for frequent fliers in the know, has launched an online drive that encourages the public to dig into their cache of un-used miles and donate as many as it’s able to the Red Cross International Response Fund. For all the details on how you can help, click here.

Delta, which has been in the news a lot of late because of it’s radical and what appears to be highly successful re-structuring (cheaper one-way fares, no more Saturday stay-overs, etc.), is doing its part by allowing SkyMiles members through what it calls its “SkyWish” campaign to donate miles to cover the cost of travel for relief workers from CARE, Unicef, and also the Red Cross, an organization that’s also secured frequent flier miles donation arrangements with Continental, Northwest, and United (which has a broad tsunami relief effort in the works). The agreements vary slightly depending on the airline, so if you’re a frequent flier of one of the carriers mention, call to inquire about specifics.

Additionally, B. R. Guest restaurant group, which owns such popular restaurants in New York City as Fiamma, Dos Caminos, Blue Fin and Ruby Foo's, is donating 20 percent of its net profits from Jan. 9 - 11 to aid tidal wave victims in Southeast Asia. It expects to raise as much as $200,000 for the effort. If you live in New York City or are visiting for the weekend, consider dining at one of its restaurants.

And lastly, we got an email this morning stating that the in Buena Vista, Colorado will donate 100 percent of its room revenues in January to Operation USA, a 25 year old non-profit that works nationally and internationally addressing issues such as natural and man-made disasters, chronic poverty, health and nutrition.

We'll let you know, dear readers, if we learn of any additional ways to lend a hand.

• Dec. 21, 2004 | 10 AM

Thailand Airpass: The more you fly, the more you save

Throughout modern aviation history, “airpasses” have been a godsend for the cost-conscious jet-setter, if there is such a thing. The passes exist for Europe, Australia, and Asia among other regions and can be big money-savers.

Star Alliance, the 15-member airline group that counts United and Lufthansa among its members, has introduced a Thailand Airpass in an effort to promote the new Bangkok Airport, which will begin operations September 2005 as one of the travel group’s major hubs.

The airpass allows intrepid flyers to purchase up to eight coupons for flights within Thailand on another of its members, Thai Airways. The first three “coupons” you buy cost $169 each, but if you buy more than three then the price drops to $59 for each additional flight. You can pair the Thailand Airpass with any round-trip international airfare/flight, and have up to three months to take advantage of your pass coupons.

For the most part, airpasses deliver pretty good value. The same goes for the Thailand Airpass. For example, if you were to purchase round-trips tickets from between two of the most popular destinations in Thailand—Bangkok to the resort island of Phuket—you’d pay $115-$140 per ticket (i.e. not such a great deal), but if you plan to fly between smaller cities in Thailand, or fly a lot, the savings really add up—into the hundreds of dollars. The Thailand Airpass is worth considering if you plan to really dig deep and explore the Asian country to its fullest.

Star Alliance started selling its Thailand Airpass on Dec. 15 of this year and you can use it now, even though Star Alliance's Bangkok hub won't be officially annointed until September.

Reader response: Booking travel in Malaysia

Name: Michael May

I have been living here in Kuching (state of Sarawak) for the last year. One thing I have noticed is that there is one price for locals and another for westerners (higher). If you are planning some trips e.g. dive trips, you might want to book them through a local agent in Malaysia. An example is that I booked a dive trip to the island of Sipidan through the local dive store. Cost was 1500 rh ($400) for 4 nights inclusive of dives, equipment, accommodation, food etc. Air fare from Kuching was 530rh ($125).

I also find that my local travel agent is able to obtain cheaper return flights to USA or other places e.g Thailand, cheaper than I can ever find on-line. They have affiliates in Thailand who make the cheaper bookings there also. I use a local travel agent called Sinhua Travel but there are many more other good ones.

• April 5, 2004 | 5:00 PM

Asia Affordably

This one goes in the “we knew things were bad, but not that bad” column. When we read the news in the Wall Street Journal that tourists in Japan are boycotting the notoriously expensive hotels by sleeping in their cars, we were sincerely shocked. Sure, small Japanese cars leave little room to stretch out, but what does this mean for the Average Joe, or Joanne, visitor when even well-to-do Japanese businessmen are opting for their Toyotas over a true bed? We hear some Yen-pinching locals have even launched websites dedicated to ranking the best parking lots in the Land of the Rising Prices to help ease the pain! 

But it’s not all gloom and doom for the budget traveler headed to Asia. In fact, while snooping through favorite sources for travel specials today revealed a pu-pu platter of promotions to Asia. The real quandry? Whether to sample just one.

• April 6, 2004 | 2:00 PM

Reader response on Japanese hotels and coupon books

Name: Ed Schlenk
Hometown: MoTown
I just returned from a week in Tokyo and enjoyed an excellent business class hotel near the Ueno station. Check the web site of Toyoko-Inns. Their room rate is about 60 USD single and 80 USD double (spring 2004) which includes free internet in the lobby or plug in your room. The baths are small but efficient, the rooms are about 12x15 ft. (decent size for Japan), and include a refrigerator, daily fresh bathrobe, and tea maker.

They have properties all over Japan, all at similar prices and excellent quality. Their web site has a map with reservations links to each property. One warning, I could not get a response to multiple web reservation requests and ultimately mailed my request. On arrival, they were holding a room for each of my requests (but did not charge me for the extra rooms).

They are a wonderful chain that makes travel in Japan a pleasure.

Name:Wayne
Hometown:Springfield, IL
I have stayed at the Toyoko Inn Jr. in the Ikebukuro neighborhhod of Tokyo. It was cheap and small but very, very comfortable. I made my reservation request by e-mail, rather than the web site. They responded promptly.

Name: Marilyn Schlansky
Hometown: Stormville, NY
Right now you can buy the Entertainment Book for Hawaii for $10 plus $5 shipping, on their website. I'm not sure if this applies to all the books, but I just ordered the Hawaii one for a trip we have planned in May. The regular price is $35!

Name: Bea
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM
All Entertainment books are $10 right now with $5 shipping per book.

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