Affordable Asia

Affordable Asia

Corbis Digital
Corbis Digital
Asian contagion? More like Asian persuasion. The bargains are so great you can't afford not to go

AS YOU MAY HAVE HEARD, ASIA IS IN A BIT OF A SLUMP. One man's burden, however, is another man's bargain, and Asia's financial free fall has led to some of the most extraordinary deals ever.

Tumbling currencies aren't completely to blame. In fact, the main reason Asia offers such value right now is a side effect of the economic malaise: To save money—or at least spend it in their home economies—Asians themselves have largely ceased traveling outside their countries. (Imagine if the tourism industry of Florida or California had to rely solely on in-state travelers.) The result?A glut of empty airline seats and hotel rooms, making this possibly the best time ever for Westerners to venture East. Just about everything is cheaper; the people will be thrilled to see you (and, of course, your money); and you'll run into markedly fewer tourists than you would have a year ago. So go, and go soon. And don't feel for a second as if you're exploiting Asia while it's down—these countries don't just want travelers right now, they need them.

CITY HOTELS

Almost every hotel is desperately pitching packages galore, though there's no telling how long this will last. Christmas rates, for instance, look to be about normal, and as more people start going and hotels fill up, prices will undoubtedly rise.

So how do you get the best deal?In general, you should book with the hotel directly. Ask for the lowest available rate, and request every free extra you can think of: upgrades, breakfasts, newspapers, late checkout, limo transfers. If you're staying more than one day, inquire about a complimentary night or two—you'll be surprised how often you'll get it.

We've concentrated on the summer prices, comparing them to last year's for best effect. ("Rack" rates—a hotel's published prices—are notoriously inflated in most of the world, and especially here.) All prices quoted are in U.S. dollars for double rooms, and do not include taxes or service charges, which range from 10 to 21 percent.

HONG KONG Times must be tough if the Peninsula (800/223-6800 or 852/2366-6251, fax 852/2722-4170), the choice of royalty and celebrities, is bargaining. And indeed it is. You can get a superior room for $337, compared to last year's $387. The better the room, the sweeter the deal: three nights in a deluxe accommodation cost $927 (in 1997, this would have set you back $1,161). The Regent Hong Kong (800/545-4000 or 852/2721-1211, fax 852/2739-4546)—the chain's flagship property, with the best views in town—is keeping the Peninsula company with rates (good through mid-September) starting at $272 for a plaza-view room; full American breakfast is thrown in, too. The best deal among the better establishments, however, is at the Conrad International Hong Kong (800/445-8667 or 852/2521-3838, fax 852/2521-3888): rooms are priced at $205, $65 off last year's $270 discount rate. And you still get the signature rubber ducky for the tub.

THAILAND Book the minimum two nights at the Regent Bangkok (800/545-4000 or 66-2/354-9999, fax 66-2/253-9195; doubles from $240 per night), or the minimum three nights at the Regent Chiang Mai (66-53/298-181, fax 66-53/298-189; doubles from $272 per night), and you get another night free. Through September at the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok (800/228-9000 or 66-2/254-1234, fax 66-2/254-6308), reserve at least two nights in a standard room for $160 and you get an automatic upgrade to a deluxe room, a round-trip limousine airport transfer, daily breakfast, and duty-free discounts. Cheaper still is the Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok (800/942-5050 or 66-2/236-7777, fax 66-2/236-8579), where rates have been slashed by 30 percent off the rack rate. Rooms now start at $168.

SINGAPORE Through August, the new Conrad International Centennial Singapore (800/445-8667 or 65/334-8888, fax 65/333-9166) has deluxe rooms for $137, compared with 1997's price of $160. Deluxe rooms at the Grand Hyatt Singapore (800/223-1234 or 65/738-1234, fax 65/732-1696) are going for $167, down from $195.

MALAYSIA At Amanresorts' ultra-luxurious Carcosa Seri Negara in Kuala Lumpur (60-3/282-1888, fax 60-3/282-7888), the former residence of the British colonial governors, doubles begin at $487, versus $752 last August. Somewhat less expensive are Shangri-La's hotels in Kuala Lumpur (800/942-5050 or 60-3/232-2388, fax 60-3/230-1514) and Penang (800/942-5050 or 60-4/262-2622, fax 60-4/262-6526), where you can get a double room for $57, including two American breakfasts, and with no charge for children under 18 (staying with their parents, naturally).

PHILIPPINES Through August, the Mandarin Oriental, Manila (800/526-6566 or 63-2/750-8888, fax 63-2/817-2472) offers a rate of $149, double, versus last year's $175. The Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel in Manila (800/228-3000 or 63-2/551-5555, fax 63-2/551-5610) has doubles from $113 per night until September 15; bookings must be made three weeks in advance. A $160-a-night package at the Peninsula Manila (800/223-6800 or 63-2/810-3456, fax 63-2/815-4825), good until September 15, includes a deluxe corner room as well as American breakfast, pressing of one garment, fruit basket, newspaper, and checkout until 6 p.m.

VIETNAM You'll get a good slump-year discount if you call a hotel directly, but an even better one if you go through a Vietnam-based travel agent. Vietnamtourism in Ho Chi Minh City (84-8/829-0776, fax 84-8/829-0775; there's also a Washington, D.C., office at 202/232-0688, fax 202/232-0689) located several deals—and can get you a visa for $10 less than the embassy. Hanoi's best supermodern hotel, with great restaurants and top-notch service, the Daewoo Hotel (84-4/831-5555, fax 84-4/831-5500) has discount rates of $105, down $45 from last year. The new luxury high-rise Meritus Westlake (84-4/823-8888, fax 84-4/829-3888), also in Hanoi, is cheaper, at $90. In Ho Chi Minh City, the top downtown hotel is the New World (84-8/822-8888, fax 84-8/823-0710), with its rooftop swimming pool and full-service health club—all yours for $85. Too much?A room at the chic, centrally located Saigon Prince (84-8/822-2999, fax 84-8/824-1888) is $70 a night, $15 less than last year. It may not sound like much, but $15 buys a lot in Vietnam.

BEACH RESORTS

Southeast Asia has some of the best beaches in the world (as a bonus, you're likely to see fewer Americans there than almost anywhere else). And the perks can be an incredible bargain: in Nha Trang, for example, Vietnam's most popular seaside town, masseuses work the beach for as little as $2 a half-hour.

INDONESIA Travelers to Indonesia should check with the State Department before going, but Bali and Lombok have remained relatively untouched (a T&L editor who was there during the rioting in Jakarta reported that all was calm). Bali's Lorin Hotel Saba Bai (62-361/297-070, fax 62-361/297-171), in a village south of Ubud, is a small luxury hotel where many suites have their own plunge pools. It has responded to the tourism slump with drastic reductions. Summer prices should bottom out at $250, 30 percent off the rack rate. The Bali Hyatt (800/228-9000 or 62-361/288-271, fax 62-361/287-693) is advertising rooms at $80. Prices at the Grand Hyatt Bali, Nusa Dua (800/228-9000 or 62-361/771-234, fax 62-361/772-038) are only slightly higher at $90. If you want to bring the family along, a special package allows for two adults and two children, breakfast for the whole crew, and half-day use of the kids' program, Camp Nusa—all for $145. The newish Ritz-Carlton, Bali (800/241-3333 or 62-361/702-222, fax 62-361/701-555) has a $118 rate, which translates into savings of 15 percent over 1997. The top-notch Oberoi, Bali (800/562-3764 or 62-361/730-361, fax 62-361/730-791) has doubles for $205, and the deals get better on neighboring Lombok, where you can crash in Oberoi style for as low as $185 (800/562-3764 or 62-370/38444, fax 62-370/32496).


MALAYSIA Until the end of the year, the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort in Kota Kinabalu, on Borneo (60-88/241-800, fax 60-88/217-155), offers a package for $197 (versus $276 before the currency took a dive) that includes a two-night stay with American breakfast; 10 percent off food, beverage, and massage service; use of tennis courts and equipment; and airport transfer and shuttle to the city center. Weekly rates at the Club Med Cherating in Pahang (60-9/581-9133, fax 60-9/5819-1720), the chain's first property in Asia, are down to $721 per person—from $868 last year. That includes meals, wine, sports and instruction, and evening entertainment. The Pan Pacific Resort Pangkor (60-5/685-1091, fax 60-5/685-1852), surrounded by tropical jungle and fronting a half-mile-long private beach on the Strait of Malacca, offers deluxe rooms for $57 through December 31, versus $180 in 1997. At the swank Datai Langkawi Resort (60-4/959-2500, fax 60-4/959-2600), set amid a seaside rain forest on the island of Langkawi, double rooms are $242 per night until December 19, versus $301 last August.

VIETNAM For resorts as for city hotels, in Vietnam it's best to go through a local travel agent to get the prime deals. Exotissimo Travel in Ho Chi Minh City (84-8/825-1723, fax 84-8/295-800) recommends the Ana Mandara Resort in Nha Trang (84-58/829-829, fax 84-58/829-629), a 68-room oasis on the country's finest beach, with villa-style lodgings, a pleasant pool and gardens, and a wide array of activities. For $125, you get a room with breakfast, transfers included. The price drops to $105 if you book three nights or more. On famed China Beach in Da Nang, Furama Resort (84-511/847-333, fax 84-511/847-220) has top-of-the-line luxury—200 rooms, two pools, water sports, good restaurants, and a discount rate of $110, including transfers and breakfast.

PHILIPPINES The Shangri-La Mactan Island Resort in Cebu (800/223-6800 or 63-32/231-0288, fax 63-32/231-1688) is offering a rate of $158, 20 percent less than last year's. In addition, guests who stay two nights get a third night free, or a credit of $26 toward room charges. The Pearl Farm Beach Resort (63-82/221-9970, fax 63-82/221-9979), off the southern island of Mindanao, has doubles starting at $89—lowered from $185—until September 30.

THAILAND SPAS

Thailand (and indeed, all of Southeast Asia) has become known for its luxurious—and heretofore expensive—spas. Things change. At Bangkok's Oriental Spa (66-2/439-7613, fax 66-2/439-7587), treatments have suddenly become very affordable, because they are still denominated in baht. An hour-long Swedish massage is $35; half-day packages (including a facial, Swedish massage, and manicure) start at $99. A full day of pampering (body polish, a bunch of massages and facials, and a manicure or pedicure) starts at $174. The spa gets busy, so it's best to book well in advance. Major discounts are being offered at the Banyan Tree in Phuket (800/525-4800 or 66-76/324-374, fax 66-76/324-375): garden villas are now $225 per night. Chiva-Som (800/525-4800 or 66-32/536-536, fax 66-32/511-154), in Huahin, has a five-night package (doubles from $1,260 per person) available through the Small Luxury Hotels group. The price covers three meals a day, a medical and spa consultation, a daily massage, one foot massage, spa bath, and loofah scrub.

FOOD

Restaurants in Asia have been less affected by the slump than hotels. It's true that while room rates at hotels are quoted in dollars, meals at their restaurants are usually priced in the local currency. Why doesn't this make for extraordinary bargains?Because the restaurants simply raise their prices. The Indonesian rupiah, for example, slipped in value from 2,405 to the dollar in 1997 to 9,458 in 1998, but a meal for two at Amandari averaged 100,878 rupiah ($42) in 1997, and costs 332,740 ($35) now.

So the best advice is to look where the locals eat—outside tourist centers, away from the resorts. The food is cheaper, more authentic, and often surprisingly good.

HONG KONG In the last two years, a United Nations of restaurants has sprouted in SoHo, the new name for the neighborhood that abuts the Central Escalator Link south of Hollywood Road. Most of the new places are concentrated on Elgin and Staunton Streets. For local fare, you're better off skipping the largely unlicensed streetside stalls, or dai pai dongs. Recent hygiene alerts (E. coli, bird flu, cholera) have made it clear that Hong Kong still falls short in safe food-handling practices. Noodle and dumpling houses, however, are safe and wonderful. A favorite is Peking Shui Jiao Wang in Wanchai (118 Jaffe Rd., ground floor; 852/2527-0372). The Formica tables fill up quickly at lunchtime, but turnover is fast. The vegetarian pan-fried dumplings (jiaozi), filled with crunchy bits of celery, leek, and carrot, are divine. You'll order more than you can eat for less than $5. Over in Central, the quaint Dumpling House (26 Cochrane St.; 852/2815-5520; dinner for two $7) has hordes waiting to be served. Beijing-style beef dumplings in a clear broth is only $2.50. Way up on the style scale is the Noodle Box (30-32 Wyndham St., ground floor, shop 1; 852/2536-0571), recently opened by Rosemary Lee, one of Hong Kong's most innovative chefs. The sha cha beef noodles with ginger and garlic ($5) is a meal in itself. On the scenic south side of the island is the relaxed Shek O Chinese & Thai Seafood Restaurant (303 Shek O Village; 852/2809-4426; dinner for two $13). You can't go wrong with any of the curries.

VIETNAM Vietnam's restaurants are as affordable as ever; that won't change anytime soon. It's possible to eat well at incredibly cheap prices (30 cents for a filling bowl of pho—noodle soup—in the markets), and very well for not much more: a fabulous three-course French meal in a lovely refined villa can cost less than $10 a person. Two of Saigon's best Vietnamese restaurants, Lemongrass (63 Dong Khoi, District 1; 84-8/822-0496) and Vietnam House (93-95 Dong Khoi, District 1; 84-8/829-1623), offer great deals at lunch: $3.75 for a five-course meal—soup, spring rolls, vegetables, sautéed fish or chicken in lemongrass with rice, tea, and dessert—in a chic setting. A fixture of Vietnamese street life is the sidewalk bia hoi—literally, "draft beer"—a simple stall where locals enjoy super-cheap but tasty food (fried noodles, spring rolls, steamed rice pancakes) and decent lager. There are hundreds of these in the major cities: to find the best and, as a rule, the cleanest, simply follow the crowds. Some have no menus, but it's easy to point to what you want, or what others are eating. You can have a full meal and a beer for less than a dollar each. Or try a market food stall. Saigon's Ben Thanh Market and Hoi An's Central Market are both terrific spots for snacks and light lunches. Pho, steamed or fried fish, and rice dishes are usually less than 50 cents.

SINGAPORE The city's street stalls, or hawker centers, are clean and cheap. Adjacent to the Central Business District is the Golden Shoe Food Centre—it's where the local businessmen go. Park a friend at one of the small tables and make your rounds of the stalls (fresh juices, bowls of noodles, saté, spring rolls). They'll bring your food to you when it's ready. Another favorite is the East Coast Seafood Centre, on the East Coast Parkway on the way from the airport into town. This is a large family-style covered dining "mall" where Singaporeans go for chili crabs and prawns. As for more traditional restaurants, all serve pretty much the same fare. The Red House (1204 East Coast Pkwy., Unit 1-5; 65/442-3112; dinner for two $35) stands out from the pack. In a traditional shop house in Chinatown, the more upscale Blue Ginger serves traditional nonya food, the only truly local cuisine (97 Tanjong Pagar Rd.; 65/222-3928; dinner for two $30).

BALI One of the first stylish restaurants in Ubud, Lotus Pond (Main St.; 62-361/975-660) is where expats gather for breakfast. Feast on bulging omelettes, fresh juices, and homemade yogurt for less than $2. Over in Legian, 10 minutes by taxi from Kuta, the open-air La Lucciato (Oberoi Rd.; 62-361/261-047) attracts young trendies. A typical tab for two is less than $10.


MALAYSIA One of the most delicious Malaysian dining experiences is also one of the least expensive. Streetside gerai stalls, run by ethnic Indian Muslims, serve popular foods such as roti, curry, fried noodles, and teh tarik, or pulled tea—just the thing for a quick snack or light lunch. Even with a drink, a meal comes to about $1.50.

THAILAND Bangkok's Lemon Grass, cozy and casual in an old Thai house (5/1 Sukhumvit Rd., Soi 24; 66-2/258-8637; dinner for two $15), serves nouvelle Thai food. The Seafood Market is fun—it's set up like a supermarket; you choose your fish and the chef prepares it to order (98 Sukhumvit Rd.; 66-2/661-1252; dinner for two $25). Locals line up at Mon Nom Sud (160/203 Dinso Rd.; 66-2/224-1147); the name means "the seduction of fresh milk," and the shop is known for its sweetened milk. Up in Chiang Mai, a good choice is the Gallery Bar & Restaurant (25 Charoenrat Rd.; 66-53/248-601; dinner for two $15): honest Thai food on a bank of the Ping River.

AIR DEALS

A trip to Asia—with airfare and hotel—for less than $1,000?In these days of collapsing currencies, such deals are not uncommon.

Great bargains on non-package transpacific airfares tend to be ephemeral, but they can be found. (In early June, for instance, Cathay Pacific had a sale with round-trip Los Angeles-Hong Kong tickets going for $500.) You generally have to be willing to leave within a couple of weeks of purchase.

One exception, and possibly the best air bargain ever, is Cathay Pacific's All Asia Airpass (800/228-4297), which is valid through December 15, with a 30-day advance purchase required. Priced at $999 for travel after August 20 ($1,399 before), it's good not only for a round-trip economy flight from New York or Los Angeles to Hong Kong, but also for 30 days of unlimited flights to 17 other destinations (Bali, Bangkok, Cebu, Colombo, Fukuoka, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Nagoya, Osaka, Penang, Sapporo, Seoul, Singapore, Surabaya, Taipei, and Tokyo). If you register at www.cathay-usa.com, you knock $100 off the price. You can also extend the travel period to 45, 60, or 90 days for $100, $200, or $300.

(In theory, you could take advantage of currency variations by purchasing a one-way ticket to Asia in the U.S.A. and a return once you're there, but you'd be paying for full-fare tickets; you'll save a lot more by buying a round-trip advance-purchase discount ticket before you go.)

The best way to lock in a good airfare—if you don't jump on Cathay's pass or come across a sale—is to buy an air-inclusive package. All but one of the following packages are unescorted, although you can usually get a guide by paying a bit more. Prices listed are per person, double occupancy.

From November 16 to December 18, Northwest WorldVacations (800/800-1504; www.nwa.com) can take you to Hong Kong for as little as $699, including round-trip fare on Northwest Airlines from Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle and four nights at the Majestic Hotel; at other times, the cost ranges from $740 to $870.

This year, United Vacations (800/328-6877; www.unitedvacations.com), an affiliate of United Airlines, has cut its prices by as much as $650. From September to November, its five-night Bangkok CityStay package starts at $714 from Los Angeles or Chicago, including air, hotel, airport transfers, and a half-day tour. Comparable packages to Hong Kong start at $999.

Travel Bound (800/456-8656) has a nine-night sampler combining Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore at $1,298 from Los Angeles through September 15 and again in December. (From mid-September through November, the trip costs $250 more.) It includes flights on Cathay Pacific, three nights at a hotel in each city, intra-Asian flights, airport transfers, and tours.

PriceBuster packages from TBI Tours (800/223-0266) sell at one price for departures from any of 90 U.S. cities served by Northwest Airlines. To Hong Kong, the cost of a four-night package with air and hotels is $1,199 from September through November and goes down to $969 in mid-December. A comparable six-night package to Beijing ranges from $899 to $1,049. And a package with three nights in both cities starts at $1,369.

Pacific Delight Tours (800/221-7179) has two-week "locally hosted" tours (you travel on your own, but a local host helps you out in each city) for prices averaging about $100 per person per day, including air travel on Cathay Pacific. For example, a 10-night package to Hong Kong and Malaysia (from Los Angeles) starts at $1,260, covering five nights in Hong Kong, two in Penang, and three in Kuala Lumpur, with hotels, intra-Asian flights, transfers, daily breakfast, and several sightseeing excursions.

Through March, Asian Affair Holidays (800/742-3133; www.singapore-usa.com) and Singapore Airlines have a special offer: for $888, you get the round-trip between Los Angeles and Singapore, airport transfers, five nights at the Novotel Orchid, full breakfast every day, a city tour, and a subway pass. Three-night extensions are available to Bali (from $480), Bangkok (from $360), and Hong Kong (from $420).

Even cruise lines are getting in on the action: Radisson Seven Seas (800/333-3333) will fly you business-class to Asia (and back) free if you book a Song of Flower cruise by September 1 (from $5,095). The offer is good on any of the nine voyages from December 1998 through March 1999.


LET THE BUYER INQUIRE
A good travel agent can help you sort through the bazaar of cheap package offerings. Here are things to keep in mind:

  • A trip's duration may be stated in days, but find out how many nights you'll be in Asia. Some tour operators count air-travel days in the total to make it seem longer (this explains such anomalies as a "10-day/8-night" package).
  • Many operators are hyping under-$1,000 air-and-hotel deals, but these are mostly for a week or less. Ask what it will cost to add extra nights.
  • The advertised prices of most packages are based on departures from Los Angeles and/or San Francisco. If you need an add-on from another airport, be sure to find out what it will cost.
  • The cheapest packages generally won't have you sleeping at luxury properties, but upgrades are often available for a surcharge. If the hotel isn't one you've heard of, ask for details about its quality and exact location.
  • Look for a package that includes extras, such as airport transfers and sightseeing tours. Remember: it's a buyer's market.

SHOPPING

There are big bargains everywhere, and especially in countries where the currency has dropped dramatically. We've listed some great shops, but you may also want to talk to your hotel concierge, who can give advice, organize shopping trips, and arrange shipping. (Be sure to insist that you want the best deal.)

THAILAND In Bangkok, Michelle 2 (Amarin Plaza, Ploenchit Rd., second floor; 66-2/256-9047) looks like a hole-in-the-wall, but many of the city's women swear by the tailor. You can get a silk skirt and dress, within 48 hours, for $94. Another good fabric shop is Shinawatra Thai Silk (94 Sukhumvit Rd. 23; 66-2/258-0295). Bangkok is also a real bargain for jewelry. While many jewelers have files of designs, it's best to come with a picture of what you want copied. Lambert Holding Co. (807-809 Silom Rd., Soi 17, fourth floor; 66-2/236-4343) has been run for 30 years by David M. Glickman, a former Californian and lawyer (he dispenses both gemological and legal advice). A copy of the Cartier Ellipse ring with a two-carat sapphire and two small diamonds was quoted at $650. Also recommended: Uthai's Gems (28/7 Soi Ruamrudi, Ploenchit Rd.; 66-2/253-8582) and Venus Jewelry (167/1-2 Wittayu Rd.; 66-2/252-6468). In Chiang Mai, you'll be spoiled with choices. The Night Bazaar (corner of Chang Khlan and Loi Khro Roads) is a good first stop. Bargaining is always acceptable, but be courteous. On the antiques trail?Stop by Thai Imports (42-46 Tambon Nongtong; 66-53/832-694); its owner makes regular runs into Burma. A number of celadon factories are based here: Sansai Celadon Co. Ltd. is one of the best (160 Moo 13, Tambon Pa-Pai; 66-53/498-412).

VIETNAM Traditional silk ao dai tunic-and-trousers outfits are available all over ($10-$20), but some of the country's best tailors and seamstresses are in Hoi An, a picturesque town not far from Da Nang. Hoi An's few streets are lined with boutiques, and the central market is also a good place to buy fabric or to have something made or copied. Two excellent options: Thinh (stall No. 4), in the Hoi An Central Market (no phone), where silk blouses (from $8) and dresses (from $10) are made to order by a friendly staff; and the slightly classier Nguyen Tao (88 Tran Phu St.; 84-510/862-511; suits from $25, gowns from $45). Hoi An is also an artist's haven. Unframed oil paintings are sold for less than $20, and smaller watercolors and paintings on silk can be had for as little as $5. Standouts: Thanh Lich Gallery (1 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St.; 84-510/861-967) and Hoi An Painters Rendezvous (72 Tran Phu St.; no phone).

MALAYSIA The decline of the ringgit, down some 30 percent from last year, makes for built-in discounts at local markets. One of the best places to browse for Malay crafts and clothing is at the Central Market, an enormous colonial structure in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. You'll find a vast number of merchants peddling all sorts of batiks, with high-quality dresses ranging from $20 for cotton to $80 for top-end silk.

SINGAPORE Electronics are still a relative bargain in Singapore. Locals shop at the Sim Lim Tower and Sim Lim Square malls. Compare prices, and bargain like crazy. The Jewelry Mart at Pidemco Centre has the largest collection of goldsmiths and jewelers. For Indonesian, Nepalese, and Indian objets d'art, head to Barbazar (31A-35A Cup).

PHILIPPINES Crafts are inexpensive in the Philippines under any circumstances; look on the bottom of a trinket purchased in Spain, Argentina, or Japan and chances are it was made here. Inexpensive, however, doesn't have to mean shoddy. The Philippines are famous for delicate fabrics woven from fibers of the banana tree (jusi) and pineapple plant (piña). At Tesoro's (1016 Arnaiz Ave., Makati; 63-2/844-4143, fax 63-2/893-7417), just outside Manila, a set of six embroidered jusi place mats with coasters, napkins, and runner costs $86, versus $125 a year ago. More whimsical local products can be found nearby at Balikbayan Handicrafts (1010 Arnaiz Ave., Makati; 63-2/734-9040, fax 63-2/734-9044), where a beach chair made of coconut wood and native fabric goes for $27.

BALI Furnishings, textiles, ceramics, jewelry—you'll find it all here. Haggling is permitted (with a smile), though some of the larger shops insist on fixed prices. Stop by Lotus Studio (Jalan Raya, Ubud; 62-361/975-363) for crafts such as carved buffalo-horn salad servers and batik boxes. Saru (Jalan Raya, Ubud; 62-361/975-879) has clay teapots and banana-leaf baskets.

HONG KONG The city long ago gave up its status as Asia's premier shopping destination. Electronics have been cheaper in New York for years. Still reasonable, however, are items made in China proper. Shanghai Tang's seasonal sales slash clothing prices in half (161 Hollywood Rd.; 852/2543-8022). Antiques, while not as cheap as those in Macao, are still good deals. Unless you're an expert, don't buy for investment reasons—much has been heavily restored. Chine Gallery (42A Hollywood Rd.; 852/2543-0023) has a hand-picked selection of chests, wedding beds, altar tables, and carpets. At the bottom of the price scale is the One Price Shop (47 Hollywood Rd.; 852/2544-4235), where you can find Mao badges, buttons, and mementos. The Stanley Market is still amusing, and while most of the items on offer are junk—no need to fly to Hong Kong to find a pair of irregular J. Crew chinos—there are a few finds: Chinese silk brocade totes ($5), funky fringed lanterns ($25). On a rainy day, tourists are few and far between, and the salespeople are eager. Be aggressive!

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