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.
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.
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).