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Affordable Asia

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.

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