Asia Made Easy
Published: April 2009
What's new now
There has never been a better time to go to Asia. The continent is thriving, welcoming travelers with new nonstop flights and low-cost airlines, new places to stay and things to do—all for less, thanks to favorable exchange rates, especially when compared to Europe. We've gathered all the latest information: just-opened hotels; the hottest shopping districts; gallery and museum openings; and restaurants. So whether you're looking for a stylish city hotel in Hong Kong or an inspired dinner spot in Bali, it's here. Plus: Tours, guides, deals, and everything else you could possibly need to plan a trip to the Far East, right now.
TOKYO In Roppongi Hills, Tokyo's innovative urban development project, the Grand Hyatt (6-10-3 Roppongi, Minato-ku; 800/223-1234 or 81-3/4333-1234; tokyo.grand.hyatt.com/; doubles from $440) is a bastion of 21st-centuryingenuity. Therooms may not be especially large, but they come with pleasant touches like heated toilet seats and remote-controlled blackout shades. Open them and awake to eye-popping views of Mount Fuji before eating breakfast at any of the property's excellent restaurants.
With a mere 11 rooms spread over 10 floors, Yoshimizu (3-11-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku; 81-3/3248-4432; www.yoshimizu.com; doubles from $254) is a modern take on a traditional Japanese ryokan. The sister hotel to the well-known Yoshimizu Kyoto, this Ginza branch is tucked away from theneighborhood's busy streets. Tatami mat floors and futons are part of the ryokan experience—as are the shared bathrooms (which include a pair of antique-style baths in cedar and stone, located on the inn's top floor).
SEOUL W Hotels makes its Asian debut with the W Seoul-Walkerhill (21 Kwangjang-Dong, Kwangjin-Gu; 877/946-8357 or 82-2/465-2222; www.whotels.com; doubles from $265). Situated on Mount Acha, the hotel has 253 rooms and suites and a massive 50,000-square-foot spa with a Turkish bath and 21 treatment rooms. Three restaurants and the super-sized Woo Bar compete for guests' downtime.
HONG KONG A decade ago, designer Philippe Starck reinvigorated Hong Kong nightlife with the raucous interiors of Felix, the supper club atop the Peninsula hotel. Now Starck has picked up where he left off with the 25-floor Jia (1-5 Irving St., Causeway Bay; 852/3196-9000; www.jiahongkong.com; doubles from $250). Jia means "home" in Mandarin, and its quarters consist of 57 full-service apartments with the designer's typically whimsical interiors; guests can relax on one of two public sundecks.
Also new in Hong Kong is Le Méridien Cyberport (100 Cyberport Rd.; 800/543-4300 or 852/2980-7788; www.lemeridien.com; doubles from $165), in the territory's "digital city" development. The hotel is high-tech and business-friendly, with everything from 42-inch plasma TV's to wireless broadband access to gadgets like custom-programmed Apple iPods in the fitness center.
BEIJING The Peninsula Palace (8 Goldfish Lane, Wangfujing; 800/223-6800 or 86-10/8516-2888; www.peninsula.com; doubles from $320) is not new, but the hotel recently completed a $27 million renovationand announced a name change: it has revamped all 530 rooms and suites, expanded its luxury lobby arcade to more than 50 boutiques, and inaugurated Huang Ting, a Cantonese restaurant with an interior modeled after that of a Qing dynasty palace.
BANGKOK The Metropolitan (27 S. Sathorn Rd., Tungmahamek, Sathorn; 800/337-4685 or 66-2/625-3333; www.metropolitan.com.bz; doubles from $300)—sister to the London hotel of the same name—was built in a former YMCA in the embassy district, as incongruous as that might sound. The 171-room property is a chic alternative to the capital's classic hotel standbys: rooms come with Bose stereos, limestone bathrooms, and platform beds; the staff is decked out in Yohji Yamamoto.
GOLDEN TRIANGLE On the banks of the mighty Mekong River at the meeting point of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos is the new Anantara Resort & Spa Golden Triangle (229 Moo 1, Chiang Saen; 66-24/770-760; www.anantara.com; doubles from $170). The Zen-luxe retreat, near the Thai town of Chiang Saen, unabashedly makes the most of its location. Each of the 90 rooms includes a balcony with a canopied daybed for prime tri-cultural vistas. The Anantara's spa has five treatment rooms, equipped with both Thai massage platforms and private outdoor decks. The Mekong plays host to scenic river rides on long-tail boats, and the resort's nearby elephant camp, affiliated with Thailand's Elephant Conservation Center, offersriding courses. There's also a Thai cooking school, along with two restaurants and a bar.
KO SAMUI Amid the cashew, coconut, and palm groves on the northern coast of this Thai island stands Pansea Napasai Samui (65/10 Ban Tai, Maenam; 800/237-1236 or 66-77/ 429-200; www.pansea.com; doubles from $280). The small, low-key beach resort's rooms, villas, and cottages have light, whitewashed furniture and wooden floors and walls. A spa, Euro-Asian restaurant, pool, tennis courts, and diving facilities are all on-site or nearby; the seafront villas are also available for purchase.
SINGAPORE The tiny red lanterns and low-cost snack shops running along Singapore's Keong Saik Road recall its Red Light-district past, but with the opening of Hotel 1929 (50 Keong Saik Rd.; 65/6347-1929; www.hotel1929.com; doubles from $79), the area is earning a more sophisticated reputation. Built into five landmark buildings, the 32-room property is colonial in style on the outside, pure Mid-Century Modern within. The hotel is named after the year of its original construction, and the owner has filled the small rooms with big-name design details—from Verner Panton, Arne Jacobsen, and Eames furniture to Marimekko fabrics on the beds. Suites have private terraces and outdoor bathtubs.
ANGKOR Although best known for its intimate properties in Bali and Thailand, Sanctuary Resorts is making its mark in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the gateway to the legendary Angkor Wat temple. Shinta Mani (Oum Khum St. at 14th St.; 855-63/761-998; www.sanctuaryresorts.com; doubles from $144), an 18-room urban spa oasis, has just opened, and another property is set to debut later this year. Located in the city's historic French Quarter, the hotel trains local at-risk youths at its Institute for Hospitality.
The F1 Grand Prix, Shanghai
Celebrate the opening of China's first Formula One racing course with a three-night package at the Portman Ritz-Carlton in Shanghai, from $500.
Openings To Watch
The next few months will see a number of high-profile hotels debut in Asia—here's a look ahead.
THE PROPERTY Trisara, Phuket, Thailand
THE DETAILS Finished after nearly two years, the resortis densely landscaped with more than 150,000 plants cultivated on nearby fields. Each of the 33 one- and two-bedroom pavilions has a 33-foot pool and an oceanfront restaurant.
THE PROPERTY Uma Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
THE DETAILS Hotelier Christina Ong's latest venture has 29 rooms, villas, and suites—many with river views and all with plunge pools, garden terraces, and yoga mats. A Shambhala Spa and the Yoga Retreat Center deliver treatments.
OPENING This fall
THE PROPERTY Mandarin Oriental Dhara Devi, Chiang Mai, Thailand
THE DETAILS One hundred forty-two villas and suites on 52 lush acres—this is more a village than a resort. A pair of pools, a cooking school, and a spa designed like an ancient Burmese palace will appeal to sybarites, while the spiritually inclined can meditate in the on-site temple.
OPENING Late this year
THE PROPERTY Four Seasons Langkawi, Malaysia
THE DETAILS Offering luxury among the sand dunes and towering palms, this resort's rooms will all have private outdoor showers and gardens. The 20 beachside villas will come with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and private pools, gardens, and spa treatment rooms.
OPENING Early 2005
East meets West at Asia's latest hotel spas. HONG KONG The Inter-Continental's I-Spa (800/327-0200 or 852/2721-1211; www.hongkong-ic.intercontinental.com; treatments from $45) pairs Chinese herbal tea service with a state-of-the-art Lift 6 non-surgical face-lift from France. • Grand Hyatt's sleek Plateau retreat (800/233-1234 or 852/2584-7688; hongkong.grand.hyatt.com/hyatt/pure/spas/; treatments from $48) also favors Gallic beauty secrets—notably, a Talika eye freshener—but uses sandalwood-and-incense balm during a shiatsu massage. BANGKOK At Chi in the Shangri-La Hotel (800/942-5050 or 66-2/236-7777; www.shangri-la.com; treatments from $42), Himalayan barley enhances a Tibetan mountain tsampa body rub, and a Chinese Chi Nei Tsang massage focuses on abdominal energy points. PHUKET Thai massage is performed on an outdoor patio at Evason Phuket Resort & Six Senses Spa (949/640-1198; www.sixsenses.com; treatments from $23). KO SAMUI Marma-point and ayurvedic massage are on the menu at the Anantara Resort & Spa Koh Samui (66-2/477-0795; www.anantara.com; treatments from $84), a serene bamboo-and-slate retreat on the Gulf of Thailand. NHA TRANG Later this year, Vietnam's secondSix Senses Spa will premiere at the new Evason Hideaway at Ana Mandara (949/640-1198; www.sixsenses.com; treatments from $30). SINGAPORE Kriya and Pranayama breathing techniques are taught by Indian yogis at the Oriental Spa at theOriental (800/526-6566 or 65/6338-0066; www.mandarinoriental.com; treatments from $60), which also imports nourishing E'SPA mud wraps from Britain.
TOKYO Roppongi Hills (Roppongi 6-chome, Minato-ku) is the city's latest shopping center, with everything from Yohji Yamamoto's Ron Arad-designed flagship store—complete with revolving floors—to White Trash Charms, which sells gold pendants shaped like pickup trucks and lightning bolts. • Six floors of shops and galleries make up Hpgrp (6-9-16 Ginza, Chuo-Ku; 81-3/5537-2740; www.hpgrp.com), an amusing fusion of art, interior design, and shopping in the heart of Ginza. Each level showcases a variety of sculpture, flower arrangements, jewelry, housewares, lamps, and furniture.
SEOUL In the Cheongdam-dong neighborhood, sleek and urbane Boon the Shop (82-3 Cheongdam-dong, Sandos Bldg., first floor, Gangnam-gu; 82-2/542-8006) and Mue (93-6 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu; 82-2/3446-8074) are Seoul's fashion-forward boutiques for designs by Dries Van Noten, Comme des Garçons, and Manolo Blahnik. • The vast COEX Mall at Seoul's World Trade Center has Bandi & Luni's Bookstore, as well as a 16-screen cineplex and an aquarium.
HONG KONG In the Central district, the Landmark (12-16 Des Voeux Rd., Central) is a recently renovated luxury mall that's worth a visit, with its large, split-level Dior and Vuitton flagships. • Sino-style antiques, silk lan-terns, and other house- wares are reproduced with panache at Green Lantern (72 Peal St., Central; 852/2526-0277). • Leave time to check into G.O.D. (48 Hollywood Rd., Central; 852/2805-1876; www.god.com.hk); look for bold, multi-functional furniture, table linens, celadon ceramics, and streetwear. • Sandy Chung (Stall 413-414, Kansu St., Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon; 852/2771-0901) transforms pearls of every size, shape, and price into distinctive jewelry at her stall in the Jade Market. Be sure to phone ahead for an appointment.
BANGKOK The Thonglor neighborhood has become a beehive of retro-cool shops. Retail spaces of all forms are found at the new H1 complex (998 Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/714-9578), which houses interior shops (try Anyroom), art bookstores (like Basheer), even an emporium of garden- ing tools (Geo). • Two blocks down, in a wildly colorful seventies-style bungalow called Kitsch by Chompol Serimont (57/1 Sukhumvit Soi 53; 66-2/662-5163; www.kitschykitsch.com), FIT graduate Serimont peddles his hip, retro-styled ready-to-wear lines for both men and women. • For silk pillows, rattan wine holders, and other housewares, head to Sop Moei Arts (49/9 Sukhumvit Soi 49; 66-2/712-8039; www.sopmoeiarts.com), which brings re-interpreted ethnic crafts from a hill tribe near the Burmese border to the big city.
SINGAPORE Chinatown has become Singapore's epicenter of interior design stores. Babuyo Furniture & Decoration (8 Ann Siang Hill; 65/6225-9036) sells Laotian textiles and Cambodian silk pillows, among other Southeast Asian imports. • Exit Design (83 Club St.; 65/6221-4998) specializes in Modernism and includes furniture by Eames and Vitra, as well as original pieces by the shop's owner. • The Touch House of Art & Design gallery (38 Bukit Pasoh Rd.; 65/6325-4990) stocks Scandinavian household objects.• Handsome modern teak furniture is displayed at the John Erdos Gallery (83 Kim Yam Rd.; 65/6735-3307; www.johnerdosgallery.com), a renovated 19th-century house where Erdos creates functional pieces from reclaimed Indonesian teak. • The center of Singapore fashion is Orchard Road, with no fewer than a dozen mega-malls carrying all the big names. The best of these is the recently redesigned Paragon (290 Orchard Rd.). Elsewhere, find antique maps of Asia at Antiques of the Orient (Tanglin Shopping Centre, second level, 19 Tanglin Rd.; 65/6734-9351) and Chinese antique furniture at Just Anthony (379 Upper Paya Lebar Rd.; 65/6283-4782; www.justanthony.com).
Guided Shopping in China Hong Kong gallery owner Karin Weber runs a two-day antiquing trip (from $290 per person) to Dinghu, China, where a 40,000-square-foot warehouse is packed with artifacts.
Browsing at Night
Modern Thai ceramics and puppet theater are just a sampling of what's to be found at Suan Lum Night Bazaar in Bangkok (Witthayu and Rama IV Rds.; open 5:30 P.M.-12 A.M.). • Anything edible—from pressed duck to plum sauce—can be had at Singapore's Chinatown Food Street (Smith St.; open 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 1 A.M. Fridays). The streets off Smith are full of bric-a-brac: lacquer bowls, silk place mats, coconut-wood chopsticks.
TOKYO The nine-gallery Mori Art Museum (Roppongi Hills; www.moriartscenter.com; 81-3/6404-6100) is not even a year old, yet it's already establishing itself as Tokyo's heart of contemporary culture. Part of the Roppongi Hills development, it was designed by New York-based architect Richard Gluckmanand features a teaching academy and an observation floor with 360-degree views of the city. A new exhibit, "Colors: Viktor & Rolf & KCI," examines 400 years of fashion history and runs through December 5.
SEOUL Fierce nationalism and pride in local culture merge with creativity to make Seoul a contender for art capital of Northeast Asia. At the city's center is the Kukje Gallery (59-1 Sokyuk-dong, Chongro-gu; 82-2/735-8449; www.kukjegallery.com), anchoring a cluster of exhibition spaces across fromthe Gyeongbokgung Palace. In addition to launching locals such as Lee Bul and exhibiting the work of more established figures like Bill Viola, the eye-catching three-story building serves as a magnet for Korean arts-types, with a trendy restaurant and a slick café for green tea espressos.
HONG KONG Think of it as culture, Hong Kong-style—the city now has an answer to Hollywood's Walk of Fame: the Avenue of Stars, in Tsim Sha Tsui. Besides honoring celluloid heroes such as actor Jackie Chan and director Wong Kar-Wai with plaques, it's part of a newly landscaped waterfront promenade that meanders from the Star Ferry past the InterContinental Hotel, offering stunning views of the Hong Kong skyline.
GOLDEN TRIANGLE The Mae Fah Luang Foundation has cut the ribbon on a unique, world-class museum: the Hall of Opium (Golden Triangle Park, Sop Ruak, Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai; 66-53/784-4446; www.goldentrianglepark.org). Housed in a series of caves in this mountainous region, it examines the centuries-old opium trade, withexhibits on the poppy flower and the Opium Wars, among others.
BANGKOK Theater and dance are the focus at the Patravadi Theatre (Soi Wat Rakang, Thonburi; 66-2/412-7287; www.patravaditheatre.com), where traditional forms such as the mask dance (khon) and other folk dances are explored along with more modern, experimental works. Friday and Saturday nights, the theater troupe performs dance works based on Thai literature on an open-air stage. Every April, the theater sponsors the Bangkok Fringe Festival, showcasing international performers.
SINGAPORE One hundred and seventy-seven years after it was built, Singapore's Old Parliament building has been renovated and turned into the Arts House (1 Old Parliament Lane; 65/6332-6900; www.theartshouse.com.sg). In its new incarnation, it functions as a cultural center, with performance spaces for theater and music, a screening room, and several bars and restaurants, including Café Society and Restaurant 1827 Thai, whose patios have views of downtown. • Designed by Briton Michael Wilford, the geodesic, spiky dome of Singapore's Esplanade Theatres on the Bay (65/6828-8377; www.esplanade.com) opened in October 2002. The multi-functional hall puts on every type of production imaginable, from hip-hop dance workshops to chamber music and classic Italian operas. The grounds include an outdoor arena for free concerts.
SEOUL Korea's newest import—live jazz of all varieties—can be heard at the New York City club spin-off Blue Note Seoul (82-2/3477-0202; www.bluenote.jazz.co.kr). Also: check out the beautifully designed Tool Pub (125-16 Cheongdam-dong; 82-2/541-0122).
SHANGHAI The city trades neon lights for crimson banquettes and stiff drinks at JZ (639 Hua Shan Rd.; 86-21/6248-1118), while wallpaper made from green tea leaves contributes to the mellow vibe at the retro-Oriental Zenzibar (Xintiandi Plaza; 86-21/6385-6385).
BANGKOK The two-year-old Bed Supperclub (26 Sukhumvit Soi11; 66-2/651-3537) has been joined by a trio of new late-night joints luring energetic crowds. The very grown-up Distil (1055 Silom Rd.;66-2/624-9554), high on the 64th floor of the State Tower, has black wooden floors, chocolate- and coffee-toned leathers, and two circular bars: at one, cocktails are mixed; at the other, a chef shucks oysters that are flown in daily. Face (29 Sukhumvit Soi 38; 66-2/713-6048) is housed in wooden pavilions and filled with opium beds and Buddhist stone reliefs. Over at the Metropolitan hotel, Met Bar (275 S. Sathorn Rd.) has moody red lighting and one of Asia's more creative cocktail lists. But admission is for members and hotel guests only.
KUALA LUMPUR The city now has a nightlife landmark to match the Petronas Towers: architect Zaini Zainul's white, pod-shaped Zouk (113 Jalan Ampang; 60-3/2171-1997). Inside, the fashionable crowd flits among the private lounge Velvet Underground, the Wine Bar, with its Arabic mosaics, and the dance hall.
SINGAPORE Thanks to relaxed government laws passed this year, going all night is the theme in Singapore. Actors, designers, and brokers flock to Whitebait & Kale (1 Orchard Blvd., Camden Center; 65/6333-8697) for Brazilian beats, espresso martinis, and an outdoor patio that sits under the eaves of a Richard Meier-designed building.
Surrounded by serene gardens, Tokyo National Museum (13-9 Ueno Park, Taito-ku; 81-3/3822-1111; www.tnm.go.jp/en) has one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian art and artifacts in the hemisphere. The Honkan gallery, home to its Japanese works, reopens September 1. • Taiwan's National Palace Museum (221 Chih-shan Rd., Taipei; 886-2/2881-2021; www.npm.gov.tw) holds some 650,000 pieces of Chinese art, including Jadeite Cabbage with Insects, the famous Qing-era sculpture, and an incomparable collection of paintings. An exhibition of seldom-viewed Song dynasty works is being shown through December. • At the National Museum Bangkok (4 Na Phra That Rd.; 66-2/224-1333; www.thailandmuseum.com), carvings, fabrics, and other Thai crafts have been elevated to fine art. Rooms are filled with silks, jeweled pagodas, even an extravagant ivory chair, designed to fit atop an elephant. • Singapore's Asian Civilisations Museum (39 Armenian St.; 65/6332-7798; www.nhb.gov.sg) draws its inspiration from the Chinese, Malay, Indian, and European influences that form the backbone of modern Singapore.
TOKYO Sens & Saveurs (35 Marunouchi Bldg., 2-4-1 Marunouchi; 81-3/ 5220-2701; dinner for two $55) may be the most dynamic foreign-born restaurant in Tokyo. Identical-twin chefs Jacques and Laurent Pourcel, from Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier, France, adapt their Mediterranean cuisine to Asian palates in dishes such as spider crab and avocado cornets with sesame-honey caramel. The brothers have taken their winning formula to Bang-kok, to the lounge and bistro D'Sens (Rama IV Rd.; 66-2/236-9999; dinner for two $45) atop the landmark Dusit Thani Hotel.
SEOUL Thanks to the arrival of Mr. Chow (91-6 Nonhuyn-dong, Kangnam-gu; 82-2/517-2100; dinner for two $120), Seoul's luminaries can now have the same no-menu, high-style gambol as their cousins in Los Angeles, London, and New York. Straightforward Mandarin dishes are presented in a spacious room with enormous flower arrangements.
HONG KONG The high-wattage social circuit makes haste each evening to Restaurant Isola (IFC Mall, Levels 3 and 4; 852/2383-8765; dinner for two $120) in the soaring, Cesar Pelli-designed IFC building. The duplex space is awash in white fabrics, has views over the harbor, and isgrand enough to afford some privacy. A trattoria-style menu and a blockbuster Italian wine list compete for attention with the guests, who linger way past normal bedtimes to drink Manhattansin the loftlike bar. • Aqua (1 Peking Rd., 29th and 30th floors, Kowloon; 852/3427-2288; dinner for two $90) unfurls three experiences in one amid a 9,000-square-foot penthouse with unobstructed views across Victoria Harbour. The lounge, Aqua Spirit, slings lychee Bellinis to a post-work crowd; a lipstick-red-lit and rail-thin sushi bar, Aqua Tokyo, turns out creative sashimi and izakaya (Japanese tapas); northern Italian roasts and handmade pasta are the focus of Aqua Roma, whose catwalk and velvet-lined banquettes make the night all about people-watching.
SAIGON La Niçoise (42 Ngo Duc Ke, District 1; 84-8/822-8613; dinner for two $10) has just three tables, which are colonized by French expats reading L'Express between bites of nostalgia in the form of authentic steak frites and salade lyonnaise. • Pocket-sized Pho 24 (5 Nguyen Thiep St., District 1; 84-8/822-6278; dinner for two $6) takes the country's beloved beef or chicken noodle soup (pho), with its cinnamon-and-anise-scented broth, to new heights. Bowls are served in a colonial-style room, with wrought-iron detailing and paper lanterns.
BANGKOK A former chef de cuisine of Rockpool, in Sydney, Amanda Gale enlivens fresh seafood with sunny southern Mediterranean flavors and occasional flourishes of Moorish spice at Cy'an (27 S. Sathorn Rd.; 66-2/625-3333; dinner for two $110), inside Christina Ong's Metropolitan Hotel. • Vegetarianism is embraced at the industrial-chic (but mom-and-pop sweet) Tamarind Café (27 Sukhumvit Soi; 66-2/663-7421; dinner for two $25), where self-taught chef Sylvie Bruzeau updates regional staples like Vietnamese summer rolls and Thai green-papaya salad.
SINGAPORE A local husband-and-wife team presides over the toughest table in town: Ember (50 Keong Saik St.; 65/6347-1928; dinner for two $50), in Hotel 1929. Sebastian Ng delivers mod Oz flavors in inventive dishes such as the Chilean sea bass (marinated for 12 hours) with ginger and soy broth.• Ding Tai Fung (Paragon, 290 Orchard Rd.; 65/6836-8336; dinner for two $20), a haven of blond wood in the over-the-top Paragon Shopping Center, has been inundated with demands for its handmade noodles and Taiwanese soup dumplings (the crab and pork are best).
BALI The 10-table Axiom (18A Jalan Raya Seminyak; 62-361/738-820; dinner for two $45) is an urbane boîte with high ceilings, polished cement floors, and a stylish crowd of Europeans and Asians. Dishes such as poached salmon with caramelized fennel and stewed palm-sugar custard change with the seasons.
Getting There For Less Eat breakfast in Kuala Lumpur and have dinner in Bangkok—a flight between the two is just $70 on AirAsia.
K. F. Seetoh's Makansutra guidebook parses the best street and restaurant makan ("food" in Malay) in Sing-apore and Jakarta, listing and rating hundreds of local bites—from pepper crab-and-pork bone soup to durian puffs. (Three bowls with chopsticks is a perfect score.)
With new flights, airlines, airports, and high-speed trains, Asia is easier to navigate than ever before. Not to mention more affordable: air passes and hotel packages offer great values.
NONSTOP FLIGHTS As airlines acquire new, longer-range planes, they have begun replacing one-stop flights to Asia with nonstops. Singapore Airlines recently started Newark-Singapore nonstop service, an 18-hour flight that cuts four hours off one-stop schedules. The airline has also added a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Singapore. Cathay Pacific launched similar flights between New York's JFK and Hong Kong in July.
U.S. carriers are also adding Asian routes. Northwest just kicked off nonstop service from Portland, Oregon, to Tokyo, with connections to several Asian cities; United began daily Chicago-Osaka and San Francisco-Beijing nonstops in June; and American has recently begun nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo.
LOW-FARE AIRLINES Asia is home to a new crop of low-cost carriers modeled after their U.S. counterparts, including Singapore-based Valuair (www.valuair.com.sg) and Kuala Lumpur-based Air Asia (www.airasia.com). Singapore's Tiger Airways is due to start this year with backing from foreign investors and Singapore Airlines. While these airlines fly a limited number of routes, they're growing fast and can often provide the best fares in the markets they serve. We found a round-trip Singapore-Hong Kong flight for $236 on Valuair compared with one for $421 on Singapore Airlines, and a round-trip Kuala Lumpur-Bangkok price of just $70 on Air Asia compared with $294 on Thai Airways. For more, go to www.attitudetravel.com/lowcostairlines/asia; you'll find a clickable map with links to most of the airlines.
AIR PASSES If you plan to travel around Asia, consider an air pass, which charges a fixed price for virtually unlimited travel—or a flat price per segment—within the Asian network of the sponsoring airline.
Cathay Pacific's All Asia Pass (www.cathay-usa.com) is one of the best airfare bargains. Starting at $999 (if purchased on-line), it provides round-trip passage from New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco to Hong Kong, along with your choice of flights beyond Hong Kong to any of 18 Asian cities within a three-week period.
Malaysia Airlines (www.malaysiaairlinesusa.com) offers a similar deal, the Access Asia Pass. Starting at $1,099, it includes round-trip travel from New York or Los Angeles to Kuala Lumpur and flights to 21 other Asian cities within a 21-day period.
Star Alliance (www.staralliance.com) and its rival Oneworld (www.oneworld.com) offer their own Asian air passes, with flat-rate fares from $59 to $310 one-way for intra-Asian flights, depending on the distance traveled. Star Alliance is probably the better bet. Its member airlines—including United, Asiana, ANA, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways—offer broader coverage of Asia than Oneworld, whose principal partner in the region is Cathay Pacific.
For travel within Japan, transpacific travelers on Japan Airlines (www.japanair.com) are eligible for a Welcome to Japan air pass; two to five domestic flight segments can be purchased at about $117 each. Travel there with a Star Alliance carrier, and you qualify to buy a similar Japan Airpass—two to five domestic flights, operated by ANA, priced at $107 each.
NEW AIRPORTS Over the past few years, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and Seoul have all opened state-of-the-art international airports. This summer China cut the ribbon on the expanded Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, designed to handle 25 million travelers a year. In September 2005, Bangkok plans to open Suvarnabhumi Airport, about 16 miles from the city, as Thailand's premier international aviation gateway. Japan is building two airports on man-made offshore islands, both due to open next year: Central Japan International Airport, outside Nagoya, and Kitakyushu Airport, near Fukuoka.And Vietnam this year converted the former military air base at Vinh Cam Ranh into a commercial airport, providing jet service for visitors staying in the growing number of resort hotels in nearby Nha Trang.
NEW TRAINS The bullet train phenomenon started in Japan, and now super-fast models are turning up all over Asia. Shanghai is the site of the world's first commercial magnetic-levitation train line, which launched this year. It operates on a 19-mile route linking Pudong Airport with the city and achieves top speeds of nearly 270 mph. In preparation for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the government is planning to build a rail line for high-speed trains that will connect Shanghai to the Chinese capital.
South Korea this year started its first bullet train service, cutting travel time between Seoul and the southeastern city of Pusan by 90 minutes, to 2 hours and 40 minutes. Another new high-speed line links Seoul with Mokpo in the southwest. In Taiwan, an October 2005 launch is planned for a high-speed line connecting Taipei with the island's second-largest city, Kao-hsiung.
PACKAGES AND FARE DEALS If you're planning to visit only one or two destinations, your best bet may be an air-hotel package from a tour operator. A good place to look for bargains is Travelzoo (www.travelzoo.com), an on-line bazaar where suppliers post cut-rate prices. Or try the U.S. Tour Operators Association (www.ustoa.com). You can also check out airlines' short-term fare sales at the Pacific Asia Travel Association site (www.travelwithpata.com).
HOTEL PACKAGES Starwood's Seven Pillars of Well Being (www.starwoodspacollection.com) provides healthy goodies, in-room spa extras, and discounts on treatments at all of its new Spa Collection properties, including those in Thailand, Korea, and China, through December 31.
Four Seasons Bangkok's two-night Retail Therapy Package (800/332-3442 or 66-2/250-1000; www.fourseasons.com; doubles from $320 per night) includes a room upgrade, private limo to your favorite market, bilingual guides for bargaining, and a foot massage to recover from the shopping spree.
At the Four Seasons Chiang Mai (800/332-3442 or 66-5/329-8181; www.fourseasons.com; three-night packages from $1,130, double), guests can choose from the Golf Lovers package (including two rounds on the green and massages); Spa Lovers (with a treatment and massage); Pure Romance (champagne, a two-hour treatment, and a three-course, candlelit dinner in a private pavilion); and others, through September 30.
China's first Formula One racing course has just opened, and the Portman Ritz-Carlton's F1 Grand Prix Package (800/241-3333 or 86-21/6279-8070; www.ritzcarlton.com; doubles from $500 per night) offers a three-night stay in Shanghai featuring limousine transport and box lunch on race days.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Manila offers an undersea exploration package (800/416-8189 or 63-2/750-8888; www.mandarinoriental.com), partnering with several diving resorts and boat operators around the islands. A selection of onboard options or island resorts, with daily diving included, start at $380 per person, per night.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has no travel alerts or warnings in effect for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or human cases of avian flu, two sometimes deadly ailments that have afflicted Asia in the past two years. And although a spokesman for the CDC warned that "you can never predict when you're going to have an outbreak," chances of contracting either disease appear to be slim. The most recent SARS outbreak, in April in China, affected nine people, all of whom were connected to workers in a laboratory in Beijing. And as long as you stay away from poultry farms and bird markets, you're unlikely to contract avian flu, based on the history of the 34 confirmed cases in Vietnam and Thailand since January. At press time, there were reports of several new cases of the flu in birds; see www.cdc.gov for up-to-date advisories.
Written and reported by Michelle Andrews, Joan Bulauitan, Jim Glab, Ron Gluckman, Brent Hannon, David Kaufman, Kaori Matsuda, Shane Mitchell, and Anya Sacharow.
Japan Arts Tour
WHAT IT IS Esprit Travel mounts extensive programs on everything from art and architecture to Kyoto Gardens. A new tour, Bamboo and Basket Arts, roams the entire country, providing detailed insight on this craft.
HIGHLIGHT Nancy Moore Bess, author of Bamboo in Japan, leads the way.
DETAILS 800/377-7481; September 21-October 3; from $5,250 per person, double, including airfare from Los Angeles
WHAT IT IS
American Lawrence Brahm, the undisputed king of Cultural Revolution kitsch, has acquired a Red Flag limousine once used by Chairman Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and made it a tour bus for his Red Capital Club restaurant and hotel.
Caviar and champagne are served—half ironically—as the bulletproof limo tours the city.
86-10/8401-8886; www.redcapitalclub.com.cn; 50-minute tour from $225 for up to four people
Biking Inland China
WHAT IT IS
Berkeley-based Backroads' latest 10-day bike tour passes through Beijing, the ancient city of Zhaoqing, and the side streets of Deqing and Wuzhou, then rolls through the surreal scenery of Yangshuo and Guilin.
You pedal by day, then relax in top hotels, including the Palace Hotel in Beijing, at night.
800/462-2848; www.backroads.com; from $4,550 per person, double
China's Silk Road
WHAT IT IS
The ancient route that once linked the world's Western and Eastern capitals—Rome and Beijing—can now be traversed by luxury train. The September 25 departure includes a Three Gorges cruise.
Days are filled with onboard lectures on the history of the Silk Road.
800/387-1488; www.conferencetours.com; two-week tours from $5,050 per person, double, excluding airfare
Hong Kong Shopping
WHAT IT IS
In early December, Paris-based shopping guru Suzy Gershman, author of Born to Shop Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing, will lead a four-night store-and-spa tour of Hong Kong.
Guests check into the InterContinental hotel and get a jet-lag spa treatment before pounding the pavement.
852/2313-2289; www.hongkong-ic.intercontinental.com; tours from $944 per person, double
Antiquing in China
WHAT IT IS
Hong Kong was once the only place to buy Chinese antiques, but the deals have expanded to the mainland. Hong Kong gallery owner Karin Weber runs a two-day antiquing trip to Dinghu. She also advises on authenticity and shipping.
Guests visit a 40,000-square-foot warehouse in the Chinese countryside, packed with antique statues and furniture.
852/2544-5004; www.karinwebergallery.com/chinatrip; from $290 per person
Textiles of Laos and Thailand
WHAT IT IS
On Geographic Expeditions' three-week trek, roam remote mountain villages of these neighboring countries, where weaving techniques among the Thai Lu, Thai Dam, Akha, and Hmong peoples haven't changed for centuries.
The tour is led by Linda McIntosh, joined by textile experts Patricia Cheesman (Thailand) and Carol Cassidy (Laos).
800/777-8183; www.geoex.com; from $5,225 per person, double
Boating in Vietnam and Cambodia
WHAT IT IS
There isn't a more intriguing way to see these two countries than from the Mekong River. VW Tours sails from Saigon all the way to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.
Groups sail on the Mekong Pandaw, a traditional Burmese boat.
800/795-1633; www.vwtours.com; two-week land/cruise trip from $2,298 per person, double, including airfare from L. A.
Golfing in North Korea
WHAT IT IS
The Koryo Group has golfers playing on the world's most guarded greens. Guests on three-day tours with Nick Bonner, who has been running trips to North Korea since 1993, play on the country's sole course, along Lake Taesong.
The tour also visits the putting green at the Yanggakdo Hotel, famous for its singing waitresses.
86-10/6416-7544; email@example.com; from $1,300 per person, double, including transportation from Beijing
Paddling in the Gulf of Thailand
WHAT IT IS
John Gray's Sea Canoe company has just expanded to Ko Samui and Krabi, in Thailand, and to Vietnam. Offerings range from day trips to weeklong excursions through some of Thailand's most remote waterways.
The newest tour is the Hong by Starlight trip, which floats through tidal passageways (hongs).
www.johngray-seacanoe.com; day trips from $75 per person, weeklong jaunts from $1,043