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.