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.