Ask T&L: Asian cruise, traveler's illness, South Beach hotels
q. I've always wanted to take a river cruise in Asia. Can you recommend a good tour operator? —L.V.S., Tempe, Ariz.
a. The Irrawaddy Flotilla Co., founded in 1865, was once the world's largest privately owned fleet of ships, with 650 barges that sailed up and down the rivers of Burma, now known as Myanmar. The company has only one vessel currently on the water, but it's a beaut: the Pandaw, a refurbished 1947 paddle steamer with staterooms decked out in tropical hardwoods and brass fittings (a similar ship will be added late next year). The Pandaw makes several sailings yearly on the Chindwin and Irrawaddy rivers, including a 21-day tour with stops in Mandalay, Pagan (with its 11th-century gold-domed pagodas lining the river), and Inle Lake, where fishermen stand on one leg to pole their pontoons through the water. The London-based Noble Caledonia (44-207/409-0376, fax 44-207/409-0834; www.noble-caledonia.co.uk) offers this package, which starts at $4,500 for December sailings and covers round-trip airfare from London to Singapore, Mandalay, or Yangon (formerly Rangoon), plus accommodations on board, meals, and hotel rooms during shore excursions. Two other great tour operators: Orient-Express, which has a seven-day Myanmar package, including four nights aboard the luxe ship Road to Mandalay (800/524-2420; www.orient-expresstrains.com; tours from $2,790 per person); and Abercrombie & Kent, which offers a three-day cruise down the Yangtze River as part of a 13-day China trip (800/323-7308 or 630/954-2944; www.abercrombiekent.com; tours from $4,496 per person).
q. I got horribly sick on my last visit to Central America. How can I make sure I won't come down with something on my next trip? —R.L., Springfield, Ill.
a. Perhaps the worst souvenir you can bring home, traveler's diarrhea (also known as TD) is usually picked up from contaminated food or water. The good news is that it typically doesn't last more than three or four days; the bad news is … well, you know the bad news. You can avoid contracting TD by restricting your intake of fresh fruit (if you can't peel it yourself, you shouldn't eat it), raw meat and shellfish, and uncooked vegetables. Carbonated soda, beer, wine, and bottled water are usually safe as long as they're topped with an unbroken serrated-seal safety cap instead of a cork. Other TD tips: Don't use ice cubes if you don't know the water's source; don't brush your teeth with untreated water; and wipe off the surface of any bottles or cans that you plan to drink from — they may have come in contact with tainted water.
q. I am looking for a fabulous hotel in South Beach for less than $200 a night. —D.P.G., Sacramento, Calif.
a. The Alexander (5225 Collins Ave.; 800/327-6121 or 305/341-6500, fax 305/341-6553), a Deco marvel that backs onto the beach, has one-bedroom ocean-view suites at only $189 a night (after December 22, the price returns to $289). This rate includes daily buffet breakfasts, a frozen beverage at check-in, and $100 in coupons good for poolside cabana rentals or Aveda treatments in the hotel's Facemaker salon.
q. Are people under 25 allowed to rent a car?Our college-age son wants to drive home for the holidays. —M.W., New Paltz, N.Y.
a. In most states, drivers have to be at least 21 to rent a car (except in New York, which lowers the age to 18), but watch out for extra charges on the bill. For example, Alamo tacks on a daily $25, while Dollar's surcharges in many locations run as high as $34 or more (New Yorkers between 18 and 20 who rent from Dollar can expect a whopping $73 per day on top of the rental fee). Don't forget to check your insurance policy to see if rental-car liability and collision are covered.