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PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 12:00am

Hidden gems

The recent discovery of a cave packed with Buddha images is being used to help bring sustainable tourism to the Khammouane province of central Laos - a region that's yet to benefit from the tourism boom in other parts of the country.

Tham Pa Pha cave was discovered when a villager scrambled up a limestone cliff face in search of bats to eat. Peering through a gap in the rocks, he found more than 200 bronze Buddha statues, believed to be about 300 years old.

SNV Netherlands Development Organisation is advising the provincial tourism office and culture and information department on how to manage the attraction in a way that will minimise environmental damage. SNV has advised about 20 developing countries on ecotourism and poverty alleviation in the past 15 years. Spokesman Jan Burrows says the cave, which has already attracted thousands of Lao tourists, is a useful case study for the government.

'The income the cave is generating, and discussions about where the money is going, help local officials understand how tourism can benefit communities in the province,' Burrows says. 'When the authorities heard about the cave they organised a visit for officials from various departments - and the tourism office was initially excluded. The discovery wasn't even considered a tourism issue.'

Ocean's 11

If you fancy dressing up in lederhosen for some stein-swigging, thigh-slapping action, you have until November 6 to join the carousing at the Oktoberfest at Ocean Terminal, adjoining the Marco Polo Hotel, in Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. While you're there, Star Cruises hopes you'll be filled with the urge to board the Star Pisces for its recently introduced poolside barbecue, held every Friday evening.

The 40,000-tonne, 12-deck Star Pisces also offers regular two-day, one-night cruises from Hong Kong, from $499 per passenger. To commemorate the line's 11th anniversary, passengers sailing from now until December 16 will receive an 11 per cent discount. And those whose ages are multiples of 11 will be entitled to cabin upgrades. On-board diversions and facilities include a swimming pool, spa, health club, salon, auditorium, karaoke pub, video arcade, child-care centre, live entertainment and restaurants. For details and reservations, call 2317 7711 or go to

Water joy!

Shanghai's first all-suite, apartment-style hotel, the Grand Pacific Suites, says occupancy rates for its first month have been high. The boutique property features 400 single-room suites, each with a kitchenette. A separate sitting room doubling as an office has complimentary broadband internet access. The Grand Pacific is located in the heart of the Jian'an Temple District, next to Plaza 66. Room rates are HK$1,000 a night, excluding tax. For details, go to

Flying free Qantas will resume flights from Shanghai to Sydney/Melbourne on December 2, with departures in both directions on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Qantas is offering a special fare of 4,888 yuan to mark the resumption of these services, which were casualties of Sars. It's also throwing in a free domestic return ticket to Brisbane, the Gold Coast or Adelaide.

Northern exposure

Northern Phuket seems to be the latest 'in' place for the luxury crowd. The newest arrival is the Sarojin, a five-star, 56-room resort and spa on the shores of Khao Lak, an hour's drive from Phuket Airport. From January 10 to February 28, the resort is offering discounted opening rates on its Garden and Pool rooms and Sarojin suites: one or two nights' stay at 10 per cent off; three nights for the cost of two; and four nights for three. For details of rack rates and discounts, go to

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