travellers' checks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 February, 2006, 12:00am

Sound advice

Guests staying at The Sheraton Perdana Resort (below), in Langkawi, might hear some familiar sounds from home for the next few months because the property will be undergoing renovations until the end of November. As a sweetener, however, all guests staying at the resort until then will be given free buffet breakfasts and dinners during their stay. It should be possible to locate a quiet corner while still taking advantage of the free fare by visiting the renovation project website at

New resort

Visitors to Chiang Mai have yet another new property to consider following last week's official opening of the Chedi. This resort has 84 rooms and suites (right), each with a private courtyard, open balcony and the obligatory 'breathtaking views'. Prices for the rest of the year start from a rather immoderate 10,400 baht ($2,050) plus 18 per cent service and tax, although this includes breakfast, and four-night bookings earn a fifth night free. For more information and reservations, see

Little Italy

Eritrean capital Asmara might not be a name given prominence in many travel agents' windows, but leaf through any guidebook to the city and the praise is unstinting. 'Asmara is, by any standards, a very safe, picturesque and relaxed capital,' announces the Bradt guide, while Lonely Planet notes the city enjoys 'a great climate, clean and architecturally striking streets, and a reputation as one of the safest capital cities in Africa'. The reason the former Italian colony dropped off the tourist map was its decades-long conflict with neighbouring Ethiopia and, while regional tensions still exist, foreign visitors are returning.

Although never a convenient option for the Hong Kong travel trade, Asmara will soon find itself a more viable destination for adventurous travellers from these parts thanks to a new, twice-weekly service operated between Asmara and Nairobi, which is linked to Hong Kong by the same carrier. Good accommodation is available in the city, most notably at the InterContinental Hotel ( and to a lesser, but more traditional, extent at the 19th-century Keren Hotel, which reopened last year. Asmara is probably most famous for its Italian modernist architecture, most of which survived the recent troubles. Italian architects were given a freedom unheard of in Europe and built about 400 significant buildings in the 1930s with the encouragement of dictator Benito Mussolini. Highlights include the Fiat Tagliero, a petrol station built in the shape of an aeroplane.

While travel warnings apply for much of the country, Asmara and nearby areas, accessible by a fleet of vintage Italian steam trains (above), are waiting to be rediscovered. Kenya Airways (, which flies from Hong Kong to Nairobi every Monday, Thursday and Saturday, will commence flights to Asmara on May 3. For further reading, look for Asmara: Africa's Secret Modernist City by Edward Denison and others. For a virtual tour, visit

Cheap sleeps

No-frills hotel chain Ibis continues its rapid regional expansion this year with the opening of two new properties in Bangkok. The Ibis Huamark and the Ibis Siam are offering opening rates (until April 30) from just US$22 a night. However, while both feature Wi-fi access in all rooms, pools and fitness facilities, they are very much in the three-star bracket. Ibis hotels keep costs down with what the company refers to as 'multitask job responsibilities' for staff (the receptionist may also be doubling as a waiter), which won't be an issue for most guests unless they're attending a trades union conference. On the other hand, you'll be picking up your 'room service' order yourself from the restaurant and taking your own luggage to your room. For details see

Deal of the week

Swire Travel is selling two-, three- and four-night packages to Hangzhou for $1,788, $2,288 and $2,688, respectively (with a possible $100 fluctuation depending on the date of departure). Accomodation is at the Sofitel Westlake Hangzhou (below; and includes breakfast. Round-trip, economy-class flights are with Dragonair and depart daily. These prices will be available until the end of March. For further details and bookings, call Swire Travel on 3151 8833 or e-mail