Travellers' checks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 August, 2006, 12:00am

Original ideas

Pioneer Expeditions is a new travel company based in England filling an interesting niche by promising 'extraordinary expedition firsts'. With adventure holidays becoming increasingly commonplace, the company is appealing to the adventurous traveller to join it on unique expedition-style itineraries around the world. These, says Pioneer, might include 'swimming a volcanic crater, rafting a river from source to sea, scaling unclimbed peaks, trekking a glacier or traversing a jungle-clad tropical island'. The next expedition is to Palawan Island in the Philippines, with a 2km swim across volcanic Lake Danao as the main event. This is a major excursion that also includes searching for dugongs, jungle treks and a boat trip along the world's longest underground river. It runs from November 5 to 22 and Hong Kong travellers are welcome to join by booking online and liaising with the organisers in the Philippines. At #2,450 (HK$36,000), excluding airfares, the price is high but not excessive for an 18-day package with meals, accommodation and substantial activities. Note that only eight places are available on this and other trips. Later expeditions - none of which will be repeated, at least by Pioneer - include a river safari in Tanzania, rafting in Madagascar and the chance to scale an unclimbed peak in Greenland (above). For further details, reservations and a full Palawan itinerary visit

Walk this way

Culture vultures heading to Bangkok who would rather do without a tour guide should consider Siam Soundtrek, 'The soundtrack to the city of Bangkok'. With a musical background, the company's new MP3 walking tours have a historical slant, and many of the places covered are 'often overlooked and ... terribly neglected' heritage sites away from the usual tourist circuit. The first tour is around the Democracy Monument area and additions will include Banglampoo (the Khao San Road district), Chinatown and other locations in Thailand such as Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya. Downloads are free with advertising or US$5 without at See also the printable selection of more than 20 free text-based 'wikiwalks', which can be updated online and usually focus on buildings, shops and temples.

Staying power

One of the oldest hotels in Asia, Sri Lanka's Mount Lavinia, is celebrating '200 years of existence'. The hotel's publicity material is so worded because the property opened in 1877 (as the Mount Lavinia Grand Hotel), although it had functioned earlier as a guesthouse for foreign visitors. It was built in 1806 (although some sources say 1810) as the residence of the British governor general, Sir Thomas Maitland, whose dalliances with Sri Lankan girl Lovina Aponsuwa are the stuff of local legend. Last month, the governor's descendant, Viscount Ian Maitland, 18th Earl of Lauderdale, and the more manageably named Henry Brownrigg, descendant of a later governor, flew in from London to celebrate the anniversary. Although much expanded and developed over the years, the Mount Lavinia still has a historical flavour, especially if you stay in the Governor's Wing. Online rates start at US$72 a night at You can see more of the hotel and compare prices at

Island escapes

New resort openings are infrequent in the Seychelles (below), but this summer sees two in as many months. First is the Maia Resort and Spa (, scheduled to open today and promising 'an unparalleled holiday experience'. Its 30 villas all come with an infinity swimming pool and separate gazebo-style day villa with relaxation daybed and ceiling fan, and guests can use the services of a private chef for in-villa dining. Handily for day trips, the resort is located on the main island of Mahe, where the capital, Victoria, is located.

More secluded is the 105-room Labriz Silhouette (, due to open next month on Silhouette Island, a 45-minute boat trip or 15-minute helicopter flight from Mahe. Reaching the Seychelles from Hong Kong involves one stopover, either in Singapore if you fly from there with Air Seychelles (, which departs every Tuesday, or in Mauritius if you take Air Mauritius (, which leaves twice weekly. Fly either carrier and you'll be eligible to buy an Indian Ocean Pass, which can be used for discount flights between the two countries and neighbouring Reunion Island and Madagascar. See the Air Seychelles website for details.

Spa break

The newly renovated all-suite Landmark Hotel, Shenzhen, is selling a summer spa package, valid until October 7 and subject to availability. Priced 1,560 yuan a couple or 1,260 yuan for singles, it includes one night's accommodation in a suite with buffet breakfast and a one-hour spa treatment at the new Tamara Spa. The hotel will send a chauffeur-driven car to pick you up at the Lo Wu crossing, and children under 12 can join their parents free. Prices include tax and service. See for a look at the hotel, and call 2375 6580 or e-mail for reservations.

Deal of the week

Swire Travel is organising three two-night English-speaking tours to Yangshuo via Guilin, departing from Hong Kong on September 15 and 29, and October 28. Priced at HK$4,056 (per person, twin-share, including airport taxes and fuel surcharges), the package includes one night's five-star accommodation in Guilin, one night's three- or four-star accommodation in Yangshuo, all meals and a 160km river cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo, with bamboo rafting and a cycling tour on day two. Arrival on day one is at 8.30pm, but the third day is full of activities, including coach trips to three scenic spots, free time for shopping and dinner before the 9.30pm flight from Guilin. Entrance fees and travel insurance are also covered, and round-trip, economy-class flights are with Dragonair. The package price for single travellers is HK$4,656. To obtain further details and receive a full itinerary by fax or e-mail call 3151 8833 or e-mail