travellers' checks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2007, 12:00am

Above and beyond

Short of becoming a space tourist, this might just be the ultimate rush for adrenaline junkies. High & Wild, a British adventure-travel firm, is organising a first-of-its-kind skydive expedition to Nepal that will have participants free-falling from 9,000 metres above the Himalayas and plummeting past Mount Everest.

'This adventure,' announces the promotional blurb, 'is a feast for those who seek to stimulate all their senses to the point of overload.' Credit cards will also be similarly stimulated, with the price for

a tandem jump (no experience required) tagged at GBP16,870 (HK$268,000), not including international flights or personal insurance.

Licensed skydivers can make the jump solo for GBP12,675. These prices include 15 days' accommodation, all meals, porters, oxygen, familiarisation jumps, permits, a souvenir video of the jump, a six-day acclimatisation trek, a leather flying jacket and lots more.

Non-jumping family and friends can join the trip with most of the above and one sightseeing flight for GBP3,750. There's plenty of time to prepare, both mentally and financially, as the first Everest Skydive trip is scheduled for October next year, to fit in with the high-altitude weather patterns. To put down your deposit and download a full itinerary, visit www.highandwild.co.uk.

Go by the book

Swanky upmarket hotel and resort website Kiwi Collection facilitates the perusal and booking of some of the world's finest properties through both its online search engine and its Overnight Sensations coffee-table books (available for the Americas and Asia-Pacific). The site is easy to use and features a couple of search criteria beyond the usual destination and price categories, such as lifestyle and interest.

Whether or not you book through the website, it's a useful tool for checking out some of the best lodgings available at a given destination. (It's also worth noting some international hotel groups will better any deals you find online if you book through their website). Searching and booking is free, but signing up as a member (also free) entitles you to some extras, including personalised search records, special rates and a newsletter. The two books cost a fairly hefty US$99 each and are available at Amazon.com and the Kiwi Collection website: www.kiwicollection.com.

Call of the wild

Although the closest many visitors to the mainland seem to get to its exotic fauna are the grim cages of Qingping Market in Guangzhou, the potential for encountering animals in the wild looks set to increase with the publication next month of Chinese Wildlife, from British guidebook company Bradt (www.bradt-travelguides.com). With the encouraging suggestion that China is 'beginning to emerge as a fascinating destination for natural-history enthusiasts', the book's introduction promises visitors an insight into natural habitats such as 'the huge deserts of the northwest and the Tibetan Plateau, forested mountain slopes and the rivers, lakes and steamy tropical forests of the deep south'. Billed as the only guidebook dedicated to China's wildlife, this 208-page, heavily illustrated volume is now available with a 34 per cent discount for GBP11.21 (HK$178) from www.amazon.co.uk.

Two sides of the coin

Chiang Mai's fast growing collection of international hotels and resorts sees two new arrivals next month with the opening of a mid-range, 100-room Best Western property near the airport and a 281-room luxury downtown Shangri-La Hotel (above), with signature Chi Spa, close to the night bazaar and Mae Ping River. Travellers heading that way now the cooler, drier, peak-season weather has arrived should check with www.bestwestern.co.th and www.shangri-la.com for opening rates and packages. The only non-stop flights between Hong Kong and Chiang Mai are operated by Hong Kong Express, every Sunday and Thursday (see www.hongkongexpress.com for details but book through a travel agent for cheaper fares).

Chick flick

Pam Ann, the flight attendant alter ego of Australian comedienne Caroline Reid, has been making an international name for herself with her live stand-up shows, lampooning inflight service and the people who provide it. Her shows are so irreverent, vulgar and critical of airlines it was only a matter of time before one of the big carriers decided to get her on side in a desperate attempt to be cool. British Airways has done just that with a series of viral marketing videos doing the rounds on YouTube and elsewhere. Ostensibly a recruiting campaign for new flight attendants, the clips show Pam Ann (whose name, in case you missed it, is a play-on-words tribute to a defunct carrier) trying out and failing as a British Airways 'trolley dolly'. You can find all the videos, including a making-of clip, at www.britishairwaysandpamann.com and, if they tickle your fancy, buy her live-performance DVD Come Fly With Me - released last week - at www.amazon.co.uk for GBP14.99 (HK$240).

Deal of the week

Aero International is offering a two-night package to Qingdao, in Shandong province, from HK$1,990 per person, twin-share until December 20. This rate gets you the modest but comfortable Huanhai Gloria Inn Qingdao (www.gloriahotels.com) or you can choose from a few international properties, including the Hotel Equatorial (www.equatorial.com) for HK$2,150, the Crowne Plaza (www.crowneplaza.com) for HK$2,590 and the Shangri-La Hotel (www.shangri-la.com) for HK$2,690. All these prices include round-trip, economy-class flights with Dragonair and breakfast each day. For inquiries and reservations, contact Aero International on tel: 2545 6669 or visit www.aerohkg.com.

Picture: Leo Dickinson