Travellers' checks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 June, 2011, 12:00am

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Meet and greet

The best time to catch a glimpse of Kyoto's enchanting geisha is usually in the early evening, as they totter through the streets towards various engagements with the city's stressed-out salarymen. But during the summer, visitors can experience their charms at closer quarters as a number play hostess at a couple of beer gardens around town. From July 1 to September 5, geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) from the Kagai hanamichi in northwest Kyoto will be on hand to serve drinks and make small talk (expect very small if you don't speak Japanese or carry a phrasebook) at the open-air Kamishichiken beer garden. Closer to the centre of town in the Gion district, Shinmonso is a traditional inn offering a similar chance for cross-cultural fraternisation, but with more substantial - and, in fact, compulsory - dining arrangements from July 9 to August 31 (closed Sundays). See www.shinmonso.com for more details and reservations. Package tours to Kyoto from Hong Kong are usually priced quite a bit higher than those to nearby Osaka, so you can save money by staying in the larger city and taking the train to Kyoto with a rail pass. A JR West Rail Pass Kansai Area - only available to foreign tourists - allows unlimited travel between Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Kansai Airport and some other nearby stations for 4,000 yen (HK$385), 5,000 yen and 6,000 yen for two, three and four days, respectively. See www.jr-odekake.net/en/jwrp for further details.

Character referrals

Seven multiple-choice questions is all it takes to match your personality with your ideal holiday accommodation. That, at least, is the theory behind a new feature at Checkyourroom.com, a hotel-booking website specialising in upmarket European hotels. Select your favourite from a choice of four options covering topics such as art, fashion, music, cuisine and favourite people, and up pops a selection of properties and the room type that's best for you. We fell into the 'Classic' category, for people who 'have a fondness for antiques and pre- fer elegant period-styled hotel rooms' and were offered a handful of quite attractive-looking choices ranging in price from Euro280 (HK$3,100) to Euro1,500. It's a bit gimmicky, of course, but as a starting point, or even a last resort, this seems as good a way as any to get a quick list of places that might at least be worthy of further investigation.

East to West

The Asian invasion of the Paris hotel scene continues with the opening next week of the Mandarin Oriental on Rue Saint-Honore. Originally scheduled to open last year (along with the Mandarin Orientals Taipei and Guangzhou, which are still to open), it follows on the heels of the Shangri-La Hotel and Le Royal Monceau Raffles - which both opened last year - and is ahead of The Peninsula, which should launch in 2013. Although it has a superb location, the Mandarin's architectural heritage is a bit lacking in comparison with its two Asian counterparts. While the Shangri-La was once the palatial home of Prince Roland Bonaparte and the Royal Monceau has been a grand hotel since it opened in 1928, the Mandarin Oriental building - dating variously from the 1930s and 50s - was previously occupied by insurance offices, shops and the French Ministry of Justice. Although just days away from opening, at the time of writing, the hotel website still only featured artist's renderings and generic photographs, and the only thing on offer to the media was the lobby image (below left). For opening offers, and perhaps by now some photos, visit www.mandarinoriental.com/paris.

Deal of the week

Westminster Travel is advertising three nights in Colombo with economy-class flights on Cathay Pacific from HK$4,950 per person, twin-share. The only hotel available at this price is the Sri Lankan capital's oldest, the Grand Oriental. A visit to the hotel website (www.grandoriental.com) suggests the place has seen better days, but it should be acceptable if you like places with character and heritage. More modern offerings include the Taj Samudra (www.tajhotels.com) for HK$6,010 and the Hilton (www.hilton.com) for HK$6,150. Daily breakfast and travel insurance are included. Few tourists visit Sri Lanka just for the sights of Colombo, so take a look at www.experiencesrilanka.com for ideas for further exploration and consider extending your return flight date. For further package details and reservations until October, call 3665 3488, e-mail itravel@hkwtl.com or visit www.westminstertravel.com.