China Southern Airlines is using its Airbus A380 aircraft (right) on daily flights between Hong Kong and Beijing this month - the first time the planes have been seen outside the mainland since the carrier received its first delivery in October. This is only a temporary deployment, however, and China Southern will only be showcasing its latest purchases further afield once it gets the official nod from the Civil Aviation Administration of China. In anticipation of international routes, the airline has launched an English-language version of its A380 microsite at www.csair-a380.com/en, where visitors can find relevant news, images, desktop downloads, videos and A380 iPhone and Android apps. China Southern has also announced the launch in June of its Canton route (presumably so-named to save foreigners the trouble of learning to pronounce the more cumber- some 'Guangzhou'), as an alternative to Qantas' decades-old 'kangaroo route', from Australia to Britain. Flights from several Australian cities will link up with China Southern's new thrice-weekly Guangzhou to London, Heathrow flights, which are scheduled to begin on June 6. Qantas is expected to terminate services from Hong Kong to Heathrow later this month.
Thriller for Manila
Anyone who has seen Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild will be familiar with the Bicol Express train, which has run between Manila and Bicol in southern Luzon since the 1920s, and featured quite prominently in the film. The line, operated by Philippine National Railways (PNR), was closed in 2006 due to typhoon damage but is now open again after a couple of false starts last year. It's the only long-distance railway line in the Philippines and hopes are high that foreign backpackers at least will be drawn to what is, to be fair, one of Southeast Asia's more challenging rail journeys. The new PNR carriages were recently donated by Japan Railways, and local modifications include metal grills over all windows to deflect rocks and other missiles that are customarily thrown at the train by locals. Trains depart Manila every day at 6.30pm and arrive in Naga at 4.30am, with tickets costing from 416 pesos (HK$75) for a basic seat to 1,425 pesos for an Executive Sleeper. The PNR website is currently suspended, but more information can be found at www.facebook.com/pnrailways.
Join the queue
Having been topped-off at the end of last month - just two months later than scheduled - the mightily impressive, 634-metre-high Tokyo Sky Tree (the world's second tallest structure after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai) will be open to visitors from May 22. Foreign travellers shouldn't expect to be visiting for a while, though, as sales are restricted to online bookings, and these are only available to those with a Japanese credit card, and even then names will be chosen by lucky draw. Admission tickets will be available on-site from July 11, but unfeasibly long queues can be expected until at least the end of the year.
Deal of the week
Tiglion Travel seems to have just about every hotel in Penang, Malaysia, available for its two-night package to the island, which starts from HK$2,190 per person, twin share, for a stay at the acceptable Tanjung Bungah Beach Hotel (www.tanjungbungahbeachhotel.com). Other choices further along the coast at Batu Ferringhi include Shangri-La's Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa (above; www. shangri-la.com) for HK$3,690 and the Hydro Hotel (www.hydrohotelpenang.com) for HK$2,290. If you prefer to stay in Georgetown the obvious choice is the Eastern and Oriental (www.eohotels.com), where deluxe suites are offered for HK$3,390. These prices, which will only be available until the end of this month, include economy-class flights with Cathay Pacific and daily breakfast, but you'll have to make your own way across the island from the airport. For reservations and further details, call 2511 7189, or e-mail travel@tiglion. com and quote package ID 3275.