Blooming tourists The fragrant purple flowers blooming in abundance amid the arid rocky terrain and picturesque villes perchées of southern France have lavender-lovers arriving in Provence by the plane-, train- and bus-load at this time of year. A closer, more practical, but similarly colourful option for Hong Kong travellers is the area around Furano, on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, and there's still time to arrange a short break before the colours fade, in mid-August. At this time of year, special Lavender Express trains run between Sapporo and Furano, taking about two hours. Once there you can get around on your own by rail on a small branch line, heading up to places such as the tourist-friendly Farm Tomita and on to the even more colourful flower fields outside the town of Biei. Several sightseeing buses operate around the area, but these are more geared towards Japanese tourists, who come to look for the many Japanese movie and television-show locations, while they wrap their tongues around lavender ice cream and blissfully bury their noses in bagfuls of dried flowers. You'll also find wineries and cheese factories here, but that's where the Provencal comparison starts to wear thin. The most convenient way to see the region is to rent a car from Sapporo's New Chitose Airport, to which Cathay Pacific flies daily. The airline also has a Furano package available, at www. cxholidays.com For details on visiting Furano, go to www.furanotourism.com/en
Vantage advantage So many travellers are flocking to so few spots around Angkor Wat for the ritual sunset viewing, that a new website has been launched to try and get them to use alternative vantage points. The website - an Australian/Cambodian joint venture - provides five search criteria including type of atmosphere (including a crowded/noisy option, presumably for those who arrived by mistake), category of visitor and distance from the ticket gate. "By promoting the diverse and wonderful sunset experiences at Angkor," says the blurb at angkorsunsets. com, "this project aims to spread visitor load across the park, provide benefits to local communities and offer new attractive opportunities for visitors."
Are you game? Deep-pocketed tennis fans now have the chance to combine a couple of days of courtside action at the next Australian Open in Melbourne with a luxury cruise from that city to Bali, Indonesia, via Sydney, the Whitsundays, Cairns, Thursday Island and Darwin. The three-night Pre-Cruise Australian Open tour is only on sale to passengers taking the subsequent Silversea cruise aboard the Silver Shadow (right) up to Bali on January 19, and you'll be watching the tennis on January 17 and 18. Sadly this is only the middle weekend of the event (which Silversea gamely plays up as "the turning point of any Grand Slam Tournament"), so you won't be seeing any finals action. Still, with a two-week cruise to Bali to look forward to (with optional "Gentlemen Hosts" for lonely ladies), who cares? For fares, tour prices and an itinerary, visit www.silversea.com and type "voyage 3402" into the search box.
Deal of the week TLX Travel is selling an affordable two-night MAS Holidays package to Penang, Malaysia, with flights, via Kuala Lumpur, on Malaysia Airlines (MAS) and accommodation options at numerous hotels. The best of the cheaper options is the historic Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Georgetown, where two nights start from HK$2,110. Best of the top-end choices are the Eastern & Oriental (above left), also in Georgetown, and Shangri-La's Rasa Sayang Resort, around the coast at Batu Ferringhi, priced from HK$2,900 and HK$3,180, respectively. Closer to the airport, but with regular shuttles into town, the Equatorial Penang is also a good option, from HK$2,420. Prices are per person, based on two people sharing, and will be available until March next year with occasional peak-season surcharges. For full details and more hotel choices, go to www.tlxtravel.com