Northern exposure One of China's more interesting provincial capitals, from the tourist's point of view, the northeastern city of Harbin has seen little interest from international hotel brands compared with its more centrally located counterparts. Only three international hotel companies have set up shop in the last 20 years, the most recent being Sofitel, in 2007, but on Boxing Day, a Sheraton will be opening its doors. Its location is, however, some way away from the city's popular reminders of when it was under heavy Russian influence, such as the Saint Sophia Cathedral (above) and the impressive European-style architecture of Zhongyang Avenue. It's also on the other side of town from, but opening just in time for, the annual international Harbin Ice Festival (www.icefestivalharbin.com), which takes place from January 5 to February 28. Hong Kong has had irregular direct air links with Harbin for many years, but none is currently in operation, which is unusual for the winter season, but many mainland carriers will get you there from Hong Kong via most major cities. It's also possible to reach Harbin from Hong Kong by train, via Beijing, in about 36 hours, if you're feeling adventurous. See www.seat61.com/china for details. For opening offers at the Sheraton, visit www.sheraton.com/harbin or look at www.shangri-la.com/harbin for a more centrally located option, next to the frozen Songhua river.
Just the ticket Japan Airlines (JAL) has introduced a new Japan Explorer Pass, which lets foreigners purchase up to five domestic flights for a very reasonable 10,800 yen (about HK$685) each, including tax. Available destinations cover most of Japan, from tropical Okinawa in the south, to Memanbetsu Airport near Abashiri (above) in the currently frozen north of Hokkaido. You don't have to fly into the country with JAL to buy the tickets, which can be done online before you leave or in Japan up to 72 hours before departure at www.world.jal.com/world/en/japan_explorer_pass/hk, but reservations are non-refundable.
Deal of the week The accommodation is fairly dismal at the lowest price offering with Tiglion Travel's two-night package to Kota Kinabalu, which is a windowless room at the Cititel Express from HK$3,690 per person, twin share. From just HK$1,200 more, though, you can get a room with a view of Mount Kinabalu at Shangri-La's Tanjung Aru Resort (above) and there are several other good hotels and resorts priced in between. Also included with this package is a choice of day trips including a visit to Kinabalu Park or a nature trek around the Tambunan Rafflesia Centre. An Underwater Seawalking Adventure is also offered for an extra HK$250. This package, which includes flights with Dragonair, round-trip airport transfers and daily breakfast, will be available until the end of March. For a full list of hotels and resorts, and to make reservations, go to www.tiglion.com.