Manhattan memories When the Vista International Hotel opened between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1981, it was reported to have been the first new major hotel in Lower Manhattan since 1836 – the year Astor House, New York’s first luxury hotel, opened nearby. The Vista was sold and renamed the Marriott World Trade Center in the mid-1990s. The 22-storey, 825-room hotel was fully booked, with about 1,000 guests checked in, when, on September 11, 2001, part of the undercarriage of the first plane to hit the World Trade Center landed on its roof. When the twin towers came down soon after, the building was almost completely destroyed. Only three floors of a wing that was reinforced after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing remained standing. The little-known story of what happened inside the Marriott that morning is told by some of the survivors in a new book called Hotel 9/11. Compiled by one of the hotel’s guests, Joyce Ng, it’s available in paperback and Kindle editions at Amazon.com, where a preview of the contents can also be read. A 2008 Channel 4 documentary about the tragedy, called The 9/11 Hotel, can be found on YouTube.
Carry on up the Mekong Upmarket river-cruise company Pandaw has just extended its Classic Mekong itinerary further upriver to reach the old French colonial town of Kratie, in Cambodia. The 48-berth RV Mekong Pandaw (top) is the only commercial riverboat that can get this far up the Mekong, thanks to its shallow beam. The main purpose of the extension is to let passengers get a glimpse of the endangered Mekong dolphins, which are most commonly seen just north of Kratie. The seven-night excursion is offered either upriver or downriver, between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap (which are reached by overland connection), and will depart weekly from October 1 to the end of March. Full-board prices for the current season start from US$2,475 for downriver departure on October 15, but be aware that berths are filling up fast on both routes. For reservations on this and other river excursions around Asia, visit www.pandaw.com. See cruisecritic.com for boat and trip reviews.
Star Trekking Germany’s second airline, Air Berlin, is marking the 50th anniversary of the launch of the original Star Trek television series (which was first broadcast on September 8, 1966, and recently added to the Hong Kong Netflix library) with a specially decked-out Airbus A320. On the outside of the plane’s fuselage is a logo showing a hand making the familiar Vulcan greeting, which is replicated inside, on seat headrest covers. A less tasteful tribute to the series comes in the form of “collectible” Mr Spock sick bags (below), or Spocktüten, which are provided to every passenger and that – presumably used or not – Air Berlin “would very much like its guests to take away”. The Star Trek A320 will be flying to various European destinations for the rest of this month. An amusing German-dubbed Star Trek trailer, some English-to-Klingon phrases and more can be found at flights.airberlin.com/en-US/star-trek.
Deal of the week Skip the Ibis Shanghai Yu Garden, which starts Swire Travel’s two-night Shanghai package at HK$1,990 per person, and move on to the Okura Garden Hotel, which is offered from HK$2,620 until the end of November. The attractive low-rise part of this Japanese-run hotel used to be the Cercle Sportif, or Sporting Club, back in the city’s colonial days, and the property has a pleasant, large garden in front. Another good option is the Hyatt on the Bund, which, as can be seen from its photo (below), isn’t actually on the Bund (it’s in the North Bund district, which was named by the city government in the 1990s, allegedly to boost tourism and drive up land prices) but offers good value from HK$3,220. Better still, if rooms are available, is the art deco-style Fairmont Peace Hotel, which is on the real Bund, with prices starting from HK$3,690. These rates include flights with Cathay Pacific or Dragonair and daily breakfast. For a full list of hotels and reservation details, go to www.swiretravel.com.