Rising Down Under
With upmarket hotels mushrooming all over Asia in recent years, it's surprising to learn that when it opens next month, The Darling (below) will be Sydney's first new five-star property in a decade. Describing itself in typically opaque five-star language as 'Sydney's most lovingly detailed hotel', the 171-room hotel is part of The Star casino complex, which overlooks the Australian capital's Darling Harbour. The somewhat precious-sounding name can be rather satisfyingly offset by the knowledge that it is indirectly named after the 19th-century New South Wales governor Sir Ralph Darling, a man with an alleged partiality for torture and who is noted for having banned most forms of public entertainment. Reservations for stays from November 15 can be made at www.thedarling.com.au . The upscale hotel scene is perking up in other areas, with the Shangri-La Hotel (www.shangri-la.com ) in The Rocks district having just opened 477 refurbished deluxe rooms and executive suites, and the nearby Park Hyatt (www.hyatt.com ) set to reopen at the end of the year, after a much-anticipated redesign and rebuild.
Emirates is offering the more intrepid traveller an exotic basket of special fares from Hong Kong to Africa, with the more offbeat destinations on offer including the Ghanaian capital Accra (HK$14,033), the Angolan capital Luanda (HK$13,493) and Abidjan in Ivory Coast (HK$14,311). Among the more tourist-friendly options are the Seychelles (HK$7,252), Cape Town, South Africa (HK$7,254) and Mauritius (HK$7,653). Closest to home as the crow flies are Khartoum, Sudan (HK$9,458) and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (HK$9,566). The good news is all these prices are fully inclusive, with no annoying fuel surcharges or airport taxes to pay. The bad news is you'll be transiting for a few hours in Dubai, although you can work this to your advantage with one of Emirates' cut-price stopover packages, and extend your trip with an overnight stay (or an 'exciting break' as Emirates puts it) from an advertised US$39. Entry visas, for those who need them, can be booked through the Emirates website. For reservations and schedules go to www.emirates.com/hk  before the end of March. Most of the destinations are covered by Bradt guides (www. bradtguides.com), which produces some of the best guidebooks on Africa.
Deal of the week
Some of the better hotels and resorts in Luang Prabang, the royal capital of the former Kingdom of Laos, are on offer with a two-night twin-share package from Swire Travel. Available for HK$4,590 until December 22 are the Santi Resort and Spa and the Villa Santi Hotel (www.villasantihotel . com), while at the top of the list, at least pricewise, is The Luang Say Residence (above; www.luangsayresidence.com ), which is offered at HK$6,490 from October 31 to December 22. These prices include flights via Hanoi on Vietnam Airlines, daily breakfast and airport transfers in Luang Prabang. For a more complete Indochine experience, you can stop off in Hanoi (for up to one month) for an extra HK$550. Flights depart Hong Kong daily. For reservations, visit www.swiretravel.com  and click on Leisure Holiday/Vacation Package/Laos. Otherwise, call 3151 8888.