Call me old fashioned, but the sight of Royal Caribbean’s shiny new cruise ship, Ovation of the Seas, heaving through Victoria Harbour recently made me shudder. Being confined to a floating theme park with more than 4,000 others isn’t my idea of a holiday, and I’m not alone, judging by some of the reviews on cruisecritic.com. Ovation will be based in Hong Kong in November for the usual rounds of regional ports. Fortunately, there are more interesting, much more comfortable and rather more expensive small-ship cruises available. Silversea is running 12-day round-trip voyages from Singapore to Yangon, in Myanmar. Departing on October 31 and December 8, the Silver Shadow (left) will “put in at Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur), Penang and Phuket on the way north, then spend three days in Yangon before returning to Singapore via Langkawi and Malacca. Up to 382 passengers share four good restaurants, three bars, a pool and plenty of secluded deck on which to lounge with a Singapore sling and a copy of Somerset Maugham’s Far Eastern Tales. The route is similar to one historically operated by the British India Steam Navigation Company, and offers about 80 shore excursions – 21 of which are free – and optional overnight trips by plane to Mandalay or Bagan. This is classic Asian cruising, with not a climbing wall, skating rink or long buffet queue in sight. Prices start at HK$50,000 per person, with an option to bookend your trip with Silver Shadow cruises to and from Hong Kong. For details, visit www.silversea.com.
PACIFIC PLACE | Saipan will be back on the departure boards at Chek Lap Kok from Wednesday as Hong Kong Airlines starts non-stop scheduled flights to the Pacific island. More attractive than neighbouring Guam, the largest Northern Mariana island is strewn with wreckage from the second world war, which lies amid beautiful scenery both on land (above) and under water. The Enola Gay bomber took off for Hiroshima with her atomic payload from nearby Tinian island, which has 50km of runways to explore by rented scooter or moped (just don’t run out of fuel, like I did).
Light aircraft operated by Star Marianas Air make the 10-minute trip to Tinian a dozen times a day and cost US$99 per person for a round trip. Saipan is United States Commonwealth territory but most passport holders can get a visa on arrival. Visit www.destinationsaipan. com for details. Flights will depart Hong Kong every Wednesday and Sunday, with sadly inconvenient Saipan arrival and departure times of 12.30am and 2.30am, respectively.
JAPAN BY THE BOOK | The fourth edition of one of my favourite and most used guidebooks, Trailblazer’s Japan by Rail, is published this month. The Japan Rail Pass wasn’t well known in 2002, when the first edition came out to help foreigners take advantage of “the bargain of the century”, and while the price of the seven-day pass went up slightly from 28,300 yen to 29,100 yen in 2014, the drop in the value of the yen means Hong Kong visitors now pay only about HK$2,150 instead of the HK$2,830 they would have paid when this book was last reprinted, in 2012.
The new edition, which doubles as a regular guidebook, is fully updated, with previews and copies available online at www.trailblazer-guides.com. For Rail Pass information and Hong Kong sales agents, visit www.japanrailpass.net.
DEAL OF THE WEEK |Business-class flights and two nights’ accommodation in Manila are included with Charlotte Travel’s Business Class Luxury Package, for just under HK$5,000 per person, twin share. There are good hotels to choose from, including Hyatt City of Dreams, which opened last year, the Peninsula Manila, and the Edsa and Makati Shangri-La hotels. The deal is available until the year-end but there’s a HK$910 surcharge until August 24 and from November 1. Visit www.charlottetravel.com.hk and click on “International Packages” for details.