Once the hard-to-reach haunt of Western backpackers in hopeful search of opium and the hill-tribe experience – but catering to mainstream tourists since the opening of a couple of luxury resorts about a decade ago – Thailand’s Golden Triangle will be served by direct scheduled flights from Hong Kong from November.
HK Express will operate an early afternoon departure to Chiang Rai every Monday and Friday, returning the same evening. Flying time is about three hours, so you can have lunch at Chek Lap Kok and arrive in time to catch the sunset over the muddy confluence of the Mekong and Ruak rivers – where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet – about an hour’s drive north of Chiang Rai.
Chiang Rai is worth a day’s exploration, with its peculiar White Temple, interesting museums and laid-back atmosphere, but the Anantara Golden Triangle and Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, close to where the rivers meet, are by far the best places to stay. The Four Seasons has opened a new, family-friendly, “safari-style” Explorers’ Lodge with a private outdoor deck and pool for up to six guests.
The first flight to Chiang Rai departs Hong Kong on November 25. Visit www.hkexpress.com for promotional fares and reservations.
Wish you were here? Australian carrier Qantas has launched a website that turns your out-of-office e-mail into an irritating holiday photo album by linking your Gmail or Hotmail accounts with your Instagram feed (should you have them). After a simple set-up process, any Instagram photo tagged #qantasoutofoffice will be added to your out-of-office replies.
The site also creates a webpage showing all your tagged snaps, which can be sent out manually to any family and friends who haven’t seen enough of your travels on Facebook. You don't need to be a Qantas customer to use the service.
To get started, go to www.qantasoutofoffice.com.
Nest of spooks Accustomed, at the peak of his theatrical career, to finehotels in exotic locations such as the Cathay Hotel, in Shanghai, and The Peninsula, in Hong Kong, Noel Coward once described St Ermin’s Hotel in London’s Westminster as “a squalid place”. He had arrived in the hope of starting a temporary career with British intelligence at the beginning of the second world war. His contact met him in the lobby and “wheeled me round and into an elevator. It was only labelled to go up three floors. To my absolute astonishment it went to the fourth instead.”
Coward’s espionage career didn’t go much further, and he ended up doing his bit by providing cabaret entertainment to the troops instead. Other, more successful agents and spies frequented St Ermin’s, which was favoured for its proximity to MI6 headquarters, from the 1930s through
the cold war, including intelligence officer and Bond author Ian Fleming and double agents Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt.
The 19th-century hotel seems to have shed its reputation as a den of spies (and is no longer squalid following a major, TripAdvisor-inspired renovation) but has maintained a token connection since 2010 with its annual St Ermin’s Hotel Intelligence Book of the Year Award.
Perhaps with an eye to that prize, a book will be published next week entitled House of Spies: St Ermin’s Hotel, the London Base of British Espionage, by Peter Matthews. Revealing for the first time “the remarkable stories of the spies who met there and the secrets they were sharing”, it will be published by The History Press (www.thehistorypress.co.uk) on October 6, and is available from Amazon.co.uk.
For a closer look at the hotel, visit www.sterminshotel.co.uk.
Deal of the week TLX Travel has just listed a reasonable two-night business-class package to Manila starting at HK$4,420 per person (twin share). At this price, you’ll be staying at the Hotel Jen Manila, one of the better hotels in Pasay. The nearby Pan Pacific and Sofitel Philippine Plaza start at HK$4,630 and HK$4,750, respectively, and are both good hotels. The most expensive option is the excellent Raffles Makati, where junior suites start at HK$6,190.
These prices, which include business-class flights with Cathay Pacific and daily breakfast, will be available until March, but with Christmas and
Lunar New Year airfare surcharges of HK$2,060 from December 22 to 27 and from January 26 to February 2. For details and reservations, click the Packages tab at www.tlxtravel.com.