When is a return ticket not a return ticket? When it’s an open jaw.
There was a time when one-way airfares cost as much as a round trip. Booking flights by the sector wasn’t worth considering, except by cruise passengers who finished up at ports far from where they had embarked. Times have changed, however, and open-jaw travel – airline industry speak for flying to one destination and returning from another – has become inexpensive and easy to arrange. You don’t even need to stick with the same carrier.
You could fly from Hong Kong to London and return from Paris, linking the two cities with a ride aboard the high-speed Eurostar railway. Or fly to Los Angeles, hire a car, drive up the California coastal highway and fly back from San Francisco. Closer to home, Taipei and Kaohsiung pair up nicely, or make a beeline for Bali and return from Surabaya, on the neighbouring Indonesian island of Java. Combining the South Korean capital, Seoul, with Pyongyang, in North Korea, might be harder to coordinate.
1. Phuket to Penang
From Phuket there are numerous island-hopping possibilities to Penang. Pause at Phi Phi Island or keep going until you reach the pristine bays and rainforest-cloaked interior of Koh Lanta. Sand between your toes and the stresses of Hong Kong already a memory, navigate south through the gorgeous Andaman Islands of Koh Muk and Koh Libong to the talcum-powder beaches of Koh Lipe. When you’re ready to move on, take one of the frequent high-season ferries that shuttle across to the Malaysian archipelago of Langkawi. That leaves one more short journey by sea to Penang, from where there are plenty of flights back to Hong Kong. Or phone in sick and do the whole trip in reverse.
2. Da Nang to Nha Trang
Not everyone has the time, stamina or inclination to travel overland from the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, all the way to historic Ho Chi Minh City. Fortunately, for annual-leave-challenged Hongkongers, there exists an abbreviated version that gives a taste of what Vietnam has to offer.
Fly into Da Nang and organise sorties north to the imperial city of Hue and south to the graceful riverside town of Hoi An. When “temple fatigue” kicks in, book a train to the beach resort of Nha Trang. The Reunification Express ride takes 10 hours but the paddy-punctuated scenery makes it all worthwhile and is a good reason for not taking the overnight service.
3. Tokyo to Osaka
This trip could be done in a three-day weekend, although a week would free up enough time to climb Mount Fuji and sample the cultural delights of Kyoto and Nara. A plethora of airlines connect Hong Kong with both Tokyo and Osaka and a Japan Rail Pass enables time-pressed tourists to hop, skip and jump between destinations by Shinkansen, the legendary bullet train. The journey from Tokyo to Kyoto, a distance of 513km, takes a little over two hours, for example.
4. Colombo to Cochin
Don’t spend too long in the Sri Lankan capital; there’s far more to see in the tea hills and ancient cities, not to mention those postcard-perfect tropical beaches. There’s no ferry crossing between Sri Lanka and India, so two-centre tourists will have to take a 30-minute flight.
Wedged between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghat mountains, Kerala is a sun-drenched state of friendly souls, delicious cuisine and low-cost living. Spend languid days floating along the Backwaters, an extensive network of waterways, and explore the atmospheric enclave of Fort Cochin, with its legacy of Portuguese, Dutch and British trading settlements.
Flights from Cochin to Hong Kong are via Kuala Lumpur, so, if you want a direct flight home, consider heading on to Bengaluru (Bangalore).
5. Irkutsk to Beijing
An ambitious open-jaw option involves flying to the Russian city of Irkutsk and taking the Trans Mongolian (a branch of the Trans-Siberian Railway) back to Beijing. If time is limited, return from the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator, instead. Either way, you won’t get to experience Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and other cities further west towards Moscow, but Irkutsk is the most interesting stop anyway. The Paris of Siberia stood at the crossroads of ancient trade routes and has a dark history as a transit hub for the notorious gulags, or forced labour camps.
Be sure to arrange a side trip to nearby Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake, and spend a night in a homestay in the village of Listvyanka, where you’re sure to receive a warm Siberian welcome.
6. Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
This trip could form part of an extended tour of Thailand’s north or a long weekend toe dipper. Chiang Rai is a laid-back town where nothing happens in a hurry. The night market lures visitors with colourful garments and a huge outdoor dining area. The informative Hill Tribe Museum is worth a look but it’s no substitute for getting out into the highlands for yourself.
The Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and the mighty Mekong meet, reveals its charms to travellers who linger. Rustic villages, lush jungle and fanged peaks attract tourists while opium production attracts traffickers.
Three hours from Chiang Rai by bus, Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, although it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Big on Buddhist culture, the Rose of the North is renowned for its street food, temples and night bazaar, the origins of which date back to Chinese trading caravans.
7. Guilin to Nanning
Guilin is right on the money. The 20 yuan note, to be precise. The limestone-pinnacle-punctuated landscapes have long been favoured by tourists, artists and HSBC advertising directors. Hire a bike and pedal around the paddies or enjoy a boat ride along the Li River, in Yangshuo, then flop out in a café and watch the world go by.
When you’ve had enough of limestone pinnacles, hop on a train to Nanning and clamber up to the hilltop fort, lakes and People’s Park. Keep your eyes peeled for silent but deadly electric motorcyclists, who are as likely to be on the footpaths as the road. If time is not of the essence, take an international bus to Hanoi and fly back from there – after a side trip to see the ... er ... limestone pinnacles at Ha Long Bay.