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Need a Palawan update with mid-range options

We don't all work for Citibank, writes Kitchens. The good news is we have a new report on the El Nido area and beaches with a slew of affordable beds.

Letters may be edited for clarity or space. Correspondence must bear the writer's full name, city, and e-mail address. Writers' opinions do not reflect the views of SmartTravel Asia. Mail: Dancing Wolf Media, Room 2802 Tung Wai Commercial Building, 109-111 Gloucester Rd, Wanchai, Hongkong. Send Letter to the Editor

Bangkok is more accessible these days

In your article about 'new tourism zones' in Bangkok you mention getting of the train 'grid' and how complicated this makes things for visitors. I beg to differ. Most of Bangkok is now quite accessible if not by train then by taxi or boat. We have tried Four Seasons on the river and did not find the area problematic.

Kristine Ong, Singapore

What really is a sustainable hotel?

We chuckled through your informative laugh-a-minute account of Singapore's new environmentally friendly stays. We do try to stay at places that profess an interest in recycling and eliminating waste but it is hard to really be spot on with this. We've tried to get our heads around the ISO terminology (some sort of due diligence) and so so on but confess to being baffled by all these new terms. It all needs to be simply stated and verifiable.

Claire and David Hatton, UK

Editors - Yes, mastering international design quality acronyms is a hair-pulling business. We've tackled some of this in the March Editor's Rant.

{Look forward to your Palawan update with more mid-range stay options. All travellers are not working for Citibank you know...

Enjoyed your Palawan romp

Your Palawan romp is one of the best accounts of these fascinating islands in the Philippines. Sadly some facts are outdated and some new options have become available after the Covid shutdown. This is not a criticism. I'm sure it is tough to rope in all this info given that things (like dive shops and flight options) change fast on the ground. Keep up the good work. Look forward to an update with more mid-range stay options. All travellers are not working for Citibank. 

Matthew Kitchens, USA and Manila

Editors - You might like our El Nido fun guide that has just been sent up. This carries the latest information on the northern bit of Palawan

HK must do more

I totally agree with your Editor's Rant (February) that says Hong Kong needs to do better to position itself as an exciting destination. "It is not a matter of budgets, but imagination." Agreed. 

Win Chan, Canada

When will prices come down?

As we enter a new year are there any signs that prices may start coming down? After all travel has returned to normal for a while. I see crowds everywhere. So why are we still paying through our teeth for air tickets and middle level hotels, nothing fancy I mean?

Andrew Madigan UK

Not meaning to be classist, but...

Having started flying again after a long while I am shocked at the prices for even the most ordinary of fares or routes. An agent once told me that a full economy fare was akin to a business class fare but these days it seems every economy class ticket is competing with premium economy or even business. How is this possible?

Editors - You're right, economy class has a huge range of fares depending on flight capacity and the time left for take-off. But if travellers believe a perishable seat will suddenly drop in price as they race heroically to board, they are grimly mistaken. With fewer flights and pent up demand it is a seller's market. On our recent flight to Singapore our travel agent moved us up to premium economy on the return leg as this was 'cheaper than the available Y (economy) fare'. Airlines are also less willing to hold your reservation these days so you have to make fast business or leisure calls. Unsurprisingly, people are trying to cut back on frequency of flights and expand on holiday/work time on the ground.

Jerome McGill USA

Flyer woes: when old gets mould

Recently you asked, “What’s bugging travellers?” My answer: What isn’t? On a flight to Japan last month, nearly everyone was tense and angry. Conditions in the airport and in-flight have been getting worse, and service is noticeably worse. There were no unruly passengers, at least none that I witnessed, but all the flight attendants were over 60. I spoke to one of them about this. According to her, the airlines can’t find new recruits so they’ve been pulling people out of retirement or offering incentives to stick around. While it’s great to employ people regardless of age, a few of the elderly attendants seemed too tired to do the work, had trouble moving, or didn’t seem interested in helping passengers because they knew they wouldn't be fired. After all, if they were, there would be no one to replace them.

Andrew Madigan UK

Bangkok taxi scams are back

I visited Bangkok recently and things are back to normal I can say. I don't mean this in a good way. The taxis are overcharging again. People selling things will follow you everywhere, like around the street market areas. Sometimes I was feeling uncomfortable. But people are mostly nice and smiling so I didn't mind too much. I just took the train everywhere.

Emily Carvalho USA

Good to be back in 'costly' HK

Our family visited Hong Kong after five years. We were not able to travel earier because of Covid. Philippines was very tough with border controls. We have always enjoyed visiting HK for food and shopping, even Disneyland. We enjoyed coming back but my wife remarked that everything was so expensive. I noticed food prices were up as well. I suppose this is a problem everywhere.

J Rivera Manila

Why are costs up, service down?

Without embarrassing some of my once-favourite hotels I am appalled at the lack of service and slipshod standards I have encountered on recent business trips. I understand Covid was a difficult passage for many but charging more for less seems a dangerous and short-sighted business philosophy.

Greene UK

Singapore Girl, a great way to cry

After all the build-up about Singapore Airlines I have to say my recent experience flying Delhi to Australia and back - business class on some sectors - was greatly disappointing. The business class seats are tiny and angled so your feet have to be squeezed into a side recess. Not the most comfortable arrangement. Service was brusque - as is often the case on an India sector - and then improved after Singapore. Stewardesses were polite but in a rush to get us off the flight, at which point the smiling facade would immediately drop. I had a far better impression flying Cathay Pacific where the service was routinely professional. At Singapore Airport too there were mixups with wheelchair access to the gate.

Capoor India

Barely standing room - yes, Macau is back

I visited Macau with a group of friends and was amazed at how fast the city has filled up with tourists. This is in stark contrast to Hong Kong. In some tourist places like St Paul's, we could hardly squeeze through the very narrow streets. The overcrowding was annoying. Still, it is good to be able to travel again. We loved Macau and took your tips for Portuguese egg tarts.

Grace Chan Canada

{The Macau overcrowding was annoying but it was good to visit. We loved the place and took all your tips for Portuguese egg tarts...

Unfinished business

Reading the Editor's Rant regarding hotel 'soft' openings (is that what it's called?) I recalled several experiences where the company put staff up in newly opened hotels simply because the price was discounted. We always wondered why nothing worked and no services were available. For business travel it was not a problem as our meetings were all outside. But for holidays and families it would be a mistake, as you say, to pick an unfinished property no matter the price. Our finance department should read your comments.

Sasha Pelham UK

Masks should be used in public spaces

It is heartwarming to see people travelling again and smiles on children's faces. I might caution, as a medical professional, that it is still wise to remain masked in public spaces like aircraft, mass transit and concerts. There is a lot of seasonal flu about too. Masks are a good habit if you worry about catching an illness, or even spreading it, if you are under the weather.

Viv Bennett Canada

Hong Kong drops the 'C' word, finally

It is good to see Hong Kong finally ending most Covid time restrictions. We hope we can start travelling without fear and our friends can visit. I hope the city has not opened too late. But I think it is better late than never.

Cordelia Hong Kong

Seven good reasons to open HK

Now that the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens have been successfully hosted perhaps the city can toss out all remaining restrictions including the ridiculous 0+3 format as it is termed. Qatar has shown that a world event like the FIFA World Cup is possible in this day and age. That should offer some tips for managing crowds of tourists. It is unlikely Covid is going to disappear. Might as well get used to it. Hong Kong can then provide a showcase test model for China's opening up.

G Macquarie Australia

Quarantine-free HK needs more

It is good to see Hong Kong authorities finally ending the hotel quarantine. But the fact remains that there are still too many restrictions and testing requirements. Tourists and shoppers cannot enjoy the destination in this fashion and business travellers too will wait for things to open completely. Why is Hong Kong so out of step with the rest of the world? It used to lead the way for travel.

Chloe Walker USA

HK quarantine struggles

People always compare Singapore with Hong Kong but I always say, "How can you put these two places together?" They are so different actually. Now looking at the reopening of travel after Covid we can see how much further apart the two cities have become. I believe Singapore made the correct choice to end restrictions on travellers so we can live quite normally. Of course people will still wear masks and we are careful. But we can travel. Hong Kong needs to do more to lift restrictions and remove quarantines. This is the only way for the city to move ahead. Companies are moving out and this is not a good sign.

Jeff Ang Singapore

Still miles from those smiles

As usual, you have got it spot on [Editor's Rant - "Where has all the service gone?"]. With countries opening up and Covid restrictions dumped, what are tourists going to experience? Our beloved mega brands (with a hint of sarcasm) are already experimenting with how little they can get away with providing to their guests (due to Covid of course).

Destinations need to be ready with welcoming smiles and experiences. Sadly, walking down the beach the other day in Hua Hin the jet ski operators were already trying to gouge a few extra baht - several hundred actually - by trying to point out a scratch which mysteriously wasn't there before the tourists went out for 15-minutes of fun.

Opening up is going to be a painful process I'm afraid. Although there are parts of the world struggling to find anyone to work in the hospitality business, I take heart from the Grab motorcycle rider who delivered my McDonald's big breakfast (yes really) who said, "Good morning Greg, enjoy your breakfast. Have a good day". Give him a medal and give him a GM's job at once!

Gregory Meadows Thailand

Cautious HK opening

I am so glad to see Hong Kong opening up again though it seems very cautious compared to the rest of the world. I hope this is the start of a better time for this city as business and life gets back to normal. It may be sensible to keep short quarantines for a little while with the zero-Covid policy. Maybe this can be changed soon to match all the other cities. That would bring Hong Kong back to life.

Stefie Au HK

Lion City restart a roaring success

I was not sure at all about the Singapore opening and all the talk of having to live with Covid-19. There was so much up and down all the time, even with the Hong Kong travel bubble, and many infections. But I believe the city has done the smart thing to open borders. We all need to have a normal life, send kids to school, and enjoy holidays. And we must all be serious about gettingt vaccinations.

David Yong Singapore

Beat Covid through travel

I read the editor's rant on the possible end to our carefree holidays, with interest. He makes some excellent points and worries about government resolve in keeping borders open. I beg to disagree. The vast majority of travellers (I'm talking vaccinated passengers) have sufficient pent up energy and demand to keep airline seats filled. All that's holding this back are quarantines and non-standardised procedures. There is no point in sitting on the couch watching telly. The world needs to get back to normality and this means work, play, and travel.

Mitch Simpson USA

Locked up abroad - the Hong Kong episode

Can anyone enlighten me as to why Hong Kong persists with its ridiculous 21-day quarantine? The world is opening up and Hong Kong is in reverse gear. This extended quarantine is both expensive and unmanageable. My friends planned to visit the city and had to change their travel plans due to a personal emergency. They were unable to change hotel dates in Hong Kong as everything was full! Hotels must be booming with these quarantines.

Annette Davis UK

Can someone explain quarantine hotels?

Please do a review of quarantine hotels. What can travellers expect? I think this is very useful nowadays. I have so many friends who are in quarantine in different cities and the policy does not seem consistent. How safe are these quarantine hotels? Are people placed on different floors based on [country risk] or level of vaccination?

Erica Lim Singapore

Time to call out Facebook

I completely agree with your editor's opinion that Facebook is a farce. Their so-called algorithms block innocent fun but have no problem with nasty political posts. I enjoyed the rest of the article on how Kodak optimised it's skin tones for white people and how Google photo tags made terrible and insulting mistakes! Unbelievable. I did not know this. I do hope that software applications today do not carry the Kodak bias on 'perfect' skin-tone for prints.

Melinda Mackie New York

Perplexed by HK vaccine hesitancy

I read your commentary on vaccination hesitancy in Hong Kong and couldn't agree more. This is an existentialist threat. Everyone needs to step forward in order to make things safer for all. It is extremely selfish to assume that a vaccination to avoid the Covid-19 threat is purely a personal, or lifestyle, choice.

Sandra Baker Hong Kong

Drop quarantines for vaccinated travellers

There is still so much confusion on the status of air passengers fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and there is less clarity with each passing day. Should not airlines and/or governments come together to set up standards for safe air travel and eliminate quarantines for those least at risk? Or perhaps a global agency could deal with this as your magazine had earlier suggested. The situation in the UK has improved. Of course surges will go up and down but vaccinated people should be allowed freer access.

Jenny Huang United Kingdom

Simply not cricket, the long wait

I am really doubtful that people will start travelling anytime before the complete rollout of the vaccine. It is just not worth the risk. Add to this the current 21-day quarantines and suddenly travel is not so appetising anymore. It's a small miracle that the Australia-India cricket test matches took place.

Ray Clemens Sydney

Is a Covid-19 Passport the solution?

I read with great interest your editor's comments on a possible 'Covid-19 Passport'. I did not follow the entire commentary but it appeared you are arguing for standardised procedures across the world. I think this makes a lot of sense. Why has no one suggested this before? Why was this policy not undertaken earlier? It sounds sensible and absolutely basic. And if governments cannot get their act together then, as you suggest, a global organisation needs to step in.

Greg Blaitlock Bangkok

Yes, but which Covid vaccine?

Will people have a choice when it comes to picking a Covid-19 vaccine? Hong Kong says it wants stocks of the Chinese vaccine. Will Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca be available here or in other Asian cities? I think I prefer a vaccine that has been fully tested and whose results are publicly available. It would worry me if there is any secrecy regarding vaccine development. Which one to pick?

Chrysanthemum Chan Hong Kong

Editors - Epidemiologists believe that most approved vaccines that arrive should be within a reasonable risk-vs-efficiency envelope. The issue is not which lifeboat to catch. When you're on the Titanic, grab the one that's most easily available. Bear in mind the annual flu vaccination has an efficacy rate of between 40%-60%, so the Covid vaccines with scores of 90% or more are in a seemingly stronger position to offer protection. Flu vaccines have side effects but are considered kosher.

Who will line up for a Covid vaccine?

When Covid vaccines finally arrive is anyone going to take them? Watching American TV news is depressing. The trust levels are so low. I think it will take time for people to assess the efficacy of a vaccine and its side effects on different populations and age groups. I'm not sure I would be front of the queue even though I need to travel for business and would love to do so on leisure. It may be second half 2021 before anything really stirs. I'm of course talking about international travel. Here in Thailand people are travelling quite freely.

Megan Whitmore Thailand

I love gum , but travel bubbles...?

Watching the Hong Kong-Singapore no-quarantine'bubble' with interest. It would be great to get out of Hong Kong after almost a year cooped up on a small, if exciting, island. But to fly to yet another island city? Friends are excited. Europe and the US seem a long way off right now. I'm concerned about what happens when travel bubbles burst. Is it possible I could fly to Singapore and then get quarantined due to some sudden winter spike? Not sure I would chance it just as yet.

Paul Chan UK/Hong Kong

Hong Kong staycation was great

As Americans living in Hong Kong we must say we have enjoyed the relative calm though the city is back to its bustling self. We have availed of a few weekend holidays here with hotels offering very good rates indeed. The experience is not bad and seems as safe as it might possibly get. It certainly makes a change from chores and cooking and HBO at home. I am told these deals are called staycations. There is a term for everything these days.

Barbara Wilson Hong Kong

Fed up of being cooped up

I've cooked, read, watched movies, and enjoyed far too many days of WFH. How long are we to remain cooped up? I do realise we need to stay safe and wear masks etc, but isn't it a fact that this virus is here to stay and is being better managed now? Perhaps a loosening up is in order so we can all get started with our lives. SARS was not like this at all. I realise this coronavirus is far more infectious but...

M Dupont Australia

Crowds at the beach!

How on earth will travel restart when no one has a similar strategy regarding Covid-19 containment? In the US alone we have states that ask residents to wear masks while others allow holiday crowds to congregate on the beach. The seaside crowds I see on the television are frightening.

Calvin Redmond USA

Editors - This month we look at the issue of safe travel corridors and how we might get there. You are right. Reopening travel and international flights means getting protocols aligned.

Looking at deeper Covid causes

[The Editor's Rant] is very well written and resonates with those who are taking a more considered approach to the deeper and underlying causes of the Covid 19 pandemic. Not the "it's China to blame" brigade led by the carrot-top leader of the richest country in the world. Will the bitter lessons be learnt?

Manita Khuller UK

A balanced view of the virus

Thank you for this comprehensive, intelligent and as always, well-balanced overview on the impact of the virus on the travel industry. As is so often the case, SmartTravelAsia has supplied the single best summary of a situation which is rife with rumour, pseudo-authority and even downright fake news.

Baz Daniel Thailand

Hotels slow off the blocks on Covid

I am shocked to learn that hotels in Asia, especially in Bangkok, took so long to take sufficient steps to monitor and protect guests [Covid-19]. Despite the lessons of SARS I think many people have forgotten about that frightening experience. Maybe because SARS was more dangerous, people reacted fast to prevent its spread. Then as now, travel is a casualty. I answered a poll [in this magazine] recently on whether I felt safer if a hotel had a temperature check at the entrance. Of course I do. This is the very first step in ensuring some sort of protection. It is not the only possible measure. But its psychological benefits are real.

Jacob E C Fong Hong Kong

Bar bars, not beer, to fight the virus

I am not convinced that closing borders is the best or only way to fight the novel coronavirus. Preventative steps by individuals and travel curtailment is what is required by potential travellers. If the virus is asymptomatic in so many cases even more reason to self quarantine and ensure social distancing. This seems elementary. Yet in Hong Kong, bars and restaurants remain open in Lan Kwai Fong where beer mixed with bravado is a potent cocktail for a misstep. The calls for a temporary end to such revelry are entirely sensible. The beer can flow - at home.

Malcolm Cornish Hong Kong

Editors - From 25 March 2020, as many as 8,600 bars and restaurants in Hong Kong have their alcohol licences revoked for 14 days.

Home schooling not for the squeamish

I enjoyed the [editor's rant] on the arrival of and response to the Covid-19 virus. Surely travel is the last thing on people's minds now? With some international schools closed, looking after two kids at home is far tougher than most people imagine. Our kids point to other schools that remain open. They are keen to meet friends. It is not easy to explain or manage social distancing. Channelling teen energy is a fulltime chore though in Singapore the outdoors are always an option. Friends in other cities where all schools are closed are even more frantic. Travel would have been a wonderful antidote but that is off the table for the forseeable future.

Valerie Singapore

Maldives mask-free getaway

My boyfriend and I are planning a holiday in the Maldives. We would need to transit in Singapore or Bangkok, according to our agent. Apparently breaking the journey is cheaper than flying direct on Cathay Pacific. We live in Hong Kong Do you feel it is still safe to travel? The Maldives does not appear to have any Covid-19 cases and it would be good to get away from the masks and panic buying here.

Merrilyn Yong Hong Kong

Editors - Yes, indirect flights are usually cheaper due to the inconvenience of transit. In early March, flying to the Maldives from Hong Kong on Singapore Airlines will cost you anywhere from HK$4,000 to HK$5,500; AirAsia is around HK$3,800 and Middle Eastern Airlines like Qatar will cost over HK$5,500 with tediously long flying times. Bangkok Airways is unlikely to be cheap. Cathay Pacific was a little over HK$5,000 and was probably best placed to offer you a good price, speed, and convenience but by 27 February HK-Male flights were cancelled. With flights reasonably light elsewhere you should be able to get yourself a seat away from the madding crowd. Maldives has reported one homegrown coronavirus case so far. There are no temperature checks at the resorts as all rely on Male Airport to get the health inspections done at entry. Carry your own masks and hand sanitiser if you feel this is necessary. It is best to stay with essential travel for now. ADDED: from 27 March all visas on arrival to the Maldives had been cancelled for a month.

India flight sneeze jitters

I was on a flight from India to Singapore recently and was seated across the cabin from a passenger who took off his mask every time he coughed. It seems he did not wish to cough or sneeze into his mask. Maybe he was saving it for extended use! This is self-defeating is it not? The cabin attendants failed to offer any advice to this passenger. Fortunately, I was in a window seat about eight seats away. Why don't airlines insist passengers don masks and stay masked for the entire trip? It seems sensible.

Jyoti Ahuja Singapore

Editors - Eight seats would appear to be a somewhat safe distance on a flight unless someone sneezed violently in your direction. Airline ventilation works top down so the air does not, as a rule, circulate horizontally. Aircraft cabins replace the air every three minutes or so and run it through HEPA filters. The air is probably cleaner than at an office.

Is air travel to Asia safe?

We have been reading about the new virus in China and wondered if it is safe to travel to other parts of Asia? We understand Hong Kong is limiting travel to China but there are huge inflows of traffic in both directions [from the Mainland to the Territory]. Would simply transiting in HK be considered a risk?

Veronica Giles Melbourne

Editors - In an aircraft with a few hundred passengers from all over the world it is a fairly even risk for travellers anywhere in Asia. Yes, flights to China have been curtailed and China has itself introduced draconian quarantines. Yet a virus does not respect borders and will travel freely carried by persons perhaps not yet displaying symptoms. We would suggest curtailing non-essential travel and, should travel materialise, to practice strict personal hygiene, especially the washing of hands, which is a simple frontline common sense protection and more effective than people think. With its Sars experience, Hong Kong is better equipped than most to deal with viral emergencies. More in our Asian health risks survey

Fixing the Boeing 737 MAX saga

I have been reading your reports on the B737 MAX with interest. I have never been a huge fan of Boeing, having preferred Airbus for a while. Yet it was shocking to see the callousness with which the airline manufacturer handled the disasters and the subsequent public relations outreach that inflamed matters further. The sacking of the CEO was long overdue. Perhaps the group can now rebuild its tattered brand.

Barry Collins UK

Saigon, if the price is right

I have just returned from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I enjoyed your report. I notice your article focuses more on expensive places. I visited The Reverie for tea. It is impressive. Park Hyatt is also excellent. But there are many comfortable and clean hotels that don't cost too much. I think for Hong Kong people these will be a better selection.

Peter Chan Hong Kong

Is this the best time to visit HK?

As a [former Hongkonger now resident in the Netherlands] I have been saddened by the newspaper headlines. I visited my friends around Christmas and was surprised to see the city is quite normal I think. There was some trouble in a few malls (mainly far away in Shatin) but we did not have any problem. We have recommended to our friends abroad that this is the best time to visit Hong Kong because the deals are very good.

Raymond Yuen Netherlands

Saving an arm and a leg on medical tourism?

I keep reading that medical tourism in Asia will save people an arm and a leg. I read your report with great interest as I would like to bring my parents across for consultation and check-ups. Yet it seems many hospitals that you mention are moving services upscale with premium selections and clubs that really defeat the purpose of competitive rates. Anyhow, this is just a thought. I do not know much about this subject but have been researching a lot recently. I look forward to your continued updates.

Jayne McLeod Scotland

Luxury means less marble more smiles

I read with great interest your interview with some Asian hotel personalities [Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale and Anchalika Kijkanakorn]. They were talking about changing travel needs. I agree with much of what they say. I certainly think hotel staff should be very visible. That's what we call service. Automated functions are not 'service'. Yes GMs please shake hands with guests and get to know us better. Make us feel at home and we might return. Too many posh addresses are getting it wrong by throwing marble at us to claim a luxury experience. A smile will suffice most times.

Carmen Lau Hong Kong

220 reasons why Airbus is ahead

I was alarmed to read that the A320Neo has flight safety problems though not as severe as the MAX. I have spotted back rows empty as you mentioned though I fail to see how much this could help the balance. It seems an absurd fix. When will aircraft manufacturers get it right? I have to say, as a frequent traveller in Europe I am an Airbus fan and feel its planes outclass Boeing's by far. The A220 is an excellent plane with passenger comfort features like wider seats.

Caitlin McDermot UK

HK should emulate the Shanghai Bund

Thank you for publishing my letter on the B737 MAX. I look forward to your magazine's aircraft comments with keen interest as flying is something of a hobby for me though most of my travel is on business. I liked your feature on Shanghai's new 'Bund Run' development linking [several kilometres of riverside] for runners and culture buffs. Hong Kong could learn from this and attempt something similar?

John Crawford Hong Kong

Can't see my nose in Singapore

We returned to Singapore mid-September [2019] for a romantic vacation to find the city covered in smoke. We thought this was just a passing haze until we were informed this is an annual feature with the jungle fires set off in Sumatra across the strait. Can't the government of Singapore work with Indonesia to make sure this sort of health hazard is prevented. We are just passing through but it must be quite difficult for people living here. One taxi driver joked that everywhere people were in masks. 'Hong Kong people wearing masks... now even in Singapore."

Abby Madison USA

No sayonara for troubled city

I come to Hong Kong all the time to take pictures. I can't wait to come back. It is sad to see the problems. Good luck Hong Kong! I will return. And thank you Smart Travel Asia for your amazing Hong Kong guide.

Naoko Suzuki Osaka

{this is one of the greatest cities on this planet. I hope people find a way to talk things through. Praying for you Hong Kong...

Hong Kong off my list for now

I read the editor's article 'Is Hong Kong safe?' with interest. He says it is safe enough. Really? I've watched mobs burning stations and beating people in the crowd who do not agree with their point of view. This does not seem safe or orderly. I have dropped Hong Kong (a city I have visited frequently) from my travel plans for this year. I think it will take a long time for the city to bounce back.

Adrian Chu Singapore

Hope HK finds its groove

I was in Hong Kong recently on business and watched the television news with alarm. I never encountered any problem during my stay and I did not personally see any protests or violence. We were staying in Tin Hau. I did encounter students handing out leaflets at the MTR Station and they were all very polite. This is one of the greatest cities on this planet. I hope people find a way to talk things through. Praying for you Hong Kong.

Annabelle Tong Kuala Lumpur

Airlines cutting us off - at the legs

A recent article in a West Australian newspaper states that all Asian based airlines are in the process of reducing legroom and seat width in their aircraft in order to accommodate burgeoning numbers of Chinese travellers. This is to be achieved by jamming in extra rows of seats. Even Cathay Pacific, which in the past, has been the benchmark for passenger comfort is identified as being involved in this trend. For those of us who really prefer to holiday in 'our own neck of the woods' ie; SE Asia, that doesn't leave us any choice other than Qantas. Our recent experience flying on the so-called Dreamliner was anything but a dream.

Patrick McDonagh Australia

Editors - Alas this has been the trend since the Eighties when British Airways closed up exits using the specious argument that it was still possible to evacuate a fully packed plane in 90 minutes. We have attended training drills where it would appear clear even to the layman that this is impossible. In April 2018, Cathay Pacific introduced narrower economy seats on its B-777s with the announced trade-off of a wider personal video screen (11.6 inches across, up two inches compared to the old format) and added features like USB charging sockets and smartphone and tablet storage space. Cathay B777 seat width on these aircraft drops to 17.2 inches (with more than an inch shaved off). Narrower seats means the airline can now squeeze in 10 seats abreast per row. More in our economy class seat survey

Is Hong Kong safe to visit?

I am hoping to visit Hong Kong with the family in December 2019. As a former resident of the territory I know the place reasonably well and recall it as a peaceful and extraordinarily safe city. The news coverage however is scary, especially the airport closure and the clashes. Is Hong Kong safe to visit?

Avril Hansen San Francisco

Editors - The city has had more than its fair share of negative publicity in past weeks (Where does HK go from here?). The airport siege marked a tipping point when a group of demonstrators lost control, violence erupted, and a policeman drew (but did not fire) his weapon. Subsequent gatherings have been largely peaceful and, learning from the ire of delayed passengers at the airport, students apologised and have taken pains to be helpful to visitors. Trouble has brewed in the past along the MTR train route in spots like Wanchai, Central, Causeway Bay, and Tsim Sha Tsui. Much of this has happened after dark. MTR arson and vandalism has arrived more recently. Do visit. But read the news. Hong Kong remains safe and even at its worst the street clashes have been well below the average head-cracking that is common news fodder in places like France, USA, the UK, India, or South Korea.

Garbage - river deep mountain high

Your excellent piece on overcrowding on Everest [Editor's Rant - No rest on Everest] is spot on. I am an adventure sports fan and have been increasingly concerned over the years about plastic pollution in the seas (often around popular diving places) and in the mountains. These days it seems you can hike to the farthest Shangri-La and find a heap of trash. Tourists must stop despoiling our planet. The deaths on Everest are a wake-up call.

Ron Bingham Sydney

Pull the plug on the B737 MAX

Boeing has started talking about pulling the plug on the ill-starred B737 MAX. This is the best idea by far. There is no point in rebirthing a failed delivery. No one is willing to take a chance on this plane and airlines have lost enough money already wringing their fingers waiting for a fix. You cannot 'fix' a poor design and a fresh design means starting from the ground up.

John Crawford Hong Kong

I have lost confidence in Boeing

Through June 2019 we polled readers to ask 'Would you fly the B737 MAX-8 after the fix?" We offered four choices, 1) No, absolutely not, 2) Yes, no problem, 3) Yes, but with reservations, and 4) I don't know enough about aircraft types. An overwhelming 63.8 percent resonded NO. Feedback ranged from "No thanks. Maybe after a couple years of no accidents, [USA]" and "I have lost confidence in Boeing and the design. Safety is not just about changing parts but the whole plane design [Singapore]" to "I don't trust Boeing and FAA. They admitted their mistakes after other nations found out the truth and all became obviouse. Before only excuses with lot of arguments blaming others first. [Philippines]"

This was general tenor of the NO camp. A Canadian reader said, "Boeing has a troubling culture of putting near term business growth over safety and reputation," while a reader from Japan stated emphatically, "Not until after two years' of safe flights..." An Australian frequent flyer commented, "Cannot trust Boeing nor FAA" and a Malaysian traveller simply wrote, "Scared."

Just 8.6 percent said YES, No Problem. Few respondents in this category commented but one reader from Australia was unhesitatingly bullish, "It will now be the safest plane ever produced by Boeing." Said one reader from USA, "Unfortunate things happen. They are making damn sure that those planes will be fixed." A larger 10.3 percent expressed some hesitation to say YES they would fly the B737 MAX-8 but with reservations. "Not confident about proper security," said a reader from Italy, while from India we had this comment, "The reports about the two accidents are fresh in my memory and I will be a bit nervous of course." A substantial proportion of respondents (17.2 percent) said they did not know enough about aircraft types to take a decision.

STA Readers Worldwide

Can sumos fly?

Verghese's [Editor's Rant] article on the Boeing B737 MAX fix nails it with this one line "A key problem is that the airline is attempting a software patch for what is really a design flaw (like sending a Sumo wrestler to a psychotherapist to convince him he can do ballet)." This sums up the problem pretty neatly. I will never fly on that plane again no matter what Boeing tells me.

Frank McCready USA

Cathay scores dramatic own goal

As a Cathay Pacific 'diamond' member I am used to fluctuations in price depending on peak seasons, school holidays and so on. However I am extremely annoyed about my booking to Madrid for the Champions League final on 1 June 2019. After Liverpool qualified for the final, within two days I tried to book a Hong Kong-Madrid roundtrip leaving 31 May and returning 2 June.

The price online for economy was HK$34,000 - absolutely ridiculous, yet I held the seat. Two days later I asked my travel agent if he could do any better and I changed my routing to HK-Madrid-Doha (with a stay in Muscat for a few days prior to leaving for Hong Kong on 15 June). The price, thankfully, came come down to HK$19,000 for economy, but still ridiculous. Luckily I can be flexible with my travel. However, genuine fans have literally been taken for an expensive ride!

Tony Bratsanos Hong Kong

Editors - Unfortunately this is not unusual. Airline ticket pricing is unregulated for the most part. For your routing HK-Madrid-HK a 'restricted' business class may have cost HK$31,000 (depending on day of purchase through a travel agent). As a comparison, the fares HK-London are around HK$7,000 for an economy. Price-gouging is common practice for many airlines. With Jet Airways out of commission flights from Hong Kong to India have rocketed in holiday periods to touch HK$7,000-$8,000 (from HK$4,500). Air-India has hiked fares as well. Ticket prices are hugely variable. On the agents' computer screen an itinerary for HK-Bangkok might show up to nine different fare categories ranging from HK$2,700-$9,000 for an economy ticket!

Is this the right time for Myanmar?

It was a treat to come across your article on Myanmar's hidden islands (Mergui Archipelago resorts). The place looks simply amazing and each island seems to be a real hideaway. I was tempted to consider Mergui as a holiday option right away but friends asked if this is the right thing to do given the situation in Burma with the Rohingya crisis? I don't mean in terms of safety but as a moral choice for a traveller...

Heidi Chan Thailand

Editors - The Myanmar government has earned no kudos for its treatment of the Rohingya, thousands still housed in camps across the borders. Obscene as that is, sanctions, travel or otherwise, rarely impact on governments. Cutting travel hurts local people who depend on tourism as a primary source of income. We believe the best way to effect change is through personal interaction. Each traveller needs to make his own moral call.

Should travellers boycott a country?

With regard to your reader Heidi Chan's letter on Myanmar travel I would like to add my thoughts. We had a similar issue in the late 1980s after the suppression of the students in Beijing. But how do you boycott your own country, even though [you might] carry a different passport? I am of Chinese ethnic origin but live in Canada. Eventually we decided to keep visiting the mother country and staying in touch with our relatives there. I am glad I made that decision without regard to my political thinking. It has been a rich experience for us. I agree that every tourist must make his own choice.

Elaine Wong Canada

I will never fly on the B737 Max-8

The more I read about Boeing and its MAX-8 aircraft the more determined I am to never fly on that plane. How can an international airplane manufacturer like Boeing make and sell a "killer" plane like this? The entire business is so cynical it makes me terrified of flying.

Akello Mwangi Kenya

Macau: Cobbled streets and casinos

I enjoyed reading your magazine's interview with Maria the director of Macau Tourism [MGTO] to see her take on the fast changing city. My husband and I have lived in Hong Kong for over 20 years (I'm English, he's Spanish) and have been visitors to the Portuguese enclave since then, watching the changes, sometimes with alarm. I agree things seem to have settled down and the heritage areas like the main square remain in fine fettle even if sometimes overrun by flag-waving tourists. It's the price of success I suppose. We miss the old Coloane where we spent many a romantic evening. Bits remain as we remember but much of that area, or at least Taipa, has been changed beyond recognition. Separating the casinos from the cobbled-street heartland seems to have worked, for now. We wish Macau every success in building a brighter better future.

Victoria Espolita Hong Kong

Running to Shanghai

As a runner who is always on the lookout for opportunities to stretch his legs while on the road for business, I found your article on the Shanghai Bund runs of particular interest. I had the opportunity to try a section on a cold and pretty wet day but the experience was wonderful. The art and museums are not in place as yet but the views are exceptional. It would be good if more of the route was seamlessly joined as some bits are still not fully connected.

J Gorman Los Angeles, USA

We shall return to Sri Lanka, soon

I always thought it unthinkable that the sort of bombing devastation witnessed on Easter could ever have happened in Sri Lanka. This was an utterly uncalled for barnaric act. We love the country and have travelled extensively on several occasions. Now we may have to think twice about visiting. Friends tell us by and large things are safe and life is returning to normal. For now we might head instead to Thailand or Bali. But we shall return to Sri Lanka soon.

Matilda United Kingdom

Dreaming of debris - B787 woes

And now there is debris in the innards of the B787 Dreamliner! What is Boeing coming to? I read with alarm and consternation about work tools and plastic being left around in the cockpit wiring at a plant in South Carolina. It is time for Boeing to get its act together. I personally like their aircraft (the B787 in particular) but am shocked by the corporate attitude that turns a blind eye when it comes to issues like this as they want quick turnarounds on the production line and fast profit.

Alessio Barzetti Italy

Stretched to the MAX

It is a shocker to learn that Boeing is certifying its own planes. I am also appalled to read here and elsewhere that safety features were not part of the basic sales bundle. How can you place a premium on safety when it involves human lives?

J Brueggeman USA

{squeezing low cost carriers to shell out for basic safety features is a frightening thought... it points to the increasing cynicism of large manufacturers

Boeing 737 MAX-8 safety issues

I have flown this particular aircraft [B-737 MAX-8] and found it to be okay. It is quite tight on the seating. I had no idea that the design change (between this aircraft and earlier models) involved so much adjustment that it created a dangerous situation. But this may be true of all successful aircraft models. I am not an expert but perhaps this can be explored.

Hedvig Gustafsson Sweden

Save lives not cost

I have been reading about the B737 MAX-8 crashes and the manner in which the 'rogue' MCAS system was introduced by stealth. It all points to the increasing cynicism of large manufacturers like Boeing who simply feel they can get away with cutting corners in order to extend profits. Squeezing low cost carriers to shell out for basic safety features is a frightening thought. I agree with the author, the focus must be to "save lives not cost".

Tavish UK

Voice-activated hotel controls? Yes or No...

Through February 2019 we asked our readers a simple question: "Would you like to see more voice-activated controls in your hotel room?" The response was overwhelming and would make a hotel robot blush. An irate 81 percent shouted an unequivocal NO and the pushback to excessive hi-tech in rooms was evident in the various responses that ran from, 'Don't like them'... 'No interest'... 'Because'... 'Not really required'... and 'Bloody hell!' to the more exasperated 'What kind of idiots like every sound in their room recorded?'

Wrote one Swedish reader: 'I don't want stupid artificial voices.' A Singaporean reader had a slightly different take, 'I feel that would make me lazy. Would be good if the room was very large.' This sentiment was partially echoed by a reader from Britain: 'Don't need them. We are being encouraged to become lazy robots.' And a frazzled reader from Australia lamented: 'NO. I'd probably set it off accidentally.'

So what of the YES faction? One voice from America gleefully stated, 'YES. Because it's a FREE ROOM SERVICE BITCH,' while a reader from Japan where this sort of technology is commonplace, simply wrote 'GG,' (presumably shorthand for Good Game). And that was about the size of it. Most of the YES crowd gave no reason for their choice but one traveller from the Philippines insists it was 'because it is reliable and safe.' AT least one Taiwanese reader disagreed, describing it as an 'invasion of privacy' while a Swedish traveller underlined it thus: 'It feels so foolish talking to a non-human.' There you have it. Your thoughts?

STA Readers Worldwide

More Amorita con amore

I stayed at the Amorita Resort on Panglao island in Bohol for a few nights in November 2018 on the recommendation of Smart Travel Asia. The resort staff were extremely helpful and welcoming. The rooms were spacious and had stunning sea views. They provided us complimentary kayaks and snorkelling options with an amazing guide. Housekeeping left delicious sweet desserts in our room every night. The breakfast spread was great and the resort is well located close by a strip of bars and restaurants on the beach. I’d definitely return to Amorita and highly recommend it to anyone travelling to Philippines!

Adit Mehta Singapore

The original coffee mustache

Divinely hysterical rant by Susan Kurosawa on the Aussie craze for coffee. I'm not a fan of Starbucks and its cookie-cutter formula but even I thought it might fare better down under. But three cheers! We have been saved from the banal and boring by homegrown family-run places for a steaming original one-of-a-kind cuppa.

Maggie New Zealand

Ironing things out in Japan

Your editorial rant [on polite Japanese garbage trucks...] brought to mind an actual quality manual for supplying garments to Japan which entreated: "Garments to be ironed politely before folding and packing". I have never been able to iron ever since without feeling impolite at any hasty/careless ironing out of any crease.

Johnny John Hong Kong

How far the Aisle of White?

Is it just me or have times changed? The last time I flew I tried to select an aisle seat (on the online check-in screen) and got a prompt that this was a special location that would cost more. This is happening on several premium airlines and smacks of a budget carrier rip-off where passengers are charged for just about everything. I have had this experience in the UK and USA and now in Asia. Surely a premium airline plays by different rules? What next? Charges for the toilets?

Robert White USA

Editors - Yes, sadly premium airlines are steadily introducing charges for prior seat selection just like budget airlines (but with with premium seat prices). Cathay Pacific, for example, charges HK$100 for a general seat and HK$450 for an exit row seat with legroom.

Desperately seeking Phu Quoc

I went through your excellent Vietnam beach resorts review and made a note of several things including your Danang tips. My wife and I are planning a trip to Phu Quoc, which friends tell us is quite a nice place and not too developed. You had some information but not a whole lot. Will you be running a bigger feature on this island anytime soon? It seems an interesting destination, a bit like a very early Phuket, which I really enjoyed. In fact you may do an article on new destinations that are not very developed as yet. I think your readers would like it.

Charles Yeung Singapore

Old School in Bangkok

Re your article on disappearing hotel managers, I suggest when next in Bangkok you visit the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit where the GM is on duty 7am to 7pm six days a week and is seen everywhere at most tables during dinner and the lounge in the evening as well as patrolling the premises. The old school!

Bill Gasson Thailand

Jurassic GM - The Lost World

The Editor hits the nail on the head [The Disappearing GM]. Hotel Keeping has become two very dirty words, hardly ever spoken about for fear of being laughed at and labelled a dinosaur. Oh you don't understand, things have moved on. If you are not part of the cheer leading for being a 'destructor', as one mega company hotel boss proudly trumpeted, or obsessed with the gig economy, the transforming powers of block chain, and so on , then you cannot manage a hotel anymore my friend. I would just like to use a wonderful all encompassing word from the English dictionary in response, "Bollocks".

As the very nature of managing a hotel changes so fast, and with so many experts to tell the general manager what to do, marketeers, dynamic pricing gurus, food and beverage conceptualists, it makes it all the more important to remember and practice the best from the 'golden age', to understand where 'hotel keeping' came from and to build on those foundations. Yes, change will continue for better or worse, but if the human aspect is forgotten, then the values of traditional hotel keeping will be eroded and hospitality will just be a quaint memory.

As your article pointed out, brand proliferation is running riot, new brands for new market segments ... if you are an Urban Warrior this brand has been created for you. Who are you trying to kid? It's all part of giving the illusion of choice as the article said. In the end, it's all about location, price, service, quality, good internet, and a passionate team looking after you. Thats basically it, and don't you dare call me a dinosaur!

Gregory Meadows Thailand

Editors - Here's to the return of famous home truths and the certain knowledge that people make the brand and not the other way around.

{if the human aspect is forgotten, then the values of traditional hotel keeping will be eroded and hospitality will just be a quaint memory...

Why I don't favour 'clusters'

I agree with your comments in the article the Return of General Cluster [the disappearing GM]. The industry is changing so rapidly that not everyone can cope. Hotel general managers are in a most difficult spot as they are the first to be blamed when things go wrong. Yet when things go well, many other people take credit. The binding contract between the GM and the owning company is to achieve/exceed the annual financial targets - this has always been the case from the good old days to the present. Of course, this requires a balance between assuring that the customers and employees are happy and developing strategies on how to get more business in. A very difficult balancing act.

Some GMs are struggling with this especially the ones who were promoted very fast. My first job as GM goes back to 1975 and even at that time I had to go to New York (head office) two times per year to present and justify the proposed annual budget, and then again for the mid-year review, with nine corporate executives on one side of the table and me on the other. You can imagine the grilling. But it was an excellent learning process. Each hotel needs its own GM that takes care of the staff and guests. I have never been in favor of 'clusters' as in some way it takes away personality and responsibility.

Giovanni Angelini Hong Kong

Let's face it - hotels are about people

I thoroughly enjoyed your commentary on changing times at hotels (The Case of the Disappearing GM). I don't believe I need to chat with the general manager incessantly but it is nice to attach a face to the hospitality. There is a sense of watchful care at good properties that is hard to define. I think it all comes down to the people you meet. Thoughtful service. Someone remembering your name. A smile on a grisly grey winter morning. I'm rambling but what I'm trying to point out is that people matter. Much of travel has become far too impersonal as the author pointed out. I'll take the good old days.

Paige Crompton New York

Waiter, there's a Guy in a Suit!

I continue to enjoy reading your articles (The Case of the Disappearing GM). It is rare that I post a comment, but felt compelled to do so in this case. Whilst I am deeply aware of the corporate responsibilities of todays GMs, there are many GMs (including myself), that would challenge your proposition that the "lobby-cruising GM is seemingly dead". It is critical that the GM of the hotel is present and engaged with his/her team and his/her guests. The greater the presence; the greater the outcome.

It is all about striking a sustainable balance. Whilst hotel companies continue to add inventory to grow their footprint and improve distribution, it is important that todays GM stays true to knowing "many (of his/her associates and guests), by name and they in turn warmed to his compliments, promising to return. That was how the hospitality business earned its brand plaudits, through face recognition and esoteric knowledge of a favourite drink or pet peeve acquired over a late night beer."

Gordon Fuller Thailand

Editors - We are delighted that Lobby Cruising general managers fight on. It is always a pleasure to see one - like yourself - in action with guests. That's the heart of hoteliering.

New Age look at hotel general managers

We have star ratings for hotels. How about having 'personas' for GMs? The Lounge Lizard, the Number Cruncher, the Upwards-Manager, the Disappearing Act, the People Person, the All-Rounder... and then use a Tinder-like tool to find the type of GM you would like for your hotel?

Carmen Lam Hong Kong

Editors - What a grand idea. In particular we like the Pro-Active Letter Writer - as that's where several of our editorial ideas spring from. Now what kind of GM do we like...?

Hunting for friendly faces on safari

Bravo, finally an article that tells it like it is. My husband and I used to be friends with several hotel managers as we travelled through Asia and Africa enjoying our post-retirement life and the occasional safari. I can assure you that the people we know at hotels have shrunk to less than the fingers of one hand, if that. Staff are constantly moving about these days so they are never around long enough to develop personal relationships with guests. I do agree with the writer that hotel managers have disappeared into some secret room. I chuckled aloud at the Phantom of the Opera mention.

M Millicent London

{I can assure you that the people we know at hotels have shrunk to less than the fingers of one hand as they are constantly moving around...

No time for chit-chat on the road

I enjoyed the editor's column on the disappearing general manager but believe that times have changed. Travellers in a hurry like myself are not in need of hand-holding in the lobby and soliloquies on life, or where the mini-bar is. We enter, we leave, we're busy in short. A nice thought, but young business travellers do not need an escort, however elegant and knowledgeable. There are check-in staff for that.

James Hornby USA

No sleep without ire

As a traveller who shuttles to the USA several times a year on hopping flights, I enjoyed your article on Sleeping at Airports and laughed aloud in parts. I have experienced the Sanya airport lockout. Believe me that's a bummer in summer. You left out the best bit though. Or I suppose I should call it a tip. The best place for sleeping at airports is a couch if you can find one and many airports have flat seats or massage chairs that are pretty comfy. I look forward to chuckling more. Keep up the great work.

Lorraine Seeuw Shanghai

The long and short of Samui

Our family is planning a trip to Samui and I was researching the place when I came across your excellent article with A LOT OF STUFF. I enjoyed the reviews but is it possible to present something like this in a more concise manner with fewer hotels? I suppose you need to cater for varied tastes and therefore touch upon a broad range of hotels. Just a thought. I think we shall use one of your suggestions for our stay. Very helpful. Thanks again for this and the patient advice via correspondence with your magazine.

Grace Lau Hong Kong

Editors - Thank you for the suggestion. We have long considered briefer stories but then others are upset we've left out luxury properties, or value options, or family hideaways. It is a work in progress. We're glad our suggestions were of help.

Incontinent across an entire continent

I recently flew Bangkok to London in economy. I would describe myself as a patient and accommodating traveller. This was put to the test, believe me. I had an aisle seat and the two middle passengers next to me chatted loudly almost all the way, gesticulating, spitting, hacking, waving their arms. All this ceaseless activity interrupted my sleep, movies, and meals. One developed a tummy bug of sorts and attempted to climb over me every few minutes to rush to the washroom. I sympathised and got up to let him pass once, twice, thrice... and then I offered to take the middle seat. He refused. Someone tell me I am not alone in wanting to vigorously swat inconsiderate travellers aloft.

Tim Lewis London

Your Poll - if I might drop some names

As a frequent reader of your excellent magazine I have been through the winners on the award list and while I am familiar with many but of course not all of the places and hotels mentioned I am surprised that there are not more offbeat destinations like Bhutan, Andaman Islands, Pondicherry, Central Asia, Mongolia, Palau and so on. Over the years your readers appear to have selected the same big names over and over. Does the voting universe need to be broader?

Trevor Fontayne UK

Editors - Thanks for your feedback and yes it is true that many bigger destinations fare better than small ones. The reason is quite simple. Access. Smaller places are harder to get to and therefore acquire fewer, even if very dedicated, fans. But budget carriers and regional airlines are opening up Asia as never before so do expect to see the tables turned. We do not have a finite voting universe and readers are welcome to vote for whomever they wish.

I really hope Old Macau does not disappear

My husband and I spent a wonderful weekend in Macau after a conference visit. And when I say Macau I mean what people might now call 'Old Macau' with its cobbled streets, food stalls, and shopping alleys. In the old days we used to drive Mokes here, some sort of small converted Jeep it was. It is something, call it nostalgia, that I deeply miss when I visit the casino strip of Cotai where our company conference was held. I realise cities need to develop and grow and earn money for their residents but the charm of Macau's churches and walks is unrivalled in the east. We took some tips from an article you featured and enjoyed the walk from Senado Square to A-Ma Temple picking up eats along the way. Keep up the good work.

Mary Tibbens Singapore

The Shanghai Bund is incredible

I have just returned from Shanghai and had a chance to read your article before I left. As we were staying on The Bund we had a chance to explore some of the [new 45km] extension for joggers and walkers. The city planners have done a fantastic job in visualising and executing the plans for development along this extended walkway with museums and art and interesting stopping points. I think this could be a more detailed article later. I love your magazine and am an avid reader. Needless to say Shanghai is one of my favourite cities. Yes, I have voted.

Evelyn Yap Singapore

Poll commentary needs space

I voted in your poll and look forward to the results. I wanted to leave a few comments about different hotels and airlines but noticed you have just one comment box. I combined some comments in a single note. I'm not sure how this could be managed but would it be useful to allow more flexibility on comments? Congratulations on some great content.

Warren Miller United Kingdom

How about 'value' hotels?

My husband and I were trying to select our main picks for the various categories on your poll and ended up a bit confused as they seem to overlap. For instance, a luxury hotel could also be a business hotel or a family hotel. Is it possible to clarify some boundaries? Also would it be possible to include cruises and value hotels that offer a bit of everything at a good price? This may be asking for too much I suppose. I see many of my friends are looking for value but not cheap stuff mind you. You can get value at an expensive establishment too. Does this make sense?

Ashley Grayson Hong Kong

Editors - Excellent suggestions, thanks. We looked at 'value' hotels but felt this is very subjective and hard to define. Perhaps you are right, it shoudl be left up to readers to define in their own terms. As for the other hotel categories, yes, there are some subsets, like business and conference. Unavoidable alas.

Manila tales had me in splits

As a longtime Manila resident I skimmed through your Manila Guide with interest and must say that the hotel reviews (at least for the ones I am familiar with) were very much in tune with my own thinking. I love the humour in the writing and the honesty. This sentence had me in splits: "A Labrador with a wet nose sniffed my bags and parts of my anatomy unmolested since my mother demanded to check my underwear before I left for school." How true. Good research and entertaining too. Perhaps a little briefer for online reading?

Analyn Mendoza Philippines

Scary Southwest incident

I was appalled to watch the news clips showing the incident on Southwest where an engine exploded and smashed one window, ultimately killing one passenger. The B737 is a very common aircraft in domestic service in many countries especially here in the USA. I am told this is not a common occurrence but I certainly recall cabin fuselage damage in other instances including the United episode in Hawaii when the engine fell apart.

Rick Harvey USA

Editors - The Southwest experience is unsettling but not entirely unique. As you mention, the cowling ripped off an engine of a United Airlines B777-222 en route from San Francisco to Hawaii in February 2018. Much earlier there was the February 1989 case of United 811 - a B-747 - flying Los Angeles to Sydney with stops along the way. Shortly after take-off from Honolulu, a faulty cargo door caused a fatal decompression blowing out several seats and resulting in the deaths of nine passengers. Earlier, also in Hawaii, in April 1988 an Aloha Airlines B-737 found itself minus the cabin roof from cockpit to first class - it had completely peeled off - while in flight. The pilot managed to land safely.

Isn't pool access always free?

I loved your EDITOR'S RANT on butlers and other hotel trivia that no one seems to take much note of until a magazine runs a poll. Are butlers all that bad? On the few occasions my husband has booked us into a suite with this service, I have availed of it and with no regrets. It's always good to have a 'Jeeves' handy. I did not realise hotels sell 'free access to the swimming pool' as a perk! Ridiculous. The copywriters must be utterly bored to dream up such rubbish.

Julia Chow Singapore

Enjoyed your interview

I enjoyed [your interview with Franz Donhauser] very much. During his first stint here we were living in Portugal and came [to Island Shangri-La] three or four times a year. We became good friends and will be sorry when he retires. Incidentally he was at my birthday dinner the day before the 50km hike.

Michael Sanders Hong Kong

Why would a hotel ban cameras?

I have been reading your magazine for over five years. It was interesting reading your article on hotels that don't allow cameras. My wife and I have had this experience a few times and we find it quite odd. When you go on holiday you do not expect so many rules and 'do not, do not, do not...' Your list of other hotel regulations was quite shocking. How can anyone accept such rules? Keep up the good work. We always check your magazine for good advice when we travel to Asia.

Gunther Kahle Germany

Here's to clean holidays!

I thoroughly enjoyed your story on pollution and as a frequent traveller it is something I keep a sharp eye on. Many a time have I returned from China with an unsettling wheeze that never seems to go away. Unfortunately, business travellers need to follow their company directions but holidaymakers can surely pick spots of their own choosing and abandon the smog and dust and grit?

Natalie Rupert, Hong Kong

Mollycoddling kids on vacation

I read with great interest your guide to child-friendly hotels in Asia and realise now that there are options for families such as ours that wish to have their kids enjoy the great outdoors and not just electronic diversions and video games. I would like to see more such options. For us, PlayStation and the like are out. It defeats the whole purpose of a vacation.

R. Esperanza, USA

Desperately seeking Sanya

Thanks to your excellent article on Sanya we have a better idea of the place. I just realised after going through this story that Haikou is actually a long way from Sanya itself. Hainan is far bigger than I imagined. We had a company meeting set up in Haikou and were planning a family holiday in Sanya after that. It seems the Haikou area has good hotels too and golf. Perhaps our next company meeting can be at one of the big international five star hotels in Yalong Bay or Haitang Bay so we can combine a family stay and work with golf all in one place. I have read some of your reviews, good and bad, with great interest and hope your choices live up to the hype. The humour in the writing makes for a refreshing change.

Ric Fredenhof, Hong Kong

Jakarta tales and the bad old days

I am a frequent visitor to Jakarta and am extremely familiar with many of the city hotels. Knowing my interest in Jakarta, a friend passed on your article to me. I had never come across Smart Travel Asia. It is quite nice and very well written but you can make the page on screen wider.

I recall Hotel Indonesia in the bad old days, if I may say so, when there was no aircon in the room. I am glad the writer brings out this fact as the change is quite amazing I must say. The new Raffles Jakarta is another amazing place. It is a big change as well from our Singapore landmark, which is now closed for a major renovation (I think your readers would like to know this fact). I also agree that Dharmawangsa is a very fine place but I must say I find things a bit on the slow side. It is great for a weekend and it is my wife's favourite hotel in Jakarta.

K Beng, Singapore

Tiger tiger burning bright

I have had the good fortune to spend a brief while at the Ranthambhore tiger sanctuary on one of my earlier trips to India and recall it well. We had numerous sightings of tigers back then. I am not sure I met any of the feline family featured here but it was good to read up on some of the residents of the park in such personal terms. A very engaging story and one we will definitely refer to on our next trip back.

Josh Beirman, UK

Highlighting mental health tourism

I enjoyed your [Medical Tourism] article very much. I would also like to mention that mental health tourism is a rising phenomenon and our company is seeing clients from multiple countries all over the world.

Ajay Phadke, India

Working out recline degree

How much recline in inches is 115 degrees, 118 degrees, and 123 degrees?

Nicolas Dzepina, USA

Editors - As we mention in the economy class seats story, ' Rule of thumb, about six inches of recline is the equivalent of about 25 degrees or 15cm.' It's an odd way to do it and not an accurate measure as recline measured from the top of a taller seat will be more in inches logically. Fortunately, most airline seats are similar in height.

Bali rumbles and grumbles

Our travel agent was unable to fill us in on the details but I gather this may not be a good time to travel to Bali. Newspaper information is confusing and at least one scary video I watched was for a different volcano on a totally different island! As a single person I am mobile and not particularly concerned about [Mt] Agung as I would choose my hotel carefully. I'm sure air fares may improve as well. But maybe that's being too optimistic . It is good to see sensible coverage on Bali. Great work. I read your magazine regularly for travel tips and advice. You should do more on Indonesia.

James Worthington, Hong Kong

Editors - Bali's threat level was downgraded a notch on 29 October, 2017. As with any unfolding scenario it is wise to be cautious but even better to be informed. The active volcano featuring in chat forums is likely Mt Sinabung in North Sumatra. We're glad you found our information helpful. We shall continue to regularly update our report on safety in Bali.

Is Bali safe to travel to?

We were planning to travel to Bali but have been alarmed at the press coverage regarding an imminent volcanic eruption. It was reassuring to read your update on safety in Bali as it presented several facts from several sources. The map is particularly helpful. We called our hotel and they told us they are located well away from the volcano. But if it erupts, what happens to my family? How do we get home? I presume flights will be cancelled. I see you noted the government is making arrangements for bus and ferry transport. This is all good to know. Please keep us informed.

Linda Farquhar, Melbourne

{It was reassuring to read your update on safety in Bali as it presented several facts from several sources. The map is particularly helpful..

Why heritage warms the heart

I voted in your recent travel poll, and while my hotel choice did not win, I applaud your efforts to enable travellers to share their opinions freely. You may not wish to unduly stretch the voting categories but you might possibly also consider adding space for heritage hotels. That's the kind of place my wife and I always seek whenever we travel, and not just in Europe. Thank you.

Duffy Jones, USA

Time to iron out slipping service standards

I always enjoy your magazine's witty prose and useful observations. It has helped me find some real gems. On a separate note, I have observed a sharp decline in service standards, even at big hotels in recent years. Has training succumbed to the lure of quick bucks and cost cutting? I find mineral water bottles are getting smaller and more scarce in the rooms, irons are often unavailable, and large groups can make life hellish for single travellers like me. Why are standards slipping? Your magazine might investigate.

Julie McDonald, United Kingdom

Bangkok Airport is a zoo!

I greatly enjoy your Editor's Rants and am something of a fan. I was delighted to see [Polls, planes, and queues] flaying Bangkok's atrocious Suvarnabhumi Airport for overcrowding and undermanned immigration booths. As a frequent visitor to Thailand I can attest to the mayhem at the airport and never relish arrivals or departures. It is a disgraceful state of affairs and not quite the way to start a romantic interlude in 'Amazing Thailand'. The sole exception is Samui Airport. Three cheers for this proud holdout!

Marlene Gracia, Hong Kong

What the halal! I want my gin and tonic

I read with interest the editor's comments about the growth in halal travel. Until now I assumed this only had something to do with kosher food. I have been educated but am not convinced that a hotel catering for just a single cultural group can be commercially viable (unless it is a domestic hotel in Russia for Russians, or in the UAE for Arab travellers etc). But it is an intersting thought nevertheless. I shall stay with my gin and tonic, thank you!

Alan Braithwaite, UK

Does it take longer to fly to Qatar now?

I am considering flying on Qatar Airways from London to the Far East as an alternative to Emirates but am worried [the Arab blockade] might complicate things. Does it take longer to fly to Doha than before with the new routings?

Ashley Mallory, UK

Editors - Flying times have increased only marginally from some countries and should not greatly change your total duration. Do check with Qatar about connecting flights and arrangements. We have covered this subject in Blockade by blockheads

Put off by invasive ads and pop-ups

I am totally fed up with pop-ups and invasive banners and messages that block my screen. Don't advertisers realise that 'disruption' is NOT the way to win friends and influence people? Nor is it cool to have ads that stalk you. It's plain creepy. If anything, it puts me off those products - not quite the result advertisers seek. I find it refreshing that on your site I am able to browse with ease without commercial interruptions. Bravo!

Jim Crompton, Hong Kong

Editors - Thanks. We have consciously stayed away from 'rich media' as it is termed by ad agencies, to prevent precisely the sort of annoyance you describe. However there is great pressure on publications to boost clicks and conversions. This means, the invasion of the Page Snatchers is bound to continue. We have an article on disruptive advertising in our sister magazine, Asian Conversations.

Spreading laptop ban

I read your earlier column on the electronics ban inflight with interest and wondered what your take is on the possible spread of this ban on US-bound flights, or even all flights? I'm not sure executive travellers will take kindly to this latest knee-jerk reaction that will limit work efficiency. I agree that laptops in the hold pose almost as much risk as in the cabin.

Mel Abernathy, USA

Editors - It is quite possible, even inevitable, that the laptop ban will see more extensive coverage as airlines follow the US lead. Emirates has handed out its own 'safe' laptops to top customers for use inflight but, of course, this is not the same thing as working on your own spread sheets on your own machine. And transferring data to a borrowed computer always runs the risk of being hijacked or compromised if a user fails to securely delete material. The 'recycle bin' simply does not do a great job of erasing stuff. In any event, many executives work on 'closed' programs issued by their companies and these are not easily transferable - at least not casually - to other devices.

Conrad comrades come through in Bangkok

We recently spent five days at the Conrad Bangkok, over the Easter weekend. Our corner room, on the executive floor, was bright and spacious thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows. Their breakfast, tea and cocktail buffet (included in the room-rate) served at the executive lounge was pretty decent and well spaced out through the day.

The hotel lobby, Cafe@2 and pool area look a bit jaded however. While trying to get a taxi there was a bit of an issue especially during peak time. So sometimes taking the hotel shuttle bus to the nearby Ploenchit Station was a better option.

Overall, the thing that really struck us was how friendly, efficient and knowledgeable the staff were at the hotel, from check-in to the executive lounge and even the spa.

Diki Thondup, Hong Kong

Electronics ban part of trade war

This new rule [Editor's column on electronics ban inflight] is nothing but a trade war in favour of US airlines who don't know how to compete with good service and good value. All they care about is how much profit they can make for the least amount of service.

It seems too coincidental that this rule came into being right after the legacy airlines' meeting with Trump and his team. Frankly flying in the US domestically [thanks to TSA's guidelines] or flying on US carriers [lack of onboard service] internationally makes for a less than appealing start to any trip - especially for leisure. Good article!

Usha Rao, USA

Boeing boing gone...

Great article (Boeing vs Airbus). Slightly biased towards Airbus. The way I look at it is, I don't care how big a plane is, it could carry 10 or 1,000, but if it gets me there quicker I'm in. I regularly travel between Australia and the UK so 32 hours door to door is horrendous. If Boeing can get me there in 20, then that's the one for me.

Graham Tombling, Australia

Editors - Thanks for your feedback. Yes, we agree, speed is the deciding factor on ultra-longthaul flights. Interesting you see a tilt towards Airbus. That's what Boeing told us too. Then Airbus informed us our article favoured Boeing. We see it as a factual report. Here's what another reader wrote. Do you work for Boeing?

I have left Facebook

I laughed aloud reading [The Editor's] hilarious account of silly Facebook prompts.

The only way to be free of FB and social media pestering, is to leave that digital space to foetal wannabes armed with big selfie-sticks and little common sense.

The world has been spinning unruffled for quite a few years before Facebook and mobile phones. I think we can easily survive an unplugged existence - at least for a while.

Jo Sorensen, Sweden

{The only way to be free of FB and social media pestering, is to leave that space to foetal wannabes armed with big selfie-sticks and little common sense...

No more calendars, or Facebook

It is a pleasure to read [The Editor's] funny and erudite rants. I too noticed, sadly, the disappearance of the once inescapable desk calendar.

Apart from the cost cutting rationale, they are probably seen as obsolete manifestations of a bygone era: the movers and shakers of this digital age are electronically connected 24/7. I am not among them. I still use a fountain pen, write and post an occasional letter or card, read hard cover books, play DVDs and recently terminated my Facebook page.

Meanwhile I shall be hibernating in a cocoon until that Neanderthal buffoon leaves the 'casa blanca' 47 months from now, but hopefully much sooner.

Peter de Jong, Bangkok

Of MICE and Men in Bangkok

I work at a multinational company that organises annual MICE and Incentive outings for almost 200 persons. I am involved in the planning.

This year Bangkok was again under consideration. With its great food, nightlife and atmosphere, Thailand remains a favourite with many of us but safety and logistical concerns – ever since the protests some years ago shut the city down – have remained, and our company is now exploring Bali or Ho Chi Minh City as an alternative.

Vietnam is cheaper, many of us have visited Bali often already, and we have done Langkawi. What is your advice? I read with interest your article on meetings in Asia but it does not delve into safety or security issues.

Moira Blackwell, Hong Kong

Editors - Bangkok has settled down, transport and taxis are improving and the city remains a solid option for varied and competitive MICE and convention options. Saigon is both attractively priced as well as fun, as is Hanoi. Both cities have seen a huge increase in room inventory with additional MICE venues. Do consider Thailand. Bangkok was voted the No.1 City in Asia by our readers in 2016, and with good reason. It is a splendid incentives destination.

Indian railway trauma for the disabled

I have been groped and manhandled three separate times by [railway] porters. They were helping me board the train because Indian trains are not wheelchair accessible. I am a disabled woman living in Mumbai who loves to travel.

I have had to wear a diaper because I couldn’t use the train bathroom. And when I needed to change the diaper, I had no privacy and had to wait for hours for the lights to go off at night. The railways treat the disabled as a piece of luggage. This needs to stop!

Sign my petition and join me in asking the railway minister and the prime minister to implement disabled friendly measures in the Indian Railways. My fight is to ensure human dignity for the disabled. I am asking the authorities for some basic things everyone takes for granted – accessible bathrooms, higher toilets, accessible coaches, and curtains for privacy.

Virali Modi, Mumbai

Bugged by bugs from Bangkok to...

I had a few chuckles reading the editors' lively rant on his psychedelic 'trip with The Beatles' until I realized he was talking about a very serious illness that he personally experienced. I have two friends who caught Leigionnaires Disease on their business travels - one likely from Bangkok and the other God knows where. It is not an ailment to be taken lightly by all accounts. My friends got off lightly and are well recovered but it is worrying that anyone can get struck down, even in modern hotels.

Roger Bearden, UK

Finally, the price is right for Vietnam

Vietnam has to be one of the up and coming destinations in Asia. It has spectacular beaches, excellent hotels and terrific food. It is also great value for money. I would strongly recommend a visit to the country and am a frequent visitor to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi and, when I have holiday time, Danang. I prefer the quietude of Hoi An with its ancient city. I have not ventured as far as Phu Quoc but it is in my sights. VietJet's budget flight to Hong Kong is a boon as is the HK Express route to Danang. I wish Cathay Pacific would stop stiffing passengers on Vietnam routes. Who would fly at these prices?

Jill Kingsley, Hong Kong

Where are the best shopper deals in Bangkok?

The [Bangkok shopping guide] article I read in your magazine provided a very detailed account of several shopping centres and their offerings but there was no mention of value, or a sense of which shopping centre has better prices than others. Where can I get the best deals for high end brand names and apple computers.

Laura Marquez, USA

Editors - You're right, we have not focused on pricing in Bangkok as this tends to change constantly. However, for laptops and the like, while Pantip Plaza is the go-to mall for tourists, better bargains might be had at places like Fortune Town IT Mall and Mega Bangna. For clothes and shoes, the vast Pratunam Market around the Amari hotel and not far from CentralWorld is a good area to browse. For designer brands and Apple computers it seems the safest bets are the bigger malls. Try Zen in CentralWorld and cruise the Siam Square district - there are a few renovated malls/buildings in this area. In this general area is MBK Mall, a lower priced alternative.

Won't share secrets aloft, but...

As regards not putting in credit card info when using WiFi inflight... that is the first thing you are asked to do by the airlines - put in your credit card details to pay for WiFi access.

Carmen Lam, Hong Kong

Editors - We sought more information from a few Asian airlines and SIA wrote back on 3 November 2016 to clarify their position - "SIA's implementation is in accordance with data privacy guidelines and security practices for sites that include payment gateways. External access to our onboard server is protected by advanced firewall technology and other security features designed to block and filter traffic passing through it. In addition, our service providers use encryption technology to safeguard passengers' personal and sensitive information."

Hackers? Work offline when flying

I avoid WiFi when flying. It's expensive and slow. And why bring your office into the skies? If you must, you can always work on your laptop, offline. There is enough to do on flights with the latest movies on your screen. If someone can hack into the plane's engines, breaking into a laptop must be a cinch.

Jon Evans, USA

Pin numbers good but a VPN is better

Timely article from the Editor. I will definitely check it out and most likely implement [the suggestion to use a VPN inflight].

Anand Kuruvilla, USA

Is my Bali hotel pick flawed?

In you article [Bali resorts review] I see most of the top hotels mentioned or reviewed, except the Grand Aston. Does it not fall into this category? In your opinion is it not a well rated hotel?

Maxine Van Greenen, South Africa

Editors - Thank you for going through our story. Nothing wrong at all with the Grand Aston Benoa, a little further north from the Conrad. Our story has a small mention of several properties though it is by no means a definitive list. In future updates we may add a small mention of Grand Aston.

Elephant riding should be discouraged

I greatly appreciate your site for its information on Luang Prabang, but I am concerned about the picture of people riding elephants on the page. As you probably know, riding an elephant with a seat on its back is painful for the elephant. It should be discouraged rather than touted as a tourist attraction. Of course locals use elephants for work and travel purposes, but you all have the power to decrease the number of tourists who see elephant riding as a form of entertainment.

Leslie Cook, USA

Editors - Thank you very much for your thoughtful letter. Elephant safaris continue in Laos as in Thailand and elsewhere. Thank you for raising the issue of elephant-back riding and the potential harm to the animals. It is a valid concern - though many would argue a 'working' elephant is not much different to a saddled horse. Interestingly, in Phuket a year ago after some baby elephants roped in for a beach party caused massive outrage, baby elephants have been removed from shows and kids' clubs - even at the Laguna Phuket. That's a start.

Golf greens plus unplugged kids

I have been reading about resorts with kids clubs. We just moved to Asia and would like to know where to go in December for a two week vacation. We have a four-year-old and nine-year-old. Our criteria is: golf close by, great kids' club with indoor and outdoor activities like cultural crafts, cooking or crab hunt, kids' yoga etc. We do not want a resort that offers Xbox or PlayStation please! My husband and I play golf and we would also would like to see some of the local culture and nature around. I am not really interested in Thailand for this trip. And no tacky resort but real luxury. Where would you recommend? It seems hard to find a resort that combines golf with a kids' club matching my criteria.

Wendy Gautrais, Singapore

Editors - As a magazine we try not to make selections - leaving that to our readers. Of course, Thailand always comes to mind and should your thinking change, consider JW Marriott Phuket, close to the Blue Canyon's two golf courses. This property is closely engaged in nature conservation its kids' programmes are woven into this theme with lots of outdoor activities. Also look at Banyan Tree Phuket in the family-friendly Laguna development with golf on the doorstep. The Datai, Langkawi, Malaysia, is an atmospheric rainforest villa escape with fast access to an excellent golf course (just down the hill). The focus is on rainforest exploration, nature trails and guided walks. In scenic Hoi An, a quick hop from Danang, Vietnam, The Nam Hai serves up excellent villa luxury with a good spa and the splendid 18-hole Montogomerie Links course close by. Sports, board games and culture are served up at the Kids' Activity Villa. Unspoiled Bali offers several luxe options around the newly set-up Bali National Golf Club in Nusa Dua, a landscaped and safe family haven in the south. Consider St Regis next door (also with a great spa), and the always popular Grand Hyatt Bali which is a mini-destination in itself with excellent kids' facilities, tons of sports and several swimming pools. Most hotels in Bali are very child-friendly. December is a wet month in Bali alas.

Enjoying the Peninsula touch

I recently stayed three nights at The Peninsula Hong Kong [after winning a prize in your Faces of Asia lucky draw]. My husband and I visited the hotel early August 2016 and we would like to say that the hotel was superb, with professional, friendly and efficient staff. The room was modern with elegant touches and fully automated with remote controls. The hotel location is really convinient for a short visit to Hong Kong, close to an MTR station.

Liana Repoulia, Singapore

No excuse for airport delays

There is no excuse for this [Editor's Rant on airport security delays in USA]. Airlines know in advance roughly how many passengers will be arriving and departing on a given day and, as long as things are relatively normal, how they will be spread out during the day. With this information the authorities should be able to manage their staff to ensure there are a sufficient number on duty. This applies equally to immigration for international arrivals

Allistair Nicoll, UK

Have blog will travel - free

That was an excellent article on Blogger Blackmail by Vijay Verghese. I don't think all bloggers are bad. To be fair there are some very good bloggers and they do have genuine followers. I have however been informed by several hotel friends that this sort of pressure tactic applied by bloggers is quite common. Often they get away with it. Some demand their families be flown around and accommodated at the hotels' expense. This is preposterous. Especially if the blogger is simply regurgitating the supplied information without adding literary or reviewer insights. Nice article, and funny too!

Jeanie Chan, Singapore

Why Taipei is for the birds

That's a great Taipei Guide [by Tricia Chen] with lots to pick from. I like the part about fortune-teller birds. We see this in other cities around Asia too of course. The Yong Kang beef noodle should not be missed and the National Palace Museum is really good for well preserved Chinese relics.

Nancy Teh, Singapore

The sun, the moon, a lake, and one fleur

Thank you for your recommendation of Fleur de Chine Hotel at Sun Moon Lake. My family and I enjoyed the accommodation at Fleur de Chine in Taichung. We stayed there on holiday on 19 April 2016. We were impressed by their service, which started from the moment our tour bus arrived at the hotel. Hotel staff came up to the bus to deliver welcome drinks and egg-tarts. The room is very big and cosy with an indoor bathtub for a hot spring experience. Hotel Staff is very polite and helpful. The buffets as well as hotel facilities are very nice. We enjoyed the stay very much. Thank you again for your professional advice. I will definitely recommend your website to my friends.

Wan Kwok Hung, Hong Kong

Hard commercial edge to Bangkok

I love Bangkok and visit frequently both for work and pleasure. I read with interest your Bangkok Hotels Guide and spotted some new developments. It seems the Anantara has not changed much stuff since the Four Seasons days though the rooms appear different. I must admit though on recent visits I have detected a harder commercial edge to city that has put off many of my friends. The chief culprits are taxi drivers who NEVER use meters and only grudgingly return change. This is something the tourism board must tackle with urgency. The airport too can be shambolic at times.

Oliver Drummond, London

Good to see more on Central Asia

I was delighted to spot some Central Asia reports that recently appeared on your site. I'm surprised there is not more coverage on places like Bishkek and Almaty in the media. These places are buzzing and growing at a rapid pace.

With Phuket and ho-hum Bali in decline, I believe travellers will seek out adventure in places like Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. I recently travelled to Bishkek and only wish I had seen your notes on the Alamedin Gorge earlier. It looks amazing. That's one for my future calendar.

Bill Dougherty, Hong Kong

Big slap on back for great kids' story

I enjoy the sense of humour on your site. I chuckled aloud reading about hotels that 'won't slap your kids, alas'. I travel with kids and I know the feeling well. Your [child friendly resorts] story is excellent and detailed - perhaps too detailed for some - but it should also include newer places with a focus less on international five-stars and more on local boutique offerings.

When I travel I prefer a non-chain resort. If I am in Thailand I wish to feel I am in Thailand too. Keep up the good work.

Jolene Chan, Singapore

{I recently travelled to Bishkek and only wish I had seen your notes on the Alamedin Gorge earlier. It looks amazing. That's one for my future calendar...

Airports say, 'Asia get stuffed!'

You're right about Asia's disappearing brands. Airport duty-free is all about high rents now. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane are no different except for the UGG boots, which are way overpriced anyway. We have the extraordinary spectacle of Chinese tourists flooding in, and all we seem to be able to sell them are stuffed koalas... made in China. On the subject of genuine arts and crafts, however, we just had a nice experience at Sampran just outside Bangkok where they are trying to keep traditional crafts alive and visitors are encouraged to join in and weave baskets, etc. Makes a change.

Phillip Hawkes, Australia

Wedding bells for UK belles

My girlfriend and I had been reviewing options for a resort wedding in Asia but were unable to find any sensible advice until we came across your fine article in this site. We visited a wedding planner too but found that they tend to push things purely towards luxury and are not keen - or knowledgeable enough - to dole out proper advice. We needed a romantic wedding space for 20 close friends and believe we have found a short list in Bali and Phuket.

We didn't need an actual legal wedding, just a great location for a ceremony or blessing and some photo shoots so that we and our friends could later relive the event. Price is not a major issue but we need to get a fix on these places that sound so exotic. We'll let you know once things get sorted and may seek your advice to make a final choice.

Malcolm Trewick, UK

I never saw the sky until...

I visited Beijing recently during the red smog alert and I can tell you I shan't be going back in a hurry. It was cold, dank, and dark, not the sort of combination that drums up festive Christmas cheer. The day I was leaving, crisp blue skies suddenly appeared. The drive to the airport was not bad at all and I cursed my luck. The food was excellent it must be said and folks were cheerful. Still, Beijing is too far and time consuming to risk it all on travel roulette. Until they find a way to clear the air - permanently - I will not be returning.

Jimmy Frew, USA

A fresh angle on air travel

Could you explain why some seat recline data is given in degrees and some in a [very different] number? What does is mean when you say the Cathay seat recline is 4?

Lou Desgranges, Australia

Editors - We use both inches and degrees as airlines have no unified approach to this. We prefer degrees as this is a more accurate way of defining the seat recline angle. The Cathay number of 4 you refer to in the economy class seat chart is in inches. Unfortunately as this recline is measured from the top of the head rest, depending on the height of the seat, there is no fixed conversion from inches to degrees. Airline seats vary in seat-back height and this affects the co-relation with the angle.

Fuelling frequent flyer discontent

I was reading an article on your website regarding fuel surcharges. Although the article seemed a bit dated (it was referring to a lot of data from 2008) I was wondering how much this practice had changed in the ensuing years. Apparently not much. For a flight from Singapore to London the add-ons came to 41 percent of the actual fare and just under 30 percent of the final price. Of the $721 in charges $438 were fuel surcharges – this at a time when oil prices are at an all time low. Airlines should be refunding passengers money NOT charging them extra.

Mike Trigg, Singapore

Editors - You're absolutely right that fuel charges should be coming down dramatically. They are not. Thanks for sharing this with our readers and yes, we need to update that story. We held off for a few years as the rates were extremely volatile but it will be good to revisit that subject.

Tripping up over Bali stay

I enjoyed your recent Bali report. I delved into parts of it. My family and I have been planning a Christmas holiday for some time but have been bogged down trying to find solid information about the hotels and their service standards. Of course, Indonesians have a flair for hospitality and we have always enjoyed our stays in Bali but this time we wanted something a bit off the beaten path.

Thank you for your kind response [to my earlier missive] with a host of good suggestions. It was very helpful. My wife swears by TripAdvisor but a couple of recent experiences have made us a lot more cautious. Your online advice is much appreciated.

Alastair Yates, Sydney

{A couple of recent experiences on TripAdvisor have made us more cautious. Your Bali advice is much appreciated as we explore off the beaten track...

Shopping nuggets: print it out

Kudos to your team for the outstanding work on your [online magazine Smart Travel Asia]. I found it by accident while searching for shopping in Singapore. The material is well researched and written in a lively witty manner. Your article on Hong Kong shopping in which I found some nuggets for Kowloon (where I am headed later) was lengthy but informative.

Do you already have or have you considered a print publication? It does not have to be weekly or even monthly. You might consider a quarterly volume with a good index to track down obscure places. I would buy something like that.

Felicity Appleton, London

Editors - We're glad you enjoyed our shopping guides. A lot of work goes into them and we update information regularly. Alas, print is something we have left behind, finding online distribution far more efficient in terms of engaging with real readers.

Taxi cheats fail to dent traveller thrill

I am so happy to see Bangkok feature as your magazine's top choice on your recent travel poll. I completely agree with this amazing result. However I have no great love for Bangkok cabbies. I suspect I have been ripped off everytime I sat in a cab. Still, the hospitality of the Thai people is genuine and heartfelt. Well done Bangkok! And if I may say I feel sorry for Hong Kong. My city has dropped down because of problems with flights in China. It's a bit unfair.

Simon Wong, Hong Kong

Editors - Yes, cavalier cabbies have been our readers' No.1 complaint against Bangkok too. It is a problem that has persisted despite many attempts to streamline the service.

Crew blues 30,000ft aloft

At the risk of displeasing your many knowledgeable readers, I strongly disagree with THAI's number three position for cabin service. It was once the best in the business but the whole airline has slipped over the years. The hardware has improved but the software has declined.

Any serious business traveller will tell you that Middle Eastern airlines are the trend setters these days, and not just for cabin service. They have mixed crews who speak several languages and the comfort of seats and quality of inflight entertainment is second to none. Emirates rates higher as does Qatar.

James, Bangkok

Why pick concrete over sand?

This may seem an odd question but with all the fantastic natural wonders in Asia, fine beaches, and mountains, why would anyone pick a concrete city as a top holiday choice? Bali has charm in spades and something for everyone regardless of age or sex. My family love the place and we have been going there for years. For sure Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore are terrific cities and are always fun to visit, but I would rather pick Bali, Phuket, Goa, Kerala or any unnamed Vietnam beach. Perhaps cities should be in a separate category?

Frances Blythe, Sydney

Slow planes to China

I read your [July 2015] editor's column on delayed flights with great interest. I don't fly frequently to China but I do fly often - over 18 times a year - around Asia. This is partly in connection with my work sourcing elecronic components and partly for leisure. I can say with some justification that I am well versed in air travel in the East, from Bali to Bombay. Yet nothing has prepared me for six-hour waits at Beijing Airport and unbelievable delays at Shanghai - often whilst sitting in the plane on the tarmac - that have each time resulted in missed connections, lost business and frayed nerves. Is this common? Your article seems to arrive at this conclusion.

I understand air space in China is controlled by the military but there must be a commercial solution. Airports all over the world are coping with rising numbers, and NONE (my emphasis) have these sorts of delays. I am told by friends in Hong Kong that travellers take it all in their stride. Well I, for one, will avoid travel to China wherever possible, and my wife refuses to accompany me on visits to Beijing. This is a shame as there is much to see and marvel at in this vast country.

Rupert Wyn, Sydney

Editors - Unfortunately there has been no let-up in mysterious delays for flights to and from China. The military has in fact complained of congestion - which may well be true - and asked for commercial flights to be cut back by 25 percent. All the indications are the situation will get worse before it gets better though loopholes are being sought for smaller aircraft and private jets.

Weary of white-knuckle travel

I have been afraid of flying ever since I was a child and experienced a severe thunderstorm while in flight. The aircraft made a very hard landing as I recall though the details are not entirely clear. My father, who was with me on the plane, laughed it off. I must have been five or six at the time. As a business traveller I still get white knuckles every time the engines start up. I realise that air travel is statistically safer than travelling by car but this has not helped shore up my confidence. I greatly appreciated your Fear of Flying article and shall try and avail of some of the tips and airline courses mentioned. Wish me luck.

Salman Hyder, Mumbai

Who is the best in travel?

So who is the best in travel? I'm curious. I just voted. I've been an avid reader of your magazine for several years and enjoy its wit and verve. The research is very detailed but there may be a way to present the material with less text and more visuals. But I digress. I largely agree with your voting results in past years but do believe British Airways and Virgin are far too underrated by your readers and Mid-East airlines greatly overrated. They suffer temperamental cabin crew just like all other airlines and this is what makes or breaks a product - not mega-planes and mega-advertising.

Frieda Reece, Hong Kong

Bangkok shops here I come...

Your Bangkok shopping guide is an invaluable primer for first-timers or even veterans. I shared it with the girls at the office and more than a few tips were scribbled down right away. I enjoy your magazine's sparky writing style and sense of humour. Some bigger pictures would help. This is not a complaint of course, but a suggestion. Please don't change your writing style for advertisers or those who may prefer things more plodding and dull.

Joanna Shaw, London

Fear of flying simulation

Is there any simulation facility that you would recommend to get over fear of flying?

Na Niko, Iran

Editors - The options are detailed in our Fear of Flying report. You'll need to explore various airline offerings.

Big squeeze in dreamland

I recently had the opportunity to fly in a Boeing Dreamliner for first time and was truly disappointed. The flight was operated by Qatar airlines – from Doha to Singapore. This is the most cramped seating arrangement I have come across till now. I was almost stuck in the seat and could barely move. I was in the centre, while the passenger on my right was one-and-a-half times my size. I wonder how he managed.

The remote was fixed to the seat side and is practically useless, as you can't see any buttons. To operate this you would need to know touch-typing. Eating meals is difficult and you will likely elbow the passenger next to you. My legs got swollen due to complete lack of movement. And I had more legroom as I was sitting in the front.

Compared to all other flights taken till now on various diverse aircraft (Boeings, Dakota, Airbus), this is the worst experience I have had. Boeing may have to rework the design of this plane.

Rajesh Singh, Singapore

Dressing up in Kuala Lumpur

Would you know where to find nice Muslim wear in Kuala Lumpur? Nothing too bright or shiny, something elegant yet affordable.  

Samira Bittner, Germany

Editors - Your best bet would be to head to Kenanga Wholesale City Fashion Mall. We've covered this in our Kuala Lumpur shopping article. You can find traditional Muslim wear on levels 3A and 5. All types of styles at mostly affordable prices under one roof here from scarves and hijabs to kaftans and gowns. There's also Arzu (Level 2) that sells a wide range of headscarves. and Hajaba (203a) for uptodate designs that are not too flashy at Suria KLCC. Also check out the Zleqha collection of modern Islamic wear carried exclusively by Parkson Pavilion KL.

One good reason to switch your FFP

Your table showing [Frequent Flyer Programme] miles gained is a little simplistic. Last year I flew almost 70,000 miles with Star Alliance in economy class but only earned just 16,500 miles. I flew Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Thai. All have many different ticket classes within economy. If you buy the cheapest ticket invariably you get no miles. So in the end the miles come at a price. Singapore Airlines in particular is already overpriced compared to the competition, so I always try to look for the cheapest Star Alliance flight. I think I will be switching to One World.

Mike Trigg, Singapore

Editors - You are right, there is little correlation between miles flown, and earned. This disparity is set to increase as airlines focus on fares rather frequency of travel - the original purpose - in their quest for profit. You may be aware that accumulating 'sectors' to gain a silver or gold status, has also become nigh impossible as the sector is only counted if the ticket price is right. Read more

{If you buy the cheapest ticket, invariably you get no miles. So in the end the miles come at a price. I think I will be switching to One World.

With a snip snip here, a snip snip there...

I was happy to come across your article on Medical Tourism in Asia as my wife and i have been considering this option for some years. It seemed to us that Bangkok would make a wonderful choice. The Thai currency's appreciation against the dollar has not helped - compared to several years ago when we first checked - but I understand facilities are excellent.

I am surprised to see that India has so much to offer. We have visited the country several times and may just consider switching. Despite the usual hassles, the pound can stretch more over there, good doctors are available I am told, and English is more widely spoken.

Duncan Ackerman, UK

Cathay Specifics tell a different story

I stumbled upon an older (I assume) Check-in column where you wrote about US Department of Transport fines for flights that have tarmac delays.

In the article you [humorously] stated, "The DOT remained unmoved by reports of the deep camaraderie that developed onboard CX888 when it was prevented from deplaning passengers for 12 hours at New York’s JFK airport because no gate was available. This was a brave attempt by Cathay Pacific at civic integration and interaction."

I was actually on that CX888 flight that was held up for 12 hours at JFK. I hadn't thought about it for a while and since the holiday season is approaching, I thought back to that holiday trip in 2010 - and found your article.

I remember a lot of that trip. All the passengers just sat in their seats the whole time in a very calm and collected fashion. I have no recollection of babies or kids crying or anyone making much of a fuss. We just watched TV and movies and waited for the pilot’s updates. I was impressed with everyone’s behaviour. I sat a few rows behind the actress Grace Park as well. I let her be though – clearly she had better places to be than sitting idle on the tarmac for 12 hours.

My family just had a hotel reservation waiting and a trip to the Big Apple. No major things in store, so no big deal for us, just some time out of our week in NYC.

We left the airport via a cab to our hotel. Upon leaving JFK our cab got into an accident about five minutes out of the airport. We had to switch taxis and deal with some minor whiplash. The car that hit the cab was totalled though.

Anyhow, our trip to New York was wonderful. Cathay treated us wonderfully, set us up to get new clothes and a later return date in business class. I have fond memories of the experience and only have great things to say about Cathay Pacific.

Thanks for the nostalgia!

Aidan M, Canada

{[The airline] treated us wonderfully and set us up for a later return in business class. I only have great things to say about Cathay Pacific

Some spa magic in Central Asia

A wonderful article on Bishkek, though a lot of changes have taken place. Quite accidentally, we discovered a gem of a spa, called Mystic Spa.

Mystic Spa Bishkek has to be one of the best spas in not just Bishkek, but entire Central Asia. Stunning interiors, aromatic fragrances and divine [relaxing] music in all cabins is complimented manifold by authentic Thai masseuses versed in rejuvenating Thai or Shiatsu massage for less than US$20! Indian Ayurveda specialist girls offer you Ayurvedic massages that are relaxing as well as therapeutic.

Whether it is nerve relaxation Shirodhara, or help from Ayurveda for bones and joints or back and neck or even weight loss, Ayurveda has the most natural solutions. You can enjoy ‘Shahnaz Husain Herbal Diamond’ and ‘Gold’ facials here for incredibly low prices.

Our group just loved this place. They do deserve a word of praise to help them keep going.

Chris Wilkins, United Kingdom

KL shopping tips are tops

The information I can get from this site is second to none! Excellent, relevant and interesting. Thank you.

Bev Brown, New Zealand

Now for the perils of North India

Your Kuala Lumpur article is perfect. I am looking for something similar for North India - do you have any specific guidance? I am afraid of being ripped off.


Editors - Glad you enjoyed our Kuala Lumpur shopping guide. North India alas is a rather large footprint but we do have stories on our site that cover a bit of shopping in places like Jaipur (Rajasthan) and New Delhi (the Capital). Quality hotels will all offer useful assistance.

Visa on Arrival drama in Malaysia

At the Kuala Lumpur Visa On Arrival counter I was informed I had to have a ticket exiting KL to a third country. My round trip Singapore-KL-Singapore was not valid and I would need to return to Singapore. I argued my case. Finally the counter clerk sent me to his supervisor. I was given a form that required a printout of my e-ticket. The AirAsia counter (the airline with whom I had travelled) did not have a printer.

I had to go, escorted, to a hotel in the departure area, 15 minutes away, going through security again. I returned to immigration for my Visa on Arrival and handed in the documents, to be told the fee would be RM330. I offered US$100 (the fee quoted to me by the Malaysian High Commission in India via e-mail) and was asked to change it into local currency. at Maybank

Maybank was after immigration so I returned to the counter and a guard was assigned to escort me through. The guard suggested changing the dollars at a disadvantageous rate and I insisted on Maybank. He said his department was short-staffed. Eventually, I was escorted through. I finally changed some money and returned to the Visa on Arrival counter where everyone recognised me by now. I handed in the cash.

And then began the wait for the actual processing of the Visa on Arrival. Wow – Malaysia Truly Asia! This should include hammock services.

Rahul Verghese, New Delhi

Angkor in reverse is the way forward

Thank you for a very helpful article, yet again. My husband and I will take the writer's advice and take in these sights in reverse - Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom and Banteay Srei, then back to Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng hill. Great idea! By tyhe way, Smart Travel Asia is always my go-to site for travels within Asia, especially Southeast Asia. I love your articles and the writing is always excellent. Thank you.

Mahita Geekie, Singapore

{After being escorted through KL immigration two times to print my ticket and, later, change money, the actual Visa on Arrival wait began...

Questions on your travel poll

Having gone through your 2014 awards list I am confounded at the mix. Either your readers are extremely discerning or extremely well distributed (and well informed) to provide such detailed feedback on such a broad range of hotels. I largely agree with much of the result - of course I am not conversant with every resort - though I do wonder why there are so many hotels clustered in each rank level - as in No.15 etc. How can five hotels rank 22? Is the magazine trying to keep everyone happy?

I fly Virgin and see they are not on your top ten. Apart from that, well done. It seems a mighty effort has gone into the process. Kudos to your team. I am planning my Bali visit and and have used your information to make my plans. I have browsed your stories in the past and found the material largely on the money.

Peter Guilford, UK

Editors - Our readers are an international mix so there is a fair amount of shared knowledge in the pot. And they travel on average 12 times a year. Yes, several do vote parochially but our American and European readers balance things out. The reason we bunch hotels in ranks is because the vote differentials are too close to call. This after we have audited and eliminated 'bad' votes from people stuffing the ballot or using automated 'bots'.

Then I spotted a Shanghai gem... in para 188

Kudos to Amy Fabris-Shi for her exhaustive report on Shanghai hotels. Had this been printed out it would rate as bigger than the Bible! Like the Good Book, it is entertaining and informative though I, like many readers I suspect, have not delved through the entire contents. I visit Shanghai frequently and have spotted some new picks that I might try out. It is refreshing to get information from a site that is not touting rooms and specials in my face. It is odd to get such a lengthy story on one page - unless you are doing it right and others have it all wrong - but it appears easier to find relevant content quickly. This is an observations and not a criticism. The jury is out on story length but I shall continue to dip into your site for travel knowhow.

Jonathan Brindley, Hong Kong

Editors - We have found long is better as it saves readers the tedium of jumping around every 50 words. And it can all be printed out on A4 paper for future reference. Readers can print out specific sections too. Keep reading us and delighted you found some gems.

Need a lot more on Lotte

I came across your excellent site recently. Having transferred from New York to Tokyo, my family is keen to explore the region. We were last here some eight years ago.

I was going through your lengthy Seoul article and immediately spotted the Lotte brand. I once thought this was a chocolate company. I recall we spent a few days on our last family trip to Seoul at Lotte World and enjoyed the adjacent theme park. There was a metro line somewhere nearby too.

I am looking at Lotte Seoul as an option for my next few business trips. Thanks to you I have visited their site and it seems a professional outfit. However, our company often places us at the Westin. How do you rate these two? And which one would you recommend? A friend says Lotte has a lot of twin rooms for some reason and it is not always possible to book a king bed during peak season. Why is this so? And Lotte Seoul has two wings that are apparently different.

Westin is a solid American brand and I hear good comments from colleagues. Both are near our offices. Any advice?

Jason Goodwin, Tokyo

Editors - Both Westin Chosun and Lotte Seoul offer fine accommodation in the heart of Myung-dong. Westin is a historic construct with fine service and a recent top-to-toe renovation. It is very much at the business end of the service spectrum and comes highly recommended. Lotte Seoul is a large hotel that once had a huge number of F&B outlets. It offers gracious service, a larger and busier lobby, and refurbished rooms. Twin rooms are popular with Japanese guests. There is a classic ‘newer’ wing with ornate baroque flourishes aimed more at high end business travellers and you might wish to explore this further. Lotte World in Jamsil remains an excellent family choice.

{I am comparing Lotte Seoul and Westin Chosun. How do you rate them and which would you recommend? I once thought Lotte was a chocolate company...

Why the Airbus A380 can be a hot date

Since I worked for the company that maintained the database for Pan Am's WorldPass frequent flyer program back in the day - in fact I wrote and maintained the program that printed the redemption coupons sent to members - I have maintained an amateur's interest in new developments in commercial aviation. I found Vijay's article when trying to learn a bit more about the A380, and I found it quite interesting and informative, even though more detailed than my level of interest.

My question: Unless my triple search of the article still didn't find it, why is there no date of the article plastered right next to the byline? Why would your site wish me to try to read between the lines of the article to guess at its currency? I tried only a couple of other articles and also found the same silly convention. Besides the basic journalistic convention of "when?", that omission makes articles like Libby Peacock's "Do you get the point?" on mileage programs interesting but worthless, since we know airlines change their programs all the time.

Jim, USA

Editors - Thanks for your feedback on our Airbus vs Boeing report. All our stories get updates on a regular basis much like any guide. So we carry year round live reports that get a touch-up when occasion demands - weekly, daily, monthly, depending on the news. When we do a complete overhaul (about once a year), the story moves up the the top of our newspaper style home page as one of our highlighted offerings for that month.

In the deep end in Delhi

Really enjoyed your article and style of writing. Thanks for helping me ‘arrive’ in Delhi. I sometimes wonder why we have the heavily cushioned carpet at the arrival area where the wheels sink as we pull our strollers?

India is of course the teacher! We just have to watch our emotions at each step of the journey, not getting caught in pre-conceived expectations. India teaches us to respond skillfully rather than just emotively. I just returned from a 14-day Buddhapath pilgrimage through Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, humming... “We are all moving on a journey to nowhere, taking it easy, taking it slow. No more worries, no need to hurry, nothing to carry, let it all go.”

Shantum Seth, India

Vietnam visit easier with good info

Your report on Vietnam is one of the best I have come across in recent times. The author appears to have done a huge amount of research – I have to assume this as I am not in a position to check. But it is helpful gain insights from sites like yours that tell it like it is without trying to ‘sell’ travellers stuff. If I need to book a hotel room I go to Booking.com or something like that. But first-hand information is the most valuable tool for sensible travellers.

feedback: focus on smaller, value hotels and not just luxury space for the rich and famous. Smaller places are harder to find and even harder to judge long distance through the Web.

Brian Harvey, USA

{Do the people at Virgin really think they know anything about passenger comfort? [Upper Class] seats are the worst one could possibly imagine

From Macau with love

I have recently visited the wonderful city of Macau. I saw your [destination guide on Macau] and my wife and I used it a lot to find some new things. It is hard to find similar writing on the web as most of the sites are by travel agents. Your [article] helped us make some good choices and find a good many things [that we enjoyed]. Thank you for the good research to help travellers like us make a plan in advance. We will use your website in future travel.

Jose Nuno Armando, Lisbon

Why I am no more a Virgin aloft

As a seasoned business traveller I generally fly eastwards rather than westwards and have found the best lie-flat seat and cabin service combination on Etihad. In December 2013 I flew – courtesy of the US Government – to Washington DC via Dulles on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class. What a nightmare.

Do the people at Virgin really think they know anything about passenger comfort? It’s the worst seat one could possibly imagine. Not only does it have the dreaded herringbone, you end up looking at everyone’s feet. The seats are diabolical. Recline is no better then economy (or perhaps premium economy) and to sleep you have to give up your seat to set it up in lie-flat mode, with your feet precariously balanced on a tiny platform. It is cramped and you cannot watch the video screen and eat at the same time. The [little ‘tray’] for the drink is placed above shoulder height, and smaller than the base of the glass – totally useless.

The partition between the seats is transparent Perspex so there is no privacy. And the unused bar area is just a waste of space that could give been used to give the cramped passengers more room. Having spoken to several friends and colleagues (who have sued this carrier), my advice is, don’t. If Etihad and ANA can do a good job with cabin design then why can’t the others? The crew will tell you that a lot of passengers complain about the [Virgin] cabins and the seats but the management do not listen to them. Instead they ask the passengers to write in. Well, I am voting with my feet, or rather my back.

John Norton-Doyle, UK

The language of air safety

I enjoyed the Editor’s Rant – a wonderful article on airline safety. In India, we still lag behind on safety instructions as all communication is only in Hindi and English. South Indians who speak Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and Kannada, do not necessarily follow Hindi. It is time that air safety videos were telecast in languages actually understood by all the passengers.

T Senthil Durai, India

Travelling with kids not child’s play

Your child-friendly hotels story is [a lifesaver] but you appear to have missed out some newer places. I am surprised there is not more literature out there on the subject as travelling with kids is one of the greatest challenges. I am certain anyone with kids will agree.

Bjoern Albrektsson, Sweden

Pink is the new green

Your [editor's rant] article on gay travel is hilarious and manages to walk a fine line. This is an old subject though and quite a lot has been going on in the travel industry with regards to the “pink” dollar as you describe it. I’m not sure Hilton actually offers “gay-friendly” rooms. They do have a “gay-friendly” website. It is an important distinction.

Samantha Jones, UK

Less is more, or is it fewer?

Re your article on the B787 vs A380, the caption below the Korean Air A380 picture says something like, “Korean Air A380 with less seats”.

Less seats? Fewer seats is correct, not less. Fewer is used for counting objects; less is used for mass objects. There are fewer stars visible tonight. There is less air in the upper atmosphere.

Colin Payne, USA

Editors - You are absolutely right and that gremlin has been fixed.

A site for sore eyes

Did you do something to the magazine? It seems different. Well, whatever the secret ingredient I like it. It seems easier to read and I like the idea of a clickable sitemap [index] on every page. I have been an avid reader for about five years now and look forward to your mix of wit and information. Keep it coming.

Greg Campbell, Tokyo

Editors - After plodding along for 10 years, we revamped our design with the December 2013 issue. More white space, broader page, new fonts and greater vertical line spacing and leading and, of course, a great big ugly mutt on the cover.

Handy Hong Kong guide for the weary

After ploughing through more guidebooks on Hong Kong than I care to list, I came across your handy guide quite by chance. Thanks for distilling Hong Kong into one well summarised – although still quite lengthy – article. A strong sense of humour comes through and I get the feeling a fair bit of legwork has gone into this account. Bravo. I shall be back.

Idris Clayborn, New Zealand

Need more bang for my buck

I enjoy your page [Travel Deals] with all the specials at hotels [around Asia] but these all seem rather expensive. Do you sell any really good deals? I also notice that most of these offers are from expensive luxury hotels. What about boutique hotels and B&Bs and other more attractively priced options?

Reader, (response on feedback form)

Editors - Thanks for checking out our Travel News page. These are FIT (frequent independent traveller) room deals at various hotels and depends a lot of who sends what in. As we are not a travel agency, we don’t sell any packages. We simply alert readers about the most interesting ones.

Cheaper is better

Less comedy more bargains.

Reader, (response on feedback form)

Old is gold at Sukhothai Bangkok

Reading about your poll winners I was interested to see The Sukhothai Bangkok on the list. It is inconveniently located in the current scheme of things with the BTS train and underground etc but is a brilliant classic retreat. There are few to rival its charms in Thailand and I must endorse the verdict. It is heartening to see that technology is not the only winner.

J Watkins, Hong Kong

No mess on MAS, just superb service

Most of us who have flown a lot, long-haul especially, probably have now come to accept the vast difference in the level of service one can expect flying in economy class compared to business or first.

Actually there's no comparison. So not expecting much I recently flew (my choice just based on the price of the ticket) economy class with Malaysia Airlines from London to Jakarta (via Kuala Lumpur).

When checking in, outbound from London, the staff although very busy with the morning check-in queues still took the time to juggle things around and cancel my pre-booked request for an aisle seat (already printed out on the boarding pass) for slightly more leg room in the emergency exit row. Being quite a large six feet tall chap and having probably purchased one of the cheapest seats at the back of the aircraft, online, I can't say enough how grateful I was for that.

On the return journey on the section from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur, as we were boarding the aircraft, the person in front of me picked up the last copy of a complimentary Jakarta Post. Seeing this and the disappointment on my face, the chief purser pleasantly surprised me about 10 minutes into the flight by bringing to me a spare copy of the same newspaper.

And finally, back on the big A380 from Kuala Lumpur to London again in economy class, on remembering serving a glass of wine to me a crew member made a point of asking me my opinion of the wine.

These are the little things that matter when it comes to customer service. Thank you Malaysia Airlines.

Jonathan Smethurst, UK

{Having looked through many online sites, your wonderful magazine finally gave us the information we needed for a Bali wedding

A wonderful Westin wedding

I wish to congratulate your wonderful magazine for helping me choose the venue for my son's wedding in Bali. Having looked through many online sites, your magazine finally gave us the information we needed for Bali.

Westin Nusa Dua was our choice of venue and we were especially impressed by the family-friendly nature of the hotel as described by your magazine. This proved invaluable as we had some young kids and elderly people who needed a tad more care.

Caught in the heat, we were also thankful for Westin's air-conditioned lobby, which I am told is one of the very few in Bali. The warmth of the staff at Westin played an especially important part in making the wedding a fabulous event. Thank you Smart Travel Asia for pointing us in the right direction.

Minni Menon, Hong Kong

Getting Cathay out of its shell

We were hoping to fly from New York to Hong Kong, but Cathay Pacific said their new economy class seats are not in yet. The reviews for the shell seats are really horrible. Can you tell us which airline will have the most comfortable economy seats? Is United better?

Barbara Paul, USA

More monkey business please

Philippines tarsierThat little monkey on your front page is simply adorable. I want one. Is it a monkey by the way? Well, every home should have one. And yes, I do agree it's more fun in the Philippines. We have visited the country several times and despite the traffic and general chaos my family has rarely been disappointed. We are not divers but we love the beaches.

Alice Yew, Hong Kong

Editors - We like that bug-eyed tarsier too, featured on the Department of Tourism Philippines ads. It is a distant relative of the monkey along a separate family tree. Enjoy your Philippines adventures.

A wedding too far?

Your [Asian resort weddings] report is really helpful! I've been thinking about destination weddings in Hong Kong as my father is there and I really love the place. The only problem is that I want to get away from the whole Chinese banquet thing. Doing the wedding in HK may pose a bit of a problem as a lot of the family from my dad's side still resides there. The other options were Malaysia or Japan, but it is more difficult to get the legalities sorted in Japan.

Any advice you could provide on these destinations would be appreciated massively as I'm trying to plan ahead after seeing the tears and stress my sister is going through for her UK wedding. It has turned into exactly what she and her fiance did not want – a chinese banquet and hotel wedding.

Tanya Pang, UK

Editors - You are right, it's hard to get away from Chinese banquets in Hong Kong but options for getting out of the city include the new Auberge resort on Discovery Bay (Lantau Island) and the two Disney hotels. You can check our other stories on the site for Penang and Langkawi for more alternatives on Malaysia. Japan is a wonderful spot too. In most of these cases though it would not be a legal marriage. Best to have a civil wedding "legally" in your home base and then do a wedding ceremony or blessing in your dream spot. Bali is a great choice too.

Even thieves have a code

I read your article on hotel thefts. There is a simple and cheap way to prevent this. Print or stitch an interactive QR code on each high value item. When an item disappears with a guest, update the information in the code to say something like: "Hello - thanks for visiting our hotel. We hope our hairdryer, which you have not paid for and are using at home, will remind you of your stay at our hotel."

Bernd When, Cambodia

Sick and tired, after travel

I travelled in Vietnam and Cambodia in Nov 2012. I became sick with violent diarrhoea (no nausea, no fever) in Cambodia. After four months of tests and treatment in the US and Mexico, there is no change. I am wondering if I should return to Southeast Asia for a diagnosis? And if so, where would be the best medical facility?

Nancy Dusseau, Mexico

Editors - We have detailed some medical tourism options that include Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok and good choices in Singapore. In Hong Kong Dr John Simon is a specialist in tropical infectious diseases. Contact details on the page.

Maldives detail just the ticket

Great website, very informative and invaluable detail [for Maldives] on each resort. Really enjoyed reading and learning about the varied choices on offer and will use again for research. Thank you.

Debbie Newman, Luxury travel consultant, UK

TripAdvisor can be misleading

I'll definitely be looking out for the new Maldives article! The thing about Tripadvisor reviews is that almost everyone who goes to the Maldives for the first time thinks it's absolute paradise - which it is, but depending on what you're looking for not all resorts are created equal.

My husband agrees with many things you have mentioned in the article as points of interest, such as the sting ray feeding at Banyan Tree, orange juice at Kandooma (lovely modern rooms there!), and the Thai restaurant at Anantara Dhigu/Velli. We have been trying to find a resort with as much marine life (that doesn't require a boat snorkelling trip as our three kids are under six) such as Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru/Angsana Ihuru, but so far have been disappointed with many resorts. So after reading your article confirming that they have one of the best house reefs, we will probably try Angsana Ihuru this time (or maybe take the chance with the Angsana Velavaru).

Edlyn Giam, Singapore

What about seat width on US airlines?

I see you focus on [international airlines], but for those of us more big-boned it would be nice if you had a domestic US comparison [for economy seats]. And the width of the seats is the real comfort factor. Since the planes are full this is the only way to get space. Elbow room and pitch means nothing if you can't move anyway. What about Frontier Airlines? US carrier comparison would be a great addition.

Vanessa Vogel, USA

I have flown into a dead-end on Krisflyer

I am frustrated and annoyed. I have had no Krisflyer statement or updated account information, not even e-mail, since 2007. The card states I should log in to Krisflyer and then “my account” then “statement”, but I can find no trace of any log-in under any of the headings, only a lot of waffle regarding news and flights. How do I get a statement?

Derek Brown, Australia

Editors - Perhaps a low-tech solution might be best. Call SIA in Singapore and they should be able to sort out your account details swiftly and offer log-in advice.

SIA Responds,
"Mr Brown called our KrisFlyer Membership Services hotline on 25 February 2009, seeking clarity on his account balance and expiring miles. We provided him with the relevant advice, and also guided him on the navigation on our website. At the same time, we have also helped Mr Brown to include his preferred email address into his account details. This will enable him to receive e-statements in future."

Kuala Lumpur shopping, recycled...

Your Kuala Lumpur shopping story carries excellent information and has given me all I need to know for my trip. I am particularly interested in the recycled clothes, which you have covered in your article. I will see if I can find all these places.

Jan Denn, Perth

Bangkok shopping for bozo billionaires

Your article on Bangkok shopping simply isn't true. As a seasoned Thailand tourist I can tell you that your report is filled with tourist traps. Unless, of course, you wrote your article for billionaires.

Waqqas Hanafi, USA

Saigon is no laughing matter, but...

I'm a real Saigonese, born and raised there. None of this [your Saigon guide] is new to me but still, I laughed so hard reading your article. I've never read anything about Saigon that is so true – and you have a wonderful, wonderful sense of humour.

Bella Le, Saigon

Contemporary resort ill suited to Bali

The Anantara [Seminyak, re Bali resorts] was a massive disappointment. There are structural flaws everywhere – it looks like it has been slapped up really cheaply with a few nice fittings to make it look expensive. The so-called rooftop bar no longer exists (it was not there when we visited) because apparently they didn't receive planning permission. The hotel is overpriced and the architecture is dull – not suited to the Balinese style regardless of its contemporary thrust.

Kathleen Stiles, Australia

Guides might include vegetarian restaurants

The Sabah guide article by Libby Peacock and Vijay Verghese is very comprehensive. I would appreciate it if you can include some restaurants that offer Indian vegetarian or any other vegetarian food. It will be very helpful for vegetarians that are travelling to this part of Asia as this sort of information is not available on the Web.

Sarita, Malaysia

Your story helped us choose a child-friendly resort

We liked your article about child-friendly resorts in Asia. It helped us to decide which hotel to choose for a vacation with our toddler. A thumbs up for this article. I was wondering, why is it only Bali is covered as a destination in Indonesia?

Farid Saifuddin, Thailand

Editors - We do indeed need to provide more extensive coverage on Indonesia. More is on the way.

Waiter, there’s a fish on my fly

I have always wanted to go to the Andaman Islands. This combined with the keen sense that there must be incredible potential for flats fly-fishing makes it even more so. Most of the information on the Internet refers to sport fishing and deep-sea fishing. I would rather fish white sand flats. Do you have any information as to where to go and whom to contact? Because this journey is so far away from California I would hate for it to be a bust or poorly planned.

Steve, USA

Editors - Certainly a wonderful adventure. Our Andaman Islands guide lists a few travel agents who might be able to offer advice. Also talk with Ibex Expeditions in New Delhi.

Time to loosen up the security in Cebu

Yours is such a nice and informative article on Cebu resorts. I grew up in Cebu and you are absolutely right – getting to any place, including resorts, is such a pain. Kudos to you though for mentioning it and I hope that as officials read [your story] they loosen up a bit on security. I love my city and am glad you enjoyed the most part of your stay.

Holly, Cebu

Editors - We always enjoy Cebu, from start to finish. Even the traffic. It’s street theatre at its best.

Cathay business class is for sardines

Last December [2007] I flew J class from Johannesburg on CX748. The new Cathay Pacific business class pod is a complete disaster. It is like a coffin, which prevents air circulation. The bed space is too narrow. You cannot hold up a newspaper so you have to stand up to read. British Airways has a cocoon double pod type enclosure with a sliding window partition. With the new Cathay business class seat layout you cannot talk to your family or business colleague or see your kids – the seats are facing inwards so you cannot see out of the windows either for takeoff and landing, the sun shines on the TV screen so you have to close the window blind too.

The poor hostesses have to struggle to pass the food over your TV and god knows what happens when it is a bumpy ride. The food tray cannot and does not swivel so once you are served you are stuck in there till the tray is taken away. There is an awkward car seat triple belt system with a cross strap that seems redundant given that you are wedged in like a sardine already.

Whoever designed this disaster should be seconded for the next 20 years to Cathay’s competitors to help bankrupt them. This is the most uncomfortable flight I have ever had on Cathay in 30 years. It was an unmitigated disaster. Five businessmen from South Africa who were opposite me said they will be flying on SAA in future. Rip out these seats immediately.

James Middleton, Hong Kong

The Boeing 787 is a new generation aircraft

Looking at [Boeing and Airbus], the two aircraft and the corporate strategies employed by both companies, Boeing appears to be in a superior strategic position. Consider this. Should a general recession strike internationally the huge cost of the A-380 plus its extended breakeven point may mirror the problems with the Concorde – a great technical success, but not commercially viable in the long run.

Secondly, from a design perspective, the B-787 is the first commercially designed composite aircraft that shows the way “to the future” for design and operating efficiency. The Airbuses A-380 is the last of the mostly metal airliners so the two designs are on either side of the technology watershed. Just as the DC-3 rendered wood obsolete with its aluminium structure, so will the Boeing 787 Dreamliner surpass the A380. Lesson: National governments are the kiss of death to any money-making enterprise.

Jon Lawrence, USA

Scared of flying? Meditate on this

Kudos for your article on the little-talked-about but quite prevalent fear of flying. After years of terror-free flying, I developed a severe phobia with regard to air travel in my early 20s. This condition escalated to the point of uncontrollable tears, panic attacks and completely irrational, and morbid thoughts any time I had to fly. I banished myself to continental USA, and resorted to travel by trains and gruelling cross-country road trips.

At the height of my phobia, I convinced myself pre-take-off that my flight to Hawaii was doomed and threw a fit to get off the plane, which I did.

It wasn’t until I immersed myself in yoga and meditation that I was able to completely rid myself of my fears. These practices teach deep discipline, calm, mind control and, most practically, effective breathing techniques. During my early stages of "recovery" I had to take a 19-seater prop plane across Colorado‘s Rocky Mountains – the flight was about an hour and I sat meditating the entire time, free of tears and sweaty palms.

Pua Mench, Hong Kong

Who the heck is calling me a moron?

“The only difference between first class travellers and first class idiots is the price they pay. So which one are you?” This tagline is the least “smart” marketing I have seen on any travel site and I am sure that any other company would be well challenged to come up with a more demeaning phrase. It’s a great way to chase away us customers with more than 14 brain cells. Smart? I think not. Were you drinking at the time?

Craven Morehead, Indonesia

Editors - Well, the joke’s on us. The editors are restocking the fridge with better lager.

Back door to Boeing computer

It would be worth finding out from Boeing whether or not their B787 is fitted with the "back door" into the flight computer called Home Run, which enables the powers that be to control the aircraft remotely in case of terrorist hijackings.

Peter Dell, UK

It behooves me to write

I’ve always wondered why Indian writers feel the need to be overtly dramatic in their literary endeavours? You’ll find an unnecessary number of adjectives. Then there is the over-use of archaic British expressions. Verghese no doubt thinks he has impressed readers (Airbus vs Boeing) with his excessive use of ridiculous expressions, for instance “Boeing's Small Wet Dream proceeds apace...” Quite the contrary. Perhaps the editor should proofread articles more carefully before publishing them.

Ram Kumar, USA

Editors - Thanks for the cogent comments. All true. Vijay Verghese.

Keep the Airbus vs Boeing story going

Vijay Verghese is a fantastic writer – he’s entertaining, sharp, educative, and forthright. I want the [Airbus vs Boeing] story to keep going.

Barbara Berger, USA

{The A380 is impressively large but I'm not keen on evacuating from the second deck with several hundred people...

You want me to deplane with 799 others?

A B747 is bad enough at the luggage rack with 400-plus passengers deplaning. Don’t expect me to deplane with 799 others and wait for luggage, customs, taxis, etc. Not going to happen! I will stay with smaller aircraft for my business and personal travel.

Richard Coffy, USA

The B787 will usher in a new era

The B787 Dreamliner will revolutionize air travel because of the advanced technology behind it as well as the economy of operating it. Just as the Boeing 707 and B-747 opened new chapters in air travel, the B-787 will usher in a new era.

A S Mathew, USA

Bali stories are spot on

I have lived in Bali 12 years and know the place well. I write guidebooks and articles. I just want to say that Vijay Verghese’s piece on Bali is excellent. It is well written, well informed, and opinionated to a perfect degree.

Susi Johnston, Indonesia

{There appears to be a flourishing bag pilfering racket at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and no one apparently cares or gives a hoot...

Baggage theft at Kuala Lumpur Airport

I flew Malaysia Airlines to Bombay via Kuala Lumpur on 30 March, 2007 (MH73) in business class. I opened my bag upon arrival in Bombay to find the contents in disarray. The bag was still locked when I opened it, the lock did not seem as if it had been tampered with. A proper search of my bag revealed a slew of missing items - a pouch containing gold and diamond jewellery, and all the perfume bottles that I had carried as gifts. The empty cartons of the perfumes were left behind in my bag.

This is the second time we have had such an experience. The first one was in December 2006, when my husband travelled on MAS to Bangalore but again via KL and had a mobile phone stolen from his bag in exactly the same way. The lock was intact when he opened it, but item was missing from inside.

I have complained to Malaysia Airlines and I have not even received a reply.

As for my husband's complaint, they said they were not responsible for “valuables” packed in checked-in luggage. If, [as a fare-paying passenger], I lock a bag and hand it over to an airline, why on earth is it not responsible for handing the bag back with everything intact? Are perfume bottles not to be checked in any more? They can't be carried as hand baggage either.

The fact is there is a flourishing [and seemingly professional] pilfering racket at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. [Any bag in transit may be a target.] The sooner the airline does something about it, the better.

Isn’t this supposed to be Visit Malaysia Year?

Mohyna Srinivasan, Hongkong

Medical treatment for all

While I appreciate the benefits of affordable medical treatment [at the new Asian facilities], I can’t help but ask the question, “But what about the locals?” Are their medical needs being met or are they pushed aside every time a foreigner turns up with US dollars? I would personally consider it a moral issue to ascertain how this influx of foreign patients is affecting medical treatment for the local communities and how my participation [in medical tourism] contributes to this, be it beneficial or detrimental.

Rick Farquharson, Australia

I’m still seeing stars in Asia

I travel for work through Asia and am challenged with various [hotel] star-rating systems. Sometimes there’s even no star system. Can you shed some light?

Dax Kiger, USA

Editors - Yes, standardisation is a problem in much of Asia. Some countries follow star ratings strictly, some not. Places where you might find the rating somewhat in line with expectations include Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, India metros, Korea, and Japan. Several of our stories focus on hotel reviews and you should get a fair idea of what each is about.

{I travel for work through Asia and am constantly challenged by the various star ratings. Can you shed some light on this?

Bollywood blather has me in a lather

The following statement in your Bhutan story stinks of racism, and that coming from an Indian, too. What a shame. I quote – “Fortunately for Bhutan, a billion Indians are too busy watching B-grade Bollywood movies to consider levitating north.”

Suneel Sule, India

Editors - The sentence you quote is in lighter vein. It casts more light perhaps on how the author feels about B-grade Bollywood movies rather than India, Indians, and Bhutan. The author is Indian and proud of it.

In Cebu, head for an apartment

Being an old hand at visiting Cebu – and having stayed in almost all the 5-star resorts – I wanted to let you know that I recently took a gamble and stayed in a serviced apartment (booked over the Net) called SDR Apartments.

Whilst the outside of the building is not much to speak of, they have wonderful rooms (equal to most four and five-star resorts in Cebu) with free Internet, cable TV, kitchens and so on. The apartment was US$699 for the month.

This may come in handy for frequent travellers. The website is www.sdrapartments.com

James Walter, Cebu

Your guide beats Lonely Planet

I just wanted to say I have been to Hong Kong three times and I have the latest Lonely Planet guide but I still found your shopping tips incredibly helpful. I love all the ideas and I’ll be shopping in a lot of the places you recommend. Thanks a lot.

Chantelle Taylor, Australia

You saved our lives in Hong Kong

I would like to thank you for your story on Hong Kong shopping. Without it our holiday would have been a disaster. We arrived with our three children tired and exhausted after touring around Europe and narrowly escaping terrorist activity in London. We found it very difficult to find the great bargains and shopping experiences that we thought Hong Kong offered. After two days of wandering around, maps in hand, and being disappointed by the huge shopping malls that offered endless prices just as expensive as Australia, I began searching the Internet for someone to tell me where to go shopping for bargains and great places to go to.

Your advice was brilliant. Without it we would have gone home very unhappy. I only wish I had found your website sooner. I have to say that what I did find in the markets is that unless you can speak fluent Chinese or you are Chinese don’t even bother trying to bargain. It was just a waste of time. I found that it was a matter of looking around and finding the items with the price I wanted to pay. Food was fantastic and at very reasonable prices. The sandwich bars are a great place to take the kids. Thanks again

Kerryn, Australia

Where in the world is Burundi?

I was reading your article on small airlines and noticed that you included Burundi in Asia. Burundi is an African country and the local population is quite large, although their population has been reduced by civil wars. Perhaps you were thinking of Brunei?

Mike Walker, Japan

Editors - Thanks for the spot Mike. Actually the Burundi mention on Small Airlines is a lighter aside and not related to geography.

Laughing till I cried

I have just spent almost 30 minutes to finish reading your [Editor’s Page Check-In] article “Passage to India”, including about 15 minutes to just wipe the tears from laughing so much. Thank you for sharing your great sense of humour with such a positive attitude. After spending time in grey and snowy Berlin, followed by clear blue sky with a sharp, cold wind in Brussels, your stories sure warmed me up. Thanks again.

Angie Boonpramote, Thailand

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