Q. My husband and I are planning a trip to Asia for October this year, going to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore. We would prefer to do it on our own, or mostly (with local day tours) and we do not know how to go about it. Should we buy a round-the-world ticket and, if so, what do you know about it? I am afraid, with so many places to go, buying single tickets would be astronomically expensive. And then, what airline would go to all these places? Also, can you tell me about business class upgrades? And finally, I am a Romanian citizen (living in the USA, with an American citizen husband), I might need visas for all these places. Is there a service that can provide help with this?
A. I would recommend purchasing Cathay Pacific's All Asia Pass for $1,099 per person. The basic pass price is actually $1,299, but you'll receive a $200 discount if you sign-up for the free as a Cathay Pacific CyberTraveler. The All Asia Pass includes round-trip coach travel from New York JFK, San Francisco, or Los Angeles to Hong Kong, plus travel to 18 Asian cities, which includes all the cities on your list, except Kyoto. You can fly to any of the 18 cities, and the only additional cost would be airport fees and taxes.
You'll have 21 consecutive days to complete your travel, but if you need more days, you can extend the validity period: up to 30 days, it's an additional $100, 45 days is $200, 60 days is $300 and 90 days is $350. A one-way transpacific upgrade to business class will set you back an additional $1,299, which is quite reasonable, and that's only for travel between Sunday and Thursday.
The are a few downsides to the pass: You'll have to fly through Hong Kong every time you want to fly to another city, even if it means flying backwards; you don't earn frequent flyer miles; and you'll be charged $50 to $100 for each itinerary change, depending when the changes occur. But for the price, it really can't be beat.
To get to Kyoto, I suggest just taking a local train from Osaka. The train ride will take about one hour, and will cost anywhere between $6 and $30, depending on the train you take. Reservations aren't required because it's a local commuter train. The train schedule and pricing information is available at www.hyperdia.com.
Q. We're interested in Asian art and are planning a multi-city tour of Asia. What cities have the best art museums?
A. Three cities that you should not miss are Shanghai, Taipei, and Singapore. All three have excellent museums of Asian art covering a wide range of eras. Singapore's Asian Civilisations Museum is the newest, covering a 5000 year span. Singapore also has an excellent Museum of Art, currently undergoing expansion, covering the modern period. Taipei's is the oldest, with treasures "rescued" from the Mainland by the Nationalists. You can easily spend a whole day in any of these museums and not fully absorb all they have to offer.
Q. I'm going to Asia and I'm going to have one and a half day layover in Manila, Philippines. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do while I'm there?
A. The Philippines offers one of the best shopping experiences in Asia. And the current exchange rate (US$1 to 52 Philippine Peso) is also favorable to US shoppers. For the price of a pair of pants in the United States, for example, you can purchase at least five pairs in the Philippines. In fact, many people travel to the Philippines just to enjoy the buying power and embark on a shopping spree. The financial district of Metro Manila is one of the most popular shopping areas.
Another great place to explore is the walled city of Intramuros, constructed in 1571. Consisting of European buildings and churches, Intramuros is one of the world's best preserved Spanish colonial sites, right in the heart of Manila. Centuries-old walls, dungeons, churches and plazas are just some of the things to see there.
Sanctuario Spa, Saalon and Organic Café, conveniently located in the heart of Manila, offers detox, massage therapies, alternative healing, body scrubs, "chill-out" treatments, teakwood tub treatments, hand and foot pleasures, facials, and more. Sanctuario is known for its hilot treatments, a traditional Filipino-style deep tissue massage performed by an an authentic "manghihilot" who uses mysticism and incantations while kneading sore muscles to remove aches and pains.