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The East beckons Indian tourists

Smita Tripathi | August 16, 2004

It's been there, done that in London, Paris and New York. And the shopping malls of Asia like Hong Kong and Singapore are turning into a bit of a bore. Bangkok? Not again.

So, which direction should the educated traveller with a taste for the exotic be heading in the next few months? Luckily, the answer isn't necessarily at the other end of the world.

For a start there's Cambodia with its empty beaches, mighty rivers and remote forests. And, of course, the gigantic Angkor Wat complex. Cambodia has emerged from the decades of war and isolation and is well and truly back on the south-east Asian travel map.

Mind you, there's always one problem faced by travellers heading slightly off the beaten track: getting there can be slightly more complicated. There are no direct flights from India to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. But the best option is to fly via Bangkok.

A Delhi-Bangkok-Phnom Penh return costs between Rs 25,000 and Rs 30,000. Another option is to fly to Bangkok (it costs between Rs 12,000 and Rs 18,000 from Delhi) and then take a connecting flight from there. Air Asia and Bangkok Air fly daily to both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Tickets are between 8,000 baht and 10,000 baht (approximately between Rs 9,600 and Rs 12,000) for a round-trip. Cambodia's greatest attraction are the temples at Angkor Wat, located in Siem Reap town. Angkor Wat, among the greatest archaeological sites in the world, is an intricately carved sandstone monument dedicated to the god-king Suryavarman II, who believed himself to be an earthly incarnation of the god Vishnu.

Sculptures on the walls of Angkor Wat depict celestial dancers, meant to delight and entertain the god-king. Angkor Wat's silhouette is depicted on the Cambodian national flag.

Another country whose name was always mentioned in the same breath as war, but is now becoming a popular tourist destination among westerners, is Vietnam.

In India, SOTC and Thomas Cook offer packages to Vietnam. A six-night, seven-day package by SOTC costs Rs 28,500 plus $700 per person and includes, air fare, accomodation and sight seeing. If you don't want to take a packaged tour, then the best way to get there is to once again fly to Bangkok and then take a connecting flight to Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. Air Asia and Bangkok Air both fly to these cities and the round-trip fare is between 4,000 baht and 6,000 baht (approximately between Rs 4,800 and Rs 7,200).

Ho Chi Minh City is the heart and soul of Vietnam. It's a bustling, dynamic and industrial centre, the largest city in the country, the economic capital and the cultural trendsetter. It has several excellent museums that explore its dramatic history.

Inside you'll find everything from harrowing images of the war and revolution to political art. If museum aren't your cup of tea there are always the botanical gardens, temples, pagodas and churches which dot the city.

The other Vietnamese city to visit is Hanoi, with its landscape of lakes, shaded boulevards, dense public parks, colonial French houses and modern skyscrapers.

Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya are overflowing with tourists and it's probably best to give them a miss. But there are other places worth visiting in Thailand that have not yet been discovered by Indian tourists.

Sukhothai is located 450 km from Bangkok on the banks of the Yom river. The ancient city of Sukhothai is a great spot for anyone interested in historical sites. This was Thailand's capital city from the mid-13th century to the late 14th century.

The Sukhothai Historical Park has several temples dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Wat Mahathat, the largest temple, is surrounded by brick walls and a moat. Some of the original Buddha images still sit among the ruined columns within the temple grounds.

There are deluxe buses from Bangkok to Sukhothai and these cost between 100 baht to 200 baht and take around eight hours. It's also possible to fly from Bangkok to Sukhothai. The round-trip fare is between 3,600 baht and 4,000 baht (Rs 4,320 and Rs 4,800).

Besides Sukhothai, there's Kanchanaburi, which is 130 km from Bangkok and can be easily reached by bus or taxi from the Thai capital. What's special about Kanchanaburi? Well, there's a familiar looking bridge over the Khwae Noi River built by Allied prisoners of war. Yep. This is the bridge over the River Kwai.

You have probably had your fill of Kuala Lumpur, Genting and Langkawi. Every Indian travel agent and tour operator offer packages of all sizes and shapes to these Malaysian tourist hotspots. Looking for something different? Try Sarawak.

Sarawak, the largest state of Malaysia, is located on the north-western shore of the island of Borneo. There are daily direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. Air Asia tickets are priced dirt cheap at between 70 ringets to 75 ringets (approximately between Rs 910 and Rs 975). A Delhi-Kuala Lumpur-Delhi airfare is between Rs 17,000 and Rs 25,000.

Sarawak has lots to offer for lovers of the outdoors. It's possible to stroll through a national park, or trek for days through primitive jungle, sleeping each night in a different longhouse (traditional wooden houses built on stilts near the water edge). And if walking is not your style try mountain biking the jungle trails. What's more, it's possible to spend days exploring the world's most extensive cave system -- 310 km of passages.

Hong Kong Tourism Board has been hardselling the territory to Indians. The result is that huge numbers are already going there. However, for those who've already been there or would like to go a bit further afield there are other options. Why not visit mainland China?

A 55-minute journey across the South China Sea and the Pearl Estuary gets visitors to Macau, located on the western side of the Pearl River Delta. Macau, which was ruled by the Portuguese for four centuries, has many historical monuments, including the famous ruined facade of St Paul's Church.

Macau also has two attractive offshore islands connected to the mainland by bridge and causeway. The city is, of course, famous for its casinos, for those interested in gambling.

Another town close to Hong Kong is Shenzhen, which lies across the Hong Kong border on the other side of the Shenzhen River, the natural border between Hong Kong and mainland China. There are various theme parks in Shenzhen including Splendid China, which boasts of more than 70 famous scenic wonders of China in miniature.

And if you are a culture buff, visit the China Folk Culture Village, featuring the folk art, customs and dwellings of ethnic groups.

A Delhi-Hong Kong-Delhi ticket costs between Rs 25,000 and Rs 28,000 and one can take a tour to one of these cities for between $150 and $200.

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