Tick-off three of Asia’s hottest destinations with our flight deals!
That’s right. $1299* – taxes included – will get you flights from Vancouver to Seoul, from Seoul to Bangkok, over to Hong Kong and back to Vancouver with Air Canada, Asiana Airlines and Cathay Pacific. You just pick when you want to go and how long you’d like to spend at each stop. And guess what, the flight to Seoul is not as long as it seems!
Seoul, South Korea
Why go now?
Fresh from hosting the very popular Olympic Winter Games, there may not be a better time to visit South Korea. Not just in Seoul but throughout the country, infrastructure is in tip-top shape, the general tourist interest in the country is high and it’s making headline news as tensions have eased between the North and the South. In fact, tours of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) straddling the two nations have become some of the most sought-after attractions lately.
Once there, getting around is a breeze. Overall, the public transit system is great, with express trains, planes and buses linking major cities, national and provincial parks and other points of interest. Ferries will transport you and your car to idyllic islands and taxis are a cinch in the downtown core of any big city. All modes of transport are exceptionally clean, safe, and punctual.
Weather-wise, the best time to go is autumn, September through November, which also happens to be the low/shoulder season (between low and high), making travel cheaper and less crowded once there. Winters offer world-class skiing and snowboarding and summers get hot with heavy rains in July, when most locals head for the islands and beaches.
Seoul and the rest of South Korea also provide an excellent opportunity to travel with your children. Although it lacks some North American comforts, like diaper-changing stations, high-chairs in restaurants and babysitting services, kids are generally welcomed, accommodated and fawned over everywhere.
They’ll also have plenty to do, too. Kids of all ages can enjoy Seoul’s expansive zoo, video-game arcades, movie theatres, bowling alleys, karaoke and plenty of green spaces. Hit the water parks and ice cream stands in the summer or the ski hills and the many ultra-modern shopping malls in the winter, and you can’t go wrong.
Seoul, Busan, Jeju Island and Pyeongchang County are all worth a visit.
Make your own traditional rice wine, perfume or pottery; take a Korean cooking class and tour the markets; make your own K-pop recording in Gangnam or settle for a dance lesson; practice your moves at Club Octagon or sit back and watch the fandom reach a feverish pitch at a professional baseball game – it’s all here and waiting in what’s sure to be Asia’s next big destination.
Why go now?
After the long-anticipated death of beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej in the fall of 2016, Thailand, and especially Bangkok, went into a one year mourning period, wearing black and halting any forms of celebration and nightlife throughout the country. All of that is now over and Thailand is fully back to its fun-loving ways, making now the perfect time to visit.
Use Bangkok as your gateway to Thailand’s stunning nature or make it your sole destination. Whichever way you go, there is a lot to see. Coast down the Chao Phraya and visit the Floating Market or cruise the famous River Kwai; see the Erawan Waterfalls and even the beaches of Pattaya – all doable in a day trip from Bangkok.
In the country’s capital, tour ornate temples by tuk-tuk or on an escorted cycling tour; hit the night markets for anything and everything or learn to make Thailand’s signature dishes with a step-by-step cooking class. Got the kids with you? Good. Safari World, Dream World and Flight of the Gibbon Ziplining will all blow them away.
If beaches are more your thing, you’re in the right place. Thailand is adorned with countless breathtaking stretches of sand, each a better postcard than the last. Scuba, snorkel or splash in the many warm tide pools, and after dark, marvel at the bioluminescence lighting up the water’s edge.
Wake up to rock climb the towering limestone cliffs of Krabi’s Railay Beach or simply relax and melt into the sand with a Thai beach massage and a fresh watermelon shake. Sometimes life is just too good.
But Thailand isn’t all about beaches – far from it. Head north from Bangkok and you’re in hill tribe territory, with elephant sanctuaries and the pristine Thai countryside. Charming villages, tranquil rice paddies and lush jungles make Northern Thailand as inviting as the south.
If you missed the temples (or wats) in Bangkok, Chiang Mai has got you covered. Overlooking the city is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of Northern Thailand’s most sacred temples, dating back to the late 1300s. Climb over 300 steps to reach the top for breathtaking vistas, rock gardens and monuments, breadfruit trees and wandering Buddhist monks. Cameras are a must but be respectful.
Why go now?
With its boundless shopping opportunities, exceptional food scene and dazzling mix of street and nature, Hong Kong continues to be the perfect last stop on just about any itinerary. After all, excessive shopping should always be done on your way home and Hong Kong doesn’t leave you much of a chance not to. Otherwise, its British colonial past makes Hong Kong easy to digest for Westerners, and provides the perfect buffer for the culture shock of ‘back home’.
But first, the food. Hong Kong’s globe-inspired culinary scene is as diverse as its citizens, and that’s saying a lot. From modern fast food favourites and traditional street food staples to satisfying noodle houses, authentic Italian, Indian and Japanese restaurants and the latest celebrity chef openings, it’s impossible to leave disappointed or hungry.
Unfortunately, many tourists miss the smorgasbord of ‘pick-em-and-cook-em’ seafood restaurants found below street level and down the many laneways spanning the downtown core. Here, fresh daily catches are housed in giant tanks for patrons to choose from, made to order and cooked to perfection. Ask your concierge, doorman or guidebook for one in your area. They may double as a working fish market, and some of the best ones are nondescript holes-in-the-wall, easily passed over.
Now that you’ve had your fill, walk it off. A good place to start, is the Victoria Harbour waterfront. Offering superb panoramic views, talented street musicians and access to the iconic Star Ferry, it’s also your gateway to Hong Kong’s Central district, and a must for any first-time visitor. (roundtrip 1-hour Harbour Tours are also available from the pier in Kowloon)
Another fun option, especially with kids in tow, is Hong Kong Park, one of the wackiest parks you will ever see. Enveloped in dramatic mountains on one side and towering skyscrapers on the other, the 8-hectare park features a museum & arts centre, playground & Tai chi garden, a viewing tower, indoor games hall, an artificial lake, fountains, and more. What grabs your attention throughout though is the park’s use of endearing kitsch, like the stuffed animals in the cactus garden.
Alright, let’s fill those bags! Whether you’re a thrifty bargain hunter or a fearless spender, you’ll be well provided for. While Hong Kong’s longtime reputation as a haven for discount goods may be over, there are still deals to be had, especially if you’re after electronics, antiques, clothing and jewellery. The absence of a sales tax doesn’t hurt either.
You’ll quickly notice that all major international designer brands have a Hong Kong outlet and that getting by with English isn’t difficult at all. In stores that clearly display pricing, be prepared to pay the advertised rate. Save your bargaining skills for markets and electronic stores, which will often show wares without a price tag. Compare costs in several stores to get the going rate as some shops may try to overcharge ignorant tourist shoppers.
If it’s antiques you’re after, head to Hollywood Road and Wyndham Street in Central district, but do your homework before buying. Fakes are everywhere and expert forgeries are extremely good. If you’re eyeing an expensive piece, it’s best to go to a trustworthy source.
For designer clothing and jewellery, hit any of the big malls, like Pacific Place, Horizon Plaza, Times Square or the IFC. Market-mavens can spend the day browsing Temple Street in Yau Ma Tie and the thrift shops of Mong Kok. Granville Road in Tsim Sha Tsui can also turn up a bargain or two.
And that extra suitcase you’ll need for it all? Any and every department store in Hong Kong seems to have a deal on luggage – always.
*Based on a Sep 20, 2018, departure from Vancouver. Applies to round-trip travel with Air Canada, Asiana and Cathay Pacific, including all taxes. Fare subject to availability and change.