International Herald Tribune May 26, 2007 by Aline Sullivan
TRAVELERS based in Asia have long had a poor deal when trying to plan and book trips online. Many of the best travel sites on Asia cater to people in North America and, to a lesser degree, Europe. Asia features predominantly as a destination, rather than as a starting point.
That's starting to change. Some new home-grown Web sites and expanded Asian versions of existing sites are planting the region firmly on the Internet map.
"Customized and closer to home" is how Yahoo bills its Asia site, www.asia.yahoo.com. It's the umbrella site for 10 country-specific sites: China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. There's another for Hong Kong and one in Chinese, www.chinese.yahoo.com.
Each includes a travel section with topics ranging from airlines, maps and hotel rates to, at the Indian site, a guide on vegetarian travel. The site is useful and, thanks to almost a thousand travelogues, often entertaining. But travelers shouldn't expect much in the way of discounts or online booking services, at least not yet. For those, Yahoo's U.S. site, www.yahoo.com, is still a better bet.
There are some local bargains to be had, however. If you are just looking for a hotel, www.planetholiday.com is a great home-grown site. It matches travelers with hotel discounters and is, not surprisingly, strongest on Asia. It lists more than 300 hotels in Bali, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Maldives, Singapore and Thailand at discounts of up to 75 percent off published rates.
Book a deluxe room at the Peninsula Hotel on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong harbor through Planetholiday and it will cost 2,450 Hong Kong dollars ($314), 26-percent less than the rate on the hotel's Web site, www.peninsula.com.
If your budget doesn't stretch to the Peninsula, jump on the Star Ferry to Hong Kong and check into a garden eye room at the Renaissance Harbor View at just 895 Hong Kong dollars, a hefty 70-percent off the published fare.
Not every hotel featured on Planetholiday is on sale. A garden suite at the luxurious Amanpuri Resort in Pansea Beach in Phuket, Thailand, costs $400 a night excluding tax until mid-October, the same rate as on the Aman Resort's Web site, www.amanresorts.com. It's a similar story at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok.
But all 27 of the other hotels offered by Planetholiday.com in Phuket and the 44 hotels in Bangkok are available at discounts from 30 percent to 75 percent.
Planetholiday has also added some cities in Britain, France, Italy and the United States. The mostly drab mid-priced chain hotels and the savings offered through its link to www.hoteldiscounts.com are not a patch on the Asia offerings, however.
At www.asiatravel.com there are more than 1,000 hotels in every corner of Asia, and a smattering in other countries. The site appeals mostly to backpackers who will be thrilled to find hotel rooms as cheap as $20. Travelers looking for city landmarks and luxurious resorts should look elsewhere.
Bargain hunters already in Thailand should log on to www.thaifare.com, which offers cheap airfares from Bangkok to anywhere in the world. The best sites in Asia are stronger on information than on bargains, however.
The Lonely Planet site, www.lonelyplanet.com, generates a lot of attention. Its "Thorn Tree" branch lists more than 1,600 Asian (including subcontinental and Australian) queries and comments, or postings.
Other sites worth checking out are the Internet directory www.2asia.com and www.asiadragons.com, a good starting point for travelers already in the region or headed that way. Its travel channel features 12 countries, each packed with links to other sites.
Some of Asiadragon.com's offerings are odd — the only two airline links are to the Finnair and Iberia sites — but most are helpful and interesting for both residents and visitors, including the Japan National Tourist Organization Web site (www.jnto.go.jp) and a guide to online English-language publications in Japan.
Finally, www.asiatour.com bills itself as the Southeast Asia Travel Database and is aimed at adventurous German and English travelers, rather than at locals.