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If you’re traveling internationally or even just across the country, chances are you’ll have a layover somewhere during your journey. Rather than waiting for hours inside the airport, why not take advantage of your location and head into the city? You’ve already paid to get there, after all. Whether you’ve landed in Honolulu or London, Beijing or Reykjavík, these cities are easy to visit from the airport, even if you just have a few hours.

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Amazing New Train RoutesAs convenient as airlines can be, the act of flying often sucks the joy out of getting there, wherever ‘there’ might be. After enduring the endless security lines, the tedious boarding process, and the subpar airplane food, we arrive at our destination cranky, tired, and often a little disoriented. Not so with train travel. Assuming you have the luxury of time, trains can be one of the most enjoyable ways to explore a new country, with their slower pace and more civilized atmosphere.

More and more travelers are now rediscovering the magic of trains, and luckily, supply is meeting demand. Countries are investing in their rail networks as a viable source of tourism revenue, and promoting off-the-beaten-path destinations as stop-offs along the way. Want to wander through Vienna en route to Stockholm? Or spend two weeks visiting natural wonders in western USA? These new train routes could be worth looking into.

Since 1911, intrepid passengers have cruised inland along the Noyo River aboard the California Western Railroad, a 40-mile route between Fort Bragg, CA and Willits, CA. The rail service was originally created to ferry timber to and from the Pacific Coast, and indeed the route itself winds through stunning redwood forests in the Noyo River Canyon. These days, the ‘Skunk Train,’ as it’s commonly known (thanks to a pungent odor emitted by the old trains’ exhaust gases), is one of the state’s most popular train routes, despite its brevity. A tunnel collapse earlier this year forced a temporary closure, but as of this month, the one-of-a-kind historic rail service is open to passengers once more. Choose from a Saturday evening “Sunset BBQ Excursion,” ($70) which involves a stop-off in Northspur Station, or a simple 4-hour trek between Fort Bragg and Willits ($49). Read more

Four Hour Layover in BeijingIf you travel to Asia with Air China, you may find yourself with a few hours’ layover time in Beijing. It used to be that strict visa requirements would make it tricky for passengers in transit to leave the airport; but that changed when, earlier this year, a new policy allowing citizens of 45 countries, including the U.S., up to 72 hours of visa-free transit was enacted.

Even if you can’t stretch your layover to the full, allowable 72 hours, we have suggestions for what you can do in a much shorter time. Read more

East BeijingFor many travelers, having plentiful amenities within arms reach makes for a great trip. Those who travel abroad would rather not squander downtime – or cash – trying to hunt down a bite to eat or a place to relax. For lovers of art, hearty meals, and fat wallets, guests at Beijing’s EAST hotel may find their business trip to be, dare we say, fun.

With the admittedly strange slogan of “a business hotel with a life,” Swire Hotels’ EAST, Beijing opened on September 24 in the Jiangtai area of the Chinese capital’s Chaoyang District. Rooms range from 323 to 753 square feet, with walk-in rain showers and free Wi-Fi throughout the property. Through December 31, rooms are $128, plus a 15-percent service charge. Read more

Peninsula Hong Kong dim sumGlobal travel exposes us to all sorts of cheap eats from roadside vendors, whether it’s dim sum in Hong Kong (pictured) or a hot dog with relish in New York City. New this spring, Peninsula Hotels gives a nod to this kind of street food with room service menu items called “Snacks & the City.” I’d like to know what street cart is selling Kobe beef sliders and fries with truffle aioli, like the Peninsula Chicago, or filet mignon hoagies, like the Peninsula Beverly Hills. Also, buying “street food” on the street is kind of half the fun. However, as room-service options these new menu items really spice up the old stand-bys, and they’re available 24 hours a day (unlike food trucks or street vendors). Though prices may start at street fare levels of around $3, expect to pay a bit more for many of the upscale delights. Participating Peninsula locations also include Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Bangkok, and Manila.

Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates and travel deals on hotels, flights, vacation packages, and more.


Travelers looking to know the soul of a destination need not look further than its lifeline – the flowing waters of its river, from which nourishment, trade, transport, recreation, and more nods to cultured civilization have all sprung forth. Riverboat cruises, long popular with Europeans, are experiencing a surge of interest on storied waterways around the globe, thanks to the intimate and enriching destination approach they provide on routes impossible to replicate by any other means. Leave the over-the-top, Vegas-style mega-ships out at sea, and parking and traffic headaches back on land. Instead, opt to cruise the meandering rivers of a region’s heartland aboard small ships, ranging from luxury riverboats to vintage paddle wheelers. Every river bend reveals a destination’s new face, courtesy of a constantly shuffled deck of quaint riverside towns, historic monuments, and pristine countryside.

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Great WallDreaming of an exotic vacation to China, but don’t have enough money or time? Maximize both with this incredible two-city package from China Spree. For just $899 this January or February, get non-stop, round-trip flights from San Francisco (other gateways available), round-trip air from Beijing to Shanghai, luxury hotels, many meals, guided tours and entrance fees.

This Two Great Cities Package includes:

  • Non-stop, round-trip airfare from San Francisco [non-stop from New York City available for $1,229, or fly via San Francisco from DC or Chicago ($1,199) or Houston ($1,149)] to Beijing
  • Round-trip flights from Beijing to Shanghai
  • 6 nights’ 4-star hotel accommodation
  • Daily American breakfast, 4 lunches, and 1 dinner
  • Guided tours and many entrance fees including: a tour of Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City, a rickshaw ride through hutongs (traditional neighborhood alleys), a visit to a courtyard home and local market, a dumpling making demonstration, the Sacred Way of Ming Tombs, the Great Wall of China, the Temple of Heaven (featuring Ming architecture),  the Summer Palace, a 16th-century bazaar, the skyscrapers of Pudong, and the Oriental Pearl Tower (with 360-degree city views).

THE VALUE: Flights alone in January and February are around $900 just to Beijing, and the hotels included in the package cost over $880 for six-nights. Factor in the included domestic air, tours, and meals, and this deal saves close to $1,000 per person.

THE CATCH: You’ll pay an extra $257 to cover not-included air taxes and China visa fees. Also, prices are based on paying by check or money order — booking by credit card will cost $200 extra.

THE DETAILS: To book your stay, visit China Spree’s website. This deal is available until sold out.

WE’VE GOT MORE: Start planning your vacation with our China Travel Guide.

Forbidden City BeijingSHERMAN’S EXCLUSIVE

The Luxury Top China tour specialist Wendy Wu Tours offers a 12-night sampler itinerary mixing well-known attractions with lesser-known charms. A China Experience for Smart Luxury Travel readers includes a mainland visit and a Hong Kong extension, with excursions led by expert local guides. Highlights include the Terracotta Warriors in Xian, the Forbidden City in Beijing, and cosmopolitan Shanghai.

The Value Rates start at $2,880 and include airfare from LA or New York, stays at four-star hotels, most meals, tours, entertainment, transfers, and visa fees. Readers will receive perks totaling $320, including a spa package and a guided day trip to Macau or a sunset dinner cruise in Hong Kong.

The Catch The group tours typically include 20 or fewer travelers. An upgrade to a private tour runs an extra $800 a person.

The Details 877-993-6399 (mention Smart Luxury Travel);

From the Winter 2010/2011 issue of Smart Luxury Travel magazine by

For general trip-planning information, see our China Travel Guide.

opposite-house.jpgThe Luxury Clad in paneled emerald glass, this 99-room hotel was designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma with a singular artistic aim: to transplant the outdoors into an interior hotel space. Dressed in brushed oak, and red and black tinted glass, The Opposite House‘s signature feature is an open six-floor atrium. Guest rooms are minimally designed with crème paneling and bedding, and oak-wood floors and furnishings. The open layout maximizes space, with neat touches including complimentary Wi-Fi and minibar, iPod docks connected to Bosch ceiling speakers, and a spa-inspired shower room with Ba Yan Ka La bathroom goodies. Guests enjoy a complimentary guided cultural walk of Beijing on Saturdays. Read more

chinaworldsummit.jpgShangri-La’s newest Beijing property, the China World Summit Wing, is rushing towards a December debut in the main tower of the landmark China World Trade Centre (pictured).  Soaring 81 stories over the city’s bustling business district and directly opposite the (almost) equally elevated Park Hyatt Beijing (which opened a year ago this month), the tower is currently Beijing’s tallest. The Tihany-designed hotel, perched atop the loftiest floors (starting at 64), is set to offer some seriously unsurpassed views of the country’s capital city.

The 80th-floor Atmosphere bar and 77th-floor CHI spa will both be the highest such facilities in Beijing – with an observation deck, aptly dubbed The Peak, located on level 81 (and featuring private dining). All 278 guestrooms and suites (among the city’s largest at 700 square feet) wouldn’t be complete without floor-to-ceiling windows, free Wi-Fi (bet on unbeatable signal strength), Nespresso machines, walk-in closets, and 17-inch TV screens sleekly embedded in the bathroom mirrors. An indoor infinity pool and outdoor rooftop pine garden provide relaxing respites, with a Japanese eaterie, high-end Chinese-Cantonese restaurant, and New York grill rounding out the facilities food-wise. Ooh la-La…

tiananmensqcathaypacific.jpgDespite China’s 21st century emergence as a major economic power, a lot of the country still remains hidden behind closed doors . . . but not for long. On September 23, Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific launched brand new China Experience tours designed by local experts to provide unparalleled VIP access to normally off-limits attractions. Starting at $3,000 a pop, these all-inclusive, ultra-exclusive expeditions offer behind-the-scenes peaks of protected heritage sites scattered throughout Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai – like The Forbidden City’s Imperial Palace tea room, Xian’s national treasure vault, and Pit #5 of the famous Terracotta Warrior Museum (normally only open to archeologists). In addition to dining with locals in a traditional courtyard (“hutong”) and taking private tai-chi lessons, visitors can explore the better-known Great Wall and Tiananmen Square (pictured). Read more


china-great-wall-big-edit.jpgDiscover the amazing culture of one of the world’s oldest civilizations on this affordable tour through historic China. This popular 10-day itinerary from Friendly Planet Travel covers three fascinating cities – all for the low price of only $999. Begin your tour in the cultural capital of Beijing, where you’ll have four full days to explore renowned sites like Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the extraordinary Great Wall of China. Next, board a transfer flight to ancient Xi’an, home to the life-sized army of 2,200-year-old Terra Cotta Warriors. Round out your tour with several days spent in bustling Shanghai, renowned for its gorgeous gardens and picturesque canals. A full-day optional sightseeing trip includes tours of the renowned Shanghai Museum and the soaring 1,536-foot-high Oriental Pearl TV Tower. The trip includes round-trip airfare on Air China, transfers, and many meals, with various departures available throughout 2009. Package rates normally start at $1,299, but you’ll save $600 per couple if you book before September 23.

shanghai2-edit.jpgJet of on an exciting tour of China with this air-inclusive offer available from SmarTours. This 8-night adventure combines two fascinating cities, Beijing and Shanghai, and includes round-trip airfare from San Francisco and all local flights. Begin your trip with a few nights at the upscale Marriott Courtyard Beijing Hotel, conveniently located just steps from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Head out on your own to explore the 3000-year-old city or choose from several optional guided excursions. Tours include a full day sightseeing with visits to the legendary Great Wall and Ming Dynasty tombs ($60), a full-day tour of the labyrinthine old city ($60), and a traditional Peking Duck dinner and Opera performance ($45). Next, you’ll board your transfer flight to bustling Shanghai, China’s largest city, for a stay at the modern Holiday Inn Shanghai Vista Hotel. Round out your tour exploring the city’s colorful markets and temples on your own, or try an optional guided excursion to Suzhou, the nearby Yangtze River city known as the “Venice of the East.” This tour starts at just $799, with various departures available throughout 2009. Book by July 21 to save up to $800 per couple; reservations made after this deadline cost $400 more per person. 

Wxyz bar at Aloft hotelIan Schrager may have sparked a flame in 1984 with the Morgans hotel in New York City, but the watershed for the boutique hotel genre wasn’t until 1998, when Starwood launched its hip W brand. The boutique model – design-conscious, intimate, unique to its location – took off, and big brands have been trying to get a piece of the success ever since.

Starwood recently launched another group, Aloft (pictured at right), with rates on a par with budget chains (around $150/night) and loftlike rooms by David Rockwell, with high ceilings, large windows, and lots of gadgets. As with W hotels, there’s an emphasis on hangout spots, such as a self-serve gourmet café and a pool area with WiFi. Nineteen Alofts opened in 2008 (Montreal, Philadelphia, and Beijing were a few of the first), and about 30 are slated for 2009. Read more

By: Gary Bowerman

iStock International

Shrouded in equal parts mystery and modernity, China is a country on the verge. In 2008, it will host the Olympics, and within a decade, experts say, it will become the world’s most-visited nation. Which is why now – right now, before the crowds descend – is the best time to visit.
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