5 top city breaks

SHAFQUAT ALI checks out exciting holiday options in the Far East
Kuala Lumpur

WHETHER it’s good old Bangkok, the bright and shining Hong Kong, the shopper’s paradise that’s Singapore, the newest attraction Kuala Lumpur or, for that matter, towering Tokyo, Far Eastern cities are among the most preferred leisure destinations for visitors from the Middle East.

These destinations became the obvious choice for travellers from the region post-9/11 and travel agents and tour operators raked it in.
However, there was a temporary setback in the face SARS but now, once again, travellers from the region are flocking to the Far East. For one, they are relatively cheaper than European destinations, given the cultural diversity in these places, there’s so much to see and one can easily stopover in more than a couple of cities. But that’s not all. Far Eastern airlines are forever offering reduced air fares and special deals enticing visitors to their respective countries.
TTN highlights what the top five cities in the Far East have to offer:

HONG KONG: My personal favourite. Even though I miss not landing at the Kai Tak Airport – as a child, the first time I landed there, I remember yelling out thinking the pilot had landed in the water after avoiding crashing into the skyscrapers!
Never mind. Over the years, a lot has changed in Hong Kong beginning with the brand new Hong Kong International Airport. And the good news is that things have only got better. The famous island of Hong Kong comprises only one third of the destination – a  mile across the harbour is the Kowloon peninsula, the New Territories and more than 260 outlying islands.
Known as the famous ‘City of Life’, Hong Kong combines the best of the past and present as modern living jostles with diverse cultures, open-air markets and ancient traditions stand its own against luxury brands and designerwear in the world’s most famous harbour!
It may buzzing with activity 24/7 and swarming with people, but you can get your moments of calm at religious places and quiet corners of parks. While in Hong Kong, don’t miss the vantage point of Victoria Peak, overlooking the world’s busiest deepwater port. Still the best thing about Hong Kong is that despite its British colonial past, it has always stuck to its roots.
SINGAPORE: Top favourite for Middle East travellers. Not surprising then that every country in the region wants to become the Singapore of the Middle East!
The ‘Crossroads of Asia’, Singapore is a bustling, cosmopolitan community of Malay, Chinese and Indian races, cultures and cuisines. It is, in fact, a city, an island and a country. Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore on the Singapore River, which is still the heart of the city, encompassing the central business district and the popular entertainment and dining precinct along the quays. Whether it’s shopping malls – Singapore is the ultimate shopper’s paradise – or the colonial past or the theme parks and water rides of Sentosa Island, that you are looking for, Singapore has something for everyone. Still, there’s one thing that you cannot find anywhere in Singapore: uncleanliness!

BANGKOK: Okay, there’s more to Bangkok than its famous nightlife. Thailand represents the exoticism of the East and Bangkok, a lively mixture of both ancient and modern, it is the nerve centre of the country. The best thing about this city is that it has managed to retain its traditional charm amidst the myriad of night markets, discos and bars. Another thing to die-for here is – yes, you guessed it – its great variety of food. Even though some of the best food is often found on the streets rather than glitzy restaurants, the problem is that you may not exactly know what’s in your mouth even though it tastes swell.
Apparently, there’s talk that the city is sinking at a rate of 5cm every year, but I would prefer to ignore that. For me, the only way that the city will go is: up!

KUALA LUMPUR: The newest attraction in the Far East. Thanks to The Petronas Twin Towers – they were the tallest buildings in the world until October, last year, when Taipei 101 (Financial Centre) was topped out at 508m – Kuala Lumpur firmly established itself in the world map. And The Petronas Twin Towers is not an isolated example. In 130 years, it has grown from nothing to a modern, bustling city of almost two million with gleaming skyscrapers.
Kuala Lumpur is the perfect example of the triumph of the Asian tigers. But despite its race for modernisation, it still manages to retain much of the local colour and tradition that has been more or less wiped out in other booming Asian boom cities. With a large Muslim population, it is also a place where Middle Eastern travellers feel very much much at home.

TOKYO: It is known as one of the most expensive cities in the world but if you can afford it, Tokyo is a not-to-be-missed destination. A combination of cities within a city, Tokyo is huge. And worry not, you don’t have to speak Japanese to get around the city – after all, Japan is the world’s most educated country and Tokyo, its capital city!
Despite shoebox housing estates and congested office blocks, Tokyo remains a fine example of the sheer triumph of human spirit. From gentle old ladies in kimonos to polite pinstriped executives in plush offices, everyone is willing to go out of their way and help you discover the ‘real’ Tokyo. A Tokyo which has a life of its own and, away from frenetic madness, you can get a hold of the Zen thing! To make things better the streets are clean, the trains are punctual and street crime is non-existent.