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Most Americans thinking of overseas travel the first time head for Europe, and the experience is almost always pleasant enough to keep them coming back on future trips. A lucky minority, however, want to visit lands that are more exotic, with something different to say to them, and these folks (of which I am one) keep returning to Asia. Fall and winter are great times to visit Southeast Asia, with weather less hot than the rest of the year.
You've read about the AccessAsia Pass from Malaysia Airlines before in this space, but here are the details again: From only $747, you can fly round-trip between Newark and Kuala Lumpur or between Los Angeles and Kuala Lumpur, plus travel to any or all of the other 24 listed cities within a 30-day period.
With more than 22 years in business under its skin, Tara Tours continues to specialize in Central and South American vacations, one of its best being also the cheapest. How does Guatemala for $699 sound to you, airfare from Miami, 5 nights, and tours included?
Out in super gorgeous Oregon, the city that should call itself "the kinder, gentler Portland" is casting around for visitors to get its tourist industry safely through what promises to be a long, hard winter (economically, that is--Portland remains a consummately moderate place in temperature throughout the year). So they've initiated, again, their "Big Deal" program, featuring discounts at hotels, attractions, restaurants and retail establishments.
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Reader's Voice
Robin Morris--"We took Smartours' 'China and the Yangtze River' tour in July. The Forbidden City/Summer Palace and Great Wall/Ming Tombs days sound like the exact same tours we took. They are both HIGHLY recommended. The Old Beijing tour isn't part of what we did, but based on the description sounds like it would be worthwhile; the hutongs sounded intriguing, but we didn't have time to see them. The Temple of Heaven was beautiful and a must see. I would leave off the Opera performance and Peking Duck Dinner; the food was ok, but the performance was a disappointment to us. (Our guide did a good job of 'building it DOWN,' but it's an acquired taste)."
Cindy Shafer--"We just got back from spending 2 1/2 weeks in Thailand including a 4 day/3 night trek north of Chiang Mai. We had a great time and I would definitely recommend that you do one. We went with The Trekking Collective (this was mentioned in the Frommer's travel guide) which we would recommend. Our guide Chang, who owns the company along with his wife Caroline, has 25 years experience and speaks good English. Our trek went much farther north (near the Burma border) than most other treks we investigated. In these villages, the people went about their normal routine. No one dressed in costumes, begged or tried to sell trinkets (the children in two villages did sell us handicrafts that their mothers made but this was limited to 15 minutes after dinner). You should be aware though that 'trekking' means hiking 4-6 miles a day on steep, muddy paths while carrying a 25 pound backpack in hot, humid conditions. In addition, the villages are very primative--no electricity, basic plumbing (each house has an Asian style toliet and a water tap). There are pigs, chickens, cats and dogs running around the yard. Taking a bath comprises of pouring water over you (incredibly refreshing after a hard days hike!) or sudsing up in the river. Despite all of that we enjoyed each village and the people we met. The people are friendly and welcoming. Each place we stayed sold bottled water (take powdered gatorade), beer and soda. In addition, Chang carried in the food and made really delicious stir fried meals with fresh veggies."
Martha Wagner--"A couple of additonal suggestions. If you go up the Oregon coast, a must is an overnight or two at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport. This is a casual, friendly, no TV kind of hotel famed for its book lovers theme. Each room is in the style of a well-known author and the place oozes charm, plus has wonderful dinners and breakfasts served family style. And it's right on the beach. In Portland, even more important than seeing the Japanese Garden is the new Chinese Classical Garden, a replica of a traditional garden in a city I cannot spell, but a fabulous place to see. It is right in Old Town, with fabulous plantings and stones brought from China. Another must for Portland visitors is a trip 20 minutes east of town to Edgefield, a McMenamins brewpub/Bed and Breakfast that was once a county poor farm. Fabulous gardens, tucked away bars, a movie theatre, a restaurant and pub, quite unique. I take visitors there often, usually in warm months for outdoor eating and strolling. If you love Farmers Markets, Portland has many that operate into early October."

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