Live Talk Transcript: Southeast Asia
Writer Matthew Link answered your questions on traveling to Southeast Asia.
Matthew answered your questions Tuesday, August 31, at 1 p.m. EST.
Matthew Link was destined to be a travel writer, having grown up on his father's 52-foot sailboat during his teenage years, cruising around Southeast Asia and the Pacific. He has at various times called Hong, Kong, the Philippines, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand home (not to mention more hum-drum spots like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and London). His last stint was on the Big Island of Hawaii for five years, where he wrote and published his own guidebooks to the islands, Rainbow Handbook Hawaii. Link has produced award-winning social documentaries which have shown in film festivals and on PBS stations, and he is also an avid kayaker, hiker, snowboarder, and skin diver. Africa is his all-time favorite travel destination, and he has visited Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Egypt, and Ghana.
Matthew Link: Hi everyone! Thanks for your questions we'll get right to them.
Castro Valley, CA: Matthew, Trying to find a low price airfare to India. Also looking for any other way to get to India, maybe through Hong Kong?
Matthew Link: The best company we've found for roundtrips to India from the U.S. is Hari World. Established over 30 years ago in Canada, this company serves the ex-pat Indian community in North America, offering them great deals that anyone else can enjoy too. Don't hold me to it, but in the past they have quoted me roughly $800 for a roundtrip from New York to Delhi. They have offices in Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Toronto and New Delhi, with plans to open ones in Boston, Washington, and Miami later in the year. You can contact their office in San Francisco at 510/795-5000 or go to hariworld.com.
Air India (airindia.com) also offers a "Companion Free Scheme" which gets you a free coach ticket when someone flies from the U.S. to India at Executive Class level. The passengers need to fly on the outbound flight together, but can return to the States at different times. The deal is good until March 31, 2005, and certain restrictions apply.
When I lived in Hong Kong in the early '90s, it was a cheap place to get onward airplane tickets throughout Asia. Now, Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the world according to surveys, and I think it will be cheaper and easier for you to fly directly to India, since Air India now has flights three times a week from L.A. (which just started in June), and you fly via Frankfurt anyway.
New York, NY: When is the best time to visit China? Which cities have the best food in China?
Matthew Link: China covers many different regions and ecosystems, but generally speaking has hot summers and unpleasant winters, making spring and fall the best times for traveling there. Hong Kong in the south is muggy and humid in summer, and Beijing can be freezing in winter -- but even spring and fall can be wet, so don't blame me! ;-) Although Chinese New Year is like Mardi Gras (without the nudity), this time period (usually around February) can be packed and hard to find rooms, so book early.
Chinese food varies much more than what you find in North America. So it really depends on what you like. Northern Chinese cuisine tends to be more spicy, while Shanghainese food is emphasizes seafood. In my view, Hong Kong has the most developed restaurant scene in Asia, with everything from street food stalls (licensed and kept hygienic by the government), to five-star restaurants mainly found in the city's awesome hotels. It also has the most Western types of food for the unadventurous!
When traveling in China, especially in rural areas, be careful of anything fried, since a lot of cooking oil in China is rancid and foreigners often get very sick.
Fort Bragg, NC: I was recently in Thailand and had a domestic beer, but I can't remember the name of it. I think it means "elephant" in Thai. Can you refresh my memory?
Matthew Link: Now here's a questions right up my alley! I think the brew you mean is Beer Chang, which is brewed in Thailand under license from Carlsberg, and is their equivalent of the European Elephant Beer. It's probably the cheapest and most potent beer in Thailand -- some bars won't even serve it! There's also Super Lion (also called Leo Beer or Super Leo). It's another rather strong local brew that takes people by surprise. Super Lion was recently rebranded "Beer Thai," but it's essentially the same stuff. According to Bangkok Bob (bangkokbob.net), Super Lion is "good for cleaning paintbrushes, so don't spill it on varnished wood though, but if you can't get to sleep try a bottle of either Chang or Leo, it should put you out!"