SIDE TRIPS

Low-fare Asia

Low-cost airlines are offering cheap flights to places previously off your radar. All you need is a couple of twenties and a couple of hours.

a waitress

(Andrew Rowat)

Macau, China

Tiger Airways from Manila: $78 round trip, 105 minutes (tigerairways.com)

A former Portuguese colony that's now part of China, Macau is becoming increasingly famous for its gambling scene. Gambling has been legal there for well over a century, but in recent years, the stakes have risen: The city's casinos raked in about $6 billion in revenue last year, just under the amount earned along the Las Vegas Strip.

If you're not into gaming, you're not out of luck. The main square, Largo do Senado, is cobblestoned in a wavy mosaic and reserved for pedestrians. Colonial-era buildings house chain stores and restaurants, but the side streets still have cafés with Portuguese menus. At night, the casinos glow with neon, and the surrounding bars and discos fill up.

Accommodations can be a challenge: Decent hotels are pricey, cheap ones sleazy. Taipa and Colôane, laid-back islands to the south (but still part of Macau), offer budget- and family-friendly accommodations. The new Hotel Taipa Square has a small pool and easy access to a bus that goes to the main island; in a taxi, the 15-minute ride costs $6 (Rua de Chaves, Taipa, 011-853/839-933, taipasquare.com.mo, from $65). Alternately, the Westin, on Colôane, is on the beach, with a large swimming pool (1918 Estrada de Hac Sa, Colôane, 011-853/871-111, westin-macau.com, from $160). Also on Colôane is Fernando's, an informal beachside restaurant that's popular with Western expats from Hong Kong, about an hour away via an $18 high-speed ferry (9 Praia de Hac Sa, Colôane, 011-853/882-264, dinner for two $40).

Kuching, Malaysia

Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur: $54 round trip, 105 minutes (airasia.com)

Kuching is the capital of Sarawak, an eastern Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. It feels like Singapore--clean, green, and steamy.

The compact city center is on the south bank of the Sarawak River, and a shady walkway runs along the riverfront. The narrow streets are home to 19th-century buildings spared during WWII. When the humidity gets unbearable, find respite in the air-conditioned Sarawak Museum, which has handicrafts from the region's ethnic tribes and, less expectedly, an exhibit on the petroleum industry's local activities (Jalan Tun Haji Openg, 011-60/82-244-232, free).

Another way to cool off is with a lime-like kalamansi juice ($1) at the James Brooke Bistro & Café, an open-walled spot with river views (Kuching Waterfront, Main Bazaar St., 011-60/82-412-120). Follow locals into the food courts for the best fare; the third floor of Tun Jugah, a modern shopping mall, has a stand with great laksa (noodles with shredded chicken, bean sprouts, and prawns in a spicy coconut soup, $2). Trendy types in Kuching hang out at Bing!, an espresso bar with free Wi-Fi (84 Jalan Padungan, 011-60/82-421-880, latte $2.30).

Stay at the Hilton Kuching, which has an ideal location downtown on the riverside (Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, 011-60/82-248-200, kuching.hilton.com, from $72).

Lampang, Thailand

PB Air from Bangkok: $140 round trip, 1 hour (pbair.com)

In decidedly mellow Lampang, horse-drawn carriages share the road with regular traffic, and pickup trucks with benches serve as taxis.

Most hotels are on the shabby side, but the Wienglakor Hotel has an elegant folk-art theme (138/25 Phaholyothin Rd., 011-66/54-224-4701, wienglakor.com, from $29).

Authentic Thai massages can be had at the leafy Lampang Medicinal Plants Conservation Assembly, which also sells locally made soaps and teas (177 Moo 12 Ban Khan Mueang Rd., 011-66/54-313-128, hour-long massage $4). Lampang is home to a dozen or so temples, including the majestic Wat Phra That Lampang Luang--probably the world's best example of Lanna architecture. Another temple, Wat Phra Kaeo Don Tao, displays a mixture of influences throughout its buildings, including Lanna (flaring, layered roofs) and Burmese (filigreed woodwork, steeply tiered roofs).

Things pick up at night. Bars and discos are clustered around the corner of Thakhrao Noi and Wiang Lakhon Roads, and the Assawin night market sells northern Thai snacks like moo yor (steamed, minced pork sausage). For a sit-down meal, B.B. Coffee, in front of Huen Sai Kum Village, serves seafood fried rice in a scooped-out pineapple ($2) on a sunny patio (bb-coffee.com).

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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