North America's Best Budget Spas

June 4, 2005
Plus four other high-quality, low-cost spas in Mexico

Why pay $4,000 a week when all you receive at lunch are a carrot-raisin salad and a tiny baked apple? When the "program" consists of your own physical exertions in jogging, bending, stretching, and leaping? When "optional entertainment" consists of a five-mile hike along mountain trails that are free of charge to all?

Too many Americans have been discouraged from booking a spa vacation by the frightening rates of the famous resorts--the only ones of which you hear. At the elegant Golden Door and Canyon Ranch, at Cal-A-Vie and Doral's Saturnia, prices do indeed often start at $4,000 for a week and quickly climb from there. Even at the several well-known "budget" versions of the glitzy names (Rancho La Puerta, Heartwood), weekly rates average $2,000 to $4,000 to which a hefty airfare need be added.

Unadvertised, and largely unknown outside their immediate areas, are at least 30 locally marketed spas in every region of the nation that, in my opinion, will provide you with the very same reductions of weight and stress, the very same toning of muscles and spirit, for under $1,300 a week, and often for considerably less than that.

They deserve to be better known. For as modest as they may look, these spas provide the very same well-planned meals totaling 900 to 1,200 calories per day, the same hyperactive regimen of group aerobics and individual workouts, the same walks in the open country air, the same instruction in proper nutrition and behavior modification.

The best establishments I've found are listed below. Unless otherwise noted, the rates cited are for a full seven-day stay in establishments with active programs of exercise and instruction, and serving nothing other than low-calorie meals. Below the American spas, we've included a section on low-cost spas in Mexico. Ground costs at these foreign spas can often be even cheaper than in the States, but be sure to factor in the additional costs of airfare before booking.

Southern spas

Tennessee Fitness Spa, near Waynesboro, Tennessee, is surely the cheapest of all, and yet one of the best. The site: an attractive, hilly, woodsy setting in western Tennessee, 95 miles southwest of Nashville, where it runs you ragged with morning-till-night exercise sessions, water "aerobics" in the pool, and fast-striding hikes designed for a rather youthful clientele, though offered to persons of all ages. And it provides precisely the same sort of program for which other ritzier spas charge $2,000 and $3,000 a week. But the Tennessee Fitness Spa charges as little as $700 per person for a week in a quad room (including all meals and exercise classes), $815 per person in a double  -- and the two-story, motel-like lodgings are tastefully decorated, comfortable and scrupulously clean. On my own recent visit to it I found it supplied good value for the money and excellent program of fitness classes. Though the food was not delicious, it was certainly limited in calories. Contact Tennessee Fitness Spa, 299 Natural Bridge Park Road, Waynesboro, TN 38485, phone 800/235-8365, e-mail; website

Runner-up in terms of cost: Regency House Natural Health Spa. The strict "vegan-vegetarian" menu here pretty much says it all: this place prides itself on coaching guests in the rules of healthy living. A cheerful, 60-room spa, it focuses on the "big picture," gearing its programs towards anyone looking for long-term lifestyle changes in weight control, nutrition, and fitness. You'll start your day with a brisk "walk for health" along the beachfront of this South Florida spa. A rigorous schedule of aerobics and health lectures follows in the afternoon. Workout programs range from aquatic activities in the pool and ocean (weather permitting) to "basic training boot camp" to evening dance classes. Yoga and meditation classes are held just before dinner. During the off-season (June 1 to October 5), a week in a standard double room starts at $995 per person (singles pay $200 more); from December to April, the peak of the year prices average $1,295/person for the same room. Your stay at the spa includes three meals daily, all lectures and activities, as well as two spa services. For information or reservations, contact Regency House Natural Health Spa, 2000 South Ocean Drive, Hallandale Beach, Florida 33009, phone 800/454-0003 or 954/454-2220.View the Web site at

East coast spas

The New Age Health Spa, of Neversink, New York (in the Catskill Mountains), 2 1/2 hours by car from New York City. Though innovative and open-minded, it is no more "New Age" than many other classic spas I've visited, and it is scarcely different from other, far more expensive resorts. The facilities are extensive (indoor and outdoor pool, whirlpool, well-equipped exercise rooms, saunas, etc.), meals are high quality but meant to ensure weight loss, rooms are rustic and plain but entirely pleasant, management is passionate (not to say fanatical) about current-day theories of good nutrition (low fat, low sodium, low calorie) and exercise, and the setting -- on a hillside overlooking a vast expanse of other rolling green hills -- is as awesome as you'd wish. New Age has gotten more expensive over the years, now starting at $194/night per person. But for the quality of the program, this small splurge should be worth it. For further details, contact the New Age Health Spa, Route 55, Neversink, NY 12765 (phone 800/682-4348,

Deerfield Spa, in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, 1 1/2 hour from New York City, has rates of $1,000 to $1,160 per person double and $1,295 for single rooms. This is a large and sprawling country home on 12 acres of Pocono forest that offers comfortable air-conditioned rooms with private bath, several lounges, a heated outdoor pool and separate gym, carefully prepared meals averaging 1,000 calories daily, a small but caring staff of physical therapists, and a full-scale program of aerobics and body workouts, extensive hiking, swimming exercises, and yoga and relaxation techniques. Book and music libraries supplement a video collection for quiet evenings leading to an early bedtime. Mainly for women, but occasionally booked by men and couples, Deerfield is open from early-April to early-November only. For details, write or call Deerfield Spa, 650 Resica Falls Road, East Stroudsburg, PA 18301 (phone 570/223-0160, or toll free 800/852-4494,, email:

One half-hour east of Hartford, The Spa at Grand Lake is no longer strictly a diet spa; while its nutrition and exercise programs can be tailored for weight-loss, visitors often come to de-stress and relax on the 75 acres of countryside. Included in your stay at Grand Lake are room, board, exercise classes, use of all facilities (which include an Olympic-sized swimming pool outdoors; a junior heated swimming pool indoors, jacuzzi, and sauna), plus a nightly half-hour massage. For those who want to shed a few pounds, meals can be portioned and calorie-counted, and a wide range of classes, from kickboxing to pilates to trail-hiking, are offered to complete the fitness package. Dinners are regularly served by candlelight and abide by the mantra of health: lots of veggies and low fat, low sugar, low salt. The spa is open April through December with the same rate all year. Prices bottom out at $1079 per week for standard double rooms. Singles pay $200 more in any season. For full rates and info, go to or contact The Spa at Grand Lake, 1667 Exeter Road, Lebanon, CT 06249, phone 800/THE-SPA1 (843-7721) or 860/642-4306 e-mail

California and Utah

The Palms at Palm Springs, in Palm Springs, California, a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, has weekly rates from September to June of $1,113/week per person double (plus 14% service charge) with shared bath, $1,393 with private bath, and $1,750 for a single. As glamorous as you might wish, located in an area of elegant resorts, the Palms offers you a choice of 16 optional fitness classes a day in addition to meals limited to a spartan but well-balanced 1,000 calories per day, which virtually guarantees a daily weight loss of nearly a pound. Though it only barely fits within our budget standards, the Palms' desert mountainscape and good-quality lodgings make it a value. These prices also include two complimentary spa treatments (facial, massage, body wrap, or private fitness instruction). For details, contact The Palms at Palm Springs, 572 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92262 (phone 800/753-PALM or 760/325-1111, email: or Web:

The Red Mountain Spa in Utah (southwest corner of the state, some 120 miles north of Las Vegas) is a collection of hotel rooms and high-end villas on the desert floor of red sandstone canyons. Also on the higher end of the budget scale (prices start at $1,645 per person per week in a double occupancy, and higher still for singles), yet remarkably well-equipped and with a serious approach to nutrition that for many results in permanent weight loss. "For the price we charge," says the institute's owner, "we are the number one fitness resort of the world." Amazingly enough, I have heard similar raves from several people who paid recent visits. Guests work out on the most modern sports equipment, swim in a large heated indoor pool, go on guided hikes or rock climb, engage in numerous exercise classes daily, eat meals designed to cut fat and cholesterol, and often experience dramatic reductions in blood pressure and clothing sizes. Contact Red Mountain Spa, 1275 East Red Mountain Circle, Ivins, Utah 84738, phone 800/407-3002. Web:

The Oaks at Ojai, 50 miles east of Santa Barbara, California. Sister spa to the renovating Palms at Palm Springs, The Oaks average $169 a night per person in double rooms to a stiff $309, all plus a 14 percent service charge, make this a high-end budget selection. Impressive in both its fervor and facilities, the rustic (beamed ceilings, stone fireplaces) but elegant Oaks is a fitting country-inn addition to the art colony town of Ojai, offering a remarkable program of nearly 16 daily exercise classes and lectures. Meals are frequently gourmet in quality, but made without salt, white sugar, or white flour and containing a total of only 1,000 calories daily. Equipment and exercise areas are of top quality, as is the large staff that attends to a varied clientele of both sexes and all ages. Weekly packages included two spa treatments per person in the rate (see above). For more information, contact The Oaks at Ojai, 122 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, CA 93023 (phone 800/753-OAKS,


Rio Caliente, Mexico: In the valley of a remote pine forest about an hour by taxi from the airport of Guadalajara, Rio Caliente is Mexico's holistic-health-inclined, yoga-oriented, New Age-style spa and mineral hot springs. Guests--who represent a broad range of ages, backgrounds and interests--"take the waters" in one of four heavily salted (of lithium and selenium) and mineral-rich pools or in a natural steam room; alternate between meditation, yoga, tai-chi, aquatic and non-impact aerobics, or hiking; and consume a slimming, vegetarian diet low in sodium and fat. Rio Caliente offers various forms of both swedish and regular massages. Bear in mind that the social program and setting are not for swingers or other standard resort types; that children under 16 are not admitted; and that a pervasive, stress-free hush prevails over the 30 acres of stunning terrain, in a constantly moderate climate. For all this, you pay only $128 or so dollars a day for room (based on double occupancy, $152 for a single) and all three meals, and a remarkable $49 for each one-hour massage, $16 for detoxifying mudwraps. Request bookings or brochures from Spa Vacations Ltd., P.O. Box 897, Millbrae, CA 94030 (phone 800/200-2927), e-mail:,

Ixtapan, Mexico: The closest Mexican equivalent to our own luxury spas, the large (250 suites) and well-equipped Ixtapan Resort Hotel and Spa takes pains to limit its spa guests to 1,100 calories a day of well-prepared diet meals. On the all-inclusive, Sunday-to-Sunday spa program costing only $120 per person per night single occupancy, and $150 double, guests take a daily morning walk followed by aquatic exercise, steam bath and daily massage, facial, and gymnastics. Then, three times a week, and also included in the price, they receive mudwraps and loofa baths, hair treatment, manicures, and pedicures, yoga, and swedish massages, staying all the while in attractive junior suites that would cost far more in the U.S. Don't confuse this location with Ixtapa on the Pacific coast; this is near Ixtapan de la Sal, south of Mexico City, and also near the silver-producing city of Taxco. For brochures or bookings, call 800/638-7950 or visit

Avandaro Golf and Spa Resort: In the Sierra Madre mountains, near the colonial town of Valle de Bravo, it takes a rather relaxed approach to health, favoring rest over exercise (though there's plenty of the latter, together with tennis courts, pool, golf, sailing, and horseback riding), massage over treadmills. And there are jacuzzis everywhere, saunas and steam rooms, high-pressure massage showers, and high quality accommodations that feature working fireplaces in each room. The "Spa Sampler," a six-night, seven-day program includes accomodations, all meals, seven spa admissions, three massages and a variety of spa treatments, costing $2050 in a double or $1430 in a single. Contact the resort's U.S. representative, Great Spas of the World for reservations 800/SPA-TIME or 212/889-8170 (or visit

Villa Bejar, Mexico: On the shores of Lake Tequesquitengo, rather quiet and serene during the week, lively and active with the start-up of a floating discotheque on weekends; it is a superb spa and a fine value, with extensive and up-to-the-minute, computerized exercise machines. Depending on the package, Bejar guests will receive a facial diagnosis, six body massages, one deep cleansing facial and one "hydrating" facial, a reflexology treatment, mud or seaweed wrap, and of course unlimited visits to the resort's spa, which comes with Evian showers, hydro-pool, saunas, jacuzzis and assorted other treatments. All for around $874 (double), $1078 (single), based on a six-day stay including full board as well. Again, bookings can be made through Great Spas of the World at 800-SPA-TIME or visit

To find other low cost spas, a booking specialist

A glossy four-color publication called Spa Finder ($19 for a one-year subscription) is currently enabling a narrow segment of the public (those who know about it) to enjoy wholesome spa vacations here in the United States at a fraction of the cost that others incur. It achieves that feat simply by revealing the existence of a broad range of spas heretofore known only to spa-lovers residing in the immediate vicinity.

A remarkable product of nationwide research, presented with glamorous flair but punctilious attention to detail (prices to the penny, seasons, facilities), it claims to contain listings and descriptions of all major U.S. spas, bar none, alerting us to underutilized facilities that have long catered to a purely local clientele. Included are places with all the features and facilities of the big-name resorts--Jacuzzis and rubdown tables, saunas, aerobics, and scientifically measured meals--but at rates as low as $525 a week for room, all meals, and all traditional spa treatments and programs. Some of the establishments in it are making their first appearance before a nationwide audience.

(Spa Finder also lists and describes the higher-priced varieties, of course, but proudly claims to be the first such publication to gather particulars on every one in every price range, in a widely dispersed activity.)

To subscribe, visit Spa Finders on the Web at, or call 212/924-6800. Packages and airfares can also be arranged at a reduced price.

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50 Best B&Bs in Hawaii for Under $100

Many visitors to Hawaii end up at pricey, indifferent, chain-owned megaresorts simply because they don't realize that Hawaii is filled with scores of reasonably priced B&Bs. Big resorts may have lots of amenities and flashy trappings, but those who yearn to experience the "real" Hawaii of quiet gardens, rural landscapes, and hospitable residents are never assured of finding those elements in a large hotel. What's more, bed-and-breakfasts are much, much cheaper than Hawaii's mainstream hotels (as you'll discover in the list below). You aren't a sociable B&B person? Don't worry; many of the properties we describe have private entrances, private lanais, even private hot tubs. Most B&B lovers are savvy budget travelers who know that B&Bs are a great way to meet local friends, find out about secret places to visit, and feel that you are part of the fabric of the place and not an anonymous tourist. As for the reliability of proprietors, keep in mind that Hawaii's strict zoning and business laws make obtaining a B&B license very difficult, and those procedures ensure a high level of quality. At the same time, many unlicensed B&Bs have operated de facto for decades and are perfectly professional. Be sure to ask if the B&B has a minimum-stay requirement and if they will give you a discount for weekly stays (most do). Also, single travelers may be quoted cheaper rates than the ones listed below, which are based on double occupancy. An excellent Web resource for B&Bs in Hawaii is a local one run from the Big Island: Hawaii's Best Bed & Breakfast, 800/262-9912, The Big Island 1. Areca Palms Estate Bed and Breakfast (P.O. Box 489, Captain Cook, HI 96704; 800/545-4390, is on a country estate in the higher-elevation coffee-growing area of Captain Cook. Four rooms have access to tropical gardens with a canopied Jacuzzi, and the B&B has a three-diamond rating by AAA. Rooms start at $85. 2. Butterfly Inn (P.O. Box 6010, Kurtistown, HI 96760; 800/546-2442,, not far from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is a two-story B&B for women travelers, amid an acre of fruit and macadamia nut trees. The top floor of the house has two bedrooms with large windows and a private entrance, and the hot tub in the garden is a perfect place for enjoying the balmy Big Island evenings. Rooms start at $65. 3. Da Third House Bed and Breakfast (85-4585 Mamalahoa Hwy., Captain Cook, HI 96704; 808/328-8410, is in a remote area of South Kona but only five minutes from swimming and snorkeling beaches. A spacious studio includes a continental breakfast served on your own private lanai. Rooms start at $65. 4. Hale Aloha Guest Ranch (84-4780 Mamalahoa Hwy., Captain Cook, HI 96704; 800/897-3188, is tucked away on a mountainside in South Kona and run by the friendly German host, Johann, with cozy suites extending into covered patios, a hot tub, and huge breakfasts served with ocean views. Rooms start at $80. 5. Hale Kipa 'O Pele (P.O. Box 5252, Kailua-Kona, HI 96745; 800/528-2456, is a plantation-style home popular with gay travelers but open to everyone, located in a quiet suburb above Kailua-Kona town, with three airy suites and a Jacuzzi amid wide gardens. Rooms start at $85. 6. Hale Maluhia Country Inn (76-770 Hualalai Rd., Kailua-Kona, HI 96740; 800/559-6627,, the "House of Peace," is an estate with a wonderful Japanese-stone-and-tile hot tub, koi ponds, waterfalls, and garden pathways, with five rooms and a slightly more expensive tree house, and full breakfasts with an omelette bar included. Rooms start at $90. 7. Hale Nui Bed and Breakfast (P.O. Box 127, Mountain View, HI 96771; 888/968-4253, is between Hilo and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the edge of the Ola'a Forest Preserve. Four rooms in a snug home go for reasonable rates, and special discounts are given to parties of four or more. Rooms start at $45. 8. Hale Ohia Cottages (P.O. Box 758, Volcano Village, HI 96785; 800/455-3803, is one of the most unique B&Bs in the state, built in 1931 with fairy-tale-like cottages filled with antiques scattered around a fern tree and often mist-shrouded property, right next to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Rooms start at $95. 9. Hale Ho'onanea (P.O. Box 6568, Kamuela, HI 96743; 877/882-1653, is on three acres in Kohala Estates, with four separate suites decorated with local art and with a panoramic ocean view overlooking the Kohala Coast. Rooms start at $90. 10. Jacaranda Inn (65-1444 Kawaihae Rd., Kamuela, HI 96743; 808/885-8813, is one of the most historic B&Bs in Hawaii. A ranch estate built in 1897 as a residence for the Parker Ranch manager (and purchased by Laurance Rockefeller in 1961), the inn has turn-of-the-century, Hawaiian-Victorian elegance, in the cowboy town of Waimea. Rooms start at $95. 11. Kalani (RR2, Box 4500, Pahoa, HI 96778; 800/800-6886, is more a retreat center than a traditional B&B but it's perfect for those looking for yoga workshops, hula lessons, and massage therapy, next to black-sand beaches and nature preserves. Delicious, mostly vegetarian meals are served in a central dining area. For single travelers, rooms are only $60 (triple occupancy; you may have to share with up to two other singles), while private doubles start at $110. 12. Kamuela Inn (P.O. Box 1994, Kamuela, HI 96743; 800/555-8968, is one of the larger B&Bs in the state with 31 rooms, situated in a quiet area but close to the shops and restaurants of Waimea, the town surrounded by the huge Parker Ranch. Rooms start at $59. 13. Kealakekua Bay Bed and Breakfast (P.O. Box 1412, Kealakekua, HI 96750; 800/328-8150, is a spacious, luxury, Mediterranean-Polynesian retreat surrounded by wide lawns on a five-acre estate, with fantastic views of the nearby bay where Captain Cook was killed. A great luxury value for the price. Rooms start at $95. 14. Lokahi Lodge (P.O. Box 998, Wright Rd., Volcano Village, HI 96785; 800/937-7786, is a pink, tropical-style B&B in the Hawaiian National Forest, with four cozy rooms and a living room with a wood-burning stove, all just one mile from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Rooms start at $99. 15. My Island Bed and Breakfast Inn (P.O. Box 100, Volcano, HI 96785; 808/967-7216, offers several rooms (including "Grandma's Attic") in a historic home or scattered among garden villas in a lush setting in the town of Volcano. The inn's breakfast is touted as "more than you can eat." Rooms start at $65. 16. Our Place (P.O. Box 469, Papaikou, HI 96781; 808/964-5250, is a cedar home overlooking a stream, located about four miles north of Hilo on the eastern side of the Big Island. Rooms include the "Oriental" and "Early American" suites, and the hospitable owners can also help arrange discount airfare for you. Rooms start at $60. 17. Pomaika'i (Lucky) Farm B&B (83-5465 Mamalahoa Hwy., Captain Cook, HI 96704; 800/325-6427, is a restored farmhouse on a century-old working macadamia and Kona-coffee farm, with a hearty country breakfast including homemade jams and breads and all the mac nuts you can eat. Choose from the farmhouse, the greenhouse, or the coffee-barn rooms. Rooms start at $60. 18. Pu'ukala Lodge Bed and Breakfast (P.O. Box 2967, Kailua-Kona, HI 96745; 888/325-1729, is on Mount Hualalai at about a 1,500-foot elevation above Kailua-Kona town, with 180-degree views of the coastline from the 1,400-square-foot lanai, where Tom, one of the owners, plays his ukulele while you watch the dramatic Kona sunsets. Rooms start at $85. 19. Rainbow's Inn Bed and Breakfast (P.O. Box 983, Pahoa, HI 96778; 808/965-9011,, run by the fun owner, Terrie, is just a few minutes' drive from the ocean and the lava-rock cliffs of the Puna district. Located on five acres of tropical jungle with a lap pool, hot tub, and large lanai, three one-bedroom suites with private baths and kitchenettes are offered-along with your choice of a slew of reasonably priced outdoor activities and tours. Rooms start at $85. 20. Volcano Bed and Breakfast (P.O. Box 998, Wright Rd., Volcano Village, HI 96785; 800/937-7786, is a tranquil home in Volcano Village with a full kitchen, living room with fireplace, and three suites, with continental breakfast served daily. Rooms start at $49. Maui 21. Blue Horizons Bed and Breakfast (3894 Mahinahina St., Lahaina, HI 96761; 800/669-1948, offers four upscale rooms (three with private entrances), views of the ocean from a large lanai, a lap pool, and a location between Lahaina and Kapalua, within a short drive of Lahaina's action. Rooms start at $89. 22. Garden Gate Bed and Breakfast (67 Kaniau Rd., Lahaina, HI 96761; 800/939-3217, is a large, modern, peach-colored home with spacious tropical garden complete with umbrella tables, its own stream and bridge, and three suites bathed in cream colors. It's located just one block from the ocean and Wahikuli Wayside Park. Rooms start at $79. 23. HalE Ana (1695 Olinda Rd., Makawao, HI 96768; 808/572-2508, is a good choice for those who don't need to be near the water and prefer the cooler climate of Maui's Upcountry on the slopes of Haleakala. It has two upstairs rooms in a gorgeous, modern home with huge, two-story windows in the living room looking on to the stunning views of West Maui. The home's two acres include flower and food gardens, and there's also a spa and sauna on premise. Rooms start at $85. 24. Hale Kokomo Bed and Breakfast (2719 Kokomo Rd., Haiku, HI 96708; 808/572-5613, is located 1,400 feet above sea level in the lush, north-shore area of Haiku, and this 1927 Victorian-style villa offers four bedrooms and a living room with an open fireplace, as well as gardens. Rooms start at $50. 25. Hana Maui Botanical Gardens Bed and Breakfast (470 Ulaino Rd., P.O. Box 404, Hana, HI 96713; 808/248-7725,, in the serene old town of Hana on the island's eastern shore, is comprised of two cottages with kitchens and lanais on a 27-acre farm with botanical gardens open to the public (you can even pick your own fruit). Rooms start at $75. 26. House of Fountains (1579 Lokia St., Lahaina, HI 96761; 800/789-6865, touts itself as "the most Hawaiian B&B on Maui" and is tucked away behind Lahaina in the lower slopes of the West Maui Mountains. Its six rooms include koa wood furniture, Hawaiian quilts, and handmade Polynesian arts and crafts, and there's a pool and hot tub. Rooms start at $95. 27. Kailua Maui Gardens (P.O. Box 790189, Paia, HI 96779; 808/572-9726, is along the popular "Road to Hana," with three cottages among nearly two private acres, including a pool, two spas, and a barbecue area. Rooms start at $95. 28. Old Lahaina House (P.O. Box 10355, Lahaina, HI 96761; 800/847-0761, is perfect if you want to be just two blocks from the town of Lahaina and across the street from a local surf spot. The two-story white home has a large pool and courtyard, and the owners can help secure cheap car rentals for guests. Rooms start at $69. 29. Penny's Place Inn Paradise (1440 Front St., Lahaina, HI 96761; 877/431-1235, is a two-story, plantation-style building (with a Victorian turret and wide, wraparound porches) right in the heart of the action on Front Street in Lahaina. Rooms start at $88. 30. Spyglass House (367 Hana Hwy., Paia, HI 96779; 800/475-6695, couldn't be closer to the water (30 feet from a secluded shore), and the three houses with eight rooms are situated around a brick-top courtyard with sunken, tiled Jacuzzi. You can rent by the room or the house (each building has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, full kitchen, living room, and expansive oceanfront lanai). Rooms start at $90. Molokai 31. Ka Hale Mala (P.O. Box 1582, Kaunakakai, HI 96748; 808/553-9009, is a 900-square-foot apartment with four rooms on the bottom floor of a beach house, with a garden and lanai, within walking distance of the beach, and on the edge of a wilderness area. Hawaiian breakfasts include taro, poi, or purple sweet potato pancakes. Rooms start at $80. 32. Kamalo Plantation and Moanui Beach House Bed and Breakfast (HC01, Box 300, Kaunakakai, HI 96748; 808/558-8236, is a cottage with kitchen, living, and dining areas, on five acres of tropical gardens and at the foot of the island's mountain range. There's both an indoor and outdoor shower, a lawn to lounge on, and a barbecue hut; freshly picked fruits and breads are supplied for breakfast. Cottage is $85. Lanai 33. Dreams Come True (1168 Lanai Ave., Lanai City, HI 96763; 800/566-6961, is a four-bedroom B&B at a cool, 1,620-foot elevation above Lanai City in the center of the island. Each room has a private bathroom with whirlpool tub. The common areas include a living room, kitchen, two verandas, and garden. Rooms start at $99. 34. Hale Moe Lanai Bed and Breakfast (502 Akolu Pl., P.O. Box 196, Lanai City, HI 96763; 808/565-9520, has three bright rooms and a deck with tables, umbrellas, and views across the fields, in a house occupying a serene area of the island. Rooms start at $80. Oahu 35. Ali'i Bluffs Windward Bed and Breakfast (46-251 Ikiiki St., Kaneohe, HI 96744; 800/235-1151, presents two fun rooms-one with a circus theme, the other a Victorian theme-and a swimming pool in a quiet suburb on the island's northeastern windward coast. Rooms start at $60. 36. Beach Lane B&B (111 Hekili St., No. 277, Kailua, HI 96734; 808/262-8286, is a stone's throw to Kailua Beach, with two old-fashioned bedroom suites with ocean views, on the second floor of a renovated home. Rooms start at $95. 37. J & B's Haven (P.O. Box 25907, Honolulu, HI 96825; 808/396-9462, offers two rooms with valley and mountain views from the floor-to-ceiling windows, only seven minutes from the excellent snorkeling spot of Hanauma Bay. The mother and daughter British owners have been running B&Bs for more than 16 years. Rooms start at $65. 38. The Manoa Valley Inn (2001 Vancouver Dr., Honolulu, HI 96822; 800/634-5115, was built in 1919 and retains its stunning allure, nestled in the back of verdant Manoa Valley, minutes from Honolulu. This three-story home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offers seven spacious suites and a charming country cottage. Rooms start at $99. 39. Manu Mele Bed and Breakfast (153 Kailuna Pl., Kailua, HI 96734; 808/262-0016, is named for the varieties of songbirds who visit the B&B every morning-Manu Mele means "bird song" in Hawaiian. The beach is a short walk from the B&B, which has a pool and two rooms with their own private entrances and dining areas. Rooms start at $80. 40. Marianne's Bed and Breakfast (572 Papalani St., Kailua, HI 96734; 808/261-8416, is a two-unit B&B with private entry, kitchenette, pool, and a backyard with a stream. Rooms start at $65. 41. Paradise Palms Bed and Breakfast (804 Mokapu Rd., Kailua, HI 96734; 808/254-4234, has two guest suites, each with private entrance, patio, and kitchenette, in the quiet suburb of Kailua, within walking distance of the beach of the same name. Rooms start at $75. 42. Pillows in Paradise (336 Awakea Rd., Kailua, HI 96734; 808/262-8540, is another establishment on the windward coast, offering three rooms with mini-kitchenettes and private entrances overlooking a pleasant pool and deck surrounded by palm trees. Rooms start at $75. Kauai 43. Anuenue Plantation Bed and Breakfast (P.O. Box 226, Kapaa, HI 96746; 888/371-7716, is perched on a hillside with 360-degree views of mountains and ocean, with three guest rooms in a huge, two-story house (and one guest cottage) on five acres. The B&B often hosts health and human-growth seminars. Rooms start at $70. 44. Hale Ho'o Maha (P.O. Box 422, Kilauea, HI 96754; 800/851-0291, is on the island's fertile north shore on five landscaped acres with a pond and stream, and a waterfall is just across the street. The B&B's four suites are brightly decorated in tropical motifs. Rooms start at $65. 45. Hale Lani Bed and Breakfast (283 Aina Lani Pl., Kapaa, HI 96746; 808/823-6434, is situated in a lush valley behind the mythical Sleeping Giant Mountain. It rents three rooms, each with their own private outdoor spa. Rooms start at $90. 46. Kakalina's Bed and Breakfast (6781 Kawaihau Rd., Kapaa, HI 96746; 800-662-4330, has two large units with kitchenettes on a three-acre, working tropical-flower farm located in the foothills of Mount Waialeale (one of the wettest spots on earth), with views of the ocean and a lake below its hillside roost. Rooms start at $80. 47. Mahina's Women's Guest House (4433 Panihi Rd., Kapaa, HI 96746; 808/823-9364, is a four-room, women-only guesthouse right near the beach, with shared living and dining areas, and a kitchen where you can prepare your own meals. Rooms start at $55. 48. Mohala Ke Ola (5663 Ohelo Rd., Kapaa, HI 96746, 888/465-2824, is a large, tranquil home with pool and Jacuzzi, four comfortable suites, and an owner who is a practitioner in Hawaiian lomilomi massage, reiki healing, and acupuncture. Rooms start at $85. 49. Old Waimea Landing Bed and Breakfast (P.O. Box 1113, Waimea, HI 96796; 808/338-1451, is in the quiet town of Waimea on the island's southwestern shore, a short walk from a black-sand beach and the Russian Fort Elizabeth ruins. Two homey suites and a cabin include a wiki wiki (quick) continental breakfast tray. Rooms start at $89. 50. Poipu Bed and Breakfast (1792 Pe'e Rd., Koloa, HI 96756; 808/742-6757, has four rooms (with high ceilings and two with private lanais) in a plantation-style home with hot tub and barbecue, all just a short walk from the ocean. Rooms start at $95.

A Different, Flavorful, and Newly Affordable Taste of Asia: Korea

Just another loud, bustling afternoon in Seoul's hip downtown shopping district of Myong-dong. Gigglesome schoolgirls yak on designer cell phones as they stroll arm-in-arm down crowded lanes lined with clothes shops (goodness, so much black this season) and eateries -- both Western fast-food and local. One store blasts Korean-language hip-hop out onto the street, while down the block a Christian evangelist tries to compete by bellowing his spiel interspersed with slurred, off-key snatches of "Auld Lang Syne." Another guy's selling a boxful of adorable fuzzy pups (for pets, not lunch). Amid all this sensory overload, suddenly a blotch of red and green zigs and zags through the throng: a woman in a traditional silk hanbok, Korea's answer to the kimono or the sari. Who knows what the deal is there? A bride late for her wedding picture? A gonged-out refugee from a folkloric troupe? No matter -- it's like glimpsing the ancient soul of the nation flitting silently through the noisy modern megalopolis. Modern and mega certainly do describe this capital of 11 million -- yet unexpectedly dotting the glass, steel, and concrete sprawl are lovely tucked-away pockets of the "land of the morning calm," the Korea that was: palaces and gardens and marvelously atmospheric old neighborhoods. And beyond Seoul other gems await. Topping the list are Kyongju, the old imperial capital with a millennium's worth of awesome antiquities, and Cheju Island, a semitropical offshore haven with its own singular culture and feel. For a very different kind of history -- the Cold War -- there's nothing else in the world like the DMZ, where U.S. and South Korean troops still tensely guard against the still real menace of Stalinist North Korea (you can't go on your own; day tours from Seoul start at $35). Many of the relatively few Americans who visit do so as a stopover on the way to "bigger fish" like China and Japan. But this particular minnow still manages to pack enough to see and experience to fill at least a couple of weeks. Its cuisine and culture are fascinating -- uniquely Korean forms whose flavor lies somewhere between Japanese and Chinese. The same could be said for its geography -- half of a peninsula hanging down from Manchuria -- and prices that, thanks to the Asian economic crisis that started in the summer of 1997, range from refreshingly affordable to downright amazing for Americans. The U.S. greenback just recently bought more than 1,110 won (everywhere abbreviated as W) compared to 890 in May 1997, which though not as high as a year ago still means a major boost in Yank buy power. Whether shopping for an extraordinary bargain in custom-tailored clothing, enjoying a deluxe hotel for less than $100 a night, or gorging on a 20-course dinner for under $12, this is the time to experience another, truly one-of-a-kind side of Asia. SEOUL SEARCHING The capital of it all is a souped-up mix of past, present, and future. But just as you think you're about to drown in canyons of steel, you stumble into oases like the gargantuan palace complex Kyongbukkun (entry fee W700, or 62¢), reminiscent of Peking's Forbidden City, or the smaller, even more gorgeous Changdokkung ($1.82). Then, too, there are low-slung old quarters like Insa-dong, with its teahouses, crafts shops, and antiques stores, graced with sweeping pagoda-style tile roofs. Explore on your own using the very navigable subway system (35¢-75¢), or grab a bus tour (as little as $18 for three hours). Traditional culture's also very much alive and kicking; don't miss one of the spectacular (sometimes downright acrobatic) performances of ancient court and folk music; ticket prices range from $16.50 for the superb Chongdong Theater to just $4.15 at the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts. Jock-watchers might appreciate an exciting bout of traditional wrestling or a battle between the Samsung Lions and the Haitai Tigers for $4.15 (baseball is a passion here as in Japan). Then of course there's that great American (and Korean) sport, shopping -- and Seoul boasts some world-class options at bargain-basement prices. In choosing a base of operations for all this, you'll find a plentiful supply of budget-friendly lodgings. The Hamilton Hotel, a brick box on the foreigner-popular shopping and entertainment avenue of Itaewon, offers amenities including a pool and its own mall for a reasonable $99. Over in Myongdong, doubles with private bath at the Savoy start at $58 nightly, and nearby the Metro offers much the same for $50. If you're really looking to stretch that won, consider a yogwan (sometimes translated as "inn," sometimes as "motel"). Comparable to the European pension, they range from disgusting fleabags run by shady characters to simple but well-maintained family establishments. The Korean National Tourism Organization can provide a list of budget inns, but two winners in the charming old Insa-dong area are clean, right off the main street, and offer a night in a double room with bath, A/C, phone, and TV for $21. The Han Hung Jang is run by friendly Shin Kyu Park and her son and (English-speaking) daughter-in-law, while several doors down Kyong Guk Kim operates the Kwan Hoon Jang with his wife and son -- and they'll also feed you for about $3 a meal. If that seems remarkably low, it is. But though one 1999 survey claimed a tourist's eating costs in Seoul rank among the world's highest, away from the Western restaurants and expense-account places there are many eateries where you can fill up for next to nothing, including some good ones in Myongdong. Myongdong Kyoja serves up just four dishes-dumpling soup and three kinds of noodles (bean, spicy, and beef-and-chicken) - but each is a filling treat for just $3.75. At the end of an alleyway between Burger King and Citibank, check out the joint with the fish tank out front: Myongdong Chigae is the famous originator of budae chigae ("boiling soup"), prepared in a big gas-heated platter right on your table. It's just $4.15 for the basic veggie-and-noodle version; each extra ingredient (including -- believe it or not -- frankfurters and Spam) adds $1.65 to $2.10, but even the fully loaded model costing $8.25 easily feeds four. Up the road and around the corner, look for the sign showing a big goofy guy clutching what appears to be a giant rutabaga. He's a North Korean defector whose clean, modern restaurant Morangak specializes in Pyongyang-style nagmun (cold noodles), either spicy or in beef broth with fruit slivers, for $4.15. But if you really want ample, head for the alleyway off Insa-dong where Sok Jung lays out a scrumptious banquet: 10 to 24 dishes served traditional-style on a low table, with floor cushions as seating. Lunch starts at $8.25 per person and dinner at $16.50. CAPTIVATING KYONGJU Not to be confused with other similarly named places like Kwangju, this eastern city is a national treasure well worth at least an overnighter from Seoul. Yes, it's now got high-rises, a commercialized downtown, and a resort district at Pomun Lake jammed with hotels and an amusement park. But Kyongju is also home to two of Asia's most magnificent ancient monuments, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The eighth-century seated Buddha at Sokkuram Grotto ($4.15) is awe-inspiring, as is the nearby sixth-century Pulguksa temple ($2.50), where you can (discreetly) watch real Buddhist monks and nuns going about their devotions. Other must-sees include huge mounds housing royal tombs, the Kyongju National Museum with its 11-foot-tall "Divine Bell," and compounds where residents have added a fridge here and a TV there to a lifestyle otherwise little changed in centuries. You can see it all on a bus tour ($37 with a local outfit, including lunch, or $150 overnight from Seoul, including meals and hotel), or rent a car for $42 per day. A good lodging choice downtown is the salmon-colored yogwan Shilla Jang, where a double runs $21 a night. If you're feeling adventurous, blow an additional $8.25 on an ondul, a traditional Korean-style room where you have to take off your shoes to walk on the floor (covered with thick paper, oiled and varnished) and your bed is a futon on the same; practically every hotel in the country offers ondul rooms, but caveat dormitor: make sure your back is up to the experience. Most Kyongju hotels are out at Pomun Lake, a $6.75 taxi ride from downtown or 35¢ to 60¢ by public bus. The Pomun Grace has modern, pleasant, and comfy doubles with baths and amenities for $29 (plus all meals served for $5 to $8.30 each), but right up the road at the Swiss Rosen, $40 will buy you something similar in a much snazzier designer hotel. No, there's nothing particularly Swiss about the place (they just liked the name), but it's a beaut for the bucks. Eating in Kyongju is generally even cheaper than supping in Seoul. For lunch, head downtown to Chang-u-dong, have a big $2.10 plate of mandu (fried dumplings), and maybe add another -- also $2.10 -- of kimpap, similar to our California roll. Around the corner from the Shilla Jang and three blocks down, it's a clean, modern chain lunchroom sporting a big blue-and-white sign next to a men's shop called Mayfair. (Not uncommon for Korea, there's no street address -- try taking a cab; because most Korean taxis have cell phones, they can call for directions.) Save room for dinner at Won Pung, an atmospheric traditional-style restaurant near the royal tombs, where for $7.50 your table is loaded up in the kitchen and plopped down in front of you, groaning with 20 different delicacies; if your gluttony knows no bounds, order yet more grub from the English menu (roast pork, boiled octopus, roast ox tripe for $8.30 each). The Koreans like to think of this 42-by-24-mile isle (also referred to as Cheju-do) as their very own Hawaii. Well, the palm trees are imported, but they do have several things in common: impressive scenery, volcanic origins, a balmy clime (Cheju's average year-round temperature is 60 degrees), and an ancient, separate language and cultural tradition. Or to compare with Japan, if Seoul is the Tokyo of Korea and imperial Kyongju the Kyoto, then Cheju's not unlike Okinawa. It's a vacation and honeymoon getaway mostly for Koreans and Japanese, but one that hasn't yet been paved over. Apart from loads of natural beauty (lovely waterfalls, lava formations including the world's longest lava tube, South Korea's highest peak), there's plenty of evidence of the Mongol-influenced local culture to explore. Burial mounds encircled by walls of lava rocks dot the hillsides. Mysterious harubang -- ancient humanoid statues -- pop up over the place (originals, copies, and images on everything from buses to harubang-shaped phone booths). Groups of distinctive, white-garbed women divers plumb the coasts for sea critters. Old-style mud-and-thatch houses can still be seen right in the main towns; the rest are in the touristy but still lived-in village of Songup and the Colonial Williamsburg-style Cheju Folk Village (for an entry fee of 83¢, a great visit). And don't forget the botanical, from one of Asia's largest gardens to the Punjae Artpia ($4.15), an impressive one-of-a-kind park filled with 2,000 bonsai trees. You can rent a car for $48 a day (the roads are quite good); take a daylong tourist association bus tour for $27; or even book a package from Seoul (a typical two-nighter might cost around $170, including air, hotel, and daily breakfast). Naturally, there's no shortage of hotels and restaurants, and the exchange rate translates into great bang for your buck even at top-end spots. But budget options are pretty good, too, especially in the capital, Cheju-Shi. The blue-and-white, three-year-old City Hotel is a stylish choice where a double goes for $28 and a suite for $50. Just down the hill, the also newish Hotel Cheju Core offers comparable rooms and amenities (plus a slightly better location closer to downtown) for $33 per double. An hour's drive across the island's width lies the somewhat smaller and quieter city of Sogwipo, whose biggest advantage is that it's near a number of tourist attractions. There's an outlying zone of upscale hotels, but it's cheaper and more convenient to stay right in town. Two worthwhile choices are the Napoli (where doubles with private baths and the usual amenities run $30, and meals $5.80 apiece) and the Lions Hotel, which charges $51.50 per double thanks to its hilltop view over the harbor and the romantic Chonjiyon waterfall (rates drop by 20 percent on weekdays, though, and non-sea-view rooms go for just $43). Heading inland down the street from the Lions, do stop and sample an island specialty: bubbling toenjang tchigae (soybean-paste stew, with vegetables plus local clams, mussels, and prawns) for $4.15 at a simple eatery called Jin Ju. The cook's peppery $3.25 kimchi tchigae (cabbage stew) is also a treat. Or get a taxi ($1.10 within town) to take you to the local culinary landmark Gin Go Gae, where the Korean classic kalbi (barbecued beef) sizzles on a brazier right at your table and is served with an array of side dishes; you wrap the cooked beef in a lettuce leaf with some savory condiments, and dig in. As Korean meals go, it's a bit of a splurge at $10 per person -- but well worth it. Seoul for sale As profiled in our first "World's Best Bargain Shopping" article in the Summer 1999 issue, the quality of Korea's manufacturing and the strength of the U.S. dollar make for some incredible Seoul savings, especially leather and clothing for both sexes. Check out hip Myong-dong and the Nam Dae Mun street markets; for top-quality custom-made duds (how about $225 for an entire men's suit?), look up the better tailors in the Itaewon shopping/entertainment district. Korea counseling All calls to South Korea need to be preceded by 011-82, then the area code minus the initial zero. There's a 13-hour time difference from the U.S. East Coast, 10 hours from the West Coast. For general information, contact the Korean National Tourism Organization (with branches in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York): 800/868-7567; In Seoul, 10 Da-dong, Chung-gu; 02/757-0086, fax 02/777-0102. Getting there Six airlines have service from the U.S., including nonstops on KAL (800/438-5000; and Asiana (800/227-4262;; others include United and Northwest. Current consolidator and online fares can be as low as $700 from the East Coast, $500 from the West. A small number of packages are available, such as Asiana/Asian Holidays' "Shopper's Heaven" tour: air plus two nights in a top Seoul hotel for $699 from the West Coast (800/871-9700). Getting around Intercity ground transport is reasonably priced. The trip from Seoul to Kyongju, for example, takes about four to four-and-a-half hours, with one-way bus fares starting at $11 and train at $17.50. The one-hour flight to the nearest airport, at Pusan (an hour's drive from Kyongju), costs $39 each way. Flying is the only practical way to get to Cheju Island from Seoul; it also takes an hour and costs about $51 one-way. Vouchers for the Korea Rail Pass can be purchased in the U.S, through American Tour Consulting (703/256-8944 or 800/535-7552); a three-day pass good for travel on any train in the country costs $40. Lodging leads Korea Hotel Reservations Center (in U.S., 800/251-4848, fax 914/426-7338; Korean Youth Hostel Association (02/725-3031, fax 02/725-3113). LABO homestay programs (02/817-4625; fax 02/813-7047; Korea Budget Inns Reservation Center (02/757-0086; fax 02/777-0102;, Korea Lodging Reservation Center ( Seoul hotels (area code 02) Hamilton Hotel (119-25 Itaewon-Dong, Yong San-Ku. 794-0171; fax 795-0457). Han Hung Jang Yogwan (99 Kwanhoon-Dong, Jongro-Ku. 734-4265) Kwan Hoon Jang Yogwan (95 Kwanhoon-Dong, Jongro-Ku. 732-1682). Metro Hotel (199-33, Eulchi-Ro, 2-Ka, Choong-Ku. 752-1112; fax 757-4411). Hotel Savoy (23-1, 1-Ka, Chumgmu-Ro, Choong-Ku. 776-2641; fax 755-7669; Seoul restaurants Morangak (corner of Chungmuro and Fashion Streets, Myongdong. 777-2343). Myongdong Kyoja (25 Myongdong 2-ga. 776-5348). Myongdong Chigae (off Myongdong 2-ga. 752-6800). Sok Jung (193-1 Insa-dong, Chongnogu. 734-0916). Kyongju hotels (area code 0561) Bomun Shillajang (243-5 Hwangoh-dong, downtown. 749-6622). Swiss Rosen Hotel (242-19 Shinpyong-dong, Pomun Lake. 748-4848; fax 748-0094). Pomun Grace Hotel (242-14 Shinpyong-dong, Pomun Lake. 745-0404; fax 745-0409). Kyongjur restaurants Chang-u-dong (89 Nodong-dong, downtown. 772-2692). Won Pung (Hwangnam-dong, near downtown. 772-8630). Cheju hotels (area code 064) Hotel Cheju Core (304-13 Yon-dong, Cheju-Shi. 744-6600; fax 747-7001). City Hotel (306-13 Yon-dong, Cheju-Shi. 749-1851; fax 744-8945). Lions Hotel (803 Sogwi-dong, downtown Sogwipo. 762-4141; fax 733-3617). Hotel Napoli (587-3 Sogwi-dong, downtown Sogwipo. 733-4701; fax 733-4802). Cheju restaurants Gin Go Gae (319-23 Sogwi-dong, downtown Sogwipo (opposite Hotel Top. 733-5089). Jin Ju (313-10 Sogwi-dong, downtown Sogwipo. 762-5158).

Mesmerizing Mumbai

Editor's note: This article is part one of a two-part series on India. Please visit us again on Sept. 23, to see part two on Agra and the Taj Mahal. It's early evening in Mumbai and I think to myself, if this taxi cab had legs, it would walk faster than we're moving. All around us are other cars, buzzing rickshaws and hordes of people carrying bundles in their arms and on their heads. I am sweating profusely as a child beggar appears at the window, palm open, eyes beseeching. She is nearly run over by a gleaming blue BMW driven by a guy who looks like he's about 19, perhaps one of the country's newly-minted software magnates. Suddenly a song pops into my head: Sunrise, burning heat Nothing is as traveled as a Bombay street Contradictions, city of extremes Anything is possible in Bombay dreams City of extremes. How true. With this cheery refrain from the Broadway hit Bombay Dreams in my mind I think to myself how perfectly Mumbai (or Bombay, as it used to be called) merges its unique extremes, extremes which somehow coexist in a vibrant mélange of culture and history. From the shimmering glamour of Bollywood cinema to the rank sprawl of Asia's largest slum, the city is indeed an experience in contrasts. Sitting in traffic I realize that anyplace else, I'd probably be in a lousy mood about it all. But to be honest, this is some of the most interesting traffic I've ever been in. The window of our cab is like a TV, broadcasting a fascinating documentary on daily life in one of the world's most interesting and complex cities. I have been here for three days already and have to confess that the city is growing on me. The complexities of the city While most travelers who come to Mumbai will continue on to other destinations within the sub-continent, Mumbai is, without a doubt, worth at least a few days of your time. The city can be frustrating and overwhelming, but it is never boring. The crowds and chaos of Mumbai can perplex even the savviest traveler. (In fact, Mumbai is projected to be the world's second most populous city, surpassing Mexico City by 2015). But adjust to the rhythm and thrum of Mumbai, and you'll soon find yourself pleasantly surprised. And while Mumbai is more expensive than other places in India, the budget-minded traveler will find that the city is easy on the pocketbook. To me, Mumbai seems far larger in reality than it appears on the map. It took us almost two days just to get oriented to the city, which, unlike the mostly grid-like layout of cities like New York or Los Angeles, is organized in a more haphazard fashion, with some of the streets looking on a map like the scribbles of a child. Part of this is due to the city's geography. Mumbai itself is actually a network of islands with bridges connecting one another and to the mainland. The core of the city can be found downtown, where the city forms a claw around Back Bay on the Arabian Sea. Colaba, as the southern peninsula is called, is the tourist Mecca where most travelers find accommodation and where there is a broad range of hotels, bars, bookstores and restaurants. Like much of Mumbai, the streets here are teeming with eager wallahs (peddlers), eager to hawk their wares, which range from piquant street dishes to books to basic household items. Despite a reputation for over-priced accommodation, there are actually good deals to be found all over the city. Down in the Colaba area hotels near the water can run from $30 to $250 a night. Further uptown in the Juhu Beach area, where we stayed, we spent about $60 a night for a very spacious and comfortable room just a minute's walk to the beach. For fans of Indian food, Mumbai is a gustatory delight. It's a piece of cake to find restaurants serving all sorts of regional dishes that will boggle the palate. Dishes from Kashmir, Tamil, Hyderabad and Punjab will astonish those whose notions of Indian food are limited to Tandoori Chicken to Tikka Masala. And while you will find plenty of amazing Indian food almost anywhere in the city, Mumbai is a cosmopolitan town and has a sampling of just about every type of cuisine, from Chinese to American to French. Your best deals, if your stomach can handle it, are probably to be found on the street or at Chowpatty Beach, where an unbelievable array of quick, delicious meals can be found for around a dollar: kanji vada (Indian doughnuts), aloo tikkis (potato snacks) and pao bhaji (fried bread with filling). On the beach, the bhelpuri shops hawking Mumbai's most popular snack (puffed rice, fried noodles, and vegetables in a mint, chili, and tamarind sauce) should not be missed. What to do? Of course, every traveler has their own philosophy for how to approach a new city. Some arrive with elaborate itineraries and detailed maps marked up red pen. Some arrive in a new place and just throw themselves into the scrum. While nothing beats having a good map and a guidebook, to me wandering is the best policy. When I hit a new city, especially one as dynamic as Mumbai, the first thing I do is generally throw out any detailed game plan and I wander. Our first day touring in Mumbai, we hired a cab off the street -- negotiating our driver's services for the entire day for about $15 -- and headed downtown. Traffic was typically abysmal, but our driver knew the roads to take and we were afforded a quick and dirty tour of some of Mumbai's more diverse neighborhoods, ranging from the foul, disheveled train track slums at Dadar, to the swanky abodes of Mumbai's elite on Malabar Hill, where some of the city's wealthiest denizens call home. Driving along the broad, coast-hugging lanes of Marine Drive, we got a glimpse on the left of the 500-year old Hajji Ali Tomb, a magnificent Muslim shrine surrounded by water. I was perplexed how anyone could reach the building since there didn't seem to be any boats around and the tomb itself appeared to float alone in the sea, but our driver said that it was high tide, when the pathway leading to the Tomb gets submerged under the water. We got out of the cab and took a stroll along the swooping promenade near Chowpatty Beach, where in front of the sun in the distance, the Mumbai skyline rose from the city in a jagged shadow. Soon, we found ourselves at the Gateway of India, the Mumbai version of the Arc de Triomphe, which squats on the water in the wonderfully named Apollo Bunder area. Erected to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911, there's not much to the arch itself, but the breeze blowing off the water and the general hullabaloo makes it an excellent place to people watch. That night, we ended up in Colaba where we ambled through the noisy neighborhoods and ended up sipping beers in a busy restaurant near the water that was popular with well-dressed business people. Hitting the markets On another day in Mumbai, we set out to explore the famous Mumbai Bazaars. Though not avid shoppers, and in search of nothing in particular, we left Juhu Beach and packed ourselves into a local city train stuffed with commuters and headed down to the famous Crawford Market. Also known as the Phule and Mohatta Market, this is an ideal place to begin exploring Mumbai street commerce because it is covered, cool, and, compared to what we'd soon face in the bazaars of Kalbadevi, one of Mumbai's hectic marketplaces, it is by comparison sedate. The market was built by the British in 1871, and its setting is a beautiful Victorian style building whose soaring clock tower looks like it belongs on the Thames. We entered the market and were immediately surrounded, marinated almost, with the fragrances of fresh fruit and flowers. The fruit sellers were paragons of mercantile gentility, whose wares were meticulously arranged in brilliant rows, pyramids and geometrically perfect towers that would have made Euclid proud. We strolled through the market savoring the delicious air and dodging fast-footed coolies carrying reed-baskets on their heads. We bought some mangoes for a quarter then passed through the back to the animal and poultry section, where live domestic and exotic animals are kept in dingy cages, waiting to be bought by locals for food and as pets, and perhaps to infuriate visiting members of the ASPCA. Adventures in wandering By now, we felt prepped enough to move on to something more challenging. We decided to head a few blocks north to the sprawling bazaar of Kalbadevi. This labyrinthine warren of stalls and street sellers is not for the faint of heart. This predominantly Muslim area is a seething mass of people and traffic and is the location of a dozen or so crowded chowks (bazaars) selling jewelry, textiles, metal and leather goods, hand-made ceramics, electronics . . . just about anything, and all of it for the most part quite cheap. The most famous is the Chor Bazaar, Mumbai's "thieves' market," which sells antiques, faux antiques and miscellaneous junk (and I do mean miscellaneous . . . it sometimes hard to tell exactly what an item's purpose is). The noise here is unreal, with merchants yelling over one another to get your attention ("Sir, sir! No buy, just look!"), and goods-laden coolies screaming at you to get out of their way. But we wandered without purpose and soon were addicted to the throbbing energy of the place. At one point, heading down some dark corridor, we realized we had no idea where we were, or which direction we'd come from. We were lost. Our entreaties for directional succor were largely met with dull stares, if not derisive smirks. At one point, we ended up in a shadowy dead end, where a huge white cow and an ornate temple shrouded in incense smoke caused us to wonder if we'd just stepped through a time portal. We finally got our bearings and made it out of the market, exhausted but safe. A bottle of cold beer in a nearby pub helped bring us back to our senses and into this century. To aid the process, that evening we caught a Bollywood film whose plot was allegedly James Bond-ish, but left us trying to recall any Bond film featuring 007 in an elaborate dance number. We could think of none. No matter. We'd be leaving Mumbai the next morning, and I was already starting to miss the place; not the din, or the traffic or the swampy heat, but just the zest of the place, and the realization that no place on earth is quite like it.


Standing outside the village of Romuna, I bear the traditional sevu sevu (offering): a bundle of kava or yaqona root (pulverized and mixed with water, both look and taste like mud to outsiders but are nectar to Fijians). The beverage is an integral ingredient of any ceremony-indeed, of daily life - and a means of bonding with newcomers. A local, Simon, whom I'd met at my hotel, acts as my mana (advocate), initiating a ritualistic dialogue with the chief in the main bure (typical hut, with bamboo walls, woven mats, and classic - and increasingly rare-cathedral thatching). Cups of kava are served from a bowl beautifully carved from tanoa, a native dark wood. I clap once, drink, clap three times again according to custom, then watch a meke, a joyous folkloric song and dance accompanied by the percussive lali (a hollowed tree trunk). I'm asked to join in, and an unlikely, sweatily vigorous line dance ensues. Cost of the experience for our group of six: US$10 for the pound of kava (the price had just doubled, since herbal pharmaceutical companies are now exporting it hand over fist as a stress reliever). That tradition of hospitality prevails throughout Fiji, an archipelago of more than 300 islands (only one third inhabited), covering 426,000 square miles. A century-old British colony that became independent in 1970, its culture has remained intact, which helps account for its affordability. TV didn't arrive until 1990 (and McDonald's in 1996), so the islands attracted either backpackers or fabulously wealthy people to a few get-away-from-it-all private resorts. Traditional chiefs still own most of the land, and international companies must enter into a legal agreement with a local resident - meaning fewer sprawling deluxe properties. Instead, cheaper facilities - many appealing to cost-conscious divers-sprang up, in marked contrast to destinations like Hawaii and Tahiti. The ten-hour flight from Los Angeles discourages many Americans, leaving Fiji more to rambunctious Aussies and restrained young Japanese on low-cost package deals. This hospitality also made Fiji legendary among the international grunge set, some of whom took advantage of the Fijian concept of kere kere, or shared property: what's mine is yours. If when visiting a village you express interest, the chief may invite you to attend a lovo feast (tubers, fish, and meats swaddled in banana leaves and cooked in an underground pit) or even to stay with a family, sleeping on a bark-cloth mattress stuffed with dried coconut fibers. "Going native" remains an honored form of travel, and amazingly cheap: many locals still feel uncomfortable accepting money, because the entire village is an extended home and you're their guest. Be careful admiring something, as many Fijians will feel obligated to give it to you; rather than offering cash for your stay, buy a T-shirt, groceries, or ask the family what they would like. But you can just as easily "rough it" in contemporary or colonial-era hotels for as little as US$15 (one greenback is worth roughly two Fiji dollars; prices below are U.S.) or stay in your own fully equipped modern if basic home for $25-right on or near a beach. Dorm-style digs run as little as $5 per person ($12 including meals). Although the people who arrived on these shores first are Melanesian, approximately half the population is East Indian (Hindu and Moslem). Their ancestors were brought in as forced labor for the sugarcane fields in the nineteenth century. Political turmoil, as the Indians demanded greater self-determination, scared off many travelers in the 1980s - another reason Fiji remains low on the tourism radar for Americans-but a new constitution has fostered peace and stability. Many towns have elaborate Hindu temples and onion-domed mosques with minarets, exotic contrasts to typical Fijian bures. That diversity is also reflected in the cuisine: curry shacks are common (as are inexpensive Chinese and pizza restaurants). At these lowest-cost eateries, full meals average $4-$8; Fijian dishes are slightly more expensive, though worth sampling, especially kokoda (seafood marinated in coconut, lime, and coriander) and wahoo steamed in lolo (coconut cream). Veni, Vidi, Viti Levu The easiest way to vacation in Fiji is to stay on the main island of Viti Levu. Roughly 10,000 square miles, it provides a microcosm of the archipelago's appeal: pristine beaches along the Coral Coast, the teeming colonial capital of Suva, a jumping-off point for exploring nearby islands on day trips, and a range of eco-adventures from trekking in mountains that tower to 5,000 feet to white-water kayaking down surprisingly fierce rivers to diving the renowned Beqa Lagoon with its currents, dramatic drop-offs, and riotously colored soft corals. The centrally located Coral Coast is an ideal base, from which you can visit Suva for a day, then overnight on the historic island of Ovalau (a $27 one-way flight from Suva). International flights arrive at the Nadi (pronounced "NAN-dee") airport, usually in the middle of the night. At the airport's tiny tourist office, helpful staffers provide recommendations, even make calls; brochure racks climb like ivy up the walls, containing all conceivable information on lodging, sight-seeing, dining, and car rentals (including a few coupons). Regrettably, the town of Nadi is a bustling, congested, grubby bazaar of handicraft shops, Fijian fast-food joints, and markets; the main "sight" is its extraordinary multicolor temple. Still, it's best to decompress at an airport motel, then get a fresh start the next day. The best value is the New Nadi Bay Hotel (723-599, fax 720-092)*, with 24 snug rooms and apartments decorated in soft pastels; doubles with fans are $34 ($42 with air-conditioning). The area does boast attractions (and comparatively pricier beachfront lodgings for the severely jet-lagged) worth visiting before leaving. Fortunately, Viti Levu is easy to negotiate. The island is ringed by one main drag, called King's Road in the north, Queen's in the south. The southern shoreline runs from Nadi past the Coral Coast to Suva. The northern coast is unspoiled but far less accessible (roads are frequently rained out); though there are numerous hotel bargains, they're generally shabbier than their southern counterparts, and restaurants scarcer. The cheapest way to navigate the southern coast is via bus, which is also a perfect introduction to the friendly locals (expect village invitations and an endearing curiosity manifested in often ingenuously personal questions). You could circumnavigate Viti Levu for $5; service is slow but regular throughout the day and evening hours. Every village has a bus stop (though you can hail the glorified safari vans from the highway); Nadi and Suva have mini-depots. Rental cars offer more freedom and can go as low as $10 per day plus 17 per mile for a small car without air-conditioning, up to $35 for a Toyota Corolla. Gas is expensive-approximately $3 a gallon-figure $30 for the Nadi/Suva round trip. A valid U.S. drivers' license is required and driving is on the left. The usual names - Avis, Hertz, Budget - have Nadi and Suva airport offices. Singatoka/Coral Coast, Viti Levu: Sandy, low-cost catches Some of Viti Levu's finest beaches lie southeast of Nadi, accessible only via dirt tracks from Queens Road, including the gorgeous Natadola ("nah-tahn-DOH-lah"), where tour operators offer day trips, including lunch and horseback riding, for about $25. Buses are infrequent; a rental car is advisable. The next major town, Singatoka ("sing-a-TOH-kah"), marks the beginning of the Coral Coast, an almost unbroken scimitar of palm-shadowed sand running to Pacific Harbour, a modern development with an 18-hole golf course, resorts, condos, a cultural center, and little genuine appeal. Several properties and eateries cluster across the street from the sand in the next village, Korotogo ("koh-roh-TONG-oh"), whose beach could be better maintained. The best buy is the Casablanca Hotel (520-600, fax 520-616), halfheartedly Moorish and sitting atop a hill overlooking the sea amid two acres of overgrown gardens. Immaculate if narrow efficiencies-tiled, fully equipped, and modern, with local touches like bark-cloth wall hangings-are $29. Waratah Lodge (500-278) is composed of three A-frames in Christmas colors crawling with hibiscus and bougainvillea; $30 duplexes with fans and aging kitchens sleep six to nine. Both have pools, BBQs, and bike rentals. A half block away, Le Caf, (520-877) and Sinbad Pizzahouse (520-600) both offer unusual pizzas as well as curries, grilled chicken, and seafood for $3-$8. This area is more memorable for its side attractions. The fertile, meandering Singatoka Valley is nicknamed the "Salad Bowl" of Fiji; take a cruise along the Singatoka River under a canopy of lush, sun-filtered vegetation or haggle with a spearfisherman to take you out on a traditional bilibili, a bamboo raft. The villages along the river are renowned for their pottery, fashioned from the rich red earth, while the tawny, 100-foot-high Sigatoka Sand Dunes comprise Fiji's first national park. The beach widens as you approach Suva, with excellent offshore snorkeling. Tubukula Beach Bungalows (500-097, fax 340-236) provides clean if spartan lodgings, from dorms ($7.25) to fully equipped multi-bedroom units ($28-$44, depending on size and beach proximity), as well as activities and a mini-mart. This is one of the properties, ranging from beach bungalows to air-conditioned hotels, endorsed by the Fiji For Less organization (340-211, fax 340-236; or in the U.S. fax 310/362-8493;, affiliated with several backpacker and hosteling associations. Gorgeous landscaping and beach; warm Aussie owners; lively clientele; free bikes, bush walks, and canoes; and cheap meals ($1.50 breakfast, $1.50-$4 buffet and full meals like lasagna or tuna fettucine) are the lure of Beach House (530-500, fax 530-450). Lodgings are adequate, with cramped, shared-bath loft doubles $19, dorms $8.25, and camping $5. For a splurge, the local-style bures of intimate yet full-service Tambua Sands Beach Resort (500-399, fax 520-265) are cheerful, with fridges and ceiling fans; oceanview bures are $45 (two meals daily cost $11 per person extra). The grounds and beach are lovely; the restaurant-decorated with local crafts-offers nightly entertainment; and activities range from coconut husking (free) to horseback riding ($4.50). Suva, Viti Levu: A really capital mishmash Fiji's steamy capital of Suva (population 120,000) is a bizarre mix of colonial and contemporary, of traffic jams and tranquil gardens, with the appealingly tatty air of an old-time sailor's port of call and ethnic crossroads (the disco and clubs lined up on the main drag tell it all: Bourbon and Blues, O'Reillys, Bad Dog Cafe, Traps). Graceful Victorian government edifices alternate with cinder-block office buildings and hotels. It's not necessarily worth an overnight, but you can take in the sights during the day and catch the 5 p.m. flight for Ovalau. Some might enjoy checking out Suva's slightly seedy but colorful nightlife, then grabbing the 7:45 a.m. early bird or a ferry/cargo boat. Patterson Brothers Shipping (315-644) is reliable and comfortable; most boats have VCRs and refreshments, and one-way fares start at $12 (they run car ferries, too). Stop by the bustling public market, with produce from around the islands. Then visit the excellent Fiji Museum, nestled in the impeccably landscaped Thurston Gardens. It provides a superb glimpse into the origins and culture of Fiji, from a great oceangoing war canoe to traditional native costumes and more gruesome historic relics (Fijians were considered the world's fiercest cannibals a mere century ago). There are also galleries celebrating Indian culture, rotating crafts exhibits, and artisans engaged in demonstrations. Prices are lower and quality higher for authentic crafts at actual villages. But you'll find the widest selection in the bustling Handicraft Centre (really just a place to gather aggressive pushcart peddlers) by the waterfront. Bargaining is expected, but beware "sword sellers," who will ask your name, then instantly carve it on a wooden sword or tanoa bowl and expect you to buy it. Also, even some genuine pieces are often emblazoned "FIJI." Local restaurants run the gamut, but the best are Asian; try Sichuan Pavilion (corner of Pier and Thompson streets, 314-865), elegant in lacquer and mirrors but quite reasonable, with entrees starting at $4. To lay down your head, the South Seas Private Hotel (312-296, fax 340-236) is a turn-of-the-century wooden building in a peaceful residential area within walking distance of city center; plain rooms with fans and private baths are $19. Ovalau: Old-time offshore charm Just a few miles and a hundred years offshore from Suva lies Ovalau, site of Fiji's first capital, Levuka. An official candidate for designation as UNESCO World Heritage Site in honor of its cultural and historic importance, it's an indescribably charming town of peeling clapboard houses and crooked sidewalks. The oldest (1850s) hotel and drinking club in the South Pacific - and straight out of a Somerset Maugham novel - the Royal Hotel (440-024, fax 440-174) has doubles with bath, ceiling fan, enclosed patio, uneven hardwood floors, and four-poster or brass beds for $14-$17. Nearby, the dilapidated but atmospheric Ovalau Club (440-507), founded in 1904, sports yellowed photos of royal coronations and weddings, and nautical banners from around the world. Beach Street, Levuka's restored waterfront, is now practically a promenade, where kids play soccer with coconut husks while women sell fruit under banyan trees circled by squawking mynah birds. Also here are three marvelous restaurants. Caf, Levuka (no phone) prepares full dinners like papaya prawns or chili and garlic pork for $5; breakfasts and lunches are even less. Kim's (440-059) is harshly lit but gussied up with Chinese New Year's dragon wall hangings and Christmas lights year-round, and serves up sumptuous Chinese/Fijian/Indian/European buffets Sunday nights for $5.50, all you can eat. The "gourmet" spot is Whale's Tale (440-235), with a nautical theme (driftwood, whale photos, dried sea fans, thatch-and-bamboo bar) and Fiji-tinged Continental fare-$6.50 for a three-course dinner (delicious chicken in kumquat sauce with garlic bread). The owner's Australian husband, Arnold Ditrich, is the island's self-professed kava "dealer"; a bowl is always being emptied at the back table. Ovalau's few beaches are tiny and black-sand (one reason it lacks a tourism infrastructure), but it's surrounded by unspoiled keys and pockmarked with underwater caves and mangrove channels. Sea kayaking is popular, as is mountain biking, through Ovalau Transport and Tours (440-611, fax 440-405,, which also organizes "Tea and Talanoa" chats with delightfully eccentric locals and expats. Wrapping up in Nadi Since return American flights depart at night, you can explore the Nadi area before leaving. Just north is the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, Raymond Burr's astonishing terraced gardens showcasing lily ponds and over 2,000 varieties of orchid from around the world (buses stop there and at Visisei village, reputed landing place of the first Fijians, for roughly 50[cents]). Trekkers can experience the Abaca Village & Koroyanitu National Heritage Park (666-644; $6 includes guide and round-trip transport from Lautoka), a tropical rain forest with glittering 100-foot waterfalls framed by black volcanic mountains and lava outcroppings. Abaca ("am-BAH-tha") is one of a few isolated villages that host a work/stay program. For $15, you hike with a guide, perform typical tasks like tilling fields or beating laundry on rocks in a stream, then eat and sleep with a family. One caveat: the ride up the rutted dirt road in a cushionless safari van alone qualifies as adventure travel. Many travelers prefer ending (or starting) their trip on the water. The best nearby beach accommodations are at Club Fiji (702-189, fax 702-324), which attracts a youthful international crowd to its 12 acres and 24 traditional thatched bures with hardwood floors, ceiling fans, fridges, verandahs, private baths, and seashell color schemes. Beachfront lodgings cost $44, but identical "oceanview" bures offer a sliver of sea view for $35; dorm rooms ($5.50 per person) are further from the beach. On premises are full water sports (free), a dive shop, and an excellent restaurant - with everything from tacos to pizzas, starting at $4. For a more Robinson Crusoe feel, you can also stay on one of the Mamanucas, flat coral keys tossed casually into the Pacific off Nadi like a luminous strand of pearls. The best value is Ratu Kini's (721-959), owned by the chief of Mana island; its basic thatched bures with bath run $44-$56, bountiful buffet meals included. If you enjoy your Fijian experience, you can explore the other main islands (Kadavu, Taveuni, Vanua Levu), all remarkably lush, mountainous, with world-famous dive sites, and even less developed for tourism. Indeed, that bundle of kava costs more these days than many basic digs. Further Fiji facts Contact the Fiji Visitors Bureau (5777 W. Century Blvd., Ste. 220, Los Angeles, CA 90045; 800/932-3454, 310/568-1616; Another helpful Web site is City.Net Fiji, at Fiji flights Air Pacific (800/227-4446) offers direct flights from Los Angeles, starting at $699 round-trip. The two domestic airlines, Air Fiji (877/AIR-FIJI, and Sunflower Airlines (800/294-4864), offer dependable, comprehensive service between Nadi and Suva and most of the islands on various smaller aircraft; tickets start at $25 one-way; ask about special off-peak rates during the week.