Top Essential Travel Websites in Asia
Sure you know your Orbitz from your Tripadvisor. But where will you look for a villa in Sri Lanka or a rock climbing class in Thailand? Here are T+L’s favorite websites for when you’re traveling in Asia. By Mrigaa Sethi.
Book an inexpensive regional flight
Asia’s seasoned budget airline offers cheap fares to more than 20 countries, mostly in Asia, but also including Australia and New Zealand. Their broad reach in Asia includes seven cities in India and 14 in Indonesia, for example. The booking engine routinely offers great web promotions, and you can also book hotels and car rentals.
The online booking process is lengthy and each addition, such as checked bags, seat preferences and meal requests, carries an extra charge. You do have the option to refuse all of them, though that is not always the default setting, so pay attention.
Checking-in at the airport carries a price tag, too, so be sure to check-in ahead of time, either online or by using your smartphone.
Fly to off-the-beaten-track spots in Thailand
Domestic travel in Thailand, especially to lesser-known destinations like Loei, Phrae and Koh Lipe, isn’t limited to cumbersome road journeys. Discount airline Nok Air flies to 24 Thai destinations, including several islands in the south.
Limited reach, and most flights fly out of the smaller Don Muang airport in Bangkok.
For trips to further-flung southern islands like Koh Lipe and Koh Mook, look into their Fly n’ Ferry packages that combine flights, coach rides and ferries.
+BOOKING A ROOM
Get big discounts on hotel rooms for any budget
Covering 170,000 hotels in the world, and a total of 30,000 in Asia, Priceline sister Agoda works with affiliate hotels to offer some of the lowest prices on rooms for any budget. Arrange your results by popularity or price and even see how many people are coveting the room you looking at.
Search criteria is basic (location, dates of travel), unlike, say, raveable.com which lets you search for kid-friendly hotels and rooms with Jacuzzis.
Create a profile earn Agoda Rewards points by booking rooms and reviewing the places you stay at. Points can eventually be redeemed for free nights.
Score a villa for the whole family
Want to do something different for a group holiday in Indonesia, Sri Lanka or Thailand? Look no further. The Asian Villa Guide website does independent reviews of villa properties in these three countries, along with photos and a thorough list of amenities such as pool, garden, on-premises cooking staff, chauffeur and more.
Geographically limited, obviously, and though you can submit a request for your dates, you can’t make the booking without going to the villa’s own website. Plus there’s no search engine as such, so you’ll have to browse by region.
Buy the companion book, where the villas are also helpfully arranged and coded by price range.
Get close to nature at an Indonesian eco-lodge
This Denpasar-based ecotourism company runs five lodges in Bali, Sumatra, Borneo and Flores. The Satwa Elephant Eco Lodge on Sumatra, for example, on the edge of Way Kambas National Park, is solar-powered and offers cottage stays, river boat rides, access to elephants and rhinos and bike tours.
The site is easy to navigate, but lacks adequate photographs for the properties. The booking system is rudimentary, so you’re limited to submitting your requested dates and waiting to hear back. The one-on-one interaction does allow you to create your own packages and arrange internal flights and permits through Eco Lodges Indonesia.
Accommodation aside, the website links to Eco Safari Indonesia (ecosafariindonesia.com) which does treks, birding tours and river safaris.
Snag a short-term rental from a local
Need a studio for two-weeks in Shanghai? How about a two-bedroom house with WiFi in downtown New Delhi? Roomorama has both and lots more. Started in 2009 in New York, the site facilitates global person-to-person, short-term rentals. Their claim to fame is the helpful payment program: they hold on to your payment until you arrive at your destination and are satisfied with your check-in.
It’s free to list your property, but renters pay a small booking fee to cover the cost of the service.
Join their Perks Program to get discounts for car rentals, spa treatments and language classes in your destination city.
Earn points towards free hotel rooms and frequent flyer miles
Voila Hotel Rewards, a US-based loyalty program, represents a small group of independent hotels. Sign up on the website (it’s free), and earn 10 points for every dollar you spend at member hotels. Points are redeemable for free stays and airline points.
Their presence in Asia is patchy, with only one hotel each in places like Vietnam (the Swiss-Belhotel Golden Sand in Hoi An) and Malaysia. There are more options in Thailand, Indonesia and China.
Ten nights in a twelve-month period get you Orion membership (additional 25 percent bonus points), and 20 nights get you Centaurus (additional 50 percent bonus points). There’s currently a point redemption promotion with Kingfisher Airlines, which means cheap or free flights within India.
Receive perks and money-back when you book a room
Part independent loyalty program and part review site, Mr and Mrs Smith does a global, curated list of unique, value-for-money hotels around the world, including 35 in Thailand and 31 in Indonesia. Through the website, you can sign up (basic membership is free) and get 1% in cashback for every booking you make, small perks like a bottle of bubbles, late checkout and free upgrades.
As it’s a global collection, some Asian countries, like the Philippines, aren’t as well represented.
Don’t forget to additionally sign up for the monthly newsletter, which has great, members-only discounts and free night offers.
Get big discounts on Singapore fine dining
Hungry Deals features daily promotions on selected restaurants in Singapore. Enter your billing information on a specific deal and receive a code. Share this code when booking at the restaurant, and get your discount. We like the convenience of their traditional restaurant search function where you enter occasion, cuisine, establishment type and budget.
Each deal only has a limited number of codes, so be quick. Deals change frequently—they are usually no more than one or two per day for each cuisine category.
Recommend a deal to your friend and get S$5 in HDeals credit.
Browse reviews from local foodies
Open Rice is to Asia what Yelp is to the US: a mostly user-generated review website focusing on restaurants. Currently available in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, the site lets you sort restaurants by location, cuisine and price range and displays photos and user reviews along with useful service information.
It isn’t much to look at, and each country-specific page has a slightly different layout. And of course, not all listings have sufficient feedback to make an educated decision.
So insider-y is openrice.com that the Thai and Chinese pages, for example, are not in English, so unless you know Thai or Mandarin, stick to the other countries’ pages.
Order street food like a Thai
Austin Bush has been in Thailand for more than 10 years, speaks fluent Thai, is a major foodie and a good photographer (full disclosure: he contributes to T+L). He reviews street stalls, mostly in Bangkok but also in the north and wherever he happens to travel (Turkey, Malaysia), as well as occasional odes to iconic dishes like gway tiew khua kai. Reviews are brief and give you some confidence to walk in and order for yourself.
As it’s a blog, the search features are largely limited to clicking on tags and using the basic search box on the sidebar. Give yourself some time to browse.
Most reviews come with handy Google maps at the bottom. Use them as street stalls tend to be, well, on the street—no addresses in most cases.
Browse the food traditions of Southeast Asia
A writer-photographer team (also among our contributors) based in Malaysia travel the region, producing thorough records of their food encounters. Unlike Bush’s blog, Eating Asia’s posts are more akin to food essays. In fact, they arguably travel a great deal more widely, so in addition to Malaysia and Thailand, they have great, more informative posts on, say, the history of teatime in Turkey, dumpling knots in Chengdu or school farms in the Philippines.
Again, as a blog, browsing options are limited to clicking between tags.
Eating Asia has a tendency to post frequently, then go quiet for a while, so do subscribe to their RSS feed.
Explore all options before you get there
Yes, us. The T+L website cleanly condenses old issues into useful destination-specific tabs (15 countries in total). Click on, say, Macau, and browse through restaurants, bars, spa, shopping and hotel listings. There’s a small search box on the homepage for flights, hotels and deals to get you started, though use it in combination with other travel search engines.
Some destinations are better represented than others. Taiwan, for example, contains information almost entirely about Taipei.
Click on the T+ blogs tab for more personal accounts and information about new openings and contests. Sign up for the newsletter for information on deals and contests.
+ARTS & CULTURE
Go on an Asian art jaunt
If you’re an art buff, bookmark this website for any upcoming visits to places like Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai and Tokyo. The site is straightforward, and it’s easy to navigate between the tabs. While they have extensive listings of galleries and artists in various cities, the best part, we think, is the events listings. Simply click on the city you’re visiting and see which exhibitions are on that very day.
No major complaints. The homepage's featured galleries section is not particularly distilled.
They do a newsletter as well, so if you’re a regular visitor to major art cities like Singapore and Hong Kong, sign up.
Soak up some heritage on a multi-day walking tour
Classic Journeys offers luxury walking tours around the world, but Eastern culture buffs will appreciate their programming in Asia: 7-12–day walking tours in Bhutan, China, Vietnam and India. The site contains full itineraries and you can book and pay for the trip online.
They offer culinary tours in other parts of the world, but sadly, not in Asia. Also, be aware that sometimes even internal flights are priced separately from the package price.
If you’re traveling alone, the single supplement fee is significant. But they do give you the option of being matched up with another single traveler of the same gender.
Design your own tour in Vietnam
This eco-conscious tour company specializes in what they call “a la carte” tours of Vietnam. You pick the destinations, the mode of transport, the number of days, and they provide the logistical support. They can arrange bicycle or motorcycle tours as well as homestays with hill tribes.
The website has character, but is pretty low-tech. Other than the contact form and lots of text, there are videos of recent sample tours.
If you have specific photography or film-shooting needs, staff at this website can help you rent equipment to take on the road, where you can record your every move.