Sea change Seaplanes were once a common sight around Japan, but they largely disappeared in the 1960s with the proliferation of airports and the introduction of the bullet train. Now they are making a small comeback, with the launch of Setouchi Seaplanes (setouchi-seaplanes.com/en), based in the city of Onomichi, Hiroshima prefecture.
Three sightseeing flights a day take a handful of passengers on a 50-minute ride over the spectacular island scenery of the Seto Inland Sea. Tickets cost 32,000 yen (HK$2,370) on weekdays and 37,000 yen on weekends. Setouchi Seaplanes, which claims to be the first new company of its kind for 50 years, plans to expand its services to link the Inland Sea region to Tokyo and Osaka in the not too distant future.
Onomichi is also the starting point for the Shimanami Kaido Bikeway, a 60km, bike-friendly expressway that winds across several small islands and nine bridges to the main island of Shikoku. There’s even a dedicated hotel for touring cyclists. The 28-room Hotel Cycle offers ride-through check-in, repair facilities and ceiling hooks in most rooms so you can keep your bike with you 24/7. It’s part of the new Onomichi U2 complex (onomichi-u2.com/en), which also contains the Giant bike rental shop, restaurants, cafés and a bakery within a converted warehouse.
The city is also well known to Japanese-film buffs. Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 classic Tokyo Story (voted the best film of all time in Sight Sound magazine’s most recent 10-yearly film directors’ poll) begins and ends in Onomichi, and Kaneto Shindo’s haunting masterpiece The Naked Island (1960) was shot on one of the offshore islands passed by Setouchi Seaplanes’ sightseers.
The easiest way to reach Onomichi from Hong Kong is by train from nearby Hiroshima, which is served by Hong Kong Express and Dragonair. Find out more about Onomichi at wikitravel.org/en/Onomichi.
Twin peaks The impressively situated and “hotly anticipated” (i.e. delayed) Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort has just opened in the Al Hajar Mountains, in the Sultanate of Oman. Its website promises a “unique retreat”, and at 2,000 metres above sea level, it is “the highest five-star resort in the Middle East”. It also seems, however, to bear a striking resemblance to the Alila Jabal Akhdar, some 16km to the northwest as the vulture flies.
Opened in 2014, the Alila resort enjoys a similarly rocky perch, at more or less the same altitude (about 50 metres lower according to my pedantic efforts with Google Earth). Both resorts are about two hours’ drive from Muscat airport and charge similar amounts (HK$3,300 per round trip) for four-wheel-drive airport transfers. Room rates also seem to be comparable (from about HK$3,500 per night), although Anantara offers 30 more rooms than Alila’s 86.
If you’re going all that way, of course, you may as well sample both places, as each looks to be as outstanding as the other. Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad can get you to Muscat via Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, respectively.
Back in business The stepladders have been folded away, the dust sheets pulled back, and the potted palms replaced at The Strand Yangon. Right on time, the only true heritage hotel in Myanmar’s largest city is ready to welcome guests following a six-month redecoration.
The hotel’s claim to still be enjoying the title of “finest hostelry East of Suez” (bestowed in a 1911 John Murray handbook) is boldly optimistic, but this is certainly the place to stay if you are visiting the city once rather more poetically known as Rangoon.
Deal of the week The Ibis Styles Kuala Lumpur Fraser Business Park gets the mixed online reviews that its name might suggest, but from HK$1,690 for two nights, with flights on Dragonair, Swire Travel’s Kuala Lumpur package is off to a good start.
Even the most expensive hotel on the list, the Ritz-Carlton, is offered from only HK$2,550 for a deluxe room, although a junior suite at the lovely old Majestic (right) from just HK$20 more would be my first choice. For more hotels, further details and reservations, visit www.swiretravel.com.