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Winners of 2023 Smart Travel Asia 20th Anniversary Best in Travel Poll


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Steam through Vietnam or stay big in S'pore, Bangkok...

Steam trains are returning on the Danang-Hue line in Vietnam while a 989-key contemporary escape opens in Singapore's Chinatown.

Vietnam's steam-powered Revolution Express returns late 2024

All aboard the Revolution Express

By late 2024 or early 2025 you could be steaming languorously on a puffing chugger bound from Danang to Hue. The Indochina Rail Tourist Service has teamed up with an operating parter to reintroduce steam-powered journeys from Danang to the old capital of Hue, passing through some spectacular countryside and the Hai Van pass. The Revolution Express will be pulled by a reconditioned 1960s French steam engine (one of the last in Vietnam) to pull ornate classic carriages from Danang to Lang Co and Hue (and back). The journey in each direction will take around four hours with inspired local station meals. Train stations en route are being upgraded with retail outlets and fancier restaurants. The route encompasses spectacular beaches, verdant paddy fields, hill views and heritage buildings.

In April 2024 (above left) the mega-bed Mercure ICON Singapore City Centre (www.mercure-icon-singapore-city-centre.com/) arrived with an inventory of 989 keys. This Chinatown inspired creation features lobby LED artworks and catchy shophouse heritage depictions. This is entirely apt. As guests step out into the neighbourhood bustle they are immediatelty in the thick of the shophouse action from Club Street on to Ann Siang Hill and Duxton Hill. This Chinatown street is where some of Singapore's more venerable Chinese clubs first originated. Rooms at this Accor property serve up light-filled rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows or balconies and eco-friendly amenities. The much anticipated 27 September return of the reimagined (above right) Dusit Thani Bangkok (www.dusit.com/) in the all new mixed-use development of Dusit Central Park comes with a few perks for early bookers. From 1 May 2024 to 31 October 2024 travellers who book stays at the hotel (until 31 March 2025) get a US$75 credit for relaxing spa treatments and dining at one of the new F&B outlets at this hotel, long a haunt for royalty that once set the benchmark with its exceptional service and distinctive golden spire.

Vistara ranked No.9 worldwide for Cabin Service on Smart Travel Asia 2023 Poll

From India, service with a smile

From Vistara (www.airvistara.com), India's premium carrier, some award-winning cabin service and smiles to match. Vistara staff posing proudly in an aircraft (above) show off their No.9 for Cabin Service Worldwide award on the Smart Travel Asia 2023 20th Anniversary Poll. The online poll was conducted among an affluent group of international frequent travellers, many of whom have been reading Smart Travel Asia since its launch in 2003 as the region's first dedicated web-based travel magazine. Vistara was cited for its professionalism, attentive service and the quality of all-round care. The airline - a joint venture between India's formidable TATA Group and Singapore Airlines - gets rolled into TATA's new acquisition, Air India, in 2025. Whether the revamped national airline is able to retain Air India's premier positioning (as during the 1970s) remains to be seen but Vistara's fine showing holds out considerable promise.

Mercure Icon is the latest Singapore behemoth with 989 keys New look Dusit Thani Bangkok returns 27 September 2024

On 1 September 2023 Bhutan (above left, bhutan.travel/) brought the daily Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) down to US$100. The levy is valid until September 2027. Young children get special concessions too. In early 2023 the government opted to drop all-inclusive tour fees (US$250) and began charging a flat US$200 per head for foreigners (with a special Rs1,200 rate for Indians). The freebie was over. Hotels and tour operators complained that this was killing tourism as foreigners now had to pay the $200 personal fee and fork out separately for hotels, transport, and meals. This resulted in the cut. Indians don't require a Bhutan visa. Maldivians and Bangladeshis are also exempt from visas. The 52-suite Aman Nai Lert Bangkok (above right, www.aman.com) opens third quarter of 2024 with its signature minimalist design, an armload of Japanese menus, Italian dining, and a wellness retreat. Also find 39 Aman Residences from floors 11 to 36. This will get you substantial open views though the towering Park Hyatt is right next door. As with Amanpuri, which started the residence-let-out trend in Phuket, flat owners offer unused residences to Aman to lease to guests. This site is next to the former British Ambassador's residence. One niggle is the Nai Lert location. It's tough for access when traffic builds up on this one-way road. If Soi Nai Lert proves problematic traffic-wise, access is also available via Soi Khit that runs down from Ploenchit (close to Central Chidlom).

Bhutan cuts visitor levies September 2023 Aman Nai Lert Bangkok arrives Q3 2024

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