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ASIA-PACIFIC ISSUE: ENCHANTMENTS OF THE FAR EAST : Fast Facts on Asia Pacific Nations : AUSTRALIA

April 28, 1991|STANTON H. PATTY

* Population: 16.4 million.

* Capital and major cities: Canberra (capital), Sydney (New South Wales state), Melbourne (Victoria), Perth (Western Australia), Brisbane (Queensland), Adelaide (South Australia), Darwin (Northern Territory) and Hobart (Tasmania).

* Languages: English, with Australian inflections.

* Religions: Predominantly Protestant, but most faiths represented.

* Currency: Australian dollar.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: 13 1/2 hours.

* Weather: Half lies within tropics, but snow skiing in Snowy Mountains, about 200 miles south of Sydney.

* Top attractions: Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, gold rush history tours near Melbourne and Perth, wine tours in South Australia's Barossa Valley, and glimpses of fauna ranging from koalas to penguins.

BRUNEI * Population: 238,000 for tiny Sultanate of Brunei, one of the world's richest nations because of oil and natural-gas production; extends for about 100 miles along the South China Sea, on the northern coast of Borneo.

* Capital: Bandar Seri Begawan.

* Languages: Malay, with some English and Chinese.

* Religion: Islam.

* Currency: Brunei dollar.

* Top attractions: The sultan's 1,788-room royal palace and gold-domed mosques in the capital. The palace includes a garage for the sultan's 110 or so luxury automobiles. The family line of the ruler, His Majesty, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izaddin Waddaulah, dates to the 14th Century.

FRENCH POLYNESIA (Tahiti) * Population: 188,800 for the five island groups of French territory.

* Capital: Papeete.

* Languages: French and Tahitian, some English in Papeete.

* Religions: Christian.

* Currency: French Pacific franc.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: 8 hours to Papeete.

* Top attractions: Author James Michener has called Bora-Bora the most beautiful island in the world. Romantic islands visited on cruises and air tours from Papeete include Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Bora-Bora. Favorite activities in the islands include scuba diving, sunset-watching, some shopping (it is cheaper to buy French perfumes and liqueurs in Papeete than in Paris).

FIJI * Population: 758,000 on 322 islands, 2,800 miles southwest of Hawaii.

* Capital: Suva on island of Viti Levu.

* Languages: English, Fijian and several languages of India.

* Religions: Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Islam.

* Currency: Fijian dollar.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: 10 hours.

* Top attractions: Fijian fire-walking ceremonies presented at hotels, scuba diving and reef-walking, a three-day cruise from Viti Levu's port of Lautoka to neighboring Yasawa Islands.

INDIA * Population: 833 million.

* Capital: New Delhi.

* Languages: Hindi and English, plus about 17 other recognized Indian languages and dialects.

* Religions: More than 80% of Indians are Hindus. Other religions include Sikh, Jain, Islam, Buddhist, Christian and Jewish.

* Currency: Rupee.

* Flying time from New York: to New Delhi is 17 hours.

* Weather: November through March is best weather in New Delhi area.

* Top attractions: No. 1 attraction still is the Taj Mahal, Jaipur (the Pink City of Rajasthan), holiest city of Varanasi (also called Benares) on Ganges River. It is a dramatic sight for travelers in early morning as Hindu faithful crowd temples and steps to bathe in the Ganges.

GUAM * Population: 126,434 on largest of the Marianas Islands, a U.S. territory 3,300 miles southwest of Hawaii.

* Capital: Agana.

* Languages: English and Chamorro plus Japanese and Philippine Tagalog as languages of commerce.

* Religions: Christian.

* Currency: U.S. dollar.

* Flying time from Honolulu: to Guam is 7 hours.

* Top attractions: Diving, snorkeling, World War II battle sites and monuments and duty-free shopping.

INDONESIA * Population: 187.7 million in a vast archipelago, with more than 13,000 islands stretching over a 3,000-mile-long, equator-straddling arc between the Indian Ocean, South China Sea and the South Pacific.

* Capital: Jakarta.

* Languages: Bahasa Indonesia is national language, but English is understood in major cities.

* Religions: More than 90% of Indonesians are Muslim, but Hinduism is main religion on Bali.

* Currency: Rupiah.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: to Jakarta is 18 hours.

* Top attractions: Indonesia's most popular getaway island is Bali, just east of Java. Denpasar, Bali's largest city, is the center of things. Beach activities and colorful Hindu temple festivals fill days on Bali. In Borobodur, in central Java, is one of world's largest Buddhist monuments, built in the 8th Century. Batik cloth is a favorite buy.

HONG KONG * Population: 5.7 million.

* Capital and major cities: Victoria on Hong Kong Island.

* Languages: Chinese (mostly Cantonese) and English.

* Religions: Mostly Buddhist, Taoist and Christian.

* Currency: Hong Kong dollar.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: 14 hours.

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