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February 02, 1992|JERRY HULSE'S

Straddling the Equator between Asia and Australia, Indonesia is the popular new pick among knowledgeable travelers. A chain of 3,000 islands. Bathed by both the Pacific and Indian oceans. What with an endless lineup of temples, palaces and Balinese dancers, the Indonesians are out to steal the spotlight from such old haunts as Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan. In Indonesia, visitors can observe tigers, elephants and giant lizards, visit smoking volcanoes and soak up the hot Equatorial sun on one of those travel-poster beaches.

Only an hour east of Singapore, Indonesia tops my list of exotic destinations. It's the land of the never-ending summer. Remains springtime green year-round. Spicy smells. Horse carts roam narrow roads. Harness bells blend with musical notes rising from scores of villages. Temples appear in the jungles. Palaces grace cities. On the island of Sumatra, tigers share the scene with buffalo, wild boar, monkeys, tapir, deer, pythons, boas. And in the highlands, an extinct volcano cradles one of the world's largest lakes.

Indonesia, triple the size of Texas, represents the world's largest archipelago. Besides hundreds of unexplored islands, dozens of volcanoes still puff away, filling the heavens with their clouded scent. The stepping-off point for journeys to other islands is the capital, Jakarta, on Java, where a couple of new hotels opened recently (the Grand Hyatt and Le Meridien).

If Indonesia is on your travel list, Garuda Airlines is selling a visitor pass for $350 that allows you to fly any four routes, domestically, on Garuda's system. Garuda flies from LAX via Honolulu, West Irian and Bali to Jakarta. For reservations, call (800) 342-7832. Other details (maps/brochures) from the Indonesia Tourist Promotion Office, 3457 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 105, Los Angeles 90010, (213) 387-2078 or (213) 387-8309.

Week's Best Hideaway: If England is on your agenda and you're willing to splurge a bit, remember Simonsbath House. A gem of a little hideaway. One of England's cheeriest small hotels. Set in the forest of Exmoor. At the 300-year-old Simonsbath House, a fire crackles pleasantly in the lounge and, outside, the River Barle flows by windows facing hedgerows, sheep, grassy meadows. Guests fish/hike in the woods. A narrow, twisting road passes moss-covered bridges and hillsides brilliant with heather. The road continues past rushing streams to the land of Lorna Doone and the thatch-roof village of Selworthy, with its Periwinkle Tearoom, whose leaded windows frame hollyhocks, geraniums, sweeping pastures. Then it's back to Simonsbath, where proprietors Sue and Mike Burns, who hail from Kent, prepare marvelous meals (pear and mushroom soup, sardines stuffed with chopped walnuts and herbs, halibut steaks grilled with fresh ginger, loin of lamb, pork prepared in apricot wine and pine kernels). A choice of desserts.

Simonsbath House Hotel, Simonsbath, Exmoor, Somerset TA24 7SH, England. Rates run about $90-$100 single, $150-$180 double.

Travel Japan: No one argues that prices in Japan are out of sight, but there are ways to save a few yen. One is to buy a Japan Railpass. About $225 for seven days of unlimited travel (coach class) on trains/buses operated by Japan Rail. Not a bad deal when you consider the round-trip fare, Tokyo-Kyoto, alone costs nearly as much. Other savings by purchasing day passes ($5) for unlimited travel on Tokyo's subway system. Similar passes are sold in Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and other major cities. A tip for travelers: avoid hotel restaurants. Instead, try dining where the locals go. Little side-street restaurants. And if you're really traveling on a shoestring, consider staying in a youth hostel (no age limit) for about $15 a night. You'll also save at business hotels/certain inns. For answers to these and other questions on budget travel, contact Yoko Newburg at the Japan National Tourist Organization, 624 S. Grand Ave., Suite 1611, Los Angeles 90017, (213) 623-1952. She's got all the answers.

San Francisco: For stay-at-homes looking for a touch of the Orient, San Francisco's Miyako Hotel is pitching a package at couples for $119 a night. (Additional nights, $105.) The Miyako is in Japantown. Suites with tatami mats/beds/deep tubs/kimonos/shoji screens. It's like waking up in Tokyo or Osaka. For a few extra bucks, a spa package features steam baths, saunas, back scrubs, shiatsu massages next door at Kabuki Hot Springs. At the Miyako, tea is served in the lobby, complimentary sake is poured in the evening. A choice of Japanese/continental cuisine in the Miyako's restaurant. Other Tokyo-style dining at restaurants in Japantown. For shoppers, free shuttles to Macy's at Union Square.

Miyako Hotel, Japan Center, 1625 Post St., San Francisco 94115, (800) 533-4567 or (415) 922-3200.

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