Hope everyone had a pleasant Duan Wu holiday. Beijing had its usual holiday weekend lack of crowds, which actually makes Beijing Beijingers' most attractive holiday destination.

Just to wrap up a loose end before launching into this week's important travel preview, the return flight from San Francisco to Beijing on Air China passed without incident, although one thing became apparent: San Francisco International Airport sucks. For an airport that is the gateway to the world's leading area for technological innovation, the free Wi-Fi doesn't work. For an airport that is the gateway to some of the United States' best ethnic food, the dining options are shockingly poor. And for an airport that is the gateway to an area where one can scarcely throw a stone and not hit a Starbucks, there is none at the airport. Flying a Chinese airline out of a US airport is the worst of both worlds. Grab some grub to go at your favorite burrito place before heading to SFO.

Your Talking Travel correspondent loves nothing more than planning a trip, including actually taking the trip. The trip rarely lives up to its promise, although that wasn't true for Hokkaido. One thing that surprises me every year is that while Chinese friends cleverly book their holidays early, foreigners still seem to think it's 2001 and you can book your October 1 flights to Southeast Asia three weeks in advance. Them days is over. If you're serious about going on the trip that you want, break open that piggy bank today and prepare to make reservations.

I'll spare the lecture about time-shifting your travel dates to avoid the holiday crunch. Essentially, it means leaving usually four or five days before the holiday to avoid surcharges and crowds, or leaving in the middle of the holiday and burning a few vacation days to extend beyond the holiday dates. Do it, you'll be happy you did.

Mid-Autumn Festival falls on Monday, September 8 this year, unlike last year, when most people took a couple of days off and got 10 or 11 days of holiday because it came close to October 1. Here's an idea: take September 9-12 off, and spend October 1 week in Beijing. It's usually the best weather week of the year here, and why not spend that week in the place you live? Think about it.

Another logistical note: October 1 falls on a Wednesday this year, with the holiday ending on Tuesday, October 7. We'll then work 10 consecutive days to make up for it. I don't think so: Leave for you holiday October 4 or 5, and come back October 11, then go back to work like a normal human being. I just can't fathom who thinks that anyone will be refreshed by a seven-day holiday followed by 10 working days. 

For those determined to venture forth, here are some suggestions for destinations:

Myanmar: Travelers from Europe have known about Myanmar for years, but it wasn't such a friendly place until recently. American travelers haven't discovered it yet, and more importantly, Chinese tour groups don't go there. Considering that Thailand is doing everything it can to make itself unattractive for travelers, Myanmar may get an additional boost. there's the capital Yangon, replete with Buddhist sites that are so integral to the country's history, including the city's centerpiece, the Shwedagon Pagoda. It's also the political center of a nation in transition, which means there should be lots of new shops, restaurants, and cafes to check out. Further afield, there's Bagan, described by one website as the architectural heart of ancient Burma. For beach lovers, there's Ngapali and a host of other Andaman Sea-side spots ready to be enjoyed. Visas take a while, so be sure to apply early.

Taiwan: I hope that by this time next year, everyone has gotten Taiwan out of their system because I'm tired of hearing about it. Taipei has a bit of a Los Angeles feel, a big city with a fair bit of nightlife, including night markets for food and shopping. History buffs will appreciate the National Museum, which contains numerous treasures, uh, transported from the Forbidden City and other imperial sites. Beyond, Taiwan is an outdoor sports lover's paradise, with numerous opportunities for mountain biking, hiking, and even scuba diving. At least in Taipei, English is more widely spoken than in a large city like Beijing or Shanghai, making it easier to explore for non-Chinese speakers.

Rio de Janeiro: About a billion people are about to see Rio on television during the World Cup, and the buzz will continue for the next two years because the city is also hosting the next Summer Olympics. October is a shoulder season there, with average high temperatures around 26 degrees Celsius, and lows about 20 degrees. Not exactly strip-to-your-thong weather, but entirely pleasant and still beachable during the day. You'll also miss the crowds of Carnivale and snowbirds from North America and Europe won't yet be flocking in during the northern hemisphere's winter. Sounds like a good time to go.

Although Rio and Brazil may become an exception, South America is the place to go for people wanting to avoid Chinese tour groups. Only about 100,000 tourists went to South America last year.

Talking Travel next Tuesday will have a little more on pricing these destinations. Until Thursday, which will be more of an industry trend piece, one road flat safe.

Photo: Wikimedia

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