Tripologist: By George, Penang's the place for a solo trip

I'm a single, 38-year-old female empty-nester who wants to travel somewhere Asian, cheap and fun. Can you recommend a great place for a single woman on a budget that isn't Bali? Cheap massages, great food and friendly people are my only must-haves. Or help me find a company that will help me to book a bundled holiday that's not a tour but is just for one person?
- C. Christian, Albury

My pick is Penang. The island is easily accessible via a one-stop flight from Melbourne or Sydney, airfares are competitive, it's budget-priced and it offers a fine mix of relaxation and stimulation. The place to stay is one of the hotels by the beach at Batu Ferringhi, from where you have easy access to George Town, one of the most atmospheric and likeable cities in all of south-east Asia.

Penang also serves up a feast of Malay, Indian and Chinese flavours. The specialty is nyonya cooking, the food of the Straits-born Chinese, which marries the culinary traditions of Chinese traders with local Malay food. The place to eat is the hawker food markets at Batu Ferringhi and along the beachfront at Gurney Drive.

George Town is practically an open-air museum, a sleepy World Heritage zone with a fragrant Little India and a time-warped Chinatown where the shops are being transformed into boutique hotels and smart cafe-restaurants. At the forefront of the makeover movement is Aussie expat Narelle McMurtrie, whose China House on Beach Street fuses an art gallery, reading room, spunky bar, cafe, a glam restaurant and performance space.

Finding a cheap massage will require a little more persistence than it would in Bali or Phuket, but Penang ticks all the other boxes on your wish-list.

Surrender to the fascination of Tokyo

My husband and daughter will be travelling to Tokyo for about five to six days to attend the Tokyo International Anime Fair. Neither speak Japanese nor are huge fans of Japanese food. We would appreciate any ideas for twin accommodation accessible to the Anime Fair venue, food and travelling on a family budget. Any information about purchasing tickets, navigating the fair, or the best times to go to avoid the crowds would be really helpful.
- H McLucas, Strathfield

The 2013 Tokyo International Anime Fair takes place at Big Sight, the city's International Exhibition Centre, located on Odaiba Island in Tokyo Bay.

The public is admitted for two days only, on March 23 and 24, and therefore they would be better off staying in a more central location and commuting to the venue. Kokusai-Tenjijo Station on the Rinkai Line is just a few minutes' walk away from Big Sight. The Rinkai Line connects with the Saikyo Line at Osaki Station, from where you can catch a train to Shinjuku Station.

Shinjuku is a bustling and exciting part of the city with many hotels. Check the options at TripAdvisor. One possibility is Hotel Tateshina, which has simple but comfortable rooms starting from less than $200 a night, which puts it in the budget range in Tokyo. Tickets for the Fair can be purchased at the door for ¥1000 ($12.10) or in advance for ¥800 ($9.60) from convenience stores, ticket agents or at the Anime Centre in Akihabara UDX building (4-14-1 Sotokanda Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo), which is another hot-spot for your anime-loving daughter. The fair is open from 10am to 6pm, but there is little chance of escaping the crowds.


Dining in Japan is not expensive, as long as you're eating from the Japanese menu. Western-style food is exotic, and costly, but there are many familiar fast-food outlets that offer a less pricey option.

Japan can be challenging even for experienced travellers, but it is also fascinating.

I am often asked which are my favourite travel destinations. When I say "Japan", anyone who has ever been there agrees.

Hong Kong offers much for NYE

Where is the best place in Hong Kong to see in the new year (not Chinese New Year)?
- M. Parkman, Wollstonecraft

Hong Kong puts on a fireworks display on December 31, and the best place to see it is aboard one of the boats in the harbour. Both the Star Ferry Company and several private tour companies operate cruises on the night.

Another top spot - literally - is the Ozone bar on the top floor of the Ritz-Carlton hotel. This is the world's highest bar, 118 storeys up. The view is an absolute knockout although it can be totally obscured by cloudy weather. Another great option for watching the show is the Avenue of the Stars, at the waterfront on Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, on the Kowloon side.

Central Hong Kong's bar and club hot spot, Lan Kwai Fong, will be a focal point for many expat revellers on the night. Expect big crowds and an equally big cover charge for the clubs, or you could just hang out on the street, which is where the main party will be happening anyway.

Short on time? Take a tour

My husband and I plan to visit our daughter in London next April for a week, followed by a trip to Paris, Switzerland, Austria and Poland, with maybe three nights in each. I am wondering if travelling by train to these countries would be economical and give us the chance to enjoy the scenery, or would it be cheaper to do a tour?
- E. Oakman, Batemans Bay

Since you plan to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time, I would recommend a tour. You could do it more cheaply on your own, but you would probably find it hard work. Do-it-yourself travel within a tight framework in unfamiliar territory is a challenge to organise.

Finding your way around in a strange city, catching taxis between your hotel and the train station, coping with a foreign language and finding somewhere to eat can be exhausting, stressful and not much fun when you're travelling fast.

On a tour, all you have to do is show up at the scheduled time and someone else takes care of getting you from one city to the next, booking you into your hotel room and showing you around, leaving you free to sit back and take in the sights and sensations.

TrafalgarAPTInsight Vacations and Globus have a range of coach and train tours in the parts of Europe you plan to visit and they're popular with Australian clients. Check their websites or get hold of their brochures and start dreaming.


Looking for a hot hotel deal? Trivago trolls through the heavyweights of the hotel search engines, including Agoda, Expedia and, and comes back with a price from each. The difference can save you big bucks. In Hong Kong, for example, the difference between the best and worst deal at The Langham Hong Kong can vary by more than $100 a night. Even in remote places, Trivago can help you find a bargain.

If you have travel questions, we'd love to hear from you. Include the name of your suburb or town  and send it to Personal correspondence cannot be entered into. Only questions appearing in print will be answered. One published letter each week will win a Lonely Planet guidebook.