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Who wants to sit in an airport transit lounge, eyes drooping and dehydrated as a Danish bog man, while an alluring destination lies just beyond the windows?
Not me. Instead of lurching with glazed-eyes past another Chanel shop and Starbucks, I'd rather have my spirits revived in a street market, or loiter in a cafe.
Airport transits are an opportunity missed. Stopovers, on the other hand, are like a secret entrance in the wardrobe, with the power to propel you into another land which, though not quite Narnia, can easily offer an entirely new city, culture and sensory experience all crammed into an intense and fulfilling day or two.
Stopovers are good for you, too. Michael Pearson, the managing director at Expedia Australia & New Zealand, says: "I recommend them, especially if you're travelling long-haul with kids.
"Stopovers break up marathon flights so you can get on the front foot with jet lag and arrive at your destination fresh and ready to explore."
Singapore was likely the first stopover for many older Australians as they made the long trek to Europe: the city was among the first to offer bargain-priced hotels to passengers to boost its tourism industry. It remains one of the best stopover destinations, and lately Qantas has shifted flights from Sydney to London back to this old favourite after several years' flirtation with Dubai.
However, plenty of other south-east Asian and Middle Eastern cities compete for airline passengers, and Chinese cities are likely to be our next transit hotspots as Australian travellers become more familiar with Chinese airlines.
"Wherever you go, a stopover acts as a holiday within a holiday, enabling you to experience a new culture, relax on a beach or shop up a storm – plus you get an extra stamp in your passport," says Darren Wright, the general manager of customer experience at Flight Centre Travel Group.
From Abu Dhabi, where the stunning new Louvre museum opened this month, to the ever-compelling sights, sounds and tastes of Tokyo you can now stopover in more interesting ways than you might imagine. Here's how to choose a stopover destination that best suits your travelling temperament.
THE FUTURISTIC STOPOVER: SHANGHAI
Take the world's fastest train from the airport. Photo: AP
Few cities can match forward-looking Shanghai, the skyscraper-bristling, poster-city for China's seemingly endless economic dynamism. This is a stopover for those wanting a full-on, contemporary urban vibe.
EXPLORE: The future begins on the Maglev ride from the airport, top speed 431km/h Hit the Bund for views across the Huangpu River to skyscrapers and neon lights: the iconic sight of modern China. Shanghai Tower, one of the world's tallest buildings, offers vertiginous views. Then explore the cutting-edge Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. If you still have evening energy, hit Xintiandi district for nightlife.
WHAT ELSE? Longhua Temple; the colonial-era French Concession district; classic Yu Garden, the Shanghai Museum for superb ceramics and art.
SLEEPOVER: Aptly named JW Marriott at Tomorrow Square peers over Shanghai's most modern district (Puxi) and is lodged in one of many eye-popping skyscrapers. See marriott.com.au
MORE Fly China Eastern Airlines. See meet-in-shanghai.net
THE CULTURAL STOPOVER: DOHA
The Museum of Islamic Art, Doha. Photo: Shutterstock
Doha's amazing economic boom and mushrooming skyscrapers over the last decades are now being matched by a similar transformation in its cultural life.
EXPLORE: Stopover for the Museum of Islamic Art alone where, in a spectacular building designed by I. M. Pei, you'll find dazzling displays highlighting Islamic culture from Spain to China. This is the world's largest Islamic art collection. Qatar National Museum (anthropology) and Al Khor Museum (archaeology) provide interesting extras. Then wander through the Gold Souk, past Fanar Islamic Centre and on to 19th-century Al Koot Fort. Souk Waqif market has everything Islamic from falconry products to perfumes.
WHAT ELSE? Dhow rides and desert safaris; arts complex Katara Cultural Village; island-bound luxury district The Pearl; the Corniche for great city views, especially at sunset.
SLEEPOVER: Souq Waqif Resort near the market features a blend of traditional Islamic and contemporary styles and a gorgeous hammam. See souqwaqifresort
MORE Fly Qatar Airways. See visitqatar.qa
THE SHOPPER'S STOPOVER: LOS ANGELES
Rodeo Drive. Photo: Shutterstock
Los Angeles isn't just about Hollywood. Among other things, this is the epicentre of American consumerism, full of shopping malls and interesting boutique stores, plus plenty of movie memorabilia.
EXPLORE: Hit Downtown, where savvy locals come for bargains in the fashion district and Chinatown. Olvera Street sells everything Mexican made, adding mariachi bands for weekend entertainment. Down-at-heel Melrose Avenue has clothing shops and on-trend, funky fashions, while Wilshire Boulevard is the place for department stores Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus. In Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive showcases swank international designers.
WHAT ELSE? Beachside suburbs Santa Monica and Malibu; Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures; a half-dozen excellent museums.
SLEEPOVER: The stylish Sofitel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills is near upmarket shopping action; concierges will supply insider tips on where to splash your cash. See sofitel.com
MORE Fly American Airlines, Delta, Qantas, United Airlines or Virgin Australia. See discoverlosangeles.com
THE ANIMAL-LOVER'S STOPOVER: SINGAPORE
Singapore Zoo. Photo: AP
Singapore is a great destination for food and shopping, but a return visit reveals something few other stopover cities can supply: an abundance of family-friendly animal attractions.
EXPLORE: A day at Singapore Zoo starts with its innovative jungle breakfast with orang-utans and finishes with its night safari for spotting shy nocturnal animals such as leopards and tapirs. Nearby River Safari features water rides and more wildlife, including giant pandas. Elsewhere, Jurong Bird Park has a terrific walk-through aviary and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve supplies walking trails through million-year-old rainforest bright with butterflies and lizards.
WHAT ELSE? Lively Chinatown and Little India; Sentosa Island and its Universal Studios Singapore; the National Gallery of Singapore for south-east Asian arts; Marina Bay.
SLEEPOVER: Resort-style Orchid Country Club is near the zoo in a country setting, great if you're after a city-free stopover. See orchidclub.com
MORE Fly Jetstar Asia, Qantas, Scoot, Singapore Airlines or British Airways. See visitsingapore.com
THE ADRENALIN STOPOVER: DUBAI
Go dune bashing in Dubai. Photo: Shutterstock
If you've over-shopped in this well-established stopover city, you might be surprised – and lured back – by the number of activities that will get the adrenaline surging.
EXPLORE: Windsurfing, fishing, sailing, water-skiing and scuba-diving should shake off the jet lag; you can also scuba-dive with tiger sharks and rays in the giant aquarium at Dubai Mall. Hilarious Wild Wadi waterpark has a huge wave pool and terrifying rides. Then get out of the city to see the desert, either with an early-morning hot-air balloon ride, helicopter flight or evening dune-bashing in a four-wheel-drive. Desert wildlife includes oryx and antelope.
WHAT ELSE? Spice and gold markets near The Creek; 19th-century Al-Fahidi Fort; world's tallest building Burj Khalifa; giant shopping malls.
SLEEPOVER: Stay at family-friendly Jumeirah Beach Hotel and you get complimentary entry to adjacent Wild Wadi waterpark; diving and water sports are also offered. See jumeirah.com
MORE Fly Emirates Airlines. See visitdubai.com
THE FRESH-AIR STOPOVER: AUCKLAND
Photo: Miles Holden
Blow away stale cabin air on the way across the Pacific in the nippy air of Auckland, whose fabulous natural setting provides the perfect stopover for the active traveller.
EXPLORE: Hire a bicycle and hit waterfront Tamaki Drive around the eastern bays from city centre to Saint Heliers, with lovely views of the Hauraki Gulf islands. From downtown, public ferries run to Rangitoto Island, an old black-lava volcano, and to relaxing Waiheke Island, whose Mediterranean-like microclimate encourages vines and olive trees. For another great getaway, head along the rainforest-draped west coast beyond Auckland to wave-lashed Karekare Beach, or Whatipu Beach with its huge sand dunes.
WHAT ELSE? The ferry ride to pretty Devonport; lively Viaduct Harbour or Ponsonby Road for evening dining; Auckland War Memorial Museum and the surrounding Domain.
SLEEPOVER: Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour is on Auckland's trendy waterfront. Tuck into French fare at its impressive Lava Dining restaurant. See sofitel.com
MORE Fly Air New Zealand. See aucklandnz.com
THE BAR-HOPPER'S STOPOVER: HONG KONG
In a stopover city with some of the world's best hotels, restaurants and shopping, nightlife often gets overlooked yet is surprisingly enjoyable.
EXPLORE: Returning from Europe and up late with jet lag? Party epicentre is Lan Kwai Fong in Central, packed with about 100 venues from champagne bars to beer halls; revellers often spill into the street. Knutsford Terrace in Kowloon is more sedate, with a good choice of themed drinking spots. For a splurge, upmarket bars with views include Felix Bar at the Peninsula – where even the men's loos have a panorama – and Ozone Bar atop the dizzying Ritz-Carlton.
WHAT ELSE? Theme parks Disneyland and Ocean Park; street markets; a rack-railway ascent of The Peak; Po Lin Monastery on lush Lantau Island.
SLEEPOVER: InterContinental Hong Kong has an absolute waterfront location. The harbour's Symphony of Lights is perfectly timed for viewing at cocktail hour. See intercontinental.com
MORE Fly Cathay Pacific or Virgin Australia. See discoverhongkong.com
THE CULTURE-SHOCK STOPOVER: DELHI
Chandi Chowk, Old Delhi. Photo: Shutterstock
Delhi is one of the world's oldest cities yet, mushrooming into modernity and economic expansion, is transforming into one of the newest. If you're thrilled by culture clashes, no stopover is more shocking and intriguing.
EXPLORE: Chandni Chowk is the centre of Old Delhi's fabulous bustle, around which unfold shops, market stalls and Hindu temples, all crammed with colourful crowds, from astrologers to Sikhs, Rajasthani ladies to skinny sadhus. Nearby Chor Bazaar (flea market) and Kinari Bazaar (wedding finery) are other fabulous spectacles. Then take in the contrast of modern commercial hub Connaught Place and green, ruin-studded oasis Lodi Gardens.
WHAT ELSE? Rajpath for British-era, monumental Delhi; the Red Fort and nearby Friday Mosque; 12th-century Qutb Minar tower; 18th-century astronomical observatory Jantar Mantar.
SLEEPOVER: Imperial Hotel is well placed for exploration and has an elegant, 1930s atmosphere. Its great swimming pool is a cure for cramped legs. See theimperialindia.com
MORE Fly Air India. See delhitourism.gov.in
THE FOODIE STOPOVER: KUALA LUMPUR
With its blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian and colonial influences, this city has some of Asia's most varied and scrumptious street food.
EXPLORE: Few things say Malaysia more than hawker stalls: try Madras Lane and Jalan Sayur for mouth-watering street eats. Chinatown has evening offerings along Jalan Sultan and Jalan Tun HS Lee, with a huge variety of Malay and Chinese dishes. Good shopping-mall food courts are found at Suria KLCC, Pavilion KL and Lot 10. Signature street dish nasi lemak features white rice soaked in coconut cream with sides such as fried chicken, cucumber, boiled egg and spicy sambal sauce.
WHAT ELSE? Chinese and Hindu temples; raucous Chinatown; lovely Jamek Mosque; the Islamic Arts Museum; Perdana Botanical Garden.
SLEEPOVER: The new St Regis Kuala Lumpur is adjacent to Sentral's airport express. Impressive restaurants serve bistro-style Mediterranean fare and three Michelin-star Japanese cuisine.
MORE Fly Malaysia Airlines. See visitkl.gov.my
THE WELLNESS STOPOVER: BANGKOK
Surely there's no better city for a massage, whether on the street or in a posh spa retreat. Follow the traditions of Thai healing for a herb-scented, muscle-pummelling antidote to cramped airline seats.
EXPLORE: Take you choice: four-hand massage amid teak at Oasis Spa, budget de-knotting at Perception Blind Massage, facials at luxury Como Shambala. You can get treatment while sightseeing too: Wat Pho, where monks train in traditional Thai medicine, has two massage pavilions. Take some talent home by attending a Thai massage school such as Phussapa or Chetawan.
WHAT ELSE? The Grand Palace and Wat Arun; night markets and shopping malls; rooftop bars; a ferry ride on the Chao Phraya River.
SLEEPOVER: Thai and French design influences come together to create a chic retreat at SO Sofitel Bangkok. Its luxe spa has an Ayurvedic massage against jet lag. See so-sofitel-bangkok.com
MORE Fly Thai Airways. See tourismthailand.org
WHY CONSIDER A STOPOVER?
DISCOVERY Ever sat in a plane wondering about all those countries you're flying over? A stopover gives you the chance to explore a new city and adds a whole different culture and cuisine to your journey. "Breaking a journey to Europe in south-east Asia or the Middle East allows you to pack more experiences into your holiday," Flight Centre's Darren Wright says.
MONEY SAVING You get an extra destination at a fraction of the price of a separate holiday. Stopover tickets seldom cost more than a fly-through journey, and some airlines will even throw in a hotel night or two as an incentive.
BUCKET LISTING Sadly, most of us will never have the time or money to visit all the places we dream about. A stopover, though, turns the necessity of a long-haul flight into an opportunity to tick places off your must-see list. "For minimum fuss and maximum fun, my top tip for stopovers is to pack all you need for your stopover in your carry-on," Expedia's Michael Pearson says.
CHILD'S PLAY We all know the tribulations of long-haul flights with small children. If they can fit in a bassinet, keep on flying. Otherwise, stopovers give parents a breather. "The stress of keeping children entertained, managing transits and ensuring they get enough rest is greatly reduced when you have a stopover," Wright says. "Being able to shower and sleep in a bed can make a huge difference to the whole family."
RECUPERATION If you're travelling long haul, your body will feel better with a stretch, fresh air and proper sleep. You'll experience less jet lag. "Our circadian rhythm or body clock is closely regulated by light exposure," says sleep physician Dr Dev Banerjee from the Woolcock Institute. "Travelling beyond three times zones leads to symptoms of jet lag. A stopover allows some readjustment of the circadian rhythm through sun exposure."
FIVE UNUSUAL STOPOVERS
Connect to Europe with Air China and enjoy the contrast of Beijing, epicentre of Chinese history for five centuries. Big-name attractions include the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Great Wall beyond, but the modern city (such as the Olympic Park) is mighty impressive too. See visitbeijing.com.cn
China Southern Airlines provides another gateway into China and beyond. The fast-paced trading city has several old temples, sites associated with colonial and revolutionary history, fabulous shopping, huge parks, an outstanding cuisine and mind-boggling contemporary architecture, including the 610-metre Canton Tower and curved opera house. See lifeofguangzhou.com
Fly Korean Air to Europe and pause in this mega-city of flashing neon, back-street bars, funky neighbourhoods and great food. Seoul's two jewels are sprawling Gyeongbokgung Palace, reminiscent of a scaled down Forbidden City, and Changdeokgung Palace, whose superb traditional gardens are framed by forested hills. See visitseoul.net
Philippine Airlines will connect you to Asia or Europe via this energetic, friendly, buzzing city with several downtown cores such as Makati, Malate and Ermita, each with their own particular vibe. Old Intramuros has Spanish colonial architecture and Binondo has perhaps the world's oldest Chinatown. See tourism.gov.ph
Air Canada provides an alternative way to get to both Canada and the US, and who wouldn't want to stopover in one of the world's most attractive cities, set between sea and mountain? This is a great city for walking and exploring upcoming neighbourhoods such as Gastown and adjacent Chinatown. See tourismvancouver.com
Podcast - The world's best stopover destinations
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