Low-cost airlines are offering cheap flights to places previously off your radar. All you need is a couple of twenties and a couple of hours.
Twenty minutes outside Lampang is the National Elephant Institute, where elephants do entertaining things, such as play music, arrange logs, and create abstract paintings (Kilometer 28-29, Lampang-Chiang Mai Highway, 011-66/54-247-875, thailandelephant.org, $1.85).
Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur: $68 round trip, 90 minutes (airasia.com)
"Solo" is what everyone calls Surakarta, a city just 40 miles from Yogyakarta, the closest big city on the island of Java. And Solo has all the rich Javanese culture without the corresponding congestion.
The broad, leafy sidewalks along Jalan Slamet Riyadi find pedestrians and bicyclists coexisting happily. At Galeri Batik Kuna Danar Hadi, an outlet, museum, and factory dedicated to the art of batik, Indonesia's history can be seen through the designs (261--263 Jalan Slamet Riyadi, danarhadibatik.com, $2).
Just off Jalan Slamet Riyadi is the Kasunanan Palace, a crumbling compound with architectural influences from China, the Middle East, India, and Europe. A museum in the palace has ornate, centuries-old carriages that are rare reminders of the days of Dutch colonial rule (011-62/271-641-243, 85¢).
The restaurant Adem Ayem is a good place to try the Solo specialty nasi liwet, an addictive dish of rice cooked with coconut milk and served with chicken and egg (342 Jalan Slamet Riyadi, 011-62/271-716-992, dinner for two $4).
The Lor In Business Resort & Spa is only a 15-minute taxi ride from the city center, but since it's surrounded by lagoons and coconut trees, it feels worlds away (47 Jalan Adi Sucipto, 011-62/271-724-500, lor-in.com, from $56).
The low-fare fine print
Searching: Don't bother trying to locate Asian low-fare carriers by using aggregators; they like to pretend these airlines don't exist. Online travel guide Attitude Travel maintains a useful list at attitudetravel.com/lowcostairlines/asia.
Buying: The easiest way to book in advance is by purchasing tickets with a credit card directly from the airlines' websites. You'll be e-mailed an itinerary with a confirmation number. Print this out both for checking in and for getting through security. Purchases are usually nonrefundable, and making route changes, when permitted, carries a relatively hefty fine--$22 each way on Tiger Airways, for example.
Flying: Flight delays and check-in hassles are par for the course. Even finding the check-in counter can be a challenge--in Bangkok, the PB Air counter is in a nearly deserted wing of the departures hall. Leave some wiggle room in your itinerary.
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