Discount packages bring Australia closer

According to the Australian Tourist Commission, increasing numbers of Thais are heading to Australia for holidays – in 2000, 74,000 made a trip there, a nearly 20 per cent increase on the year before. The reasons? Thongchai Wibulsaksakul, country manager of the ATC in Thailand, says Australia is proving popular because it’s the closest Western destination to Thailand. "It also offers a good combination of cities and nature, and has unique flora and animals."

A weakening Australian dollar against the US dollar can’t hurt either – and there are plenty of packages around from which to choose. "Sydney remains the most popular place to go," says Thongchai, "followed by Melbourne and the Gold Coast."

If you’d like a taste of Australia from the moment you leave Don Muang, you might like to fly with the country’s national carrier, Qantas (however note they do have code share flights with British Airways). Holiday Tours and Travel has a special package – "Australian Surprise" – on offer from May 16. Bt25,900 gets you return flights to Sydney, coach transfers to and from the airport, three nights’ twin-share accommodation at the Sydney Boulevard Hotel, and a one-day Sydney Aquarium Pass. Extra nights in Sydney cost Bt3,000 per night.

The bonus with this deal is that it also includes your choice of a free extension flight to Cairns or flights to one of the following combinations: Adelaide/Melbourne, Canberra/Melbourne, Hobart/Melbourne, Brisbane/Melbourne, Gold Coast Melbourne, or Launceston/Melbourne – a great low-budget way to see some bonus Australian sights.

If you’d rather stay patriotic by sticking with THAI, try a Royal Orchid Tour. Give them a call directly or try an agent such as Best Buy Tickets – the prices are the same. The Sydney package is priced at Bt24,440 for three days and two nights. Price includes return ticket with THAI, transfers, accommodation in a three-star hotel (twin share basis), breakfasts and a half-day tour of Sydney and the southern beaches.

Their deal for Melbourne gives you more bang for your baht, starting at Bt25,160 for a four-days and three-night deal. It includes the same as for Sydney, with a full day tour of Melbourne sights instead.

Their Brisbane two-day three-night trip starts at Bt23,850 – and includes two full day tours to Movieworld and Seaworld. If you’d like to check out Brisbane in more detail, it will cost from Bt1265 extra per night.

If you’re a more independent kind of traveller, you can plan your trip yourself – much of it online. First you’ll want to book a well-priced flight from Bangkok to the destination of your choice. Natbusara Tour currently offer flights to Perth with Royal Brunei Air for Bt15,900 return, Perth or Darwin with Malaysian Air for Bt14,000 and Sydney or Brisbane for Bt17,000.

UTC offer more than 30 accommodation/tour packages that kick off when you arrive in Australia. Their five-day four-night Sydney/Melbourne deal starts at AUD591 per person, standard twin share. It includes transfers, breakfasts and two and half day’s worth of tours. Their five-day four-night Gold Coast and farmstay package starts at AUD415 per person, standard twin share, and includes the same except for tours – instead you’ll head to a farm for an overnight stay, and Movieworld for a day-tour.

If you’d rather do it all yourself, head to http://www.australia.com to browse through the suggested itineraries. Next checkout http://www.travelmate.com.au or http://www.australiahotels.net to organise your accommodation at Internet rates.

Australiahotels.net features mid to upper range accommodation, such as a double harbour view room at the Sydney Inter-continental Hotel until September 31 for AUD290 per night; a superior double at Melbourne’s Mercure Hotel until April 2002 for AUD170; or a deluxe waterfront room at the Gold Coast’s Couran Cove Resort until Christmas for AUD204. You need to register at travelmate.com in order to find out current specials.

Want to hire a car and get around yourself? UTC can arrange that before you go; a Holden Barina for one to six days is AUD66 per day, while an eight-seat Mitsubishi Starwagon is AUD123. Or checkout http://www.campervansaust.com.au if a campervan trip’s more your style. They start at AUD68 per day for a two-and-a-half berth van (for a couple and baby).

Holiday Tours and Travel: 236 2800, 234 0031-4
Natbusara Tour: 287 4263
Best Buy Tickets: 652 1734-5, 255 4279
Australian Tourist Commission: 670 0644
Royal Orchid Holidays: 628 2456-7
UTC Siam: 873 9450-3

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