ASIA-PACIFIC ISSUE: ENCHANTMENTS OF THE FAR EAST : Fast Facts on Asia Pacific Nations : AUSTRALIA

* Population: 16.4 million.

* Capital and major cities: Canberra (capital), Sydney (New South Wales state), Melbourne (Victoria), Perth (Western Australia), Brisbane (Queensland), Adelaide (South Australia), Darwin (Northern Territory) and Hobart (Tasmania).

* Languages: English, with Australian inflections.

* Religions: Predominantly Protestant, but most faiths represented.

* Currency: Australian dollar.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: 13 1/2 hours.

* Weather: Half lies within tropics, but snow skiing in Snowy Mountains, about 200 miles south of Sydney.

* Top attractions: Sydney Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef, gold rush history tours near Melbourne and Perth, wine tours in South Australia's Barossa Valley, and glimpses of fauna ranging from koalas to penguins.

BRUNEI * Population: 238,000 for tiny Sultanate of Brunei, one of the world's richest nations because of oil and natural-gas production; extends for about 100 miles along the South China Sea, on the northern coast of Borneo.

* Capital: Bandar Seri Begawan.

* Languages: Malay, with some English and Chinese.

* Religion: Islam.

* Currency: Brunei dollar.

* Top attractions: The sultan's 1,788-room royal palace and gold-domed mosques in the capital. The palace includes a garage for the sultan's 110 or so luxury automobiles. The family line of the ruler, His Majesty, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izaddin Waddaulah, dates to the 14th Century.

FRENCH POLYNESIA (Tahiti) * Population: 188,800 for the five island groups of French territory.

* Capital: Papeete.

* Languages: French and Tahitian, some English in Papeete.

* Religions: Christian.

* Currency: French Pacific franc.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: 8 hours to Papeete.

* Top attractions: Author James Michener has called Bora-Bora the most beautiful island in the world. Romantic islands visited on cruises and air tours from Papeete include Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Bora-Bora. Favorite activities in the islands include scuba diving, sunset-watching, some shopping (it is cheaper to buy French perfumes and liqueurs in Papeete than in Paris).

FIJI * Population: 758,000 on 322 islands, 2,800 miles southwest of Hawaii.

* Capital: Suva on island of Viti Levu.

* Languages: English, Fijian and several languages of India.

* Religions: Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Islam.

* Currency: Fijian dollar.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: 10 hours.

* Top attractions: Fijian fire-walking ceremonies presented at hotels, scuba diving and reef-walking, a three-day cruise from Viti Levu's port of Lautoka to neighboring Yasawa Islands.

INDIA * Population: 833 million.

* Capital: New Delhi.

* Languages: Hindi and English, plus about 17 other recognized Indian languages and dialects.

* Religions: More than 80% of Indians are Hindus. Other religions include Sikh, Jain, Islam, Buddhist, Christian and Jewish.

* Currency: Rupee.

* Flying time from New York: to New Delhi is 17 hours.

* Weather: November through March is best weather in New Delhi area.

* Top attractions: No. 1 attraction still is the Taj Mahal, Jaipur (the Pink City of Rajasthan), holiest city of Varanasi (also called Benares) on Ganges River. It is a dramatic sight for travelers in early morning as Hindu faithful crowd temples and steps to bathe in the Ganges.

GUAM * Population: 126,434 on largest of the Marianas Islands, a U.S. territory 3,300 miles southwest of Hawaii.

* Capital: Agana.

* Languages: English and Chamorro plus Japanese and Philippine Tagalog as languages of commerce.

* Religions: Christian.

* Currency: U.S. dollar.

* Flying time from Honolulu: to Guam is 7 hours.

* Top attractions: Diving, snorkeling, World War II battle sites and monuments and duty-free shopping.

INDONESIA * Population: 187.7 million in a vast archipelago, with more than 13,000 islands stretching over a 3,000-mile-long, equator-straddling arc between the Indian Ocean, South China Sea and the South Pacific.

* Capital: Jakarta.

* Languages: Bahasa Indonesia is national language, but English is understood in major cities.

* Religions: More than 90% of Indonesians are Muslim, but Hinduism is main religion on Bali.

* Currency: Rupiah.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: to Jakarta is 18 hours.

* Top attractions: Indonesia's most popular getaway island is Bali, just east of Java. Denpasar, Bali's largest city, is the center of things. Beach activities and colorful Hindu temple festivals fill days on Bali. In Borobodur, in central Java, is one of world's largest Buddhist monuments, built in the 8th Century. Batik cloth is a favorite buy.

HONG KONG * Population: 5.7 million.

* Capital and major cities: Victoria on Hong Kong Island.

* Languages: Chinese (mostly Cantonese) and English.

* Religions: Mostly Buddhist, Taoist and Christian.

* Currency: Hong Kong dollar.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: 14 hours.

* Top attractions: Shopping. Kowloon offers everything from tailor-made suits to video cameras. During shopping breaks, top attractions include the Star Ferry that shuttles between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon for small-change fare, the near-vertical Peak Tram ride on Hong Kong Island, harbor tours among sampans and junks and, of course, dining. The entire range of Chinese cuisine, from shark-fin soup to dim sum, is spread before Hong Kong's visitors. Also popular are side trips by ferry to some of Hong Kong's neighbor islands, including Lantau, Lamma and Cheung Chau. The Po Lin Buddhist Monastery, perched on Lantau Peak, is a gem. Inquire about vegetarian lunches at the monastery.

JAPAN * Population: 123 million.

* Capital: Tokyo.

* Language: Japanese.

* Religions: Shinto, Buddhist and, to a lesser extent, Christian.

* Currency: Yen.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: to Tokyo is 11 hours.

* Top attractions: Kyoto, Japan's capital from AD 794-1868, is the country's cultural center, featuring exquisite temples, shrines and gardens. Nara, another ancient capital about one hour by car from Kyoto, has several architectural treasures from the 8th Century. Many visitors also join tours to see and photograph 12,388-foot-high Mt. Fuji, Japan's splendid peak. The often-photographed Great Buddha of Kamakura (42 feet high) is about 20 miles west of Tokyo, near the port of Yokohama. Nikko, about 90 miles north of Tokyo, is the place for springtime cherry-blossom viewing.

KOREA * Population: 42.7 million.

* Capital: Seoul.

* Language: Korean.

* Religions: Christian and Buddhist.

* Currency: Won.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: to Seoul is 12 hours.

* Top attractions: In Seoul, travelers plan plenty of time to shop for bargains ranging from brassware to fur coats. Another magnet is Kyongju, an ancient capital on South Korea's southeastern coast. With a rich repository of arts, Kyongju is to Korea what Kyoto is to Japan. Also popular with visitors are guided tours to Panmunjom, 35 miles north of Seoul, site of the truce talks that ended the Korean conflict. Seoul is only about 30 miles south of the 38th Parallel that divides South and North Korea. Korea holiday center is semi-tropical Cheju Island, a one-hour flight from Seoul.

MALAYSIA * Population: 16.5 million.

* Capital: Kuala Lumpur.

* Languages: Bahasa Malaysia is official language, but English and Chinese used widely in commerce.

* Religion: Islam.

* Currency: Malaysian ringgit.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: to Kuala Lumpur is 18 hours.

* Top attractions: The elegant National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves and rubber plantations near Kuala Lumpur, also cooler-weather hill resorts such as the Cameron Highlands in central Malaysia and Fraser's Hill, 65 miles north of Kuala Lumpur. Many travelers combine tours of Malaysia and nearby Singapore, which lies off the southern tip of Malaysia.

MICRONESIA * Population: 175,500 for all of Micronesia, with 32,000 in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (Saipan, Tinian and Rota), 43,500 in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, 85,000 in the Federated States of Micronesia (Pohnpei, Truk, Yap and Kosrae) and 15,000 in the Republic of Palau. Micronesia covers about 3 million square miles of ocean, stretching 2,675 miles from east to west, but has only 700 square miles of land area. Major island groups include the Marianas, Marshalls and Carolines.

* Seats of government: Saipan for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Majuro for the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kolonia (on the island of Ponape) for the Federated States of Micronesia and Koror for the Republic of Palau.

* Languages: English, but Japanese also is spoken widely.

* Religion: Christian.

* Currency: U.S. dollar.

* Top attractions: The beaches of Saipan, snorkeling and scuba diving off Palau, the ghostly site of the ancient city of Nan Madol on Ponape, diving on World War II shipwrecks in Truk Lagoon, the stone money (stone wheels used long ago as currency) of Yap.

NEW ZEALAND * Population: 3,397,000.

* Capital: Wellington.

* Language: English.

* Religion: Christian.

* Currency: New Zealand dollar.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: 11 hours.

* Top attractions: World-class trout fishing, trekking, home-stays on sheep stations, Maori culture and thermal geysers in the Rotorua area, flightseeing around 12,349-foot-high Mt. Cook, tours through the alpine scenery of Milford Sound and Queenstown.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA * Population: 3.7 million.

* Capital and major cities: Port Moresby.

* Languages: English.

* Religions: Christianity is the only formal religion. Animism is practiced widely.

* Currency: Kina.

* Top attractions: Diving, hiking, botanical gardens, World War II combat sites, the Mudmen of Goroka in the Eastern Highlands, voyaging along the Sepik River.

PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA * Population: 1.1 billion.

* Capital: Beijing.

* Languages: Chinese, with at least eight major dialect groups.

* Religions: Officially none, but Christianity, Buddhism and Islam all are growing in popularity.

* Currency: Yuan.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: to Beijing, via Tokyo, is about 15 hours.

* Top attractions: Ranges from Beijing's fabulous Forbidden City to the famed terra-cotta warriors of Xian. But tops for most travelers is a visit to the Great Wall, 42 miles northwest of the capital. Also on many itineraries is Shanghai, one of Asia's busiest ports. Beijing's somber Tian An Men Square, site of the 1989 massacre of Chinese students, also has become a visitor attraction.

PHILIPPINES * Population: 61.5 million.

* Capital and major cities: Manila on the island of Luzon.

* Languages: Pilipino, based on Tagalog, is the national language. Also English and Spanish.

* Religions: Christian. More than 90% of Filipinos are Roman Catholics. Also represented are Islam, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish faiths.

* Currency: Peso.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: to Manila is about 14 1/2 hours.

* Top attractions: Near Manila, the Spanish walled city of Intramuros, the Church of San Augustin (oldest stone church in the Philippines), American Military Cemetery and Memorial. Nearby, in Manila Bay, the island fortress of Corregidor, which fell to Japanese forces early in World War II after a bitter siege, and Pagsanjan Falls, where visitors may shoot the rapids in canoes. Baguio is a favorite resort area offering cool temperatures, parks and gardens. Beaches in the Philippines offer rich pickings for shell collectors.

REPUBLIC OF CHINA (Taiwan) * Population: 19.8 million.

* Capital: Taipei.

* Languages: Chinese (mainly Mandarin), but English spoken widely in hotels and some restaurants.

* Religions: Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity and others.

* Currency: NT (for New Taiwan) dollars.

* Flying time from San Francisco: to Taipei is 13 hours.

* Top attractions: One of the joys is the chance to sample some of the world's best Chinese food. Taipei boasts more than 1,000 excellent restaurants. But the country's top attraction is the National Palace Museum on the outskirts of Taipei, which has the world's largest collection of Chinese artifacts--items from every period of Chinese history. A scenic highlight is 12-mile-long Taroko Gorge in east Taiwan.

SAMOA (American Samoa/Western Samoa) * Population: There are two Samoas, American Samoa and Western Samoa, both with lush-green mountains, white sands and blue seas. They ride the South Pacific about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. American Samoa, administered by the U.S. government, consists of five islands and two uninhabited coral atolls. Western Samoa, a sovereign, independent state, consists of nine islands and has a highly structured social system of extended families. American Samoa, 38,000. Western Samoa, 157,408.

* Government centers: Pago Pago, on Tutuila Island, is gateway to American Samoa. Apia, on Upolu Island, is capital of Western Samoa.

* Languages: Official language is Samoan, but English is spoken widely both in American and Western Samoa.

* Religions: Christian.

* Currency: For American Samoa, the U.S. dollar. For Western Samoa, the tala.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: to Pago Pago is 10 1/2 hours.

* Top attractions: For American Samoa, the Sadie Thompson Hotel, where Somerset Maugham supposedly wrote the short story "Rain"; Solo Hill for a wide-angle view of Pago Pago; Vaitogi Village, where villagers have been known to call sharks and turtles by chanting; diving, snorkeling and deep-sea fishing. For Western Samoa, tours that include the former home of Robert Lewis Stevenson (now the residence of Western Samoa's head of state), and to Stevenson's tomb at the summit of Mt. Vaca; visits to traditional villages and tombs of Samoan kings; diving, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, hiking.

SINGAPORE * Population: 2.6 million.

* Capital: Singapore.

* Languages: Chinese, Malay, English and Tamil.

* Religions: Christian, Buddhist, Islam, Taoist, Hindu.

* Currency: Singapore dollar.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: 17 hours.

* Top attractions: Tours of Singapore's busy harbor aboard a Chinese junk; Jurong Bird Park, a 50-acre wonderland where hundreds of birds sing against a jungle backdrop; Sentosa Island, with beaches and museums, linked to Singapore by an overhead cable-car system; botanical gardens, splashy night clubs, duty-free shopping.

THAILAND * Population: 55 million.

* Capital: Bangkok.

* Languages: Thai, along with some English, Chinese and Malay.

* Religions: More than 90% of Thai people are Buddhist. Also represented are the Christian, Hindu and Islam.

* Currency: Baht.

* Flying time from Los Angeles: to Bangkok from 17 to 22 hours, depending on the air routing.

* Top attractions: In Bangkok, tours of the Grand Palace grounds, which include a temple with the famed Emerald Buddha; a morning cruise on the busy Chao Phraya River, past Bangkok's plush hotels, floating markets and the dazzling Temple of the Dawn; demonstrations of kick-and-punch Thai boxing; shopping for glamorous Thai silks. Beyond Bangkok, the floating market of Damnoen Saduak; escapes to cooler weather in Chiang Mai, 472 miles north; beach getaways to Phuket Island. The scenic highlight around Phuket is a tower of sea-carved limestone called Khao Phing Kan Isle in Phang Nga Bay.

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