If you'd rather a portion of your luggage purchases went to a worthy cause rather than to a local landlord, then shopping online for a Sandstorm bag could be the way to go. Hand made in Kenya by the Luo tribe, who live in the basin beside Lake Victoria, this upmarket range of baggage is made from camel- and cowhide, rugged canvas and tweed and has brass fittings. The company website says all its workers are over 18, well trained and looked after, and that it makes a donation to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy for every bag sold. Prices range from about #38 (HK$610) to several hundred pounds for top-of-the-line items. Visit www.sandstormbags.com.
World Reviewer is a new website that is 'collecting experts, travel specialists and dedicated travellers to review the best the world has to offer'. Said offerings are screened for quality then categorised and posted for visitors to browse through by subject or by country. If you want to become a contributor, you'll have to submit at least 10 articles of 100 to 200 words on a specific destination or specialist area of knowledge, whereupon, subject to approval, World Reviewer will give you your own online profile and link to your website, if you have one. Everyone else can just peruse the offerings in categories such as Film Locations, Monster Hunting and Unusual Places to Stay, or by destination using the World Reviewer interactive map. Visit www.worldreviewer.com for more.
Journey through time
Promising 'a fascinating journey through centuries of travel writing', Worth the Detour: A History of the Guidebook is a new volume that looks at the development of travel guides since Biblical times. Referencing titles such as a Guidebook to the Seven Wonders of the World and a 15th-century guide to the Holy Land, as well as more recent guides, author Nicholas T. Parsons, the writer of several Blue Guide publications, maps out 'major cultural and social changes that have witnessed the transformation of travel'. Also worth getting hold of for anyone interested in the history of the guidebook is Francis Galton's The Art of Travel: Or, Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries (1855), which was reprinted earlier this year. Much of the information comes from the author's adventures in southwest Africa, but travel and survival tips from places such as Tibet, South America and the Arctic are included. As well as advice on shooting crocodiles and tea making, it features an interesting chapter on the first sleeping bags and backpacks, recipes for pemmican - an early form of survival food for explorers - and a stomach-churning guide to the procurement and consumption of 'revolting food that may save the lives of starving men'. Worth the Detour and The Art of Travel are available from local bookstores for HK$280 and HK$224, respectively.
Take the plunge
Visitors to Tokyo looking for a change of pace can immerse themselves in Japanese culture at the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, a couple of hours' travel outside the city in the hot springs area of Hakone. Known for its extensive variety of communal baths filled with a variety of liquids, including sake, wine, coffee and green tea, the spa resort is offering a beer bath installation, for this month only. The bath isn't actually filled with beer, but with heated amber-coloured water and foam, infused with the aroma of hops and barley. Several times a day, staff pour beer into the bath and over whoever happens to be bathing at the time. Other attractions include the Dead Sea spa, which uses salt imported from its namesake, the Turkish hamam and the ancient Roman bath. Divided into two sections - one for families, where bathing suits are required, and a more traditional adults-only area - Hakone Kowakien Yunessun provides full getting-there and price information at its English-language website: www.yunessun.com/english.
The name of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, which caught fire and sank in 'mysterious' circumstances in Victoria Harbour in 1972, is to be resurrected in the shape of a 2,100-berth luxury liner. Due to be launched by Cunard in 2010, she will join the Queen Victoria, which is scheduled to enter service next month, and the Queen Mary 2, the Cunard flagship and at 150,000 tonnes (more then three times the tonnage of the Titanic), the world's largest ocean-going liner. By that time, the QE2 (above) will have been withdrawn from the fleet. She is in her final season and will be retired next year. Her final visit to Hong Kong is scheduled for March 10.
Deal of the week
Westminster Travel is selling a two-night stay at the Japanese-run Okura Garden Hotel (www.shanghai.okura.com) in Shanghai's French Concession. At first glance a modern high-rise, the hotel is attached to what was, many years ago, the spectacular French Cercle Sportif, or Sporting Club, and its attractive gardens. The price per person, for two people sharing a room, is HK$2,350 including round-trip flights with Dragonair and daily breakfast. Further upmarket and across the river in Pudong, you can stay at the towering Grand Hyatt (above; www.hyatt.com) on similar terms for HK$3,490 per person. These prices are for trips completed by no later than December 20 and can be booked by calling 2313 9800, or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, quoting reference number 7275.