Lonely Planet will release the latest editions of its four remaining “Shoestring” guides this month. Recalling a time before the travel guide publisher’s seemingly endless stream of bucket-list coffee-table books and “foodie” guides – when it catered only to backpacking budget travellers – these volumes cover Southeast Asia, Europe, South America, and Central America.
The Southeast Asia guide, now in its 18th edition, is the oldest, and dates back to the mid-1970s. Its scrappy but groundbreaking first edition was soon followed by heftier tomes such as the impossibly ambitious Africa on a Shoestring (now in its 13th edition and simply titled Africa), the award-winning India: A Travel Survival Kit (now just India, in its 16th edition) and the aforementioned South America on a Shoestring.
These last three titles came in quick succession, and were all credited to one apparently superhuman writer, Geoff Crowther. A legend among global backpackers, the London-based Crowther had put together the earlier BIT guides, which were written by and for overland travellers in the ’60s and ’70s, and it was actually content from these that first filled the pages of several of Lonely Planet’s best-selling “travel bibles”.
Now sadly devoid of Crowther’s colourful opinions and law-bending travel tips, and more polished – and I dare say more reliable – than their predecessors, the new editions of the Shoestring guides can be previewed and purchased, in full or in PDF format by the chapter, at shop.lonelyplanet.com.
Last night in London I used to ride past The Connaught (right) several times a week when I was a motorbike messenger in London, back in the 1980s. Tucked away on a useful short cut between Mayfair’s Berkeley and Grosvenor squares, it was, in those days, a stuffy-looking hotel, with an Edwardian reputation for turning away guests who couldn’t produce adequate references.
The property underwent a much-needed £70 million (HK$675 million) renovation a few years ago, and is apparently now a much more welcoming and egalitarian place, with popular restaurants and bars, Europe’s first free-standing Aman Spa and special offers. One of the latest of these is The Night Before package, which includes a chauffeured car pick-up from any London address (within about 65km of the hotel), and a similar next-day transfer to any London airport. In between, you’ll get one night’s accommodation and a treatment for two in the Aman Spa, to loosen you up for the flight home. A late checkout can be arranged for guests taking an evening flight to Hong Kong.
Prices start from £1,060 per night, which is quite reasonable for one of London’s best hotels, especially with the sterling now at historic lows against the Hong Kong dollar – including VAT. Not included is a 5 per cent “discretionary service charge”, which you can, and should, politely decline to pay. Visit www.the-connaught.co.uk for further details and reservations.
Capital closure Thailand got its first Hilton Hotel in 1983, when the Hilton International Bangkok at Nai Lert Park opened on Wireless Road, near the British and Swiss embassies. Noted for its spacious tropical gardens and unusual modernist low-rise design, it was rebranded the Swissotel Nai Lert Park (below) in 2004.
Sadly, the hotel – a favourite among many old Bangkok hands – will close at the end of December, to be replaced, local reports suggest, by a private “wellness clinic”. If you’re heading over to Bangkok this year, you can preview the hotel and make reservations for the last time at www.swissotel.com/hotels/bangkok-nai-lert-park.
Deal of the week Available until the end of this year, Farrington Vacations’ two-night Shanghai package gets underway from HK$2,290 per person (twin-share) with accommodation at the Swissotel Grand Shanghai. Other good hotels on offer include the Radisson Blu Plaza Xing Guo Hotel, in the old French Concession (from HK$3,450), and the trendier and slightly more central PuLi Hotel and Spa (from HK$3,450).
You can (at least on a clear day) enjoy the views (below) from the lofty Park Hyatt from HK$4,050 or stay at the top end of the Bund, at The Peninsula, from HK$4,150.
Flights with Dragonair and daily breakfast are included in all these prices. For full details and reservations, go to www.farringtonvacations.com.hk.