Lonely Planet seems to have abandoned the paid-app model for smartphones, which the company launched in 2010, and is now offering a free app called Guides, which is available for both iOS and Android. Unusually for guidebook apps, the individual destination downloads are also free, so these are worth grabbing as backup even if you usually prefer to carry a real guidebook, as the content is extensive and current. There are 38 cities on offer, those closer to home including Bangkok, Beijing, Kyoto, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo. Content is divided into six categories (See, Eat, Sleep, Shop, Drink and Play) and a detailed map showing all the recommendations can be downloaded for offline use while travelling. Settings allow you to opt in for news and updates, and to be informed when new cities are released. There seems to be no catch to the free content as yet, but Lonely Planet has said that optional premium content and features "may" be added in the future.
Lost and found Unlike last year's Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations, its new companion volume, Atlas of Lost Cities: A Travel Guide to Abandoned and Forsaken Destinations, contains some appealing potential for the traveller. Published this month for the first time in English (translated from the 2014 French edition), it is, like Cursed Places, more a guidebook than an atlas, and features "lost" places, ancient and modern, that may be visited with varying degrees of difficulty. Older and more familiar locations include Carthage, in Tunisia, Pompeii, in Italy, and Leptis Magna, in Libya, while most of the American entries are ghost towns from the 19th and 20th centuries. More accessible to Hong Kong travellers with a taste for the unusual are the striking Sanzhi UFO houses in Taiwan (an abandoned 1970s holiday resort) and the Japanese island of Hashima. Also known as Gunkanjima, or Battleship Island, this abandoned coal-mining facility and small town was featured in the James Bond movie Skyfall (2012) and can be visited by boat from nearby Nagasaki. Atlas of Lost Cities, by Aude de Tocqueville, is available for preorder at amazon.com, where you can also preview some of its contents.
Culture clash As is made abundantly clear for visitors to the old prison museum at Abashiri, in Hokkaido - the site of Japan's first Western-style jail - yakuza affiliations are easily recognised at bath time. This is a reason why the country's onsen, or hot springs, and other public bathing facilities have barred entry to anyone sporting a tattoo. This practice also extends to foreigners, even those with the tiniest inking, which can still be an unnerving sight for law-abiding locals. Late last year, the Japan National Tourism Organisation made an effort to encourage onsen operators to make exceptions for the unwary gaijin ("foreigner"), but apparently their efforts fell largely on deaf ears, as the more senior Japan Tourism Agency has reportedly just stepped in with another request. Suggested measures include providing stickers to cover offending areas and allocating time slots for tattooed tourists. One Japanese hot-spring resort company that does cater to foreign guests is Hoshino Resorts, which not only provides 8cm by 10cm stickers but also has a very good English-language website, at www.hoshinoresorts.com/en.
Deal of the week A two-night stay at the Holiday Inn Resort Penang, with flights to the Malaysian island on Dragonair, is on offer at Westminster Travel from HK$2,110. Also on the north coast, at Batu Ferringhi, Shangri-La's neighbouring Golden Sands and Rasa Sayang resorts are available from HK$2,570 and HK$3,220, respectively. The only hotel on offer in the capital, George Town, is the historic Eastern & Oriental, where Studio Suites start from HK$2,880. These prices - quoted per person, for two people sharing - will be available until the first week of July. For more information and reservations, visit www.westminstertravel.com.