SPIRITUAL SHAVINGS Upmarket travel company Exotic Voyages has just launched a 111-day package that – with inspiration from Somerset Maugham – it calls “The Razor’s Edge: A Spiritual and Cultural Quest”. Providing a mind-expanding selection of tourist-friendly spiritual experiences in 13 countries across the Middle and Far East, this, says Exotic Voyages, is “the kind of journey you might just quit your job for”. Anyone considering handing in their notice to embark on this extravagant tour should note that it starts from US$48,000 (not including inter­national airfares). For those who would rather hold onto their jobs (and their life savings), shorter segments can be booked individually, or the complete tour can be spread over several years. Destinations on the itinerary include the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan, a Bedouin camp in Oman, and Mount Gyejok, in South Korea, where a bracing barefoot hike along a 14km red-clay trail awaits. For details of the full package, and the way to enlightenment, visit www.exoticvoyages.com/razors-edge-spiritual-cultural-quest.

Privates on parade: Bhutan’s frisky deity

A NEW LEAF Eighty years ago, Hungarian-born Eugene Fodor compiled what is often said to have been the first modern guidebook. Written mainly for British travellers, 1936 … On the Continent: The Entertaining Travel Annual was intended to be more practical, lighthearted and regularly updated than the academic volumes of competitors such as Baedeker and Blue Guides. With contributions from Fodor himself and a couple of dozen professional writers, it’s essentially a collection of essays on 26 European countries peppered with occasional tips and recommendations, and as such it’s still readable. The book was updated for the American market in 1937 and, in 1938, it made The New York Times bestseller list. But the outbreak of the second world war drew a halt to Fodor’s publishing business until 1949, when he founded Fodor’s Modern Guides, which lives on as Fodor’s.

One of the most interesting aspects of that first 1936 guide is the way it presents air travel as a new and luxurious experience. “Many air liners are provided with a fully equipped restaurant and buffet or bar,” it reports, before advising passengers that they “may send or receive telegrams during flight on many Continental and long-distance services”, courtesy of the plane’s radio officer. You can download a free copy of 1936 … On the Continent for Kindle at amazon.com.

An interesting companion volume is the hardcover facsimile edition of Bradshaw’s International Air Guide (1934), available at amazon.co.uk for only £10 (HK$98). It contains fold-out airline route maps for Europe and the rest of the world (including Asia), schedules for most international carriers of the day, vintage advertising, hotel information and more.

SITTING PRETTY AT 61 Following a recent trip around Japan, rail travel expert Mark Smith – aka The Man in Seat 61 – has just “overhauled, updated and expanded” the Japan section of his enormous train travel website, www.seat61.com. The site contains everything you need to know to see Japan by train and, of course, has extensive coverage of the Japan Rail Pass and cheaper regional passes, which will get you across the country, from Nagasaki in the west to the frozen Shiretoko Peninsula in the east (above), for bargain basement prices, with the yen apparently about to revisit the record lows of last year.

Six great places to visit on a Japan Rail pass this autumn or any time

From food to art, Penang’s George Town is a feast for the senses

DEAL OF THE WEEK Swire Travel’s two-night Penang Leisure Holiday package features a fairly short list of cheap mid-range hotels, evenly distributed between the capital, George Town, and the north coast beach resort area. The lowest-priced is Glow Penang, which is located on the eastern edge of George Town. Package prices here start from HK$1,960. Slightly closer to the town centre is Hotel Jen (formerly Traders), which offers better value at HK$2,340. The best of the beach resorts is the family-friendly Hard Rock Hotel, where rooms start from HK$2,520. Avoid the Eastin, which is close to the airport and industrial parks. All prices include flights with Cathay Dragon. For more details, select Malaysia/Penang on the Packages dropdown menu at www.swiretravel.com. If you’re at a loose end in George Town, drop in at the dusty old Hong Kong Bar, on Chulia Street, which is somehow occupying the No 1 slot in TripAdvisor’s Nightlife in George Town category, ahead of all the city’s trendy new nightclubs.

Hotel Penaga, a sustainable taste of historic Penang