Wednesday, 15 May 2013

"Tell them to get Lost"

Brian Thacker was, it seems, a backpacker in the early 80s or thereabouts, and for some strange reason (perhaps to refind his youth after a marriage bust-up?), he decided to traipse around South East Asia in 2011 using the original 1975 Lonely Planet South East Asia on a Shoestring as his only guidebook.  In the introduction, he states that the idea came to him after sitting beside Lonely Planet's co-founder, Tony Wheeler (who, with his wife Maureen, was the author of the original guidebook) at a book launch.

The book is a litany of attempts to track down old backpacker hotels and restaurants (with mixed success), along with price comparisons (in some cases, not all that different) and comments ranging from the insightful to outright disparaging.   It verges on the monotonous:  the reaction of taxi-drivers being shown a map from a 1975 guidebook is pretty predictable.

Along the way he meets up with lady who he travels with for a short time (and who he apparently subsequently married).   In a couple of instances, she encourages him to stay at slightly more up-market places.   In spite of this, the book contains comments such as, "It took Beth about an hour to repack her bag every morning ... she just stood around scratching her head, wondering how everything would fit back into her bag (which seemed to contain 'products' for every part of the body)."   And apparently she proof-read the manuscript!

I did learn (page 272) that there is now a new breed of "flashpackers" who no longer take long-distance buses and the like, on the basis that there's not much sense paying $20 for a 10 hour bus ride when you can fly there on a low cost carrier for $25.   And "flashpacker" hostels don't have 27 bed dorms, but have clean rooms, made-up beds, bars and restaurants.  You get the impression that the original generation of back-packers don't wholeheartedly approve of innovations such as these - they prefer to wear with pride the mental scars caused by the hardships they suffered (and, in Thacker's case, voluntarily submitted to again in the course of writing this book).

It has some interesting bits, but overall the target audience for this book seems to be former backpackers who want to engage in a bit of nostalgia .... not really my scene!

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