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A decade in travel: Tony Wheeler’s review

By Tom Hall   22 December 2009 1:54am Europe/London

The world has changed a lot in the past ten years, and travel with it. In the run-up to the end of the decade, I caught up with a few of Lonely Planet’s nearest and dearest and asked them for a few short and sweet highlights from the past ten years.

We kick off with Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler, who started the noughties with trips to Tuvalu and other Pacific islands and ended it filming Roads Less Travelled in Laos. He’s seen more than most and here are his picks of the past ten years.

Best place visited in the past ten years?

The San Francisco Maru – Japanese passenger-cargo ship sunk during an American raid on the Japanese fleet in Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon in WW II. At 50 metres the deepest dive I’d ever made and just ‘wow’ from start to finish. There are tanks still sitting on the deck.

Biggest let-down?

Provence – It was a meal in a roadside cafe, high up on the Grande Corniche, looking down on the blue Mediterranean lapping the Cote d’Azur far below. Nothing wrong with the meal, the cafe or even the view, but it was the end of a perfect no-plans-no-itinerary month. I didn’t want to go home.

Provence: what a let-down

Provence: what a let-down

Biggest surprise?

Afghanistan, 30-plus-years after my hippie-trail visit in the early ‘70s it was still interesting, challenging, mind blowing and, surprise-surprise, beautiful.

Best/Funniest single moment on the road?

Getting stuck in a lift, late at night in a hotel in Ulaan Bataar in Mongolia. Fortunately I’d got a Mongolian SIM card for my mobile phone that afternoon, I phoned the hotel front desk and they came and rescued me.

What’s the biggest (or most interesting) way travel has changed in the past decade?

It’s too easy to say ‘technology’ (websites, mobile phones, ATMs, GPS) so I’ll go for places that used to be hard and are now easy. In 2005 I sailed through from Singapore via Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and through China as far as Shanghai. All of it at surface level and with zero problems with bureaucracy, booking things, finding things, doing things. Wouldn’t have been that way a decade earlier.

Thing you most wanted to do, but missed?

A toss up between not travelling the Karakoram Highway and not riding the Trans-Siberian Express. I’m becoming a bore going on about ‘must do it next year.’

Beatiful Bruny

Beautiful Bruny

First thing you’re going to do in 2010?

Going to Bruny Island just south of Hobart in Tasmania with some friends for a few days. Captain Bligh stopped in here in 1788 on his way to Tahiti and a famous mutiny.

You can also read Tony’s picks for 2009.