Travel literature review: Tell Them to Get Lost

Tell Them to Get Lost by Brian Thacker

Rating: 4 out of 5

Reviewed by Vivienne New

In Tell Them to Get Lost, Brian Thacker retraces the journey made by Lonely Planet founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler in 1974 through East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Singapore with only the original 1975 Southeast Asia on a shoestring guidebook to help him.

Thirty-five years after the original journey, at a book signing, Thacker asked Tony Wheeler if anybody had travelled around Asia using the original guidebook. When Tony said he hadn’t heard of anybody doing so, Thacker asked him for a copy and an idea was born.

Thacker is interested in discovering what has changed in the last 35 years, but is more fascinated by what is still the same. ‘Are Indonesia’s tourist offices still “bloody useless”? Do the Malaysian border patrol still stamp “suspected hippy” on your passport? Is Patong still a "freak centre with fruit salad on the menus"?'

Amazingly, some of the people who were working at the hotels and restaurants when the original guidebook was written are still there, more than 35 years later. Some places, of course, have changed completely. Phuket, for instance, has gone from being ‘a beautiful and so far totally untouched island’ to ‘beach paradise central catering for more than a million tourists a year’. Thacker becomes slightly obsessed with finding out which hotels and restaurants are still operating as he explores Thailand’s island paradises, Laos’ historical cities, Timor’s beaches, and markets everywhere.

Thacker is a great writer and describes his experiences with humour, even when he is running through streets piled high with rubbish, having to cover the hotel bed sheets with his t-shirts because the sheets are so filthy, eating food caked in burning chilli, buying train tickets on the black market or just getting hopelessly lost.

Vivienne is a Lonely Planet editorial intern in the Melbourne office who has visited 18 countries including Indonesia and Thailand and loves all of Brian Thacker’s books.

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