Published: July 6th 2009July 6th 2009
50 pence just bought me a copy of 'South East Asia on a Shoestring' by Tony Wheeler.
(Its not the original guide but a 1981 update)
The first thing that is striking is the limits of the book - we're not going to Cambodia, Vietnam or Laos - these countries were all fighting at this time and were seriously off-limits.
And Communist China? No chance!
In Tony's words: ''If you want to carry on towards Europe...Chiang Mai is effectively the end of the road''
The Cold War was blowing through this part of the world in 1980 and the borders that us travellers are so keen to cross now were the Iron Curtains of the time - the Limits of the explorable world for westerners.
Burma still had a seven day visa limit and the guide advises on a whirlwind tour of the hotspots, with little of the current caveats about supporting the junta.
Some things havent changed - the section on 'What To Take' starts with the phrase 'As little as possible'
, which has always been great advice, as is the common-sense advice on passports, spare cash and dealing with officials.
But the book can transport you
No modern fancy photos here.
back in time - to a time of metal-framed backpacks, post restrante letters from home and American Express travellers cheques.
Travel takes weeks and months, not days or hours, and interestingly there is a real emphasis on appearance - ''the powers that be have a morbid hatred of 'freaks' 'hippies' or other similar low forms of life'
and Tony advises to carry a 'dress up' for borders or embassies... 'and if you're male, have short hair.''
Funny, too, is the talk about dope and where the 'In Crowd' hang out (the Malaysia Hotel in Bangkok, apparently) - and there's no mention of the Koh San Road! Although he does describe the 'city of sin' in a way the modern, prudish guide books wouldn't dare.
A one way flight from Singapore to Manilla is listed as 235Aus Dollars, whereas the best price I can find on the web today is 359Aus Dollars - are we really living in an era of cheap travel or do we have more adventurous expectations of our holidays?
Flicking through, i see the mention of the same places which would be listed in a modern Lonely Planet, and I read gripes of
beaches becoming developed, or cities becoming rip-offs, similar moans to the ones sometimes found on the Travelblog forums. I guess if anyone was to blame for these places getting spoilt, then some of the blame lies with Mr Wheeler and his guides, but then he had no way of seeing into the future of overdeveloped beaches and mass back-packerism. Koh Samui is an 'untouched'
island and 'commercialism is starting to catch up with Phi Phi'
... oh, if only he had a crystal ball!
Guide books channel your experience of travel and should be avoided as much as possible - for your own benefit and for the benefit of those poor 'undiscovered' souls who aren't mentioned.
But Tony's bit of advice to his fellow hippie 'Shoestring Travellers' would be good to be heeded by the modern tribes of 'Flashpackers': 'They're not scroungers, permanently high or rip-off merchants. If you've been somewhere and stayed in the Hilton, then you haven't been there. Tourists stay in Hiltons, travellers don't. The traveller wants to see the country at ground level, to breath it, experience it - live it.
This usually requires two things the tourist can't provide - more time and less money.
Its going to take longer and on a day to day basis cost less.
So blend in, enjoy yourself but most important, make it easy for those who're going to follow in your footsteps'
Wise words in this time of the hurried attitude of travel books like ''10,001 things to do before you die'' and ''1001 glossy pictures of things you'll never do''