"Very interesting and attractive young women without hats"
August 15, 2012 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Leftist Planet: Why do so many travel guides make excuses for dictators?

...formerly totalitarian countries that have undergone market reforms and economic growth are often upbraided by guidebook writers for betraying their revolutionary ideals. As living standards rise in Asia, the authentic travel experience is harder to come by. Writing on the Rough Guides website a few years ago, Ron Emmons, co-author of The Rough Guide to Vietnam, expressed his disappointment at the diminished power of the communist economy in Hanoi, sighing that his "first impression of Vietnam was a Pepsi advert splashed across the side of a shuttle bus. After centuries of valiantly fighting off invaders by land, sea and air, Vietnam had finally succumbed to western influences.
posted by KokuRyu (75 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
To be perfectly fair, the American media doesn't report an accurate picture of day-to-day life in many 'dictatorships' (ie. the USSR, Cuba, and Iran).

Travel guides might overcorrect in this regard, but there's already a lot of bad information already floating around that they need to contend with.
posted by schmod at 2:43 PM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this is in part simply a modern extension of the Noble Savage fallacy.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:48 PM on August 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


...sighing that his "first impression of Vietnam was a Pepsi advert splashed across the side of a shuttle bus.After centuries of valiantly fighting off invaders by land, sea and air, Vietnam had finally succumbed to western influences.

It's a legitimate observation to make, though. As westernization happens, a formerly picturesque and inviting land could easily be transformed into, well, just another ugly-ass border town festooned with ads. You can quibble with the exact wording used, but travelers deserve to know what they're heading into.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:50 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I had a similar reaction to schmod. I don't think a travel guide is necessarily the best place to debate the merits of the burqa in its place in enabling misogyny and patriarchy, I think visitors should try and free themselves of preconceived notions as much as possible.

I actually visited Cuba a few years ago, and I was struck by its total lack of advertising, and it's worth noting. Yes, we may have magnitudes more freedom than Cubans, but sometimes we should remind ourselves of the things we trade in the name of freedom. That's not saying I'd trade them back, but it's food for thought, that's all. Kind of the whole point of travel, in my mind.

That being said, the bit about Cubans gliding rather than walking as a result of food rationing? Pure, head-in-thec-clouds, first world delusion.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 2:51 PM on August 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


Not to say that there isn't something to this, but what I got from that quote is less an apology for authoritarianism and more disappointment with traveling thousands of miles around the world, only to find yourself right back in the ubiquitous strip mall wastelands of middle America where you started, with junk food palaces, billboards, and budget motels as far as the eye can see.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:51 PM on August 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


A large part of the point of travelling around the world is seeing something the different from what you see at home. To the extent that those differences begin to disappear due to westernization, it's completely understandable that someone seeking out those different experiences would be disappointed.
posted by juv3nal at 2:56 PM on August 15, 2012


I think I'm just having an irrational knee-jerk reaction, but the phrase "authentic travel experience", particularly with the idea that it's fading as standards of living rise in some areas, rubs me the wrong way. Some of it is that there's an implicit buy-in to the noble savage myth, sure. Some of it is the same sort of attitude where the presence of other western tourists lessens the experience - the way some people I've met boast about being the only white people in some ethnic restaurant, because apparently sharing the experience with the presence other white folks makes it less authentic.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:56 PM on August 15, 2012 [18 favorites]


What were travel guides saying about the Golden Gate bridge when George Bush was waging an illegal war in Iraq and torturing hundreds of innocent people in foreign prisons?

I'm sure the new editions of Let's Go don't even mention that Obama introduced mandatory health care! If they do, they probably give him a free pass. Capitalism? Pfft. Only in name!
posted by Catchfire at 2:57 PM on August 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


Oh, also, I sort of expect a travel guide to be flattering to the country it's reviewing. In the worst case, if you run afoul of a grumpy minion of a dictatorship, having a "OMG THESE GUYS SUCK SO HARD" book in your possession can't help matters.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:58 PM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's good that it's hit "Leftist" in the title to let you know it's going to be a bunch of baby talk perma-victim twaddle from conservative nutjobs. Wah! The purpose of this travel guide is not to coddle our ideological concerns! Wah! It mentions that the Lockabie convictions were transparently a fit up! Wah! Wah! The guides writers also divulge the locations of restraunts that are not McDonalds, the socialist fools.
posted by Artw at 2:59 PM on August 15, 2012 [24 favorites]


There is an almost Orientalist presumption that the citizens of places like Cuba or Afghanistan have made a choice in rejecting globalization and consumerism.

Equally amusing is this author's strong implication that the citizens of places like the United States and Britain have made a choice in embracing globalization and neoliberalism.
posted by enn at 2:59 PM on August 15, 2012 [27 favorites]


I don't know. Why does the Western media systematically downplay the brutality of regimes that happen to be allies of Western powers? What a load of shit.
posted by howfar at 3:03 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Sure, the guidebook says, one can read dissident bloggers like Yoani Sánchez, but beware that opponents of the regime can be 'paranoid and bitter' and are 'at their best when commenting on the minutiae of Cuban life [and] at their worst when giving vent to unfocused diatribes against the government.'"

Yes, its is so dreary when those dissidents complain about the regime. Don't they understand that western leftists find the lack of billboards delightful?
posted by Area Man at 3:03 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


As living standards rise in Asia, the authentic travel experience is harder to come by

Wait, so you want the rest of the world to be poorer than you?
posted by Melismata at 3:04 PM on August 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


Apparently there is an opening for a Regnery Press type of imprint that Properly Condemns regimes this dude doesn't like and Appropriately Celebrates regimes this dude likes.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:04 PM on August 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


picturesque

Yeah, you know, there's people living there, who were not placed on this earth for the amusement of relatively wealthy white tourists from rich countries who already have all that stuff. Picturesque all too often means "poverty on display". Look at the cute little pickaninnies with no shoes!

Guidebooks are for picking out hotels and finding out what day the museum is open. Anyone who reads a guidebook to get what they believe to be a deep appreciation for a country's true character is going to be missing out. I've always felt that any country worth visiting for longer than 12 hours is worth reading up on beforehand, and not just guidebooks.
posted by Fnarf at 3:05 PM on August 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


Melismata, I think you have hit it. It's no fun playing nobility unless other people play peasant.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:06 PM on August 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Since the west now deeply indebted to China, is Commie-hating much more than a hobby, really? Communist, fascist, misogynist, dictator - we trade with'em all.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:06 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why do so many travel guides make excuses for dictators?

They're not dictators; they're just misunderstood.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:07 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


find yourself right back in the ubiquitous strip mall wastelands of middle America where you started, with junk food palaces, billboards, and budget motels as far as the eye can see

Oh, but anyway, Toto, we're home. Home!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:08 PM on August 15, 2012


I have traveled a lot - in North America, Central America, Europe, and Asia. I have worked as a tour leader, and I have made my own way with a back-pack and no plan. I have visited countries that are (were) dictorial, undemocratic, and corrupt. The former Soviet Union being one big example.

I think it is a bit absurd to think that any guide book reader is getting "political education" from a guide book. Tourists, in my experience, are either there for the photo-op, and are not interested in the politics. For these tourists, their prejudice and pre-conceived notions will not be effects by the guide book. The other type of tourists are digging deeper into the cultural, and are beyond the introuctory information in a guide book. Their information is from sources and experiences that dwarf the impact of the guide book.
posted by Flood at 3:08 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Picturesque all too often means "poverty on display". Look at the cute little pickaninnies with no shoes!

Or, you know, enjoying that there isn't a Starbucks at Angkor Wat.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:09 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Travel guides might overcorrect in this regard, but and there's already a lot of bad information already floating around that they need to contend with.

This goes rather beyond a bad excuse and into the exact kind of apologia the article is about.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:12 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Why do so many travel guides make excuses for dictators?

Because if travel-guide-buyers go blabbing their own unfiltered home-country's war-mongering propaganda to the locals and telling them how bad they've got it and they would never put up with such things, all the while while in the jurisdiction of said dictator, the travel-guide-buyer might end up in a situation where they are removed from the travel-guide-buying market, which in aggregate would be bad for the travel-guide-seller's bottom line?
posted by anonymisc at 3:13 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


[/hamburger]
posted by anonymisc at 3:14 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or, you know, enjoying that there isn't a Starbucks at Angkor Wat.

OK, sure, but you know, if the Cambodians want a damn Starbucks, it's their call, not ours. And Angkor Wat is their treasure, not ours.
posted by Fnarf at 3:16 PM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Okay, I will rant more. He is talking exclusively about the "Rough Guide" and "Lonely Planet" series of guidebooks, which were explicitly created by hippies for hippies. The feigned surprise that they include hippie political perspectives is straight out of Casablanca.

But his piece implies, through its structure and rhetoric, that there aren't any guidebooks that have a pro-Western, pro-corporatist, pro-four star hotel "bwana plan" experience that gloss over human rights abuses from a right wing perspective. Which is rubbish.

Hippie guidebooks and "luxury travel" guidebooks are both frequently wrong and patronizing and generally full of shit about what's actually going on, politically, in the countries they're describing. Yes, it's bullshit to write about how terrible it is for Vietnamese buses to advertise Pepsi, but it's equally bullshit to write about how the people of Jamaica are happy to make you baskets.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:17 PM on August 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


n.b. Leftist and liberal aren't interchangeable. Libertarians are leftist and conservative, sometimes violently so.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:17 PM on August 15, 2012


The Foreign Policy article underestimates the amount of libertarian tourism in Pinochet's Chile.
posted by jonp72 at 3:19 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


From the Moynihan article: The problem with guidebooks to countries like Cuba, Iran, and North Korea is not that they encourage travel to rogue regimes ...

I believe only the United States of America forbids its citizens to visit Cuba. Rogue states 192, normal states 1?
posted by dmayhood at 3:19 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


And I agree with everyone saying that only lazy thinkers would be getting anything but data points about travel, lodging, food, and attractions from a guidebook.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:20 PM on August 15, 2012


Lonely Planet's Central America on a Shoestring is so ubiquitous at hostels down here that everyone just calls it the bible. I wouldn't have been able to do this trip without it, and it very rarely has steered me wrong. (even though it seriously oversold the virtues of Santa Ana in el Salvador, it recommended a fantastic hostel there that was the nicest I've stayed at).

It gives a brief gloss of the history of each country, which I've found somewhat useful, and the tone of the central American books at least is very 'a pox on both their houses' and the main villain in their civil war books seems to be the us (I don't know why, but the soviet union seems to be strangely absent). But the point of the books is largely finding cheap hostels, safe food, and fun stuff to do. Any education or miseducation it happens to do is secondary. It seems to me that the major effect the left leaning commentary has is to attract politically compatible people from around the world to the same hostels. You're almost always sure to have an interesting, intelligent conversation with anybody at a hostel or a bus that's carrying one of the books around, I've noticed.

Re: westernization, I recognize that along with those Pepsi signs and McDonald's there is prosperity and affluence, and I'm happy for the locals, but it's depressing in the more touristy towns where the foreigners float around in this bubble of franchise hotels and franchise foods and never interact with the locals. The locals can't afford to eat at McDonald's for the most part, and the food is actually worse than the local food for more money. I'm in Leon, Nicaragua, right now, and it's my favorite town so far, I think largely because (from what locals have told me) they only allow locally owned businesses down here, and the town is humming with life and activity until way late at night, and all the tourists eat at local restaurants and party at the same clubs with the locals. I wish more cities down here were like this. Lonely planet tends to go out of its way to direct locals to more out of the way towns and more 'authentic' places, and I think it's a good thing to get that money out into the country and away from the resorts and capital cities, isn't it?

And if you're following they're recommendations, you're staying at small hostels with middle class owners and frequenting local restaraunts. I don't feel like I'm lining Daniel ortegas pockets by spending $5 a day for a hostel down here.
posted by empath at 3:20 PM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


This would be Michael C. Moynihan, noted contributor to global understanding at Reason and Vice:
Moynihan announced his participation in the protest movement "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" which began in May 2010.[16] The movement grew in response to censorship by Comedy Central of an episode of South Park which depicted the Prophet Muhammad.[16] Moynihan stated he would post his own contributions in addition to submissions from other individuals to the website of Reason on the protest movement's scheduled date of May 20, 2010.[16] He encouraged his readers to send him their drawings.[17] Moynihan stated he planned to select some of his favorite depictions of Muhammad from the protest movement, and then add them to the Reason.com website.
What a weird breezy smear of... shallow travel books? What's his point? He starts off with paleo-politics re: Stalin and segues to The Lonely Planet as spokesbooks for the American left... which I guess still has a hard-on for Stalinism. Now, lets read Vice as the bible of Libertarianism in the US.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:21 PM on August 15, 2012


LogicalDash, libertarianism isn't considered "leftist" in the US, and this is a US magazine and an article by a US writer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:22 PM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


the way some people I've met boast about being the only white people in some ethnic restaurant, because apparently sharing the experience with the presence other white folks makes it less authentic.

The same way it's only cool to like bands before they're famous. Your favorite former dictatorship sucks.
posted by axiom at 3:22 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


...because Pepsi adverts splashed across the side of shuttle buses are such an obvious indicator of political freedom...
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:22 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, given that a guidebook's purpose is to be taken into the country it is describing for reference, guidebooks to authoritarian states will by definition have to be somewhat fawning towards their hosts. If they're from a country hostile to the host country, they may do well to make some token sacrifices such as skewering the yanqui imperialists and praising the lack of Coca-Cola and the humane side of the totalitarian surveillance state. A guidebook that gets confiscated at the border or gets the carrier in trouble for possessing it is not very useful.
posted by acb at 3:23 PM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Having said that, there is a strain of leftist quasi-Rousseauvian romanticism that sometimes does crop up in travel guides to anti-Western states. I once read a somewhat myopic travelogue set in the two halves of Berlin in the 1980s, by an English author who delighted in contrasting the refreshing joy of the East (and dismissing as embittered hacks the dissidents who lost their jobs for criticising it) with the abject, junky-squat nihilism of the West, and seemed almost to be making a conscious effort not to consider why the locals might want the Wall torn down.
posted by acb at 3:25 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


schmod, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet are UK publishers. I'm not sure "American media" plays a big role in their editorial strategies.

Also, "the USSR"? Are these time travel guides as well?
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:25 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not this Michael Moynihan, actual neo-fascist who hangs out with people like Boyd Rice and Zeena LaVey?
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:26 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Picturesque all too often means "poverty on display". Look at the cute little pickaninnies with no shoes!

Or in my case, and in many other travelers cases that I've met down here, it's volunteering to work in hospitals or build schools, or actually living with a local family. If you are going by the lonely planet books, you are often going to be roughing it, and spending a long time actually living or even working with the locals.. It's a far cry from taking a bus trip from the resort through a slum.
posted by empath at 3:26 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


And Angkor Wat is their treasure, not ours.
Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's everyone's treasure.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:27 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The bizarrerie of Moynihan fulminating about UK publishers' Cuba guidebooks has just hit me. Yes, how terrible that a UK company publishes guidebooks to a nation with which the UK enjoys perfectly normal diplomatic relations!
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:28 PM on August 15, 2012


but it's depressing in the more touristy towns where the foreigners float around in this bubble of franchise hotels and franchise foods and never interact with the locals.

I think this is a bit condescending and wrong. For many people, including me, there can be a constant stress to being in a place where they don't know the language and customs. If they like a respite from that stress for part of the day, more power to them. Conversely, I'm happy as a clam in some situations that some other people find excruciatingly stressful. I don't think it's my place to tell them they're doing it wrong when they ration their stress so as to maintain their happiness.
posted by anonymisc at 3:30 PM on August 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


If you follow the links in the piece (and you have to give him credit for actually providing them ) you'll see that he is very often wrenching his quotations severely out of context or providing horribly tendentious accounts of what they're saying. That's not to say that he doesn't have something of a point, but this is a severely one-sided hatchet-job.
posted by yoink at 3:30 PM on August 15, 2012


DecemberBoy, it's not the same person. This is the author of the article.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:30 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, sure, but you know, if the Cambodians want a damn Starbucks, it's their call, not ours. And Angkor Wat is their treasure, not ours.

Just like the starbucks in the middle of the East Village was the choice of the beat poets, right? There are neighborhoods all over the U.S. that have become generic in the same way, and I think something is lost. Economic growth is fine, but acting like it's the only part of life that matters seems to really be blind. Whether you are visiting or from an area, you want there to be more to a place than just convenience. It's gotta have its own personality...
posted by mdn at 3:33 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


On one hand, I think this article is a bit stupid.

On the other hand, I don't think that an advertisement-free society is any more "authentic" than one filled with Coca-Cola advertisements.
posted by muddgirl at 3:38 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


For many people, including me, there can be a constant stress to being in a place where they don't know the language and customs.

Believe me, I understand. I ate at McDonald's and pollo campero the first few days in guatemala until I started getting comfortable, but it was thanks to the lonely planet books that I found local places to dip my toe into the local cuisine and it wasn't long before I was eating $1 tacos at street stalls. But I've met people who travel all the time who literally have never ventured outside of that bubble to engage with local culture, and it's depressing. A friend of mine came down to visit and we stayed at a resort in el salvador and it was so boring, it was just a pool on the beach that could have been anywhere and shitty cafeteria food, and overpriced day trips in shuttle buses, and it wasn't the first time shed been to a resort like that -- she'd been to for or five different countries that way and never really experienced any of them. If its one thing the lonely planet books do well, it's encouraging people to take chances and actually engage with people the way they actually live.
posted by empath at 3:38 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


There are neighborhoods all over the U.S. that have become generic in the same way, and I think something is lost

Something is always lost. Such is life.

Moynihan is up to his old tricks. I credit him for digging up some truly execrable quotes from various folks involved in those publications. But subtract points for using quotes that don't actually appear in those publications.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:39 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bad as reading these travel guides is, actually traveling in dictatorships with the people who buy these guides and think the same ways as the authors is so much worse. I spent big chunks of the 80s and 90s kicking around the developing world on various hippie trails and I can say for certain that authors of these guides know their market.

I remember being in a hostel in one village where the travelers were complaining bitterly that the village women no longer used giant clay jars to carry water on their heads, but had recently acquired plastic jugs. The village was as good as ruined apparently, and these poor women had been robbed of their authenticity.

I tried to make the point that the plastic was much lighter, and unbreakable, and surely the women had adopted plastic jugs to improve their lives, but all I did was lose some potential friends. That used to happen a lot.
posted by LarryC at 3:44 PM on August 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


Clearly there is a market for these travel books. He can market his own which condemn regimes he finds fault with and see how they sell.
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:49 PM on August 15, 2012


So what travel guides WOULD be recommend?
posted by wheloc at 3:55 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


For what is worth, Lonely Planet in the early 2000's recommended against travel to Burma, in line with dissident requests. Then, if you did go to Burma, they had recommendations for ways to minimize the money flowing towards the regime there.
posted by midmarch snowman at 3:58 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I took a copy of the new Lonely Planet guide with me when I first visited Nepal. It talked about this Nepali game called bagh chal and how people played it everywhere and you should really buy a set to take back home. Reader, I searched and searched for a bagh chal board and I couldn't find one. My local contacts denied any knowledge of it. Shopkeepers studied my drawing in perplexity. The next year I found a cheapish wooden version among a lot of other tourist junk, and I bought it. A year later they were everywhere. I still have a vague suspicion that Lonely Planet was messing with us.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:00 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


So what travel guides WOULD be recommend?

Dante's Inferno is a righteous guide.

Just stay away from the Starbucks at Bolgia 2 in the Eighth Circle. The coffee tastes like shit.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:07 PM on August 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


Just stay away from the Starbucks at Bolgia 2 in the Eighth Circle. The coffee tastes like shit.

Literally, in this case.
posted by acb at 4:12 PM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you are going by the lonely planet books, you are often going to be roughing it, and spending a long time actually living or even working with the locals.. It's a far cry from taking a bus trip from the resort through a slum.

Wait, I thought Lonely Planet was now the purveyer of faux backpacking and shoestring traveling, because of the Lonely Planet effect. Even in 2005, when I was traveling around interior China, it seemed that every hostel or restaurant LP recommended was full of MORE expats than locals (and more expensive as a result).

And wasn't there an article on the Blue about hippy backpackers opening a bar and ending up destroying the local economy and culture of a Southeast Asian town because of its own success?
posted by FJT at 4:36 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


"A cheap holiday in other people's misery."
posted by Sys Rq at 4:36 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Feel like I should note, since I don't think it's too well known beyond the Canuckistani border, that more than one million Canadians visit Cuba every year. (The proportional equivalent would be 10 million Americans.) It's our No. 3 travel destination after the US and Mexico. And those are mostly package-tourist sun destination types, who in the main are about as far from leftist apologists as you can get and still be Canadian.

Noted just in case anyone thought this guy was talking about a phenomenon he hadn't extracted from his own ass when he suggested only crypto-Marxist authenticity tourists found the uncorporate culture Castro's Cuba appealing.
posted by gompa at 4:41 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dante's Inferno is a righteous guide.

Loved the first two guidebooks, found some real authentic off the beaten trail experiences, but me and my guide had some bullshit visa problem at the Paradiso border.
posted by kersplunk at 4:43 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


So what travel guides WOULD be recommend?

I think one of the reasons why I stayed in Japan as long as I did (10 years) is that I don't like "traveling", because it's artificial. I wanted to stay in one place and learn. Call me crazy, though - I'm full of unpopular ideas!

The best travel book I have ever read is Japan Inside Out by the Gluck family. Just a fantastic book, although most of the places they list are all closed now.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:48 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sure, the guidebook says, one can read dissident bloggers like Yoani Sánchez, but beware that opponents of the regime can be 'paranoid and bitter' and are 'at their best when commenting on the minutiae of Cuban life [and] at their worst when giving vent to unfocused diatribes against the government.'

If you change your itinerary to Vietnam you won't have that kind of problem. They have a very strict quality control program. I understand it's very authentic.
posted by scalefree at 4:57 PM on August 15, 2012


So what travel guides WOULD be recommend?

Everything from Frommers to Wikitravel has its biases, omissions and glaring errors. I travel quite a lot - several times a year for work, sometimes for months at a stretch, plus all the rec travel I can afford, and part of my job (journalist) is to get some sense of everyday life in the places I visit - and in all honesty, the ones I find the most reliable overall are the Rough Guides. They're much more evenhanded than Lonely Planet and nowhere near as obsessed with an aging hippie's notion of authenticity - they'll tell you when a fancy hotel is worth a splurge or a tourist trap's worth the hassle - but they also provide enough finegrain detail on how the country in question works now to let you navigate it yourself. They aren't bogged down with duplicate info from the museum guide like Frommers and Baedecker. They realize there are reasons other than tourist ones to be in a place, but they also don't sneer at creature comforts like LP and (*shudder*) Let's Go. Their restaurant recommendations bat better than the average. And so forth.

YMMV and all that, but if I'm going somewhere for a stretch and only lugging one guide, it's usually a Rough Guide.
posted by gompa at 5:00 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


You go to a foreign place, and meet some outgoing people, and it seems like everyone there is nice. You live in a foreign place for a while, and you realize they got the same jerks as everywhere else, too.
posted by bendybendy at 5:13 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is why my favorite travel guide is Mrs MortimersThe Clumsiest People in Europe. Ill-informed crankiness for all the world's places!
posted by nicebookrack at 5:18 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


OK, sure, but you know, if the Cambodians want a damn Starbucks, it's their call, not ours. And Angkor Wat is their treasure, not ours.

I'm sure the Cambodians as a whole make this decision collectively, too, just like it happens here in the US.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:03 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


An awful lot of people seem to travel places just to see various piles of rock - pyramids, temples, Taj's, Picchu's, etc. I never understood that, and tend to rate books lower for each pile of rock they insist is essential.

I remember how Mr. Magoo used to travel, and - because he was some kind of zen master or something - his level of attunement seemed to help him avert constant dangers. Travellers might consider looking into his methods.
posted by Twang at 8:11 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait, so you want the rest of the world to be poorer than you?

If they've got money then they become just like us! Genuine Culture™ can't survive affluence.

In all seriousness, I do understand the complaint about westernization, but framing it as an increasing global middle class ruining "genuine travel" is hilariously misguided.
posted by asnider at 9:30 PM on August 15, 2012


The hostels are definitely more full of foreigners than locals, but that's pretty much to be expected.. The hostel I'm staying at now isn't even mentioned in lonely planet, and it's still full of foreigners.
posted by empath at 9:32 PM on August 15, 2012


So what travel guides WOULD be recommend?

Moon guides. Not as good maps as LP but way more culture-oriented. Love them to bits.

I think I mentioned before trying out a restaurant in... egads, I don't remember where. Jakarta, maybe? Not in the guide. Fantastic place. Awesome food, nice people, and already super-popular with the locals. Thought about writing in and recommending it be listed... then I looked around. This business doesn't need any help. And they sure don't need smelly/uncouth/trouble-following tourists replacing their brisk local trade. I happily finished my lunch and went on my way.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:55 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait, I thought Lonely Planet was now the purveyer of faux backpacking and shoestring traveling, because of the Lonely Planet effect. Even in 2005, when I was traveling around interior China, it seemed that every hostel or restaurant LP recommended was full of MORE expats than locals (and more expensive as a result).

LP is not aiming to point out the absolute, rock-bottom cheapest places though. Its brief is to find the halfway decent places that are also reasonably priced. Yeah, it's dead easy to rock up to a random hostel in Delhi or BKK and find a room cheaper than those listed in the Lonely Planet. But you will tend to get what you pay for. I don't know why pointing out a reasonably priced hotel with a great bonus of a river view or a charismatic owner who makes nice jalebi or whatever is "faux backpacking".

While there's value in hostel recommendations, though, I do wonder about the utility of the restaurant picks in Lonely Planet. On a recent trip to Rajasthan, the choices seem to be pretty fucking arbitrary; sad to see so many flocking to a place to eat LP-approved chana masala, just because (you suspect) that was the place the LP reviewer happened to pick a couple of years ago.
posted by dontjumplarry at 9:57 PM on August 15, 2012


>OK, sure, but you know, if the Cambodians want a damn Starbucks, it's their call, not ours. And Angkor Wat is their treasure, not ours.

I'm sure the Cambodians as a whole make this decision collectively, too, just like it happens here in the US.


People choose Starbucks, or they choose Tim Hortons. And believe me, Starbucks goes waaay better with ancient Khmer stone carvings than Tim's.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:13 AM on August 16, 2012


Coca-Globalization from New York to New Guinea is a great book about, among other things, the different ways to view globalization/Westernization/etc. Knee-jerk reactions "for" or "against" globalization are both highly problematic.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:45 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The hostels are definitely more full of foreigners than locals, but that's pretty much to be expected.. The hostel I'm staying at now isn't even mentioned in lonely planet, and it's still full of foreigners.

Rather the point. In big countries like the US or Canada, two-thirds of the business is from travellers from abroad. In places like Luxembourg, it is more like 99.5% outlanders.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:46 AM on August 20, 2012


« Older Kazakhstan: Bad Parking Capital of the World?...  |  We're NASA and We Know It!... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments