I just thought I would write a little thing about some travel related books that has really inspired me over the years. I thought I would do mostly books that are not that world famous, but I’ll creep one in at the end that is quite famous, because most of you probably just saw the movie end never read the book.
1: Tiger for breakfast, by Michel Peissel.
This is a fairly unknown book about a fantastic person who is little known outside Nepal. His name was Boris and he was a russian/ukrainian ballet dancer who had to flee his native country under the second world war and then embarked on a journey that took him to many corners of the world. Boris had an enormous drive and started a big night club in Calcutta, was a professional tiger hunter in Cambodia, a cabaret dancer in Shanghai, just to mention a few things and in the end he ended up in Nepal by chance and realized that this little forgotten country had great tourism potential, so he opened up the first hotel ever in Nepal in the 1960’s and kickstarted the nepalese tourist industry. He met roalty and presidents and also spend time in prison but always managed to enjoy life to the max. He was not in it for the money, but because he knew how to get the max out of life and wanted to share it with as many people as possible. The author of the book asks him in the end what drives him to do all these things and why he keeps starting up new things all the time and he answers: “In the end, it’s all about how many people you make happy”. Now, that is a guy I can relate to and I really like this book.
Catfish and Mandala, by Andrew X Pham.
This is a book that sparked a lot of controversy when it was published. The vietnamese government was angry cause it told the story of vietnamese refugees and all the hardship they went through, as well as how they are treated bad when they return and the author was banned from entering Vietnam for several years. The vietnamese people, especially those who fled the country during the war, were also upset cause Andrew X Pham tells his life story brutally honest and hides nothing under the carpet. In vietnamese culture that is not always popular and many vietnamese people thought that he was disrespecting his family. He does not hide that being a refugee in a foreign country is hard in many ways, even if it might look rosy from the outside. But this is what makes the book truly fantastic. Andrew writes the book as he is cycling through the country that he fled as a child and he reflects back on his childhood in Vietnam, his youth in the United States and his cycling trip through the country he fled as a child. The book gives fantastic insight in to vietnamese culture even if it’s a heartbreaking story he tells. This is NOT a book about a happy holiday, but it’s bloody fantastic.
River of Time, by Jon Swain.
River of time is written by a journalist who witnessed the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975. The author Jon Swain was actually one of the guys who was featured in the movie “The killing fields”. His book is the best account I have read so far about Cambodia and the horrors that took place there in the 1970’s and he writes about the Vietnam war too in a way that is incredibly heartbreaking. I have seen “The killing fields” a few times and it is fantastic, but I think that “River of time” is considerably better. I highly recommend this book for anyone planning to visit Cambodia.
Playing the moldovans at tennis.
Now we are moving in to something a lot less serious, but it’s still fantastic. Playing the moldovans at tennis is the story of english stand up comedian Tony Hawks (not the famous skater) who makes a bet with his friend Arnold that he can travel to Moldova, chase down every player at the moldovan national football team and beat them all in tennis. This might be an extremely silly reason to visit a country, but it really turns in to a fantastic story, because it forces Tony to get very close to the moldovans and he develops a lot of sympathy for this little forgotten nation, while he looks at everything with his quirky british humor. The book is so funny that was almost pissing in my pants with laughter several times when I read it. Tony Hawks has also written several other travel books, including “Round Ireland with a fridge” which is quite well known, but in my opinion “playing the moldovans at tennis” is the funniest book he written. His books has inspired my travels a lot in the way that I don’t really travel to see the big sights anymore, but to meet the people who inhabit the country, while we share some common interest. Fantastic and very funny book. Read it.
Into the wild.
Now here we are talking about a book that is more well known, especially because a Hollywood movie was made over that book. Now, I have a lot of respect and sympathy for Sean Penn who directed the movie, but he did not get the person he was describing in the movie that well. Jon Krakauer who wrote the original book really understands Christopher McCandles a lot better if you ask me and because of that, the book is a lot better than the movie. The book talks very little about Chris going to Alaska, but more about the two year journey he took by foot through America before that and Jon Krakauer has a lot of understanding for this young man who left the so called good life behind to become a vagabond. Now I have been a vagabond myself for the most of my life and I really enjoyed to read this fantastic book about what drives young people to abandon a wealthy life in the suburbs in exchange for a poor but free life on the road. I have been in the exact same shoes as Chris McCandles was, but I did not have an accident and die like him. And if you have the opinion that he was just some reckless kid who walked in to the wild and died, then read the book and you will realize that the book is not about that at all. Thousands of young people do what Chris did and vagabond around the world with no money and get away with it fine. Chris was just the guy who had his story written down by a journalist. I can really associate with this guy and when I found the book in a second hand bookstore in Vietnam I read it in one go without putting it down. Read it. It’s a hundred times better than the movie.