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To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism Paperback – December 8, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

If you've ever wondered how a frat boy would fare in the Congo, then Thompson (Smile When You're Lying) has written the book for you. It's not just the Congo either; the former Maxim editor and extreme tourism expert also slogs across Mexico City, India and Disney World. Along the way, he encounters elephant penises, eight-year-old boxers and naked gurus who climb into the shower with him. Thompson's stated reason for his extreme tourism is that Americans have grown soft, and he must prove his travel writer toughness by going places he doesn't want to go. Thompson uses a Maxim-derived prose that features present-tense narration and unfortunate similes. Every page is disfigured by a phrase like Flat as the Kinshasa investment market, and brown as a turd.... Thompson poses as an iconoclast, but his critiques skew toward the obvious (he notes that there are two Indias, one rich and one poor, and that Disney runs a very tight ship). Sanctimonious liberals provide one target, as does soccer—not manly enough for Thompson, and they don't score enough goals. In the end, Thompson's observations and strained prose will wear thin on readers. (Dec.)
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From Booklist

As a former editor at Maxim and Travelocity and the author of Smile When You’re Lying, a gleeful trashing of travel industry fables, Thompson is a well-traveled and street-smart kind of guy. Here he turns out a riveting, hilarious, and wildly entertaining account of trips to four destinations he has long avoided. The “hellholes” on his no-go list include the African Congo, India, Mexico City, and Walt Disney World. Readers will enjoy following his adventures and running commentary, whether he’s tangling with crooked officials in Africa, a scary mob in India, having the time of his life in Mexico City, or merely perplexed in Orlando. Thompson makes it his business to smash popular misconceptions about travel, all while offering up his own ironic observations and provocative opinions. Will be a hit with readers who enjoy smart, funny, and unorthodox travel writing. --Kathleen Hughes
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 1 Original edition (December 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805087885
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805087888
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #908,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chuck Thompson is the author of several books, including the comic travel memoirs Smile When You're Lying and To Hellholes and Back. His writing and photography have appeared in numerous publications, including Outside, Men's Journal, Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, and Maxim.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First and foremost, this book is a great and enjoyable read. I had trouble putting it down - except on a few occasions when I found myself laughing out-loud.

Some of Chuck Thompson's witty one-liners were priceless. His stories are well-conceived and packed with intelligent observations. Now, it's not perfect - there are some jokes that go over flat and I didn't agree with all his conclusions, but those are few and far between. Overall, this book is a great, intelligent, and humorous read.

Even more, Mr. Thompson is a writer who has done his homework. I have some colleagues that have just returned from a four month stint in India. I shared a number of Mr. Thompson's experiences and observations from the India portion of his book with them - and they found themselves laughing and agreeing whole-heartedly.

An excellent book - I recommend to all! Mr. Thompson seems like the type of guy you'd love to sit down and have a beer with.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Considering how oversaturated the travelogue market has become, it's getting harder and harder to find the gems. But To Hellholes and Back is a diamond. Chuck Thompson's writing is dense (in a very good way) without becoming bogged down, info-packed without being showy, passionate without being strident, and critical without descending to the sort of glib shooting of fish in a barrel that characterizes so much opinion writing these days. And make no mistake, this is a man with opinions. But his stances on everything from Miley Cyrus to two-tier pricing give another welcome dimension to an already rich experience. There isn't a boring sentence in the entire book. It could actually be a fast read if one isn't inclined -- like I was -- to savor some of the wittier lines. (Incidentally, his friend Shanghai Bob -- who shows up in Mexico City -- can take his place alongside Bill Bryson's Katz and Hunter Thompson's Samoan lawyer as one of literature's most intriguing road-trip co-pilots.)

The book offers a lot of suspenseful episodes (the solo walk in the African bush comes to mind) but none more so than seeing how Thompson would handle something as seemingly banal as Walt Disney World after having already immersed himself in the exoticism of the Congo, India and Mexico City. He does not disappoint. As Thompson notes, Disney harbors its own forms of danger -- more cultural than physical, of course. But he avoids the outright dismissal of the "dreams can come true" ethos (again, fish in a barrel) and instead opens himself up to the idea that Walt Disney World -- not to mention the world of Disney in general -- may have positives that go beyond being able to find a parking space during peak season. He offers an honest appraisal of the duality that is Disney.
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Format: Paperback
Chuck Thompson's brand of travel writing is not for the fainthearted or polite. His observations are smartass smart; his prose is take-no-prisoners captivating. He's unapologetically opinionated about just about everything and certainly about every "hellhole" he visits. He's probably one of the only guys traipsing around the planet who could make total sense of putting Congo, Walt Disney World, India, and Mexico City together in the same book. Between crazy predicaments, hilarious side stories, and penetrating peripatetic insights, you get to know and like the guy. Tagging along lets you go places, meet people, and see, learn, and think things you probably never would have otherwise. Brilliant and memorable. Even surprisingly redemptive.
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Format: Paperback
For an opinionated writer, Chuck Thompson actually came across quite well and quite well balanced. In places I could hear Paul Theroux making some of the same, non-PC, comments. The guides are crooks, the police are worse, and the government are the worst of all. I've traveled extensively in Africa, and could recognize much of what he wrote in the Congo section. My India experiences soured me even more on that country than he seemed to be. Mexico City was the surprise, he expected crime and anarchy, and found friendly people, good food, and good drink. And then the throw-away, easy target, that is Disney World. Turns out to be more honest and perhaps more real than some of the other travel locations. The book is written in humor but forms a solid travelogue for four places which are not likely to be high on independent travelers' lists.
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Format: Paperback
To Hellholes and Back by Chuck Thompson is a fantastic take on traveling to three countries and one amusement park - specifically those places Thompson has been purposely avoiding during his travels. Filled with humor, facts and honesty, this book was an eye-opening experience of the Congo, India, Mexico City, and the happiest place on earth, Disney World.

What Thompson comes to realize at the end of this travels and after much afterthought, is that people are pretty much the same no matter where they live, the United States is easily considered a third world country to many other countries, and he actually enjoyed Disney World.

If you never plan to go to these places, then this is the next best thing to traveling to them. Thompson is honest in his descriptions (brutal, disgusting, beautiful, as they can be), but also ensures that the reader knows while he might have negative opinions about certain things, he did, in fact, have moments of overall enjoyment and realization that these parts of the world are worth seeing.

I think the most interesting part of the book was Thompson's realization that Mexico City isn't all that bad; and he really did try to make it bad just to verify that his previous feelings about the place were justified. He had a tremendous amount of fun and found all the warnings he received to be unfounded.

Ultimately, anything can happen anywhere; good or bad.
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