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Tell Them to Get Lost: Back on the Banana Pancake trail

Over the years I’ve returned sporadically to places like Penang, Chiang Mai and Kathmandu, those watering holes where I and so many others ‘chilled out’ (in today’s parlance) along the great Asian overland route in the 1970s. Once or twice I have sought out those same fabled flophouses, the seedy Chinese hotels and the homespun guesthouses enshrined in the curry-stained, dog-eared pages of Lonely Planet‘s groundbreaking South east Asia on a shoestring or its forerunner, Across Asia on the Cheap, or even David Jenkins’ Student Guide to Asia.

Herat, Afghanistan, in 1974

I don’t really have to wallow in nostalgia any longer: fellow Australian writer Brian Thacker has time-travelled back to the Seventies for me.

Armed with ‘the Lonely Planet guidebook that started it all’, Brian went in search of those hoary old dives from Bali to Bagan, where once we wolfed down banana pancakes or lit our mosquito coils before dossing down on threadbare sheets.

It’s really no surprise that most have faded into total oblivion, razed to the ground or refurbished as karaoke bars, but one or two have survived, notably in Bali. In Bangkok the Malaysia Hotel, which seemed decidedly seedy a few years ago, has re-invented itself for the gay market. In Rangoon Brian found the YMCA, which I had judged totally defunct, still able to find a bed for the truly determined cheapskate.

Samosir Island, in the middle of Sumatra’s Lake Toba, remains as seductive as ever, and the Hotel Carolina (formerly Losmen Carolina) still a delightful retreat, but few travellers still venture this far.

With a Batak family on Samosir in 1975

And the best news of all: new watering holes have sprung up in once-inaccessible places like Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and China. The road goes ever on…

This post was first published on my personal blog.

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