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The Hitchhiker's Guide to (a very small part of) The Galaxy

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet. One part, known to its inhabitants as South East Asia, was visited by two groups of ape-descended backpacking lifeforms. The first group really didn't care what other people called them. The second group insisted, vehemently and vociferously, that they were not tourists, they were travellers, and were so amazingly primitive that they still thought wearing overpriced imitation ethnic clothing to demonstrate their superiority over the first group was a pretty neat idea. In fact, they were so unhip it's a wonder their bums didn't fall off.

These two groups have, or rather had, a problem. The first group wanted to travel, see amazing sights, find out where to buy bus and train tickets, eat in clean, reasonably priced restaurants, and find hostels and guest houses full of like-minded people with whom they could share their experiences.

The "travellers", on the other hand, didn't want to be seen dead at the same restaurants or World Heritage Sites, lest they be mistaken for mere "tourists". And they would only sleep where the "tourists" slept in order to brag about how "off the beaten track" they had been, how much more "authentic" their experiences were, and how they always paid less than the local price. But in order to do this, they needed to know where the "tourists" slept, where they ate, and what they were planning to see ...

And then one day, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a young man, a hoopy frood who knew where his towel was, and who had just travelled overland through South East Asia suddenly realised what it was that had been missing all this time, and he finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. And how both groups might be satisfied. This time it was right, it would work, and nobody would have to get nailed to anything. (Of course, the thought that he would also make lots of money hadn't even begun to speculate about the merest possibility of crossing his mind.)

Happily, before he could get to a phone to tell his wife, no terrible, stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was not lost forever.

This is not his story. It is the story of his book, "South East Asia on a Shoestring".

One of the most widely used and abused books to come out of the publishing corporations of Australia, America and Britain, it is laid out in a disjointed style which more or less exactly fails to please the eye. Nevertheless it is both a wholly remarkable book and a highly successful one - more popular than "Knitting For Profit", better selling than "101 Things to do with Earwax", and less controversial than "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" by Nicolaus Copernicus.

In many of the more enlightened backpacker ghettos of South East Asia, the South East Asia on a Shoestring has already replaced the hyperverbose "Rough Guide" and the puerile, plagiarist "Let's Go" as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it is opinionated, has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, out of date, ill-researched and wildly inaccurate, it scores over the other, more pedestrian works in that it has the words "Lonely Planet" inscribed in small, friendly letters on the cover ...

(If you're not intimately familiar with the prologue to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, then this article will read almost, but not quite, entirely unlike an attempt at humour ...)

More Than A Fortnight - Travel Stories More Than A Fortnight

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