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To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism

3.66  ·  Rating Details  ·  622 Ratings  ·  86 Reviews
The guru of extreme tourism sets out to face his worst fears in Africa, India, Mexico City, and—most terrifying of all—at Disney World

In the widely-acclaimed Smile When You're Lying, Chuck Thompson laid bare the travel industry's dirtiest secrets. Now he's out to discover if some of the world's most ill-reputed destinations live up to their bad raps, while confronting a fe
Paperback, 336 pages
Published December 8th 2009 by Holt Paperbacks
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Apr 03, 2013 Amy rated it liked it
Really mixed feelings on this one. Parts were so laugh-out-loud funny that it deserved five stars just for that. And I have to love anyone who loves Mexico City as much as I do, and for many of the same reasons. (His story about the kind people in the subway is similar to a group of women I encountered in the subway who, after Tim and I got separated in the chaos of getting onto the subway, gave me free instructions on how to push my way into a crowded subway car in rush hour.) On the other hand ...more
Tim Hainley
Sep 10, 2010 Tim Hainley rated it it was ok
I don't really have much use for these 'Poochie the author' type writers who expend so much energy showing me how much attitude they have and getting Totally In My Face. That said, Thompson is a more talented version of those than most, and when he's not needlessly dropping Dirty Sanchez references, much of his story and commentary is really interesting. That said, if you're a former features editor for Maxim, you're really not allowed to spend multiple pages decrying how Britney Spears has comm ...more
Rob Maynard
Nov 19, 2010 Rob Maynard rated it really liked it
Chuck Thompson is a revelation as a writer. Most of his light has been hidden under the bushel of niche lad mags like Maxim or Outside. I first read part of this book excerpted in Outside, his segment on the cultural meaning of the Monsoon Season to Indians.

In this book he goes to the most dangerous travel destinations in the world, according to his friends, travel experts, and his own darkest fears. He spends a month or more in the Congo, India, Mexico City, and, shiver, Orlando.

Thompson expose
Feb 08, 2010 Jess rated it liked it
How refreshing to read someone who refuses to see Africa as a cesspool of victimhood (Thompson argues against the view made popular by Joseph Conrad), but overall his hellholes aren't really all that hellish ("India? my husband said. "People do study abroad there. He should have gone to Afghanistan."). That's part of the point, I suppose. Nevertheless, any book that encourages people to get out and see the world for themselves is OK in my, um, book.
Dec 24, 2011 Redparrot rated it really liked it
Chuck Thompson spent a year visiting tourist hell holes. That is – the Congo, India, Mexico and Walt Disney World.

Thompson is a veteran travel writer and his experience both with travel and with the writing of it benefits the reader in ways that make this armchair travel log infinitely amusing while thoroughly disguising the extensive education it provides. He has a writing style that is unflagging engagement with his reader. He concocts some of the best similes I have ever encountered. These s
Jan 28, 2011 Tina rated it it was ok
For some reason I just didn't like the author. Not sure what it was about him, but he just grated on me. This is a huge problem in travel writing, of course, when you're seeing the world through the author's eyes and, more or less, accompanying them on their travels. The subject matter was quite interesting though. The sections on the Congo and India kept me interested, but, by the time I got to the last one about Disneyland, I felt the book had lost the momentum it'd had at the start. Overall, ...more
Jan 18, 2014 Kathleen rated it it was amazing
Loved this. Really loved it. I thought Thompson's anecdotes were consistently hilarious and the subject matter engrossing, as a huge fan myself of travel to "difficult" countries. Maybe I'm just behind the curve, but it surprises me that Chuck Klosterman/Nick Hornby etc. get so much more attention than Thompson. I'll definitely read his other books.
May 15, 2014 Terra rated it liked it
Really I'd give it a 3.5. Pretty funny but I disagreed with some of what he said to point that he started annoying me. Half way through the book I sort of started despising him but by the end I kinda liked him again. I thought it was brilliant that he included Americas theme parks as one of his hellholes. I had no idea there was a religious themed park in Florida, I sort of want to go. It really left me with a desire to go to Mexico City and solidified my feelings on both Africa and India. I wan ...more
Chris Duryee
Sep 09, 2014 Chris Duryee rated it it was ok
Shelves: put-down
I started off enjoying this book but then the author gets rather overbearing. I was looking forward to reading a book about how he makes his way through a few difficult places to travel but he only does this in small doses. I feel like I should have known when I saw that one of the places was Disney World. I did not finish this book.

The author spends way too much time deriding politics he doesn't agree with, religion and just people in general whom he seems to feel are below him. I made it thoug
Dec 09, 2010 Kim rated it really liked it
So far quite humorous, if you like sarcastic humor. I just read a few pages each night. Paul picked it up in Afghan and loved it, so he recommended it to me.

Finished it over Thanksgiving, the author has a very sarcastic and funny sense of writing style that I would laugh out loud at during parts. Not good when I bring it to read after taking a test and get looks from classmates as I try to stifle a giggle to myself!! Chuck Thompson basically decides to visit the worst places he can think of- Ind
Patrick McCoy
Sep 22, 2011 Patrick McCoy rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Chuck Thompson is a very entertaining travel writer, and his latest, To Hellholes And Back, reaffirms this greatly. There are many of the elements that I found so endearing and entertaining about his previous book, Smile When You’re Lying, were on full display here: straight talk about the travel industry, illuminating commentary about the places he visits, entertaining similes and pop cultural references. The premise of the book is that he will visit places that are largely deemed dangerous and ...more
Aug 05, 2013 Jrobertus rated it really liked it
Thompson is a professional travel writer. IN this book he pis himself against the horrors of travel to 1. the Congo 2. India 3. Mexico City, and 4. Disney world. He ha some anxious moments but is never in real danger. The Congo is a sump of corruption and actual warfare prevents him from visiting the most dangerous areas. Mainly it is just bribe, bribe, bribe. India also has problems with effective government and health, which he mostly blames on lack of toilet paper. Mexico is a happy surprise. ...more
Jul 20, 2011 Lea rated it liked it
Shelves: lol, non-fiction, travel
Well, since I've decided to start reading books again this was definitely a good one to start with. I have a definite weakness for non-fiction memoirs/stories, especially funny ones. The book is divided into 4 parts: Africa, India, Mexico, and Disney World. Of the four I skipped India and probably enjoyed Africa and Mexico the most. I felt like the comedic aspect of his writing was at its best in these parts. The situations he ended up in were the funniest in Mexico and Africa as well. I found m ...more
Jan 18, 2016 Tom rated it it was ok
Introduction was the best part. I agreed with most of what he said about travel writing and travel in general.

The actual book sucked however. Trips that were planned wit maybe h the purpose of being written about usually suck, and this one sucked more than most. He comes across as desperate to be considered cool, and most of his jokes fall flat.

I did like his other book, "To hellholes and back" however, so he definitely can be funny and interesting, this was just neither.
Sep 03, 2012 Shawn rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Extremely opinionated, with a lively,engaging and sometimes very earthy style. Sometimes he unwittingly displays his ignorance. For example, he tells a story about a hollow tree in Boma supposed to have sheltered Stanley on some occasion, but declares it untrue because the section of the tree in question is still at ground level "as though the tree hasn't grown an inch over the past 140 years." (He clearly has no idea how trees grow.) And again when he talks about UNESCO world heritage sites whi ...more
Apr 28, 2014 Rick rated it really liked it
Everyone who's been to (or even thought about going to) India, should at least read Thompson's chapters about it. As Jill said, "It sounds like you wrote that book!" The line near the end that will stay with me for a long time is the following, "Years can sometimes pass before the significance of certain journeys falls into proper perspective" (Thompson 2009:306). Amen, brother!
Dec 16, 2014 Ashley rated it really liked it
Great, honest travel writing (as advertised), with some pretty funny descriptions and anecdotes on par with Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" or J. Maarten Troost's "The Sex Lives of Cannibals." Chuck Thompson has a certain way with words that is rarely repeated among otherwise fluffy travel writers, and he knows it. I might have liked this one even better than "Smile When You're Lying" and I wish he'd write more, though I'm in no hurry to read "Better Off Without 'Em" or his more serious WWII ...more
Mar 24, 2010 Meaghan rated it liked it
Shelves: travel, read-in-2010
This book was really funny and I think I'd love to go out for a drink with Chuck Thompson. I had planned to give it four stars but for the ending. It just kind of petered out. He wrote like 120 pages on his first destination, Africa, and only 40 on the last, Disney World. I understand he spent weeks in Africa and only a few days in Disney World, but it still just seemed like he had gotten tired of writing. I didn't get any real sense of what it was like to go to Disney World -- he was like, "Yea ...more
Lesa Parnham
Not what I Expected

This book had so many good ratings I Was really looking forward to it. What I got was sarcastic whining. I am a liberal democrat who despises Disneyworld, so my review means a lot to me.

Miguel Sa
Nov 15, 2014 Miguel Sa rated it really liked it
A fine writer that melds deeper ideas with comedic flare all the while exploring his own innate fears. Can be seen as a travel book but this boom deals with all the rumours we tend to hear about foreign places that causes is to shy away from travelling there. He dispels some of these ideas but is dead honest about what he sees on his journeys.
Daniel Stedman
Mar 24, 2010 Daniel Stedman rated it liked it
Interesting look into some places, the DRC particularly, and a quick read, but as far as travelogues go, I'd exhaust the rest of Bill Bryson's work before reading any more Chuck Thompson.

After the first political aside bashing the Bush administration and southern evangelicals, I chuckled in agreement a bit and kept reading about his exploits in foreign countries. The many other political asides after that, though, really got annoying.

To Hellholes and Back is only elevated to 3 stars because the
Jun 25, 2014 Jill rated it it was ok
Yeah, many parts were funny, but the author unapologetically made a number of gross ethnocentric claims that totally turned me off.
Apr 20, 2013 Ian rated it it was amazing
Excellent travel memoir, one of the best in the genre. His discription of India, in all its awe inspiring horror, is memorable and will not soon be forgotten. His adventures in Congo are also a high point. Not surprisingly, he ends up falling in love with Mexico City, which is, as he shows readers, very far from a hellhole.

The section about Disney World seemed unnecessary and out of place with the rest of the book. However, though he veered toward the boundary of showing excessive smugness, he a
Mandy Faust
Dec 31, 2009 Mandy Faust rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2009
Received this book for a Library Thing review and LOVED it. Funny, snarky commentary on four "hell-holes" of travel. I loved that the author expressed his fear of the places he visited and did not attempt to paint a rosy picture of the level of squalor found, for instance in India. Also loved his very-opinionated commentary on the state of the U.S. and our international relations. Much more than travel writing, a lot of the things Thompson said really caused me to think about my own personal rol ...more
Jun 14, 2014 Onconerka rated it liked it
Enjoyable read. A 3.5 star rating would be more accurate for me. I liked reading about travel to very different locales.
Chris Charters
Feb 05, 2015 Chris Charters rated it really liked it
Good Travel Book. Funny with good insights and observations.
Jun 16, 2011 Alene rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, travel
The writer visits 4 world-famous destinations that he for whatever reason has been dreading ever visiting--faces his fears sort of or just his don't-understand-the-type type of thing as well to better understand himself and for some adventure. They are 1) Congo 2) India 3) Mexico City 4) Orlando.

Cleverly written and entertaining, I loved it. All travel books reveal things about ourselves and people--such as, travel destinations are unreliable because people are unreliable--people have good and b
Aug 31, 2014 Kandyce rated it did not like it
this book was obnoxious. i'm the sort of person who dreams of traveling to places people don't typically go- afghanistan, iraq, saudi arabia- and i was hoping to live vicariously through the author's experiences. instead, what i got was a 'how great am i for going to these places (india? come on) because everyone i know had something negative to say about it?!'

maybe it gets better if you give it a few more pages than i did, but when an author uses the phrase "pussification of america" i'm out. i
Aug 26, 2010 Dustin rated it really liked it
I really liked the concept of this book. Chuck really doesn't pull any punches with these "hellholes" either, but somehow he comes away with positive things to say about each and every one. He is very clear about his previous biases, and he is willing to admit when he is proven wrong. Even Disney World would be worth another visit.

I was told by another who was reading the book that his writing is very "boy." I suppose being an editor of Maxim, that makes sense. But seriously, it's some very "bo
Apr 01, 2013 Edward rated it it was amazing
Chuck Thompson starts off by quoting Saul Bellow: "Trouble, like physical pain, makes us actively aware that we are living."

Then, he goes off looking for it in the Congo, India, Mexico City, and Disney. If you've been itching to go any of these places, the epilogue offers the following:
Africa: Most Memorable
India: Most Exotic
Mexico City: Most Fun
Disney World: Most Congenial

He's the funny, erudite jerk that makes him the best kind of travel writer -- the kind that makes you want to see the worl
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“No question, prowling the Russian steppe for wolf meat and potato vodka takes a certain amount of admirable grit. Far more frightening to me, though, is the prospect of exploring the comely mermaid fantasy of Ariel’s Grotto inside the walls of a twenty-six-square-mile temple of consumerism dedicated to celebrating synthetic American culture at its overcrowded, fake-dreams, corndog-and-cotton-candy-inhaling worst, pushing a CEO-manufactured, ultraconformist mass “fantasy” presented fait accompli to American children. If it turns out there’s more horror to shrink from in Disney World than in Africa, I for one won’t be all that surprised.” 0 likes
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