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

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  440 ratings  ·  74 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...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published December 8th 2009 by Holt Paperbacks
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Amy
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
Rob Maynard
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...more
Jess
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.
Redparrot
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...more
Lea
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
Tina
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
Tim Hainley
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
Kathleen
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.
Terra
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
Kim
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...more
Patrick McCoy
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
Jrobertus
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
Shawn
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
Rick
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!
Meaghan
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
Daniel Stedman
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...more
Jill
Yeah, many parts were funny, but the author unapologetically made a number of gross ethnocentric claims that totally turned me off.
Ian
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...more
Mandy Faust
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
Onconerka
Enjoyable read. A 3.5 star rating would be more accurate for me. I liked reading about travel to very different locales.
Alene
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...more
Dustin
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...more
Edward
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...more
Stacia
Nov 06, 2012 Stacia rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
Entertaining, yet quite cynical, look at the places traveled. I liked that the author is highly opinionated & gives his unvarnished opinion of the places & people he meets. (Not everyone may appreciate his extremely straightforward style of writing. Thompson reminds me of a mix of Anthony Bourdain & Bill Maher.) The author is not 'politically correct' & doesn't necessarily paint a rosy picture of the places he visited, but I appreciated the detailed info about his travels.
Sarah
This book was entertaining, but I didn't learn anything from Thompson. While I want to be entertained, it feels like a grand waste of my time if I don't learn anything. His insights into life in the DRC, India, Mexico City and Disney World were weak and pretty obvious. Thompson is quick to judge and even quicker to insult. The epiologue won him a slightly larger place in my heart but I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who actually knows anything about these places.
David
I bought the book because I liked the cover. Started to read it and was a bit put off by his rough, tough language and rebellious stance. But as the book says-extreme tourism-he can't be a nice guy. Yet the more I read, the more I got hooked. Besides anyone who goes to the heart of Africa in the midst of a civil war to have a good time, must have some issues. And so I was reading this, must reflect upon myself as well. Good read (and it was read in Mexico).
Scotchneat
So this guy, Chuck Thompson, had a bit of a mid-life crisis and decided to deal with it by visiting 4 places he's spent most of his travelling life trying to avoid: Africa (the Congo), India, Mexico City and Disney World.

On the road, there's lots of boredom, a few bad jokes, some semi-harrowing experiences and a few revelations.

He's definitely out there doing things I don't think I'd do, but I wasn't compelled by the experiences.
Marjanne
Overall this book was interesting. The author made some interesting destination choices. I think my biggest gripes with this book were the author’s unrelenting commentary on every one of his pet peeves. He seems to be criticizing something at all times. The book is also generally crude, vulgar, etc. While I appreciated his experiences, I should have taken his former employment with Maxim as a warning as to the writing style presented.

Zora O'Neill
Picked up a review copy of this book at a magazine where I work. Entertaining, but not quite as good as Smile When You're Lying, which was a satisfying takedown of the worst parts of travel media.

This book was a little uneven. I wanted a bit more focused snark in the Disney World section--it's a good conceit to put that up there with the Congo as a scary place to visit, but it just wasn't meaty enough.
C F
This book and PJ O'Rourke's Holidays in Hell would vie for top slot among the most hilarious travel books ever written. The good thing imho is that Thompson's politics are much better than O'Rourke's.

He travels to the DRC, India and Mexico City.

He doesn't make you wanna visit any of these places, which I guess is why the book is commonly described as part of the "extreme travel" genre.

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