The ever popular travel-writer Dervla Murphy encounters a large variety of complications on her latest adventure, when she tries to go trekking in little-known Laos.
When Dervla Murphy mentioned that Laos was to be her next destination, most people looked a little puzzled. For this country hardly ever hits the headlines, although its small population played a significant part during the Secret War (the covert operation carried out by the US running parallel to the Vietnam War). In 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War, a Communist government took over and tourists were excluded until 1990 – not that many had ever put Laos on their itinerary.
Dervla’s plans to trek though the high mountains, far from the country’s few motor roads, soon run into complications, for which a variety of explanations are given, both comic and sinister. After injuring her foot she buys a Thai-manufactured bicycle, which purchase spawns new complications and a few hazards in the mountainous provinces of Xam Nuea and Xieng Khouang. However, the machine proves useful as a bag carrier while Dervla goes on her one-footed way.
Frustrated trekking plans, torn ligaments and a defective bicycle might, in any other country, induce gloom and despondency. Not so in Laos, where the people more than compensate for everything that goes wrong. Kindly, gentle and welcoming, Dervla finds their laid-back nature marvellously infectious. However, Laos is no Shangri-La. The persisting problems bequeathed by its recent past are tragic and other problems loom, threatening its immediate future. Dervla leaves Laos in a melancholy mood, but grateful for having been privileged to glimpse a unique culture on the verge of extinction.
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‘To call Dervla Murphy a travel-writer is a serious understatement’
Donald Woods, Sunday Times
Dervla Murphy's 'inner click' – the one that tells her it's time to abandon whatever plans she has made and follow her instinct – leads her to little-known Laos, the most heavily bombarded country in world history (during and after the Vietnam War), from which tourists were excluded until 1990.
Her attempts to trek through the high mountains, far from the motor roads, are repeatedly thwarted for various reasons, both sinister and comic, and after injuring her foot she is forced to buy a Thai manufactured bicycle. But Hare, as she names it, proves less than reliable at more than one crucial moment.
Fortunately, Dervla finds that the kindly, gentle and welcoming people of Laos more than make up for all her difficulties (although the same cannot always be said of fellow travellers) and she finds their laid-back nature marvellously infectious. However, Laos is no Shangri-La. The persisting problems bequeathed by its recent past still regularly have tragic results and its immediate future seems to have been hijacked by foreign interests. Dervla leaves Laos in a melancholy mood, but grateful to have glimpsed a unique culture on the verge of extinction.
"Dervla Murphy is an indefatigable traveller, a fine write, and an adventurous consumer of exotic potions."
TIM HEALD, 'Literary Review'
"Devotees of Dervla Murphy's rugged style of travel will not be disappointed by this latest book… she has written a first-class report on political, economic and social change in Laos."
RICHARD WEST, 'Spectator'
"a passionate, angry book that chillingly describes a beautiful but benighted country"
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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers Canad, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110006552218