The Lonely Planet series has a great and glorious history as a facilitator for a whole generation of young people for whom international travel became a possibility despite limited funds. What they had was time and enthusiasm, and Lonely Planet books helped open up the world to them. The series is now heading into its fifth decade and has come a long way from Across Asia on the Cheap, published in 1973 by Tony and Maureen Wheeler, which served as the template for the series. It was a book with strong opinions, conceived and written in the passion of a couple’s discovery of new worlds. There was a youthful spirit that set it apart from the older generation of travel guides that favored cultural information over the practicalities of low-cost travel.
This spirit of adventure has carried over into the new 9th edition of the Lonely Planet Guide to Taiwan. Coauthored by Robert Kelly and Chung Wah Chow, the guide is clearly written by people with a deep passion for Taiwan and the many things it has to offer. The strong opinions that are at the heart of the Lonely Planet enterprise, now a lucrative property in the publishing industry that was sold on by BBC Worldwide to billionaire Brad Kelley’s NC2 Media last year, have remained.
This is admirable in and of itself, and for anyone with a love of Taiwan’s great outdoors, fully deserving of unrestrained applause. As someone with a great love of trekking and cycling, it is hard not to be overwhelmed with admiration for a book that provides such a wealth of information for those who want to get off the beaten track and venture into Taiwan’s great outdoors, whether on foot, bicycle or scooter. There is information about applying for trekking permits to Taiwan’s high mountains and quite detailed information about various two to three day hiking routes, information that is notoriously difficult to come by in English, and all very well presented.
By Robert Kelly and Chung Wah Chow
Lonely Planet Publications
Taiwan’s tourism authorities and many travel companies are inclined to neglect Taiwan’s mountain environment, probably one of its greatest attractions, but for the most part, not what the majority of travelers visiting Taiwan will have allocated time for. This is the conundrum that this new edition of the guide conjures up in this reviewer’s mind. Without books like this, Taiwan’s mountain environment will not get the kind of coverage it deserves, but at the same time, one cannot help but feel that for the average traveler, the book’s priorities are slightly skewed.
In making this criticism about the emphasis of the book, it must be said that all the major bases are covered. The Lonely Planet series has been an ongoing project for such a long time that the basic formula for an excellent guide book has been well and truly refined, and despite the heavy emphasis on outdoor activities (which are not yet a significant aspect of Taiwanese life, though rapidly growing) there is much information in the handy little volume. This information is, for the most part, well organized, with its rigorous structure diversified with occasional digressions, conveniently placed in boxes that provide unconventional suggestions or historical context. The meticulously designed structure holds its own against the occasional waywardness of the writing team, and all the main tourist demographics are catered to. The authors also provide some considerate hints about beating the worst of the crowds when tackling the tourism mainstream, as in a suggestion that visitors to the National Palace Museum visit during extended Friday and Saturday opening hours when the Chinese tour-bus crowd has already been chivvied off to dinner.