From Mandalay to Timbuktu: Great Names, Lousy Places
Travel Blog • Jim Benning • 06.09.11 | 12:31 PM ET
In an excerpt from his new book, “The Tao of Travel,” Paul Theroux recalls a number of places that just didn’t live up to the romance evoked by their names:
Mandalay: an enormous grid of dusty streets occupied by dispirited and oppressed Burmese, and policed by a military tyranny.
Tahiti: a mildewed island of surly colonials, exasperated French soldiers and indignant natives, with overpriced hotels, one of the world’s worst traffic problems and undrinkable water.
Timbuktu: dust, hideous hotels, unreliable transport, freeloaders, pestering people, garbage heaps everywhere, poisonous food.
I was always drawn to Kuala Lumpur because of its name. I loved just saying the words, and I loved the way they sounded. I loved the way they evoked lumpy koala bears, or something even more exotic that I couldn’t even begin to imagine.
When I finally went there, I was initially underwhelmed. The Petronas Towers are impressive, but they’re not lumpy koala bears. After exploring the city for a couple of days, however, getting lost in Indian neighborhoods with sari shops and aromatic cafes, and even spending a couple of hours in an elegant old theater watching a Bollywood movie I couldn’t understand, I decided Kuala Lumpur had its lumpy charms.
Ever gone to a place that didn’t live up to its great name? Or that did?