“A TALE OF BUDDHAS AND BANDITS” – BILLY KERR
One of the funniest books to have found its way into my fiercely calloused hands in the past few years, this epic tale recounts Scotsman Billy’s travels around the world.
In the wake of feeling motivated to pick up a Buddha ornament at a car boot sale, Billy and his partner El decide to ditch the rat race, using the ornament as an excuse to travel to Thailand in order to ‘return’ Buddha to his ‘rightful’ home. And so begins an extraordinary journey which sees the duo hit Europe first and foremost, prior to hopping into Russia and taking a ten-day-long train ride right across the country to China. En-route, a dazzling array of people and places are encountered, with Billy being brutally honest every step of the way.
Once they’re through with the monster that is China, they take a train south into Vietnam. Unfortunately, they have to give Cambodia a miss, guiltily flying from ‘Nam to Bangkok, the breathtakingly intense capital of Thailand. As planned, they leave their Buddha ornament in one of the city’s main temples. In the strictest respect, their job is done… even if, technically-speaking, the ornament should have been returned to India or Nepal.
Too wired to return home, Billy and El snare working visas for Australia, and so travel onwards via Malaysia and Singapore. Once they’ve got enough money behind them in Oz, they decide to jet over to South America, with some of the book’s most amusing chapters taking in their trip to Machu Picchu via Cusco. However, the most exciting part of the entire book comes towards the end, providing a most fitting climax. Indeed, their introduction to Venezuela couldn’t have been more nail-biting as they found themselves at the mercy of a couple of supremely dodgy taxi-drivers. And so ensues a truly exhilarating chapter in which Billy dares to recount the horror of essentially being held hostage for their Visa card.
Without meaning to give too much away, they are fortunate enough to survive, though the experience understandably leaves a sour taste in their mouths for the rest of their time away. Naturally, Billy and El returned to Scotland with a newfound appreciation for life, and it wasn’t long before they were blessed with children.
While the adventures detailed in A Tale of Buddhas and Bandits all occurred a decade ago, it doesn’t matter, for the travel-inspired stories-within-stories rattle along at a cracking pace, Kerr’s sense of humour ensuring that the book is as entertaining as it is informative.
Peter Moore and Brian Thacker, beware! There’s a new attention-demanding travel-writer par excellence on the scene – and he isn’t about to take any prisoners.
Steve’s first travel book – “Pulse” – is available here